I have two great memories of Interlaken, Switzerland. First, the ducks that tried to kill us. Second, the laundromat. After seven weeks of rainy camping around Europe in a two-man tent, my wife and I entered Switzerland on a gloriously sunny day. Our first view of the Alps was magnificent, but by the time we reached Interlaken, sunshine was replaced by dense fog.
We claimed a lakeside campsite in tall grass and dragged out the very wet tent. While setting up, I noticed a couple of small round heads poking through the grass. They were ducks; quiet, curious, and watching from a distance. Soon, several more heads appeared.
A curious audience of mallards surrounded us. At first they sat there watching, and we thought them cute. We shared leftover bread to draw them closer.
They began to quack loudly in what I assume was ducktalk for "More, please!" One large fellow stationed himself directly in front of me demanding food. While I reached for more bread, he began pecking at my trousers. I dumped a pile of crumbs in front of him but he continued assaulting my pants. I gently pushed him away with my foot, infuriating him. He began quacking as if I had tried to kill him. Raising his wings he came at me in full duck charge. Taken by surprise, I lost my balance and fell backward into the grass. Now, four more ducks moved in and they were not friendly. Then I heard Irene yell and saw her running from a feathery posse.
We dove into the tent, zipping up the fly screen not a moment too soon. The first duck hit the screen at full tilt. I pulled the Velcro flap down, thinking that if they could not see us they might go away. Not so. Dozens of little duck beaks were now poking the tent from all sides. Their quacks said, "We know you're in there."
We stared at each other and started to laugh. We had come for the scenery and chocolate. We got mad ducks.
Two cold hours passed watching small dark indentations poke into the sides of our tent. Warm clothes were in the car and we could not pass the night without them. We formed a plan of action.
Irene would throw a handful of bread crumbs out the tent flap while I made a break for the car. This worked at first. I was racing back to the tent with an armload of fleece when my feet went out from under me and I unceremoniously ate a mouthful of grass for the second time. Looking up, I had a brief glimpse of a snow-covered peak through the haze and two beady eyes with a wide-open beak bearing down on me.
I did not want to experience this duck at his level. I crawled to the tent faster than he could run and tumbled inside. Our clothes were covered with mud but at least we'd be warm. Then we waited out the sleepless night.
In the morning, to our surprise, there was not a duck in sight. We pulled down the tent and pointed the car toward town. In addition to the mud of the previous night, we hadn't washed our clothes in two weeks.
Checking the rearview mirror, I saw one small head above the grass. I imagined that ducky high-fives were being exchanged.
Five minutes later, we found a laundromat. All my stuff fit neatly in one washer, but Irene had a favorite parka. She wanted it dry-cleaned rather than washed, and this facility did just that. She put the parka inside, inserted coins, and settled back with a book to wait.
Twenty minutes later I was loading my clean and wet clothes into the dryer while Irene's parka tumbled. A half-hour later, I was unloading my clean, dry clothes while Irene's parka continued to spin.
The instructions on the machine were in German. So, putting on my best helpless tourist smile, I approached the Frau in charge. I pointed at the spinning machine and then at my watch. She nodded knowingly and also pointed to my watch, 15 minutes from now. Fine. Dry cleaning in Germany just takes a little longer.
Fifty minutes later, enough time had now passed for any reasonable person to be embarrassed, and our host did the only decent thing. She disappeared into the back room and emerged with a small tray. She had made cappuccinos. This consoled us a bit - until she brought out her family photo album. We were trapped in tourist hell.
A while later, a large man entered. The lord of the castle was home. He sized up the situation: Two tourists in his establishment, five empty cappuccino cups on the table, an open photo album, and a parka spinning in the machine. He gave me his best Nordic glare, walked up to the machine, and pulled the plug. The machine stopped.
I took out the parka. It had never been so clean.