Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fyra and the Grand Place

 

I’m doing some frantic oscillation across the Channel, as though getting ready to slingshot to Seattle.  Three Eurostar trips, two Fyra trips, keeping costs and the carbon footprint down a little.  I like the train this time of year, more certain, cheaper, my luggage stays with me. 

Especially a 100-year-old teapot  that I am hand-carrying to Denver for a neighbor in England.

The prosaic reason for all the travel is the UK Border Agency.  I’m in Tier 1 Renewal Hell:  my counselors are rejecting every attempt to document proof of income.  We put together a P&L with original bank statements and the signed Dutch accountants audit letter, only to find that the British don’t recognize the Dutch firms legitimacy.  Barclays again proved unable to produce a simple signed letter stating the monies in the account.  They want my original doctoral diploma from the US.

And this is just a *renewal*!

I linked trains in Brussels, which gave me an opportunity to sample both the city Christmas Markets and the new Hi-Speed train connecting to Amsterdam, the Fyra (pronounced fi-ra).

  

The train is great: clean and new, unbelievably fast and smooth.  250 km/hr across the Dutch landscape with no more than a gentle sway.  2 hours, center to center, for 25 euros.

There have been glitches, and I caught one of them, about ten minutes south of Schiphol.  The train suddenly decelerated and stopped it a jolt.  The conductor announced a technical problem.  Then he announced that the driver had to reboot the train: the lights and air would go out (sounds like restarting the fences in Jurassic park).  Everyone waved phones in the darkness.  After a few minutes, back to normal and off we went.

Still, very recommended (even when the alternative is 10 gbp each way Stansted to Maastricht on Ryanair  nest month)

  

The controversy in Brussels is over the Xmas 3, the ‘christmas tree’ at the Grand Place.  It’s an 82-foot high construction of illuminated cubes vaguely in the shape  of a tree.  It’s not very appealing: fewer lights on the city hall, less music in the square, and this framework and fabric construction.  Critics argue that, together with calling the Market a “Winter Festival”, it is intended to make the event less offensive to non-Christians.  Where’s O’Reilly (actually, it turns out that he did pick this up on Dec 10 for his “War on Christmas” shtick)?

The huts were good, though: 2 euro Gluhwijn, Alsace platters of potatoes and sausage, lots of waffles and chocolates, and a good crowd enjoying the evening together.

The ‘tree’ needs to be consigned to the same circle of hell as the UKBA.   The same Border agency who grilled me today about why I needed to go to Amsterdam for original documentation for my visa renewal. 

And who then searched all of my bags on re-entry to the UK.

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