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How to Use an Italian Bathroom

I guess our group of irreverent expats has collectively decided that our recent posts have been a bit too high-brow for our audience. Hence, this week we’re discussing the important topic of bathrooms in Italy and lavatory protocols. Yes, when living or traveling abroad, there’s nothing quite so interesting as other people’s plumbing—apparently.

I’ve actually addressed this vital issue once before in one of my most popular articles which delved into the fascinating history of the ubiquitous bidet. No Italian household is without one. I’ve even seen them in the public restrooms in the lobby of one of Rome’s fancier hotels.How to Use an Italian Bathroom

This is no joking matter, so please gentle reader, wipe that sixth-grade, bathroom-humor smirk off your face, and pay attention to the wisdom we are about to impart upon you. Your hygiene—and by extension, your reputation—may depend upon it.

Bathrooms in Italy

This is an interesting debate, because there are many public bathrooms in Italy which seem to disregard the innovations of modern plumbing, while the restrooms in most homes are the very height of civility (yes, I’m referring to the aforementioned bidet). But the spotlessly clean, bidet-flaunting private toilets provide little fodder for our ridicule, so let’s focus on the public facilities.

The first thing that an American will notice is the scarcity of public bathrooms in Italy. In the U.S., they’re everywhere, and free for everyone to use as needed. You don’t even have to purchase anything to stop into a restaurant or store, and ask to use their bathroom. Even fancy stores don’t seem to mind. I guess they figure that if you come in to pee, you might accidentally buy a Gucci handbag on your way out. Good marketing, actually, in my opinion. Sell one extra handbag a month, and your entire water/sewer bill is paid for. Sell two or three more and you can even renovate said bathroom.

Consequently, your average American bladder is not trained for Italian society as it relates to available toilets. Ladies in particular are challenged, for reasons that seem unnecessary to highlight. But suffice to say that women with especially weak bladders would be well advised to plan out their day around available bathroom facilities, and don’t be swayed by people who implore you to “stay hydrated” when touring about Rome or Florence. This can only spell disaster, or at the very least, enough discomfort to make you want to skip the view inside the Sistine Chapel in favor of the view inside a lavatory.

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

Your best bet is to find a coffee bar and purchase a coffee for €1. This strategy is not without risk, however, since: 1) there’s 50% chance that the toilet will be guasto (broken), and; 2) there’s a 90% chance that there will be no toilet paper. Not to mention the fact that coffee is a known diuretic, so it will only increase your need to find another bathroom in the very near future. The take-away here: order the coffee, but don’t drink it. And always carry your own toilet paper.

If you should be lucky enough to locate a functioning toilet when the urge strikes you, then you’ll encounter the second remarkable feature of Italian bathrooms: they have been designed for someone with the physical dimensions of an adolescent gnome. Being a man, it’s easier for me since I can remain vertical while tending to my business. However, being 6’4” and 200 pounds, I usually have to bend, crouch, or otherwise fold myself into an unnatural position just to step into a bathroom. Then I must attempt to further contort myself in such a way that my aim is on the mark, so to speak. I don’t even bother to try closing the door at that point.

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

These relics were recently uncovered at Ostia and fully restored to their original beauty. The ancient Romans were geniuses at bathroom solutions.

In contrast, walk into a public restroom at one of the many chain restaurants in my home state of Florida and you’ll have plenty of space to rollerblade or practice your golf swing. If you happen to encounter 9 other gentlemen while in there (not at all out of the question), you can even play a quick game of pickup basketball or calcetto, provided that someone thought to bring a ball (less likely, but amusing to contemplate).

Finally, IF you happen to find a working bathroom, and IF you’re able to fit through the door without dislocating a joint or two, then you’ll get to enjoy the best part of the experience: the potential to discover any and every type of toilet ever invented throughout the 19 th and early 20 th centuries. Not often touted by its tourist board, Italy is a virtual museum of creative plumbing efforts by well-intended but poorly trained designers, who obviously had precious little insight into human anatomy and physiology.

Some intrepid young entrepreneur should develop a touring itinerary of these fascinating discoveries. After all, many tour companies offer food tours, wine tastings, pub crawls—it would seem that bathroom visits would be the next logical evolution on these themes, if you catch my drift.How to Use an Italian Bathroom

The most common example of perplexing plumbing is the lamentable “hole” type of toilet, which calls to mind the facilities offered at East Asian prison camps during World War II. The uninspired engineers who designed these commodes evidently couldn’t be bothered to strain their collective imaginations beyond recruiting the forces of gravity alone to do the proverbial dirty work.

You might argue, “OK, but it works!” Well, yes. In the same way that a tree or a lamppost “works” as a urinal.

My favorite ones have “footprints” painted on either side of the hole, as if the proper method of use could possibly be misunderstood, even by the most dense among us. Where else are you supposed to place your feet during this delicate maneuver? I’d love to witness a few examples of someone’s misadventures after attempting an alternate position.

Baby changing tables? Ha!! My wife has developed an uncanny ability to change the baby on her lap aboard a crowded train, while talking on her cell phone and filing her fingernails at the same time. Her greatest feat so far was on the flight from Catania to Milan, containing a spontaneous “explosion” that occurred in our baby’s diaper at 35,000 feet during extreme air turbulence. Everybody else was fastening their seat belts and clinging to their armrests, while Jessica was giving our daughter a bidet in the tiny airplane bathroom. Then again, having lived most of her life in Italy, airplane bathrooms must seem quite spacious to her.

Other Views on Bathroom Humor

Well, that’s all I have to say about the topic, but don’t believe for a moment that this discussion is conclusive. Click over to my friends’ pages and learn about their bathroom misadventures in the Bel Paese:

  • ‘Potty Humor‘ – Married to Italy
  • ‘The Bidet and how to have a sparkling downtown area‘ – Surviving in Italy
  • ‘Life Next to a Public Bathroom‘ – Girl in Florence
  • ‘The thighs have it‘ — Englishman in Italy
  • The toilet situation in Italy — The Unwilling Expat

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

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.

Still have more questions? Contact us to learn more about our services and how we can help make your dreams come true.

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

Chain Pull: Usually from a large tank hanging just above the toilet, but can be off to the side.How to Use an Italian Bathroom

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.

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

The Push Up: A discreet little lever on the bottom of the overhanging tank. This level may require more than just a quick push.

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

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.

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

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.

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

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.

Toilet Paper

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.

The Bidet

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.

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

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With its blend of rustic, Old World charm and luxurious, elegant materials, Italian decor can give your bathroom a warm, inviting look that you’re proud to show off to guests. When painting the walls, a Mediterranean or Tuscan color palette that incorporates warm gold, burgundy and terra-cotta shades, as well as soothing blue and green tones, is your best bet. The way that you use these shades on the walls, however, is key to achieving a classic Italian look. Several painting techniques work well for the style and can lend your bedroom an authentic Italian look.

Sponge Painting

Sponge painting is the easiest technique for adding texture and Italian charm to your bathroom walls. You can start with a basecoat in any shade that fits an Italian decorating theme, like gold, terra cotta, blue or green. This shade is the least visible of all the colors you’ll use and serves primarily to help the texture of the glaze layer show up. Make sure not to choose a shade that’s too bold for the basecoat, though, or it may bleed through the glaze coat too much. Instead of a brush, the glaze layer is applied with a damp sea sponge, whose uneven surface gives the wall a textured finish. Glaze is available in a variety of shades at your local paint supply or home improvement store, so you should be able to find an option that complements your base color and fits the Mediterranean color scheme. For added texture, apply a second layer of glaze in another complementary color after the first has dried.

Color Washing

Like sponge painting, color washing can give your walls a textured appearance that is ideal for an Italian-style bathroom. However, color washing provides a softer, more subtle look so you wind up with walls that look weathered and worn. As with sponge painting, you start by painting the walls with a base color and follow with a glaze layer. However, to get a color washed effect, you use a brush to paint the glaze in overlapping “X” patterns. Once the entire wall is covered and dry, a second shade of glaze is applied in the same manner. The colors that you choose play a significant role in your walls’ finished appearance — using a light basecoat and darker glaze layers gives the most weathered appearance, but layering lighter top coats over a dark basecoat can help give your Italian bathroom a brighter look.

Two-Tone Patina

For an Old World Italian look in your bathroom, painting the walls with a two-tone patina is an ideal option. Like sponge painting and color washing, it involves using a tinted glaze over a base coat. However, after your base color is dry, you use a rag or piece of cheesecloth to apply a layer of clear glaze to the wall to give you more time to work with the tinted glaze layers that you’ll apply. A round glazing brush is the best tool for patina finish since it allows for more precision when you’re applying the tinted glazes in the random “X” pattern that helps provide the patina finish. For the two-tone effect, you cover the wall with one shade of tinted glaze, leaving some bare spots that you can fill in with your second glaze color after the first has dried. The aged look is achieved by using a dry stippling brush to soften the edges of the glaze while it’s still wet and blotting away the excess with a balled-up rag.

Stencils

You don’t necessarily have to use paint to add texture to your walls to give your bathroom an Italian look. Instead, try adding visual interest to the space by using stencils to create an Italian inspired border or mural. You can actually find stencils that allow you to recreate the look of Fresco murals found in Rome and other parts of Italy, which feature natural elements like birds, trees, fruit and wildflowers, so you can create a dramatic focal point on your bathroom wall. If you prefer a more subtle look, opt for grape leaf or vine stencils that you can use to create a simple but elegant border along your bathroom walls.

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How to Use an Italian Bathroom

KB-2463100_vintage_baths_bathrk_1

When Lisa Ramaci was looking for a sink to suit her American Colonial-style bathroom with its cast-iron tub, exposed brick walls and wide plank floors, she tried everything from a cast-iron pedestal model she found on the street (it was too big) to a cast-iron wall version that caused the entire bathroom wall to collapse.

While standing in her kitchen, staring at an antique wooden bowl she’d bought years earlier, she realized her sink had actually been there all along. “I drilled a hole for the drain in the bottom,” Lisa recalls, “had a plumber run pipes into the wash stand, and installed a faucet and handles.” It was perfect.

Your own period sink may not start off life as a salad bowl, of course. Sometimes, in fact, you may start with a single fabulous feature, like a grand Victorian ball-and-claw bathtub, that inspires the decor of the rest of the room. Or you find your dream house, which is perfect — except for that enormous, black square tub.

To make the most of what you’ve got, good or bad, work with it, not against it. Like Lisa, understand the look you want so you can find your inspirations in even the most unlikely places. And pay attention to the most seemingly trivial details. Often, it’s the accents that define success.

Mix and Match

But does a vintage bath demand a vintage house? Not at all, says John Buscarello of John A. Buscarello, Inc. in New York, a design firm that specializes in kitchens and baths. “The idea of one style carried through the house is out the door,” he says.

John recommends linking rooms by color, for instance, or compromising a bit on a look, perhaps adding a Tibetan rug to a Victorian-style bath, rather than an Oriental one. The idea is to keep a theme between the rooms, he says: “It’s good to have a flow.”

Viva Victoriana

Think “more is better,” says celebrity designer David-Michael of David-Michael Designs in Orange County, Calif. “A Victorian bath should scream opulence: an elegant claw-foot tub, glazed floor and wall tiles in a highly decorative pattern and colors, and a crystal chandelier.”

If chandeliers aren’t your thing, look for the Tiffany-style stained-glass lamps that graced so many Victorian baths. For more shine, add brass cabinet hardware, doorknobs and sconces or hanging lamps.

Though John says that new reproduction models of these elements may be difficult to find — trends in bathroom fixtures change, and markets now focus on a minimalist look — you can easily find the real thing by scouring flea markets, tag sales, eBay and online vintage hardware outlets.

As there have been considerable technological advances since Queen Victoria’s day, John recommends not getting carried away with the need for authenticity in plumbing fixtures. Rather, he suggests combining the authentic look with more modern conveniences or incorporating contemporary details, like replacing the ball-and-claw bath with a free-standing tub with modern feet.

Add a beautifully upholstered mahogany chaise lounge and a thick bouquet of peonies, then sit back and relax.

More graceful Victorian details:

  • Decorative tile borders
  • Stenciled walls
  • Brass and frosted-glass lamps
  • Gilt mirrors
  • Heavy cornice moldings

Deco Drama

“Nothing can ruin a deco-style bath more than not knowing how to show design restraint,” says designer David-Michael. This bath should reflect the era’s minimal use of ornamentation, for example, by placing the tub directly on the floor, instead of on claw feet.

Repetition of form is also key. Set geometric tile designs in rhythmic, regular patterns, and pay attention to the physical shape of the furnishings. In fact, deco is an ideal style to consider when confronting that black square bathtub you inherited when you bought the house; it reflects both the geometry and the predominant ebony-and-ivory color palette of the time.

For furnishings, look in antique shops and at flea markets where you can still find period vanities in walnut veneer or plastic-framed medicine cabinets crowned with black, green or red pyramids. “The mirror over the pedestal sink is especially important,” says David-Michael.

Strong color accents complete the look. Hal Swanson, an interior architect and partner at Swanson-Ollis Interiors in Los Angeles, recommends green, gray and burgundy, in particular, though John points out that French deco tended more towards pastels like salmon and aqua.

An added benefit of a deco bath, John says, is that because deco straddles the Victorian and Modern eras, the style lends itself easily to both. While you may be shocked to find a Victorian bathroom in an Italian post-modern boudoir, for instance, a deco one would work just fine.

Glam it up with:

  • Pyramid patterns, Egyptian motifs
  • Lacquer cabinets with strong geometry
  • Wall-mounted sconces
  • Frosted glass

Funky ’50s

“Utilitarian with a touch of spunk” is how designer David-Michael describes the styles of the ’50s. You may even find that the fixtures in your house are already of this era when you move in. Don’t fight them — play with them, and make them work for you. Pale blue bathtub? Pink pedestal sink? Terrific. Add features in similar ice-cream colors with shades of pistachio, strawberry and pale, vanilla-yellow. “Think of that poodle skirt,” designer David-Michael says, “and have a little fun with the countertop laminate selection — it, too, can be pretty in pink.”

Earth-friendly linoleum — particularly popular these days with the emphasis on green design — makes just the right floor, and can be found in almost any color you can think of.

Says designer Hal Swanson, “Big, boxy vanities took on a large presence” in the 1950s, with “creative hardware in colored plastics and Lucite. Some of the vanities were built to the floor with tall, recessed bases, or were even supported on chrome legs — a style that has made a big comeback in today’s modern/retro rage.”

This can also be a fun place to showcase ’50s memorabilia. Put your Barbie collection on the vanity or frame a couple of Elvis LPs. And don’t forget the Burma Shave!

Fabulous ’50s touches:

  • Pastel colors
  • Plastic and chrome furniture
  • Framed covers or advertisements from period magazines (often available from antiquarian booksellers)
  • Vinyl-topped stools

Get a ’60s Beat

It’s the Beatles! It’s Woodstock! It’s peace signs and love beads and psychedelic everything. It is also, however, the era of “avocado” — the color of the moment for everything from refrigerators and countertops. If you’re really looking for a ’60s feel, you’ll want to bring that back — or keep it, if it’s already in place — along with orange, yellow and even (in limited quantities) brown.

Details? “Stripes, checks, circles and solids on clear plastic shower curtains,” says designer Hal Swanson, “fuzzy seat covers and rugs, chrome and glass and best of all, Formica.” One advantage to doing a ’60s look, notes John, is that it’s easy to find things reminiscent of a ’60s look in stores now. On the other hand, as with a ’50s bath, “you don’t want to give the impression you never got to renovating that room!”

Explore your options for Tuscan-style bathrooms, and prepare to create a bath space that’s a spa-worthy, rustic retreat.

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

Gold Master Bathroom With Copper Slipper Tub

This spacious bathroom boasts high ceilings divided by an archway that frames the copper tub area. A Moroccan-style gold chandelier emphasizes the painted arched ceiling. Two separate vanities with dark wood and muted blue cabinets are topped with gray stone counters for a touch of Old World charm.

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Italy’s fabled Tuscany region is famous for its beauty, its food, and its distinctive architecture—a rustic mix of natural hues and textures that’s also reflected in Tuscan-style bathrooms.

20 Bathroom Color Schemes We’re Loving Right Now

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

Shop This Look

Characterized by the use of trademark colors like ochre, terracotta and soothing Mediterranean blues, Tuscan-style bathrooms tend to feature surfaces that are matte or distressed, rather than sleek, shiny or modern in appearance. The prevailing theme is comfort and relaxed elegance, in a space that feels more like a vacation villa than a place to visit prior to your morning commute.

Natural light is often a key feature of Tuscan-style bathrooms. Window coverings are often semi-transparent, light and airy. Other natural features are also common, such as window boxes for flowers or potted plants, or rustic benches or chairs in unfinished wood. Exposed wood beams can have the same effect, and countertops might feature matte stone rather than gleaming marble, continuing the down-to-earth, relaxing aesthetic.

Floors may be traditional terracotta tile or marble; sandy, natural colors and finishes are popular. Hand-painted or distressed finishes on wood furniture or trim can add to the laid-back feel, and some styles even feature murals or garden scenes on walls or hung artwork.

By Rick Steves

Foreign toilets can be traumatic, even in Europe, but they are one of those little things that can make travel so much more interesting than staying at home — every world traveler has one or two great toilet stories that give “going local” a very real meaning.

Flummoxing Flushers

n Europe, you may or may not encounter a familiar flushing mechanism. In older bathrooms, toilets may come with a pull string instead of a handle (generally with the tank affixed to the wall rather than the toilet itself). In modern bathrooms, you may see two buttons on top of the tank — one performs a regular flush, the other (for lighter jobs) conserves water. In Great Britain, you’ll likely come across the “pump toilet,” with a flushing handle that doesn’t kick in unless you push it just right: too hard or too soft, and it won’t go. (Be decisive but not ruthless.)

Toilet Paper

Like a spoon or a fork, this is another Western “essential” that many people on our planet do not use. What they use varies. I won’t get too graphic, but remember that a billion civilized people on this planet never eat with their left hand. While Europeans do use toilet paper, WCs may not always be well stocked. If you’re averse to the occasional drip-dry, carry pocket-size tissue packs (easy to buy in Europe) for WCs sans TP. Some countries, such as Greece and Turkey, have very frail plumbing. If you see an wastebasket near the toilet with used toilet paper in it, that’s a sign that the sewer system isn’t up to snuff. Put your used TP in the wastebasket instead of flushing it. (The rule of thumb in those places: Don’t put anything in the toilet unless you’ve eaten it first.)

Paid Toilets

Paying to use a public WC is a European custom that irks some Americans. But isn’t it really worth a few coins, considering the cost of water, maintenance, and cleanliness? And you’re probably in no state to argue, anyway. Coin-operated toilets are the norm at highway rest areas, train stations, and even at some sights. (Many coin-op WCs have self-cleaning toilet seats; stick around after you’re done to watch the show.)

Sometimes the toilet itself is free, but an attendant in the corner sells sheets of toilet paper. Most common is the tip dish by the entry — the local equivalent of about 50 cents is plenty. Caution: Many attendants leave only bills and too-big coins in the tray to bewilder the full-bladdered tourist. The keepers of Europe’s public toilets have earned a reputation for crabbiness. You’d be crabby, too, if you lived under the street in a room full of public toilets. Humor them, understand them, and carry some change so you can leave them a coin or two.

Women in the Men’s Room

The female attendants who seem to inhabit Europe’s WCs are a popular topic of conversation among Yankee males. Sooner or later you’ll be minding your own business at the urinal, and the lady will bring you your change or sweep under your feet. Yes, it is distracting, but you’ll just have to get used to it — she has.

Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Some European bathrooms have shared hand-washing facilities for women and men, with adjacent but separate toilet areas. And some restrooms make no distinctions for gender at all.

Squat Toilets

The vast majority of European toilets are similar to our own. But in a few out-of-the-way places, you might find one that consists simply of porcelain footprints and a squat-and-aim hole. If faced with a squat toilet, remember: Those of us who need a throne to sit on are in the minority. Throughout the world, most humans sit on their haunches and nothing more. Sometimes called “Turkish toilets,” these are more commonly found in, well, Turkey.

Getting comfortable in foreign restrooms takes a little adjusting, but that’s travel. When in Rome, do as the Romans do — and before you know it, you’ll be Euro-peein’.

Finding a Public Restroom

I once dropped a tour group off in a town for a potty stop, and when I picked them up 20 minutes later, none had found relief. Locating a decent public toilet can be frustrating. But with a few tips, you can sniff out a biffy in a jiffy.

Coin-op Toilets on the Street

Some large cities, such as Paris, London, and Amsterdam, are dotted with coin-operated, telephone-booth-type WCs on street corners. Insert a coin, the door opens, and you have 15 minutes of toilet use accompanied by Sinatra Muzak. When you leave, the entire chamber disinfects itself.

Some cities have free, low-tech public urinals (called pissoirs) that offer just enough privacy for men to find relief…sometimes with a view. Munich had outdoor urinals until the 1972 Olympics and then decided to beautify the city by doing away with them. What about the people’s needs? There’s a law in Munich: Any place serving beer must admit the public (whether they’re customers or not) to use the toilets.

Restaurants

Any place that serves food or drinks has a restroom. No restaurateur would label his WC so those on the street can see, but you can walk into nearly any restaurant or café, politely and confidently, and find a bathroom. Assume it’s somewhere in the back, either upstairs or downstairs. It’s easiest in large places that have outdoor seating — waiters will think you’re a customer just making a quick trip inside. Some call it rude; I call it survival. If you feel like it, ask permission. Just smile, “Toilet?” I’m rarely turned down. American-type fast-food places are very common and usually have a decent and fairly accessible “public” restroom. Timid people buy a drink they don’t want in order to use the bathroom, but that’s generally unnecessary (although sometimes the secret bathroom door code is printed only on your receipt).

Even at American chains, be prepared for bathroom culture shock. At a big Starbucks in Bern, Switzerland, I opened the door to find an extremely blue space. It took me a minute to realize that the blue lights made it impossible for junkies to find their veins.

Public Buildings

When nature beckons and there’s no restaurant or bar handy, look in train stations, government buildings, libraries, large bookstores, and upper floors of department stores. Parks often have restrooms, sometimes of the gag-a-maggot variety. Never leave a museum without taking advantage of its restrooms — they’re free, clean, and decorated with artistic graffiti. Sometimes you can access a museum’s restrooms from the entry hall, without paying to go inside. Large, classy, old hotel lobbies are as impressive as many palaces you’ll pay to see. You can always find a royal retreat here, and plenty of soft TP.

I haven’t yet run across this subject: How difficult is it to find convenient public bathrooms in Italy? I have the impression they are few and far between. I hope that’s not the case. My husband and I are going to Rome, Venice, Florence, Tuscany and Sorrento and we want to know what to expect.

I always hit the large McDonald’s in Rome to use their bathroom if I am in the area and Vatican city has tons of bathrooms so use those on your way in and out and a few times in between. LOL. San Gimignano has public restrooms but they are squat toilets. I know Sienna has public toilets (for pay) as well. It seems like if you buy a little something from a shop they will let you use their “gabinetto.” I really did not have a problem finding them and believe me, I know all the restrooms in midtown Manhattan.

Always, always use the restroom when you’re in a museum. They tend to be quite nice, since the museums charge admission. Watch out for the occasional “Turkish” toilet, especially at some train stations. It’s a hole in the floor with a toilet seat glued to the hole. Srsly.

Right or even no toilet seat on floor…recall that was the case at Milano Centrale…you’ll have a stall but just a hole and two spots for your feet (I actually encountered this set-up in a Shell station near Passau in Germany once, too). That reminded me to mention that you may need to pay at the door before entering the WC in stations…drop coins in and the turnstile doors open. Don’t forget that large department stores will most likely have WCs somewhere…you may or may not need to pay an attendant. Large hotels will also have nicer WCs somewhere on the lobby level just like here. Walk in like you’re a guest and use it. You can also walk straight into any bar, café, restaurant, etc. like you’re a patron and go to the back or down the stairs to use their WC. Always carry some change in case it’s needed. The terms WC and toilet are ubiquitous . restroom is not used.

Hi Judy,
Just back and what you heard is absolutely true! In RS books he suggests using public restrooms in major attractions and restaurants whenever possible. This is really good advice! Small eating establishments don’t always have public restrooms either
so plan accordingly. I would also encourage you to have wet wipes and tissue packs as we encountered restrooms w/o tp and/or soap.
The “seatless” toilets are a whole separate topic- get used to squatting :)!

The restroom situation in Europe is very different than in the US. Restrooms are very private and well control by the establishments — ie – locks. First rule is that you never pass restroom. McDonald and the fast food places are good spots that often require a purchase and a code. Of course, you can hang out by the door and grab it before it relocks. Water closets — get use to that name – in restaurants are buried and may require a map to find — and generally in the basement. If a big place with a crowded bar you might be able to walk through pretending to a customer.

The situation at tourist sites is improving. Many have been remodeled and will be convenient and nice. Some of the older sites less so. Some may have a charge and an attendant to collect a Euro coin. Bus and train stations have lots of water closets.

And the condition can very a lot from no toilet paper and no toilet seat to very nice and clean. You need to be prepared and carry your own paper. And sometimes privacy is not very high. Many bathrooms are shared.

If you are getting the idea that is very unpredictable, welcome to European bathrooms. Just be prepared and don’t drink a lot of coffee in the AM.

PS And wait till you hit what some call Turkish toilets or Greek toilets. And they are in Italy. A whole new experience that is best experienced than described. Makes you wish for an old fashion out house.

In Florence there are many public pay toilets (yes, you have to pay – but you get a decent toilet). Here is some info: Florence public restrooms

You can also use the bathroom in most bars, etc. Italians are not so militant about this, but buying a coffee before going is polite anyway 🙂

I am not as familiar with the other cities!

It’s been said. There are more ancient roman toilets in Ostia. Than there modern toilets in Rome.

I’m not sure if that’s too far from the truth.

Don’t wait till you have to.

It is not uncommon to come across “squat” public toilets in the rural areas. You’ll find some in the cities as well. Saw them in Monterosso. These public places often have a handicap toilet which is more like ours in the U.S. It’s best to use the toilets in restaurants whenever you can. I’ve also darted in into large hotels on occasion. Also, carry your own TP. Its not everywhere.

Thank you for confirming that my concerns have not been in vain! Based on your information I guess I need to take more skirts.

Interestingly, more men responded to a subject I thought would be more critical to women. Thanks for your input. Now I know what to expect.

Some areas may be better than others as far as public restrooms. For instance, San Marino has them right off the sidewalk. Corleone did also.
Haven’t been in a situation yet where I couldn’t find one. As others said,pop into a bar or restaurant if you need to.Also it’s not uncommon to see someone on the side of the road takin care of business although I haven’t seen (yet)any ladies doing that.

Always, always use the toilet before you leave (hotel, museum, etc.).

Always have tissues and wipes with you.

Most toilets are NOT squatters, but there are a few.

Before you look for a public toilet, look for a really good hotel. The luxury hotels will never turn you away and their toilets are the BEST.

Always have at least 3 euro in small coin.

We only had .50 once. The wife got to use that for a bathroom. I had to find some bushes. which isn’t easy in parts of Italy..

I never pass a mcdonald’s in europe. Not that I eat there, but so far, they’ve always been free toilets. As another poster mentioned, keep your small change available for WC attendants, since you don’t want try to find change when the WC is right in front of you when you need it.

I have found that fast-food restaurants are the place to go when you have to “Go”. Just be sure that you purchase something like a Coke or fries to make your visit legit. Otherwise, use the facilities at museums and before you leave your hotel. If you do stumble upon a “public” restroom, don’t pass up the opportunity to “Go” as you don’t know when the next chance will present itself.

Don’t sweat it. It’s true there aren’t many public restrooms in Italy, but you can ALWAYS run into one of the ubiquitous cafes around town to use their loo. Just do the polite thing and buy a bottle of water/coffee first.

Judy, I haven’t been to Rome in awhile but I remember the public restrooms at the Coliseum are great – actually, any restroom with an attendant will usually be clean. Tip for extra toilet paper (it seems that one square is standard).

I wasn’t going to mention this as it is a little “off color”, but in dealing with the rare “squat” toilet and lack of toilet paper, it can be advantageous to shave or otherwise wax the nether regions to make things easier (no dingleberries).

Why is it that toilet questions seem to attract the most posts?

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

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The world’s gone selvaggio for Italian bathroom decor, which makes perfect sense to Cynthia Watson, owner of Accents of Salado, an Old World Italian, Tuscan and Mediterranean decor supplier in Salado, Texas.

“In the master bath, the trend is for people to want sheer indulgence and timeless beauty, and traditional Italian design provides that. And more contemporary Italian design fits right in with modern, metro bathroom design. It’s all polished and refined and so easy to live with.”

If either type of Italian accessory tickles your fancy, bear in mind that you can indulge in a touch of Tuscany on a small scale. No need for a complete bathroom overhaul as long as you choose wisely from the bounty of Italian-inspired and Italian-designed products on the market. Here’s how:

Try to match styles with what’s already in your bath.

“You can use Italian accessories to take your bath in a glamorous-retro or metro mix direction,” says designer Denise Simons of Nashville, Tenn., who has a special affinity for Mediterranean-style design. “You can’t really blend an Old World look with the fresh, clean, crisp look created by today’s Italian designers.”

Consider some new paint, curtains or towels.

Add some brown, gold, creamy yellow or terra cotta to your color scheme to create warmth and to set the backdrop for Tuscan-style accessories.

Cue up some cut-glass containers.

Traditional Italian style is all about glass, and traditional cruets and canisters add a nice touch to open shelving — and some great storage for bath oils and salts. Watson’s Accents of Salado sells tall Old World canisters and cut glass containers, one of them shaped like a salad-oil cruet. They’re a nice start if you’re just getting into the Italian look (or aren’t planning to go very far with it), since they’re mostly clear glass and so can merge with most any bathroom design. “One reason they sell so well is that glass won’t create conflict in any decor,” says Watson.

Know your crystal knobs.

Another nice traditional touch: Italian glass and crystal knobs from companies such as Omni Industries.

Welcome wrought iron.

“Metal is an accent that really defines a traditional Italian decor,” says Watson. In the bathroom, work with wrought-iron candle holders or metal wall-mount baskets that hold towels and toiletries. Note, though, that while the wrought iron pieces are Italian style, they are rarely made in Italy or designed by Italians. In fact, even Target offers a wrought-iron vase that would lend a Tuscan air once fastened on the wall behind the toilet.

Take care with finishes.

A good rule of thumb, says Simons, is to emphasize “shiny” metals in the contemporary Italian look, like the Dante Faucet from Marco Mammoliti Spas with its Space Age colored rings and chrome finish. For the Old World look, stick with metals such as pewter or hammered copper — and don’t cross over into “shiny” stuff.

Gild your own lilies.

“One lovely traditional Italian look is intricate hand-carvings, historically cast in bronze or other precious metals, and used to make furnishings or mirrors,” says Simons. “If that’s not a look you can achieve on your budget, consider adding carved wood pieces to an existing mirror, chest or vanity and then use gold leafing to make it look like the traditional pieces. Even the craft stores now carry ready-made pieces for just such projects.”

Go for a traditional glass sink.

“The glass brings the piece into the modern design realm, but the shape has the old-time appeal of an Italian pitcher and bowl,” says Watson. “You can place a glass vessel sink on top of a piece of rich wood furniture for a rich, traditional Italian look. They’re perfect for a powder room and each piece makes a personal statement. And just adding that one piece completely changes the look of the entire bathroom.”

Take two on tile.

Italian glass mosaic tiles make a nice addition to either glam traditional or metro mix bathrooms, and you don’t have to do a whole wall or shower to get the benefits. Consider a small backsplash made of colorful tiles by a company such as Bisazza tile. Or, tap into any number of Italian art styles with one, two or more decorative Italian tiles suspended on the wall or worked into a backsplash or border. The “Sicily – Alessi Blue Owl” from the Pottery Company is a fun piece to consider and the company has more than 15 pages of other arty tiles to choose from.

Consider a contemporary glass sink.

Lacava Designs is a Chicago-based company so Italian that its logo is shaped like Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that buried Pompeii in 79 A.D. Its streamlined glass sinks, like the Integrato model, are much more up to date. The pieces are intended for modest metro spaces or powder rooms but still have the open, crisp look that defines contemporary Italian design.

Get fun and funky with new-wave Italian accessories.

Companies like Alessi employ the clean lines so much a part of Italian bathroom design? but they have a lot of fun, too. Here’s an example: a brightly colored blue base with a lime green protrusion that resembles, maybe, an alien’s walking stick but turns out to be the Alessi toilet brush.

Such extras bring a hint of Italian design to what Nashville designer Simons affectionately calls the “eclectic” bathroom. But Italian or no, use radical accessories sparingly, she cautions. “It’s always good to have an element of surprise,” she says, “but not an element of shock.”

How do you ask basic questions in Italian? Well, Italian interrogative words mean the same as they do for English: who, what, when, where, why, and how. By knowing basic Italian interrogatives, you’ll be able to express your questions, even without an extensive vocabulary.

For example, say you’re at a Italian street market and you want find a beautiful antique clock. If you know enough vocabulary, you could say Quanto è questo orologio antico? (“How much is this antique clock?”). But if you don’t know the correct words, you can also point to the clock and simply say Quanto è? and the seller will understand that you want to know the price.

Che?; Cosa?; Che cosa? (What?)

Quando? (When?)

Dove? (Where?)

Perchè? (Why?)

Quante?; Quanti? Quanto?, Quanta? (How much?; How many?)

Quale? (Which?)

C’è? Ci sono? (Is there? Are there?)

Cosa c’è means “What is there?” or “Is there . . . ?,” but it can also mean “What’s wrong?”

In addition to the standard interrogatives, you may also form questions simply by changing the tone of your voice. For example, Avete mangiato bene (You ate well) becomes Avete mangiato bene? (Did you eat well?).

Although most of these examples, don’t’ include the courteous “excuse me” and “please”, you should get into the habit of beginning your sentences with scusi (formal) or scusa (informal), and then adding per favore or per cortesia at the end.

Let’s look at some different ways to put these question words into a variety useful phrases.

Scusa. parli inglese? [Informal]; Scusi. parla inglese? [Formal] (Excuse me. Do you speak English?)

Me lo traduce, per cortesia? [Formal]; Me lo traduci, per cortesia? [Informal] (Will you translate it for me, please?)

Può parlare più lentamente? [Formal] (Can you speak more slowly?)

Può ripetere, per favore? [Formal] (Can you please repeat that?)

Perchè fanno così? (Why are they doing that?)

Perchè sei in ritardo? (Why are you late?)

Desidera altro? (Would you like anything else?)

Pronto! Chi parla? (Hello! Who’s speaking? [Answering your phone.])

Che cosa è questo? (What is this?)

Comè quel ristorante? (How’s that restaurant?)

Cè un problema? (Is there a problem?)

Qual è il cambio di oggi? (What is the exchange rate today?)

Dovè un Bancomat? (Where is an ATM machine?)

Dovè la stazione? (Where is the train station?)

Può mostrarmi dovè? [Formal] (Can you show me where it is?)

Quale strada devo prendere? (Which street should I take?)

Dove sono i miei amici? (Where are my friends?)

Scusi/Scusa. dovè il bagno? (Excuse me. Where is the bathroom?; The bathroom, please.)

A che ora bisogna lasciare la camera? (What time is checkout time?)

A che ora chiudete? (What time do you close?)

Dovè il mercato coperto? (Where is the covered market?)

Quanto costa?/Quanto è? (How much does it cost?)

Scusi, che prezzo fa questo? (Excuse me, how much is this?)

Che orario fate? (What are the store’s hours?)

To turn a sentence into a question, sometimes you have to reverse the word order and place the subject at the end of the sentence. For example, Gli studenti sono bravi (The students are smart) becomes Sono bravi gli studenti? (Are the students smart?).

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Wainscot, a wood or fiberboard interior wall covering, starts at the floor and typically goes up 3 or 4 feet. Originally used as protection for walls from damp conditions, the wall covering has evolved into a specific look or design aesthetic. Wainscot is usually painted a different color than the upper wall and comes in different styles and patterns. If you have country decor in your home, wainscot enhances nearly any room and brings out that country charm.

Den or Family Room

Use light-colored knotty pine wainscot in your den for a true country feel. Keep it unpainted but add a high gloss sealer so the knots and grain of the wood show through. Accessorize your room with other knotty pine accessories. Add a pine bench or armoire. Bring in colors that coordinate with the tone of the wood, such as a sage green or sunny yellow. One of the advantages of knotty pine is that it’s typically a less expensive grade of wood, so you can deck out your room in country charm without going over budget.

Bedroom

Apply wainscot to your bedroom walls and attach a shelf cap to the top. Because there is little walking done in a bedroom, the items placed on the shelf won’t be disturbed or knocked down. By installing the wainscot to the 4- or 5-foot level, you can eliminate the need for a headboard. Wainscot at this height should be painted in white or a pale color so as not to overwhelm the room. Display country items on the shelf such as a collection of antique floral vases or old-time black and white photos. If you add a shelf with a grooved plate rail, you can display family dishes or vintage plates in similar colors.

Kitchen

Add wainscot in your kitchen to coordinate with your cabinets. Paint the wainscot in a beautiful color like light rose, pale blue or milky green to complement a country look. Add a graphic wallpaper above the wainscot. Because the majority of space on kitchen walls is lined with cabinets, a bold paper will not be too overwhelming. Try a large rooster print or a vintage-looking floral pattern. Accessorize the rest of the kitchen with matching pieces to complete the country feel. Go completely country and add wire baskets with faux eggs and vibrant chicken statues.

Bathroom

Add wainscot to your bathroom walls instead of tile for a country look. Some wainscot is now even manufactured in PVC so it won’t be damaged by the humidity of the bathroom. White wainscot with a floral wallpaper brings a country feel to mind. Or try pale coral walls and decorate with an antique mirror and a vintage chest as a vanity. Add glass or crystal knobs and pulls to your drawers and your look is complete.

Dining Room

Paneled wainscot looks very elegant in a dining area. Because the room is not full of furniture and there are typically not very many things pushed up against the wall, you’ll have room to see and appreciate the detail in the paneling. You can paint it all one color or paint the interior panels one color and the trim in another. Burgundy is a perfect color for a dining room and one that also coordinates well with country decor. Add a country border or stencil some sophisticated sunflowers above the wainscot, and you’ll have a stunning room in which to entertain your friends.

Mosaic is such a wonderful, colorful, and malleable material. It’s perfect for wall coverings, such as small wall sections, or wainscot, backsplashes, tub surrounds, and shower tile, to name just a few.

If you are averse to cutting with a wet tile saw, you’re in luck with mosaic. In many instances, all you need to do is use scissors to cut the mesh mat between individual tiles. Or, if you need to cut a tile, you do so with a tile nibbler.

Two popular tile manufacturers, Ann Sacks and Modwalls, represent some of the great ways to use mosaic in your home.

Kitchen Backsplash: Colorful Retro-Styled Mosaic Tile

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

Mosaic tile was practically made for kitchen backsplashes. It installs easily. It doesn’t require lots of cutting. And because it’s so colorful, it enlivens dark spaces below cabinets.

This is an especially colorful mosaic, with dots of yellow, red, green, and blue against a largely white background. Bonus points for Anglophiles as the primary color-themed tile is reminiscent of the London Tube map.

Bathroom Backsplash: Gorgeous Glass Mosaic Tile

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

The second place you’ll find mosaic tile in great numbers is on bathroom backsplashes. Bathroom backsplashes are an ideal place to dive into DIY tiling because these runs are far shorter than the ones you will find in kitchens.

If you happen to have a powder room or guest bathroom, that is an even better spot for a first-time project because the space is usually on the smaller size and the tolerance level for errors will be greater.

Bathroom Wall: Cool, Gray and Orderly Mosaic

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With mosaic tile, you can create striking contrasts like this one. Contrast the lively, bouncy yellows and whites of the mosaic on the left-hand wall with the more serious, buttoned-down gray tiles on the right-hand wall. Yet both are mosaic tiles. In fact, both are from the same maker (Modwalls) and line. Such is the power of mosaic tile.

Shower Wall: Brass Two-Inch Mosaic

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

Mosaic tile and showers are a perfect combination. This two-inch ceramic and metal (brass) tile from Ann Sacks naturally provides light to a dark place. Just one watertight recessed light in the shower ceiling will reflect from this shimmery tile and brighten the beginning of your day.

The only downside of mosaic tile in the shower is that it introduces more grout that potentially needs to be cleaned. You can keep the grout lines slim, or be diligent about cleaning the grout.

Bathroom Floor: Lush and Fanciful Designs

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

Mosaic tile is versatile. In essence, you can go two directions when deciding how to create a floor design. You can lay down mosaic like the one used here for the kitchen backsplash. It’s a random pattern (you could also use just a solid tile) that continues across the entire floor.

Or you can do as pictured here and create stunning patterns. This is a Michael S. Smith/Ann Sacks (Cosmati) stone mosaic. The Ann Sacks site says that this pattern is best for residential foyers or commercial spaces, such as hotel lobbies. It would also work equally well in limited quantities for bathroom floors.

Bathtub Surround: Sky-Blue Tile

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

A bathtub surround is a simple thing. It’s just tile or any other waterproof material that corrals water and helps drain it back into the tub basin. But why be basic when you can add real character to your tub?

Here, Lumésticks mosaic in sky blue and white surround the tub, creating a bathroom that seems like it’s a summery beach. Not only that, but the tile also continues beyond the surround and into the room, pulling it all together.

Kitchen Island Front and Sides: Dress It Up

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

Another idea that you don’t see often but should: mosaic tile installed on the front and sides of a kitchen island. It’s as easy to do as backsplashes. Attach a cement board to vertical surfaces and lay the tile. You don’t need to install perfectly to top edges where the countertop hangs over (no one will see it anyway).

Staircase Wall: Mirrored Mosaics

How to Use an Italian Bathroom

Who says tile can only be installed in bathrooms and kitchens? We’re here to say that tile is allowed to venture outside of these two rooms. While this curved staircase is a dramatic example, it does illustrate the point none the less.

So who dares to install mirrored mosaic tile all up and down this curved staircase? The New York design firm Coffinier Ku installed Ann Sacks/Chrysalis tile in a now-defunct Manhattan club. There is no word on wheather the new owners kept this wild staircase tile.