Almost anyone can cope with a sunny day of travel, but how are you when it rains?
Some travelers threaten to sue their travel agent on the rather soggy grounds that he or she should have arranged blue skies. Some people squint in dismay from a hotel window, and then bury their heads under the covers.
Others square their shoulders, study their maps, and plunge out into the freshened world.
A rainy day calls for grit and humor. It can be especially trying for Southern Californians who seem to believe they deserve better, because they enjoy a benign climate at home.
Soaked to the Skin
Despite going prepared, I have been soaked in Scotland and in Washington, D.C. I have been drenched by warm showers on the peninsula of Brittany and on the waterfront of Papeete. On each of those occasions I knew that seasonal charts ruled in rain, but a clear sky drew me on and I wandered too far from an umbrella.
During a whale-watching trip off Baja California, my only wrap was a nylon jacket. When an island hike was proposed one blustery morning, the cook on our boat told me to stand still and she'd whip up a poncho. I slogged ashore wearing two Hefty trash bags taped together so firmly that they did not flap in the wind, nor tear on the cactus.
I like rain when I am inside a mountain cabin with a log on the fire and a book in the hand. I like it less in a big city when clouds crack in midday and there are shoes to be ruined and appointments to miss. I like it less because taxis seem to evaporate in thick air, and my hair starts to rise and curl.
Some events should be set aside for a rainy day. That's a good time to visit museums and have lunch in museum cafes. It's a good time to indulge in browsing through large department stores or covered malls or markets. It's a good time for lingering over steaming espresso in the coffeehouses of Vienna, or for staring out at waterlogged planks that cross the Piazza San Marco beyond the golden lamps of the Caffe Florian in Venice.
It's a time to take refuge in temples and cathedrals, to be warmed by concerts and theater.
Rain is not the most clement time for touring great gardens or the ruins of ancient cities. Shrubs drip. Mossy paths and marble steps turn treacherous. The traveling eye can miss the vast sweep of beauty because of the need to look down. Still, it is better to see Mexico's ancient ruins at Tikal in a squall than not at all.
Weather becomes a factor in setting priorities: If you care desperately about a hot-air balloon ride over the Virginia countryside near Charlottesville, sign up at the Boar's Head Inn on Day One. Then, should gusting winds scrub your ascent, you can reschedule the adventure. Nearby Monticello, the magnificent hilltop home of Thomas Jefferson, will give you shelter on any day.
Vancouver, B.C., where Expo '86 opens in May, is a spanking-clean city that is washed by 60 inches of rain a year, much of it falling as winter drizzle. Lawns are always green; umbrella stands thrive.
I popped into the Vancouver Umbrella Co. near Gastown. They make--and repair--bumbershoots. One of their best sellers is a deep-belled black model that is large enough for two people and strong enough to hold its own in a gale.
"Our busiest days start out sunny," a young employee told me.
"People come into the city without umbrellas and by lunchtime it's raining. Then we have a deluge of customers pouring in."
Yes, he really said that--and without a trace of precipitation.