Tuesday was the day I was to meet my sister Ann’s friend Annabelle in Lille, France. It is a short train ride, maybe 45 minutes. (If Gent isn’t perfect enough, it is just 45 minutes to the gloriousness of France!) I had planned on leaving on the 1:30 train, walk around the city for a few hours, meet Ashish at 6 when he would arrive after work, and then we would meet Annabelle at 7 at Le Petit Barbu a restaurant she had suggested on the edge of the old part of town. And then we would catch the last train back. Right.
But in the morning I had to take the tram and then a bus to IKEA to return a window shade I had bought for Ashish that was the wrong size (I am an idiot). So I arrive at IKEA bright and early thinking it opened at 9. But it didn’t open until 10. Froze my ass off. Returned the shade, stopped for coffee in the ultra groovy cafeteria there. Went to check out with the new shade and it turned out I didn’t have my credit cards. Hm. Left them at home? Dropped them in the store? Pick pocketed? I had enough money in my pocket to pay for the larger shade so that was no problem but rather than go to lost and found right away (I am an idiot) I decided to get back to the apt (have I mentioned 5 flights of stairs?) and find the damn thing — the “tram/bus” thing to and from IKEA is not something I am really familiar/comfortable with and it requires a hefty walk through a construction site in the middle of the route — I get back to the apartment and no wallet. I call Ashish who calls IKEA (really nice nice people, not like France) and they have it.
So fine, back to goddamn IKEA on the tram/bus. It’s getting late but I think I can make the 1:30 train to Lille. Yeah, the tram is behind a garbage truck. You cannot imagine what a hoopla garbage is. People have to argue with the g-men to get their crap picked up. And they do. And I’m on the tram to IKEA and I’m gonna be late because there’s a lady arguing about a box they won’t pick up. Eventually they do. The tram ride continues to its stop. I sprint through the construction site, catch the bus that actually goes to IKEA and get to customer service only to be in a line with people needing to discuss every single nut and bolt on the blésterfløçt aan keuken they are having difficulty with. Watching people compare nut sizes is really fun.
So I get my wallet, thank you very much, bolt for the bus/construction site/train station. I had to get a ticket for the rain to Lille. Again, line, people talking about God knows what, Dutch is incomprehensible, possibly nuts and bolts. Made my train with minutes to spare. Had to change in Kortrijk. Anxiety provoking. I was seriously sweating.
I made it to Lille but I had not had the time given the mess I’d made of my morning to recharge my iPhone. Do you realize how helpless I am without an iPhone??? So I had about 20% of a charge. This is a crucial issue since I would have to find Ashish and then Annabelle who I don’t really know that well and we’ve already had some difficulties with email.
Lille is a lovely city. People speak French so I can actually communicate which is nice. I look at the old city, visit a few churches, resist the urge to use my phone, my sister Ann calls chewing up precious battery time. Anxiety gnaws at my feet. Ashish shows up, his phone is dying too, fer chrissake, he’s a molecular frazzmologist at least I can blame my problems on my tenuous relationship with technology.
So we walk to the absolutely adorable Petit Barbu and meet Annabelle (also absolutely adorable). We had a lovely meal, which I won’t describe since this is too long anyway. But three bottles of wine and one kir royale (guess who drank that) later we were on our way to catch that last train. Annabelle drove us (like something out of James Bond) and we just made it. Really, catching trains and trams and busses could kill you.
Finally, I was happily on the train heading back to Gent after a freaking long, arduous and adventurous day. But then 15 minutes into the trip at the Belgian border the train stopped. Train strike. Just like that at the French border (Belgian strike though) Seriously!!!!!! No phones. We were in Mouscron. Have you ever heard of Mouscron? NO, because NO ONE has ever heard of Mouscron!! They made everyone get off the train. The station was closed. It was 10:30 at night. There was nothing there, Mouscron might roughly resemble a Belgian version of Genesee Depot without the cute stores or signs in English.
Did I mention the candle I lit in the Cathedral of St Maurice earlier that day? When we walked out onto the street there was a cab. Sure it cost 120 euros but he drove us back to Gent.