|The Festival Tour
Of European Toilets
Betty Rutherford Benjamin
2002 by Betty Rutherford Benjamin
In 1997 my husband and I set out on our grand "OE". Now retired and with a major heart operation behind us, we just knew it was all going to be wonderful. And indeed it was, except that...
We did not know that Europe was having a "Toilet Festival" and we were to be part of it.
We should have become aware, very early on, that something was afoot; even before we joined the tour itself, when our English hostess, explaining that there was only one toilet in the house, offered us a chamber pot for emergencies. And we should have had another clue about this Festival within the first ten minutes of meeting our Tour Guide, Sally. She took us first to the Tour Center Office and announced, before we could catch our breath, "men to the right, ladies downstairs". These were almost her first words to us. It was the same when we arrived at Dover and Calais. "Most strange", we thought, until the penny dropped !
The Festival of European Toilets proved very interesting and we had many exciting experiences. Everyone knows, for example, how shy and retiring New Zealanders are, but one of our number made sure that the New Zealand contingent did not go unnoticed, drawing attention to us in general, and to himself in particular, in a spectacular way. He became locked in an obscure toilet and was not released until the performance we were attending was over and loud banging was finally heard. The Festival of European Toilets had worked its magic on him very early in the piece.
Of course, we all had our individual experiences. One woman developed a penchant for men's toilets, particularly after being assured by a gentleman - an Italian surely - "Madame, you are welcome!". Often there was a search for a button to push, a lever to raise, or even a floor job. Some intrepid souls braved the self-flushing variety. Why do they flush, I wonder, just when you are preparing yourself?
My own unusual experience was at Pisa. Here I found two large Coca Cola containers. They took coins to operate. These were self-cleaning toilets which would not accept my money until the cleaning was done. Things were really bad in the other Coca-Cola Can for it wouldn't accept the young man's money at all. He, a veteran Toilet Tourist by now, rose to the occasion...and young man, I saw you !
Unfortunately, nobody had programmed my Can to provide paper, soap, water or hot air - all options being offered. But the floor was awash - with what I wondered?
Crazy behaviour occurs at Festivals, everybody knows that, so it was no wonder that we were all curious to know what our oldest Tourist was doing behind the ruins at Pompeii. Adding his contribution to the preservation of the ruins or bleaching the stones? (Actually Bill, it was the togas they bleached with 'you know what', not the stones.) As for Julius Caesar, he might have been able to build walls and roads, but he had no idea about toilets - that ground level hole was just too small, Julius.
Then we came to Monaco. Ahhh, Monaco. A wonderful experience for the women of our Tour Party. Here we encountered polite ladies who escorted us in, checked that all was in order in the closet, gave the seat a final wipe, and wished us well. They probably said, "have a good day", but we didn't understand the language.
''I have not written yet of the alpine and catacomb experiences - what might be called the highs and lows of the Toilet Festival - of unisex, or our Guide with her "pee pee", "wee wee" and "freebie". (She shouted us all, men and women, at one stage of the Tour - such generosity we would never forget in our desperate state after a long, unbroken journey. She was a superb Guide. Our greatest tribute must be paid to her for providing us with the peak, the pinnacle experience of the Tour. On a long, boring haul on the autobahn she gave an inspiriing - that is the only word one could use - an inspiring lecture on the German Toilet Bowl Shelf system, and how we could check whether we were well or not, before flushing it all away !
All of the above was
just part of the rich tapestry which is the Festival of European Toilets.
Nevertheless, there remained one thing that puzzled us. Our bus driver.
Jahn, was so committed, he just never left the bus at all. Early and late,
touring and resting, he was there, looking after our bus and our belongings.
So, the question the one puzzle that remained for us as we said farewell
to him on our return to Calais was this - When did he go ? And how did
he get the bus in ?
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