Hi.

This blog contains whatever random tech stuff I'm thinking about recently. And a lot of conference reports.

In Brussels train station

My favourite thing about central Europe is how everyone speaks four languages. The woman in the cafe here told me the specials in English, then fielded a question in French from the table behind, interrupting herself to share a joke in Dutch with a passerby. It's astounding.
I said "Hallo!" to the man at the ticket desk and he started out in German, switching fluidly, mid-sentence, to English when I said "Wait, I mean 'Hi!'". It makes me feel like a slacker: I can sort-of-kind-of follow what's happening in German if everyone speaks slowly and uses small words, but it's not enough to pull my weight in a conversation; I can barely get by in Irish for that matter. This relaxed and easy multilingualism is a wonderful thing. I love it.
My other favourite thing about central Europe is bread. I could live entirely on bread and butter here. And the other best thing is cheese, of course. And the way that enormous dogs come up to talk to you in cafes, though I admit that this doesn't always happen. And pedestrian streets and plazas with markets on them. Those are great. And bikes, too, and separated bike paths and miles and miles of canal paths to ride along. Or riverbanks where you can sit and think and watch ducks. Although, actually, big train stations with lots of platforms are even better than any of those. All of those trains heading off to everywhere. Trains and trains and trains. Europe is amazing at railways.
I love trains. That's pretty much why I'm here, travelling, I mean, instead of being a productive member of society. I wanted to sit on a lot of trains. Europe has the most fantastic network of high speed services. I have a timetable here for international trains from Brussels: in the next few hours, just to list a few options, I could take the TGV to Nice, the Benelux IC to Luxembourg or Amsterdam, the Thalys to Paris, or the ICE to Frankfurt. From each of those cities more lines spiderweb off in all directions. If you've got your visas sorted out, you can take trains from London to Tehran and beyond. How cool is that?
International railways feel positive and optimistic to me. It takes time and effort and cooperation (and a huge pile of money) to build them and, if you stop being friends with your neighbour, you can't just point them off in another direction. Wars happen and borders close and the tracks sit there, getting grassy, waiting for people to get over themselves and reconnect. Just think about that! The conflict fizzles out and the engineering is ready to go again. Cooperation and trade and unity, all symbolised by parallel lines running off into the distance. Wonderful!
I do realise how cheesmongery this sounds, but I can't help it. I get pretty excited about railways :-) And individual trains, for that matter. My favourite days on this trip have been sitting by the window watching the countryside go by, reading for a bit, maybe talking with other passengers, just sort of logging out of the real world and into the train world, and getting such a kick out of the parts of the journey when the train is going around a curve and you can see it out of its own window. That just about makes my day.
I'm about to get on the Eurostar to London. This time tomorrow I'll be on the Dublin ferry, and then off to Galway on the last train of my trip. I'm looking forward to seeing you, Ireland-people!

Surrounded by family in Ireland

On the Rail. Way. To. The. Euro zone.