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A getaway to Brussels

Two and a half years of living in England, and we finally braved the concept of taking a day-trip to the continent.

From a certain point of view, it was a last-ditch effort to save the short tradition of spending the Early Spring Bank Holiday weekend on the mainland (specifically, in Paris). This year, for a combination of reasons, we had decided not to plan any trips for the three-day weekend. But suddenly, several days ago Natasha came up with a “crazy” idea: Why don’t we hop on the Eurotunnel train in the morning, drive a couple of hours to Brussels, and spend a day there with an emphasis on the Mini-Europe Park, which we so inadequately breezed through a year go.

We are people of action, as I’m fond to say; it did not take us long to conclude that it was a splendid idea and put the wheels in motion by procuring rather cheap Eurotunnel tickets. And yesterday, our very first intraday trip to a foreign country was effected to the general satisfaction.

It did not go all that smoothly, on account of the road construction along the usually fast motorway connecting Calais with Brussels. As we were approaching an hour of being stuck in a barely moving traffic, we changed our plans a bit and turned off for a lunch in Brugge, which was quite nice on its own merits, if not exactly raising to our expectation of a meal in Brussels’ Îlot Sacré. We then took some pretty back roads to go around the motorway traffic, and arrived in Brussels with plenty of time for a detailed exploration of Mini-Europe, but not enough time to do anything else in the city.

Still, we came back happy that we did it. Aside from being out and about, it was a true adventure that emphasized the main reason we came to live in Europe, while giving us a chance to properly recognize how many things and places we’ve seen in our relatively short time here – models of various landmarks that we had visited on our travels greeted us every step of the way in Mini-Europe. Photographic evidence of that is to follow eventually.

And yet, we probably will not make another trip like that again. As I pondered somewhere on this blog in the past, London is far from an ideal base for continental forays. Getting over the strip of water called the English Channel requires dependency on a mode of public transport which, aside from airport hassle or departure delays, also adds plenty of dead waiting time to your door-to-door travel. By my humble estimate, under ideal conditions, our door-to-door trip to a Brussels city-center destination could be made in 3 hours 15 minutes via getting on a plane, 3:30 by train, or 3:50 by car. Account for an hour difference between British time and continental time, most keenly felt in the morning, and you end up with just 6-8 hours of non-travel-time in your day. Our preferred mode of transport let us down considerably yesterday, but no matter what we chose or how well it could go, we’d spent roughly the same time traveling as we would enjoying our destination. For a single traveler – or a couple without children – the trade-off (and the requisite cost) might be acceptable, but for a family with kids, the reward does not truly justify the effort or the expense.

We had to try it, though.