07 June 2009
I took the Eldest to London this weekend for some mother-daughter bonding. When thinking about it I realized that we had done something pretty remarkable: for relatively little expense we went from Brussels to London and back in a single day; to put this in historical context, even 20 years ago this would have been unthinkable.
Until the Eurotunnel opened up in 1994, there was almost no casual travel between the UK and "the continent". It still surprises many people, I think, on both sides of the Channel. As an American this is difficult to understand -- the train now takes less than 2 hours each way, and you gain an hour in the morning which means you get a whole day out in London if you take the last train back at 19h30. As I write, the Euro is 0,87 Pounds, or 1 Pound is 1,14 Euros, which is about as good as it's ever been for us with Euros. In previous years it was painful even to look at prices in Pounds... Now it is practically a party! Consumer goods are not cheap or plentiful in Belgium....choice is bizarrely limited and customer service is generally consists of ignoring the potential customer until they leave the shop. Throw in Boots, Gap, and Marks & Spencer and the money you save pays for the train fare.
I realize that we're an unusual combination, Eldest and I. We travel on US passports with Belgian residence cards; she, especially, having English relatives, has one foot on the Continent and the other in Britain. She's grown up with Eurostar; it's only a few years older than she is. She's far from being a Eurobrat and I am proud to see her move easily through both anglophone and francophone cultures.... Far more easy for her than it is for me. But then, too, I still see London as a sort of wonderland, and I used to practically pinch myself every time the train pulled into Waterloo station, trying to contain my excitement at spotting Battersea power station, glimpses of the Thames, and later the London Eye. St Pancras is gorgeous and full of much-appreciated amenities, but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Waterloo, even paying 30p to use the toilets, and running to make the train on the way back with a dozen bagels from the Bagel Factory vendor...