Trains and Toilets

May 1, 2007

I guess anyone who’s traveled outside their home country has a story or at least a snippet of a story about their toilet experience in a foreign land. In Crete, you can’t flush toilet paper; Germany has ‘poo shelf’ toilets. I knew the answer to R’s question about the two flush buttons on our French toilet because I’d read someone’s commentary about the pros and cons of Swedish ‘variable flush’ toilets. An article about hiking the Samaria Gorge in Crete had a lengthy section for women on how to handle the ‘squat toilets’ without getting other people’s pee on their trousers. One of my most vivid memories from my long-ago trip to Paris was walking into a public restroom to find urinals at the front of the room in plain view. I probably wouldn’t blink today, but as an 18 year old American girl it was … remarkable. I’d say that my knowledge of toilet variety hints at an obsession, except that I’m not the only one. Everybody’s talking about it.

Since it seems that everyone wants to know – I’m here to please. Today I’d like to discuss toilets on and around French trains.

I guess when you’re travel planning there are some things you assume, like that where there are people there will be toilets. We haven’t had too much trouble in this regard as we are perfectly willing to patronize a cafe in exchange for the use of their toilet. Nearly every French cafe has decaf espresso which is a real pleasure for R, because in Greece few cafes had decaf anything. So when we are out and about, it is no trial for us to sit and enjoy an espresso or a pastry in exchange for toilet privileges before we move along.

Our entry onto the train system, and our first hint of toilet trouble, was in the train station in Menton. The toilets were out of service. Frustrating, but as we were only waiting 30 minutes for the train, not an emergency.

Next problem? The 40 minute train ride. There were toilets on this train, but as it is a commuter train all the toilets were locked. Hmm.

On arrival at the Nice train station, we followed the signs to the ‘WC’. That the sign with an arrow pointing straight down was located next to a down escalator when the arrow actually meant ‘straight ahead’ was unfortunate. After a brief horizontal detour we arrived at the toilets. The sign said ‘tickets required’, so I dug one out and handed it to R, then took Geena off to the grass because doggie toilets don’t require tickets. When we returned, we found R waiting, frustrated and unrelieved – the toilets required 50 cent admission. I ponied up and all was well, for a while.

The next leg of the journey was to be nearly 9 hours – surely the toilets would be operational. Sadly, this was not the case. 16 toilets and by one hour into our journey only one was functioning. Grr.

Anyone who read my last post will know that we had some problems in Bordeaux. Toilets weren’t first on our mind when we disembarked but increased in importance as the night wore on. We arrived just before 11pm and spent about 90 minutes looking for a hotel. This would turn out to be our crucial error because the train station’s toilets closed at midnight.

If we’d been in a smaller town, we might have found a tree or bush or dark corner that would have been sufficient to our needs. But we were in Bordeaux. The dark corners were away from the well lit (and well patrolled) safety of the train station, and they were full of scary people. In the end, both R and Geena found a corner dark enough though they might have been arrested if caught. I simply had to suffer.

From there out, it was an easy trip where toilets were concerned. Both subsequent trains had functional toilets and though our 2 1/2 hour wait at the last train station was toilet-free, there were ample trees and bushes.

I suppose for many people, this wouldn’t be an issue. But for those traveling with children, disabled, or elderly people it can change an enjoyable adventure into a humiliating, frustrating, and altogether unpleasant trial.


One comment

  1. Swedish toilets are electronic. They’re programmable. They even sound different – ‘whoosh’. Very efficient. Typically Swedish.

    After system start you enter the time and date, set the other configuration variables, and if you later want to change these you can do it from any room in your home or you can program your phone to accept commands from your cellphone if you’re away from home.

    Gustavsberg – ‘You never want to leave.'(tm)
    ‘Swedish quality.’
    ‘Purveyors to the King of Sweden.’

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