On 21 April 2016, I had my First Class France Rail Pass Flexi validated at Basel, Switzerland.
My goal was by the first evening to reach Valenciennes (a city in northern France near the Belgian border) using only regional trains, rather than the TGV (plenty of opportunity for high speed travel later in my trip).
I found the challenge as in making local connections since these days SNCF focuses long-distance passengers onto high-speed routes. All very well, unless you want to experience secondary lines and ride trains off-the well-beaten path.
Thanks to Stephen Hirsch and Denis McCabe who helped with my planning, I traveled on a series of TER trains.
After four train-changes reached my destination 15 hours after I boarded the first train on the French side of Basel’s main station.
At Leige (Liège-Guillemins) I boarded an InterCity train for Brussels and glided along in comfort along perfectly maintained track. At Bruxelles-Nord/Brussel-Noord (French and Flemish names appear randomly applied to Brussels stations—so far as I can tell) I changed to another express, this one destined for Antwerp.
I was aiming for Antwerpen Noorderdokken, a location I explored in March, where freight trains access the port of Antwerp. Another change of trains at Antwerp Central brought me to this station. As I walked toward my desired photo angle, I noticed a dark wall of clouds rolling in off the North Sea. (It had been clear and cloudless at Liege!)
Yet, I managed to photograph six freights before the sun vanished—mission accomplished. Boarding my eighth train of the day, I aimed to ride around Antwerp and then back toward Brussels.
By the end of the day, I’d visited eight locations and traveled on ten trains. Not too shabby for the first day of my August visit to Belgium.