.....where are you?
photo: charles traub
You are on holiday in Rome with your family. The Trevi fountain is sparkling in the sunshine and its water is splashing and tinkling all around you. Suddenly you begin to feel the call of nature but what to do? Looking around there are no indications of an available public bathroom and you are unsure of the language. Should you cross your legs, hop up and down and hope the feeling passes or rush back to your hotel for relief? Many travellers find themselves in exactly this type of situation and they will receive no comfort from their guidebooks because most simply do not cover this type of territory.
The Law of the Loo & You
To be succinct. No, you do not have the right to use café, restaurants or traiteurs toilets. These are reserved for patrons only. Don’t argue, don’t try and throw a hysterical child at them for mercy. The answer will still be no. If you want to use the loo, buy a coffee at the very least.
Once upon a time, in a kinder and gentler age, establishments in Florence did allow their toilets for the use of non patrons. Those days are long gone. Tourists are more likely to be viewed as a menace these days. Pay up or push off.
Open or not, that is the question?
Photos: Manuela Pelati: Corriere
Updating public toilet facilities in Rome is an exercise in perseverance. What is open one day, is closed the next. After the Pope announced 2016 as a Jubilee Year, the Commune of Rome announced that all public toilets would be renovated and reopened by the end of 2015. Some toilets would remain under the care of the AMA while others would be sold to a private consortium. Both types were supposed to be functioning well before the commencement of the Jubilee Year.
Without boring you, the new AMA toilets did re-open for a small period, but by the end of 2016 they were all closed. This is a shame because they were fantastic. The toilets owned by a private consortium have yet to see the light of day. Stay tuned however, because a new consortium has taken over and they too are promising bigger and brighter toilets soon.
There may be some room for optimism on this front because the new company has opened facilities in the tourist office courtyard on Via dei Fori Imperiali. There is a kiosk “Il Punto Ristoro” which sells local food items from the L’Auilqa region, which is rather odd, but convenient. The toilets cost 1.00 Euro to use but if you have a Roma Pass, they are free.
So what public toilets are open?
None! E1,000,000 was supposed to have been spent on updating the AMA public toilets. They opened with great fanfare but were closed by the end of 2016. Incredible. The word is that lack of funds and lack of staff are the reasons behind this extraordinary situation but really, it is more likely the ever changing political situation in the city that is behind this public outrage
As to be expected, things are very different in Vatican City where you can find public toilets all over the place. They will cost you 1.00 Euro to use but they will be clean and functioning. Who said miracles aren’t real?
portable toilets outside the Vatican
Where is the toilet seat & other such trivia ?
Facing the steel bowl toilet seat in the Caracalla during winter is for only the brave. While these toilet seats may bring cool relief in
the summer, they are brutal in freezing weather. The main excuse for their installation is that they are easier to clean but it is
more likely that they are cost effective for the council. You can find plastic toilet seats in better quality establishments and they
are usually very clean. These are worth seeking out, if you are visiting the eternal city in cold weather.
Cultural reasons also come into play regarding toilet seats. Some visitors prefer to squat over the toilet and climb up over the bowl breaking the toilet seat in the process. To save money, many toilet seats are being removed for this reason.
The flush button or chain is pretty much the universal one on the back wall behind the toilet with the half flush or full flush option. The puzzle is how does one wash their hands? Look on the floor , pedals may have been installed. Press away at them as if you are playing the church organ, it will bring a smile to your face. Infra-red has also been installed in some toilets and they will pick up on your hand passing over the sensor. Otherwise, the good old tap and faucet will be in place. Soap however, may be a rare sighting.
Ok, so what are my toilet options?
One of the quietest, cleanest toilets in Rome is no longer available to the public. The loo at the gorgeous Doria Pamphili is now only for the use of visitors. It used to be a pleasure to visit because it was easily accessible, well located and very quiet. It was also free! Oh well, now we must look for other options. The easiest thing to do is head to McDonalds. Yes, they have a code to gain access to their toilets but it is always buzzing with people so you can just hold the door open while someone exits and pop in. Be warned however, these toilets are filthy! McDonalds no longer has excellent hygiene standards in their toilets. This is the norm throughout Europe. Be prepared for a shock.
The traditional department store or shopping centre does not really exist in Rome. Galleria Sordi is the closest thing to a Westfield’s but they charge 1.00 Euro for access to the loo if you have not purchased something within the centre. Local department stores do have free access to their toilets but this may change as it is becoming the norm now to charge for these facilities.
Hotels are another option but security is being increased due to terrorism threats so you will need to be discrete and use only when the hotel is busy. Stick to larger hotels which tend to host conferences because it will be easier for you to slip in without raising attention to yourself. If you are caught out, be honest, explain your situation politely and they may allow you to use the toilets anyway.
If you are a book lover try a bookstore. Many bookstores in Rome have a café with toilet facilities attached. You may need to buy a coffee or a book, but if the store is busy, you should be able to use the toilets without fuss.
The museum option is also fantastic. Yes, there are free museums in Rome with toilet facilities. They are few and far between but one very convenient option is the Napoleon Museum near the Piazza Navona. Not only is it a lovely museum, the toilets are clean and free!
Any improvements for those in a chair?
Rome is an ancient city which means installing anything from an underground metro to a disabled loo is fraught with delays and problems. Any new building is required by law to have disabled facilities and any historic building undergoing major refurbishment is subject to the same rule.
While many hotels do not have disabled facilities in the lobby, many have large bathrooms and staff are generally happy to assist you or direct you to the nearest disabled facility. Restaurants & Cafes usually have toilets on the lower level with access only available via stairs. McDonalds does have disabled facilities and the Vatican offers good disabled toilets for visitors. Public toilets should have disabled facilities but as they are all closed for never ending renovations, they should not be relied upon as practical options.
Multiple options have been listed in the directory but it is always better to check directly with hotels, museums and restaurants just to be sure.
and how about baby changing facilities?
These are rare but a few have been found in the Historic Centre, Quirinale, Esquiline and Vatican areas. Cafes, restaurants will be unsympathetic so to avoid frustration, avoid these like the plague. If it is an emergency and you can find a sympathetic café owner, please reward their kindness by making sure the toilet area is clean before you leave. Those visiting the Vatican, will be pleased to discover that there are excellent baby changing facilities available throughout.
Supposedly, there are ‘Baby Pit Stops” located throughout the city but I have discovered only two. One is in the Vatican area and the other is near the Spanish Steps. There will be a sign on the door. So far, I have been unable to locate any association with listings not only for Rome but for Italy in general. This situation will hopefully be remedied in the near future, but for now, stick to the known facilities just to be sure.
So as you can see, you don’t have to cross your legs and hope for the best if you are out and about in Rome, you can find clean, inexpensive or even free facilities close to your location if you know the right place to look.