Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Last Laundry Load

If I had to pinpoint one thing that has been the bane of my traveling existence over the past months, it would be:  laundry.   I don’t like doing it at home, and I especially don’t like doing it abroad.

This morning I got up in Athens and the first thing I did was laundry.  That is, I brought my rubber sink stopper and REI camp soap into the hostel bathroom and washed, in the small sink, two pairs of socks and a shirt.  This will get me through to Friday, when I will do my last full load of laundry on the road.  Hallelujah.

On Friday morning I’ll get up and figure out which of my outfits is the least dirty.  I’ll wear that one while the other items are washed and hung out to dry for the day.  I pray it doesn’t rain. 

There are few clothes dryers in these parts.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time my clothes have seen the inside of a dryer.  Bulgaria, I think.  That was a long time ago.  My clothes haven't been fitting too well, and they also feel like sandpaper.

Apart from all the thought and planning that goes into doing laundry on the road—indeed, sometimes my itinerary revolves around it—the other thing that sucks is the expense.  In Greece, it costs 4 €, or about $5.64, to do one load of laundry.  And remember, that’s just for the washer.  In Luxembourg, it was 7.50 €, or $10.50.  Needless to say, I spent an afternoon hand-washing my clothes in my Luxembourg sink.  I refuse to pay more than $10 to do one load of laundry. 

Compare that to my laundromat in Manhattan Beach, where the washer was $1.75; and dryer, $1.25; so, an entire load, wash-and-dry:  $3 bucks.  Most important, I didn’t have to wait a day to wear my clothes.  I know we Americans are spoiled with our dryers, which, I've been told, are somehow bad for the environment.  But goodness, they sure are convenient.

Waiting for clothes to dry in Munich, 2007.

It hasn’t all been bad.  Sometimes the washer is free, like in St. Petersburg and Kiev.  In Poland, not only was the washer free, but they had a dryer too—also free.  I never smelled and looked so good as I did in Poland.

But Poland was a long time ago, too.  Now my clothes are nothing but a pile of stretched-out tatters.  That’s what happens when you wear the same few things, day after day, for close to six months.  I have now discovered that the shelf-life of SmartWool socks, rotated every fourth day, is about five months, particularly when you spend good chunks of time climbing to fortresses and castles in the Balkans.  A few more wears, and these socks will be riddled with holes. 

Luckily, I’m going home in a week or so.  One of the first things I plan to do—besides taking a long, hot bath—is to go clothes shopping, most likely at Target.  And then I’m going to figure out if it’s legal to build a bonfire in my brother’s Florida backyard.  I don’t want to just throw these tattered threads in the garbage.  I want to burn them.

Meanwhile, here’s the odd thing.  Despite the fact that I despise laundry generally, for some strange reason, I like to take pictures of other people’s laundry hanging out to dry.  I first snapped a shot of underwear hanging on a Shanghai street back in June 2007, and since then I’ve taken pictures of laundry whenever it strikes me as interesting.  In the Balkans—I realized, in sorting through pictures—this happens often. 

See what you think.

Shanghai, China, 2007

Dubrovnik, Croatia, 2007

Skopje, Macedonia

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia (someone likes pink).

Kotor, Montenegro

Tirana, Albania