A Cold Awakening

I pushed the button, stuck my hands under the water, and immediately yanked them back.

I don’t like cold.

Cold temperatures. Cold showers. And certainly not cold water to wash my hands in a restaurant bathroom.

But there was no temperature control on the faucet. Push down on the top and ice cold water pours forth.

I tried the soap dispenser. Success! (In this post-Covid world the chances of finding soap in a bathroom in Spain have increased, by my based-on-nothing-but-my-experience calculations, from 50% to 75%.)

I soap up and take a deep breath before plunging my hands back under the arctic spring.

Things are different here in Spain, I said to myself.

And then I remembered I was in Belgium.

Café Vlissinghe bills itself as the oldest pub in Bruges, though some argue it took on that title just to attract British tourists in the 19th century.

Regardless, it’s down a small street and up three stone steps, ten minutes walk from most of the other tourist sites in Bruges, and therefore was devoid of tourists when my sister Meg and I, and our new French friend Capucine, visited a couple weeks ago.

Across the room were two tables of people dressed in nice shoes and dress pants–clearly locals on lunch break, which is always a good sign.

Meg and Capucine had already visited the aforementioned bathroom earlier in our visit. Neither commented on their experience; no warning of the frigid water that spewed from the tap.

However, Meg did tell me what it took to find the restroom: out a side door, down some stairs, through a courtyard. . . so I didn’t have high hopes for the place.

The bathroom was colder than the January air outside. The light was on a timer, which, as usual during my years of experience in European bathrooms, always turns off mid-stream, if you know what I mean. If you’re lucky, it’s on a motion sensor, and waving your hands around a bit can bring forth the light again. I was not so lucky. The push button was no where close to my “perch.” Thankfully, my 43 years of experience using bathrooms means I can, in fact, use one in the dark.

After finishing my business, turning on the light and freezing washing my hands, another thing-that-should-not-have-surprised-me: no towels on which to dry one’s hands.

I flicked my fingers, returning as much of the icy water back to the sink as possible. And then, in what has become natural after living in Europe for a year-and-a-half, I lifted the back of my sweater and dried my hands on the waist of my jeans. Why there? Because the sweater then covers up any wet marks until it dries. Resourceful of me, no?

I returned to my dining companions and didn’t think to say a word about my experience. Because really, they know. Things are different here.

Meg and I in front of the bell tower in Bruges.

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