Part 4: London to Brussels on BA (+ Aloft Brussels) And shopping?

29 May

Part four of the Spring Break Trip Report 2012:

Part 1: KC to Minnesota with Delta to NYC with AA (+ the W Minneapolis)

Part 2: PP lounges at JFK and JFK-CCS in AA J (+ Venezuelans being Venezuelans)

Part 3: Venezuela to San Juan to JFK with AA to London with British Airways (+ Sheraton Heathrow)

Part 4: London to Brussels on BA  (+ Aloft Brussels) And shopping? 

Part 5: The journey to Hasselt and Sensation White Belgium! (+ Marriott Brussels)

Part 6: Brussels-London on BA business class and the NASCAR experience on air

Part 6: London. Greatest City on Earth? (+ Radisson Edwardian Heathrow)

Part 7: London-Houston-Dallas-KC (+ Park Inn DFW)

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Note: Somewhere around Part 2, this blog transformed from being a place where to write about traveling, to a place where to share my adventures.  I fly solo most of the time and for better or worse, a lot of stuff just seems to happen. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Lucky’s blog. Where not even luxury can stop crazy.

After a fun late night in London and being jet lagged (not a good combo, fyi) out my mind, I overslept and missed my 10:30am flight to Brussels. In my defense, however, I’m 90% sure I had set up a wake up call but never got it.

Waking up at 11am to that horrible “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, dangit,” feeling you may or may have not experienced. Immediately gathered my stuff and sprinted to one of the free computers available in the lobby. I knew there were several daily flights available but this is Sensation White. I cannot miss it for the world. And besides, the concert was in a town no less than one hour away from Brussels. I needed to move ASAP.

Logged in to Britishairways.com and was happy to see award seats available in 3 more flights that day. Using Avios (bless them) I was able to get on the next flight leaving at 2pm. If you’re not familiar with the Avios system, they are basically BA’s (and Iberia’s) miles. The advantage (and disadvantage) of using Avios is award tickets are priced according to distance. Brussels is only like ~220 miles away so at the end my potentially devastating blunder “only” cost me an extra 4500 miles Avios and $20 in taxes.

The flight I missed wasted was also an award ticket, so technically I ended up paying 9k Avios and $40 for a quick flight to Brussels. Not that bad considering round trip tickets were going at 200$ during that weekend.

Out of the Sheraton Heathrow, hopped on the community bus shuttle again (~6$ each trip to the airport) and was very fortunate to arrive to a surprisingly empty Terminal 5. Checking in was a breeze as was security thanks to my Platinum status with AA. Platinum with AA is sort of a medium status (2nd out of 3) and translates to Sapphire within the Oneworld Alliance, meaning I was cordially invited to enter two British Airways lounges in the terminal.

As I expected from the British, the lounge was awesome. It’s not a First Class or Business lounge (wait until I get to those) but absolutely blew out of the water any lounge I have ever been to. Keep in mind, I’m comparing them to Admirals and United Clubs in the United States as they are similar in terms of type of passenger served (mostly domestic, intra-Europe). But how awesome was this lounge?

No amount of blurry pictures will do it justice.

There’s one thing Europeans can’t leave without

Never been so tempted to have a wet breakfast.

I don’t have to tell you I ate everything in sight (GTT, Gotta Try That), drank enough coffee to kill a small child and even took a shower. Yes, shower. My best lounge experience to date. Access to these type of lounges was the #1 reason  I was so desperately trying to become AA Platinum before heading to Europe.

The almost two hours I spent in this British Airways lounge made the mileage runs (and the miserable times spent sitting in coach) absolutely, positively worth it.

Boarding time approached and I left the lounge like a new man. As the relentless genius that I am, I headed over to a BA customer service counter to request a paper copy of my whole itinerary in case immigration in Belgium wanted proof that I would eventually depart the country. But as usual, in good Tripping to the Beat MO, nothing went as planned. Turned out I had an AA record locator and BA needed their own and they couldn’t find it, so they called here and there and all over.

Once they had my information they had to print the itinerary inside some other office in the terminal (how’s that?). So the lady RAN (in heels!) to get it for me just as I was supposed to be boarding already. I got my paper itinerary showing I would indeed, be leaving Belgium and sprinted to the gate. I ended up being the last one to board the plane.

4pm

After a quick flight, immigration thankfully went well (I’m a 6’1, 250lb, shaved-head Venezuelan with a temporary US visa, if I get in anywhere without my papers being double and triple checked is because the planets are aligned) and in less than 20mins I was outside the airport. Things were happening, I could feel the #SensationMode in the air.

I had called my hotel in Brussels a few days before and was told the best way to get there from the airport would be to take the bus. The one I needed went from the airport, right trough the middle of the city and in front of the hotel. All I had to do was get off at Schuman. A 30-min ride with no transfers, they said. Cake.

Excited and distracted by the new city I was really lost disoriented. I was sort of paying attention to the 14ish stops I had to past before mine. Unlike a train, there was no stopping in this bus unless you absolutely needed to get off. About 10 minutes into the ride, I met a half Spaniard half Russian blonde woman that happened to work for a very famous European wine maker. I don’t know about you, but when *I* get talk to a Maria Sharapova look-a-like, that happens to speak Spanish with a full accent and lisp from Spain, I stare and listen….and that I did.

Then it happened. I saw my hotel and the Schuman stop! But I must have pressed the button too late. The thing kept going forever. Now I’m ignoring the Spanish Sharapova. I have no internet, GPS, not even a paper map. The bus finally stops and I know I’m no less than 10 blocks from the hotel. Crap.

4:40pm

Lost in a strange city, rolling bags around. Not my kind of tripping. I walked a couple blocks towards a square and ended up in front of the European Parliament. The square served as taxi station so I was saved. Or so I thought. The driver at the front of the line was an older gentleman obviously 100% European. I could tell he spoke nothing of what I spoke. I thought showing him the name of the hotel would be the best solution.

No dice. After 5 mins of trying to say “Aloft Hotel” in every possible tone and entonation to make it sound Flemish/German/French one of his colleagues finally saves the day and tells him where it is. An awkward (and silent) 6min ride later and I made it. 5 euro ride, another potentially, financially-fatal bullet dodged.

5pm

Finally at the hotel, I walk to a lobby full of Americans and ask the front desk dude what’s the deal with the foreigners?  “Oh, they’re all going to the Sensation. Are you going too?” “You know it!” I said. I’m really feeling good know. I dropped all my stuff in the room and immediately headed back down. I’m going to Sensation White and because I like to make things difficult, I’m missing the white outfit! You gotta have a white outfit.

Seriously. No white, no entry. It’s printed on the ticket.

My original plan was to get something at Heathrow…but yeah…that didn’t work out. In the lobby I asked for directions to some stores and after some rather unclear route planning, immediately started running to the subway station. I get to Schuman and now: 1. Have no idea how to pay the fare. 2. The station is functioning while under construction. 3. There are 4 different entrys with no signs.

To make matters worse, I was told stores close “early.”

Looks easy, no?

5:45pm

Somehow found my way to the right train and after 15 mins made it to station I needed, De Brouckere. Right in the middle of the fun part of town. Tourists all over, bars, restaurants. Even saw some dudes, fully dressed in white, already pre-gaming at a bar. Not a good sign.

There was a mall with a few stores I never heard of. The only white things in stock seemed to be made to only fit Euro-skinny kids. My fears were realizing, what if I don’t find anything white? Went in one cool store and was able to score an XL v-neck for 7 Euros, things were looking up!

Back on the street, wandering in a sea of tourists and foreign languages, ran across a doorman outside one of the hotels and asked him for the “street with all the stores.” Turns out it was just 2 blocks way. Zara, H &M and even a Foot Locker. All the usual suspects present. Definitely an odd combo but I was determined to pull something together.

6:25pm

I had been through every single store in the block and nothing. White skinny jeans? Pass. Anything with the word skinny? Double pass. Right before stores closed and with no more hope, ended up the most expensive Nike white sweat pants from the Foot Locker. Sweat frickin’ pants.

But adding this, at least now I was complete:

Extra shirts are a must.

7pm

Rushed back to the hotel once again to a lobby full of Sensationers, except now everybody is in full attire. There are dorms doors open all over, music coming from all directions. Like good college-aged Americans, these people wasted no time to party. Some departed at 8pm with a shuttle they had hired, while the rest of us stayed back.

(The Aloft Hotel was as advertised. A fun place where young people stayed. I didn’t get to explore it much but would recommend it to everyone. Plus, it can often be found under 70 euros p/night. A great deal for the area.)

The show would start at 9pm and would have 6 DJs playing. I really didn’t care for the first three so I was OK with getting to Hasselt around midnight. I left the hotel around 10:30pm and took the subway to the main train station. A round trip ticket from there to Hasselt ran at about 12 euros. Not bad for a one hour trip.

Brussels and Hasselt. Not quite right next to each other.

 

Once at the big train station it was very reassuring to see people all over wearing white. At least I knew I was in the right place! They were all heading to lane #17 and without hesitation so was I!

We waited for a train that was supposed to leave at 11:36pm…

To be continued….

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