We all have to go sometime... some more than others, some less so. If you drink the Italian bottled "digestivo" waters, chances are it will be more so. But in Italy things are not like what we are used to back in the States. Here's the poop...er.. scoop on the plumbing in the boot shaped country.
First off, when you stay in nice hotels or apartments chances are you might actually have a more modern, more powerful toilet than you have back home. Most are more than adequate although plain, while others are very stylish, right off the pages of an Italian decorating magazine. Oh yea. Chic. Some are mounted on the wall with space underneath for mopping. The flushing mechanism and tank are usually built into the wall above and behind the toilet. There are usually two large plates which you push for flushing... the smaller side for numero uno, the larger side for numero due. I've found the flush on these modern types of toilets to be very forceful... early on I would always wonder if it would blast back at me. It never did. The trap openings are also much larger and wider than American toilets so they are harder to clog.
Now, lets get to what you find out and about in Italia...
If there are building codes in Italy I am sure that people ignore them or pay other people to ignore them. I don't think I ever saw a handicapped accessible bathroom in all of Italy. In fact, some bathrooms were so small it was difficult to get into the tiny space and close the door behind you. I only saw one bathroom with proper ventilation, even though here in the States it's written into the Building Code. Most apartments I stayed in didn't have a window, either. No ventilation--no window equals stink and eventually, mold. I even saw some without lights at all. One particular modern one on the public parking lot in Castelmezzano had no lighting, only odd little round skylights. It was dark at midday.
Correct me if I am wrong, native Italians, but with the use of bidets being so prevalent, I sense that most simply use a washcloth to tidy up after their toilet time while using the bidet. (When I lived in Paris I used the bidet mostly for soaking socks or cleaning my feet.) Perhaps I'm wrong. There was only one apartment I stayed in (Molfetta) that had an abundant supply of of toilet paper. With all others we felt like we were on rationing.
Ok, the last insult I figured would have gone out of style by now. I first encountered the "Turkish Toilet" when I lived in Paris. First while traveling around France and then (sadly) when renting my 6 flight walk-up studio apartment, which had one I shared with the old lady across the hall. I'd crouch down to use it but she would go in late at night to empty her chamber pot. Yes, a chamber pot. (This is way back in mid-seventies, folks). We first encountered one in the Florence Hertz garage. I had a bit of an emergency but when I entered the bagno in the rear of the garage the emergency went right out of me. My old knees can't crouch the way they did back in the seventies. I called Lucas back to see... he took a picture.
You might have to pay for a toilet, too. The one at Grotte di Castallana charged one Euro to get into the modern, coin operated stalls--and there was no toilet paper! Hey, for a buck and a quarter I'd expect a can of soda to go along with the seat. Others at train stations might be pay also, some with attendants who sit there waiting for a tip.
Now here's the nutty thing. In many we went to, there was a nice, modern toilet... but NO TOILET SEAT! That's right, sit a few inches lower than normal on hard, cold, germ ridden china. Shudder. I opted out of these. Lisa used one in an emergency and she said it "looked clean" but as I understand it, germs are invisible to humans. To their credit, the toilets without seats did usually have a vessel with a toilet brush and some sort of bleach solution to wash before--or after--you use it. It seems like a lot of trust to put into your fellow human being to me.
Toilet paper. Yes. Toilet paper. If there is toilet paper at all, it will more than likely be a stack of tissue thin napkins--barely able to handle your... er... business. Or it will be more like brown paper hand drying napkins we find in American public rest rooms. Yea... I always want to sandpaper my butt afterwards. Toilet paper isn't such a big thing in Italian supermarkets, either. Sure, it's there. It just doesn't take up much shelf space as it does in the U.S. Even when there were rolls, they were usually either very thin or scratchy. My final gripe with their toilet paper is the brown colored stuff. Huh? It's a brownish color--the same color as... well, you get it.
The last part of my plumbing rumblings has to do with train travel. I love traveling by train. Back in the Forties in the U.S., car and gasoline companies conspired and paid off politicians to rip up trolley and train tracks everywhere. This was their plan to more cars and gasoline. It worked. Train travel is pretty much dead in the States. Nearly 8 out of 10 people in the U.S. own cars (there must be lots of kids driving!) But train travel is much more comfortable than driving for long hours or flying. And when nature calls, there is usually a big, comfortable bathroom on board. The same holds true for Italy.
The first train we took from Rome to Chiusi was not a modern train. It was known as a Regional train--an older, well worn train. Comfy enough, clean enough, but definitely showing its age. When I had to go, I entered the older style rest room where the lights didn't work, the cabinet doors were rickety and the napkin folded toilet paper was hard to find (tucked into a odd little cubby). The real treat was when I looked down into the toilet. No water. Just railroad ties rushing by under the fast paced train. It reminded me of the toilet on a party fishing boat out of Brooklyn I was on years ago... with the toilet looking right down into the ocean. I pity the poor Italian hobos who walk these tracks.
In contrast, on the modern high speed trains (Frecciarossa, for example) there are ultra high-tech bathrooms with futuristic sliding doors, cool lighting and very clean facilities. Nothing to fear here. They even had rolls of paper... not tissues.
All in all, going to... no... IN Italy is hit or miss. Er... literally. At least we didn't have to do it the way the ancient Romans did. Sharing a sponge with your neighbor!
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