Back in New York now after a Tuesday flight out of Brussels. Eight hours in the air with a nice big chair in the front part of the airplane. It’s one of those chairs where they serve you a custom made ice cream sundae after lunch. I watched a movie on the ride. Paterson. Adam Driver. A Jarmusch special. It was really good I thought. The funniest scene is when the character who plays Paterson’s wife serves a sprouts and cheese pie for dinner.
Every logistical moment on this 23-day journey now finished clicked nicely although the getaway from Belgium had a small wrench thrown in.
I flew Brussels Airlines from Toulouse to Brussels at midday Monday and hopped a train for the one night stay in Antwerp. When I arrived at the hotel Monday afternoon, a sign posted on the reception desk advised guests of a nationwide transit strike all day Tuesday.
When I asked the guy at check-in if this work stoppage would impact the train to the airport, he said “yeah, of course.”
“Didn’t anybody tell you?” he said.
“No,” I said, without asking who might tell me. I had been occasionally looking at French newspapers and the all-news stations on TV in France but had not heard about the strike in Belgium. In fact, when my friends Sonia and Fabien told me Sunday they were skipping work to participate in a large (unrelated, I believe) strike on Tuesday in Toulouse, I thought to myself that it was good fortune I was leaving France a day before any possible disruption. I had also nearly decided to return to the US via Barcelona which is an easy train ride from Toulouse. Given the breakaway effort in Catalonia – and huge developments in that conflict expected Tuesday – I had felt good about the plan to leave via Brussels.
The three workers at the hotel reception desk in Antwerp conferred and suggested I take a private bus company which they believed was operating on Tuesday. The woman who seemed most interested in my plight suggested I leave early because the traffic was expected to be crazy. She printed off the bus timetable and told me where to meet it.
I asked her how much a taxi would be. She said, “Don’t do that, it’ll be at least 90 or 100 euros. Take the bus.”
I asked her if the airport would be fully operational. How could workers arrive without transit? She said something to the effect that it was anyone’s guess how it might play out.
All this concerned me to the point that I wasn’t able to fully enjoy Antwerp on Monday night. I envisioned chaos on Tuesday morning. Paralysis. I checked the web site of Belgium’s National Rail service and they referred riders to their Twitter site. Written in Dutch, but translated via the Twitter app, the individual manning social media for the railroad said basically to expect the worst – as in a complete shutdown – but that it was unclear how it would play out.
I went over to where I was told the bus stop would be to case it out and then went down to near the city’s big cathedral for a Belgian beer and a dinner of frites with some kind of spicy chicken on a stick dish.
I tried to go to sleep early in order to rise with full rest for what I thought would be a big scramble to reach the airport. Instead, I tossed and turned all night, raised the white flag and checked out of the hotel at 330 AM to wait for the 4 AM bus.
At the bus stop, the driver for the Flixbus going to Dortmund laughed at the dozen of us or so waiting for the airport bus. “I’m not sure your bus will come. There’s a big strike today.”
But at 355 AM, the airport bus motored in for a 4 AM go and a hitch-free ride to Zaventem. It cost 10 euros.
The big departure board at the airport showed a few scattered cancellations but things were running normal it appeared. A recorded message playing repeatedly on the airport’s P-A system warned of disruptions to both flights and ground transportation because of “industrial actions,” but workers and passengers I interacted with made no mention of it.
Lots to cover from the fun-packed final stretch in Toulouse including two memorable side trips but I’m wiped out. More in a few days.