An extended reunion in Germany/Belgium

This blog entry will be divided into two main parts.

On Saturday, June 10th, the almighty Summer festival of the Blista took place and I decided to invite Julien to come to Marburg for the weekend, after which I visited him in roeselare, so we traveled to his place in Belgium together!

Since it was Julien’s first time to travel abroad on his own, I offered him to write about the weekend in good old Marburg out of his perspective, whereas I would write about my experiences in Belgium.

Therefore, a special thanks indeed! goes to Julien Benaouda; and with no further ado, here’s how we spent the time in Germany and Belgium!

Part 1: Julien’s stay in Marburg

When Patrick invited me to stay a few nights at his place in Marburg, I was quite scared of making my way on my own. I’m used to travelling by train in Belgium, with or without assistance, but I never did an international trip on my own before. For going to Marburg, I had to take the train to Brussels, there change into the ICE train to Frankfurt, and in Frankfurt i had to take a local train to Marburg. But what if there would be no assistance in Frankfurt? Then I would have to sort out things on my own in a large station where I don’t know my way and where I don’t speak the native language. Or what if my train would have delay and i would miss my train to Marburg. But luckily Patrick and some other friends of mine were there to persuade me that it was no big deal, so at the end I decided to put my worries away and booked my tickets.

A week before departure, I called the Belgian train company to ask for international assistance. After providing them my train numbers and seat numbers and a few phone calls, they confirmed the assistance and I was ready to go.
On the day of departure, after finishing my internship, my internship mate dropped me of at the station of Izegem, where an assistance guy was already waiting for me. We had a quite nice talk and when the train arrived, he helped me boarding and assured that i would have assistance to make the transfer in Brussels Midi.
Arrived in Brussels, indeed someone was already waiting for me. He brought me to a place where I could sit down and wait for the ICE train to Frankfurt. A few minutes before departure, another guy picked me up and brought me to the train. They already knew which seat number I had reserved, so they brought me to the right couch imediatelly.
Thanks to the silence and quite good wifi connection, I was able to relax a bit and I also did some work for school.

In no time, we arrived in Frankfurt and when I hopped out of the train, a German assistance guy was waiting for me to bring me to the right platform. He was very friendly, he didn’t speak to much English, but we were able to understand each other quite well, he spoke German and I answered in English.
The last hour of my travel was spent on a local train with Marburg as end destination. I was happy that they had an automatic announcement system which everytime announced the station and also the side on which the doors would open, then I was at least sure that i wouldn’t miss my station.
When I got off the train in Marburg, I couldn’t find the assistance staff directly, but luckily there was a nice sounding girl who helped me searching for Patrick, who was waiting for me in front of the station.

Taking the bus to his place was a piece of cake; Patrick knows his way in Marburg very well and the bus drivers are used to visually impaired people which makes searching for the right bus much easier.
Before we went to sleep, we stopped at a café to get a small snack.

On Saturday, we had to be at school around 10 AM already. Luckily the school was very close to Patricks group, so we didn’t have to get up to early.
Firstly, I watched the play Patrick and some others prepared. Although the whole play was in German and I hadn’t understood very much, it was quite cool and I think they did quite well. After that, we attended a small concert.
When the concert was finished, we went outside to look for some information about the rest of the day. After finding a leaflet, we went to some sort of exposition, where we saw lego robots which were programmed to walk around and also an arduino wich was programmed to play a 3 seconds peace of music again and again, and again … These were really cool, I didn’t know myself that those things were sort of possible for visually impaired people.

Afther the exposition, we started to get hungry, so we took the time to get lunch and a drink. During the lunch, we met Moritz and Marcel. It was quite nice to meet them again since I haven’t heard from them for almost a year.

In the evening, we had dinner at the snack bar and went to the supermarket to buy a few snacks to survive the train travel back to Belgium. When we arrived at the supermarket, I was impressed by the fact that they have staff members that are educated to guide blind people around the whole supermarket and get everything they need. Running with a train of three blind people through a supermarket was really an eye-opening experience.

When we returned, it was already time to depart to a café, where we would meet some of Patricks friends. After being shocked by a motorcycle alarm and being helped by a nice lady, we found the café and had a nice time there, and a few nice drinks of course.

The next day, we had breakfast (or maybe I’d better say brunch) and prepared ourselves for the train travel to Belgium. This time, we got assistance in Marburg who helped us finding the train that we needed and we headed off to Frankfurt. In Frankfurt, Brussels and Bruges, the change went very smooth and in the later evening, we finally arrived in Roeselare where the same guy as on Friday picked us up and brought us to my parents.

Part 2: My stay in Belgium with Julien

For me, the trip to Belgium was a piece of cake, except for the fact that the assistance guys who picked us up in Brussels were obviously not capable of speaking anything else but French. I at least understood “á Bruges”, so at least they knew in which direction we would travel. After a short moment sitting on a bench, they eventually picked us up and helped us boarding a train to Bruges, where we had to change for another train to Roeselare.

I occasionally got confused and even irritated by the fact that they apparently only announced bigger train stations, except for Roeselare, of course! But at least Julien was used to it already, so we got off in time anyway, where his parents picked us up.

The next day, Julien and his mother took me on a special city tour. I say special, because there were a lot of tactile models scattered across the city, and the tourist information even provided us with an additional book in Braille. Sure it was written in Dutch, but that was no problem for me really. I was already more than impressed that – as Julien told me – a couple of cities, small or big, do offer this service. So far, at least as far as Germany is concerned, I haven’t yet seen anything simmilar except for Marburg (of course). If there are simmilar services offered in other German cities than Marburg, feel free to leave a comment below and let us know.

After touring good old Roeselare, we fetched some Belgian snacks before we went to the train station to catch a train to Oostende to check the coast.

It was quite windy there, so we decided to have a drink and then get back to Roeselare.

Julien’s family recommended some typical Belgian beers that I should try, and therefore dropped us off at a café for some drinks and a good laugh. And that was basically it for Monday…

We spent some time at Julien’s place on tuesday morning, because we were supposed to go to Bruges in the afternoon to catch up with Silke and some of their local friends.

We ended up staying in Bruges for the night at Silke’s place; this way we could spend some more time together although I was terribly tired, and the train connections in the morning from Bruges to Brussels Airport were more convenient.

A taxi picked me up at 4:15AM and the taxi driver dropped me off at the assistance pool. I booked my assistance from Bruges to Brussels Airport a couple of days ago by calling the assistance department of the Belgian train company; so the only thing I had to do was going to the assistance pool and, more or less, check in.

Whereas Bruges is a quite crowded station during the day, it is a silent place during the night and even the train station staff apparently was sleeping, because I had to wait for quite a while until someone finally picked up. He handed the call over to another lady who obviously was close to falling asleep and when I announced my request, the answer was silence and there was no further reaction.

I thought about pushing the button of the assistance pool again to check my status, when a staff member approached me who took me to the train to Brussels Midi, where I had to change trains.

Early in the morning, they even announced less train stations, so I decided to keep track of my GPS location with my phone once or twice. At least they announced “Bruxelles Midi / Brussel Zuid”, so I left the train at the right spot eitherway.

Same procedure as always: I got assistance to board the train to Brussels Airport, the final destination.

At Brussels Airport, I didn’t say a single word; but two or three assistants picked me up from the platform and straight awway took me to the check-in counter for handicapped travelers in the airport, where the airport staff took over.

This was a little strange to me in first place, because when I called the train company for my assistance request, they told me that they are not able to guide me to any areas inside the airport outside the train station. In other words: byrocracy nobody really cares about, but good for me.

I heard a lot of weird stuff about Ryanair already; but the flight was priced at 34 Euros only, cheaper and shorter than traveling by train. Secondly, since I had – expensive enough – breakfast at the airport, I wasn’t interested in buying anything on board anyway, although they didn’t stop advertising and nagging you to buy something; I got enough food to keep myself happy for less than an hour of flying.

They boarded me first and – as always – instructed me how to get in touch with them during the flight, etc.

The only different thing I noticed on the plane was that the seats and the accustic environment were different in comparison to other airliners.

The flight was nice, and so was the plane staff. We had a nice talk while waiting at least 45 minutes for the assistance to arrive.

She drove me to the main terminals and guided me to the fast trains. Because I couldn’t give a fixed time concerning my arrival by train at the central station, I couldn’t request my assistance there in advance at the mobility center. But with the right phone number, I was able to sort it out with Hamburg directly, although it was in the middle of the rush-hour and they weren’t really pleased when I called them. Nevertheless, they gave me a hand to board the right train to Stade, where I was picked up by my family.

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