Stations: Antwerpen

A random email from Thalys leads to an afternoon of photography in a totally different country. I'm still not sure why.


Stations: Antwerpen
Great hall of Anterpen Centraal

Antwerpen (D’Anvers, Antwerp, the city has many names) is not the first city tourists in Europe choose to visit. I certainly had no business being there. I had been dumped there surprisingly unceremoniously, by Thalys. Lucky I had my camera, because Antwerpen Centraal may just be the most beautiful train station in Europe.

My adventure began with an email, an email from Thalys. I assumed it was like every other email I’d received from Thalys during the pandemic: Thank you for being a customer in the past, please don’t forget about us, we still exist, Paris misses you, we’re extending the validity of your loyalty points.

But not this email. This one was different.

I was being invited, you see, for my first and (so far) only junket. Thalys had renovated some of their trainsets and their menu, and would I be interested in taking the new livery for a spin?

Why not?

I arrived at Amsterdam Centraal early on some random weekday morning, and was greeted by coffee and donuts on the station platform, if not by actual people. There were a fair few people with cameras who appeared to be press, and well-dressed white men whom I assumed were government dignitaries of some kind.

And, for some reason, me.

I did not feel like I belonged. So, I found someone in a Thalys uniform, and politely inquired: Why am I here?

The answer was as simple as it was surprising: I was being given the first-class treatment reserved for only their very best customers.

Dear reader, I didn’t ride Thalys that much. Maybe once every few months. First class seats? Always—they’re only €5 more if you buy them sufficiently in advance.

Anyway, I boarded the train with everyone else who clearly belonged. I chatted with the new chef, and got him to sign his new cookbook. I received a backpack full of tawdry corporate branded trinkets that broke the first time I tried to put it on. The whole thing was weird. Fun! But weird.

And then I spent a couple of hours getting some work done as I zoomed through the Dutch countryside. I didn’t know anyone on the train, and none of them looked like they were interested in talking to me.

And then, here we were at Antwerpen Centraal—everyone off, last stop. I was given a return ticket to Amsterdam that left me a couple of hours to wander the city.

And so I went home, the pandemic ended (mostly, eventually), and Thalys is no more.

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