On some weekends while studying in London, I made excursions out of the UK to go to other parts of Europe. Sometimes, I went on unofficial trips alone or with classmates and, other times, the class would go on a sort of field trip together. These class trips included Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) and Strasbourg.
King’s Cross and the Eurostar
As I mentioned in an older post, I was staying in a flat near King’s Cross (which I’d only heard of beforehand thanks to Harry Potter). It was about a ten minute walk away, across the street from the local Burger King and McDonald’s (and, I think, a Pret a Manger).
Nearly our entire class of law students were to take a train from London to continental Europe. I lazily assumed that meant we were leaving from King’s Cross and walked there dangerously close to the departure time only to learn that the Eurostar train didn’t leave from King’s Cross, but from St. Pancras. Though the two stations were literally across the street from one another, it feels super far when you’re late for your train.
Hustling over there, I got to the Eurostar security check and saw substantial lines of people waiting to get through. Talking to a Eurostar employee, I told her about my dilemma and she unexpectedly ushered me through security to get me to my train. I essentially cut in front of dozens of people who arrived to the station on time, making me feel both like a jerk and kind of like a boss at the same time (the theme for this post is me feeling like a jerk).
A glimpse of Brusels, then Luxembourg and the American Military Cemetary
An underwater train and a long bus ride later, we arrived in Brussels for a walking tour. The guide told us a bunch of stuff which I no longer remember, though she pointed out some nice places to get chocolate, restaurants specializing in mussels, and government buildings. Then, they packed us back into the bus and shipped us off to Luxembourg.
Judging from the fact that I have this photo of a Luxembourg hotel in the middle of the night, I think we stayed in Luxembourg. I don’t recall anything interesting happening that night, though I assume I drank with some classmates. Actually, this might have been the place where my classmate spilled red wine on the hotel couch.
The next day, we were given a tour of the city, and brought to the Luxembourg American Military Cemetary where many World War II U.S. soldiers were buried (if I recall correctly, many of the bodies were eventually moved to the U.S.). It’s always a little heartbreaking seeing the grave of an unknown soldier.
Among the other grave markers—well, it’s kind of set aside in a special spot—is that of General George S. Patton, Jr.
On the bus ride from Brussels and on, our professor played Band of Brothers for us (I’d already seen it and loved it prior to the trip) to set the mood for our visit to the cemetary. Worked pretty well.
Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Temptation of Oktoberfest
Leaving idyllic Luxembourg behind, we went off to Strasbourg, France.
Strasbourg is close to the border between France and Germany and has a long history of shifting governance. It’s been an independent city state, and has been occupied by many different groups (even the Huns). A sort of byproduct of this history is that it’s culturally unique as a blend of several cultures. So, yeah, we were technically in France but a lot of the people there seemed to primarily speak German. For dinner, our professor had us eat some German spatzle (a sort of noodle).
The next day (at least I think it was the next day), we went to the European Court of Human Rights where I was interested, and then bored, and then maybe interested again. We also saw a piece of the Berlin Wall that was moved there.
Notably, the weekend we were in Strasbourg was also the weekend of Oktoberfest. I researched the time it would take to hop on a train over to Munich. Essentially, I would’ve had to skip the rest of the class trip and get back to London on my own, but—Oktoberfest! In the end, I decided to stick with the class.
Oh, and I also took some of my free time in Strasbourg to get a haircut, ’cause I needed a haircut and was tired of taking photos of European buildings that were starting to all look the same.
The Return to Brussels and the Mugging!!!
After Strasbourg, we went back to Brussels to stay the night.
Now, I’m not proud of what happened next, but I sort of ditched my roommate that night and, as an indirect result, the poor guy was mugged.
So, here’s the deal—generally, I don’t hang out much with the guy back in London, but the professor kept rooming us together on the class trip. He’s a pretty nice guy, but we weren’t 100% socially compatible. Anyway, I was in the lobby and was asked to go to dinner with some other classmates. Like a jerk, I went off with them and didn’t inform my roommate.
Subsequently, my roommate realized I wasn’t coming back to our room and wandered out to find dinner by himself (he was sort of dating one of our classmates at the time, so, I’m not sure why he didn’t go with her—but, I guess I’m just diverting blame now—ah, the guilt!). My roommate, being kind of young in appearance and maybe even gullible looking, started walking around while looking at a map on his phone.
Though our hotel was super fancy, we were actually in a somewhat dodgy area of Brussels. So, yeah—some guy ran by and grabbed the phone out of my roommate’s hand. What my roommate did next, he’s been both praised and scolded for: Mr. young-and-gullible-looking ran after the thief.
Unluckily for the thief, two of our other classmates were nearby: one guy was, I don’t know, maybe 6’4″ and the other wasn’t so tall, but he was pretty big, muscle-wise. So, my roommate shouted, “That guy has my phone!” and the three of them proceeded to chase the thief together. Then, if memory serves me right (all of this being hearsay), the hotel security guard also joined in on the chase.
By some ridiculous circumstance, the thief rounded a corner and ran straight into a police officer. At that point, the mugger just gave up and returned the phone (and, I assume he was arrested).
After that, my roommate was invited to dinner with the two big guys. The group I was with spotted them as they were being seated in front of a restaurant. We merged groups (though I’d already eaten, so I just got a beer there) and I was informed of the recent mugging and proceeded to feel like a jerk (worst thing that happened to me in the meantime was that I left my umbrella at a restaurant, but then I went back and the cute waitress had set it aside for me).
Netherlands: The Hague and Amsterdam
Our trip to Netherlands wasn’t on the same trip as the one to the cities and countries mentioned above. However, it’s part of Benelux, so I’m grouping it together for this post.
Being a law program, our professor brought us to the Hague. For some reason, I have no photos of the place though we had dinner and went out for drinks one night (I think this is when I started becoming more attracted to one of my classmates), and went to the International Criminal Court. Not a single photo. Weird. I guess I was distracted by the woman.
After the Hague was Amsterdam. There, I spent most of my time with one group of law students (probably due to the presence of a certain classmate—I seem to pursue relationships that are unlikely to turn out well for some reason—I won’t go into that here).
We actually did a bunch of stuff in Amsterdam. Yeah, we walked the red light district and certain people made certain purchases of certain things (not me), but we also went to the Van Gogh exhibit, the big Amsterdam sign, the Heineken brewery tour, and the Anne Frank House (very somber experience after a bunch of nonsense). No tulips, though. Good times, mostly.
Now, a few photos of Amsterdam:
Looking at it now, I think the traveling and tours actually influenced my first novel a good bit.