All’s Well That Ends Well
I’m now typing from the comfort of my bedroom in Lausanne, following a series of unfortunate events last Monday that left my travel plans tattered and useless. I am happy to report that I did arrive in Brussels on the scheduled train from Cologne without a hitch, but that’s not to say the rest of my journey home was uneventful!
The Bruxelles-Midi train station, where I found myself late on Monday evening, is not the image of Brussels that one expects. There were no diplomats speedwalking through the station with their little black travel briefcases, flanked by co-workers or bodyguards. There were no black limousines at the station entrances ready to welcome high-ranking politicians to the city of the EU headquarters.
The station was pretty grungy, and as the shops in the station started to lock up their chain-link gates and turn out the lights, I realised this was probably not a place I would want to spend the night. Through a convoluted series of attempts to place a phone call including the purchase of a defective SIM card, a rejected credit card at the phone booth, and wireless internet that wouldn’t let me use my VoIP, I finally got a hold of the people I was supposed to meet in London that night to tell them that I would have to take the first train the following morning instead.
Then I called my dad, who is an obsessive collector of points programs. I had got in touch with him in Cologne, and he had told me that if I needed a place to stay in Brussels, he had enough points to put me up in a hotel near the train station for the night. I usually give him a hard time about being shackled to corporate loyalty programs, but in this case I must concede that it proved to be useful.
The following morning I was back at the station bright and early to catch the 6:50 AM Eurostar. We zipped through Lille and Calais before crossing the channel to London. Upon stepping off the train, I noticed a gaggle of security guards milling about the exit, cherry-picking “random” passengers to question before leaving the station. As I approached the archway, a burly man in a white and black security uniform called me over. I noticed that a young man from Tunisia had just been called over by another guard. Yes, those being questioned were mainly young men, travelling alone, with an above-average melanin content. I think it was the first time I’ve been consciously profiled.
The security guard had an uncanny resemblance in both appearance and demeanor to Vernon Scripps, which lightened the mood considerably (for me at least). He asked if I was travelling alone. I said yes and handed over my Swedish passport.
“Samuel Nabi, eh? Doesn’t sound very Swedish to me,” the guard mused.
I explained that my mother is Swedish, and probably went into more detail than I needed to. “You see, The name is from my dad’s side, but I’m a Swedish citizen too. My Dad was born here, actually. Well, not here here. In Liverpool. But I’ve never lived in England. I’m actually living in Switzerland right now, for a term studying abroad. But that’s not where I live full-time. Originally I’m from Canada.” I paused to catch my breath, trying to decide if what I had just said made me look like I was running an international drug cartel.
“Very well, what are you studying?” He asked. When I told him urban planning, he looked confused. “Urban planning? Do they allow that?”
“The Swiss. Do they allow urban planning? I’ve heard they’re very strict with that sort of thing.” I was just as puzzled as he seemed to be, so I answered cautiously that yes, urban planning is allowed in Switzerland.
He moved on to questions about the purpose of my trip. I told him I would just be in London for a couple days to visit some friends.
“Oh yeah, goin’ to hit the pubs with yer mates, are yeh? Goin’ to have a laugh?”
“Well, they’re family friends - I don’t think we’ll be hitting many pubs. I haven’t seen them in a while though, and it’ll be good to catch up.”
“Right, right then. Comin’ to London to have a laugh with your friends, then?” He seemed really adamant about me having a laugh with my friends. So I gave a vague, non-committal answer and he handed me my ID back. “Right then, off you go.”
What a strange welcome to the city.Sam Nabi