Soap On Holiday – 2016 Edition

Soap On Holiday – 2016 Edition

posted in: Auntie Clara's Blog, Blog Post | 44

We are lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth here at the southernmost tip of Africa. We have a great climate and lots of wonderful things to see and do. For recreation we don’t need to travel far, but since our roots and our family are in Finland we’ve been making a yearly ’trek’ up to the far north for as long as we’ve lived here close to the Cape of Good Hope.

A few years ago, as our two children became teenagers, we decided to show them a little more of the northern hemisphere than just Finland. So, over the past four years, we’ve visited some awesome places in Europe and the US. My initial idea was that it’s good for the kids to see and get a feel for places and things that get referred to in movies, art and literature. A kind of general knowledge education if you like.

I think we’ve accomplished that, but much more importantly we’ve built lots and lots of great memories together – as a family.

We often remind each other of these trips:

“Do you remember that warm summer night in Copenhagen when we were walking home through Tivoli and Sting was there singing ’Englishman in New York’?”

“Do you remember the old men playing chess on the sidewalk in Brooklyn?”

“Do you remember that best-ever pizza at that restaurant by the train station in Versailles?”.

Small things and fleeting moments that become precious and timeless because we share them.

Giving the tower a hand
You can lean on me..
Boy and Bear
A boy and a bear at the zoo in Rome

 

 

 

This year we headed for Italy and had a fantastic time. We spent three weeks working our way through an ambitious sightseeing schedule and made the most of the time we had in Rome, Florence, Venice, Siena, Pisa and various smaller towns.

St. Peter's Basilica ny night
Vatican by night

 

 

Violinist on Ponte Sant' Angelo
Violinist at sunset on the Ponte Sant’ Angelo
Papal tools
Mallet and spatula Vatican style. To think that popes and soapmakers use the same tools.. Mine aren’t quite as nicely jewel-encrusted though.

 

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Gondola traffic on the Grand Canal in Venice
Miniature lab of perfume maker or 'muschiere'
Window shopping: miniature lab of a Venetian perfume maker or ‘muschiere’
Florentine art
Contemporary Florentine art

 

Chandler at Uffizi Gallery
Chandler depicted in the medallion of one of hundreds of ceiling murals at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

 

 

 

 

As expected in Italy, we saw some impressive fashion statements:

 

St Bartholomew
Who would want to wear black anyway when red is so fetching? St. Jerome in Florence

 

Swiss guard spats
Not everybody can pull off wearing spats like these, but the Swiss Guard can – because they’re badass. Note the gold buttons on the left and black buttons on the right.
Bride and groom
Happy couple having wedding pictures taken in St. Peter’s square. Flip-flops are a sensible option indeed.
Primavera dress
Blue cornflowers on full skirt in Botticelli’s spring collection showcased at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

 

 

 

In terms of soap I once again had good opportunity to test my soaps ’away from home’ in conditions different from the regular conditions under which I usually test soap. Just before leaving I grabbed a few different bars from my stash and it was interesting to see how the different formulations performed.

It was very hot during our entire stay in Italy. The temperature was above 30C every single day for three weeks. This, of course, meant that we took plenty of showers. We stayed in a series of very nice Airbnb apartments and in each one the four of us shared a bathroom. So, four people (including two teenagers) taking three showers daily – that’s twelve showers a day – using the same soap. I.e. extreme heavy-duty conditions for any soap.

The first soap to be put to the test was a well-cured bar of my Sandalwood Rose soap with pink clay. The formulation is a good balance between hard oils and olive oil with a fair amount of stearic/palmitic acid.

Sandalwood Rose Soap by Auntie Clara's
Auntie Clara’s Sandalwood Rose Soap

 

I’m proud to say that this soap performed like a real trooper. Rich, creamy lather, elegant fragrance and very pleasant after-feel – and the bar survived well through our first week in Rome without disintegrating or turning into mush. I did what I usually do when travelling; I made a small hole in the bar and pulled a ribbon through to be able to hang it to dry. You’d be surprised how many shower cubicles come without soap racks or with soap racks placed right in the water stream..

Sandalwood Rose Soap with ribbon
Sandalwood Rose Soap with ribbon

 

The following week we spent in a charming Tuscan manor house in San Donato in Collina just outside Florence. For a week this tower built in 1146 was our home. 1146 AD, that’s 870 years ago…which is kind of hard to wrap your mind around. The tower has probably been repaired and refurbished and remodelled a few times along the way, but somebody’s idea of that tower on that hilltop with views all the way to Florence was first made tangible 870 years ago. It’s very special to have been able to call it our home for a little while..

San Donato in Collina
Hilltop manor at San Donato in Collina
San Donato in Collina
Tower in morning light with swallows darting all around
Sunset view
Sunset view over Florence from our hilltop tower
Capers
Beautifully fragrant caper blossoms growing out of a medieval garden wall
Plums at San Donato in Collina
Plums in the garden

At this spectacular location in the midst of Tuscan olive orchards I decided to treat myself and the troops to a bar of 100% olive oil soap that I had been curing for the past two and a half years. Not quite as historic as the tower itself, but pretty ancient still for a modern bar of soap.

100% Olive Oil Soap by Auntie Clara's
100% Olive oil soap, 2014 vintage.

 

Olive oil is generally regarded as the gentlest of all soapmaking oils and after more than two years this truly gentle soap felt superb on the skin. I could work up a pleasant lather and the after-feel was second to none: smooth, soft, supple and well-nourished skin. In my shower at home I always have a bar of pure olive oil soap in the line-up of soaps being tested and used and I love it.

But, twelve showers a day was a complete overload for the 100% olive oil soap. On the third day it had been reduced in size more than the Sandalwood Rose soap in a full week, and it was covered in gelatinous slime. Yours truly was prepared to take a bit of slime in return for the truly great skin feel, but the troops were unhappy and it was time to declare lesson learnt: this soap did not work well under these conditions.

Luckily there was more soap and another bar richer in hard oils was up next: an extra bar of this custom order lavender blend soap which, I’m happy to say, passed the test of heavy-duty use with flying colours.

Custom made lavender soap by Auntie Clara's
Custom-made lavender blend soap

 

I’m not prepared to dis a classic 100% olive oil soap just yet. It’s still a wonderful soap in my opinion – when used appropriately. What my experiment shows, I think, is that ’using soap’ can mean a large variety of things and that discussions about how long soap lasts in use depends to a great extent on how ’use’ is defined. Twelve showers in a day puts very different strain on a bar of soap from, say, twelve showers on twelve consecutive days.

To perform optimally soap bars needs to dry well between uses and in our case that didn’t really happen with any of the soaps. But, ’dry enough’ also means different things for different formulations. Optimal drying time for pure olive oil soap is longer than for soap rich in saturated fat. That doesn’t lessen the value of olive oil soap, it just means that you have to take proper care of it to be able to enjoy it fully.

Wise from this experiment I’m now beginning to see that the rather prohibitive size and shape of traditional olive oil soaps like Marseille and Aleppo blocks, is not just an inconvenient coincidence. Those soaps come in blocks specifically because you aren’t meant to twirl them in your hands, dip them in bath water or a shower stream and rub them over your body. You’re meant to stand the soap away from water, rub the block with a damp cloth or sponge and then use the cloth or sponge to work up a lather and rub your skin. Used that way a bar of olive oil soap will last a very long time – and you’ll probably get just as clean.

Easily arranged at home perhaps, but not so convenient when travelling. When moving from place to place, spending a night here and a few nights there, you want soap that doesn’t go soggy and is easy to pack – even when wet.

Liquid soap springs to mind, but do you really want to travel with extra water if you don’t have to, adding to the weight of your baggage and risking leaks in suitcases? I know I don’t.

A good option is a brine bar. The salt in the bar makes it very hard and durable and better suited for a twelve-showers-a-day situation like the one we had. A brine bar may ‘weep’ on the surface in damp conditions, but due to the high salt content, moisture on the surface is not likely to dissolve the soap in any significant way.

My favourite option at this point would be a well-superfatted Beldi soap. Made with 100% olive oil it’s very gentle and soothing and being a paste in a container it doesn’t need a lot of maintenance. If you get water in the container you pour it out and leave the lid off until the next use – the pH of the soap is high enough to discourage microbe proliferation. When you need to pack up you put the lid on and off you go.

Being a potassium soap Beldi Soap is also more readily soluble than a traditional hard 100% olive oil soap bar and easier to work into a lather.

Wild Olive Beldi Soap by Auntie Clara's

For all those days out and about, walking for miles, standing in queues etc, etc. I had also brought along my trusty Travel Soap – of course. This particular Travel Soap tin is a true globetrotter having by now crossed the equator numerous times and travelled with me on three continents, regularly wiped clean on the outside and refilled whenever necessary.

Travel Soap by Auntie Clara's
Travel Soap and Vatican vulture

 

Travel Soap by Auntie Clara's
Travel Soap and Florentine door knocker

 

Travel Soap by Auntie Clara's
Travel Soap and Roman wolf

 

Auntie Clara's Travel Soap
Travel Soap and some serendipitous lettering on the floor of the Duomo in Florence

Once again the concept of little single-use soap pastilles worked perfectly: the tin travels in your pocket or bag and when you need to wash your hands you take out one pastille, put away the tin, and wash your hands as usual. We came across some fairly dodgy public restrooms where you really didn’t want to touch anything, least of all that grubby dispenser of liquid handwash that everybody touches BEFORE they’ve washed their hands, and it was great to have our own soap handy.

In all fairness we came across some very nice bathrooms too. This one, for instance, was not too shabby: Napoleon’s bathroom in Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

Napoleon's bathroom in Palazzo Pitti, Florence

This large basin made from black granite from Aswan in Egypt now stands in the Vatican and may once have graced the Baths of Caracalla. I wouldn’t mind having a bath in it.

Auntie Clara's Travel Soap with Vatican bathtub
Travel Soap in stylish setting with a tub to die for

In very hot weather like we had, you tend to feel the urge to wash your hands quite often. It turned out that frequent hand washing is convenient in Italy. In all the towns we visited, big and small, there were lots of little drinking fountains in the streets. Carrying our own soap we could quickly wash our hands under the water stream of a fountain before – and after – having some of that famous Italian gelato.

Travel Soap in Napoleon's bathroom

Having a well-developed and discerning sweet-tooth I could go on about the gelato at length, but I’ll just say that we had heaps of it wherever we went. While prices varied the quality was remarkably good everywhere – and those ice-cream colours are just so very inspiring..

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For somebody carrying South African Rand, travelling in Europe is expensive these days. Our shopping was mostly grocery shopping and we picked up lots of beautiful fresh produce and heavenly mozzarella. I also came across this bottle of olive oil. Something about the branding appealed a lot to me, but at 40 Euro for 500ml it had to stay in the shop and wait for somebody else..

Clara olive oil
Nicely branded olive oil

What I did buy was a genuine Bialetti caffettiera moka, a traditional octagonal aluminium espresso percolator. And to go with the coffee I got some chocolates. Now, ordinarily white chocolate dyed blue and orange wouldn’t really be my thing, but when I saw these little Venetian masks in their box in a sweet shop in Venice, they spoke to me in no uncertain terms.

Venetian chocolate
Venetian chocolate. Too pretty – or colourful – to eat?

They became mine and I had a plan for them. I had been eyeing some touristy key-ring masks in exactly the same size and shape, but the chocolates were easier to use. When I got back home again I made some soap in the shape of the chocolate masks. These, I felt, would go nicely with my new square silicone moulds that I had stumbled across in a shop in Rome.

Bauta Soap by Auntie Clara's
Bauta Soap by Auntie Clara's
Bauta Soap by Auntie Clara's

 

And so my Bauta soap was created. ’Bauta’ is the name of Venetian masks of this particular shape, which allow the wearer to talk and eat without removing the mask. Today we associate Venetian masks with revelries and Carnevale and we think of them as richly decorated, but back in the day when the Bauta mask was born, masks were used much more commonly than today – in a variety of situations. When the citizens of Venice voted they wore Bauta masks to conceal their identity and it was compulsory for women to wear the Bauta when visiting the theatre. Casanova is said to have worn a simple Bauta mask when out and about cavorting on clandestine business in Venice.. The white Bauta mask was typically worn with a black cape and veil and a black tricorne hat.

My white, soapy Bauta masks sit on blocks of charcoal-coloured soap for dramatic contrast inspired by the original Venetian dress. To make the look a little less menacing and more festive I added some gold leaf. Considering that this was the first time I’ve applied gold leaf to anything at all, I think it worked out pretty well.

Bauta Soap by Auntie Clara's

I like this little Italian soap ‘souvenir’. I’ll treasure it while sorting through all the impressions and inspiration I brought back home from my trip. Who knows, some of it might just find its way into some new soap projects..

Venice
Grand Canal in Venice

 

Auntie Clara
Auntie Clara in Venice

44 Responses

  1. Clara:
    What a wonderful adventure! Thank you for sharing it.
    Did you make a soap mold from the chocolate masks?
    I love the photo of the custom made lavender soap pic too.
    I look forward to your next blog, as always!
    Sly

  2. Oh wow…I thoroughly enjoyed the reading! Such great entertainment with touring and bringing in all kinds of soapy love.
    My hearts out to you for making me smile. Thank you again!! Joan

  3. Colleen D

    I love your excursions and the wonderful ways you incorporate your soap and share it with us. Thanks Clara!

  4. I so thoroughly enjoyed reading of your adventures. Your post was shear genius.

  5. I do love your blog; as always an entertaining and informative read. Beldi soap is a new one on me and I was intrigued to find out more about it. So, what appeared at the top of the search results? Auntie Clara’s recipe of course! Should have know to simply search your blog for more information 😉

  6. Jo Anne Kani-Miller

    Lovely soapy travelogue! Thanks!

  7. Wow! Your talents span far and wide: creativity, photography, parenthood, penmanship, travel planning, ingenuity, and but of course, soapmaking. Thanks for sharing both your and your soaps’ journeys.

  8. Dear auntie Clara,
    I enjoy not only your adorable soaps, also your experimental work and your wonderful words! Thanks for sharing your experiences!
    Diane from Linz, Austria where St. Florian lives also 🙂

    • Thanks Diane and send my kindest regards to St. Florian! I have a soft spot for him and I will send him – and you – kind thoughts next time I have a piece of Linzer Torte – which I incidentally also have a soft spot for! 🙂

  9. Hi, Clara,
    When you came in Romania? It`s a very beautiful country, too. Your soaps are amazing as usualy. I love them. And also learn o lot from you. Thanks! All the best to your family.
    Sincerly, Dana

  10. Renato Novas

    WOW !!!! It’s the only thing I can and tell. You are amazing! When I think it has nothing to invent, you appear. Congratulations for the work. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  11. Thank you for sharing! I too have enjoyed traveling with my family- indeed a special way to make memories together!

    • Isn’t it just? I know we’ll be talking about things we experienced in Italy many years from now.

  12. Clara, you never cease to inspire me! I love your Bauta mask soap, and totally enjoyed reading about its inspiration. I’ve never used gold leaf in soap, but am excited to give it a try. It’s beautiful and the slightly tattered edges give the appearance of an old treasure. Wonderful!

  13. Your pictures are beautiful. Wow what a trip and much inspiration. Your soaps are just so beautiful, creative and a work of art. Hello from Murrieta, California.

  14. Terry Friedman

    What a fabulous read. What and extraordinary trip.
    Thank you so much.

  15. Loved this post. Everything you do is gorgeous!

  16. Jacqueline Leatt

    Such a beautifully written blog Clara. I will never look at soap the same way after reading this and I would love to purchase some some for personal use and Christmas gifts.
    Jacqui

  17. I just loved reading about your travels in Italy! It brought back a few wonderful memories of two weeks with my beautiful mother and my gorgeous husband travelling through Italy. The journey with the soap assessment and ultimate production of your Bauta soap is inspiring… Thank you.

  18. What a fantastic holiday you had, thanks for sharing. As a NZer, I’m still in awe and bedazzelled by the age of buildings and monuments in France even though I’ve been living here for nearly 20 years. It’s all still fairytale and legends stuff! Your soap is lovely, it captures exquisitely the mood of Venice. May I ask you, did you make silicone moulds from the chocolates?

    • Thanks Helen! As you say, that part of the world is truly fairytale and legend country. Walking in the beautiful Tuscan countryside I half expected the prince on his noble steed to appear behind the next bend in the road – fresh from slaying the dragon in the faraway tower. Magical..

  19. Original and beautiful as always, Clara!
    Buon caffè con la tua nuova Moka! :0)

  20. Have you ever tried using the “hot glycerine” method for making liquid soaps with KOH? I found it after reading your Beldi soap story – the method is reputed to speed up saponification of a recipe which is slow to saponify – such as the 100% olive oil example. I expect the extra glycerine to change the feel of the final product, but it looks as though you have to be careful doing the mixing. And thanks for sharing, I enjoy your blog.
    Lesley

    • Thanks! No, I’ve never dissolved KOH in glycerine. I believe the method works well for liquid soap which is diluted with water. When it comes to Beldi it remains a paste and you don’t really want extra water in it. With a lot of extra glycerine I’d worry that it would attract unnecessary moisture from the air. On the other hand, if ever glycerine in soap brings skin benefits it should do so in Beldi since you leave Beldi on the skin for up to 10 minutes before rinsing it off.

      • I shall get around to trying it – I am also in Western Cape so can test exposure to moisture easily enough. Shall let you know in due course.

  21. auntieclaras, you inspired me alot. I just started the soap making. Your soap is not just soap, it is ART. Your pieces show your beautiful personality and your unique taste. And thank you for sharing informations and process. I am learning alot through your blog

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