Europe Echelon: Bruxelles-Midi to Paris-Nord Thalys PBA Comfort 1

We’ll meet again soon.

With my Belgian host’s most restrictive time (she successfully negotiated that I leave the house at 9.30am instead of the previously agreed 10am because she has to “get ready for work”). I bit the bullet, and left as per her wishes. I went straight to Bruxelles-Midi station, and never left. I discovered EXKi, the Belgian fast food boulangerie cafe chain which I first sampled at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport’s Terminal 2F at the railway station, and decided I’d have breakfast there. Also, for the first time, I began recounting my journey thus far – the content which became the building blocks of my blog posts you read today. It was a time of reflection, not just about my trip so far, but my life, especially with my job once again, ending against my will. It’s funny how managements and governments will shift the blame to intangible problems that they are ironically completely and solely responsible for, and funny how it’s always the “people” who have to suffer for their lack of leadership, knowledge and strategy.

Oh, how I wish you could see what was going through my thought process then. There was a rush of emotions, of an anguish that never came – it just skipped from the bouts of confusion to enlightenment. Try as I might to stir something inside, I just couldn’t. The only thing I’d miss, isn’t so much my work, but the colleagues. There’s always this fear of being overly nostalgic or over valuing relationships – after so many years of giving so much more than receiving, you’re afraid that the other side just doesn’t like you as much. So you’re removed, detached, and any emotions you display is meticulously calculated and calibrated, somewhat filtered and moderated down.

I was looking forward to more “moderate” temperatures in Paris. This 0 degree average in Brussels was an absolute joy if only if it didn’t turn my hands ice cold while I was outside, then giving off a “burning sensation” when I was indoor.

An hour to departure, I ate again, this time at the station’s food court. I wasn’t exactly hungry as a horse, to be sure, but I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to eat again for a long time, what with the two-hour long train journey to Paris, the commute to Marais, and the inevitable Googling for affordable spots in Paris. Nothing seemed appetizing, but when I noticed they were serving food in those cardboard takeaway boxes like those in the States, I was hooked. There was an Asian stall, which seemed really popular, and some of the offerings authentic enough – the Hong Kong noodles looked like Singapore-style Hokkien Mee, but I stopped myself. Instead, I go for a stall called Mezzo Pasta, which seems fairly numerous spread across Brussels and Paris, at least, what I observed. It wasn’t great, but it was okay – PastaMania style I suppose.

Bruxelles-Midi station has dedicated waiting rooms for international and high-speed rail trains, and the Eurostar service to London its own customs and immigration, as well as waiting lounges in a restricted area of the station. And I made my way for one of these rooms. These rooms are, unlike the rest of the station, specially heated, and quite comfortable if you asked me… until a homeless vagrant came in. While the cold air numbs your senses, the stench that surrounded this man was undeniable. He seemed to be of Middle Eastern descent, but I eavesdrop on a conversation that identified him as Romani, or Gypsy. He wore a quilted baggy pants, and a woolen top, and carried a haversack – all stained with dirt. His movement was slow and stretched, but this only brought more attention against him. Several passengers began moving as he sat down on the seats, then moving onto the floor, and dragging himself to what he thought was a hidden and warm corner. A little more than five minutes after he settled down into his position, some traveler who was sitting directly opposite me left the room and came back with two intimidating Security officers. A heated argument ensued, the Security officers obviously angered but keeping their voices down to hushed tones. Eventually, they dragged the man outside of the waiting room, to a sitting area, gave him what looked like a tongue lashing, then left him be. I didn’t know whether to feel pity, or indifferent, but I’m a firm believer in contributing to society, and even after two thousand years, the Romani hasn’t proved that they can do so nor they plan to be.

Operator: Thalys
Service: TGH 9348
Route: Bruxelles-Midi/Brussels-Zuid to Paris-Nord (Nonstop)
Scheduled Time of Departure: 2.37pm
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 4.08pm
Coach: 3
Seat: 21

Today, my class of travel is on Comfort 1, which is pretty much the equivalent of First Class, on paper. Instead, what you get for paying much more is more of the same, except that the cabin’s most likely to be emptier because people can’t afford, and you sit facing your fellow traveler, which is awkward, really. The types riding with me are presentable, well-dressed, good looking young women. I take comfort in the probable fact that they’re here, in Comfort 1, because they value their security and safety. In nearly, 1.5 hours, we finally descend upon Paris, my final stop in my whirlwind tour of the Old World.

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