Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Belgium Rail sucks

We started today with a walk out to the Ramparts Cemetery on the edge of the Ieper Old Town.  If I was a soldier who had to be buried in foreign lands, this is  the cemetery I would want to be buried in.  It is serenely beautiful, perched high on the rampart, overlooking the moat and beside the Lille Gate.  We found headstones from January 1915 and several Aussies from 1917.  As with all cemeteries with more than 200 graves, there was a Cross of Remembrance, but unusually, the grave stones faced the water rather than the cross.

Heading back into town along the top of the Ramparts we came back to the Grote Markt and a daylight visit to St Martins Cathedral.  It is as beautiful inside as outside. 

Our time in Ieper was just about over and we began the somewhat challenging trip from the hotel to the railway station.  Yesterdays snow was cleared from footpaths and now lay in lumpy re-frozen piles along the street.  Some had iced up, other bits had turned to slush having been in direct sunlight.  Our train was due to leave at 11.39 for a 2 hour trip to Brussels where we would catch the ICE train for another high speed trip to Aachen. 
We had an hour & 5 min between trains so we got a bite to eat and headed for the platform.  Departure time for the ICE came, went and then an announcement “the ICE to Cologne via Aachen will not run today”… oh great…

Off I go to the ticket office and I’m told we can get a train on platform 5 to Liege and can change there for a train to Aachen.  Not much tome so we race (as best we can given the stairs – Brussels has no lifts) only to find that we needed to be on platform 3.  Neither of us speak Flemmish or French and only major announcements are done in English.  Off we trudge to platform 3 only to see the train disappear as we get to the top of the steps.

Back to the ticket office anda readiness not to be nice to the little man behind the window.  Yes, platform 5 will be OK for the 3.32 train (the time we ‘should’ have arrived in Aachen) and Yes we should change in Liege.  We wait in the freezing cold – the waiting room door does not shut, not that this matters because half the glass is missing!

So instead of a new, fast, warm, comfortable ICE train we board something that is more akin to an old cityrail red rattler.  So far so good, and we have both simmered down a bit.  We get to Leige and the platform we’re supposed to go to is packed … seems lots of other people are wanting to go to Aachen.  We finally head along the platform away from the crowd, jump on and grab a seat .. a pretty nice seat actually… but the pleasure of a warm seat doesn’t last long because soon the train conductor/ticket inspector arrives and tells us we cannot sit here because we have a 2nd class ticket and are actually in the 1st class compartment.  The fact that we paid a premium to travel in a reserved seat on an ICE train doesn’t seem to impress him and we are summarily dismissed to the hard, cold 2nd class seats.

Half an hour later and with no further sightings of the ticket man we arrived in Aachen. To say we were not impressed by Rail Belgium is perhaps something of an understatement!

Add to today’s rail comedies, we had an email from the company we booked our Aachen hotel with informing us that the hotel was closed due to some water pipe emergency.  So we found our way to the replacement, only to find that they share a reception with another hotel round the corner and our room was on the 2nd floor  and there was no lift!

On a brighter note, we headed into the Alstadt looking for a little place for dinner and to get an idea of where the Cathedral was. We came round a street corner and there in front of us was the most enormous cathedral, lit up at night, dusted with fresh snow and looking absolutely stunning… I can’t wait to explore it tomorrow!

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