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Belgium by Pete - 1998

Tuesday 3/24 – Belgium

Easy trip through customs and we changed our pounds to Belgian Francs. Chris nearly left his briefcase at the exchange booth. I imagine they would have called the bomb squad if he hadn’t gone back and got it. No trouble finding the train. We got off at Brussels Central Station and started looking for the train to Brugge.

In the Brussels train station one of the first things I noticed was that the vending machines had Belgian Waffles as an item of choice. That’s the first time I ever saw that in a vending machine. We had no trouble getting a ticket or finding the train to Brugge. We had to pay to go to the bathroom. That would end up being the rule rather than the exception the rest of the trip. We arrived in Brugge and took a cab to the hotel. The Hotel Portinari was very nice and was located only about 2 miles from the train station. We could have walked but it was too late. The room was like an American Hotel. Still only a couple of TV stations. I made some phone calls and went to sleep.

Wednesday 3-25 – Brugge then to Paris

Breakfast was very good. It was like the German breakfasts I had when I took my Federal-Mogul trips. Lots of different types of meats, breads, and cheeses. All cold. I listened to Fleetwood Mac Little Lies during breakfast. I wrote 25 post cards while we ate. We decided to walk around town before heading to the plant - Dana Spicer Clark-Hurth. To the best of our knowledge there were no customer issues and we would be out in an hour or so. Chris wanted to check out a couple of tall churches that we saw the night before. We ended up taking about a 1.5 hour walk. The town was very nice. There was an open food market in the center of town that reminded me of Italy. The churches were huge and we went inside one. There is a canal that runs around town where you can take boat rides. It would be a very nice place to come back and spend a day. Lots of shops. I think we got some great pictures. We would both have liked to walk around some more. We later learned that Brugge is one of the most visited cities in Belgium by the tourists. The population triples in the summer due to the tourists. Chris went to take some pictures of a fountain outside the hotel while I waited for a cab. The air was unbreathable. The hotel next door was having their septic system pumped out. Very disgusting. We took a taxi to the plant and the radio was playing Mrs. Robinson from the Graduate, I was reminded of the wonderful White Hart in Uttoxoter. Passing the train station I noticed thousands of bikes parked. We had to take a picture later. They are for the people who work in Brussels. The road to the plant was very narrow and ran along the canal. I was convinced that there must be lots of cars on the bottom of the canal. I thought sure it had to be one way it was so narrow. The customers told me that it was two way traffic and there were no cars that ever ended up in the canal. I had a hard time believing him, but on the way out I noticed some of the trees on the non-canal side were scarred up pretty good. We misjudged the visit time again. They dragged it out until lunchtime and then had me take them out to a very nice restaurant that cost me over $100. They said that the meal came with wine and if we wanted more than one bottle each that it would cost extra. The tax rate in Belgium is over 50% and the government requires the companies to pay another 35-45% of the employee’s salary. I do not know how they can compete. There were lots of very nice cars, but lots of bikes too. We found out that there may be a train worker strike and we may end up stuck in Belgium. This strike turned out not to be a problem. The customer drove us to the train station and helped us get our tickets to Paris. We would have to change trains in Brussels.

When we arrived in Brussels we started looking for our train. The bullet train was called the Thalys. We saw one that was1/2 hour earlier than ours and ran to try to catch it. We were getting ready to get on and we heard an announcement and people started leaving. We learned that the labor unions had called in and said there was a bomb in the terminal. One woman I talked to said they took this very seriously since last month the labor unions had set fire to the Eurostar. That is the bullet train from London to Brussels. I decided I would get on the train that was ready to leave and hope we got out before the station blew up. After I got on they kicked us all off and we had to evacuate the station. Everyone was outside within about 35 yards of the station. I got back a little farther. The taxi drivers tried to tell us that it would be a long wait and we should let them drive us to the airport and catch a plane to Paris. We talked to another guy from the US. He was quite upset and seemed like the type of person who would give Americans a bad name. We decided to wait. After a little more than an hour they let us back in. We boarded the train we were originally scheduled to take. It left a little over an hour late. Chris slept most of the way and I rode backward writing notes and drinking Heineken. We were booked right in the Bar Car. The train was so fast that when we were next to the freeway the cars and trucks did not even seem to be moving. The ride was only about an hour and 15 minutes.

Other Journals to Read  
Germany by Pete- 1993
Italy by Pete- 1993
France by Pete- 1993
Germany by Jim- 1993
Italy by Jim - 1993
France by Jim- 1993
England/Wales by Pete- 1998
You are here now! Belgium by Pete- 1998
France by Pete- 1998

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