March 15, 2010


“Vous etes a bord le Thalys, a destination Cologne”.

We’re only on this train because we missed our last connection- we’re supposed to be on something more Soviet. Here, the seats are plush, pink and purple, and there are hatches of lava-lamp lighting along the train’s insides. I don’t know who normally gets to go on these, but here we are, on the Thalys, transport fresh from a Michael J Fox remix of Greek mythology.

A missed connection meant two hours to kill, so we explored Brussels. The area around the train station was all cement, tags and roadworks, Bavarian buildings with their faces falling off. We looked for a place to eat, trying a faded corner-spot where I failed to raise a smile, and finally found a café by a sex shop, where we ate soup and sandwiches and mustered the courage to ask the proprietors their views on climate change.  They were cameraphobes, so instead we spoke to Mark, a Flemish customer with impassioned opinions and yellowed teeth. We captured Mark on film, then back to catch our Thalys.

Ah, the Thalys. The talkative German/English (Germish) lady from our last train has got on too, with her thatch of hair and expressive face. She’s doing what she did on the Eurostar; making herself a stranger-friend. She’s oldish, and leans into conversation with a gleeful fervour. I hear snatches of her speech, more audible than anyone else’s:

“How long have you been married?”


“Well, that happens in life doesn’t it.”

This train is decades better than English ones, First Class times ten. Our class is called Comfort Two- I wonder what Comfort One’s like. The atmosphere fizzes, everyone talking their separate talk. A young Italian family sits in front of us, the mum singing songs in singsong English to her baby, the dad wearing a jewish kippa on his crown. Billy reads Lonely Planet Middle East, and the thatched-haired woman says,

“That is very difficult. That is so difficult. If there’s no love, you don’t know whether to give up your freedom”.

The baby jiggles, and laughs a mouthful of biscuit.

IMAGE: Dizraeli on board a train, somewhere in Belgium.

IMAGE: Passengers leave the train in Brussels.

IMAGE: Doorbell. Brussels.

IMAGE: Rubbish caught in a tree against a backdrop of skyscrapers. Brussels.

One response to “Bruxelles-Koln”

  1. Niklas says:

    Hey Billy and Rowan,
    was great to meet you on the Thalys – I was no less impressed by the “lava-lamp lighting” inside. Hope to find meet you guys some other day in less comfy trains and press my thumbs that you make it to Cairo in time.