For this trip to London, company policy allowed first class travel. I did not want to miss the opportunity. My ticket for flights 9F 9121 and 9F 9148 on 19 October cost EUR 170.00 one way each, which is good value for money.
1. BRU-LON on 9F 9121
I arrived at Brussels ZYR by a local train at 9:20, 35 minutes before departure. I checked in with an automatic machine without problems: the doors opened automatically and let me through to the metal detector (I had forgotten my Swiss Army knife in my pocket, so it beeped; I showed my knife and it was returned to me, no questions asked!), and then to passport control, and from there to the waiting area. My first class ticket allowed me access to the First Class lounge, where I could get myself a simple breakfast: an orange juice with a croissant and a chocolate bread, followed by a toast which I grilled myself with butter and cherry jam, together with a cup of coffee. Some passengers were already sipping beer, so early in the morning! It seems that, when alcohol is free, people take it whenever possible without looking at the quantity.
Fifteen minutes before departure, we were called to the gate for boarding. A friendly stewardess greeted me at the entrance of the craft and showed me to my seat. It looked quite comfortable, but I was allowed to change to have more room as the load factor was only 10% in First. Of course I selected a window seat, in a nice 2-1 seating arrangement. Announcements before departure and during the whole trip were made by the (French) purser in French, Dutch (with a terrible French accent) and English.
We departed 30 seconds before schedule. Very soon we reached our cruising speed, and a brunch was served by two stewardesses, assigned to two different sections of First. Very nice also: first a juice (I took orange again) and a fruit yogurt, followed by small rolls of brown or white bread with apricot marmalade, a croissant and coffee or tea. This was followed by a choice of eggs, bacon and sausage, or crepes with orange marmalade and whipped cream. I selected the second, and to accompany I could choose between four wines (at 10:45 in the morning!): two reds and two whites. I selected a white Chardonnay du Pays d'Oc. Later during the trip we were served mineral water and finally Champagne. Royal service, really!
The itinerary took us over Calais, where the speed slowed down a little bit, before accelerating again once we reached England at Dover. The English passport control was made on board, which avoids queues on arrival: a great time-saving innovation! Arrival at London QQW at 11:25, two minutes ahead of schedule.
2. Stay in LON
I had a meeting at 11:45 in Victoria Street (chaired by an English Member of Parliament, with the English Minister of Environment and Rural Affairs); hence, to be on time, I took a cab which drove me there in less than 10 minutes for £5.40. Superb timing!
3. LON-BRU on 9F 9148
The return trip on the same day departed from London QQW at 16:39. As I had enough time, I walked from Victoria Street, and I arrived 30 minutes before departure. Again a smooth procedure with automatic check-in, metal detector (this time I put my knife in a box through the scanner), passport control by French police (!), the First Class lounge where I drank an imported Beck's beer (rather than the local Stella Artois from the same great brewer, InBev) with pretzels (other food was available, but I wasn't really hungry after another meal, a buffet lunch at the Ministry of Environment on the costs of the UK taxpayer!).
Boarding started 20 minutes before departure, but I took the time to finish my beer first. I was greeted by a friendly steward and I had again a comfortable seat, but I could not change this time: the load factor was an impressive 75% in First. Departure was again a few seconds before schedule.
Soon after departure, the steward proposed a drink and I did not refuse a glass of Champagne. Then an impressive four-course dinner was served: 1) Smoked salmon with lemon crême fraiche; 2) Swedish meatballs with a rich tomato sauce, buttered penne pasta and a spinach timbale (another choice was available: fillet of hake with a carrot and dill sauce and a pea and potato mash); 3) Coastal cheddar cheese (as the name suggests, this cheese from the East coast of Britain has sea salt crystals added during the maturing process to give it a unique sea flavour); and 4) chocolate cherry crumble tart with an orange coulis. It's nice to travel first class! There was again a choice of four wines; I chose a white Burgundy Chardonnay Beaucharme 2003 with the salmon and a red La Vieille Ferme Costières de Nîmes with the meatballs. To finish, a nice cup of coffee (even two cups) with chocolates.
Arrival at Brussels ZYR was 5 minutes late at 20:15, where I had barely the time to run to catch an IR train at 20:22 back to my local railway station at Genval.
Oh, I forgot to mention that ZYR is Brussels Midi Railway Station, 9F is the Eurostar High Speed Train and QQW is London Waterloo Railway Station, according to both the OAG and IATA Airline and Airport codes...
On both ways we made 2 intermediate stops at Lille Europe (XDB) and Ashford International (QDH); it was the first time that I tried the new High Speed Track that is completed for half of the distance in England (last year it was still on the regular track). Some trains do not stop and run now from BRU to LON in 2 hours and 20 minutes.