For four months, I studied abroad in London, England. These notes are select entries from my experiences in the United Kingdom and Western Europe from that time.
Thursday, November 19 –
After pulling an all-nighter packing and wrapping up some loose ends, today my epic European journey was going to begin. I strapped on my Eagle Creek backpack and left my room key on my professor’s desk before walking out of our residence at 5:20 a.m. I walked down to the Gloucester Road Underground station and caught the Circle Line train east to Enbankment and then switched to the Northern Line to Waterloo.
Upon arrival, I walked into the new Waterloo International terminal. I was blown away by the swanky terminal will automatic glass doors that opened when you presented your ticket. I looked for my train to Bruxelles, and found the right one that left at 6:15 (there were others that left for Paris). The whole concept of catching an interational train departure from London was just an extraordinary thought, considering this was not possible a few years earlier. Needless to stay, Eurostar was very elegant and upscale on board catering to business clients, but even economy was much nicer than an airline.
As we travelled out of London, I dozed off until we arrived in Kent at Ashford International station to pick up additional passengers. With one last stop at Dover to pick up some passengers and their cars, we whizzed under the English Channel at a slightly more reduced speed, while I popped my ears a few times to equalize them.
Upon emerging on the other side in France, we accessed the high-speed rail lines and quickly cruised up to about 200 miles per hour as we hurtled along through the beautiful French countryside towards Belgium. After a total two hour and 50 minute journey, I arrived in Bruxelles-Midi station at 10:05 a.m. It was an interesting moment after seeing Eurostar ads in the Tube for months with the slogan “As if by magic, Brussels arrived.” It was pretty magical!
After going through Belgium customs and having my passport stamped, I hurried to a nearby ticket counter and bought a ticket on the next train to Köln. I did not want to use my Eurail pass yet because it was only good for 10 consecutive days.
I had a couple of hours before my Deutsche Bahn connection to Bingen. So, I made my way to the Grand Place, Brussels grand public square. There I indulged myself at the original Godiva chocolate shop, and had the best Belgian waffles I have ever tasted. I was hooked on Belgium and knew I had to return.
Back at the train station, this was my first experience with Deutsche Bahn, and the timing was impeccable – everything you would expect from German efficiency. It was fascinating leaving Bruxelles because the first language the conductors used was Flemish in the Flanders region followed by French, German and English. But when we crossed into the southern Wallonia region, French became the first language followed by Flemish, German and English. When we crossed into Germany, German became the only language … only in Europe!
Probably the most beautiful part of the journey was from Brussels to Aachen, where we passing rolling lowlands that made me think of the Netherlands because of the dikes. However, they quick gave way to the hilly Ardennes mountains, covered in snow, and permanently associated in history with the horrific trench warfare of WW1 and the bloody Battle of the Bulge in WWII.
Shortly later I arrived in Köln, where I would return later with my Uncle Barry. Upon arrival, I had to buy another ticket to travel to Bingen in the Rhineland. The ticket cost about $20 compared to the $30 I spent traveling from Bruxelles to Köln.
Having completed some German language and culture studies at my university, I saw many sites I recognized along the legendary Rhine from the cabin of my electric Deutsche Bahn. The river was spectacular as it wound its way past vineyards and high ridges topped with ancient fortresses. After passing through Koblenz at the meeting point of the Moselle and Rhine Rivers, I arrived in Bingen at 14:47 p.m.
I was scheduled to meet up with Uncle Barry at the Bahnhof, but we were unaware there were two bahnhofs. After about 20 minutes of looking around and asking the ticket manager if he had seen another American man there with a beard, I saw Barry arrive in the parking lot. One of us arrived at the wrong station, but it didn’t matter. It was good to see my first family in fourth months, especially with Thanksgiving coming up! I gave him a big hug and we were both very happy to see each other.
Barry being the sports car fan, I was surprised to see that he had rented a red hatchback Opel Astra (GM) instead of an Audi or BMW. We packed my things in the car and drove through Bingen on our way to Backerath, a historic and beautiful German town overlooking the Rhine, where we would stay that night. We walked to a restaurant where I had wiener schnitzel and Bitsburger bier for supper. We then went back to our room to talk about the trip and my time in London so far before going to be at around 22:00 p.m. We were both tired!