Electrical adapter plugs are an unfathomable dilemma to many travelers. They come in many sizes and many shapes. The outlet into which you plan on plugging your appliance may have anywhere from two to five hole, and is commonly referred to as the female end. The other end, called the male or connector end, can be equally confusing with either two, three, or four pegs, prongs, or slotted protuberances. To the best of my knowledge, the outlets and plugs of choice by each country are independent of any national anatomy.
We had just spent several days visiting the children of a friend of ours who were fortunate enough to be working in Brussels. The visit had been enjoyable. The couple had lived in Belgium for about two years and knew not only the common tourist attractions but also those pleasant and unique out-of-the-way spots as well. We dined like royalty in well-hidden kitchens, visited ancient and modern historical sites, and generally felt relaxed and content. But now it was time to head south in our little rented red Fiat.
A neighbor in California who had recently returned from France had found a delightful little hotel on a hill just east of Nice called Le Perousse. They had described the view as typically Mediterranean with yachts, azure water, and endless beaches – surpassed only by the fresh seafood dinners along the waterfront. Not to be outdone in the traveler’s game of “I’ve been there also,” we headed off toward Nice.
In a typical Californian’s decision, we decided to use the piage rather than the slower, more scenic back roads. The piage is equivalent to our toll roads and offers less traffic, more speed, and fewer stops. We were a little behind in our schedule so tossing coins in the toll box would save us at least a day or two of driving and at least six or seven arguments about which way to turn while going through those little towns along the way.
The kilometers clicked by, and before long we were discussing in which city we should spend the night. In an unusually short dialog, we zeroed in on the city of Vienne, a historically well-known town just a bit south of Lyon. The compromise was chosen because it was large enough to have a comfortable old hotel, but small enough so that we would not get lost looking for the downtown. The advertised Roman ruins would give us a chance to stretch our travel-cramped legs. We were right on all counts.
The name of the little hotel of choice escapes me, but the date chiseled in the sandstone over the hotel door predated our own civil war. The establishment consisted of an original section containing three floors with about four rooms per floor, and a somewhat newer section of four floors with about the same number of rooms. We settled for a room on the third floor of the old section, a good choice, except for the omission of either an elevator or a bellboy. But having been sitting all day, the exercise was welcome.
We settled into our room and discussed our next move. Both of us needed to freshen up, and Barb wanted to do her hair before we ventured out on our next adventure. This gave me a chance to sit back and read up on this village.
Then came the challenge. I was sitting there patiently reading about Vienne when I became aware of Barb prowling around the room. I ignored her for a little while, but she continued. Finally I gave in.
“What’s going on?”
“I can’t find a plug for my hair dryer. Oh, ah – here’s one that looks like it fits the adapter.” A relieved “Oh.”
The next second can only be described as chaotic. A flash of lightning filled the room accompanied by a loud, hollow clap. This was instantly followed by absolute silence and total, complete darkness. We stood there transfixed, assuring ourselves that neither of us was hurt. I did notice that some of Barb’s newly washed hair looked a trifle singed, but otherwise nothing.
Soon the silence gave way to a buzz that began to build in the hallway. Heads were popping out of rooms, and agitated French men and cool French women were demanding explanations. I attempted to look puzzled and began demanding an explanation in English myself, feeling that the best defense was a good offense. In a few short moments a bespectacled maintenance man in soiled coveralls and a beret on his head arrived on the scene. With wild gyrating arms and a steady flow of indiscernible French, he calmed the gathered tenants, smiled, and calmly walked over to a service door, halfway down the hall. He undid the lock and with a flourish threw open the door. Out came a huge cloud of black smoke almost filling the entire hallway.
“Mama MIA sucha smoke,” he yelled.
The inside panel was a total mess. Three of four spots that looked like they may have held fuses at one time were permanently welded together. The entire panel itself was glued into one gigantic smoking collection of relays, fuses, capacitors, wires, and connectors.
“I don’t think we should say anything” I advised Barb, as now the entire hotel staff stood there staring at the mess. “They may charge us for rewiring the whole hotel.”
Well, it didn’t end up too badly. They had to move all of the guests from this floor of the old building to the new wing, as fixing this panel was going to be a long proposition. Barbara’s conscience would not let her play innocent, so she bravely marched up to the manager and confessed, although she did not really quite understand what she was confessing to. I pretended I didn’t know her, which saved me some embarrassment, especially when we checked out the next morning. The entire staff came out from behind closed doors to look at her. There was a great deal of pointing and much dialog. Apparently they were awed by this American woman capable of totaling destroying one floor in just seconds. Me, I just pretended I wasn’t there and got us out of town as fast as possible.