The Toilet Hunt

It is not about the hunt for toilets in India but frantic search for the missing public toilets in three capital cities of Europe that constitutes an intriguing part of my travelogue. Recently, on a group tour to Europe, we visited various tourist destinations spread over different countries by a coachEurope is amazing; one is mesmerized by its incredible natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, remarkable development, and outstanding organization and discipline. European nations are remarkably clean but, shockingly, public toilets are conspicuous by their absence in many of their tourist sites and shopping centers.

Our tour began from Netherlands, an incredibly beautiful country known for its Tulip gardens, windmills and astounding cycling culture. Our first destination was Dam square, a major tourist attraction in the centre of Amsterdam. Having started at about nine in the morning, by the time we reached the city centre we had a strong urge to relieve ourselves. There began an anxious search for a toilet all around the place but not a single public toilet could be found. Ultimately, our hunt led us to McDonalds where, thankfully, we found paid toilet facility.

Our next destination was Paris, the city of museums and art galleries. Paris is known for its rich art and culture but shockingly, we found public toilets have no place in their cultural heritage. Inside the Eiffel Tower well maintained toilet facility is available (user charges included in the ticket) but elsewhere in Paris, public toilets are missing.. There is absolutely none in the vicinity of Place de le Concorde, a major tourist attraction where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were guillotined. In the posh market where we were dropped to explore on our own, we were told by our French guide that there was one departmental store where paid toilet facility was available. I marched up to the first floor of the store to use the facility.  As I dug into my bag to pay, there came out our own majestic ten rupee coin. The female at the counter shook her head in disgust and signaled towards the Euro coin. Again I delved into my bag and this time it was ten cent coin, and another attempt led to another coin of ten cents. Considering me to be dumb, she allowed me to use the facility for twenty cents. An achievement of a sort for having saved sixty rupees!

On our way we stopped at Brussels, the capital of Belgium. We visited Grand Place; the huge city square encircled by elegant historic buildings with ornately carved stonework and gold plating. Tourists throng the iconic fountain called Manneken Pis. The statue provides photo-op to the tourists to stand in front of the urinating little boy but there is absolutely no place for them to piss in the vicinity. There are rows and rows of shops selling Belgium chocolates and other knick-knacks in the narrow lanes and by-lanes around Grand Place but no toilets. Desperate situations sometimes force you to take desperate steps. Not finding any loo in the area, when we spotted an upscale hotel, my husband held my hand and steered me into the posh hotel. What a toilet adventure it was! We were not the only one with a toilet tale; all our fellow Indian tourists had their interesting toilet exploration stories.

Missing public toilets is a reality in some of the European cities, yet no one can be found pissing in the open. A puzzle indeed!  Another intriguing observation: Europeans stand patiently and wait for their turn at the toilets, whereas we, Indians are fidgety, restless and impatient, always ready to break the queue and sneak in.


Published in Chandigarh Tribune August 23 2018

43 Replies to “The Toilet Hunt”

  1. The best line I liked was ” my husband held my hand and steered me”. So even such desperate situations have silver linings. What say Ramadidi.

  2. Unexpectedly witty and yet loaded with facts, just like I remember you to be, Ma’am! A thoroughly enjoyable (and relatable) account because I’ve had and still have similar ordeals in England, where the best of places (including the famous Avebury Stone Circle) have no toilets, this one had me chuckling over my cup of coffee.

    1. Thanks Shriya ! Glad you enjoyed reading the piece.
      Lack of public toilets in Europe is a major issue. At a time when shauchalayas are at the centre stage in India, it is indeed shocking not to find public toilets in the developed West.

  3. Surprisingly we didn’t face any such problems when we were in Europe Rama. We were also on a group tour for 18 days. But maybe much depends on the tour manager. Wherever we went, toilets were the first thing they told us about. And at majority of the places they had a goodwill with the various stores and we didn’t have to pay.
    In Grand Place in Brussels, all those chocolate and waffle shops have very clean facilities but off course for the customers.
    And some of us definitely picked up the famous Belgium chocolates and used the facilities.

    1. I am glad Alka that you did not have to hunt for toilets in Europe but all of us in our group had interesting toilet tales.

  4. This is so hilarious….but Mami Google does tell u about the nearest toilet…but I do agree that Europeans do charge for all the facilities they provide… is so hard to find a public toilet which does not charge you. We actually did not take a coach and we’re always roaming on foot so basically travelled by trams and trains so it was not difficult to find a toilet at the station but yes it used to b a paid one…..if u do not want to pay then wait for your train to arrive as it would definitely have a nice and clean toilet plus u don’t pay.

    1. Bhanu, for us the pleasure trip had another dimension – toilet exploration! Haa Haa…
      Actually,we toured Europe by a coach but that was not a problem because on highways at the petrol pumps toilet facility is available.Basically the problem is at the shopping centres and the places of tourist interest. And also shelling out one Euro for the use ,converted into our currency 80 rupees , not a small amount !

      1. It’s not just 80 rupees, it comes to around 84 .5 when u add the conversion charges… much only for a loo….that’s pretty expensive. Actually we hardly went to shopping malls and also bought the Europe pass as well as the museum pass which gave us access to almost all the tourist destinations and they all maintained good toilet complexes.

  5. Very well written article . You showed the real picture,an important aspect, of Europe in such an interesting manner ma’am. Was waiting eagerly for your article. As we always complain about problems in India, for once I loved my country from the bottom of my heart and soul, for being so good to tourists. “Toilet” is the basic necessity and should be provided to all for minimal charges or for free. That’s what we are doing in India.
    India ,though a developing country,still treats tourist so well ,with open arms and a smile on the face. 😊

    1. Thanks Navjot. We have all been a part of the toilet hunt in Europe.
      Can’t really boast of the availability and maintenance of toilets in India,but we definitely expect to have the the basic necessity in the developed West.

  6. Dear Rama, very true and correct observation. You always have words from your heart. I fully support your views. A great courage, your strength.

  7. A really crisp and beautifully written account of our short yet mesmerizing escapade to Europe. Ma am I really feel that you have very tactfully portrayed this issue of missing public toilets in Europe and alongside given a very prescise and informative extract of our tryst with Europe. You article surely aroused the feeling of nostalgia in my mind.

  8. Your narrative runs through smoothly as usual and this one has some chink in the European fabric to reveal. Europeans have always been a strange mix of traditional and modern culture. Your hunt lays bare an aspect which may be plugged in times to come.
    Kudos to the witty interludes…

  9. Hi Rama
    This was surely a treat….beautifully written article depicting a discreet sense of humour in a so called ordinary situation.Best punch was the sight of the small boy urinating which must have precipitated your urge…poor Rama.All the same a g ood caution for others.
    VERY GOOD write up…Keep it up.!!!!

  10. I think ma’am you have made us aware about this unknown fact and whenever I get the chance to visit Europe, i will be prepared for the toilet hunt . But I wish that there should be proper availability of such facilities at tourist places so that one doesn’t have to narrate this tale of inconvenience in the future

    1. Hailing from Chandigarh where there is no dearth of public toilets, missing public toilets in Europe came as big shock.

  11. Just as you always had something new to tell us in our lectures m’am the same you do with your articles..☺️

  12. Amazing article ma’am. And I am shocked that this issue is not only faced by India but also by developed countries.

    1. Kanika, the crux is the missing public toilets at important tourist spots and shopping centres in European citie. Shocking indeed!

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