From the time I watched DDLJ (Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge) dreamt of taking a train ride in Europe and secretly wished that my prince charming would be waiting on the train…the eternal romantic in me or Mills & Boons influence…. Decided to fulfil my fantasy by taking a train from Paris to Brussels. (How I wish it was to Switzerland and Raj would have been waiting for me). The station was nothing like the one in my dreams ..Gar De Nour (North Station) is one of the busiest stations in Europe. Three levels and some 40+ platforms. It was a maze for me. Just couldn’t figure out how to go from the metro (RER) platform to the international departure. My only experience of being on a crowded platform was that of Chennai Central or VT Bombay. But nothing had prepared me for this. !!!
Forget DDLJ , Gare De Noud was more of a Bourne Identity or Ultimatum..nay Oceans Twelve…Here I was torn between a romantic dream or a robbery chase. My train departs at 8.30 am and I had reached almost 45 mts in advance. Glad tickets were booked in advance (Rail Europe will courier the tickets to your home address anywhere on earth prior to the journey). The crowd is getting on to me … gosh this is really stressful. Confirmed and re-confirmed before I boarded the train, what if I land up in Amsterdam instead of Brussels ?? And I asked the TT (ticket collector) and yet again with the guy sitting next to me. “This train goes to Brussels, right”.
Who said Solo trips are easy and more so if you are a solo female traveler? After the Paris adventure , do I still have the courage to travel to another country?
Got a comfortable window seat , and this gentleman sitting next to me in full suit seemed like a business traveler. He got up and looked at me, I pretended as if I wasn’t staring at him. Asked me if I could watch his laptop bag and that he would be back in 5. He speaks English, nice ..I smiled and nodded my head. Did he know that Indians nod their head for a ‘yes’ or he must have thought …am dumb !
The rest of the journey was fun , we started chatting and it turned out that he knows a lot about India, and even SRK !!! loves Indian food. “Idly” and “Pappadam” (not together ofcourse) are his favorites. Now, this was the first time some one told me the name of a dish that is considered Indian other than Chicken Tikka and Naan. In those 90mts, from Paris to Brussels we became friends. I asked him to help me get to Brussels Central from the Intercity Station this train would stop at (Brussels Midi). He gave me a few tips on what to see and where to eat etc. It was such a relief to talk to someone kind and nice. And ofocurse a handsome French Guy !!! ..I tried clicking a selfie as a memorabilia while we were on the escalator. Soo wanted to brag about my encounter, to my girls back home and he started teasing me..The guy is almost 6.7″ feet tall and me at a humble 5.5″..Imagine 🙂
We got down and walked around the platform a couple of times to find out how to get to Brussels Central. I wasn’t prepared for any more surprises but … Bruxelles is bilingual capital..All signboards are in French and Dutch for the Flemish population. What about me? How am I going to navigate. Looks like the capital of Europe had anticipated Brexit well in advance and hence no English ! I wonder how all the backpackers manage through all these chaos. Travel is serious business, it’s a mix of high adrenaline moments with hitting the rock bottom experiences. Maybe, had I started earlier on, as a Solo female traveller (wasted my twenties ) things would have been far easier. Its easier to adapt when you are younger. Isn’t it ?
We headed to the counter, my friend asked the lady something in French and bought two tickets for the metro that connects Midi to city centre. He would get down first and I have to change trains at the next station. On the map he explained to me and made me count the number of stations till my destination. The rail map looked pretty complicated with Flemish names , spelt differently than English and the colour codes for various lines did not make it any simpler either. Am I suffering from some kinda”geographic dylexia” or am I falling into the trap of ‘spatial intelligence’ ? “No, no.. not at all; you have come half way accross the world without getting lost. That’s a brave thing to do”, he was just being courteous or extra nice. I was almost in tears when he got down and waved goodbye… and that was my true DDLJ moment…fear of letting go someone who cares .
Nothing lasts forever but life goes on …