Malcolm hasn’t a clue who “Pippa” is or where she parks her porch.
A couple of weeks ago, apparently inspired by watching the Tour de France on television, motivated by her mother’s death, and by Lance Armstrong’s autobiography, she declared she had accepted a personal “challenge”:
This is the BIGGEST challenge I have ever set myself. And it’s physical, which is brand new terrain for me. Are you ready?
I am riding through the entire Tour de France 2010.
3641.9 kilometres (2262.9 miles)
And I will finish it before the Tour de France 2011 finishes.
Which gives her until July next year.
So far she has reached Antwerp.
Curiously, and rather against the grain, Malcolm likes Antwerp:
- It isn’t as crowded with English trippers as Ghent and Bruges (and certainly doesn’t have those curious sewer-smells that both provide in odorous plenitude).
- It’s a lot more compact than Brussels.
- It has a vast Cathedral, very fine, with three Rubens of tennis-court proportions.
- Alongside the cathedral there’s the Grote Markt (above, right): not as big or as commercialised as Brussels, but as scenic and a good place for Belgian beer. Cafe “Den Engel” has a web-site introducing the Grote Markt: once inside, if in doubt and if you’re man enough, ask for de Koninck tripel.
- There’s Sint-Jacobskerk, where Rubens is buried. From the inside, this one seems even vaster. Since there apparently was the usual town/surplice antagonism, this was where the business-class chose to worship; and it shows.
- An incredible, outside-and-in over-the-top, insanely theatrical railway station, recently been given a wash-and-brush-up. The Belgians are a bit cagey how far over €1.5 billion the bill for this went. It is, all the same, an example of what can be done to a semi-redundant but spectacular building.
- If all else fails, wander and window-shop the Diamond District, which is next door to the Centraal Station. Alas, they don’t give free samples.
Beyond all that, all you need to know is that “Belgium” is, of course, the most offensive word in the galaxy. According to Douglas Adams’s Hitch-hiker’s Guide, it is why planet Earth is shunned by all decent sentient life-forms.
Those of us obliged to exist on this bit of rock, however, know that Belgium is the most bourgeois place in Europe, that Antwerp is the most bourgeois city of Belgium, and that Leopoldstraat is the centre of bourgeois retail therapy in Antwerp.
One other thing
Jacques Brel may have sung about Amsterdam. He really meant Antwerp, but he couldn’t make it fit the melody:
Good luck, Pippa!
Malcolm will be watching Pippa’s progress. In the short term, as autumn settles across les Pays Bas, she’s got a dismal time ahead of her.
Hat-tip: go to http://pippasporch.wordpress.com/ — a good deed in a naughty world.