WALES AWAY – BELGIUM 2022: Day one, trains, trains and trains (17/09/22)

Diary of a trip to Belgium to watch Wales play away in the Nations League and celebrate me birthday whilst at it. Day one.

It seems like every weekend involves making tough decisions at the moment, in terms of where to go. This week had originally been planned as being bookended with Equinox Festival the one weekend and the Something Else End of Festival Season Party the other weekend. Then it was announced that Wales would play away to Belgium – on me birthday.  (First World problems eh – life is being very kind to me at the moment)

I was undecided for ages, then Poland reminded me of how much fun Wales away can be – and as much as I love our new campervan, when it rains, hotels are even better.

Plans were set in place; accommodation was booked and for a change we decided to go by train. Not just any old train though, Euro Star.

All we needed to top it off was to secure tickets for the game. I was fairly comfortable, qualifying in the first stage because of my game history. Megan was a different story, because she has never been away before. But I was on the case and we got lucky – it turns out very lucky. Stage five of ticket sales (no previous game history) sold out in less than a minute, such was the demand. But we were in, and all the pieces had fallen into place perfectly. Until …

Until the RMT Union announced it would be striking on the day we were travelling. Our plans were suddenly up in the air and what made it worse, Eurostar were unable to tell us if our train would run. I am one hundred percent behind the union, so I was pissed off with the government for not getting around the negotiating table.

Intervention came from an unexpected direction,  HRH Her Madge herself. After 96 years on the planet and 70 years on the throne, Big Liz had had enough. She shuffled off her mortal coil and went to meet Phil The Greek in the great palace in the sky.

The BBC turned into Mourn Hub, grown people who hadn’t visited their gran for fifteen months, queued for fifteen hours to walk past the royal coffin – and the RMT called off their strike.

And if that divine intervention wasn’t enough, a Bank Holiday was declared and I got back ond of my annual leave days.

Gawd bless ya Liz.

And so it was, after walking the eighty five yards from my house to the railway station, we were once again on our way to watch Wales away, all be it a week early.

The journey to Cardiff was unremarkable,  other than, for the first time ever, Posh turned down a can of cider. Much to the surprise of myself and Becks.

The train to London was on time, ran smoothly and, as is the way when your full of expectations and excitement at the start of a trip, entertaining. Before we knew it, we were stood outside the departure gate for Eurostar, meeting up with our very own Purley Queen.

There were no seats in the departure lounge so we felt compelled to sit in the bar. It’s a bit like a decompression zone, adjusting your wallet to western European beer prices. But we only went through the pain of one round before finding ourselves sat in the opulent surroundings of a Eurostar carriage.

Eurostar is everything you expect it to be. Not luxurious,  but certainly a league above what you can expect on a UK train, spacious,  comfortable and modern. In no time at all we were defying archimedes and travelling under the English Channel at 280km/h.

You can always tell when you are on the continent,  without seeing signs in a foreign language or hearing foreign languages. The pylons are a different shape, the houses have a different design and roof tiles are redder. We watched this most European of vistas roll past our window, through northern france, over the border into Belgium until we were eventually deposited into Brussels.

The station we were greeted by was ultra modern,  clean and sophisticated. If Brussels was our final destination we would have been impressed.  But it wasn’t.  We hauled our bags up to the broken escalator to the platform for Bruges. We were greeted by another station that reminded me of the pictures of the New York Subway back in the 1970s. Grubby, piles of cigarettes ends and trains covered in graffiti.

When our train finally arrived it was a double decker. Needless to say we headed for the upper deck. At first we were panicking about there not being any space for our extensive luggage,  till a local pointed out there was room under the seats to accommodate all but the most humongous of cases.

Three stops and sixty minutes later we are, like the film,  In Bruges.

Our taxi driver must have done the Belgian equipment of ‘the knowledge’, because after seeing where we were going he quickly and efficiently whisked us through the old town, past the church where Colin Farrell upset some fat American tourists and down a few alleys to drop us at beautiful little cottage in the old town that was to be our home for next few days.

An old three story house, it was thoroughly modernised, clean and bordering on luxurious.

After running up and down saying things like, “oooh there’s coffee in the cupboard”, “oooh look at this lovely lamp shade” and “oooh there’s BBC on the telly”, we were soon off out in search of food.

After trying to get our bearings with the assistance of Google maps (and failing) we soon find the house is just a short walk from the old town and after several failed attempts to get something to eat we are eventually sat in an incredibly friendly Italian tucking into some rather splendid food till out cups runneth over.

Then back to the ranch, via an off licence, to make noises like; “oooh, we can watch Match of the Day”, “oooh, there’s no ventilation in trap one, better leave the door open after using it” and “oooh I’m going out the front for a smoke cos there’s a slug in the back garden”.

Then up the wooden ladder to get rest ready for our first full day.