For my last trip to the Intercontinental Dusseldorf we travelled there on the Thalys train from Paris Nord to Essen Hbf (D), on the stretch between Brussels South and Dusseldorf Hbf. Of course we first had to position ourselves from Antwerp to Brussels, for this we used an S1 service as on this sunday morning it had the best timing for our connection in Brussels. In Brussels we walked along the central corridor all the way from platform 21 where we arrived towards platform 4 in the “High-Speed Terminal” where our Thalys would be departing from. These platforms can be isolated for an extra security check implemented after the terrorist attack on a Thalys train a few year ago, but today no extra security screening was being performed. Another curiosity of the platforms between tracks 3 and 4 is that these can be closed to create a secure area for when the Eurostar from Amsterdam to London is in the station.
Brussel Zuid/Bruxelles Midi 9:25 to Dusseldorf Hbf 11:40
Travel time 2 hours and 25 minutes
Thalys PBKA 4332
Delivered in 1996-1997, originally one of the NS (Dutch Railways) owned sets before being transferred to THI Factory
Thalys owns 2 different types of trainsets, the PBKA one we were travelling on is capable of operating over the entire Thalys network and can handle the 4 different voltages and 7 different train protection systems in use on the railways in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. With a total length of 200 metres it can seat 257 passengers over 4 coaches in 2nd class and 120 passengers over 3 coaches in 1st class, divided by a Bar coach in the middle of the train.
As we were travelling in Thalys Premium, the full service First Class, we were seated in coach 21 the rear coach of the train. In 1st class the seat are divided in a 1-2 configuration, with different seating options to suit your preference, from a single seat to 4 seats around a table. All seats are equipped with a powerpoint and can be reclined using an electric button. There are reading lights mounted in the baggage racks above your seats and the seats around a table even feature a small table light. Bigger items of luggage can be stored at the end of the coach and in the entry vestibule in bigger baggage racks. In First class WiFi is complimentary, in second class you are charged a fee to use it.
After we found the location of our coach on the platform thanks to the information display, we could swiftly board the train as soon as it rolled into the station. Once we were comfortably settled in, our train gently started rolling again, taking us through the infamous Brussels North-South connection, without stopping in the stations of Brussels Central and Brussels North. We continued onwards via line 36N passing by the airport and Leuven before accelerating to our top speed of 300 kilometres per hour on High Speed Line 2 towards Liege Guillemins.
One of the Perks of travelling in Premium is that you are served a complimentary meal according to the time of day. As it was morning, we were served breakfast. Normally you get to choose between a salty or a sweet option, but as the steward in charge of our coach was having a rough morning, he just put the sweet trays on out table without asking which we preferred. We just managed to get some hot water for our tea before he walked on, the glass on the tray provided for an orange juice was of course not filled. The tray itself contained some sort of cake with a yoghurt like dressing, a croissant, some butter, yoghurt and a fruit salad. When he finally came around again to clean up the trays we could get a small glass of orange juice after begging for it.
After a brief stop in Liege, we crossed the Meuse River and started accelerating again to 250 kilometres per hour on High Speed Line 3, through the longest tunnel on the Belgian network, the Tunnel of Soumange. Right before the Belgian-German border we slowed down again, crossing the Hammerbrucke and Bush Tunnel before having a slightly longer stop in Aachen Hbf. This stop is used to switch from Belgian current to German current. The first part after Aachen we were meandering at low speed through the hilly region, before accelerating again towards 250 kilometers per hour on a brief section between Duren and Cologne. After our stop in Koln Hbf we crossed the mighty river Rhine on the Hohenzollernbrucke and sped up for the final stretch to Dusseldorf, passing the huge Bayer works in Leverkusen.
Dusseldorf Hbf 16:17 to Brussel Zuid/Bruxelles Midi 18:35
Travel time 2 hours and 25 minutes
After a very nice stay at the Intercontinental Dusseldorf, it was time to return home. While we were plenty on time at the station, train traffic seemed to be disrupted due to persons on the track and our Thalys also had a minor delay of 10 minutes because of this. This time we were seated in coach 22, one coach more to the middle of the train.
After our stop in Cologne, the catering crew boarded the train and soon began their service. This crew was really friendly and passionate about their job, a big difference to our first train. They first came round with some refreshing wipes so everyone could clean up and refresh a bit (as it was very warm outside). When they came around with the snack they asked everyone what their preference was, unfortunately by the time they got to us they ran out of the sweet option.
As the sweet option was only a slice of chocolate tart we would have chosen the salty option anyway, it contained a gazpacho, a vegetable wrap and small piece of chocolate, much more filling! The crew offered several options to drink and also came around for refills. After cleaning up the trays they still showed presence in the cabin by giving sleeping masks to people trying to sleep and handing out cups of water to stay hydrated because of the warm weather. All too soon we reached Brussels and it was time to head back home.
Over the last few year I travelled quite a few times on Thalys, most of the time I had some very good experiences with the crews providing the service in first class, most of them care and genuinely like their jobs so the steward not doing so on the way out really was the exception. Also their new catering concept seems to have become more generous outside of meal times, which I quite liked and hope will be continued.