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Published: August 17th 2018
Our carriage awaits...
There were '15 carriages on this train of which we we in carriage 10
August 2018, Roisin and I walked out of the doors of HMRC for ever. The day had finally arrived. We are now retired (although not officially retired until 3rd
September 2018). The most popular question to ask retirees is: ‘Now what are you going to do with your time?’ However, the few people that asked Roisin or myself this question knew, in their heart of hearts, what they answer would be!!
When we both became partially retired twelve months ago no one asked us the question: ‘Now what are you going to do with the extra two days per week?’ I can now, however, reveal how one of us has spent most of HER partial retirement…..making travel arrangements for when we retire!!! As of 2nd
August 2018 we had twelve cruises planned and two land trips. This blog will escort you on the first of those land trips, to Brussels and the Waterloo battlefield. I didn’t plan on writing blogs for all of these trips but as the next two years will see us visit India, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Japan, the South Pacific, Alaska, possibly Antarctica and Scotland, there’s be a lot of writing
for me and reading for you ahead in the coming months. I just hope you will enjoy reading about our exploits half as much as I will enjoy writing about them!! If like me sometimes you couldn’t be arsed reading what someone’s written, there’ll be plenty of pics to look at!!
There was no time like the present to start our journey and on leaving the gates of St John’s House on 2nd
August 2018, we headed straight to Manchester airport to catch a flight to Rome. This was the first of many trips ahead; a Med cruise with fourteen members of my family. I did not write a blog on this trip as it was a chill out holiday. We hadn’t planned to visit any of the ports or do anything in particular other than play trivia and lounge about and that wouldn’t make interesting reading now, would it. I know what you’re thinking; that hasn’t stopped me in the past!! True but as this was the Med and Roisin and I have been there many times before, there was nowhere new or exciting to write about. It was just nice to be away with the family. Sixteen
members of the Hodgson clan. This was going to be one of the best holidays ever…or one of the worst!! As it turned out everyone (including Roisin and I) enjoyed themselves immensely. I assure you this had nothing to do with keeping out of each other’s way for most of the time!!!
Roisin and I took a separate flight to the rest of our clan back to London but due to logistics we all met up and were booked on to the same shuttle plane back to Manchester. The thought had occurred to me that if the plane had have gone down, the whole of the Hodgson dynasty would have been wiped out. Perhaps in the future we should copy the protocol from the U.S Government and nominate a designated survivor.
‘Hey Phil, we’re all off to Disneyland but you have to stay behind as you have been nominated as the designated survivor!’
But I’m not even a Hodgson’
‘YOU HAVE BEEN NOMINATED…!!!’
So now after a few days home we are back on the road. We have both always wanted to travel by Eurostar, to step on to
a train in the UK and step off somewhere in mainland Europe. The choices were Paris, Lille or Brussels. Waffles and chocolate won the day over garlic and snails so Brussels it was!!
After an uneventful 2-hour journey to London we walked the ½ mile or so from Euston to St. Pancras station where our train awaited.
The set up to pass through immigration and security is very similar to an airport. Tickets are automatically scanned. There were no signs to advise travellers what needed to pass through the scanners. As everyone in front of me were removing belts, watches and lap tops I followed suit. On successfully passing through the scanners I asked one of the security guards what is required to be put through the x-ray as I couldn’t see any notices.
‘Just the same as an airport’, came the reply. So why did my deodorant and tooth paste remain undetected in my toiletries bag inside my luggage. I looked around and did not see anyone else carrying liquids and pastes around in a plastic see-through bag. So not quite the same as an airport..mate!!
The waiting lounge was busy. There were
two trains due out within twenty minutes of each other but just like an airport, not everyone is likely to be on our train. Next to a Pret a Manger at the far end of the departure hall stood a small duty-free shop with a distinct lack of duty free! No spirits, wines, cigarettes, perfumes or even electrical goods were sold here but if it was books and toblerones – three for a pound you were after, then jackpot!!!
The platforms were on the level above the departure hall with a travellator leading to each one. Once the platform was announced I expected a crazy scramble but it seemed quite civil. We found our seats in coach 10 without difficulty. The journey took only 2 hours and five minutes. We arrived in Gare du Midi at 17:00 hours. Our hotel was a few yards from St Catherine’s metro station. We could either walk 1.2 miles or take metro number 3 changing to line 5. There now followed a series of unfortunate events that led to the incident. We decided to take the Metro…
…We alighted at Sainte Catherine’s metro station. This was a long platform. To the left exit ‘Kanal’ and to the right ‘Sainte Catherine’s Plein’ We had starting to walk to the left before I spotted the sign. As our hotel is called Citadines St. Catherine’s, I made the assumption to exit right. This hesitation resulted in the platform almost empty by the time we had reached the exit. The exit is by way of a sliding Perspex barrier followed by a short escalator to pavement level. Roisin was the first to exit the barrier. I tried to swipe my ticket but the barrier would not open. I became aware of someone standing behind me. Getting more frustrated that the barrier wouldn’t open, I was just about to turn to the man and beckon him to proceed in front of me, when Roisin turned and shouted: ‘Just walk through’. I stepped on the escalator and within a few seconds the escalator jolted and stopped as Roisin let out a half-hearted yelp. My reaction was to turn and look down the escalator, straight past the man standing behind me. I had no idea why the escalator had stalled although I was aware that a second man had stepped on to the escalator as it stopped. I turned to Roisin and said: ‘Just walk’. Within five seconds we had reached the surface. Roisin turned to me and immediately let out a scream: ‘Chris, your wallet!!’. At the same instance I felt my wallet, that was attached to a chain secured to my belt, swing as it hit my leg as the little packet of silica gel used for keeping the contents from drying out fell to the ground!! At this very moment, the two men who had followed me up the escalator scarpered in the opposite direction. After being so careful and vigilant these past years, overly cautious some might say, I had once more become complacent and caught completely off guard. My wallet had been lifted from the side pocket of my trousers, the Velcro fastener opened and the sixty euro cash swiped. How was this possible? How come I never even heard the Velcro being ripped open? Co-incidentally, I had been for a hearing test the previous day. Was this just a co-incidence or was an otologist in Widnes in cahoots with petty criminals in Brussels? Had she done something to my ear that made hearing impervious to the sound of Velcro!! That’s too paranoid sounding for even me!! I should have heard alarm bells when I was aware of a man suddenly appearing behind me. How good does your hearing have to be to hear metaphorical alarm bells??! Our hotel was only 10m from the Metro exit. As we turned to walk in the direction of the hotel, the thieves, who had darted down a side street now reappeared and were only 20m ahead, walking quite nonchalantly. I wanted to sneak up on them, wrap my arm around the culprit’s throat and give him one hell of a Vulcan neck pinch. Roisin quickly reminded me that a) there are two of them and you don’t know what weapons they’re packing (packing is street talk for having about your person, don’t you know??!) and b) I’m not a Vulcan (despite my sticky out and pointy ears!!) As a reflex action I simply shouted out, ‘Hey you f**kin’ scumbags. Come back here with our money.’ This course of action did have an affect, although it was the opposite one to what I was hoping as they started to run away!! I decided not to pursue as the safety chain had at least saved my credit and debit cards as well as my MSC ‘elite’ loyalty membership card from being taken. All that had been stolen was a few quid, my pride and a little bit of dignity (with the shouting out obscenities thing!!) As this is our second visit to Brussels and the second mishap to befall us (after getting my car towed away during our first visit!) the moral of the story is: Keep away from Brussels If the hotel has a guest book, I’ll be sure to write something along the following lines: We hate f**kin’ Brussels. However, all may seem different after a good night’s sleep!!
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