I live in DC, which is a great place to live and visit. I try to make the most of it. However, I also love to leave my home and see what the world has to offer. Come and join me!

Monday, September 24, 2007

"The Facilities" in Greece

So this is an indelicate topic, but you know you want to know. I did. My bladder is approximately the size of a walnut. This is ironic because I am allergic to walnuts. In planning a daily itinerary, making sure there will be adequate restroom availability is a prime concern for me. In Scandinavia, I loved the city passes you could buy (Oslo Pass, Copenhagen Pass, Stockholm Pass) that gave you entrance to most museums because I was always near someplace I could duck in and use the restroom so I didn't have to worry about it. Every site, museum, and restaurant in Greece is fully equipped, so my mind was at ease.

Greece had a state-of-the-art plumbing system installed...two thousand years ago when the Romans came in. It's still going strong but it requires some special care. There are signs in most bathrooms telling you "Don't Throw Paper in the Toilet." The one at left is pretty standard. I guess the signs are trying to be discreet by saying "paper" instead of toilet paper, and picturing plastic bottles and whole newspapers as items not to be thrown into the bowl (who would?) but they are sort of defeating the purpose by being delicate.

The biggest thing for the American to get used to is that the septic system can't handle toilet paper. That's right, NO toilet paper in the toilets. There are little foot-pedal trashcans by every toilet and you put your used toilet paper in there. As I say, it takes some getting used to, but when in Greece, do as the Romans would have you do. It may seem "gross," but it's a lot less gross (and embarrassing) than a clogged toilet!

Bathrooms are usually easy to find as they are almost always marked with the universal "WC" symbol. Allegedly, the Greek word for toilet is "toualeta," which is a nice easy cognate to remember. I only saw this once on a sign (in Greek characters) and only used it once, but the one person I said it to had no trouble understanding what I meant. It doesn't *really* matter because everybody in Greece with whom you will come in contact as a tourist speaks English. Even if they don't, they will recognize the standard non-English "vay say" pronunciation of "WC" and point you in the right direction.

Many of the restrooms have fancy pictures of women and men instead of the standard skirt-ed and pant-ed symbols, which is fun (and it's always clear which is which) although sometimes I felt like I was too schlubby to enter into a bathroom with such a sophisticated siren on the door!

I didn't use any unaffiliated public toilets, only those in hotels, restaurants, museums, and the airport, so I can't say how they work. Now that I think of it, I don't recall seeing any unaffiliated public toilets so they may not be very common. I can only assume that it's similar to the rest of Europe in which there is a small charge, usually less than 1E, to use the facilities. Some such restrooms have coin operated stalls, but it is more common to have a restroom attendant who takes your money.

I had expected to run across a substantial percentage of Turkish (squat) toilets, but in fact I think there were only two. The first was at the Archaeological Museum in Dion, the second at the monasteries in Meteora. Wearing a skirt is invaluable in case you run into a Turkish toilet. I wear them because I find them comfortable (I never wear shorts anywhere except the gym) but ease in squatting is certainly another point in their favor. So, don't worry too much about this, but think of your strategy because it's probable you'll have at least one on your trip.

I also ran across a few what I call "Italian toilets," meaning the toilet seat was missing. I think it must be that somewhere in Italy there is a giant mountain of toilet seats that have been removed from every public toilet in the country. It is probably an installation piece by a conceptual artist to make a statement on the Western obsession with elimination. It was a much less common phenomenon in Greece, so the toilet seat art installation in Greece is more like a hillock than a mountain.

Toilet design is not as standard in Europe as it is in the States, where the handle is always in approximately the same place...unless it's an automatic flushing toilet in which case all you can do is flap your arms wildly and hope for the best. But that is another story. If you can't find the flush mechanism, look up and look down. Sometimes there is a tank above, like old-fashioned toilets, where you push or pull a little knob to flush. Sometimes there is a foot-operated flush. Where there is a foot-operated flush, the sink is often foot-operated as well. If the sink looks like it has an automatic sensor because there's no faucet knob but it doesn't turn on when you put your hands under it, look under your foot. The placement of the foot pedal by the sinks is remarkably ergonomically precise to capture the natural human stance and you're probably already standing on it.

All the toilets I ran across--and that is quite a large sample size, believe me--were clean and had toilet paper and soap (with the single exception of a gas station bathroom, but that's an unpleasant experience the world over). I highly commend the Greeks on their public restrooms.


Anonymous said...

This is extremely helpful information! I am heading to Greece in May 2008 and these are the kinds of things the guidebooks don't always tell you.

Anonymous said...

you made me feel at ease. I am traveling the end of may 2008 and read only horrid reviews. I'm sure a lot of the bathrooms were updated after the olympics but i was still scared until now.