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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Traveling in Europe

All Aboard...Come with me as we take you on a train ride...a 12 hour train ride from Milan, Italy to Theux, Belgium about an hour from Liege, Belgium

This is the train station in Liege now....very modern.  At the time, it looked nothing like this!
Liege Train Station
Image via ~
Liege Townhall
Images via ~
This is a funny tale of a train ride daughter and I made traveling from Milan, Italy to Liege, Belgium 17 years ago or so.  It wasn't funny at the time but thinking back to it now I find myself smiling. We were traveling to Theux, Belgium, a lovely little town about an hour outside Liege so that daughter could go back to visit the host families she stayed with her junior high school year as an exchange student. My husband was in Milan on business and this was one of the several trips to Europe that I was very fortunate to go on with him. This time, taking our daughter(who was then starting college) along with us.

I can only say that it was not at all like riding a train in the United States. Because my Grandfather worked for the railroad and we were able to ride on the trains in the United States for half price. I fondly remember once riding the train from Indiana to Georgia with my Grandmother and brother. But this was not anything like that!

The train schedule showed two travel times for traveling to Liege, Belgium. In the early morning or late evening. I was looking forward to going in the morning so that I could view the different countries we would be going through during the day but because arrangements were made at the last minute, we could not get on the early morning train and instead had to ride on the evening train which left the main train station at 9:00 p.m. This was to be a 12 hour train ride with one layover in Luxembourg and because we were traveling on the cheap we did not bother to get a sleeping car. (What for? This was to be an adventure) So, we boarded the train, found the right car and took the first compartment we came to.  There were already people sitting in two of the three seats that faced us so we sat across from them. The gentleman ( who was a frequent traveler on the trains) told us to close the curtain (each compartment had a set of curtains that you could close) so that people would think that all of the seats were taken. (I thought those curtains were really quaint) So we did. Of course, never traveling on a train in Europe before we did not bring any water, food, pillows, or a blanket with us making it very hard to be comfortable with no where to lay your head. Because of making the arrangements late I was unable to be on a car that allowed smoking (back then I smoked) but no problem, I could just go right outside the door next to our car and onto a little area with a rail around it that had little pull-out seats to smoke.

So, as our journey begins, the ticket agent tears open our curtain and very curtly says Passports. We in turn give him ours and he checked our passports looking at us and looking at our passport, looking at us and looking at our passports making me wonder if he was going to allow us to even stay on the train. No smile, no thank you just a stern look and off to the next person. Of course, I could only speak English and had to rely on my daughter to translate for me (which she did very well) and because she could speak French translating other language was easier for her. Of course, we could not speak any Italian but thanks to daughter when people smiled and asked questions she could pretty much figure out what they were saying....As for me, I was pretty much lost the entire time. (Sigh)

As we travel through all the large and small cities in Italy, and France and everyone is either sleeping or reading I decide now would be the time to go for a cigarette. So, I exit the door directly outside our compartment. It is pitch black, the train is moving fairly quickly (I'm not sure about the speed but recall that it was moving very fast) and I am leaning over the side of the railing deep in thought and starting to get really tired when all of the sudden another train traveling on another track going in the opposite direction comes flying by and sucks me up against the outside of the car. My heart was beating 50 miles a minute and I think this is it! I'm going to die out here. I couldn't even push myself away from the side of the train while the train was passing. After the train passed and being pretty shook up, I decided NOT to go out for another cigarette until morning, when I could see.

About the time we are nodding off, and I decided to use my cape as a pillow against the window and daughters head laying on my shoulders the train stops in Basil, Switzerland the first city you enter into Switzerland. Let me tell you, it was just like something right out of a movie. Two police officers enter the train and yank open the curtains flip on the lights and say "passports". While this is happening, I hear dogs barking and entering the train. About that time they are in our compartment sniffing us and everything in the car. The two policemen reminded me of how Officers would have been during the Nazis Invasion and literally scared me to death. After they left our compartment (It seemed like we were on that platform forever) as I am looking out our window, I see those same two policemen yelling wildly at a man with their clubs raised like they were going to hit him. I quickly asked daughter what was going on as they were speaking French and she said the man did not have a Visa and they just threw him off the train! I could not believe it! Just like that!

The train finally had the clearance to leave and off we go again. By this time we are EXHAUSTED with little sleep if any and still several hours from where we are supposed to layover. I don't know if it was because of the constant stopping and starting, the roaring of the train, lack of sleep, no food or the frightening scare in Switzerland but we both had the starting of a terrible headache that would last until we got to Belgium.

When we finally arrived in Luxembourg it was around 7:00 a.m. and we still had two hours left on our journey. Having only 30 minutes to use the bathroom, grab something to drink (we did not have the right currency for anything else) and find the right train going in the right direction the train was boarding. So we hopped on with banging headaches until we reached Liege. This is where the host family was to pick us up. As we are standing on the platform waiting, waiting, and waiting, I am starting to get worried that something is amiss so we decide to go out onto the street thinking they are out there waiting for us. When we go outside the station I immediately start to smell something that smells like fried food and become sick to my stomach. My daughter tells me that is Belgium waffles that I am smelling (which are supposed to be delicious). But, by this time, I just want to lay down and close my eyes so my head will stop hurting and wanting the motion of the train to leave my body. Not seeing anyone she recognizes we go back to the platform and wait some more.

FINALLY, she sees them... Kisses on both cheeks, Bonjour's to welcome us, introductions and we are finally off to what I hope is a warm bed, coffee, and food for these two weary travelers. What a ride!  All I can say is that we wanted an experience and we had one!  Well, time to depart the train as we have arrived at the station. I hope you enjoyed the ride and will travel with me again. LOL I have several more stories to share but will save them for a later date. Always an adventure when traveling with daughter! HA

I leave you with this beautiful church in Liege, one of the many beautiful sites that you can visit. I think it has a very old world feel.

St. Bartholomew's Collegiate Church
Image via ~ www.
Inside St. Bartholomew's Church
Image via ~


  1. Kris: Well, you certainly did have an adventure... great story. Travelling in Europe is so different than here, and was even more so when you made this trip. What did your daughter think of it all?
    So, do you speak some French now? Have you been back since? We just made plans for our next trip in the fall!

  2. Loved seeing this through your's been a while since I've been and am itching to go back. Life is so's good to catch up. XO, Mona

  3. Haha - what a ride INDEED! I can understand that it wasn´t that amusing back then, but it´s a fab story to remember! :-)

  4. O yes I enjoyed your exciting ride!


    ♥ Franka

  5. How nice to look at your photos made in Belgium ! What a coincidence that I was just today talking, via Emily, about Belgian waffles.. so sorry the smell made you feel so bad.. that after so many years you remember it !

  6. lovely picture and so informative blog! greetings from tulipland Holland!

  7. I popped over from 'This is Belgium' to read about your epic train ride. I've never been on a train in the US so I can't compare, but it certainly brought back memories of traveling overnight by train when I was a student in France.

  8. you reminded me of train travel in france from years ago. and the very strict swiss border control. i'd forgotten entirely how much like a russian movie it was to cross the border into switzerland.

  9. Wow, that sounds like it was an amazing tip! I love the photo's! When I watch old movies I always drool over how train travel was back in the glamorous, I wish we still had that here.

    The packing is coming you, I've packed up and moved way too many times so hopefully we'll put some roots down permanently this time:)

  10. Loved your story. Surprised you ever got on a train again! Reminds me of an epic and rather scary journey we did to Peru ... maybe I will tell all one day! M x

  11. Brilliant tale of travels in strange places with strange customs. Loved this story Kris - I understand why you had such a headache. Glad the family were and the trip was lovely in the end.

  12. What a great story. Ah yes the non-sleeping carts, because you did not think to make a reservation. I think many of us have had that experience. In some ways thank goodness for the Euro and not having to constantly exchange money.

  13. You are a wonderful story-teller and this one was fabulous! I hope that you are going to share more like this with us. I cannot imagine the fright as you were almost sucked off the train... glad you gave up smoking (hehe).

    Love the photos of St. Barth's church.



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