I have a confession to make. Although I travel on the train here in Belgium, quite frequently, since we moved here 2 years ago, I’ve only taken the bus that goes by my house once.
Since I refuse to drive here in Belgium, the bus that passes right by my door seems like the perfect solution to my transportation problem. So why haven’t I taken it?
The first (and only) time I took the bus was with Andrew, a few weeks after we moved here. We decided to catch the bus into Brussels on a Sunday afternoon. De Lijn isn’t known for its convenient Sunday schedule, at least not in my neighbourhood, so we ended up waiting a long time – a very long time. By the time we made it to the city we were frustrated and wet (Belgium, raining, go figure). That little adventure turned me off of the bus and I associated my bus route with extremely long and inconvenient travel times.
Mostly though, I was just being a big, fat, feathery chicken. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the driver in Dutch or that I would get off at the wrong stop. My friends in the city travel by bus, tram and metro all the time and know the names of every stop, street and square. I wouldn’t know Madou from Troon if I tripped over them. Whenever I’m in Brussels, I walk or Andrew drives. I know how to get places by sight, but feared I wouldn’t recognise the same areas from the bus.
I have conquered most of my expat fears over the past two years; taking the train, shopping and ordering food all seem like easy tasks until you have to do them in a new language and culture. Last week I decided it was high time I tackled the bus, so I planned a trip to visit a Brussels-based friend.
I waited at the stop with butterflies in my stomach. The sun was out and shining and I spoke to the driver in perfect Dutch (ok, well at least he seemed to understand my badly accented mumblings). I was anticipating an easy journey as I was going to the final stop at North Station. I couldn’t get lost.
I was almost at my destination and feeling pretty proud of my self (not to mention a little ashamed at not doing this ages ago) when the problems began. I had noticed a few stops back that the driver was having issues with the bus’s automatic doors. At the stop before North Station, the bus died and refused to start.
No big deal, I knew where I was and I could walk to North if I had to. Then the driver said something in Dutch. I understood it to be, “get on that other bus and he will take you to North Station.” The other passengers disembarked and we did just that.
Thinking that I had sailed through my problems with grace, my phone rang. My friend, who was going to meet me at the station, wanted to know if I could take the metro to her house. I assured her that I could (all the while thinking it would be on her head if I ended up in Laeken). She told me the line and the stop name and, miraculously, I made it without incident.
I was so proud of myself for conquering my transportation fear that I bought a 10 ride pass for Brussels and the following weekend I tackled the London Underground by myself.
I’m sure that there will probably be public transportation fiascos in my future, (with me disaster always seems to be just around the corner) but hopefully with a bit of faith in myself and a little luck from the transportation gods, I won’t end up in Leuven when I’m trying to get to Louise.