Maastricht Tue 18/1/2012

There is a silver sheen on the grass banks alongside the rail line as the train whizzes toward Luik/Liege and the ever-present jet fuel lines can be seen overhead. I nibble on Worcester sauce flavoured crisps that taste not dissimilar to Light & Tangy. They’re made by a company with the interesting brand name of Crusti Croc. Mmm… Sounds delicious eh?! The fields look, to this never-seen-snow Aussie, as if there has been an overnight shower of evenly fallen snow. But I know better. It’s just ice but it’s still beautiful, although it does indicate how chilly it is here. I wonder if it will snow at all during these two weeks.

I’m beginning to work out the train system. As long as I know what time the train leaves, I can determine which platform it departs from as the information boards at Leuven station are quite easy to read. The trains seem to run very efficiently and – so far – have been on time, but if there is a delay it is communicated well to passengers via the on-platform displays, complete with the estimated duration of the delay. There are also constant announcements to communicate important information to passengers, which is great for those who are unable to see/read the displays but not so great for those who don’t understand the language. However, many words sound similar to English so I’m able to decipher a sliver or two of information among the rapid-fire Dutch I’m hearing.

I’m amazed by just how much open land there is here. In warmer months I imagine these fields are full of crops but, for the moment, they are neatly tilled or grass-covered, slightly undulating paddocks with churches and houses scattered along the landscape in the distance.

Liege. Change of trains.

Finally I’m on the right track so to speak – Bestemming: Maastricht. There was some ‘trouble’ in Brussels this morning, thereby delaying trains heading away from the Belgian capital and travelling to or through Leuven. Consequently, I missed the connecting train at Liege and had a half hour wait for the next. I took this unexpected opportunity to practise my French – acquired twenty years ago – to purchase maps and puzzle books at the newsagency, paracetamol at the pharmacy and a warm latte and croissant at a café. I also successfully used the public ‘facilities’ – a pleasing result following yesterday’s debacle. But that’s another story. Even if I have a less-than-fabulous day in Maastricht (which is highly unlikely!), I already have a sense of achievement today: at each of the shops, my purchase requests were met with a smile and an impressed nod in response to my modest attempts to speak en francais. Leaving each establishment with a ‘Bonne journee’ from me and ‘A vous egalement’ returned, gave me satisfaction that Mick Jagger and his Stones could only dream of.

I made my way to platform 2, as indicated on the ‘depart’ screen, to find no train. Another delay perhaps? After about ten minutes of waiting, I realised I was the only person on the platform. “Something’s NQR” I thought and immediately recalled the unscheduled changes of platform that frequently occur at Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations. A quick dash down the escalators, back to the displays and waddya know – delayed by 9 minutes and now at platform 4. That leaves… One minute! Running faster than Usain Bolt with a rocket up his derriere, I rushed to platform 4 and jumped aboard just as the doors began to close. Phew! It would have been a long wait for the next train. Now I sit back and relax. Here’s to a lovely day in Maastricht and my first visit to the Netherlands.

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