CDG to Brussels -- best way to go?

May 3rd, 2007, 05:17 PM
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CDG to Brussels -- best way to go?

We're flying into Paris-Charles de Gaulle this summer from the USA on our way to Brussels (for a variety of reasons, it worked out best for us to fly to Paris rather than Brussels even though the latter is our destination). We're trying to figure out whether it makes more sense to take the train or rent a car. There are four of us, and so the cost of a train ticket appears to be comparable to the cost of renting a car for the time we're there, though gasoline prices may make the car slightly more expensive.

To take the train and keep the cost comparable to a rental car, we need to purchase non-refundable tickets. But if our flight is late and we miss the train, then we could be out a lot of money. So we really don't know how much time to give between our flight arrival (07:15, Terminal 1) and the train departure. We also don't want to sit around the airport for five or six hours. Furthermore, it appears that the only direct trains from CDG to Brussels are TGVs which only run every three hours or so; to take the Thalys, which runs hourly, we would need to schlep to the RER, take that to Paris-Nord and then connect to the train there. So we're leaning toward renting a car, though we will be tired and sleep-deprived and not crazy about the idea of driving for 2 1/2 hours or however long it takes to get there.

My question is whether anyone has experience doing this trip and any suggestions about the best way to go and, if we take the train, what we should do in terms of scheduling and ticket-buying.

Thanks in advance.
BLK2SA07 is offline  
May 4th, 2007, 03:19 AM
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My daughter lives in Waterloo outside of Brussels and we have made the drive to Paris several times. The drive between CDG and Brussels is an easy one with a good highway. It generally takes us about 3 hours. But once you get into Brussels...well that is another question. I don't know where you are staying but driving into the middle of Brussels is pretty difficult for me. But if you know where you are going in Brussels, then driving would be okay.
granbury is offline  
May 4th, 2007, 03:49 AM
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We've also driven many times between Brussels and Paris. The drive has taken us up to six hours when both the weather and traffic were terrible (actually on one occasion it took over 8 hours due to farmer strikes that caused slowdowns and outright closures of part of the route, we thought we were never going to get there on that one).
I thought there were also Thalys trains from CDG to Brussels Midi (although the Thalys is a type of TGC train).
If you plan to use a car while you are in Belgium, then it would make sense to have one. Will you be able to leave the car in Belgium without a significant dropoff fee or are you planning to take it back to France?
My preference is for the train, it's quick and relaxing. However, when we're traveling with the dog, we drive.
Driving into central Brussels can be quite an adventure, especially if it's your first time doing so. But if you're staying onthe outskirts or in a suburb like Waterloo, it's not bad.
BTilke is offline  
May 4th, 2007, 04:08 AM
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Hi BL,

CDG to Brussels is about 2:30 hr, which is a bit more than I am comfortable with just getting off a plane. Plus, you will have a hefty drop off fee if you don't return the car to France.

I would buy the 47E PREMS fare for the 09:41 THALYS. If you are worried about making the train, it's only 2.5E extra to insure the ticket.

ira is online now  
May 5th, 2007, 08:29 AM
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Thanks very much for your suggestions.
BLK2SA07 is offline  
May 10th, 2007, 11:03 AM
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A question for Ira: How do you purchase insurance for 2.5 Euros and does it cover missing the train because your connecting flight was late? I have been using the Belgian train site, which I have found works better than the French site, but have not seen an insurance option.

Another question for anyone: If we were to book the 12:35 train but arrive on time and be able to take the 9:41, would we be allowed to board if seats are available, is it subject to the whim of the SNCF clerk, or is it not an option?

Thanks in advance.
BLK2SA07 is offline  
Jun 4th, 2007, 01:47 AM
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One element you haven't considered is luggage : taking the train means carrying all your stuff up and down stairs, corridors and huge stations... I would favor the car, especially if you are going to stay in Brussels, where public transportations is nothing like Paris. The only thing you have to watch for, is the Belgian habit of having their way no matter what when they are coming from the right (they call it "priorite de droite").
tildaslittleplanet is offline  
Jun 4th, 2007, 02:13 AM
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"Belgian habit of having their way no matter what when they are coming from the right..."

Unfortunately, regardless of how crazy it seems, "priorité à droite" is not just a habit in Belgium, it's law.

Even if the driver coming from the right has slowed down or stopped, he or she still maintains right of way unless there is a give way or stop sign at the junction.

And most drivers in Brussels WILL NOT LOOK to see if any other vehicles are coming - if they have right of way they will drive straight out.
hanl is offline  
Jun 4th, 2007, 03:43 AM
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Unfortunately, in the Brussels region anyway, there are plenty of drivers on the road who shouldn't be...people with CD (diplomat corps) plates who think the traffic laws are for others to worry about, older Belgian drivers who never had to take a road test, illegal aliens, truckers so deadline pressured they don't get enough rest, etc. Anyway, once you penetrate the Brussels "ring" keep your eyes wide open.
BTilke is offline  
Jun 4th, 2007, 04:27 AM
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If you are used to driving in a big city (LA, NYC, etc.) don't worry about driving in Brussels one bit. I had no problem driving in and around the city (although I'm used to midtown Manhattan).

As others have said, with no traffic, the trip from Paris is around 3 hours. Our bigggest delay was the rental car desk at CDG, however, which was horribly inefficient!

john127 is offline  
Jun 4th, 2007, 04:36 AM
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Actually, Brussels is more challenging than NYC (we've driven in and out of Manhattan plenty of times, including a few times with a large Ryder rental truck). For example, almost no part of Brussels is laid out in a logical grid format. It has plenty of one way streets, also streets that are actually above or below one another, roundpoints combining several lanes piling in at once with everyone thinking they have right of way, streetcars, buses and not always observant pedestrians. I would easily pick mid-town Manhattan at rush hour over the Place Louise at 9 am on a week-day. Driving out of the Gare du Midi at afternoon/evening rush hour is not for the fainthearted (if you've done that and you still think it's easier than mid-town Manhattan, then my hat's off to you).
BTilke is offline  
Jun 4th, 2007, 06:53 PM
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I mean, obviously it's tough in any city when you don't know your way around, but as far as actual driving and safety goes, the only city that took me a few days to get used to driving in was Rome. Brussels wasn't a problem.

john127 is offline  
Jun 4th, 2007, 10:07 PM
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I'm with BTilke on this one.

My husband learned to drive in Paris, where the traffic is crazy (as are the drivers!!!), but even he agrees that Brussels is in a whole different category.

After 2 and a half years living here, I can honestly say that driving here is definitely not for the faint hearted. The priorité à droite rule, complex road layouts, poor road markings, regular roadworks (and road closures for months at a time) and anarchic drivers really don't make for a stress-free experience. As BTilke mentioned, many drivers on the road in Belgium didn't ever sit a driving test, as until the 1980s (can't remember the exact year), driving licenses were delivered pretty much automatically to anyone over 18.
hanl is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 02:06 AM
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I've driven all over the world and I've driven in Brussels for 6 years. Nevertheless, every morning on my way to work by car in Brussels I see something VERY surprising or have a near collision on the road. I have seen the most bizzare things - people reversing down motorways because they have missed the exit. Parking on roundabouts (roundabouts are a mess - the priority is not understood at all). The priority from the right - except when its not- but people think it is....
Lawchick is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 03:58 AM
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<<many drivers on the road in Belgium didn't ever sit a driving test, as until the 1980s (can't remember the exact year), driving licenses were delivered pretty much automatically to anyone over 18. >>

I'm one of those who received a license in Brussels at the age of 18, in 1965...proof of age was all that was required. The first tests started in 1967 for new drivers. Those of us "grandfathered in" never were required to take any kind of test.
And I might add that I have always had a clean driving record.

I must say that the priorité à droite is
less used now that it used to be. But every time I see a car with a Belgian license plate at an intersection here in France, I'm extra cautious ! lol

I tend to leave my car in my garage when I'm in Brussels and use the trams... less aggravation all around.

Driving in NYC is a piece of cake after driving for years in Brussels !

PBProvence is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 04:10 AM
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Well, many of you have been there for quite some time, so who am I to argue?

Perhaps I caught a couple of easy-driving days.

john127 is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 04:11 AM
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Thanks Patricia, that's interesting!
hanl is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 04:22 AM
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There's a story been going round EU cocktail parties for years:

Eurocrats take the piss out of token Belgian at the do (you have to let the huissiers at the champagne once a year), berating his compatriots' driving skills. Belgian gets Hercule Poirot-like in petulant denial.

"We 'ave ze finest driveurs in ze world. Indeed, in zees country, 100% of driving test candidates pass first time"
flanneruk is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 09:09 AM
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Personally, I have never had trouble driving in Brussels (except for the atrocious signage). I would even say that it appears civilized compared to Paris. But I don't have trouble driving in Paris either.
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