Sunday, September 20, 2009


After a good night sleep I woke up at around 9:00am. Had a couple of hours to kill before making my way to the Brussels-Zuid train station for my journey to Frankfurt, so I decided to go to Cafe Metropolitan again for breakfast. 12 Euros (expensive, if you ask me) for a light meal – a couple of toasts, ham, cheese, croissant, orange juice and cappuccino (which was quite good, actually).

I like slow mornings. Too bad I am not expected to have too many of those during the European leg of the Get Lucky tour next year. :-(

Instead of taking a taxi cab or fight with the unreadable signs of the Metro stations, I decided to walk the 1-2 kilometres to the train station. Very simple walk – just go south on the same road the hotel is on. Weather was pleasant and I made my way there within half an hour, carrying my backpack and my travel guitar.

One of the benefits in taking this vacation was to be able to witness what I’m going to experience next year, travelling Europe by train following the Get Lucky tour. While I am generally satisfied with the results of this little experiment, I came across the sad realization that, even though my Baby Taylor guitar is quite small and light, I am not going to take it with me to Europe; reason being that there is no convenient way to hook it up to a backpack and still be completely hands-free while walking around. I am going to miss guitar playing while being in Europe next year, that’s for sure.

Another take-away from this “experience” is transportation. I already mentioned how awestruck I am with the train system here. Turns out that, with most carriers, you can travel ticket-free if you have a smart phone – you can do everything online and the ticket, with a barcode on it, is emailed to you so the ticket-police can scan it. BRILLIANT.

(Just as an FYI, Air Canada has also recently launched a similar service. Online check-in has been around for a while, but now you can also get your boarding pass electronically. Travel without papers. Joy)

(Another FYI: while ticket-police will agree to scan barcodes directly from your laptop’s screen, note that this will NOT work if you have a glossy screen. It didn’t work for me… however now that I’m thinking about it, it may be because I forgot to scale the PDF to “real” size – by default, Adobe Reader fits to the screen’s width. Anyway, consider yourself warned)

As I got to the train station earlier than expected, I had about 45 minutes to kill before boarding the train so I decided to kill them in a small coffee place called Sam’s Cafe next to the Thalys gates (Thalys is a major European train carrier with excellent online availability and very fast trains. They also have Wi-Fi on board).

At the time I am starting to write this post, we’re cruising through Germany in immense speed. I see towers and churches at the horizon, nestled between sheer amounts of greenery on slopes of hills and mountains. This part of Germany seems like a neat place for a visit. Will do some time.

The train station in Köln (named Cologne in English) is a major transportation hub in Germany. I believe there are around 12 platforms here, and the departures/arrivals boards suggest that trains come and go very frequently and on time. In fact, this is one thing that the German train system is known for; it’s accurate. Going over the huge departures/arrivals board I noticed two trains that were marked “late by about 5 minutes”. Very impressive.

The platforms themselves are spotless and quite high-tech. LCD boards show you exactly what you need to know, in German and English. Nearly impossible to get lost.

I boarded the ICE (Inter-City Express) train that gets to 300 km/h, on my way to Frankfurt where my flight back home departs tomorrow (more accurately: Frankfurt to Washington DC, then to Buffalo, NY where Jonathan will be waiting with my car after returning from a weekend in New-York City).

The hotel I stayed in while in Frankfurt is National Hotel, right across the road from the train station. There are plenty of hotels there; I stayed at the National Hotel before (six months ago) and was satisfied with it, and since I had neither time or will to embark on hotel research, I decided to go for it again.

Took a walk through the streets of Frankfurt at the evening. There really isn’t much going on… at least not where I was hanging out. I was impressed by the Euro monument at the Taunusanlage, right across from the Frankfurt Oper building - which looks brilliant at night.

The area itself didn’t seem like the most upscale area in Germany, to say the least. Lots of panhandlers, suspicious figures wandering up and down the streets… but altogether the atmosphere appeared safe enough. I was walking for a couple of hours listening to Get Lucky, weather was perfect; quick dinner in a nearby restaurant-bar and back to the hotel.

Tomorrow’s going to be a very long day. Frankfurt airport is known for its notoriety when it comes to security checks etc – I will never forget what I went through when I was here last, six months ago – and I am not going to take chances.

Eight hours and a half flight to Washington DC, passport control (and I forgot my NEXUS card at home… fail), then another one-hour flight to Buffalo, and then two-hours drive home. Long day.


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