Trials and train travel

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Over the last few years I’ve done a lot of travelling around the world, but despite everything I’ve seen and done I can still clearly remember my first trip. I can’t remember exactly why I decided to go, it was always one of those things I’d wanted to do and finally just went ahead and did it. It was also the first time I’d ever left the country. So that was a bit of a shock for some people when I told them where I was going.

I was told before I left that at some point you’re going to ask yourself, “What the heck am I doing?!” It happened to me for the first time when I was sat in St. Pancras train station waiting for the train down to Dover, I hadn’t even gone very far. And I’ve had that same thought on every trip since.

After catching the train down to Dover and crossing the English Channel on the ferry I spent my first night away in Calais. The plan for the next day was to catch a train to Lille before heading on to Bruges in Belgium and spending a day or so checking that out. I had already checked the train times before I left home so when I got to the train station in the morning I just took a seat in the waiting area ready for my train to arrive.

After a while I realised something wasn’t quite right. I had a wander around the waiting area and noticed a printed white sheet of A4 on the timetable boards. Since my French is only slightly better than non-existent I had no idea what it said so I went over to the ticket counter feeling sure that something was definitely up now. I had purchased the Inter Rail Pass for the month that I planned to be away so used that as an excuse for something to talk about and check that I didn’t have to pay any extra fees for the train I was hoping to catch. Turns out something was up. A train strike had started that morning in France, my first ever day of travelling. Great start!

By this point my bus into Leeds had been late as had the train down to Dover. Plus the ferry had to wait an extra 10 minutes or so before it could dock due to a stranded ship in its designated port (bobbing slowly up and down in place for 10 minutes is worse than choppy waters for making your stomach feel bad by the way). I already had an idea in mind for the title of any future publications relating to this trip… Delayed!

After spending hours staring at the clock in Calais train station (which I can still picture) I was eventually put on a coach to Hazebrouck. From there I caught a local (double-decker) train to Lille. Another few hours spent in Lille train station and then I was finally on my train to Bruges. Well almost.

I’d now like to take the opportunity to thank the Belgian man who explained that I needed to change trains at… somewhere. The train had been stationary for some time and it was pitch black outside with no sign of anyone except the Belgian guy on my carriage. After an announcement in French, Flemish or something else (it was late, had been a very long day and other than some high school Spanish I had no knowledge of other languages at the time) the Belgian came over and asked where I was going. When I told him I was heading to Bruges he explained I needed to change trains. Unsure in which language I should thank the guy in I grabbed my bag, mumbled some gratitude and headed for the train he’d directed me to. Fortunately this was the last train I needed and finally made it to Bruges, eventually arriving at my hostel around 12.30am. Good start to life on the road.

Not that any of this put me off travelling. That was just where the addiction began.

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