I'm spending the night in Brussels after travelling in by Eurostar, before getting a flight to Banjul tomorrow. I wouldn't really recommend a trip through Brussels to anyone with 46kg of luggage; to be honest I'm not entirely sure if I'd recommend a trip through Brussels to anyone. There are no lifts Brussels Midi station, nor are there baggage carts. I found this difficult to believe, so asked a passerby for confirmation and was rewarded with a Gallic shrug and a tirade about how it was une scandale. I concurred that it was indeed une scandale and proceeded to lug my bags up two flights of steps to the platform, only to discover that the airport express, which you would have imagined would have been designed with the needs of people with luggage in mind, actually has three steps up from the platform to the carriage.
Whilst trying to negotiate these with my bags I tripped (note to parents: at no point was I actually in danger of falling on the track) and the carriage's only other passenger, a young Arab-looking bloke, leapt up to grab my arm. At this point the guard in the carriage, who it should be noted had made no effort to help me up to this point, leapt out and asked the bloke if the bags were his. I said they were mine and he promptly asked for the bloke's ticket (but didn't ask me for mine) and it turned out he didn't have one, forcing him to leg it off the train. The guard them proceeded to harangue me in Flemish, then in English when I was finally able to get a word in edgeways to say that I didn't understand him, saying that I should be more careful and the guy had been trying to steal my luggage. Now the guy was trying to travel without a ticket and for all I know he might have been about to steal my luggage, I suppose the airport express would be the place for baggage thieves to try it, but the whole incident left a rather nasty taste especially when I later overheard the same guard talking to a colleague in French about how he's just known by looking at him that the bloke didn't have a ticket. The guard then told me I couldn't put my bags on the seat next to me because other passengers would need it (as I was the only passenger in the carriage with two minutes until departure this seemed a little unnecessary) and insisted that I put it in the vestibule and sat in a particular seat so that I could watch it in case the guy came back. To be honest I'm inclined to think that anyone who could run off with a 23 kilogram bag probably deserves it. Incidentally two more passengers did get into the carriage. They put their bags beside them.
There was more fun once I got to the airport – Rothamsted has booked me into what its website suggested was going to be a posh airport hotel, with a free shuttle bus to the airport, wireless internet access in the rooms and . I had visions of reclining in a tub of luxuriant bubbles, sipping champagne from the minibar and possibly in my wilder imaginings munching on complimentary gluten-free Belgian chocolates. Sadly it was not to be. I waited an hour for the shuttle bus and then decided I had a travel expense budget for a reason and got a taxi. This turned out to be a good move, as once I got to the hotel I discovered that the shuttle bus only runs during the week – I could have been waiting a very long time. The wireless internet is only free if you pay the 25 Euro business upgrade, which also entitles you to all the pay-per-view movies you can wank over and a complimentary drink from the bar which isn't open at weekends. I declined and am paying for this by the minute. And although in theory it's available in all the rooms, in practice it only works in the lobby, where I am typing this in fear that someone will look over my shoulder and see the word "wank". And someone's eaten my complimentary biscuit and left the wrapper on the tray (I know that I wasn't going to eat the biscuit myself, but it's the principle of the thing).
Even more annoying was the fact that the restaurant is only open during the week, and as the hotel is situated in the middle of a deserted business park there was a good half hour when I though I wasn't going to get any dinner as I wandered past empty office after empty office, desperately seeking an alternative to cracking open my emergency Gambia Lara bars and protein shake. Fortunately I eventually found another hotel with a restaurant and disgusted the waiter by ordering rose with my steak. So now I'm back, contemplating an evening of repacking my Bugdorms and watching Martha Stewart, who seems to have an entire channel devoted to her over here.
The fun starts tomorrow folks.