A trip to Brussels and a worthy lesson in preparation

At the time it seemed like a great idea, hire a van, drive to Brussels, spend a weekend there, drive back. Simple.

At the time it seemed like a great idea, hire a van, drive to Brussels, spend a weekend there, drive back. Simple. And, since I probably wasn’t going to see him for a while it seemed like a nice send off.

So before I knew it we were in the van on our way. The trip there, aside from the fact he booked the ferry ticket for the wrong day, was quite straightforward. Until Brussels of course when he was having a heart attack in the passenger seat and proving to be the worst navigator of all time.

‘At some point we drive over this main road,’ he helpfully informed me.

‘Isn’t that a river?’

‘Is it?’

You get the picture. Once we arrived, safely I might add, my brief trip sped by in a whirlwind of tick boxes. Beer, check, rabbit in beer (a Brussels speciality, apparently), check, beer, check, waffle, check, cappuccino with whipped cream (what?), check, beer, Commission, Parliament, pissing child, wine….

Then it was Monday morning, he went to his new grown up job in Brussels, leaving me to get home. There was a notable, and unexpected, presence of snow, thankfully it was too wet to stick and seemed quite romantic really.

Back in the van (…discard parking ticket in the snow….) I became aware of my fantastic preparation. Orangina and Kettle Chips. No map, no mobile signal, no actual cash. Anneka Rice, I thought, would be proud.  

And so I was off. My getting out of Brussels was well executed (I did check out the route on Google Earth, don’t tell Anneka) and before I knew it I was on the ring road. With snow, heavy, no longer romantic, size-of-your-face snow and definitely sticking.

Not one to panic about the fact I’d driven into Narnia I settled into Contact FM’s wonderful collection of Euro-Pop‘n’B hoping that despite not being able to see the road signs I would magically get off at the right junction. How blissfully naïve.

So an hour later (we don’t have to talk about it) I was back on the Brussels ring road, in the right direction and finally heading south, hurrah! Eventually, to my joy, the snow eased somewhere near Gent. Not to my relief it was quickly replaced by monsoon like conditions and severe wind.

Despite the weather Contact FM stayed loyal distracting me from the fact that the windscreen wipers could not keep up, I could see nothing out of my wing mirrors and the diesel was draining away…  

About seven million dual carriage-way lorry overtakes later, like driving through a continuous car wash and van sized hair dryer simultaneously, I thought I’d better grab some fuel.

Realising how strangely cold I was, all but four circles where the vents of the van’s ‘heating system’ had directly aimed hot air for the last three hours, I got out, very stiff, lunges required. I faffed around like a proper foreigner trying to make the fuel pump work before I realised, to my dismay, a great big sign with ‘pré-payer’ written on it.

Now my French isn’t great but I think that means ‘pre-pay’ which would suggest that I’ve just spent a few minutes making a tit of myself, probably to someone’s amusement. 

Ordeal over I get back in the van and assess my journey so far. I’ve survived snow, the city, a minor detour to some random town and the challenging weather conditions since. Now I only have the easy bit to do, which would be fine except my ferry leaves in five minutes, which is approximately as long as I have been in France.

Momentarily dejected I decide I’d better plough on (thankfully not literally anymore) and eventually forfeit my wine stop (sob) in favour of trying to talk my way onto the next ferry. Which actually proves rather easy.

‘Two of you?’

‘No, one.’ Isn’t that obvious?

‘So you are… Miss Lewis?’ Well I’m not Mr Harris. ‘What is in the van?’


‘Ok, off you go!’

Alarmingly aloof. Then I wait in a queue, no sign of a ferry, for over an hour which is not only cold but also typical as I could have got loads of wine. Wine for everyone!

Back on the right side of the road, that is to say the left, the weather is a little better but despite my Kettle Chips and Orangina on the ferry, which was packed with children, ugh, it’s hard to feel that optimistic about the rest of the journey.

I probably wasn’t going to get from Dover to Europcar Brighton in 55 minutes, sad but true. In fact, with the traffic it took nearly three hours. I arrived at 7pm which meant I’d been travelling for a good 11 hours, almost twice as long as it should have taken.

But what I learnt from this mis-adventure had nothing to do with love or sentiment or romance, or even Brussels. It was that we don’t need to be smotheringly over-prepared for every possible eventuality. Think of the hours I could have spent preparing for the journey and it wouldn’t have mattered at all, I still wouldn’t have seen the road signs or the exit, I still would have had to crawl around Brussels in the snow, it still would have rained furiously in France and the M25 would have still been a nightmare.

Instead I packed my bag just before I left, grabbed my passport and went. And everything worked out fine…..