I’ve updated my 2017 tips and advice on one of the most important topics out there, bathroom basics for travel in Italy. Nothing can put a damper on your day faster than a dismal experience in the john.
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Bathrooms in Italy
I could easily dedicate a whole book to my adventures with Italian bathrooms. Through trial and error and just dumb luck I’ve managed to tame the secrets of the Italian toilets. Let’s start by breaking things down by the most common encounters you will have. While my list is comprehensive you will be advised to be prepared for anything.
Types of Italian Toilets
The One Button: Located on the top or one of the sides of the tank itself, comes in various sizes.
The Double Button: Found on the wall behind the toilet, the small one is for little jobs and the big is for…well you get the idea.
Double Tank Button: Same concept as above, but location on the toilet tank.
Foot Pedal Flush: Probably the most ambiguous of all, the pedal is found anywhere on the floor and any distance from the toilet. If the pedal you have located turns the sink on and off, keep looking.
The Push Up: A discreet little lever on the bottom of the overhanging tank. This level may require more than just a quick push.
Bottomless Pit: The most feared of all toilets. Just stand over the hole and aim, no flushing required and thigh workout included. Often lacking in toilet paper.
Full Service: A self cleaning and flushing toilet that takes care of everything once you’ve left.
The Bucket: A full bucket of water poured into the toilet, used for emergencies when the toilet paper tips are not followed or traveling with my mother.
The ???: Many Italian toilets in public settings are without their lids. Good luck and godspeed.
Finding a Toilet in Italy
Public restrooms can be very difficult to find in Italy, next to impossible in places like Venice. The status of the toilets can range from great to dismal. Few have toilet seats (an Italian phenomena) or toilet paper of any kind.
Most are pay toilets, usually under one euro. Sometimes you will be giving your money to an actual person, other times inserting it into a machine. I find it is easier to march into a local bar acting like I own the place and go directly to the bathroom, usually located in the back or downstairs. If you feel guilty, just order an espresso and use the bathroom afterwards. Always take advantage of the restroom while dining or before leaving your accommodation.
Italians are skimpy in this department for a few reasons. The toilets and sewer systems simply can’t handle too much. They also think it is silly and wasteful the way most Americans (my family included) use a mitt of TP each time. Until my daughter was restrained, I had to use the above mentioned Emergency Flush to unplug several toilets. Flush twice to avoid embarrassing situations, otherwise known as the Courtesy Flush. The toilet paper itself leaves a bit to be desired, so don’t expect triple ply Charmin. If you are near the end of the supply you may have to ask for more from your host. I always carry a bit with me at all times in case the supply isn’t restocked right away and never use a public restroom without back up tissue.
For the above mentioned reasons, the bidet is a cornerstone in the Italian bathroom and I have learned to love this little cleaning machine. There are a few tips to make using this a great experience. There is usually a towel rack behind the bidet for your designated personal towel so that this is no confusion from the hand towels. Often hotels will supply you with hygienic cleanser or some simple soap. The bidet’s water temperature can be adjusted to your liking. If you’ve never tried this, I challenge you to do so just once.
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