Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Bathroom Adventures in Europe

RHYS BOWEN: As you know, I have recently returned from Europe and this trip has only solidified my impression that Europeans just do not GET bathrooms. In America we have showers. You go into the shower, close the door, pull out the knob, turn left or right for hot or cold and water comes out. It runs away into a drain in the middle of the shower. What could be easier?

Apparently in Europe the idea is to make bathrooms hard to negotiate. Washing should never be easy. In my youth I remember those little geyser contraptions hanging over the bathtub that lit with a terrifying roar and then spewed out scalding water. I also remember the bathroom in a friend's flat in Umbria. It had a shower in the middle of the room, surrounded by a small lip to stop the water from flooding the whole flat. You could draw a curtain around you, but when the shower was turned on the curtain was sucked inward by the force of the water so that it clung to the body making it impossible to wash. It also allowed the rest of the room to end up liberally sprayed

And what about all those bathtubs that have a hose attached so that you can shower--but no shower curtain so that as you aim for your back you accidentally spray the ceiling and walls. How hard would it be to put up a shower rail?

This year was no exception. We rented a very modern apartment just outside Nice. The kitchen was equipped with everything--ceramic cooktop, touch lighting, Keurig coffee maker. But the bathroom? The shower started with two glass doors you had to open. You stood inside then closed the doors enough so that they came together. Then you turned on the shower. There was a choice of rain shower above--not good if you didn't want to wash your hair, a wand that was so fierce that if you turned it on it jerked out of its cradle, like deranged snake, and sprayed everything before you could catch it, Or lastly three jets, positioned up a bar... all three hitting in precisely inconvenient parts of the body.
AND... the water ran onto the bathroom floor, only held in by those two doors. So the shower experience ended with having to mop all the standing water into a drain in the far corner.

This doesn't win the prize for the weirdest bathroom I have known. That was in an old farmhouse we had borrowed in the middle of France. To reach the bathroom one had to go through the cellar (with a dirt floor), down a flight of steps into a cave. Mushrooms and ferns were growing from the walls. The shower was in a trough in the middle of the room. You climbed down into it, pulled on a cord and water descended from the ceiling, between the ferns and mushrooms . Oh, and did I mention the toilet was also down there... in a corner? A dark corner with lots of ferns and mushrooms? Needless to say we never went down at night!

Can anyone beat that?

If I become very rich I'll give the European union a grant to initiate bathroom sanity!

40 comments:

  1. Ferns and mushrooms? I’d be thinking about skipping the shower.
    Goodness, gracious, couldn't we manage to find a way to bring European bathrooms into the twenty-first century?

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    1. You might be able to, with new construction, but the really old places are set, unless you want to tear apart stone walls and such.

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  2. Hey, at least you didn't have to squat (traditional Japanese and West African toilets I have known and hated). I've also been in those crazy floor-flooding bathrooms all over Europe, and one in Morocco where the shower head was above the toilet, with no place to put your dry clothes or towel. We put in a bathroom upstairs in this house six years ago in a very small room. The corner shower is glass-walled, plenty roomy, and does not flood anything!

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    1. My worst floor flooding was a toilet in rural France once. A squat toilet from which water began to rise!

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  3. I will admit that I am very, very attached to my shower. It's lovely and walk-in and doesn't have any flaws that I can think of. I could let go of bathtubs in order to have a shower. Rhys, the picture above of the modern shower in Nice looks very updated, but from your description not very user-friendly. How hard is it to put a lip on floor and slant the floor so the water would flow properly? One more thing to be grateful for. I do love modern plumbing.

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  4. What a horror I read your feedback and it became scary to me. However, I can say that we also once got to a similar apartment in Paris. Once, my colleagues from review my app online service and I went there to the conference and ordered the accommodation online on the site and watched photos and it seemed that everything was fine. The apartment was not far from the center and at a normal price. However, when we wanted to go to the shower, it turned out that there was yellow water and we waited for about 5 minutes to become normal color. It was awful.

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  5. Cannot beat the ferns and mushrooms Rhys! However...in the tiger preserve in India, I made the mistake of using the loo in the forest. It was two footsteps on either side of the hole, and out of there slithered a lizard. I don't know which of us moved faster!

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  6. Americans may do better with showers than the Europeans, but some plumbers and builders seem blissfully ignorant of the fact that many Americans are large. I have known a few shower stalls that measured no more than 30 inches square, with six of those inches being occupied by hardware, jutting out from the walls. It's a sad day when you get fat-shamed every day because your shower stall is too tiny to turn around in. And then there are the shower stalls where the shower head emerges from the wall at about 5.5 feet, with no hose or way to adjust the thing for people who wanted the water to hit above shoulder height. I've known architects, plumbers, and builders. They seemed to be clean every day, and they weren't petite people. Surely they must have known better. Who designed those things?

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  7. When we lived in LA, one morning I discovered that a fully-grown mushroom had emerged in our stall shower. After removing it, I poured bleach on the area every day.

    I've wrestled with glass shower doors all over Europe, but the heated towel bars for drying my laundry more than made up for the inconvenience of mopping the floor after a shower.

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  8. Oh it is so crazy! I do not understand it. We stayed in a gorgeous gorgeous hotel room in Paris, I mean fabulously opulent. But the bathtub… was right in the middle of the room! Just… In the middle of this gorgeous room! With no walls or privacy, The loo, too, just ...out there. So hilarious—and so annoying.

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    1. Were there mirrors on the ceiling too? Asking for a friend.

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    2. Haven't you stayed at the Valley Ho in Scottsdale? Same thing. In the middle of the bedroom!

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    3. Oh my gosh, yes, the Valley Ho! Not in all of the rooms, but once when I was staying there, I had the infamous tub-in-the-middle-of-the-room. I was terrified I was going to fall in when I went to the bathroom at night.

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  9. Squat toilet at a roadside stop in southern France. I was about 7 and had NO idea how to use. My stalwart mother had to demonstrate!!

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  10. We've run the gamut of European facilities, from Turkish toilets to one with a plastic covered seat that rotated with each flush, leaving a clean surface for the next user. I think it was in Strasbourg.

    Another favorite is the public unisex facility in Roussillon. It was literally a cave built into the side of a mountain, no outside doors, just open to the air. As you entered there wss a long trough with a number of men peeing into it. The one stall was way at the back. Fortunately it was dark. I tucked head to chest, looked neither left or right, and made my way to my destination.

    And then there is the ubiquitous bar or soap, impaled on a spike, next to a not-too-clean sink, accessorized with a damp cloth towel. This is when you are allowed to dry your hands on your jeans.

    But best of all was the en suite bath in the 1000 year old convent in Rome. Mind you, I'm not sure thousand year old nuns bathed that often. The shower head was in the ceiling, centered over the drain, toilet and and sink. You could shower, urinate, and brush your teeth without taking a step. Best to leave the towel outside in the bedroom tho. And don't even consider using a hair dryer in there.

    Heated towel rods are a nice notion, but I've never found one that works. The one bidet I've come across was in Florence, and I confess I didn't use it, wasn't quite sure of the protocol. Do you scrub it out before? After? Or just put goldfish in it for a decorator touch?



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    1. Ann, thanks for a memory. The toilets in the lounge for AMTRAK passengers in Chicago have those rotating plastic cover thingys. When I was there about 7 years ago, there were a number seats stuck in the half rotated position. Oh, yuk! ;-)

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    2. Ann, we had a bathroom inTurkey with no toilet paper but a spray at the back of the toilet that sent out a jet of cold water,and usually managed to miss the behind completely and shoot across the room!

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    3. Rhys, I completely mistrust those sprays. Reminds me of hosing down bedpans

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  11. When my granddaughters graduated from high school, they participated in a 3-week trip around Europe with classmates and chaperones. My 'bon voyage' gift to them was a handful of local and Euro coinage and a couple packets of tissues. They had never seen or heard of paying to use a toilet or get a small strip of coarse TP and kind of laughed it off ... but boy were they glad to be prepared when it came down to it. The European obsession with cramming bidets into already-too-small toilet rooms reached its pinnacle in Venice at an otherwise charming hotel only a couple blocks from St. Mark's Square. The sink was about the size of a dentist's spit basin, and the immaculate glass-walled shower stall about as big as one on a cheapo cruise ship (god forbid you should want to wash your underarms because you pretty much could just stand there with your arms plastered to your sides). But the bidet and toilet were soooooo close that one cheek overlapped, if you get my drift. Still, wouldn't trade the travel experiences for anything. I'm now too stiff and unsteady to manage squat toilets, so I'm spared that for the future.

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    1. PK, I remember being a girl in Germany and always having to have a pfennig for the toilet!

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  12. Ann, you made me laugh with your description of a bidet - my very first boyfriend thought they were a convenience put in French bathrooms for washing off scuba gear. Don't ask!

    I don't have any amazing European bathroom stories, but my friend Judi sent me a photo from one of her trips to Italy, it sounds very much like Ann's 1000 year old convent. In fact, I wonder if it wasn't the same place. Very economical use of space!

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  13. Ferns and mushrooms? I can't even imagine.

    And my husband thinks our teenagers don't clean the bathrooms well enough!

    Mary/Liz

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  14. Oh, bathrooms. The world over, they are eye-openers about local culture. In South America (and Central America, as I understand), one does not flush the toilet paper. It goes into a charming basket next to the toilet. This was true in parts of Tanzania, as well, as their plumbing is rudimentary. My very first few minutes in Africa were spent trying to figure out how to negotiate a squat toilet at the airport.

    The loos in the bush in Tanzania were mere conveniences for privacy, and that's about it. Most of them had hand sprayers, which I was never sure was for the human user or to clear the bowl after use. Who does one ask for this kind of advice? I took pictures of lots of bathrooms, because they were all so inventive. Some were downright terrifying, filthy, and vermin-ridden, while others in the middle of the Serengeti were sparkling clean, attended by individuals who had to have traveled hours to get there.

    One of my favorite rest stops was in Normandy, at a McDonald's where my husband insisted we stop for coffee (the espresso with a square of dark chocolate is the best bargain in France, I swear). The ladies room had a toilet, and right next to it was a tiny toilet for children.

    In the Paris Flea Market I used a restroom that had automatic lights (which went out after a few minutes, panicking me), and an automatic toilet that changed the seat cover the minute the user stood up. We saw several other public toilets like this, but this one was the only one in which I felt entombed after the lights went out.

    On my first trip to Europe, our hotel room in Florence had this great bathroom, complete with bidet. And a door with clear glass facing the long hallway.

    But the best of all were the tent camp bathrooms in Tanzania. The water came from solar-heated 40-liter bags, and allowed us to wash off the copious dust every evening before dinner. Some of them were positively sumptuous. Then there was the luxurious bath at Gibb's Farm, where we stayed at a guest house. The bath was enormous, with a separate water closet, an enormous tub, and both an indoor shower and an outdoor one, surrounded by a garden. I was tempted to stay there forever.

    Travel sure changes your perspective, doesn't it?

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  15. Ferns and mushrooms?! OMG!

    I am a bathtub girl. I'm sure the first thing I would do after a trip like that is soak in the bathtub for a week.

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    1. Me too, Cathy. That's exactly what I did!

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  16. I'm laughing so hard that I had to put my coffee aside!

    Forty years ago I participated in a church trip to Jordan, Israel, and Italy. In Jordan some of us took a side trip to a small park. The restroom had two stalls: a "squat" toilet and a normal one. You don't need to guess which one had the longer line! I may have chosen to wait until we returned to the hotel.

    In all three countries the toilet paper was sort of like a thick crepe paper, and was some shade of purple. The shade of purple seemed to vary from one place to the next. One couple started collecting a sheet of toilet paper at every stop to show to their children when they returned home. A vivacious older lady who was on the trip wore white sandals some of the time. They got a little bit dusty so she moistened a couple of sheets of toilet paper to clean them off. The dusty parts of the sandals turned purple. She said "imagine what it's doing to our bottoms!"

    In an amusing twist, my grandparents were appalled when they came to CT from Italy with a toddler and an infant, my mom's older brother and sister, and discovered that there were no indoor toilets! I don't know how long it was before they finally moved into a "modern" apartment.

    DebRo

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  17. Bathrooms are weird when traveling! Although, the best bathroom I've ever been in was in Florence. It was huge. Big shower with a functional curtain, toilet, bidet, and a sink that was operated by pedals on the floor. I thought that was genius. The worst was in London. I think it was a converted closet. Very weird with a sink in the hallway and just enough room for a toilet and tiny shower in the remodeled cupboard.

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  18. I'm also puzzled by the bathrooms that have beautiful tubs, but just a handheld hose and showerhead. This was the case in a lovely hotel in Budapest, and I either ended up thoroughly clean with teeth chattering or warm, but unclean. Was there a trick I was missing? And squat toilets in freezing cold China bathrooms were not ideal!

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  19. Honestly, if it's really bad I try to disremember. Once in Costa Rica we stopped at some little business, a garage maybe, and my husband went in to scout out the facilities. He came back out and told me not to go in. I think it was a hole in the ground. My tour organizers in India went out of their way to stop at nice facilities. I got tickled by our guide. He would tip the person to make sure there was toilet tissue available. At one stop a young man was handing out one square each of toilet paper. One square! Fortunately the ladies on this trip were well prepared and shared with those who weren't. Years ago in Ireland at various B&Bs we ran into all kinds of showers. Generally the hostess had to show us how they worked. There was no uniformity at all. Someone mentioned Mexico. You couldn't flush paper at all; the sewage system couldn't take it without getting clogged. Some place we stayed here in the U.S. had those stupid glass doors that don't really shut so the shower leaks everywhere. Oh god. And we were on a train in India. One toilet was a squat for the men. The other was for women and was a sit down. Except there was an inch of water on the floor and not sure where that was coming from.

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  20. Thanks for my morning laugh. Those sound...interesting. Especially the cave.

    I don't remember anything being too weird when I was in Europe with my family - at least not that weird. But we were staying in hotels. Maybe that helped somewhat? Or maybe things were so awful I blocked it from my memory.

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  21. Rhys, you are braver and heartier than I am. The cave bathroom, complete with ferns and mushrooms, would have had me running to someplace else to stay. You said you didn't use it at night, but I know that I would need to use it at night, if for no other reason than thinking about not wanting to use it. You are a trooper indeed.

    I can't think of any horrible bathrooms I've encountered while traveling, only out-of-country was Mexico, and it was at the Princess Hotel in Acapulco, so it was normal, or U.S. normal. My shudder-worthy bathroom experience is from when I was a kid and we would visit my Aunt Bessie. She had an outhouse located at the far side of her garden, so you could worry about snakes as you walked to the bathroom as well as when you actually used the bathroom. I admit that I never encountered a snake, but that outhouse was a scary ordeal for my kid self.

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  22. Rhys,

    I definitely would not have ventured down to the bathroom in the cave alone. As for the rest of your anecdotes, I can relate to them. When we were in France, there was a hotel where the "shower stall"(if you call it that), was barely big enough to step inside.There was a flimsy plastic curtain that you pulled around you, which naturally stuck to your skin the minute water started to flow. Heaven help you if you tried to turn around to wash yourself.

    On another trip in Italy, the bathroom was a medium-sized room. The "shower" was a curtained off corner. Water flowed freely all over the floor when you took a shower.

    Then of course, there are the hotels where a hand-held shower is affixed to a faucet in the middle of the bathtub. You have to be a contortionist to perform your ablutions. Did I mention that the curtain only shields half the tub?

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  23. I have gone camping where the 'toilet' was a trowel...this I honestly prefer to some of the scenarios described herein! Squat toilets where you just pray your foot doesn't slip. I have mastered the art of holding my body above those seats where even the use of disinfectant wouldn't be conducive to sitting down. Not to mention holding my breath. 'Shower' stalls so uncomfortable that a washcloth and some hot water must suffice. But, I have to say, Rhys, that I would probably have come up with a substitute for the cave. Like Kathy Reel, just thinking about it would have ensured I needed it in the dead of night--but NO WAY!

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  24. My aunt and I carried toilet paper and seat covers in Europe. Also washclothes. They only had those in American chain hotels.

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  25. The shower in the cave story cracked me up.

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  26. Excursion boat in China up the River Li......a thin wooden door on the boat deck, behind which was a hole in the floor of the boat, ensuring that all liquid and solid waste emptied directly into the River!

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  27. Rhys, I encountered bathrooms like these in Europe. About the water spraying all over the bathroom. My philosophy is that when I finish showering, I can clean up the bathroom. Easy peasy. I remember when we were in Tuscany, the bathroom was for both women and men. It was in a village and there was no privacy! All urinals! Another experience was when we stopped at a rest stop in the Tyrol ? mountains between Switzerland and Italy. The rest stop was 10x bigger than the little rest stop at gas stations in the USA. The tour bus had to refuel so we got off the bus. There was a cafe, a sweets shop, a t shirt shop and a restroom. Some of the Americans in our group had never travelled to Europe before. Though it was my first time in that part of Europe, I had travelled to the UK and to Scandinavia and to Germany / Holland. These first timers were shocked that both men and women could use the same restrooms! Yes, there were privacy stalls.

    Diana

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  28. The rain shower was in a hotel on Rue Cler in Paris.

    Diana

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