Friday, December 25, 2009

So, what happened in Brussels then?

Nothing. Precisely nothing. But that's not good blogging, so here's the whole story:

The adventure started with a flight from Belfast last Thursday evening. It started to snow as we boarded our plane. An omen. As we took our seats the pilot apologised for the heating not working. And then pointed out that Paris CDG airport was shut because of snow and we wouldn't be taking off. For at least 90 minutes. And we wouldn't be getting off the plane either, so the door had to remain open. So they were really sorry the heats not working.

So was I after about 15 minutes.

Eventually arrived in Paris for a two night stop-over before getting the Thalys to Brussels on Saturday morning to see Ulster play Stade Francais. Got very excited when the lovely, but extremely naughty (allegedly - judgement pending) Monsieur David Attoub turned out to be on our train. I think this was my last pleasant and positive thought of the weekend.

Paris Gare du Nord was freezing. Brussels, it turned out, was Baltic.

Arrived in Brussels Midi to discover that you need a degree to work their ticketing machines for the metro. Eventually gave up and opted for a taxi. Queued at the rank for 30 minutes in -9oC and when we hit the top of the queue and 'our' taxi arrived, it tried to pick up the person at the other end of the line, was sworn at in some language by all others in the queue (I think they called him a 'canard' but since when was 'duck' a swear word?), moved up to us, took one look, wound up his window and drove off!

Got to hotel, put on every single stitch of clothing in our possession for insulation and started off for the now renamed Heysel stadium for a 4:45pm kick off. Got the first call at 2:30pm. Then three texts. Then another call. Match cancelled, pitch frozen. So we did what all Ulster supporters do best and headed for the only Irish pub in town.

With no smoking ban in this primitive country, minor was starting to go a bit green at the gills when the first news of a rematch started to filter through, so we cut our losses, headed back to the hotel and started to plan a way to get to Paris for the re-scheduled match the next day. This should be easy - we had tickets to return to Paris the next evening anyway for a late night flight home.

Ha bloody Ha.

Up too early the next morning to see a blizzard. Four inches of snow had fallen in less than two hours. Put on all of our clothes again and checked out. All before 8:00am. Could we have a taxi for the train station please? No! Taxis were not working in the snow apparently. But we could walk to the nearest metro and try our luck with the ticket machines if we liked. We didn't like, but we had no alternative.

Ever tried pulling two suitcases through four inches of snow?

At Metro, ticket machine still as unhelpful as ever. Wouldn't take cards, wouldn't take notes and I didn't have enough coins. Nothing open and no one about to help - it was eight-ish on a snowy Sunday morning.

And then ... an angel. A homeless man had been watching us from a corner of the station. He came and tried to force his coins into the machine on our behalf, but it was full and wouldn't take them. So, having established we were travelling to Brussels Midi, he signalled us to follow him and escorted us through the station and onto a metro train, without tickets, right to the train station where he bade us farewell and Merry Christmas. Now we were getting somewhere!


Found the Thalys desk and presented our tickets for the 4:45pm train to Paris, requesting a change to the 10:15am. It was very simple really, but the answer was a resounding 'non!' We could only do it if we were prepared to pay 88 Euro. Each.

We went to the platform and I thought about what to do. Hundreds of Ulster supporters were stuck in Brussels because flights out of the city meant they couldn't get to Paris and back in time. Hundreds more were stuck in some place in England because failed Eurostar trains meant they hadn't even got to cross the channel. And we were standing on platform 6, Brussels Midi with tickets for Paris, albeit invalid ones.

And so, somehow we found ourselves on the 10:15 to Paris which actually didn't get into Brussels until 11:30 and didn't manage to get out of Brussels until nearly 12:30. Without tickets; well valid ones anyway. Heads down, don't make eye contact with the ticket collector son!

Arrived in Paris at 2:10 pm with 50 minutes to cross the city and find the stadium, with the instruction of which metro station to head for and that the stadium was 700m west from it. Surfaced at 2:45pm realising I had absolutely no way of knowing which direction was west when angel number two appeared.

'Ulster ... this way!!' and as she pointed in the general direction, we ran like hell! 700m on icy footpaths with two suitcases and a ten year old, and there it was ... Stade Jean Bouin, home of the nudey calendar.

At the gate we had to exchange our tickets from Brussels for new one, which involved queuing. At last, as we hear the game kick off inside, we are at the top of the queue. Then disaster, that word again ... 'non!'

And then I did what all good women do in situations like that. I started to cry. Proper tears rising up to a severe hissy fit crying. And my Franglais went right out the window as I started shouting in English that indeed I had travelled illegally from Brussels that very morning and it had taken me seven hours to be here and damn it they would let me into the stadium with my ticket or I would....

Then a very nice French man came over and took my tickets and went to the queue I should have been in and exchanged them for valid ones and escorted us into the stadium telling us we could sit just anywhere we wanted. But we opted to stand with eight other Ulstermen who had also managed to make the journey (two of them having driven from Brussels in the only hire car they could get - a Fait Panda!) The Paris Ten. Trying to out-shout the home supporters and their drums whilst drinking mulled wine that tasted like paint stripper but greatly improved the circulation in your hands. It's the stuff of legends.

And, as expected, Ulster lost.


Judith said...

so pleased to read that you had such a good time!! :) oh Ali meeting me for coffee wasn't so bad after all :) hahaha

Ali said...

Piece of pie by comparison Judy ;-)