Ian's European extended conference travel blog


Left Eeklo and returned to Brussels with a colleague David Klaasen as we both booked on the same Eurostar train to London St Pancras. The connection at Ghent St Pieters for Brussels Midi was a 2 minute window of opportunity and to see me running down the stairs with a 23 kg suitcase and laptop bag slung over my shoulder defies imagination. And I was overtaken by two younger and more enthusiastic train hoppers as they pushed me out of my rhythm. I was perceptive enough to assume that they were going through the same time challenge as us and were also heading for Brussels. Meanwhile David was doing a poor imitation of an Englishman standing looking soulfully at the indicator board for the Platform number. No time for that laddie! Well we made it with a minute to spare but only because the train left three minutes late. And that makes me recall how efficiently the trains operate in Europe. I left David at the Passport control as we were on different carriages. I think that there are about 26 carriages and I couldn’t see the beginning or end of the train and never saw him again. His wife was returning from Switzerland that night so he may have had a more determined manner than me when we reached London. But yes the train was due to leave at 11:56AM and arrive at 12:57PM (1 hour time difference between Belgium and England) and it meet both these time exactly. Mind you when you seem to travelling at 250kmh it would be much easier to make up a few minutes. I had forgotten the experience of travelling in the Chunnel and last did that in 1998. It is a major exercise getting first through the Belgian and then separate English passport controls and then the security luggage check. Perhaps the flight would have been quicker but it’s certainly not as enjoyable as the rail. I sat next to an Australian born (Ballarat) industrial (not industrious) lawyer working in international relations and after finishing one Sudoku puzzle I spoke to her for the rest of the journey. My mind was busy and I didn’t even notice the North Sea outside of us and then we were in London. I am envious of this transport system.

As the masses spilled onto the platform and headed for the Sortie sign. I could see the profiles of Jane Beston and her new husband Todd and waved to them to reassure them that I had indeed made the trip and their meeting plan had worked to perfection at this busy public area. It was a Bank Holiday and accordingly a much busier Monday than normal. Passport control was virtually non-existent and anyway it would be a brave civil servant who would stand in the way of a horde of determined European passengers heading for the wide gates. I was amused to see that one of the crowd who had annoying pushed his way through the more polite passengers was selected ‘randomly’ for a body search and baggage check. The force does have a sense of humour and were probably monitoring the crowds as we approached and thought they might slow his progress.

Meeting Jane after six years was a wonderful experience. We were polite about any changes in appearance. She would have noticed that I had put on weight as she had after becoming pregnant in March this year. She had a much better excuse than me who had consumed too much Belgian beer and sausage.

Kings Cross station is adjoining St Pancras so the three of us caught the tube to Southgate where they live in a beautiful 2 bedroom unit. After shopping and grabbing 60 quid from an ATM (what another currency all within the EU) we had a lovely lunch at home and eventually a nap before we had dinner at the Lions Inn, a local pub nearby. We had walked there on a short but very scenic walk around parklands and a lake. A casual visitor would not be aware that such a peaceful suburb existed and after leaving that area I photographed some of the multi million pound mansions that line the streets. The pub where we ate was the venue of Todd and Jane’s wedding earlier this month where the reception was held on the first floor. I was sorry that I had booked my flight earlier and had missed the opportunity to attend. Todd is originally from Zimbabwe and arrived here when he was 18. He has since graduated in Law and Medicine and has commenced his specialist training where he will choose between ENT and Urology. Perhaps with the imminent arrival of a new baby his lifestyle choice may lead him back to General Practice.

So Tuesday afternoon I am visiting Hilary’s parents house in Woodford Green and I am virtually next door and then pack and prepare for the flight home. I still call Orstralia home!

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