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Thank goodness for the bidet.
That piece of porcelain furniture, which isn’t very common in Australian homes, has once more saved my neck when I’ve been travelling through Europe.
Years ago, travelling on a shoestring budget, I’d survive by washing my clothes in the bidet and drying them in my room overnight.
DIY laundry.Credit: Alamy
Washbasins are often too small, or shallow, to rinse out anything, but the bidet, made for other purposes, and usually sparkling clean, is deep enough to launder a dress, pants or socks and smaller things.
They are a godsend. The cost of hotel laundry in some European countries has always been eye watering. These days, with the poor Aussie dollar floundering, it feels like extortion.
I was in Italy for two weeks in summer. I hadn’t planned on using hotel laundry often, although I thought I might need it every now and again. But the price of laundering one of my dresses was often so high that I could have bought a new dress for the same price.
Luckily, every room had a bidet and a balcony or sunny window to hang my clothes in. Air conditioning sucks the moisture out of fabric, so I would wash out a cotton or linen dress in the evening and it would be dry in the morning.
As for pressing services, they cost the same as laundering. I didn’t bring my trusty travel iron, so I wore everything crumpled. They ironed themselves after being worn for an hour or two.
It’s really painful, economically, to travel in Europe right now. Even something as usually affordable as gelato was about $10-12 a cone in tourist hotspots. Normally, I don’t do this kind of conversion when I’m away because the price is the price. It does your head in to think, “that (insert object) would be only four dollars at home.”
But when the dollar is only a little better than half a euro, it pays to count pennies.
To survive this summer, I had to be an absolute cheapskate.
I discovered the bad news the first hour I arrived in Europe. I checked into my hotel and while waiting for my room went to the bar to get a coffee. An Americano (or long black) was €10 or about $18 at the time. That was beyond the pale. I walked around the corner and got my coffee fix for a third of that, standing at a bar.
Avoid getting food and coffee in the popular tourist spots in Europe, unless you want to pay through the nose.Credit: iStock
Taking the cost of accommodation out of it, some familiar travelling-when-broke strategies kicked in. Hotels tariffs often include a breakfast buffet in Europe, so I practised the art of the long breakfast, lingering over the table for a couple of hours, filling myself with as much good food as I could.
“For breakfast, feast like a king, lunch like a prince, eat dinner like a pauper,” is always good advice. No one seemed to mind if I took away a peach for lunch. If I’d scraped the pastry tray into my handbag, they might have looked upon me differently, but I refrained.
Most days lunch was a slice of pizza (approximately $8), or a gelato found in a part of town away from tourists ($5). I sat on a step in a piazza one night to eat and discovered the locals and their kids were doing this too.
I’d be invited for dinner sometimes and that would help. I ate the contents of complimentary fruit bowls. One night I consumed a chocolate bar and a packet of chips in my room after roaming the streets for one of those places offering tourist menus for a reasonable price and finding nothing affordable. That was a low point. I was lucky I was travelling solo, with no-one to scold me for my bad habits.
I bought bottled water from the supermarket for half a euro, and I negotiated concessions at museums. I walked everywhere or took public transport. When I discovered the Venice water ferries cost €9 ($15) for a one-way trip, I bought a weekly ticket which proved much better value.
I can eat and drink at home. I was there to consume culture, and that’s, in fact, one of the more affordable things.
I’m not sure what the Italians thought of my crumpled linens. If anyone can get away with crumpled linen, it’s Italians, and I like to think they thought of me as one of their own.
But maybe they’d be horrified to know what I did in the bidet.
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