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Unlucky strike

I was in Brussels this week.

Some people, influenced perhaps by the presence of the European Parliament, don’t like the place, but I don't mind it.

Forget the thousands of politicians, officials and lobbyists intervening unnecessarily in our lives. In truth they’re no worse than their counterparts in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

Focus instead on the cafes, bars and restaurants that spill out on to the pavements and squares. Al fresco drinking and dining is almost compulsory in the warmer months and that creates quite a relaxed atmosphere.

Most of my trips have been business related but a couple of years ago I chose to spend a long weekend in Brussels and I’d happily do it again.

Eurostar is a huge factor, of course, because it makes getting there so easy. In my case I get a train to Kings Cross, walk across the road to St Pancras, and after a short wait I’m on another train travelling at a reasonable speed towards the continent.

Compare this to the early days of Eurostar. Trains on the English side of the tunnel would run so slowly you could literally see into people’s houses as the train crawled through the suburbs and out through Kent.

Approaching the coast the train would finally speed up and hurtle through the tunnel, maintaining a similar pace as it raced through France and Belgium. The contrast was hilarious, and embarrassing.

Today any transport problems are more likely to occur in France or Belgium. This week, for example, there was a taxi strike in Brussels.

The first I knew about it was when I tried to book a car to take me to a meeting. Cool as you like (which suggested she had done this many times before), the hotel receptionist casually mentioned the strike, handed me a map and suggested I walk to the nearest Metro station, which she helpfully marked with a large cross.

I would have to travel two stops, she explained, then walk a further distance to my destination. It wasn’t a massive hardship but I could have done without the exercise.

Later I had to figure out how to get to the terminal to catch the return train to London. Thankfully, after a little pleading, a colleague offered me a lift in his car.

En route we passed several roadblocks where taxis had been parked across the road to try and stop or delay the traffic.

The police stood by and watched. Ironically we were guided through one roadblock not by a policeman but by a helpful taxi driver.

The odd thing was, most residents seemed unaware of the strike and no-one could tell me what the dispute was about.

I spoke to a Frenchman who told me this sort of thing happens all the time in France. He thought his government should adopt a hardline, Thatcher-style approach to striking workers.

The problem, he added, was that public opinion in France tends to be on the side of the strikers, whatever the dispute.

Anyway, the sun is shining, Easter is on its way and I'm home after two back-to-back trips abroad.

Enjoy the weekend!

Photo: Dan Donovan

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