Monday, July 25, 2011

Fish Out of Water Rule #8: Always Bring A Clothesline. You might just need it to rescue someone....yourself!

The Chateau Agel in Southern France 

Travel these days can be a major time suck as well as a hit to the wallet. With the extra charges for bags and the endless lines for security, now more than ever I travel light. I only bring enough clothes for half my stay, usually two to three weeks. This means at some point on my trip I’ll be doing some laundry. Knowing that not every place I stay will have a washing machine, I bring my own laundry detergent and come prepared to hand wash everything.

I’ve been using this method for several trips and didn’t run into a problem until my fall vacation to France. Usually I travel in late spring when the weather is warm enough for nature to be my clothes dryer.  But on my trip to France, somehow I forgot that this time of year weather would be rainy and cold and nature wasn’t going to be lending me much of a hand. So when my one week of clothes was so dirty my jeans could practically walk on their own, I knew I could no longer put off cleaning my clothes.

The wonderful 13th century chateau I stayed in actually had a laundry.  So what’s the problem you might ask? Well, after breaking a washing machine in Tokyo, having my clothes shrunk two sizes in the Philippines, and finding my favorite pants stolen out of a dryer in Italy, I wasn’t a big fan of communal laundry facilities. So instead of taking my clothes down to the laundry tucked into a corner of the chateau, I decided to wash my clothes by hand. After all, my bathroom sink was huge.

I did my first round of laundry, including three tops, four pairs of underwear, three pairs of socks and one lightweight sweater.  I realized the bathroom didn’t have a shower curtain rod, my emergency clothesline of choice. Without my usual standby, I proceeded to hang my clothes on every available fixture in the bathroom including a picture and the fireplace mantel. Yes, I was lucky enough to have a fireplace in the bathroom. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to get the fireplace to work but, it did come in handy as clothesline.  At least that’s what I thought.

After a whole day of dripping all over the floor and into the bathtub my clothes were drying about as fast as a wet snail. I still didn’t want to resort to the dryer so I wrung the clothes out one more time and proceeded to hang them all over the bathroom like Christmas ornaments. Right then one of my travel companions stopped by my room in desperate need of more toilet paper. Without thinking, I let Joan follow me into the bathroom.

She looked in horror at my clothes hanging everywhere. “What are you thinking? There are laundry facilities downstairs.”      

I hung my head as the water from my sweater hit the tile floor in steady drips. “I like to wash my clothes by hand.”

Joan rolled her eyes. “You’re crazy. The clothes are going to take forever to dry in this weather.  Plus there’s no heat in the Chateau.”

A fact I was well aware of. I had two comforters on my bed and still needed to wear silk underwear under my flannel pajamas in order to sleep. “Tell me about it.” I stared at my clothes draped everywhere like Dali clocks. “Look, I’ve had some really bad experiences with public laundries. Besides my clothes are shy.”
Thankfully she laughed. “I think I have something that might help.”

Darting back to her room, Joan returned with a multi-colored twisted cord. “Here,” she said as she handed it to me.  

At first I was a bit confused. “Is doing my own laundry an offence I don’t know about? Am I supposed to hang myself?”

She laughed so hard she slipped on the wet tile and ended up in the bathtub with my sweater draped over her shoulder.   

I threw her the cord like a life saver. “Here, grab on.” I was amazed at how handy it was as I pulled Joan out of the bathtub. “You must be psychic. How did you know I’d need a rope?”   

My wet sweater went flying across the room. “No you idiot. It’s a clothesline.”

Moral of the story: Remember to follow Fish Out of Water rule # 8: Always bring a clothesline. You might just need it to rescue someone…yourself.     


Monday, July 4, 2011

Fish Out of Water Rule #7 Part Two: Don't Leave Home Without Earplugs!

The view at sunset from the Tuscan Villa

I love off the beaten path travel. Especially when it brings me close to nature. But sometimes you can be a little too close. Case in point Italy.

When I visited the lovely countryside of Tuscany, I had the pleasure of staying in a villa so remote it was off a dirt road. When my group of companions and I first drove up to the gate to the villa we were greeted not by the owners, but by a pair of beautiful white cows. They ambled up to the fence and sniffed in our direction. I said to my friend, ”Do you think we smell like Americans?”    

My friend laughed. “I think they’re just curious. They know we’re not from around here. Our novelty will wear off.”

She was right. After two days the cows didn’t bother anyoneexcept me. Every time I walked by, they trotted over to the fence and stuck their noses through the slats. I took it as a compliment. They knew an animal lover when they saw one.

But cows weren’t the only native animals we had the pleasure of meeting. On the villa grounds there was a pretty little courtyard with a charming three-tiered fountain that several types of birds used as their bath. On the other side of the villa was a lovely stone patio and a few feet away, barely noticeable through the overgrowth of vines, was a grotto filled with tiny fish.

The grotto remained forgotten until one night we were sitting out on the patio drinking our wine. We heard a loud grunt coming from off in the distance. Then the one grunt was joined by a few others. In a matter of minutes a chorus of grunts and croaks grew so loud we could hardly hear ourselves. I shouted at my companions. “Where did all the bull frogs come from?”

The man sitting next to me laughed. “Must be mating season. The grotto is the perfect place for them to show off. Great acoustics.”

A woman said, “Oh aren’t they cute. They really are trying to impress the ladies.”

After the cacophony of croaks and grunts reached super sonic level people went inside. In my bedroom, not even the steady splash of the courtyard fountain near my window could mask the sounds of the frogs as they continued to perform until right before sunrise. Once again I kicked myself for forgetting to bring my earplugs.

When I went downstairs to meet my friends for breakfast, I could tell I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get any sleep. I looked into my friend’s bloodshot eyes, “What are we going to do? Those frogs are so damn loud.”

One of the men said, “Oh, they didn’t stop? I slept like a log.”

Men! Another guy who’s just like my husband and could sleep through anything. I ignored him. “What are we going to do? I don’t think I can take this. How long is mating season?”

“Too long,” my friend said. “We need to take action. Tonight we’ll start operation good night’s sleep.” 

That evening, after another day looking at fabulous 12th century villages, we set out for the grotto loaded down with pots and pans. The frogs were croaking up a storm until they heard us coming. Then all was quiet. My friend said, “Okay, now.”   

We banged pots until the grass swayed like ocean waves from the frogs jumping for they’re lives. That’s over, I thought as I settled into my bed ready for a great snooze. I’m not going to need a pair of earplugs after all.

Then all of a sudden I hear a loud croak much closer than from the grotto. Then another and another until the singing was so loud I could barely think. My friend came running into my room, “What the hell? They are even louder than before.”

I flung open my bedroom window and looked down into the small courtyard. I turned to my friend. “You and your brilliant ideas. Guess where the frogs found a new home?”

She looked down at the fountain covered in singing frogs and had the nerve to giggle. “Seems they like you as much as the cows.”    

Moral of the story: Be sure to follow Fish Out Of Water Rule#7 and pack a pair of earplugs. You never know when the native wildlife might hit mating season.