Public Toilets – the good, the bad, and the ugly
Love them or hate them – public toilets are a necessity. How often do we find ourselves out shopping, or just out, and need to use one? Of course everyone’s different, but I find that I’m often looking around me to find a suitable place ‘to go’.
I know, we don’t often talk about going to the toilet. It’s taboo. But, we all do it, and my aim is to keep this post ‘clean’, so to speak. I’m not here to shock you, or to make going to the toilet into something dirty. Let’s be adult about something that we all do every day. And I know that most of you, if not all, go to the toilet every day.
So, let’s get into it, shall we?
Do we go or do we hold it in?
The first question I ask myself when I’m out and find myself needing ‘to go’, is ‘can I hold on until I get home?’. Hopefully, the answer is ‘yes’, and all is well. But, as most of the ladies out there can testify, this can cause some uncomfortable health problems that we’d prefer to avoid.
So, sometimes even if you think you can hold on until you get home, it might not be the best thing for you.
However, holding on until we get home is the optimal result. There are many benefits to using your own toilet. Here are some of them:
- can take your time
- know that there will be toilet paper
- know that the toilet paper will be soft
- don’t have to worry about making a noise
- know who sat on the toilet seat before you
- are sure that it will be clean
- know that there’ll be soap and something to dry your hands on when you’ve finished
I’m sure you can add more benefits of using your own toilet to this list – send me your ideas and I’ll be happy to add them.
When you can’t hold on
So, we’ve made the decision that it’s impossible to hold on. Now what? We look around and see what the options are.
Is there a shopping centre nearby? Shopping centres, especially big ones, are usually good for public toilets. They’re generally clean and have paper.
Is there a café or bar somewhere around? I’m always reluctant to go to a bar or café just to use the toilet. Apparently, if you go in and ask nicely to use the toilet they won’t refuse you. But, then they know that you’re going to the toilet, and those of us who are very shy don’t like people to know what we’re doing, right?
Or you could go in and order a tea or something and use the toilet as a customer. But then you’ve just had liquid, and you know that you’re going to need a toilet again in an hour or so. So, then you have to think about where you’re going to be a bit later, and if there’ll be another toilet available when you need to go again.
I know, it’s complicated sometimes.
Fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s might be an option, but more and more often they require you to buy something, and the code for the toilet door is on your receipt. It’s an option, but I’m not sure you want to be spending $10.00 just to get inside a fast-food restaurant toilet. Unless you’re really desperate, of course.
There are other options, depending where you are. Look for hotel lobbies (the classier the hotel, the better), museums, libraries (do they still exist?), and other public or semi-public establishments like these ones.
But, what if none of the options above are available? Or, what if your need is really, really urgent, and you don’t have time to wander casually into the Ritz hotel lobby and pretend you’re staying there while innocently looking around for the lobby loo?
You’ll have to use a PUBLIC TOILET.
Now, I’ve been in some lovely public toilets in my lifetime. And some not so lovely ones. And, especially in Asia, some downright nasty ones (sorry Asia, but it’s the truth).
But, when you gotta go, you gotta go. Isn’t that what they say?
I don’t know why I have a fascination for public toilets. I don’t really like using them, but I seem to have taken a lot of photos of them in my travels, and I can’t explain why. So, I’m glad to be writing this post, as I’ll be able to show you some of my travel photos of toilets.
Let’s start with one of my favourites.
I’m not a guy. You know that. As a woman, I find urinals terribly uncivilised. But, at the same time, they provide some incredible freedom (for men). What a great joy it would be to just stand in the street behind a half-wall (in some cases) and just pee while you’re standing there. Then just zip up and you’re done.
Except there’s not usually anywhere to wash your hands, for one thing. Plus, I don’t know how I’d feel walking out of the urinal onto the street like nothing out of the ordinary just happened.
And then, you get the urinals that are really, REALLY public – like these ones. They’re both in London. One of them was on a very, very busy street, and the other was at a bus station/terminal.
Honestly, men, would you use one of these? Have you used a urinal like these ones?
There are other urinals I’ve seen that are a little more discreet. This one is like a little house. It’s in Berlin. Apparently there used to be around 140 of them in Berlin in the 1910s, and they date back to the 19th century. Now there are only a few in working order.
I decided to go and have a look inside.
The ‘walls’ looked like they’re made of granite, and it was quite clean and if I remember correctly, it didn’t smell bad inside.
I also found this urinal during our trip to Berlin recently, although it was locked so I couldn’t take a look at the inside.
Here’s one in Amsterdam. I’m not sure this is the best place for a urinal, really. It’s right in the middle of a beautiful street along a canal, with plenty of tourists. However it’s a popular one, and there was a queue there at one stage while we were sitting in the sun having a rest from the exhaustion of being a tourist in Amsterdam.
Another one in Amsterdam. It’s quite cute, don’t you think, with the little boy having a pee at the top?
And, while not a public toilet as such, here’s a urinal in a toilet in a bar in Moscow. The urinal is made from these musical instruments. Does anyone know what they are? Are they tubas? Guys, would you go in a musical instrument?
By the way, there are women’s urinals, but I’m not going to go into them here because I’ve never seen one. Not sure if I’d use one, would you?
Moving on to other types of public toilets. Let’s start with what used to be a common site in Moscow when I first arrived here in 2007. What I call the plastic toilet.
Until a few years ago we had this kind of toilet at the exit of our metro station. There were 3 toilets – two for customers and the third one was the office for the woman who you paid before you went in (so it wasn’t really a toilet at all).
God, they stank. Especially in the heat – they were awful and best to be avoided at all costs. However, as I said before, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Sometimes they were decorated and were very beautiful. It somehow made the experience a bit more classy. Still with the office/cashier on the far left.
City toilets – Moscow
The plastic toilets are less common now, as the city of Moscow has installed these super duper new ‘city toilets’ everywhere. For 50 roubles (0.67 euro cents, 1.00 AUD, 0.76 USD) you can pop into one of these little houses and do your business in peace and quiet. They’re relatively clean, I see the cleaners in there from time to time. Sometimes they’re used by the homeless when it’s cold, but, hey, they have to sleep somewhere.
What I would like to know is where are all the women who used to work in the plastic toilets working now? I guess a lot of women lost their jobs when the new ‘city toilets’ were installed.
In Moscow we can find underground toilets in some places. You have to look carefully, because they often don’t look like the entrances to toilets. Here are some from above ground.
Then, as you can see in this one, they’re really quite clean inside. It seems that they’re well looked after, and they’re free. I was really pleasantly surprised when I discovered these, and I think they’re much nicer than the ‘city toilets’.
Also underground we have what I refer to as ‘secret toilets’. These are toilets that I’ve found completely by accident. There’s usually just a small sign on the wall announcing the opening and closing times. The two I remember seeing are both accessible only by using underpasses (allowing us to cross busy roads underground). You just have to open a door and you’re there.
We tried one of them, and both the men’s and women’s toilets were clean and surprisingly well looked-after. And free. I can’t remember if there was toilet paper or not – but really, who doesn’t keep some Kleenex in their bag for this very occasion?
I’ve seen only two toilets in the Moscow metro so far. Apparently there’s 25 stations to get them, with the first being unveiled in 2015. They designed them to blend in with the station, and they really do. I almost missed this when I walked past it the first time – it’s really difficult to see that it’s a toilet.
City toilets – Berlin
Berlin is great for public toilets. They seem to be everywhere. Apart from the urinals you saw earlier, there are paid toilets almost on every corner in the city. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration but you know what I mean. If you need to go, there’s no problem finding somewhere to go.
They look clean and well looked after. I haven’t been inside any of them so I can’t confirm that, but I’ve seen people using them so I guess they’re ok. There are many different styles, I guess from different eras or something. They’re quite conspicuous though, everyone can see where you’re going – not good for the shy ones among us.
Here’s one for the ‘old-school’ gang. A plastic toilet on the street in Berlin. Gotta love the convenience, if not the smell.
Out of order
First of all, still in Berlin, and here’s a few toilets that weren’t open, and hadn’t been opened in quite some time. The first one made me incredibly sad because it’s such a beautiful piece of architecture and it’s now just covered in graffiti. It’s in a little square with gardens and it’s just abandoned. Shame.
Then this one, which is in Potsdam, so not technically Berlin. We were actually looking for a toilet at this point, and thought we were saved – but it was not to be. Closed permanently. And also graffitied (coming soon, a post about Berlin and graffiti).
And a couple of old toilets just hanging around that we saw one day while taking a walk in Moscow (Sokol area). They were locked and definitely out of use, but I wonder why they’re still there?
I’m not going to write a lot about public toilets in Asia. Those of us who have been there know what they’re like. I don’t take photos of the bad ones – nobody wants to see that. But here’s a couple of public toilets in Vietnam. Two toilets attached to a little office where the woman who takes the customers’ money sits. Or, you could turn it into a shop and make a bit of money selling drinks and snacks.
Here are some signs I’ve seen in different places about using the toilet. As if we need instructions. Or, maybe some of us do, based on the mess I’ve seen in some public toilets.
And, ladies, beware when you’re using this toilet in a bar in Moscow. Someone could be watching you.
And last of all, something for the women out there who are tired of finally finding somewhere to pee, only to find that there’s no toilet paper in the cubicle. I always have Kleenex in my bag, but not everyone is as organised as me. I took both of these photos in Germany, but in bars in different cities. What a great idea to be sure that your customers are going to have a comfortable experience in your conveniences. It just might encourage them to stay for another drink.
What are your thoughts about public toilets? Do you use them without hesitation, or do you avoid them at all costs? What do you do when you need to go and have no other options but to use a public toilet? Let me know all your public toilet opinions in the comments below.