Interrail day twenty-two – Salzburg to Brussels

20 May

A day of many changes. Like that children’s circle-game with the fishes (“tide is turning!”), I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.

The day started reasonably. I slept well enough, though not long enough, in the ridiculous seminary-hotel. It is just as well I wasn’t trying to have a long lie in a hotel with its own bell tower 🙄 They provide earplugs by the bedside, probably for this reason, although perhaps you’re supposed to eat them with the mysterious jam.

I checked in and checked out simultaneously when reception opened at eight, and picked up a bus ticket, too, as I’d noticed that buses in the direction of the station were pretty frequent. It would have been fun to try a trolleybus, but it was a normal bus that came first. Salzburg station is a nice size: not so big that it takes  a long time to find your train, not so small that it has no facilities.

The train set off a smidgeon late, and five minutes later stopped for quite a while just over the border so German police could inspect our papers. As if to make up for the fact that my passport has barely been glanced at up to now (except when leaving and entering the EU), the policeman went through every page of it, and I heard another policeman questioning an Asian couple about where they had come from and were going, etc. I don’t know if this is standard, or a spot check, or if they were looking for something specific, but we are running pretty late now and I may miss my connection. I’ve checked and there are other trains I can take. They have a fairly high reservation fee, but the important thing is to get to Brussels before the chocolate shops shut!

So, as I thought, I did miss the connection at Munich. This will make me an hour later and €25 poorer, but the last time I missed my connection the reservation fee was reduced, so I suppose it all works out. The only thing is that I must remember not to get off at Frankfurt, as I was originally supposed to. My new connection is in Cologne. I have to confess that when I saw ‘Budapest’ displayed on the platform next to mine, I felt like jumping on it and continuing this crazy journey.

But then, that happens to me all the time; I get into Glasgow Central en route to somewhere boring, hear the Truro train being announced (“… Exeter St David’s, St Austell…”) and want to jump on that instead. It must be the same part of my personality that led to this incredible voyage round Europe.

The train from Munich, initially mostly empty, got fuller and fuller as we got closer to Frankfurt Airport. The countryside was much flatter now we had left the Austrian Alps behind, and as if to compensate, every now and then there would be a ludicrously pointy church spire, not much thicker than a minaret.

Just outside Frankfurt, German efficiency let me down again. We’ve been sitting here for about twenty minutes and the driver says (if I understand him correctly) that there’s no news at the moment of when we will move again. So I may miss my next connection, too. The train is comfortable and has WiFi and sockets, and I still have snacks and water, so it’s not a major inconvenience, but I really want to get to Brussels before the chocolate shops shut!! If I had known this would happen I would have bought more presents at the Austrian chocolate shop yesterday. I suppose it’s a much bigger inconvenience for the people trying to catch a plane. The advantage of this, as far as I’m concerned (always look on the bright side) is that the next earliest train I can catch doesn’t require a reservation, so that’s an extra €25 I can spend on chocolate – if the shops are open 😂

After I had made the effort to remember not to change in Frankfurt, the driver of our heavily delayed train announced a connection to Brussels just as we pulled into… Frankfurt Airport. I hastily checked my handy app and it’s the same train I was supposed to meet at Cologne. It seemed safer to catch it now, so I jumped off free train, almost forgetting the carrier bag with the chocolate, which would have been ironic. There was a 20-minute wait so I got a coffee and something to eat. Of course, there was airport price gouging, but after being fleeced on Alex and Bologna, €2.65 for a bottle of water doesn’t seem that bad.

The final train made it to Brussels only a bit late. Google insisted there was a bus to my hotel, but she also insisted it was down a narrow one-way street going the wrong way, and with no bus stops on it. So I walked through the Arab quarter, where groups of men drinking tea on the pavement gave me strange looks, as if the only reasonable thing to do on a pavement is sit at a table and drink tea, not walk, and past endless roadworks. They seem to be digging up the whole section near the Midi-Zuid train station.

By the time I reached my hotel it was clear that any chocolate shops shutting at eight would be off the list. Fortunately that still left a few. I puzzled my way through the huge hotel’s labyrinthine corridors and went out to find them.

The view from my hotel room on the 7th floor. Normally I take the stairs, but not this time!

Near the shiny Grand Place is an equally shiny chocolate shop called Gourmet Chocolaterie Belge. The staff member became friendlier when it became clear I was not just browsing and even had to ask for a basket 😂

The Grand Place

As I came out of the shop with my purchases, I received a text message – telling me that my train tomorrow was cancelled! They realise it must be “disappointing”. Disappointing isn’t really the word when you’re stuck on the wrong side of the Channel with only one remaining clean pair of pants! However, I kept the heid and tracked down some “Ghent noses” at another chocolate shop before going back to the hotel with a takeaway and some wine to look at my options…

Cuberdon, or Ghent noses

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