2015-06-17 (Day 01) London – Arlon

Today’s photo shows St. Pancreas train station as the traffic streams past on a cloudy Friday morning in London. The clock-face on the tower showed 07.10 so I had plenty of time to catch my train at 08.55.  2 days previously, I had booked the Eurostar from London St. Pancreas to Brussels Midi so after almost a week in Enfield, the Tour de Travoy finally got underway this morning.  I had got a lift with my brother, John, all the way from Donegal to Enfield the previous Sunday in a Ford Transit van and had spent the week getting ready for the Tour de Travoy and watching the opening games in Euro 2016. All week I had been delaying my departure as the weather in Belgium was very bad but with Ireland due to play Belgium the following day, I could postpone my trip no more.

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Total distance cycled this morning – 19 km. With a train to catch at 08.55, I had to get up before 5 so as to finish packing and allow enough time to cycle from Enfield to St. Pancreas. I said bye to John about 05.30 and set off towards London city centre along the A105. The forecast was for showers but most of the way it was dry until the heavens opened near Camden. I took shelter under a railway bridge for about 5 minutes before cycling the last stretch through King’s Cross. In all, it only took about an hour and half to travel 19 km from Enfield to St Pancreas.

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Eurodespatch centre location in St. Pancreas. I had booked with Eurodespatch to transport my bike on the same train as I was due to get. I had to go right to the end of St. Pancreas station to drop off the bike at their despatch centre. Most cyclists on Eurostar have to pack their bike into a box but fortunately, there was space on my train for a complete bike so I didn’t have to dismantle it. I simply disconnected Travoy and wheeled the bike up to the check-in desk. The attendant gave me a bar-code tag to put around the handlebars and he then opened a door and took possession of the bike. I was given a printout and directions as to where to collect it in Brussels and that was that.

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St. Pancreas train station in London. After dropping off the bike, I then had to wait about half an hour for the check-in desk to open for my train. It took about 10 minutes to check-in as there was quite a queue of people catching the same train. It was also awkward getting through security as Travoy was too big for the scanner so I had to fold it up and take the wheels off it so it would fit on the conveyor belt. After about 20 minutes going through security,  I eventually made it to the departure lounge around 08.15.

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Eurostar ticket. It wasn’t until 08.40 that the platform number for the Brussels train showed up on the screen and there was a surge of people heading towards the train. My train ticket had a seat number on it but when I went to check in, I was given a different carriage and seat number and typically, I had to go right until the end of the train to get to my seat. The carriage was full and there was only just enough space for my luggage by putting it in 3 different places.

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Brussels Midi train station. The train left more or less on time and after 2 stops in Ebbsfleet and at Ashford made it to the Channel Tunnel in less than an hour. We were stopped for about 2 or 3 minutes at the approach to the Tunnel but once underway, it only took about 20 minutes to travel under the English Channel. Once in France, it took another 20 minutes to reach Lille and then about half an hour to get to Brussels. In all, it had taken just over 2 hours to travel from central London to central Brussels, a journey which even by car would take about 10 hours. Once off the train, it took me about 15 minutes to find the Eurodespatch office before being re-united with my bike.

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Bikes for hire at Brussels Midi train station. When you buy a Eurostar ticket, for an extra €8, you can buy an onward ticket to any railway station in Belgium. I had planned to watch the Ireland – Belgium game in Luxembourg, so had bought a ticket for the nearest station in Belgium to Luxembourg, namely Arlon. However, trains from Brussels to Arlon leave from Brussels Luxembourg train station, which is about 3 km from Brussels Midi. I could have got a train between both stations but as the day was good, I decided to cycle it instead.

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Route between Brussels – Midi and Brussels – Luxembourg train stations. The roads in Brussels were relatively quiet and it only took about 20 minutes to reach my destination. Despite Belgium being one of the favorites for Euro 2016, there were very few Belgium flags on show. Indeed, I probably passed by as many Italian and especially Portuguese flags hanging from apartments in Brussels as Belgian flags.

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Palace of Justice in Brussels. On the way to Brussels – Luxembourg train station, I went past the Palace of Justice. The building is huge and measures 150m by 160m in size. It apparently is the biggest building built anywhere in the world during the 19th Century. The dome in its centre towers 103m above the ground and is almost as high as the Spire in Dublin. The building was completed in 1883 after 22 years of work. The dome was destroyed in WW2 and rebuilt after the war 2m higher than the original. Renovation work started in 2003 to re-gild the dome and clean the facade. The work is still ongoing and the scaffolding is so rusted from 13 years out in the Belgian weather that it may have to be replaced before the renovations are complete.

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Sign in Brussels Luxembourg train station. The first train for Arlon that pulled into the station didn’t seem to have a bike carriage so I waited half an hour for the next train. This train did have a disabled section but there was little space for bikes. But as I didn’t have time to wait for the next train, I clambered on board. There was nowhere to hang up the bike so I could only place it against an emergency exit door. After about an hour, a ticket inspector came around and charged me €12 for the bike which is standard on most Belgian trains. Incredibly, he didn’t have any change but true to his word, he did come back to me about half an hour later with my €3 change.

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George Patton memorial in Arlon. It took about 2 hours for the train to travel from Brussels to Arlon. As I arrived, there was a mighty downpour so I took shelter in a lay-by. The shower only lasted 10 minutes or so and I set off for Camping Officiel in Arlon, about 4 km to the North. Along the way, I passed by a memorial for George Patton, who had liberated the town in 1944, just before the Battle of the Bulge.

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Camping Officiel in Arlon, Belgium. The campsite is located along the main Arlon – Bastogne highway but the traffic was not too bad as I made my way north. The campsite was mostly full of camper-vans and caravans and there didn’t seem to be anyone else with a tent. Each pitch had a power point so I set up my tent as close as possible to a power socket as I had forgotten my extension lead.

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My new tent for the 2016 Tour de Travoy. I had no sooner started pitching my tent when the heavens opened and everything got drenched. It was not easy trying to get to grips with a new tent and it was no fun attaching the poles and putting in the pins as the rain lashed down. The new tent took over 15 minutes to pitch unlike the pop-up tent I had last year which only took a minute or 2. It was not the start I was hoping for on this year’s Tour de Travoy but it could have been worse as a gust of wind nearly blew my tent into the neighbouring field before I put some weight inside it.

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