World-trip training day in Brussels: one professor in a slow train, two Algerians who want to save you and (#@%) tram 81.
That wasn’t too bad. I put my cappuccino down on the table and I take the muffin out of the paper bag. There are little cherry parts in it. Hmmm. One bus, four trains and four hours after I left home I’m having a coffee at the Brussels South station at half past twelve already. That wasn’t too bad. Not at all.
Between Breda and Antwerp I had even forgotten the time, talking to a German economics professor from Tilburg. He liked the characteristic vehicles that took travellers using public transport across the border at an extremely slow pace. With no affordable alternatives. Because of his enthusiasm I assumed that he never went on a two way trip from Eindhoven to Brussels, but I did understand what he meant. Talking about Belgian people, the crisis, teaching and ambitions, we had humped and bumped our way passed stations called “Kijkuit’’ (“Lookout”) and Kalmthout (“Calmwood”) in the direction of Antwerp. We saw the kerbstones becoming more crooked, as the platforms became less paved and the surroundings became more rich in graffiti. In Antwerp we had said goodbye and went our own ways again: he, looking for a terrace and I, looking for the train to Brussels South.
That’s where I’m sitting now at a long wooden table, surrounded by French babbling. The only thing I should do now, is finding tram 81 and getting out at the stop called Dautzenberg. I’ll be an hour early for my meeting with Ivan the sound-engineer to be, who found my songs on the internet and thought I’d be a good object to try his developing audio-skills on. In Brussels-South indeed, an eight-minute tram ride away from where I’m having coffee now.
The driver of tram 81 looks a little confused when I indicate the stop Dautzenberg on my list. But then he mumbles something about a bus and he nods convincingly: yes, this is the tram I should be on. At an uncomfortable high speed we drive through the bumpy shopping streets and I suddenly remember the Belgian traffic philosophy: which is the lack of it. But soon I’m used to it again, and I’m content to see that the first stop is actually the first one on my paper too. Good. The second one isn’t. Not good. The third till the tenth aren’t either. Just when I think I should ask someone for information, the tram stops and everybody gets out. The driver beckons me. I should take bus 81 now, he says, and than tram 81 again. “Changer?” “Oui, changer.” Ok.
Bus 81 arrives almost immediately and at a venture I get in. This one drives possibly faster and bumps even more than the tram did. After five minutes I decide to ask a fellow passenger if this bus will indeed take me to Dautzenberg. I don’t have to look for long: a few chairs ahead there are two Men Who Want To Save You with a bicycle standing between them. They had been on the first tram too. Algerians from Brussels, it turns out, but before they can tell me anything about my stop, the bus has reached it’s final destination and everybody’s got to get out again. Tram 81 will be there in a minute, the bus driver says, at the stop over there. Ok.
He’s right. I put a stamp on my one jump ticket for the third time when I get into tram 81 again. The Men with the bike check my route planning. They analyze the postal code, they discuss it in French and seven stops later they suddenly get out. They gesticulate that I should follow. Tram 94 stops just around the corner, they explain, that one will take me to my destination a lot faster than tram 81 does. Sure. It’s half past one now.
While we’re waiting my new travel companions have got some time to let me explain in my best French (?) what I’m doing in Brussels, why I speak Franciñol, and that I wouldn’t stay for a drink tonight because I’d miss my last bus home. They emphasize that I should include Algeria in my trip around the world: it’s not as dangerous as people say it is, not by far. At least not everywhere. Right. When tram 94 finally arrives, I just stamp my ticket for the fourth time and a few stops later I follow my Algerians outside again. Now we’re close to where I should be, they’re only not quite sure where that is exactly. I compare my google maps print with the big map hanging at the stop and conclude that I need to be four stops away from here.
There’ll be a new tram 94 in a few minutes, the Men say. They’ll go by foot from here though. I thank them for their help, we say goodbye and I wait till I see number 94 appear. The tram empties in front of me, but then I’m the only one who gets in. Hmm. I turn around and look questioning at the man that’s still standing at the stop in front of me. He tells me “don’t” with his finger and I wriggle myself through the closing doors to get out just in time. I see how the empty tram creakingly leaves and disappears behind the corner. Ok. So what now? In seventeen minutes there’ll be another tram 94. It’s five to two now.
I decide to follow the empty tram by foot then; it shouldn’t be more than a fifteen minute walk from here anyway. After a few minutes I see the next stop. When I check the map, I notice that it’s actually the “previous” stop: I’m walking in the wrong direction. Thanks, Men… I see tram 94 in the right direction leaving right before I can get to it. In ten minutes there will be another one. It’s two o’clock now.
I call Ivan to say that I’ll be a little later and I start walking back. No trams for me anymore today. I pull my hat over my ears, I swing my guitar over my shoulder again and I start walking south, towards the sun.
Seven hours after I got into the bus in Son, I arrive at the door of the SAE Institute, about 146 kilometers away. In seven hours you can fly from Amsterdam to New York. But to be honest I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the professor, the slow train, the Men, tram 81 or my meeting with Ivan. It all reminded me of this true cliché of the day: it’s about the journey and not about the destination.
Forget about the Fyra… and go for a trip around the world to Brussels with a slow train and a tram. Who knows what will be crossing your way! :D