Saturday, March 7, 2015

10 Days (and Ballgown) in a Carryon



It all started in September at a sidewalk cafe in Montmartre. I was sitting across from a tall redhead from Chicago I had met earlier that week in French class. "So I went while I was studying abroad in Vienna, and I really want to go back," Reagan was saying. "It's in the royal palace, and there will be masks and ball gowns and a live orchestra and everything. Does that sound like anything you would be interested in?" Was this she kidding?! Just like that, between casual sips of cafe creme, I had been invited to my first ball.

By Christmas vacation we realized our grand trip was only a month and a half away, and we had planned nothing! After a flurry of booking train tickets, ball tickets, and hunting down a myriad of places to stay, we had our agenda. We would start our adventures on Valentine's Day with a stopover in Stuttgart, Germany, then take an early train to Vienna for the ball and a few days of exploration, then we would track our way through the picturesque village of Hallstatt en route to the ski resort hub Innsbruck. We would finish our adventures in Zurich, Switzerland. Fingers crossed, we would also pass through Lichtenstein, the world's sixth smallest country squeezed like a peach pit between Switzerland and Austria.

Our agenda in place, all attention now turned to the dress. My first dress for a ball! It's something a girl always dreams about. But dreaming aside, there were some real life logistics I had to face: I needed a floor-length formal dress that I could fit in a carryon, along with 10 days worth of clothes, shoes, toiletries, etc. With an au pair budget. In Paris. With rentals ringing in at 200€ a night, it was off to the colorful quarter of Barb├ęs-Rochechart, a close cousin of Pigalle and the red light district. We found store after store of belly dancing costumes that I rather liked but Reagan assured me may not quite "go" with the whole royal palace feel. Then all of a sudden I saw it. Hung haphazardly on the doorframe of a storefront was a lovely, long, sparkling blue dress with draping shoulder straps and an exquisitely embellished waist. When you've tried on hundreds of formal dresses from modeling wedding and prom attire, you know your best cuts. And baby, this was it.

As soon as we stepped in the store we were cheerfully greeted by the enthusiastic storekeeper Rami, who insisted I try on the dress. "Take off everything and we will see your size." Ahem, excuse me? After a few seconds of stunned silence, I realized he only meant my coat; ah, language barriers. His assistant (and sister, of course) swept in and gave me a nice blunt pat-down before disappearing into the back and returning with the dress. Slipping it on in the dressing room, I was amazed: it fit me like a glove. Which made the 100€ price tag all the more painful. But Rami could see all and was determined.

"How about this. You buy the dress for 70€, and I will give you my son's phone number."

Well, that was a first. I'd never bought a dress and got a date out of it before. Meanwhile, Reagan was gleefully watching from the background, delighted at this recent development. 

A bit embarrassed but admittedly flattered, I played it cool and tried on another dress.

"Now we have big problem, " said Rami. "You look good in all my dresses at the store." Oh, that Rami was a salesman.

"But we still have a problem," I stated.
"Tell me everything," he said, taking my hand tenderly.
"I cannot buy a dress for more than 60€, " I marooned. At that Rami smiled and kissed me hand. I was bewildered. "The kiss means YES!!!" he exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. The dress was mine.

As I was checking out, he made sure to show me a picture of his son and pass on his number. (If I had known his son looked like a supermodel, I may have settled for the 70€.) Dress in tow, Rami pulled me in for a double kiss and assured me he loved me and if I needed anything else to come back right away. As we were leaving I heard him arguing in rapid fire French to his sister about just who he was trying to matchmake. "But she's not even Jewish!" was the last bit I heard as we walked out the door. If this was any indication of how the rest of our trip was going to go, it was going to be a wild ride.

Now how did I fit this dress in with the rest of my luggage? Since my closet has already slimmed down to bare minimum basics with what I brought in my one suitcase to Paris, it's easier to pack when you have less choices. But a big space saver for me was to come to grips with the fact that I would be wearing the same outfit twice if not more in one trip, and that is totally okay. There are all these Pinners and bloggers who try to sell you their sponsored brands and show you how to pack enough for a different outfit every day. Meanwhile, in real life, nobody, REALLY NOBODY cares or has time to take notice of your OOTD (if they do, be concerned for their lack of life). So swallow the pill and live with the fact that for a few short days, you might have to wear the same thing twice. In fact, in Europe you will fit right in, because few people here have the closet space or bank account for a new outfit every day.

End rant. Here was my list for 10 days in Germany, Austria, Switzerland for activities including hiking, sight-seeing, nights out, and dancing in royal palaces:

Socks and undergarments
Tall brown boots, short black boots, tennis shoes
Three sweaters (black, white, tan)
Two t-shirts (black, gray)
One long-sleeved thermal shirt
One going-out shirt (pop of color!)
One pair leggings
2 pairs jeans (black, light)
Toilettries
Curling iron (usually I skip this, but we had a ball to go to)
Ballgown w/ mask and gloves.

That, my friends, is the power of rolling vs. folding! The one thing I realized I forgot as we hopped on our early train to Stuttgart was my dancing shoes. Too late now, though; I would buy a pair in Vienna for 20€. For now, we were off to the land of bratwurst, beer, and lots of smiles. Next stop, Germany!

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