Simple Spinach Gratin; Going Abroad

Men never give a thought to toilets; they have a whole planet that works equally well.  For obvious reasons, women do.

The toilets in Paris are a thing of beauty (as far as toilets are concerned).  When there, I am almost tempted to drink even more coffee than usual just so I can use them.

I’m not talking about the ones in the bars and cafes, which can range from ‘perfectly’ to ‘barely’ adequate.

I’m talking about the ones right out on the street.

The Paris outhouses.

One pays a euro to use them.  After each occupant leaves the entire interior is washed down and dried before the next person can enter.

How cool is that?

About 10 years ago New York thought they were so marvelous that they ordered a bunch for their streets.

Unfortunately, they are not handicap-friendly, and there were protests that non-handicapped people were being treated preferentially by being given these outrageous outhouses to use, so the whole lot of beautiful toilets were sent back.

New Yorkers just have to piss on the street, I guess…

Barring the Paris outhouses there are other things that can trip up the unwary.

I shall never forget the first time I was faced with a ‘necessary’  that didn’t have, what is to me one of the necessary requirements: a toilet.

I walked into a perfectly proper bathroom in the Turin train station.  I went into a perfectly proper stall in said bathroom.  There was no toilet; just a porcelain basin set into the floor with a hole in the center.

I walked back out and went into the next one: same thing.

And the next.

And the next.

There were little, old decrepit ladies hobbling out of these stalls with their canes and walkers so I knew it could be done; I just hadn’t a clue how.

I’m not stupid; I’ve pissed in the woods and behind bushes; on camping trips, mountain walks and golf courses – even out of a moving car once in real desperation, but I wasn’t wearing a skirt, hose (tights) and heels on those occasions.  I have since learned that a skirt is better than trousers but, definitely, no pantyhose.

I digress.  I went back in and sussed it out.  There was no clue if one was to face forward or backward; there was no place to put my bag (balance it on my head?) and no bars or handles on the wall to grab on to.

I remained utterly clueless.

I left unrelieved.

One crucial thing I didn’t think of at the time (but learned on a subsequent occasion), one must have strong legs.  In the privacy of my very own bathroom I started practicing the fully-clothed squat.  Not as easy as one would hope – and I weight-train on a regular basis. I think it’s a combination of proper balance and knowing that a single misstep can be, uh, disastrous. I have since added deep-knee squats to my exercise routine – both fully and partially clothed.

Then, once you’ve figured out how to use it, there’s flushing: do you pull a chain?  Push a plunger?  Pull a knob?  Press a button?
And what about the ones that give you two flushing options: an eco-friendly low-water flush or the all-out everything-down-at-once gush?

So many variations for such a basic activity.

In conclusion I recommend reading about toilets before leaving the comfort of your own, and eating this Spinach Gratin for strength (Popeye never had such problems – of course, he was a male cartoon character…

The recipe, Simple Spinach Gratin, has been updated, nutrition information added, and re-posted here: Spinach Gratin.

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14 thoughts on “Simple Spinach Gratin; Going Abroad”

  1. Always! Great story Katie! I remember the first time being faced with the hole in the ground – Africa. A skirt it’s the only way! I don’t own any panty hose. I think that might make me a bad person.

  2. We call those type of toilets ‘footsteps in the snow’ and for information you usually face the door you went through to get to it and you have to be very careful not to leave a deposit of any sort in the clothes you re-position for the act, usually by pulling them forward with a spare hand. Hope that helps – very funny blog though, made me smile.

  3. Too funny Katie! But, been there and done that! Yep we were at a gas station filling up the car on the “Autobon”. I really had to go! Went into the bathroom and thought, now am I suppose to pee in that hole in the floor???? I did! I had a pair of jeans on so I must have looked really strange all contorted, but like you, I have been hiking and camping enough to “rough it”!
    I like how you go right into talking about food! You are so fun!!!!

  4. Toilets and food; what better a subject for blogging (joke).
    I went to a hotel in York recently which had very large and echoic toilets – very posh but a little scary – not a place where you like every sound to be amplified!

  5. Ah yes, the joys of the Eastern style toilet… I first encountered the porcelain basin set into the floor with a hole in the center when travelling in India. It had handy foot-shaped areas on either side. I remember never really solving the dilemma of whether to stand forward or backward and I got pretty good at the deep kneebends while somehow clutching my bag and clothing under one arm while holding the cuffs of my trousers well away from the often filthy floor.
    The worst one was on a train. A lurching train. A very very crowded train. A very very crowded train that had already had many enthusiastic users with quite inaccurate aim of said toilet. After unsuccessfully trying to flush the previous users’ crap (literally) away by reaching the chain precariously, I stood at the sink washing my hands with my own soap in the tiny trickle of water over and over, staring into the mirror and pathetically sobbing. I too left unrelieved and tried the western style toilet across the aisle. A western style toilet that had no seat and was only bolted down on one side …it was a LONG very uncomfortable train journey.

  6. Using the bathroom in Europe is a bit tricky 🙂 Two-speed toilets, the “tray”, weird flushers…and that ominous hole in the floor (which fortunately I have never had the adventure of trying).
    All of my toilet encounters in Paris were surprisingly normal, aside from the people with their hand out waiting for change at McD. My husband, though, ended up in a co-ed restroom. Don’t think I could have relaxed for that!
    The hotel where we spent our honeymoon in England had a cord to pull hanging from the ceiling.
    In Belgium, I nearly burst my bladder whilst waiting through a three hour long+ accident, then had to get reinforcements to figure out how to flush the toilet at a gas station (very much not a public bathroom). There was that incident too where the Polish tour bus pulled up to the rest-stop but rather than heading for the toilets, they dropped their drawers for all to see and barely faced the woods. I should have finished taking that picture 😉

  7. Great write again Katie!
    We learned pretty early on that it was best to stand in “escape routine” while flushing those footstep toilets in France. Door ajar, facing out, ready to run and reaching back to flush. You would never know how far this thing was going to flood…
    Ahum yes, we all love spinach here!

  8. Very nice, very simple-looking gratin!
    My daughter got food poisoning from a bechamel-based spinach gratin at a school cafeteria, so those are out for now in this family!

  9. My biggest dilemma currently is public toilets with a 3-year-old! They aren’t big enough to hover and all attempts to assist her in this effort have resulted in pee all over my legs and feet. I’ve resorted to carrying cleaning wipes for the nastier public facilities! Ah, for a lovely, cleaned outhouse! Not sure how we’d navigate the hole in the floor … ugh.

  10. Oooh, Betty, too bad about the food poisoning – that can put one off for a long time.
    Expat Chef, I have no advice on that one…. sympathy and empathy, yes… advice, no. Unless you just do what the country people do here – go behind a bush.

  11. LOL – my husband went into a hole-in-the-floor facility in Italy (Mantova) and was very bemused! Somehow it’s less distressing when you are out of doors, and you don’t have to put down bags and belongings on mysterious damp patches…

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