Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sun 11 March - Passenger Apartheid

Thalys, the high speed train operator, running (unreliable, in my experience) services between France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany, has caused a bit of a stink with their latest announcement on ticket price increases.

On a selfish note, the cheapest return ticket between Mons and Paris has gone up from €38 to €50. This after they made the one a day train to Paris depart Mons even earlier: from 8.25 to 7.38.

But, the thing that's got people up in arms is the news that the company plans to separate passengers who have bought its cheapest tickets from those who have paid for their premium ones.

Marc Tarabella, a Belgian member of the European Parliament, labelled this move something akin to a European caste system. Strong words, perhaps a touch over the top. Certainly, snobbish more than anything else.

According to Thalys, by "regrouping" passengers into different categories, they are doing a favour to their business customers who prefer to share space amongst a similar clientele (so they claim), left alone to get on with their work, without the distractions of cheapskates for company.

Not the best PR it has to be said, but then again, I've been less than mad with their service every time I've used it. Lousy customer service, six month waits for a reply in applying for compensation for delayed journeys. Compensation never materialised.

And an amateurish, unuser friendly website, which demands that you enter your full name and email address (twice) before it gives you the proposed cost of a journey you're looking for.

Latest punctuality figures: 87.8% of journeys less than 15 minutes late over the past 12 months. Not great.

It's the less than 15 minutes late bit that gets me. I wonder what percentage it'd drop to if we're actually talking about, erm, leaving 'on time?'

How to lose customers and alienate future ones.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mon 30 January

Another general strike, another day off work, and another day of not getting paid.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sat 14 Jan - Amiens

Went with friends to the northern French city of Amiens. Don't go. There, that's my useful bit of advice.

An eerie ghost town, was what it felt like. Struggled to find anywhere to eat, to drink, or much to do. No idea where everyone was, but they need to come back and breathe some life into it.

This part of the world is so close to Wallonia that it's all regarded as 'Ch'ti' territory. A lot cleaner and less grubby than Mons, but lacking its warmth and vibrancy.

In doing my research for an article on high speed trains in the UK, I read that many French towns, such as Reims (to which I've also been, and was also left unimpressed by) and Amiens, have suffered economically as a result of not being served by the French high speed TGV trains. You can certainly see the evidence all around.

There is, however, the rather fabulous Jules Verne house; author of such famous works as Around the World in Eighty Days, and other books I haven't read, which is good fun, and the kind of place kids would love to explore and get lost in.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thursday 22 December

Had the usual palava trying to get home for Christmas. Thanks to a general strike in Belgium today there were no Eurostar trains running from Brussels, so had to rely on a friend to drive us to Lille, where we were able to catch a train (where they were all now starting) from there.

Actually, it wasn't really that much of a hassle. More of an irritation. I think this must be the 4th or 5th time, I've lost track, I or we, have experienced some sort of disruption trying to get home. Travelling around Christmas time should always be avoided where possible.

The strike itself was in protest against government plans to reform public sector pensions. However, even though the strike was scheduled for today, public transport had been affected since Tuesday, with wildcat, impromptu strikes, bringing parts of the network to a standstill for about four days.

Luckily, I was able to get to work on the Tuesday, but wasn't so lucky yesterday, with all train services in Wallonia being cancelled. I'm really not sure you'd be able to get away with wildcat strikes in England. Not the first time I've been on the receiving end.

The Eurostar train itself was virtually empty, with most people, I guess, opting to travel tomorrow.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fri 9 Dec - Sat 10 Dec: Maastricht

This was supposed to have been a two night stay, but due to being put in the wrong room (had to lump it once we got there, and couldn't be arsed to look for another B&B), which overlooked a noisy street (loads of very loud students all chatting in English, with foreign accents. The city's university is very popular with foreigners), and after a night of virtually no sleep, it turned into a one night stay.

Still, Maastricht, at night, all lit up and Christmassy was great. The Christmas markets (naturally) are meant to be the focal point at this time of year. Gave them a quick peak. The one in Mons was much better.

Another one of those small, compact, cobbled towns, lined with the cosiest and most inviting bars and restaurants you could hope for.

It's funny how close you are to the Belgian border: about a 15mins train journey away.

Had a superb Thai meal on the Friday night (Dutch food is about as appealing to me as Belgian food. You can add German food to that as well.): sushi to start, followed by the best Pad Thai I've ever tasted. I'm finally getting in to my sushi. Have always dismissed it in the past, but it's starting to really grow on me: so clean and fresh.

Our B&B owner was very laid back about us opting to leave a night early, and kindly gave us some money back from our first night, and didn't charge us for the second. I wouldn't have paid anyway, even if she had.

In the end, we only really missed out on an evening out, as we were planning on coming back straight after breakfast the next day. And being so easy to get home meant we virtually had two days here, anyway.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thursday 8 December

Went along to the Bruges Snow and Ice Sculpture festival today. Every year, in one huge room, they choose a theme, and let loose a load of ice sculpturers to do their thing.

This year Disneyland Paris was the theme. Lots of characters from well known films and animations carved out in ice, an ice slide, and even an ice bar, filled the room. The slide was my favourite bit. It was, naturally, rather chilly in there, not helped by the fact that it was also cold outside. Good, clean, fun for all the family.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday 6 December - We have a government!

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you....a new government! 541 days it took.

Here, they've labelled it "un gouvernement papillon" (a "bow tie government"), because it's what Elio Di Rupo, the new PM and mayor of Mons, is always seen in public wearing. Usually, a red one. Although I did spot him wearing a rather fetching burgundy-coloured one recently.

What more is there to say. Except, hallelujah!

Now, time to make himself instantly unpopular by implementing a raft of  much-delayed austerity measures.