Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Brussels, Belgium—Entirely the Wrong Place, Belgium—Liege, Belgium—Day 214

Today started off in normal fashion with the whole getting up, having breakfast, checking out of the hotel thing. I dragged my luggage down the metro subway and headed to the Central Station. It was there that things started off on the wrong path—I missed my train by literally three seconds. I just stepped down onto the train platform as the doors closed and it started lurking forwards. Dang. I checked my watch—I was right on time according to it, but I guess not the train.

So I had to wait for another train that was going in the direction that I wanted. Luckily there were two—one leaving about ten minutes from the one that I missed and a second one leaving about a half an hour from that one, so about 40 minutes later. The two new train times both arrived into Liege (where I wanted to go) around the same time—one just took a more direct route and stopped less. I decided to just go with the first train even though it stopped more just because then I would just be sitting on a train rather than sitting in the station.

So I got on the first train that came and headed towards Liege. Or so I thought. According to the time table, it was going to take about two hours for the train to get to Liege and usually it is just about an hour (on the faster of the trains). So I sat back and put on some music and waited for the time to pass (I just finished my book so I am in need of a new one!).

I kept checking my watch making sure that I knew what time I was going to have to get off and the train kept stopping at different stops. Once I made it to about 10 minutes before my train was to arrive in Liege, I started paying attention to signs. I realized something was wrong when we pulled into a station and everyone on the train got off. And they turned off the train.


I sat on it for quite a while before realizing hey, this might be the last stop. I got off and checked the station and time table near it and sure enough, we were at the end of the line. Problem was, we were no where near Liege. Instead I had ended up in Dinant which is so completely no where I needed to be—in fact much more south, almost in France.

Great. I checked the time tables again and found that this train that I had ridden in on was leaving in about fifteen minutes to go BACK to Brussels. I could change trains in Namur (or at least I hoped so—it looked like a pretty big city on my map but I couldn’t really tell) and hopefully that would get me to Liege sooner or later.

I had to remind myself that I should not really stress out about it since really my only obligation is to get to Liege today. Problem was that I had booked the rental car for 10:30am and at this rate, I wouldn’t be getting into Liege anytime around then. In fact, when it all worked out I was about three hours late.

The train conductor came back to check tickets as the train started back from where we came from and he stopped and looked at me. Do you like trains or something? He says to me. Um, no, I…I stammer as I get out my map and try to explain to him what I had done. Ahh, he says. Ahh yes, easy mistake. I have no idea honestly how I managed to not realize that I had to switch trains in Namur the first time but was positive that I had to get off there the second time round to transfer to Liege.

And I did and waited for my train to Liege which eventually showed up despite some bizarre +0H05 signal next to it on the board (hardly any other trains had this so I was racking my brain trying to figure out what it meant) and decided that it was probably late or something. But I still didn’t’ know and when I went to wait for the train, I found that it was on time, to my surprise. Confused, I boarded and crossed my fingers that I would at least arrive in Liege and not some other crazy place.

I eventually did and got a taxi to the rental car place, where the rental car man scolded me for being almost three hours late. Sorry sorry, I said as I explained to him that I couldn’t have called him to tell him I was late because I was on trains for over four hours! He told me that he had already rented my car that I had reserved (“we only keep cars on hold for two hours—no more”) but then magically produced a Ford Fiesta for me to drive.

I filled out the paperwork and was soon on my way following the road to Luxembourg, as told by the rental car man. I followed it for a little while and then realized that I was really close to where the zoo was. Good thing I had my map. I followed the signs to Aywaille (the town it is in) and racked my brain to remember the route that the taxi driver had taken before. I remembered it perfectly and was soon pulling up to the entrance to the Safari Park.

I felt totally in control. Here I was, I MADE it back, and I was going to get my pictures. I was going to show that ticket woman who was boss SO THERE.

Unfortunately, but also I guess kind of luckily, the original ticket woman wasn’t there. Instead there was a nice young girl who was getting tickets and so I got my ticket and asked her about the hippos. She looked at me with a blank you-must-be-crazy look and said she didn’t know what the hippos names were. I would have to find out on the inside.

Ok, so I drove up to the entrance to the safari park and started driving. Ok ok, so it was a tad bumpy and I can slightly understand that a taxi doesn’t want to drive over all of the mud puddles and things, but come on.

I kept my eyes out for the hippos but I couldn’t see them anywhere! Weren’t they supposed to be roaming free eating all of the grass like they did just a few days ago? Where were they?

I figured it was just my luck that they would be gone for the day or something when I spotted them. And of course, where would they be?

In the WATER. Hellooo Sarah. Of COURSE they would be in the big pond in the middle of the safari grounds—it was a beautiful day, hot and sunny and they were doing the typical hippo thing to do. So I pulled my car over in front of the pond and tried to woo the hippos out of the water.

Didn’t work. I instead got some crazy zebras and antelope looking things coming up to my car. The hippos just popped their heads out of the water to breath and went back in. This was no good.

I finally spotted a zoo keeper and decided the best thing to do would be to get their names and then try and come back in the morning when they were more likely to be roaming about. I couldn’t just sit in the middle of the road blocking traffic all afternoon. Problem was that I had to drive around the entire safari part of the zoo before I could get back around to the keeper (who was near the entrance) which meant that not only did I have to stop for passing animals all of the time, but for all of the cars in front of me who were also stopping and taking pictures of everything that moved.

Finally, finally, finally, I made it back around to where the keeper sort of was (like a half hour later) and I called him over. Excuse-moi? He came over and I asked him about this hippos and he gave me their names: Knudell, Gerogette and Marline. He told me that the boy was the smallest (as I learned two days ago) and that he didn’t know the difference (or couldn’t tell me) between the two females. Well, at least this was more than I knew before! I thanked him and headed out of the safari area and back up the huge hill (remember the one that I had to walk up before?) and pulled my car into the parking lot.

I got some ice cream and some postcards and ate my ice cream while watching the billy goats which, if you ever have a chance to watch them, make the most horrifically funny noises. If you thought that a goat makes nothing more than a sweet little baa you were wrong. All sorts of belching noises were coming from them and I just sat there totally amused. Not until a bee came to harass me did I run away (literally) and head back to the car.

I then spent the rest of the afternoon driving around this part of Belgium that I was in. Got a snack at a little café in a place called Spa which was nice and then drove through the country side back to Liege. Surprisingly I made it to my hotel to check in just fine and then magically ended up in downtown central Liege for dinner. How I managed it, I haven’t a clue but I did. And then to top it all off, I made it BACk to the hotel with hardly any effort going a completely new route. Let’s just say that today was a pretty lucky day. Let’s hope tomorrow is even better and that the hippos are actually out on the grass eating when I show up!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.