Train to Turkey - Leg 3 - Brussels to Cologne

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On to third train of this trip and after a short break in Brussels we were keen to get onboard and to Cologne for some beer and a chance to stretch our legs. We waited on the platform in Midi for our Thalys train which was right on time. This train like the Eurostar requires seat reservations so we booked them in advance, they weren’t cheap, 20 euros each but it seemed like we didn’t have much of a choice. We learned later that Deutsche Bahn also run a train from Brussels to Cologne and reservations are optional and a lot cheaper too.

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Once at our seats we found that the window was not aligned, which was a bit disappointing. We got to work updating our Internal travel diaries although the guard reached us before everything was completely filled out. We had a bit of a lecture about how important it is to fill out the details before getting on the train as he should charge us for a full ticket. Whoops. We promised to be good from now on! Once the guard left I shuffled seat so that I could see out the window.

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Most of the trip I spent blogging, which worked out well. Signal was very bad, but I managed to download pictures and upload when we stopped at intermediate stations. Owen was tired and slept in the most uncomfortable position imaginable. The trip took a long time, the train was on time but it felt like half the time it was either stopped or going very, very slowly. I think they announced that there are works on the track between Brussels and Cologne and as a result had to reverse the train in Aachen. It’s no problem sitting on a train for a long journey but it’s another thing sitting on a train for a long journey when it’s not moving. Hey ho, we arrived into Köln on time!

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Once at the station we needed to head to the hotel sharpish, we had reserved a room but hadn’t guaranteed it which meant that after 6pm it would be up for grabs. Given that literally everywhere in Cologne was booked, we didn’t want to be in that kind of situation. We walked over the bridge and towards the hotel, we underestimated the distance, it was a good 35 minute walk and didn’t take best advantage of the trams and trains which would have probably saved some time and effort off! We arrived to the luxurious Ibis Budget hot, sweaty and ready to have a beer, so we did.

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Our room was a bit of a gamble, the website showed a picture with a normal bed and a small bunk which mentions that it’s great for kids. There was every chance that Owen wouldn’t fit in the bunk given his length. The room was as basic as it gets, and for some reason the bathroom was in the room itself, and not in a separate bathroom section - with the exception of the toilet which did have it’s own room. Very confusing, not sure if it’s been designed that was to make it seem more budget than usual or if it’s genuinely cheaper to build and service. Who knows! All was fine in the end and after a quick shower we dumped anything that wasn’t worth stealing and booked an Uber to the city centre for some food and drink.

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Arriving into the city centre you couldn’t ignore the fact that it was Pride, it was very, very busy and there were more rainbow flags than on @geeklyjames’ stag do. Everyone was polite, friendly and not breaking any rules, all very civilised. We were dropped off at Heumarkt and so walked over to Malzmuhle to see if we could find a table, this was my favourite place when we came and visited Cologne in Christmas last year, it was also the chosen brew house of Anthony Bourdain when he visited. Once again it didn’t disappoint, we were given a table straight away and before I could blink the famous Kölsch had arrived in front of us.

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We were joined on our table by a Belgian man called Freddy who spoke English, he was a very polite man who shared stories of his travels around the world. Pretty hungry by this point in the day we both ordered food pretty sharpish, Owen went for a bratwurst and I had the boiled pork knuckle with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. As before, the food was spot on, good German pork-based deliciousness with enough salt to provide encouragement to drink even more beer. We stayed a while longer in the restaurant and Freddy showed us pictures of his trip to Antarctica where he somehow managed to get himself on a Chilean military ship for a week!

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With enough beer in our bellies we went off to walk around the city, we hit the main stage and caught a few classics from a tribute act. There was a lot going on, people were enjoying enormous cocktails and phallic-shaped ice lollies. Walking around as brothers we certainly had a few unusual looks, I think we needed t-shirts or something. We made it to the Dom and hung around for a few pictures, this area was less busy than during the Christmas markets which was surprising given that it was bloody freezing during the markets.

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Too early for bed we headed to the Früh brewhouse just around the corner for some desert since we’d walked the pork off. The guys here were the same as at Christmas, which I always find strange when going back to places elsewhere in the world. Our Apfelstrudel arrived and it was as delicious as before, full of sugar and in a vanilla sauce it perfect match for more beer. Even Owen liked the strudel which frankly I didn’t even expect him to!

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We sensibly took the train back to the hotel and got our heads down for the night, still exhausted from the sleeper train the night before. The mattress was not great, neither were the paper thin walls or noisy people outside but melatonin did it’s job well, day 2 was over.

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Train to Turkey - Leg 2 - London to Brussels

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Early start on our second day after arriving on the sleeper. We were up and ready for the journey ahead, day two should leave us in Cologne, Germany in time for tea which means we have some serious mileage to get through and the two tightest connections of the trip. From Paddington we took the Hammersmith and City line to St Pancras for connection with the Eurostar, oddly the tube was really quite busy, but we arrived without issue. We realised at this point that we should have stayed on the sleeper train for longer than we did, we were are St Pancras about 90 minutes early with nothing to do but twiddle our thumbs.

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So we grabbed a coffee and went for a walk! You can’t do much better than a 49p Pret filter coffee, I’m convinced this is the best value coffee anywhere in London and it’s actually very good filter coffee too. The problem is that it’s always a million degrees and literally impossible to drink, especially from a thermal cup - somebody needs to invent a dispensing machine that allows you to select a certain temperature. Perhaps I need to patent the concept and become very rich.

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Coffee in-hand we walked around to Regents Canal, somewhere that I look at almost every day but have never actually visited. It was fantastic, lots of fresh flowers, a nice hot sun and a great mix of old and new architecture which makes for a very pleasant area. Owen even said that he wouldn’t mind living here despite not wanting to live in London! I do wonder if it was only pleasant because it was 7am on a Saturday morning, I’m sure it gets busy later and turns into something quite different. Walking back to the station we passed the new Google HQ being constructed and noticed that the floor numbers on the concrete core are the Android Drone, which is pretty fun. We also walked past the YouTube offices and YouTube Space which seems to have been the venue of quite a lively party yesterday!

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Checking into the Eurostar was reasonably painless, we had no troubles apart from Owen walking through the metal detector with all of his pockets full - doh! We managed to throw them in the bag before succeeding on the second attempt. Once through we found a seat in the busy departures hall before realising that Owen’s brand new Nalgene bottle was now gone - “Well, that didn’t last long”. Luckily everything important was still in possession.

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On board the Eurostar we had a bit of a rest, the journey is one of the shortest of the trip and we didn’t really have time to get too comfortable. The train arrived into Brussels perfectly on time, we lost an hour because of the time which meant that it was now beer o’clock. We walked out of the station and found the most awful looking bar near the station, but it had some nice seats outside. Owen had his first legal European beer, unfortunately it was a Carlsberg.

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Heading back to the station we arrived in plenty of time for Leg 3, the ride to Cologne.

Something a bit Different!

Keeping with this year's theme, The Year of Smart, I participated in my first non-technical training programme. The course was run by the Centre for Creative Leadership, a US-based non-profit organisation who focus on leadership development. CCL run the Maximising Your Leadership Potential course only three times a year at their Europe HQ in Brussels, so after booking in March I had to wait a while before attending.

The wait was absolutely worthwhile, while I was a little apprehensive I really enjoyed the course, met a lot of interesting people and learnt more about myself than I could ever have possibly imagined. The programme is very well structured and split into three components:

  1. Pre-work, this includes employee 360s, surveys, questionnaires and feedback. This information is used to build a picture of the attendee's personality, role, approach, etc.
  2. Course, this included 2.5 classroom days spent reviewing the pre-work results, as well as many breakaway sessions, social events and even a personal 1:1 coaching session
  3. Follow-up, this will consist of applying the tools and techniques learned and a 6-week post-course coaching session to review progress.
Brussels Town Hall, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels Town Hall, Brussels, Belgium

While there wasn't much time for sightseeing I managed to spend some time walking around the European Quarter with one of the other course attendees, Steve. I had visited Brussels before but I don't remember much more than the Grand Place so was eager to see more, the European quarter is an interesting place, with many buildings signposted as to their purpose, many I recognise from News/TV. As a remain voter, it was striking just how large the EU organisation is and brought home the reality of what how different things could be if the UK opts for a 'Hard Brexit'.

European Commission, Brussels, Belgium

European Commission, Brussels, Belgium

We also walked around the beautiful Cinquantenaire park and stumbled across The European Sport Climbing Youth Championships and a lovely little pop-up bar. The combination allowed for a nice relaxed beer while watching children fall from a climbing wall, very entertaining!

European Climbing Championships, Brussels, Belgium

European Climbing Championships, Brussels, Belgium

Quick Trip to Brugge!

I'm a big fan of on the whim travel, but unfortunately it's inherently difficult; this weekend was different! It was my job to conjure up an activity. After about an hour staring a Google Maps I decided that somewhere in Europe was definitely a good idea. Luckily, the ferries were extra cheap and we already had some funny money in our pockets!

This is me and Victoria on the poop deck waiting to leave Dover. There were quite a lot (literally thousands) of French students also on the poop desk.

Now, I may have told a bit of a fib when Victoria asked me if I had ever driven abroad. Never have I driven abroad apart from that one time in Spain when I shouldn't really have been driving at all, let alone in Spain. Needless to say, after a hilarious first 5 mins of being on the wrong side of the road it all kind of made sense. The drive to Brugge was about an hour from Calais and it's basically on the one road, which is nice and easy. Small factoid: That road (the E40) is the longest route in Europe and goes all the way to Kazakhstan.

Luckily, we managed to find the exit before arriving in Kazakhstan. There was a bit of a fumble when trying to find the car park, but I stuck to my manly instincts and proved that the way I wanted to go, was indeed correct! The car park even had the little LED lights to say if the space is free. Above is us standing in the Markt Square, which is basically the center of Brugge. It's a beautiful square which resembles Brussels very much.

This is the famous Belfry tower in Markt, it was originally build in 1240 - which makes it super old. I'm trying to hold the camera in a weird way to get the whole thing in, I didn't manage.

After Markt we found a wonderful beer shop which was selling all the beers of Belgium! I decided that it would be a great idea to by them now, encase the shop closed for the day. This was not my wisest decision as I had to carry them around for the whole day, Still, hopefully they will taste even better when it comes to drinking time.

A while later we were wandering around when about a hundred horse(s?) and carts passed us in the street. It was very exciting, although we were rather confused, none of the carts had anything on them, they had a police escort and a car dedicated to picking up poop. I guess it must be a tourist thing.

Found a windmill, which apparently still works. http://youtu.be/PmDVHs-juPo

After a long day of wandering around we found a place by the canal and had some dinner. The service was terrible, the food was actually okay - trip adviser reviews were not good. Still, it was nice and relaxing! Victoria had lamb cutlets and I had Mussels and Chips (which is a thing).

It was a very long day but we can't wait to go back. :)