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“I have an open-dated ticket from Antwerp to Groningen. Can I make a reservation for tomorrow Sil vous plait?” “Tomorrow? Oh no! Tomorrow is not a good day to travel by train. Can you go another day as they are working on the tracks and you will have to make many changes!”

“No, I need to travel tomorrow. I have a schedule worked out here that will take about 4 hours with one change at Rotterdam”

“Oh no-that will not be possible. You will now need to travel: Antwerp Central to Essen, Bus to Brada, Train Brada to Rotterdam, Rotterdam to Devantier, Devantier to Zwolle, Zwolle to Groningen!”

Wow! All going well 6 changes – what hope do I have? By the time I have experienced my first day on European trains I will definitely be an expert – if I get there at all. So my challenge is to get Groningen before or at the same time as my scheduled 1 stop plan.

No reservations are allowed in Benelux countries – Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. I have to wing it!

My aunt has given me the euro coins to use the toilets in the train station. She has checked with the guard, who speaks excellent English that I am on the right train. I am starting an hour and a half earlier just in case. I am sitting in first class and am the only person in my carriage. Heather has shown me the Belgian word for “destination” – it starts with a “v” but I have forgotten it already and what about when I get to the Netherlands? What is the Dutch word? It sounds like we are about to depart. There has been an announcement with the word “ Essen” in it. The doors have closed. We are scheduled to depart at 8.41am and it is 8.41. Off on a European train adventure!

3.15pm I have arrived in Groningen on time – I am not sure how that happened! I have endured 7 changes, and no time to buy drinks or food, as one train pulled in the next one was departing 3-5 minutes later on the adjacent platform. It is very organised and most people speak English although the announcements are in the local language. I would advise taking food and drinks with you. And a small bag is essential – it is too difficult with a heavy case – you need to be able to move fast, and many of the stations have steps between the platforms. There is usually an English speaking information person to help!

I had a first class ticket. This means more space and less pressure to get a seat. Talking with the locals, they quite often book first class if travelling on the weekends, as this is when it is most busy. Me – I will try to avoid the weekends, as it is when they work on the tracks and I now know about that.

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