After Berlin we spent a very cozy three days with our friends in Amsterdam.
Our motivation for sightseeing was about zero (plus, we’ve been to Amsterdam a few times before). We were just so happy to be in a home environment (not a hotel!) with home cooked food and friends! It was also a fitting bookend to the trip, because we’d also visited these friends in Amsterdam right before leaving for Hong Kong two years ago.
I didn’t take many pictures during this visit in Amsterdam, but I do have some from two years ago – so here you go:
We did go to a fantastic food hall for lunch, where we bravely tried our first dim sum outside of Asia. And you know what? It wasn’t half bad. (Not as good as in Hong Kong, of course, but it gives us hope we’ll still be able to enjoy Dim Sum on a regular basis!)
This visit was the first time in over two months we’d talked to people who knew us – in person. During the trip, it was rare we’d even encounter anyone who spoke native English (when we did, it was so great to have a normal-speed conversation!) But since seeing our friend Rachel in Tibet, we hadn’t actually talked to anyone who knew us, other than a few skype calls with family.
It is SO AMAZING just hanging out and talking to people who know us! It’s so relaxing and fun! Wow, who knew friends were so great?! 🙂
But we couldn’t stay in Amsterdam forever. We were getting really tired of wearing the same clothes, and just ready to get back to our own life in London. So it was time for the last leg of our journey: The Eurostar train from Brussels to London.
Oh That’s So Romantic!
This part of the trip is slightly sentimental for us, and not just because it’s the end of this huge adventure from Hong Kong to London. We also began our relationship with a lot of Eurostar journeys. (Also, you might remember we’re both the MOST and LEAST romantic couple ever, according to our various Chinese tour guides…)
We started dating across countries, because Zak lived in London and I lived in Paris. So every two or three weeks, one of us would do the Eurostar journey across the English Channel for a visit. This really accelerated our relationship because instead of just seeing a new love interest for a date or two a week, and getting to know each other slowly over time, we were just thrown into it., an entire weekend at a time. Plus, we had to plan visits several weeks in advance, so there was a sense of “Oh, we’re still going to want to see each other in a few weeks…”
When we tell people we dated back and forth between Paris and London, the typical reaction is “OH that’s so ROMANTIC!” And it was … at first (restaurants! museums! concerts! cafes!). But after a few months of back and forth, it got tiring, and expensive. (Sometimes you just want to hang out with your partner and order a pizza … and how annoying to have to go to a different country for that!) After a year or so, I moved to London. (On the Eurostar, of course. With my stuff following in a moving truck…)
Anyway – we’ve taken the Eurostar a lot, and it’s a special train service for us.
Eurostar: Through the Chunnel
If you’re not familiar with it – the Eurostar is a train that runs in a tunnel under the English Channel (the “chunnel”) to connect England with mainland Europe. It’s SO fantastic for a weekend break, because you can go directly from central London into central Paris, without having to trek out to an airport on each side etc.
In just under two weeks, Eurostar is launching a new service direct from Amsterdam to London – but unfortunately we’re just a little too early to take advantage of that. So we took a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Brussels, then had a 1 hour layover (which is fine, as you need time to go through security and immigration when boarding the Eurostar), and then the Eurostar train from Brussels to London.
There are 3 classes on the Eurostar and we took the middle one, which gave us comfier seats and a light meal service. The meal was probably the tastiest and most refined we’ve had on any of our train journeys – we had salmon and lentils, with the most moist melty chocolate cake, and red wine. (Certainly better than this one.)
The train route itself goes from Brussels, Belgium to Lille, France and then onto Calais, France, which is where the Channel Tunnel begins. Going through the tunnel itself takes about 20 minutes, and you’re underwater (although in a tunnel) – so they make an announcement beforehand that you’ll lose mobile phone reception etc. When you emerge on the other side, everyone’s phones start beeping and buzzing as they reconnect, the time hops one hour backwards, and you’re in the UK!
It was a relaxing and uneventful train journey. Zak watched Netflix. I madly crocheted my Trans Siberian Shawl in an attempt to finish it on the trip (didn’t quite make it…) and unintentionally eavesdropped into a very dramatic conversation happening with the couple in front of me. (I’m now convinced that guy is having an affair… but that’s a topic for another post.)
We arrived into London St. Pancras, and then it was time for the least fun train journey of our entire trip: the Tube (subway) across London.
As we walked through St. Pancras, it felt surreal. All the pale, frowning Londoners were rushing through the station getting on with their days. I was in a huge Siberian parka, carrying snow boots, in the same clothes I’ve been wearing for over 2 months, with shaggy hair in much need of a haircut. I felt like an alien.
I could see a change in Zak almost immediately. It’s like he snapped back into “London Zak”, walking super fast and dodging around people, on a mission to make his train.
We were back.
(Side Rant: WHY they do not put escalators in St. Pancras is beyond me. It’s a major Tube-Train exchange station and you have tons of people multiple times per day pouring off the Eurostar going to the Tube … so why do you need to haul your bags up and down stairs?! Every railway station in China has escalators… Anyway…)
We noticed little differences along the journey. The name of our local train company has changed (probably a rebranding to distance themselves from the poor-service-scandals of previous years). There’s a new money changing machine at the station (perfect to exchange our leftover Rubles and Yuan). There’s wifi in the Tube. Twickenham train station is under construction and now you have to walk a huge loop around to exit (ugh). Several pubs closed only to be replaced with new ones (will they fare any better?). Two hipster barbershops opened within one block of each other (each staffed with young, bearded barbers wearing flat caps and braces/suspenders)
We were back home.
Twickenham is a little bit different. But we’re a little bit different too.
Arriving at our flat was … overwhelming.
All of our belongings are in boxes – so we’ve got a huge unpacking effort ahead of us. And our belongings from Hong Kong will arrive later this week.
Top priorities: A quick trip to the grocery store for essentials, and making the bed so we have somewhere to sleep. And then the unpacking begins…
And of course, a real English Fry-Up for our first morning back…
We’re a bit overwhelmed at the moment, I can’t think of another word for it, but we are home. I’ll definitely do an update to our packing list post, to share what we actually used (or didn’t!) But also – I feel like I WILL have a lot of thoughts or reflections about the trip to share. I’m just too tired to have perspective at the moment, and there are boxes to unpack…
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as we travel from Hong Kong to London by train.