The Transportation Gods

By - April 5, 2007 (Updated: November 28, 2014)

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.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
- 4 days ago


  1. Comment by Mirka

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Mirka April 5, 2007 at 18:10

    I understand you completely. I had these fears too, when we came to Brussels. But living in Brussels, I had to fight them much faster, and I started to drive too (using bus with two big dogs every day is a nightmare). But your story reminded me to my journey to Antwerpen ZOO. I went first time alone, by public transport to Midi, took a train there .. thought I was safe, cause it stops just at the main train station in Antwerpen and the ZOO gate is next to it. My, I was wrong! They kicked us out of the train on edge of Antwerpen, because somebody decided to announce bomb alert at the Antwerpen main train station! Just that day! And everyone around spoke Dutch.. and I dunno a word in Dutch.. It was crazy, but I made it in the end, somehow. 🙂
    So, be brave! We all have been through this, and you can make it too. 🙂
    P.S. I laugh when I hear my friend home think, that being xpat must be great life.

  2. Comment by Alison

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Alison April 5, 2007 at 18:17

    Mirka – GREAT story. Oh that so sounds like some of my experiences 🙂 You PS is so true as well… you know, expat life… it’s like a vacation everyday 😉

  3. Comment by Mom

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Mom April 5, 2007 at 22:06

    You go girl! I thought you were brave to tackle the trains by yourself. After our adventures in Europe, I can certainly understand your reluctance to attempt this on your own.Another milestone as an Expat.

  4. Comment by Helen

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Helen April 6, 2007 at 23:46

    Oh Al, you are too brave. I don’t know how you can ever say you’re not brave. To go to Europe and do what you do, is amazing. As for transportation in any country, even in so-called English speaking places, is a nightmare at the best of times. Ask Kate about that. She now walks everywhere, cause she hates the bus so much. So now when we come visit, I expect you’ll want me to take the bus too? Yikes, I hate the bus.
    Love and hugs.

  5. Comment by palmspops

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    palmspops April 10, 2007 at 21:40

    Such “beginning” adventures … right up there with Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy in Kansas … it doesn’t take too much of a stretch to imagine where a bus might just take Alison in Belgium – Leuven might be the least of your worries, indeed a disappointment … think of the opportunities for storytelling afterward, providing $$$$$ from sales of your books and the untold tons of booty from the movie rights. Adventure on and have fun … after all, those other girls got to come home and tell their stories, eh?
    Just catching up on the blogs … been distracted … it’s fun to catch up … blog-on …

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