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Cologne, Germany

One hour in Belgium

Ill-located and badly sign-posted toilets that require a 50¢ coin to enter. Cash machines situated at the opposite end of the station complex that only dispense €50 notes, but change machines that only accept €5 and €10 notes. Five minutes remaining before I’m likely to soil my pants.

Luckily this first tale from my travels around Europe ends well, but it was indicative of the hour I spent in Bruxelles-Midi (Brussels South) railway station, where lounges are without departure information (yet on this occasion notable for a mumbling Belgian with a passing resemblance to Russell Crowe) and a distinct smell that makes you intent on departure.

I arrived in Brussels via the Eurostar service from St Pancras International. This magnificent building was expertly restored to its former glory in 2007, and requires further inspection on my return.

Throughout this trip I will be travelling first-class, yet I was still surprised by the offer of free champagne and full meal service as I made my way towards the Channel Tunnel. The entry here was unspectacular as you might imagine, but even more so given that the new High Speed 1 line tunnels under a lot of London and the south-east before reaching it anyway. Upon exiting the tunnel, you could be forgiven for thinking you were still in Kent, if it weren’t for the sight of buildings advertising cheap alcohol and cigarettes.

It fact, much of the landscape I’ve passed through has been unremarkable, but I expect this will change as I head down the Rhine Valley later this week. Tomorrow is my first real day of exploring Europe, with a day in Cologne. It’s 13th century cathedral, the Ludwig Museum, and the Rheinpark (with a cable car that traverses the river) look set to be the first of many such sights and attractions I can look forward to over the coming weeks.

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