Packing for a long journey is never easy. To be able to pack everything you might possibly need for any possible situation (sometimes those little hotel shampoo’s and soaps just wont do, especially when you’ll be weeks away from the comforts of home) and still be within the luggage check-in weight limit, (especially when traveling by economy class) is not a simple task. It sometimes requires you to pack and repack a few times before you strike that perfect balance!
Admittedly so, packing for a month away in Europe, especially with forecasts of snow and frosty temperatures, took me a few days to figure out! But if there is one travel tip I always stick to, despite the destination, is to simply; pack light! (getting my Mum to follow this packing rule howevr is another story, one which ended up in her buying a whole other suitcase at the duty free shops in Brussels!).
When you start running out of clean clothes, you can always find somewhere to do your laundry. Most Hotel’s offer laundry services however they are often just as costly as extra baggage allowance, so its always better to take a few hours off to find a nearby Laundromat/Launderette and go do it yourself. Not only is it much cheaper but you get to meet and interact with the locals, which is always interesting when in a foreign land.
Often in tiny shops within residential areas, places to do laundry can be a bother to find. One tip is to look through a yellow pages directory (found in most hotel rooms), or do a Google search, and look up places nearby your location.
In Berlin, Laundromats are called “Waschsalon” (‘wash-salon’/ a ‘salon’ where you ‘wash’, I guess it makes sense too in an inverted way) and like in true European fashion, they are mostly Do-It-Yourself/Self-Service places. A striking cultural difference to the way things are done in Africa or South East Asia, where there is always someone to do it for you!
We went to one in Charlottenburg called Eco-Express, it was relatively easy to find (by getting plenty of directions by friendly residents), but a little daunting because all the instructions were in German! To our rescue, a nice lil’old German lady took time off her own laundry to give us a comprehensive crash course tutorial on how to get the detergents, load it in with the laundry, and all the washing machine and dryer settings, in a true mothering fashion. All we had to do is ask.
But sometimes a trip to the Waschsalon is not as simple as this. For instance, while waiting for our laundry, two young Asian men walked in. They looked around and eventually approached another German woman who was waiting for her laundry. With outstretched hands gripping a large plastic bag stuffed with clothes, they asked bluntly, “so when can we get it back”. My mother, who witnessed the whole thing (I was in the adjacent room loading the laundry into the dryer), struggled to hold back an amused giggle. The German lady however, (once again in true European fashion), kept a straight face and politely replied; “I’m a customer just like you. This is a self service laundry place.”
Despite her calm effort to explain the concept of a Waschsalon, they kept asking her “so how do we get the receipt?”. Puzzled, and slightly frustrated, they eventually left, perhaps to find a more familiar place; the kind with a woman behind the counter who gives you a receipt.
A case of classic culture shock! Having lived in Africa and South East Asia all my life, I can understand their expectation to find someone there ready to help them and do things for them; that’s just how things are done. To insist to do something by yourself can sometimes be culturally viewed as being selfish; because you could be denying someone the opportunity of make some money to put food on the table. Unfortunately (for them) this is not Asia, nor is it Africa. This is Europe, and as the saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do!”, but sometimes this is easier said than done, especially when all you’ve ever known is your own culture! That is why it’s always important to travel with an open mind, and leave your expectations at home!
At the end of it all, we got two bags of squeaky clean laundry done for about 4 Euros, (in contrast, one piece of clothing at the hotel was about 10 Euros), met some friendly Berliners and witnessed some hilarious Laundromat drama!