Monday, October 8, 2007

Travelling to Belgium part 1

Or should I say Day 0-1. We left yesterday (Sunday) for Brugge (not Bruge) via Copenhagen and Brussels. The plane was supposed to leave 5:20 PM from Trondheim, and our connecting flight was supposed to take off at 8 PM from Copenhagen. Things started to fall apart even before we got to board the Widerøe flight to Denmark, as we were 25 minutes delayed right off the bat. Plus, the - what's the politically correct term these days - air mattresses kept stalling it for at least another ten minutes once we were aboard the plane, on account of them trying to tally the passengers and check whether one stand-by ticket could materialize into a seat. Air-headed, seven layers of laquer and lipstick-wearing, cheap Tax-Free Kahlua-drinking, glorified waitresses. We asked if the head air mattress (feel free to insert your own pun here) could check our connecting flight to see if we had any chance at all of making it - if they could hold the plane for ten minutes or whatever. But nooo.......such information was beyond her powers. When we landed at Castrup - 25 minutes before our next flight was scheduled to leave - we were loaded onto a bus, which basically meant that we had to wait for all the passengers to disembark before we had any chance of moving towards the gate. People sure take their sweet time getting off, I'll tell you that. Moreover, in their infinite wisdom, they elected to disembark only through the front entrance, whereas they loaded us on using both the front and rear doors. We were LATE.

After we finally got into the building, we had to run all the way across Castrup to our terminal (just a short walk, the air mattress assured us.........more than 15 minutes of brisk walking/running is more like it). But we caught a break, as the flight to Brussels was 15 minutes delayed. Yay.

Once we landed in Brussels, just before 10 PM, we strolled for what seemed like an eternity to the baggage claim. Nice airport, but it must've been designed by the same masterminds that begat Gardermoen, since we had to walk for WAAY longer than we do at Dulles, Detroit or even O'Hare, all of which are much bigger airports. As the conveyor belt unloaded its cargo and people left with their shit and got on their merry way, it dawned on us that SAS/Widerøe had screwed us like common air mattresses and lost our bag. At this point, I had very little patience left, as we still had to take two trains to get to our destination. Fuming, we waited in line at the baggage claims, where some puny, local waffle-eating douche bag was taking his sweet time processing the four or so people in line before us. There was even a freakin' low-life Volvo-driving, meat-ball eating, bolibompa-watching, bottom-rung-on-the-corporate-ladder-inhabiting Swede who cut in line two places in front of us, because he was late for a taxi his loser buddies had ordered. The lady in front of us was nice and English-speaking, though. She had lost some bags AND gotten one hard-shell Samsonite suitcase broken in the transport process. Anyone who owns one of these can attest to the fact that they're pretty much unbreakable, but somehow, the bag handlers had managed to demolish this 28 kg unit on the way from Tel Aviv to Brussels. And people wonder why I never want to send my guitars as "special luggage". Yeah; right.

The nice lady in front of us commented, as the local teenage mutant waffle freakshow was wielding the magic of modern technology and bar code tracking, how impressive it was that they could tell exactly where the baggage was. I massively disagree. I can pinpoint to within 35 square meters of interest where the lost bags are - they're not fuc*in' here, and that's all that matters. I absolutely don't care if the jerkwad behind the counter can tell me that "Yeah; this is your problem right here - the bags were loaded onto the flight to Anchorage instead of to Brussels, so right now they're en route to terminal 3 in Alaska". It'd be infinitely more impressive if they could've actually sent the baggage where it was supposed to go when it was supposed to be sent. Not f*cking up is always more impressive than some elaborate post-occurrence analysis of exactly how the f*ck they f*cked up.

Anyway; after the baggage claim meltdown, we had to find the trains - first to Brussels Noord and then to Brugge. Even more so as the clog-wearing, chocolate-eating, acne cream commercial before-picture behind the counter had warned us that since it was now almost 11 PM, we'd better hurry if we wanted to catch the last train to Brugge. As we bought tickets, the friendly, but in retrospect not so well-informed - conductor told us that we could buy tickets all the way to Brugge from him, and that we could board the Brugge-train from either Brussels Noord or Brussels Mid. We got on board, and disembarked at Brussels Noord, as was the original plan. Following some frantic searching for an open information desk at 11.25 PM or at least some billboard, we spectacularly failed in locating any Brugge-headed trains. We asked a friendly local, who took some time out of his schedule to guide us back to the bulletin board and confirm that there were no more trains to Brugge until the following morning. So that was some 26 Euro well spent. In the words of Shakespeare, we were f*cked!

As the conference started 8 AM Monday morning, spending the night in Brussels was not an alternative, so we waded through a bunch of homeless people and addicts who reside just inside the Brussels Noord train station, and found a taxi. Brussels is in the french-speaking part of Belgium, and we found a taxi driver who - while being very helpful - didn't know all that much English, and who had only been to Brugge once before. Yet he knew very well that the ride from Brussels Noord to Brugge would set us back at least 200 Euro, but we didn't have much choice, so we set off. It was now approximately 25 minutes to midnight, and we hadn't eaten since two thirty, so we were hungry, tired, and had very little patience left. With our luck, the taxi driver didn't have a GPS, and asked us if we had a map of exactly where we were going. Dude was very helpful and nice, and tried to stir up a conversation - first asking if we could speak french, and then proceeded to practice his English, which was a cool thing to do, all things considered. In our state, though, we were not very interested in conversations which went like "What you do? I drive taxi. What you do?" - and that's not dissing the guy at all - he really did his best and was a good guy. Having said that, there were several times during the 100 km or so that I doubted we'd make it to Brugge at all. It was heavy fog, yet dude was rollin' at a cruising speed of 150 km/h, zig-zagging through lines of trucks and trailers.

When we finally made it to Brugge, our driver had to stop and ask some local kids where our hotel was. Since he couldn't speak flemish, he had to get directions in English, also a second time from a policeman, but at last we arrived at Hotel Navarra. 250 Euros was what the taxi ride ended up costing. At the hotel, the very nice - and English-speaking - night clerk could inform us that it was too late to get any food from the hotel restaurant, but there were open snack bars and such closer to the market. So we unloaded our stuff, and went food-shopping at half past midnight. 200 meters or so away from the hotel, we located an all-night diner, and got some local deli from a very nice older gentleman. Then it was light out!

The original plan was to stay in Brugge until Thursday and then take the rest of the week off on vacation in Brussels, but after this there's no way we're gonna spend more time in Belgium than we absolutely have to. It's now coming up on 4:30 PM on Monday, and we still don't have our baggage. This afternoon, we're gonna see if we can book a flight back on Thursday instead of Sunday. It's gonna cost us, but it's worth it. If I ever hear about Brussels again, it'll be too soon.


Kjerstin said...

Next time you may want to consider going to Belgium on bicycles. Should be faster :-)

But yes, Brugge is a nice town. I have some not-too-bad photos from there. I especially like the way they don't spoil every nice view by putting malls or construction sites in the background, like they do in all other cities.

Anders said...

Hope you at least had enough stuff in your carry on bags so you made it through the first day of your conference.

And it sucks. No airliner has ever misplaced my stuff, but they sure have given my special luggage the "special" treatement...

Wilhelm said...

Kjerstin: Yeah; Brugge is a really nice town, and I'm impressed with how friendly people are, and how tranquil the atmosphere is here. It's like walking into a TinTin background, essentially. Speaking of which, I visited an official TinTin store today.

Still; there's quite a lot of construction - or rather reconstruction - going on here now, especially in the area around Sint-Jakobsstraat and Geldmun tstraat, which happens to be smack dab where our hotel is.

Wilhelm said...

Anders: In one word - No. We figured that if it came to that, we could probably buy something at Brussels airport, but with the brutal delays, we were shit out of luck. But it was possible to buy something early Monday, so all things considered, stuff went pretty well.

This sure ain't the first time airline companies have misplaced our stuff, but here the timing was possibly the worst we've experienced. Once, we didn't get our suitcases for a little over a week when travelling from Bergen to Raleigh-Durham on account of baggage handlers in Amsterdam being on strike. But at the time, we were travelling home, so the lack of "stuff" wasn't critical.