16 August, Belgium – ‘All Over The Place – Europe’

Despite the fact that I’d been to Brussels 6 years ago and it was lovely, I was still wondering whether 2 days off in Brussels was going to be a bit underwhelming after some of the places we’ve been over the last 2 and a half months. But it was lovely. So that was nice.

I can also report that Dinant isn’t too shabby either. Over an hour away by car we arrived this morning to enter ourselves into the Dinant Bathtub Regatta. Dinant is a beautiful riverside town with a cliff top castle towering overhead, and the home of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone. For the last 35 years the people of Dinant celebrate his achievement by racing bathtubs down the river. No, I don’t understand the connection either.

Thousands of people line the river to witness it, and once things got underway in the afternoon I could see why. There are only 2 rules: your bathtub must touch the water at all times and… I can’t remember the other one (so it couldn’t have been that important). As a result competitors build some quite elaborate barges around their bathtubs. I was teamed up with the fire brigade cadets, who had built a house with genuine smoke pouring out of it and a fire engine, along with an obligatory saxophone. The bathtub was hidden in the house, with a little hatch that you could open to prove that it was there. Johny was slightly less lucky and was teamed up with some people who looked like they’d stolen a charity shop dummy (which was supposed to be Adolphe Sax) and stuck it on top of a floating pile of rubbish from the tip.

As soon as the “race” began I could see why most events have more than 2 rules. It was chaos. Water bombs rained down at us from the thirty or so other boats, people were ramming into us, hurling buckets of water over us, spraying us with power hoses and at one point one of our crew was pulled off our boat and taken prisoner by another. The winning boat is judged by how entertaining to the crowd it is, not whether it’s first to the end of the 1km course, so no one was in any hurry to get to the end. In fact one boat had its own DIY dance floor with thumping techno music and a bar with a couple of kegs of beer.

I eventually persuaded my crew to track down Johny and tried to throw a few buckets of water over him before we headed under the bridge which marked the finish. At this point several of the boats concentrated their antics on the crowd, soaking anyone from old ladies to babies in pushchairs, but this all seemed to go down very well. I guess they knew what they were letting themselves in for standing that close to the edge.

The organiser of the event, Jean-Oliver, declared me the winner (which seemed a tad unfair since I’d done virtually nothing to contribute to my boat being one of the best in the event), and I got to push Johny in the river as the heavens opened and we were pelted with rain.

If anyone tries to tell you Belgians are boring, send them in the direct of this blog…

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