When I received my work schedule for this next week, I was very surprised to see that I have three days off in a row. This is a very rare occasion so I got pretty excited and decided that it would be great fun to go on a little holiday somewhere. As it happened to be my friend Alyy's 21st birthday yesterday, I had a major brainwave and decided to turn up in Mons, Belgium, where she is currently doing her French Erasmus placement as a surprise birthday present :) Believe me...it has been an adventure beyond my wildest dreams and definitely a highlight of my year abroad so far!
After a long day at work on Saturday, I went down to Grenoble Gare Routiere ready to begin my journey to Belgium! Having planned this surprise birthday present for Alyy less than 24 hours before I left Grenoble, I was pretty nervous about getting through a journey that would involve taking five different trains! I seriously could not imagine arriving in Mons nine hours later at that point! This was because the journey was as follows:
Grenoble - Valence
Valence - Paris Gare de Lyon
Paris Gare de Lyon - Paris Nord (I had to take the underground for this)
Paris Nord - Bruxelles Midi
Bruxelles Midi - Mons
As you can imagine, this journey involved a fair few stressful moments, and LOADS of French practice! I was pleasantly surprised when I got to Mons successfully but there was one thing that happened on the journey that I just have to share with you because it is funny now despite being terribly distressing at the time!
Of all points of this journey to Belgium, you would not believe that my time at Grenoble station would be the hardest part! But I hate to say that this was the case. When I arrived at the station in Grenoble, I had about fifteen minutes to collect my tickets that I had previously ordered online. However, when I got to the desk in the ticket office, I was horrified when the woman asked me for my reference number in order to give me my tickets. As I had forgotten to write this down and bring it with me, I felt like crying as I told her that I did not have it. She gave me a strange look which I was a bit confused about but I did then realize that I might possibly be able to use the internet on my phone (despite it being really expensive!) to try and find the email containing the reference number. Despite being extremely stressed, on the verge of tears, and looking like a silly hysterical tourist in front of everyone in the station, I rushed back to the desk one minute before my train was due to leave only to find that I had completely misunderstood what the woman had asked me. She told me that if I had only understood her the first time, I would have been able to get onto my train in time because she had asked for my pin number not for a reference number! At that moment I wanted the ground to swallow me up and was panicking because I had loads of connecting trains later on that I thought I would now not be able to get. However, the woman at the desk told me that there was another train to Valence in two minutes time which was very luckily only five minutes after the train I was supposed to have taken. At that point, I thanked her very quickly and sprinted as fast as my legs could carry me to the platform and managed to jump on to the train just as the doors were shutting! Thank goodness for that!
You will be pleased to hear that after such a horrible start to the journey, I managed the rest of it and also succeeded in not messing up getting from one side of Paris to the other on the underground. That was a huge relief! I was also told by a woman on the train to Paris that I speak French with a Spanish accent which I took as a compliment seeing as I am studying Spanish :)
When I arrived in Mons, I was so relieved to see my friend Sarah that I ran across the platform to give her a hug. However, we both laughed when my bag decided to completely fall to pieces as a result of my childish excitement to see a friend from Bangor. That just topped off the journey that had turned into such an unnecessarily embarrassing and eventful few hours! The joys of being an Erasmus student!
The time that I have spent in Belgium has made every minute of that journey worth it as I spent Sunday visiting Brussels with Sarah! We visited Brussels Cathedral, Grand Place, Hotel de Ville, and numerous chocolate shops. We also had a lovely meal in an Italian Restaurant in the city centre which was very relaxing and the perfect way to catch up on each others year abroad adventures so far. Especially as we are living in different French speaking countries! However, today has been the biggest day of all as it is the day that Alyy arrived back in Belgium after her birthday weekend in the UK. Having planned it all out very carefully, Sarah and I got up early this morning, got a birthday cake ready and made sure everything was prepared for her return. It looked at one point like our plan was not going to go as smoothly as we had originally hoped as Alyy texted Sarah whilst we were still in the supermarket buying the cake to say that she was almost back at the flat! In order to surprise her the most, we had planned that I sit on her bed casually waiting for her so we raced back to the flat at the speed of light in order to get back in time to get into position. Luckily, Alyy arrived about five minutes after we did so Sarah went to get her from downstairs whilst I sat in her room waiting. As Alyy entered the room, I jumped up and said Happy Birthday which gave her the fright of her life as well as causing her to think that she was imagining seeing me sitting on her bed in Belgium! Her face was a picture so Sarah and I felt satisfied that our plans for this 21st birthday surprise had worked just as we hoped they would! So tonight we are all going to go out for a meal in Mons to celebrate Alyy's birthday in a slightly calmer way and have a good catch up after nine months of not seeing each other.
Tomorrow, I will be heading back to France as I will be back at work on Wednesday. These few days in Belgium have gone very quickly but I have had a lovely time! It has been a real bonus to see Sarah and Alyy as I will now probably not see them until September 2015 when we get back to Bangor to start our fourth and final year of university. I think there might be a few tears at the train station but at least we have had a lovely time and Alyy has had a slightly different birthday to what she imagined she would have!
I must go now as I need to get ready to go and have a bit more of a look around Mons before we go and get food. If you would like to see photos of my travels in Belgium, please look at the 'Extra Travelling' page of the blog. I hope you enjoy them and I will be back in a few days time to update you further on life back in Grenoble!