Monday, October 24, 2011

Europe 2002 Trip Reports Part 30 Brussels London Vancouver Victoria

This is the 30th (and final) of a series of posts recalling my trip to Europe, using e-mails sent at the time.  Unlike later trips, I didn’t e-mail people everyday.  Trip reports are largely as I wrote them at the time with two exceptions: I was usually pretty rushed due to Internet fees in Europe, so I’ve cleaned up my e-mails to make them more coherent, which wasn’t a priority at the time.  Also, in some blog posts I’ll add additional thoughts with the hindsight of nine years later or to add further clarification.  I’ll use “NOW” in such cases.

This final report covers my Eurostar ride from Brussels to London, my flight to Vancouver, and my ferry ride to Victoria.

Got up early at Brussels and went to the Midi station to catch the Eurostar.  I actually arrived just in time for an earlier train but unfortunately could not change my reservation.  The train ride itself ran smoothly; unlike my arrival in France, I did not go into brief system shock upon exiting the Chunnel.

[NOW: Many people think of the Chunnel as being strictly London to France but there’s also a London to Brussels route.]

Accidently left my London map on the train so had to buy a new one; London charges more than other places for tourist maps: L1.85 (most tourist bureaus just give you one or charge a tiny amount).  Got price quotes for the bus and for Gatwick Express train but not regular train so walked from Waterloo Station to London Bridge Station (near where I had stayed) to find out the amount.  Turns out that all prices are fairly similar and my remaining pounds would not cover both lunch and a ticket.

[NOW: The Eurostar train now arrives in London at St. Pancras rather than Waterloo Station.]

Since I hadn't really eaten yet I opted for a L40 withdraw and, after completing the circuit described in the rest of this paragraph, grabbed a lunch at a restaurant which I had bought two dinners from last month (they charge less for take-out than eat in so I did that).  I checked about leaving my bag at the station.  No baggage storage there but there was one at the place I had just been to. 

Sigh.  I finally decided against it because it was not where I wanted to go.  Walked to the Tower of London where I was considering visiting, passing the HMS Belfast and crossing the Tower Bridge. Cost was L12 (about $25 Can) so I decided against it again.  I'm not *that* curious to see the Crown Jewels.

Crossing the London Bridge and had the aforementioned lunch, then grabbed the metro to Westminster (Big Ben).  I had forgotten how pricey the metro is here (L1.60 or about $3.50) but it at least let me get rid of some coins from earlier on in the trip that had gotten stained when a ketchup package broke.
[NOW: Nearly accidently left behind my map again by the Tower of London. A couple was looking at it when I double backed. At first they didn’t back the connection between the map they found and the one I was looking for, but I finally got it back.]

Took more pics of Big Ben (you can never get enough pics of Big Ben) then headed to Buckingham Palace.  People kept asking me during the trip to take their picture for them so when one did so near Big Ben I asked her to return the favour.  Hopefully she got the clock in the picture.

[NOW: The photo turned out fine. Around this time I also got a great photo of a goose looking prim and proper.]

I walked to Piccadilly Circus, which is listed as a tourist attraction but really isn't that interesting, just another shopping street, albeit a slightly wealthier one.  On the way to Victoria Station as security van was stopped, and a message kept repeating over and over from it: "Help, help! [Unintelligible] Please call the police!"  I would have liked to help but didn't know where a pay phone was or what the police's number was.

At Victoria Station caught the Gatwick Express to the airport.  At the airport they actually weigh carry on baggage so the "put your heavy stuff in your carry-on" trick didn't work.  However, even after moving some hardcovers to my storage baggage, the weight was still low enough to avoid a fee.  Given how much pain I was in from carrying the stuff, I was happily surprising.

[I also got a photo of a strange sign with different combinations of gate numbers, but with all the arrows pointed in the same direction.]

My boarding pass coupon fell out of the boarding pass itself at a book store, but managed to recover it.

Nearly ate at a pizza place but McDonald's had a special deal involving their Smarties dessert (McFlurry) so my sweet tooth activated.

[NOW: I may have eaten at the pizza place before the boarding pass incident; I seem to recall that happening just before boarding the plane.]

The plane ride was okay for a nine hours non-stop flight.  I had requested a window seat not near the wing and there were fewer clouds than usual so hopefully I got some decent shots.  Only picture problems were sun shining right into window, and most of Vancouver upon landing being on the other side of the plane.  I chatted a bit with an old lady near me.

[NOW: If memory serves we politely disagreed on a number of things, nbut it helped to pass the time.]

I didn't bother with the in flight movies, though I'll probably see them eventually back here, maybe via the library.  I noticed that the movies blocked the "current location screens" at about the same points as on the way there, so I suspect that the intervening locations aren't even programmed in.

Deliberately drank a lot of caffeine (Coke, coffee, tea) on the plane because I knew it would be evening upon arriving and didn't want to be sleepy prematurely.

At Customs the declaration occurred even before recovering our storage baggage. It would seem to make it difficult if they need to search your baggage but that was not my problem.

Arranged to meet friend downtown Vancouver, a tricky process:
First find a bank machine, then wait a while at information to find out where you can get change for bus (already had money for phone), follow somewhat faulty directions, repack bag when contents spill on ground, get change, find bus stop, transfer at mid-stop (a bit confusing itself: they now have a stop at Airport Station which is not actually located at the airport; it took me a moment or so to figure that one out), take B-Line to Granville Station.

[NOW: Vancouver has since changed their transit system and closed Airport Station. To get to downtown Vancouver from the airport now, you now take a Canada Line Skytrain from the airport straight to there. By the way, the Vancouver airport is in Richmond, now Vancouver.]

The friend lives at West Vancouver but Lion's Gate Bridge was closed so we took the scenic route.  The friend was going to Tsawwassen next morning so got a lift to ferry.  Unfortunately no 8 am ferry or else would have arrived home an hour sooner, but finally made it.

[NOW: I’ve since lost track of the friend unfortunately.]

I forgot to mention before: in Amsterdam they have what are called smart shops, as in if you're smart, you won't shop there.  They specialize in the kind of drugs that take half an hour, and then really kick in.  As with coffee shops didn't feel the need for this particular experience.

So ends the trip e-mails.  I'm amending a previous comment:
I am willing to talk about the trip, particularly the facts.  They may be some emotional aspects that I won't want to get into, but we can take those on a case by case basis.  Otherwise, it is okay to ask questions about the trip.

[NOW: Of course after all these years I can now talk pretty freely about the trip without getting upset.]

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