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A coach full of British tourists expecting to see one of Europe’s busiest Christmas markets ended up in a closed “car boot sale” after the driver mistakenly took them to the wrong destination.
It was only on their return to Hull, East Yorkshire, that the group realised the market they were heading for – Belgium’s Winter Wonders festival in the centre of Brussels – had been less than three miles up the road.
They had taken the trip hoping to see an illuminated big wheel, as well as enjoying laser shows, street theatre and the delights of 240 shopping chalets.
Instead, they were met with a “Closed” sign and rows of empty stalls. Only one stall was open – and that was selling fruit and vegetables.
One of the unfortunate tourists, who did not want to be named, said: “The coach driver announced we had arrived and we all got off. We couldn't believe it. It was like going to a car boot sale which, to make matters worse, was shut. We just wandered around in disbelief."
Isa Maurer, of Brussels International Tourism and Congress, suspects the coach party was taken to a market at Queen Astrid Square in Jette, rather than the Winter Wonders Festival which attracts 2.5 million visitors a year.
“They were definitely not taken to the Winter Wonders event,” she said. “It’s a shame they did not make it as it is one of the most beautiful Christmas events in Europe.
National Holidays, which organised the trip, is now seeking an urgent explanation from the coach driver.
I can't remember the exact details of this story, but it is true as I know people who were there.
My football team is Leyton Orient who have only been in the top division once since their formation in the 1880s; the season 1962-63 which is the year my family and I moved to Leyton and I started to take an interest in their progress, or lack of it.
My father's team was Arsenal of North London who have never been out of the top division, whatever it has been called, over the last 100 years. Both teams play in red and white and in the days when such garments were worn both sets of supporters wore red and white knitted scarves and rosettes.
One Saturday Arsenal were due to play in Birmingham against one of Birmingham's big clubs, Aston Villa, City or West Brom. Orient were playing Walsall to the north of Birmingham in the (much) lower division. A club of Arsenal's capacity hired numerous coaches, 20-30 for their supporters. Orient sometimes had as many as 2. On this particular Saturday Arsenal needed so many coaches the coach companies must have been using drivers who didn't know the Midlands motorways. In those days before sat-nav one such driver on the M6 was so relieved when he spotted another coach full of men in red and white scarves that he followed it, taking 50 Arsenal supporters to Walsall where they didn't want to be. By the time they realised the mistake it was too late to get across the city in time for kick off.
But they were made welcome and at least they saw a football match, which was potentially just as entertaining.