Thursday, September 17, 2009

Back to London

It was very hard to fall asleep during my last night in The Netherlands. Excitement actually had nothing to do with it; shortly after posting my last post, some news have been brought to my attention that I wish had never been… at least, not while I’m having such a great time on vacation.

That said, I guess, it appears that there is no “good times” or “bad times” to closing circles; sometimes it’s fun and gives a sense of reward, sometimes it’s terrible and gives a sense of utter bitterness. “Time is a healer” they say, so with that in mind I tried to go to sleep… with little success.

Waking up at 6:00am after a sleepless night seemed, at first, surprisingly easy. I sprung out of bed and started packing whatever I couldn’t pack last night (the kind of items that you can’t pack “in advance” because you need them up to the moment of departure). Jeroen was already up and was kind enough to make us breakfast – a habit which, I must say, he followed every day. Such a great host.

Time appeared to pass quickly even though I didn’t have much of it. Had to catch a train to Rotterdam, switch there to a different train that would take me to Brussels, then switch again to the Eurostar which would take me to London. Any missed train would cause tremendous amount of headache that I was not going to accommodate.

At around 7:00am, Jeroen and I left the apartment together for the last time, as he proceeded to work and I took a different route towards the train station. We’ve been through so much fun during the last few days and he has been the greatest host I could have imagined. I thanked him dearly and we both expressed the hope to meet again soon. Was very sad to part ways – such a great guy.

So Mr. Jeroen Gerrits – thousands of thank you for everything, and we’ll see each other soon!

I was walking quickly to the train station. Very early in the morning, everything around me seems so sleepy and undisturbed. These narrow streets, beset on all sides by beautifully-built apartments (in North America, we would call these “townhouse rows”), with bricks in various shades of red, brown and anything in between, mixed together to create a beautiful mosaic of colors – all of these in a cloudy day at 7:00am give you an unparalleled sense of calmness. If I had time, I would walk these streets very slowly, absorbing the beauty of this place with each breath. I will miss Delft, its beauty and its wonderful, friendly people.

Trains came by quickly and before I knew it I was already in Rotterdam Centraal, waiting for the train to take me to Brussels. I figured I have a few minutes so I sat down on the platform and took my Baby Taylor out to carve some tunes with the morning breeze.

A colleague of mine asked me a few days ago – what’s the deal with playing the guitar in various odd places and situations? I understand that, for some, playing the guitar in the train station, right on the platform waiting for the train to come, may sound bizarre. My view of it, though, is entirely different.

Every small detail in your environment affects your playing, let alone when you are making-up tunes (like I usually do) rather than playing a tune that someone else wrote. Playing in a garden with a small lake in front of me, will make me come up with completely different tunes than playing on a rail-station platform watching the busybodies wander around. The environment you’re playing in, upon its constituents, generates specific – often extremely hard to artificially replicate – “muse”; and what’s key in writing music, I believe, is one’s ability to (a) fully understand and appreciate the tremendous impact environment has and (b) “tap” into the muse and translate it into something that will please one’s ears.

The train arrived after a few minutes. It’s an extremely boring train ride from Rotterdam to Brussels and I was very tired, however I had no eye cover nor useful ear plugs (mental note for next trip: buy eye-cover and the Bose QuietComfort headphones you’ve been interested in for the last three years) and therefore failed to fall asleep.

I was spreading my weary body over a pair of seats, noticing that the adjacent pair is occupied by a lady armed with what I believe is the biggest suitcase I have ever seen. When we left the train, I offered my help and we started talking – her name was Annechin (wonder if I spelled it correctly), a Dutch exchange student going to study at the University of East London for six months.

We went together towards the Eurostar terminal, chatting along the way.

The Eurostar terminal in the Brussels-Zuid train station looks like a small-scale airport terminal. First, you have to check-in. There was nobody in line as we checked-in as soon as we arrived, so that was a breeze. Then you have to go through two passport control booths – that of Belgium, and that of the UK.

I am not familiar with all the details of the European Union and what EU membership entails, but I’m pretty sure that the UK is not a member of the EU at all: for once, the UK maintains its own currency; plus, you must go through passport control before entering the UK, even if you’re a member of the EU.

We had slightly more than an hour to kill until boarding, so we sat down in the cafe next to the boarding gate, had a good breakfast and continued chatting. Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess, so before I knew it we had to board the train, into two separate cars. We bid a tentative goodbye (we might run into each other at the train platform upon arrival) and boarded.

The car I was assigned to was half empty and so I found myself stretching over four seats (two pairs facing each other), dying to get some sleep but I really couldn’t. I can’t sleep in a lit environment, let alone while being seated. The ride, then, even though smooth and very fast – was a nightmare because I was so tired that I couldn’t make anything out of anything.

The Eurostar train cruises through the land in a very high speed, however not as high as the Intercity-Express train that gets, at times, to 275km/h. The train ride from Brussels to the Atlantic is not very spectacular, really. It’s pretty much all the same views repeating themselves: flat green as far as the eye can see; sheep, cows, horses along the way; weather was very cloudy for the entire ride.

Had I not been very tired, I would most likely attempt to write some lyrics to the melodies going through my head. Cloudy weather over vast of greenery, contrary to what you might think, is actually a lovely sight for me. It is a very calm sight, and it makes me want to create something – be it by writing, playing (my guitar) or even working on one of the software development projects I’m working on back at home (but I wouldn’t do that while on vacation).

But I was so damn tired that I couldn’t think of, or do, anything.

I was hoping to see some ocean before the train takes a dip into the tunnel connecting you with the British Island… to no avail. As it turns out, the train enters the tunnel at some great distance before the ocean. It was very weird, this ocean ride. Nothing but complete darkness around you, and knowing that you’re actually underwater may give some people an unsettling sensation. You ride like that for about 20 minutes or so, and then comes the light at the end of the tunnel and – lo and behold – you are in the British Island.

Finally arrived at the St. Pancras station, which is the final destination of the Eurostar train. I could continue on my way but decided to wait for Annechin and see how she’s doing. I finally found her fighting with her gigantic suitcase, as it appeared that one of the wheels was about to part the world goodbye.

The international St. Pancras station is a work of art – what a beautiful place. These guys really put a lot of work into designing this place. An international train terminal more impressive than most airports I had been to.

Came the time to bid Annechin farewell. Three kisses on the cheek (it’s a Dutch thing… really) and farewell. I’m always happy to meet interesting people along the way.

Watching the ridiculously long line-up to buy train tickets, I decided to walk to my hotel. It’s an easy one kilometre walk to The Bedford Hotel – just across the street from the Imperial Hotel, in Russell Square, where I stayed just one week ago.

I am back in London.



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