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Europe on a Shoestring – Brussels to Berlin (day 2/15)

So, the second day of Interrail was a loooong one.

We almost-kind-of-really-didn’t sleep at London St. Pancras station.
We slept on the Eurostar straight to Brussels – missing our first ever ‘under the water’ tunnel experience.
Brussels was seen in a short visit instead of longer ‘layover’.
And Cologne was a missed opportunity.
But Berlin was a great way to end the day. Well. After a couple of hiccups.

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London St. Pancras station

Sleeping in stations is not a smooth option. Some stations close at night (especially in France, more on this later). Other make you feel unsafe and some are totally fine. If you choose to sleep in any stations along the way, London St. Pancras is probably one of the safest in Europe to do so.

To save us some money and avoid missing the first train to Brussels, Sara and I decided we’d sleep at the station. But we didn’t really think this ‘sleeping idea’ through.

The station’s Starbucks is open 24 hours. So we thought of hanging around and sleep in turns there. They used to have these lovely sofas where we could sit, relax and (we wrongly hoped for) sleep.
(Throughout the years they have decided to renovate and nowadays it only has high seating. I don’t think we were the first or last ones to have the same idea.)

We got a couple of hot drinks and I was lucky enough to get an hour sleep. But poor Sara was told to stay awake when her turn came. As we were not allowed to sleep, we decided to plan the day ahead and book our hostel through the free wifi, at the station.

As we were not allowed to sleep, we decided to plan the day ahead and book our hostel through the free wifi, at the station.

Sidenote: Here’s the thing, cafés can’t allow for anyone to sleep inside their space. Why? It’s pretty simple: restaurants and cafés need to be fair to everyone. If a homeless person can’t sleep there, why should they treat backpackers differently? It would become a hostel otherwise, and that’s not what you pay for when you order a drink or something to eat. Fair enough.

Although, sleep kicked in later on, and, lucky us, Yo Sushi had these lovely sofas that were left there overnight. We took a bench each and managed to sleep for a little bit. Well, until they opened in the morning and kicked us out (nowadays, I also believe they have a closed space with a wall, probably made to avoid these situations).

Tip #1: Sleeping in stations might be an option to save money. Beware that you can’t sleep in restaurants and cafés. If you find a comfortable corner to sleep in, here are some suggestions to follow:
– When travelling with a friend, sleep in turns.
– When travelling by yourself, either sleep in an area with regular police presence, or where other people are sleeping as well.
– Ideally find a way to attach your things to something that is stuck to the floor (a bench or a pole) and then tie it around your arms or legs.

 

Eurostar

Eurostar at St. Pancras station

The Eurostar is one of my favourite train trips in Europe. I’ve been on it a few times since the Eurotrip, and it’s comfortable, spacious, silent, quick, with no fuss and on board food… And with such a smooth check-in, security check and passport control, it’s just so convenient! #LoveIt

At 6h20 am we were inside Coach number 14, sitting in our chairs and facing forward (so lucky!). I was ready to go ‘under the sea’ on a train for the first time ever! I was super curious to see the entrance of the tunnel.

So, the trip started and I… FELL ASLEEP! I slept the whole way through! We were so tired, that we simply slept, I repeat, the whole way through. I remember dreaming and kind of opening my eyes once in a while. But I’m not sure whether I dreamt going into the tunnel, or whether I actually saw it. #FAIL

 

Brussels

Brussel’s Grand Place

We got to Brussels at around 10 am local time (GMT+1). We had planned a walk around Brussels before getting on a train to Berlin at 2 pm. That meant roughly 4 hours of exploring and relaxing.

We knew the train we wanted had an extra fee, so we approached a ticket office and asked how much it was. ‘€48.00 each’ the lady told us. #GASP

So… We had paid £57.00 for the Eurostar, and we were being asked €48.00 for the next one? Eh… Thanks, but no.

The ticket office lady was lovely, though, and suggested another route. She even printed the route. The problem was the first train we had to get on was at 12 pm. So, instead of 4 hours of exploring, we now had less than 2 hours. And, realistically, we actually had about 1 hour.

So, what did we do?

I had been to Brussels before and Brussels is great. So we were not going to give up so easily. With such little time, I decided to show a couple of main things to Sara for her to get a glimpse of the city.

We got the train to Brussels-Central and stood in the middle of the Grand Place for a quick picture. I then touched the statue of Everard’t Serclae on my way to take a picture with the (very disappointing) Manneken Pis (#ItsSoSmall).

The Everard’t Serclae is a statue that apparently brings you good luck. It grants you wishes and if you touch its arm you will one day return to Brussels.
The Manneken Pis is this tiny little statue that is on the top of a fountain, and it shows a little guy peeing – ‘he’ is the fountain from where the water comes out from. You have to see it, you have to take a picture with it, it’s a landmark but beware: its size is very disappointing. Not the d*ck size you freak! The statue’s size! Ah ah ah.

We then ate a waffle (#ItHadToBeDone) at a nearby cafe and that was it! Back to Bruxelles-Midi (AKA Brussel-Zuid)!

 

Train trip to Berlin

So here is our train trip:

  • Train 1: Bruxelles-Midi – Liège-Guillemins
  • Train 2: Liège-Guillemins – Aachen Hbf
  • Train 3: Aachen Hbf – Köln (Cologne)
  • Train 4: Köln (Cologne) – Berlin

Our trip was very smooth. On some trains, passengers can pre-book tickets and as we didn’t know which seats were pre-booked or not, we had to move around a few times. For one passenger our big bags were a nuisance. But you know what? ‘Just keep swimming’ and ‘smile and wave’. #SmileAndWave

Tip #2: Be ready to move around when you get on trains with pre-booked seats. As an Interrail pass holder, you don’t have to book a seat (you can, but you pay a fee for that priviledge). As you don’t know which seat is available on that journey, you might be asked to move. On some cases, you might be asked to move throughout the whole journey as people get in and out at different stops.

Liège looked like a good stop to make on another trip. The city seems to have a good vibe. Well, from the train station at least. It’s the third biggest city in Belgium and there seems to have a good contrast between old and new architecture.

Aachen’s station didn’t give us much inspiration but it seems to be a lovely spa city with loads of medieval things.

In Cologne, we had a 1-hour wait. So we stepped outside the station and went inside the beautiful church sitting at its doorsteps. It’s free to get in and it’s beautiful. To our (later) disappointment we missed the city centre which is just behind the church! We only realized on the train, when we looked back at our ‘Bible’. #BigFail

Tip #3: Investigate the city maps when you know you’re going to have at least an hour wait between trains. If a point of interest is close enough, you might be able to pay it a quick visit.

3 stops, 4 trains and 7 hours later we arrived in Berlin!

In between trains (station Liège-Guillemins)

 

Berlin

We arrived in Berlin at 9h08 pm. Plan: find the hostel we chose to stay in. We got on the S3 train and off we went.

Tip #4: In Berlin, you can travel on the S-Bahn trains with your pass. Which is great, as it brings you to all the main places to visit.

We chose to stay at an A&O Hostel just next to the Zoologischer Garten station and we stayed for 2 nights. Unfortunately, this hostel location doesn’t show on the current A&O Hostels website anymore. They have others and I’d recommend them. It looks like this one has moved elsewhere very recently, as Google Maps still shows a picture of the building with the A&O signs on it.

We felt a bit suspicious when we got there, though. The hostel was located in a tall building. Below the hostel, there were a few kebab and Chinese takeaway shops and a few people that made us feel slightly uncomfortable. There was also a random sex shop. Although, the hostel upstairs (which we’d access through outdoor escalators) was actually nice. Everyone in reception was lovely and friendly and the fellow customers had a good vibe. So we relaxed a bit.

Tip # 5: Some places will look a bit dodgy – we always fear what we don’t know. Keep an open mind and give those places a chance to show you their true colours. Nonetheless keep both eyes open and keep you personal safety in check. If your intuition keeps telling you to walk away, do so, but only when all the alarm bells are ringing. 

I found a Buddy Bear!!!

We chose a Female Dorm shared with 12 other girls and paid €8.00 for each night. Although when we got to the room, only 2 beds were available and one of them had a massive uncomfortable ‘hole’ in it.

So we went back to reception, asked for another room and they put us in an 8 beds dorm for no extra cost. We got to the room, opened the door and found 3 Spanish guys getting dressed, whilst another one was singing in the shower. They put us in a Mixed Dorm. By this point we thought ‘Whatever, we’re all here to sleep’ and chose our beds. In the meantime, the 3 guys tried to warn the shower guy to not come out naked, as there were two girls in the room. He didn’t hear them and came out in boxers (#Relief) and putting up a singing show. His face turned red when he saw us, and he hid in the bathroom again. And amidst a burst of laughter, one of the other guys passed him more clothes.

We put our valuables in the safe at reception and went out for a walk around the hostel to grab something to eat.

Tip #6: ALWAYS lock up your valuables – especially your passport. If there is no individual safe in the room, ask reception to lock them away. 

We realised we were super close to the Memorial Church (which was beautifully lighten up) and the Berlin Zoological Garden. As it was a lovely evening we walked about for a bit and took silly photos.

When we came back to the hotel, we drank a piña colada each, made by this handsome German called Marco.

We planned the next day, decided for definite that we wouldn’t go to Munich and Athens and went to sleep.

 

When in Brussels again

During our trip across Europe, we walked and saw a lot. But we didn’t take the time to enjoy or investigate each city deeply.
We saw this trip as an opportunity to get a grip of how the cities ‘felt like’.
We saw the main touristic sights and walked as much as possible to see as much as possible.
As if it was a first-contact for future trips.

So, here is the list of things I’d like to do upon visiting Brussels again:
– Visit the Grand Place at night (to see it lighten up)
– Visit the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
– Get inside Neuhaus (and ‘get stoned’ on chocolate)
– Visit museums: Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts (free every 1st Wednesday of the month), Musée Magritte, Musée des Instruments de Musique (even its building is worth looking at), Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée
– Go back to the Atomium – I’ve been to Brussels before and the Atomium is AWESOME
– Visit the Mini-Europe attraction – I love miniatures and maquettes and models of things
– Eat a proper waffle
– Eat moules-et-frites

Do you have any other suggestions for me (or others who’ll read this post)?
Where and what should I eat?
What else should I not miss?

Let me know in the comments below.

Hug,
Millia

P.S.1 – What did we do on day 1 of this Interrail? We went to Brighton! Why? Click here to find out more.

P.S.2 – Want to see more pictures? Follow my Instagram for extra pictures taken during my trip.

 

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