Published: November 10th 2009November 10th 2009
3rd March '09:
One can fool about with blunderbusses and grapeshot for only so long. Moving swiftly from Dinant’s Citadel, Ive and I drive to Durbuy, ‘the smallest city in the world’. If asked, though, I'd lean towards it being more of a village. What constitutes a city, anyway? I used to thing it was a cathedral. Any ideas? Or the difference between a town and a village? This is your perfect opportunity to leave an erudite comment. How about the difference between a village and a hamlet?! Oh I don't know - I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.
Durbuy is a pleasant spot, formerly part of Luxembourg. At this time of year, however, it warrants little more than a short stroll along the river banks. Oh, and a cappuccino served by an adultress masquerading as a waitress. As our eyes meet over a china saucer, an oblivious Ive asks what I would like for the evening meal. Flippantly, and still aroused by the coffee girl, I use the expression: 'I could eat a horse.' This has never been a problem in the south of England, but the phrase is taken literally by
'Leeks? With horse?'
men from the Flanders region - they’re the ones that speak Flemish, which is more or less Dutch. Incidentally, they are called Flandersmen, not Phlegms - a shame, I know. 'I have horse in the freezer,' says Ive, then frowns. It slowly dawns on him that he is, in fact, fresh out of horse. But he doesn't give in that easily.
The Walloon butcher in Durbuy looks aghast when Ive asks, in French, something like: 'Whatho. Got any horse?' What a funny country Belgium is. A couple of sneezes on the motorway and you could miss the country altogether. Yet Walloons and Phlegms - oh, all right, Flandersmen - have such different cultures.
We stop at a supermarket for wine and vegetables, and I ask if some leeks from his garden wouldn’t be rather nice with dinner. 'Leeks?' Ive exclaims, outraged. 'With horse?' He wrinkles his nose a little, and whinnies. 'Leeks are only for soup and fish.' What a wonderful irony that he thinks leeks are the black sheep within the meal. It turns out that any red wine is OK, though. Phew! I'm going to need plenty if I'm to look a Shetland pony in
the eye again…
Did you know that Antwerp has the second largest harbour in Europe after Rotterdam? No, nor did I. After barrels of laughs in the laundrette yesterday - touring is just all razzmatazz - I cycled to the Schelde River via the International Magazine Shop, a quiet haven littered with snoozing kittens. I’m an animal lover again today after gorging on stallions so recently. In fact, I’ve even got a cat - he came free with the house.
The Saint Anna pedestrian tunnel is 572m long, leading to Antwerp’s beach that I hinted at a week or so ago. There are signs indicating dismounting from bicycles, and a 5km/h speed limit, but why would you have both? Is some helmeted policeman going to accost me for walking too swiftly? My Flemish is rusty so I’m not sure.
As it happens, very few cyclists dismount their steeds; a girl with yellow panniers thunders past at breakneck speed. Some wag - a clever piece of graffito, this - has doctored the speed limit to read “115km/h”. Arriving at the much bragged about beach, I notice it is forbidden to swim - at any
Little Dick and Namibian
The razzmatazz of laundry in Antwerp
time of year. The view is of heavy industry - possibly an aluminium smelter - and the sand turns very quickly into a suspicious grey clay. Antwerp, you don’t really have a beach.
AC/DC's show was cancelled last night due to band illness. No, it's OK; luckily, dinner remained unaffected. So, we loaded up a few hours earlier than normal and set off, like the three musketeers, on the long journey to Leipzig, 660ish kilometres away. But finding a place to stop at night during the week is a problem: all the parking areas and services are rammed to the gunwales with trucks - even Belgium, closed on weekdays.
There just isn't room for all three of us. Namibian has motored off with Little Dick in tow .Ha! I nearly had you there. Namibian is, of course, the one in tow; he gets nervous if another truck is following him. Either way, I shall be livid if I find out he’s wasting our precious stove-gas on cups of tea for Little Dick.
Finally, we reach the Messehalle, Leipzig - one of those characterless monstrosities offering nothing to eat nearby. Namibian, resting in his cab - with windows
partly open for safety reasons - asks to be brought: 'just two Big Macs when you come back from bicycling.' As I say, there’s nothing to eat nearby. The poor chap is feeling off-colour, and needs “food” to wash down whatever tablets he’s taking for man flu. Fear not, though - he won't starve. His cab closely resembles a tuck shop..