Potty Break – Know Your Commodes

Warning – this post might be offensive to some people.

Bathrooms. Restrooms. Water Closets. WCs. Johns. Baños. Toilettes. Toilets. Loos. Lavatories. The Little Girls’ Room. The Can.

By any name, in whatever language, these facilities have different personalities around the world and are fascinating. It’s more than which way the water swirls. In some countries, people think it’s barbaric to not have a bidet, while in others folks go their whole lives without seeing one.  Did you know there are many cultures that feature seat-less toidies?

Then there are the differences between public and private. Expectations for public potties are usually fairly low unless you are in a high rent district. Typically, in the United States, public restrooms contain the expected flimsy metal partitions with large cracks between the door and hinges. Occasionally, companies spend some cash and the results are luxurious rooms with artsy sinks or interesting fixtures.

In Scandinavia we found very private little rooms with tall floor to ceiling doors, some include their own sink.

A new squat toilet

On another trip through Europe, I had a layover at the train station in Domodossola, Italy.  This was my first encounter with a filthy, dank hole in the ground called a squat toilet. There are places for your feet presumably for the best aim but ladies, let me tell you that you really need some strong leg muscles to do the deep squat that would somewhat protect you from any splatter. But, upon reflection, who would ever want to get that close to the hole?

In addition to the facilities, the toilet paper is another potential irritant. I remember the water closet on the Italian train that had grey paper the consistency of the brown paper towels that come in U.S. gas station restrooms, except the grey TP was not as soft. Ouch!

Stockholm’s Log Inn Hotel – bathroom in this crappy cabin

Most recently in Stockholm I am reminded of that train trip. On the hell boat where we were forced to stay,  (see Oct 2010 post Sleepless in Stockholm Parts 1 & 2) and most of the public WCs, we found irritating paper that was a literal pain in the ass.

At Pompey’s Pillar, a historic site in Alexandria, Egypt, I went into a public restroom where, for a minimal tip (bribe?) or baksheesh, the attendant handed me exactly three sheets of sandpapery tissues. Luckily, I had read that it was a good idea to travel certain parts of the world with a roll or two of toilet paper. Armed with a couple of rolls of Charmin, I survived the trip through the Middle East. Now I always throw a couple of travel size rolls in my daypack. You never know when you might be stranded.

A great score in a Swedish supermarket was a box of moist towelettes called Saniwipes. We immediately deemed them ass-wipes. It might be a good idea to pack some of these, along with my travel size TP for our next trip to eliminate one more potential travel irritation.

Privies in hotels around the world offer an international variety of styles. It’s fairly standard that the more we pay for a room, the better the toilet paper, the more accouterments.

Eco Flush

There are eco-friendly toilets that have two ways to flush: a small button saves water and is used for insignificant or liquid-only flushes while the larger button provides a more aggressive flow for substantial stinkies.

A Discrete Brush

On some sophisticated models, the toiletee is expected to hold the flusher for as long as it takes to clear the bowl. Savvy hoteliers (and disgusted maids) realize that sometimes even a minutes-long steady surge of water in a low-flow bowl can fail to dislodge stubborn cling-ons. And so a strategically placed brush is provided for the occasional dirty duty.

Buenos Aires Bidet

Bidets are a girl’s best friend! They’re also good for men who desire a fresher feeling. For those who are unfamiliar, a bidet usually looks like a toilet but has various forms of running water. Some are similar to a lowered sink that the user sits upon, runs the water, splashing it about the nether regions.  My favorite bidets can be aimed and shoot like a geyser.

Then there are situations where hoses are strategically positioned next to the toilet. They serve the same purpose as a bidet without the need to move from bowl to bowl. Make sure to have a towel nearby.  Some considerate hotels provide a nearby hot air blow dry machine.

Japanese Wireless Washlet Control Panel

Recently I was watching HGTV’s House Hunters International. The episode took place in Japan and the toilets were incredible! Not having traveled there yet, I had to do some investigating. The ingenious Japanese have combined the toilet with the bidet. The results are super toilets or “washlets”.  They are incredibly high-tech with keypads that control an impressive array of functions. These marvels come with heated seats, bidet jets aimed at both front and back AND there’s even a deodorizer! Genius!

Water Saving Toilet Top from Japan

Step up to the super-sized model and get the added pleasures of a massage, automatic lids and flushes. In some water-saving models, tank water is pumped through a sink on top of the tank so the user can wash their hands before the water flows to the bowl. The toilet can even control the room temperature. It seems they have thought of everything! I wonder if this holds true for public toilets too.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve read horrors about public restrooms in China. The recommendation from a student living there is to use the bathroom in hotels before venturing out sightseeing if at all possible. There, the free toilets might be filthy troughs or holes in the ground and no running water in sight.   Ah. The adventures of travel.  This reminds me that another good thing to throw in the daypack is hand sanitizer.

China was my mother’s last trip before she passed away and she never mentioned it so maybe things have improved or the tour guides have an ‘in’ when it comes to western style bathrooms.

For information about bathrooms around the world, someone brilliantly created a website called The Bathroom Diaries. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if the information is recent but my guess is that it is not. The few dates I found were from 2005 or 2006.

It might be helpful for far-flung trips to see what to expect but for that, it’s just as easy to Google the name of the country followed by toilets and Wikipedia will probably have an entry.

I found another website with a post called “How to use an Indian Toilet” that was first posted over 5 years ago and the discussion is still going strong. The debate is toilet paper or no toilet paper. It’s similar to the argument about bidets.

I can definitely see the wisdom of forgoing toilet paper but not the toilet itself.

No Separate Shower Here

Once you get off the pot, there are the showers. In Europe, I am always disappointed when I discover the bathroom IS the shower. The drain is in the middle of the floor and there’s either no shower curtain or one so flimsy it leads to a wet, soggy mass of toilet paper.

Water Barrier?

There’s another brilliant (said with sarcasm in my voice) water retention system for European tubs and showers. I would like to meet the genius who came up with the half partition usually made of glass. Most of it is on a hinge that swings open to allow me in but it also allows most of the water out. It’s shockingly inefficient.

Water, Water, Everywhere

I have yet to discover the knack for keeping the floor from getting soaked. Why Europeans seem to love these things is beyond me.

Etoile Hotel Bathroom in Buenos Aires

In a Buenos Aires hotel the opposite was true. The shower was so gargantuan that it needed 3 shower curtains. The danger here was having to climb two steps to get in and out of the tub. Take a moment to imagine slippery feet stepping onto steep tiled steps with no handrail. I’m thinking concussion, broken bones ending with being indelicately splayed, immobile and naked on the floor.

Helsinki Hilton-Vantaa Airport Room

We have found some pretty cool innovations in our travels. Our room at the Hilton Helsinki-Vantaa Airport solved the problem of no natural light. As in many hotels, the bathroom is immediately inside the door to the room. In this case, two panels of frosted glass were spaced on either side of the mirror above the sink to allow in light.

Sliding Frosted Glass Bathroom Door

Instead of a heavy wooden door, they used a panel of matching frosted glass as a sliding door. It was a unique and effective way of lighting up the whole room.

Reflections of our Helsinki Hilton Bathroom

On the downside, if a travel companion wants to sleep late, the light from the bathroom could make that difficult. This splendid bathroom had a deep soaking tub, a separate glass, fully enclosed shower and a hose next to the toilet for clean-up duty.

“Nice” Public Bathroom in Magadan in the Soviet Far East

An Australian woman who worked for a friend of mine was shocked by the wastefulness of Americans when it comes to showers. They couldn’t believe that we run water until it gets hot before we get in. In many parts of the U.S. water is plentiful. We don’t realize how lucky most of us are with hot and cold running water and the relative cleanliness of our facilities.

Maybe I’m not as tough as I once was or maybe I have reached a point where I can figure out ways around the things I don’t want to tolerate or sacrifice. Clean toilets and clean bathrooms are non-negotiable for me these days.

About Journeys By Jill

I have spent most of my adult life working in and around TV, film & radio production. As an avid traveler, I have a goal to visit at least 100 countries using the Century Traveler's Club Country List. At the moment, I have 54 to go. My favorite form of travel is to get off the beaten path and discover weird & wonderful attractions. Basically, I wing it. I'd love for you to come along for the ride.
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