Public Toilets – for clarity’s sake let’s define a public toilet as any toilet outside a private home or your hotel room.  With that in mind, we also need to agree that public toilets vary greatly from country to country and even region to region in Europe. I’ll try to break it down by toilet type, starting with the “best” and moving to the “worst”.

HIGHWAY REST STOPS AND RESTAURANT TOILETS – These are usually the cleanest facilities you’ll find anywhere.  Normally highway restaurants are spaced every 100 km or so along major four-laned limited-access highways. In France and Italy, you’ll be expected to give a tip or even pay an entrance fee to use these toilets.  The usual cost is fifty euro-cents to one euro per person, so be prepared to have a few euro coins available.  In Germany and Austria, you’ll be expected to pay an “admission” fee of a euro or so to enter the toilet area.  Upon entering you’ll receive a ticket, be sure to keep it because it can be turned in at the cash register in the store or restaurant for a credit against items purchased.

RESTAURANTS- Toilet facilities can vary widely in restaurants and my general rule is to stay out of them if you can.  Most restaurants, especially in towns and cities, are located in century-old buildings which were not originally built with toilets in mind.  Consequently, they have been retrofitted with bathrooms that range from disgusting to adequate. The toilets can be especially lousy in restaurants found in France and Italy where they are usually located down in a basement or cellar.  The worst toilets date from the early 20th century and are basically a simple hole in the floor with a foot rest on either side.  Simply step up, aim, go, and drip dry. The general consensus is toilets of this type are disgusting and should be avoided at all costs. Others can be a bit more user friendly initially, but flushing can become a problem.  The best solution is to look up for something to pull, look down for some to push, or look around around for something to lift up or push down.  Of course there are clean and modern toilets too, but you’ll need no help with those unless it is one of those fully automatic models, in that case you’ll need to move quickly!

AMSTERDAM- In Amsterdam there are public urinals unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  Imagine a pristine canal-side scene… swans floating serenely, bikes cluttering bridges, little boats floating by with couples in love, pastel classical buildings lining the lovely canals, and you’ve got a front row view from the public “pissor”!  These public urinals date back a hundred years to the age of art nouveau and the turn of the twentieth century.  I can’t imagine turn-of-the-century gentlemen needing to go so badly that these things just had to be out canal-side, but who knows?  Anyway don’t get mad at me for my description, but this is for real!  In Amsterdam (and in Brussels too, I’ve been told) there are public urinals for men.  These urinals, known as “pissors” are constructed of thin sheet metal, painted green in color, and are divided from the ground up into thirds.  The lower third is uncovered and exposes the subject’s (a.k.a. the pisser) legs up to the knee.  The middle third is constructed of thin, but solid sheet metal covering the “pisser” from the knees to the waist.  The final third of the “pissor” is made of sheet metal with small cut-outs in a “plus-sign” design so as to enable the “pisser” to look out and the passersby to look in.  What a concept!  Now for you guys, let me explain what’s going on inside, other than peeing that is.  Basically, you walk into this “nautilus” shaped contraption.  Once to the center you encounter a flat piece of steel, on which you are to pee, and below is a simple hole in the ground.  So while you are standing there, doing your business, your pee is splashing all over you, but you’ve got a grand view of all of Amsterdam!  There is nothing like it, try it once just for the thrill!

AUTOMATED TOILETS- These public toilets are usually found in big cities in France or Brussels and cost about a euro to use.  The entire toilet complex is a kiosk which is normally clean and pretty sterile.  Here’s how to use these toilets: look at the control panel beside the door; determine if the toilet is occupied or vacant; once vacant press the button and enter; do your business; exit the toilet kiosk.  Once you exit, the kiosk will go into self-cleaning mode spraying water, cleaner, and disinfectant all over the interior.  Then the entire interior is blown nice and dry.  Once the cleaning cycle is completed, the outside door panel will display that the toilet is ready for another customer.

Read part #2 of this article


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About the Author
David McGuffin established David McGuffin's Exploring Europe, Inc. in 2001 to formally offer European tours. Since then, he has taken several thousand satisfied customers on memorable and educational tours to Europe.
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