14/06/2011 to 15/06/2011: Brussels, Belgium
In June 2011, I left home behind for my 3rd extended travelling trip. I said farewell to my mum at the train station, and headed into London to catch a bus to Brussels, Belgium. As the bus drove through the outskirts of the city, I thought that I had never heard a bad word about safety in this city, unlike cities such as Barcelona, London and New York. My bus arrived in Brussels around mid-afternoon, I planned to catch a bus later that night to Bremen, Germany, where I would spend a couple of nights before heading to Hurricane Music Festival. The plan for this trip was to travel from London to Singapore, without flying, via Russia, Mongolia and China.
I had several hours to pass, which I happily spent walking around the main touristy areas in the centre of the city. I tried some Belgian chocolate, and bought some for a present. Through the internet, I found out that a friend from college who I had not seen for 10 years, was in the city alone for her job. I met up with Laura, and we went for a drink, so I sampled the local beer. Brussels seemed like a lovely city, I was wearing my Liverpool FC shirt, and several people had started talking to me about football, very friendly people.
We walked towards the bus station, which went by Laura’s hotel on the way, and I waited for my bus. I was sitting in the bus station with my three bags (my main backpack, my carry-on with valuables, and a bag with disposable stuff to use at the music festival). The bus was delayed, and as the staff at the bus station, I did not understand how long the delay was due to be. I sat by the door, and kept looking outside to see if a bus had arrived.
At one point, while I was seeing if the bus was there, a young man started speaking to me in a foreign language that I did not understand. I didn’t want to seem rude, so I tried to assist however I could. He left and I sat back down. I do not know how long had passed, but I noticed that my carry-on bag was missing. The guy had distracted me, and made me turn my back on my stuff which was on the floor, for long enough for his friend to take the bag of valuables, and leave through one of the numerous exits to the bus station. I panicked. I asked for help from everyone sitting in the bus station, who just sat still with no concern. I picked up my other bags and ran a short distance out of each exit to see if I can spot my bag in the distance. I spoke to the staff at Eurolines, who could not care less, and even blamed me for it. That bag contained: passport (nearly full of stamps, and about £300 of visas), my new camera, mobile phone, laptop, music festival ticket, travel tickets, and other stuff such as the box of Belgian chocolates.
I was scared, maybe even a bit tearful, I did not know what to do. I knew I had to miss the bus though. I tried looking for a hotel in the area, which were all fully booked, due to an EU conference happening in the city. I then remembered Laura, and visited her hotel. I felt bad for having to wake her up, but I needed help, and for me it was really lucky that she was in the city. I used her phone to call my mum, to let her know what has happened. I spent the night in the hotel lobby area, using the internet on the free computers, researching on what to do. While researching, I discovered that the bus station area of Brussels, is the area that has a bad reputation.
In the morning, my first stop was to travel across the city to the embassy. They told me that they could only issue an Emergency Passport, which would allow me one trip, one way back to England. The nearest embassy that could issue a full passport, was Paris, and therefore London would be closer for me. To get the passport, I needed a police report, passport photos, and a ticket to prove I was going back to England. I travelled back to the bus station, purchased a bus ticket, got some passport photos done, and visited the police station in the train station, which was closed. I had to travel to another station to visit the police there, and get a police report. After painfully going through that process, I revisited the embassy. They gave me a brief interview before confirming the issue of the passport. At this point, they advised that the fee was 120 Euros, and if I had purchased a train ticket (120 Euros), rather than a bus ticket (40 Euros, then I would not have had to pay for the passport, as the immigration is in Brussels, and not in France like when you catch a bus.
I went back across the city, to catch my bus back to England. Less than 48 hours after leaving, my mum was picking me up from the train station again. I had a camera with a broken screen, so I had managed to keep a few photos of this awful experience.
This was the first day of my trip, and the very first day that I had travelled without travel insurance, and cost me in total around £1000. Although, I still do not trust travel insurance companies, and other insurance companies to pay out when needed, as they would find any tiny excuse not to pay. Due to the fact that I had booked and paid for all of my travel to St Petersburg, Russia, every day I was back home, I was losing more money.
I had to go to London to have an interview for my new passport, and luckily they would issue the passport the same day if I paid the extra fee. This meant that I could visit the Russia visa company, and pay around £200 for a 1 working day visa for Russia. I planned to get my visas for China and Mongolia while in Russia, however, because Russia is an awkward visa to get, these countries make it awkward for people in Russia to get their visas. They requested that I had such things as a letter of invitation, a tour guide, and proof of itinerary, and all of this written in Chinese or Russian, to be issued the visa. I gave up. I looked up South Korea, and I could just turn up with my passport, and they would give me a 90 day visa on arrival. This trip turned into London to Seoul, without flying. On 24th June 2011, I left home again, and caught a bus straight to Vilnius, Lithuania, to re-start The ‘On The Road, Again’ Tour.