Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pee on Lyon*

* Lyon is pronounced 'Lee-On' which is why I thought 'Pee on Lee-On' would be a witty title until the realisation that it would require an explanation and thus remove all forms of cleverness from it entirely. Oh well, it's done now.

Anyone who has travelled with me - and that means any journey from a half hour dog walk to weeks and weeks and weeks - knows that my biggest concern is always toilets. Where they are, what condition they're in and if they'll be in ready supply when my bladder all-too-readily bellows. You'll be climbing the light house; my head will be impersonating one by swivelling in all directions looking for the ablutions block.

With Love Chunks back at work and Sapphire starting her new school year, my folks and I decided that a further foray into France was not to be missed. Lyon, an hour and a bit's train trip away, was our starting place.

Situated between Marseille and Paris, Lyon is second only to the latter in terms of size and population and seemed like the obvious place to start.

At the impressive and beautiful Place Bellecour, the brand new tourist office beckoned; a bright and beacon representing the famous city. Inside it was even better with funky seats, loads of brochures in an array of different languages and touch screens galore.

It was 10am, so my two morning coffees and glass of orange juice courtesy of the all-inclusive continental breakfast buffet were signalling their intention to depart my being.

"Where are the nearest toilets?" I asked politely, assuming that they were somewhere inside or close by the almost-packed tourist office.

"Across the square, in the underground car park diagonally opposite," the lady said, waving her hand dismissively in front of her.

We walked confidently across the square, dodging the builders pulling down scaffolding and their ubiquitous ciggie smoke and entered the rather acrid bowels of the car park. No matter where you find yourself in the world, the cement cavern of an underground car park is never a spot of beauty or for lingering, and this one was no different.

Twenty Euro cents was nervously inserted into a door that looked as though it had been kicked in on a weekly basis. Alas - or maybe not - it refused to open.

Back at the parking toll booth, the attendant shrugged. "Use zee male."

Unlike the women's, it required no coin as a gap large enough to insert my hand was where the lock mechanism should have been. Using the toe of my boot, I gingerly eased the door open.

It was an ancient porcelain squat job, not seen by me since the privations of a no-star outer-Parisian caravan park stay thirty one years ago. Unlike then, this one was not clean and had been splashed all over in sour-smelling urine. How even the high up flush chain was dripping in the yellow stuff was beyond me and any further thought on the matter was forgotten in the age-old tourist trial of trying to lower myself down to decrease the chances of splashing my ankles; my jeans pushed down but not so far as to touch any part of the floor, walls or door as well as keeping tabs on my jacket, backpack and sun hat slung over various parts of my body.

The door was almost wide open but I didn't dare butt it shut with my head, hoping that my dear parents would shoo any pee freaks away.

Mum and Dad waited for me outside, noting that my face was even paler than usual. It seemed prudent to leave the description for another time but to thank my mother for her sterling advice of always taking a spare breakfast serviette and keeping it in my pocket for paperless cubicles.

Hoping to clear my nose of the pungent smell of piss, I found myself disappointed when we emerged back onto the streets again. The whiff of wee was everywhere. Pavements were streaked with it; corners were splashed in it and gutters were washing leaves further down the drains towards it ....... Didn't men have toilets at home? And what did women do..??

Our bus tour was informative on a number of counts, including the ceaseless stench of secretions about the city.  It was explained that some building owners placed half-sized pyramids of bricks and building debris in corners. "It's not for appearance but to prevent men from using it as a restroom.  It is designed to splash right back at them."  We also took note that the more style-conscious-but-still-anti-urine owners had metal shields permanently installed in previously piss-friendly places. Their shiny surfaces were at the perfect height to return the piss to the pisser, or shield cats from the rain.

After the tour and a walk through the intriguing silk makers' traboules, moody Mother Nature was moaning again.

"Look there," Dad said helpfully. "There's one of those Techno Toilet thingies."

Ah yes, those metallic rounded edge tiny buildings that give you ten minutes to do your business to piped classical music before the door automatically opens out to the world.

I pressed 'Ouvrir.'

Well smack me flat with the lizard gizzard entrails of Tony Abbott's brain.....  The tiny room revealed inside was a hell hole of excrement, the now-expected Lyon wee and a swarm of large and well-fed blowflies. "SHUT THE DOOR!" we screamed in unison, before hurriedly covering our mouths and reeling back from the shock.

"No wonder the homeless lady outside washed herself down in the fountain," Mum said.

Further along, we spotted Techno Toilet Number Two. Needless to say, Number Twos were sadly the main decorative feature as it was thickly and generously plastered all over the walls, ceiling, floor and hand basin with a handful of ancient loo paper sheets stuck to slightly wetter areas as profane embellishments.

"Why on earth would the council have a huge sign saying 'Public Conveniences' and a large arrow pointing here? Surely they're not proud of it," I moaned, struggling to walk with the need to pee and the lingering shock to my visual and nasal sensitivities.

Three was my all-time favourite number, so surely Techno Toilet Number three would not let me down? After all, a normal-looking bloke had just vacated it and didn't appear to be visibly flinching or running away.....

Nope. Shit city with the tang to match.

We found ourselves back at Place Bellecour, seriously contemplating a second visit to the underground car park when Mum spotted a McDonald's: the patron saint of desperate lavatory lovers the world over. "Yessssssss!"

Dashing up the stairs, I saw the sign, pushed through the door, had my jeans halfway down and then stopped in shock. The toilet was filthy, paper was strewn everywhere but on the roll and the seat was liberally dripping wet with waste. But this was McDonald's, a place that had never let me down in Bali, Egypt, Amsterdam, Perth.... Obviously in Lyon it was Pee On.

This time, my squatting skills were not only extended to increasing my chances of aiming correctly and staying dry but also to keeping my large arse aloft over a wider bowl area.  Quite the challenge when my undies were clamping my knees together.  As I exited in dismay, a gorgeous young lady sashayed in: all long straight hair, skinny jeans and the ubiquitous Chanel ballet flats. She was busy talking on her mobile phone and paid no heed to my rather well-acted  - and kindly - 'don't go in there' charade.

She CONTINUED to speak on her mobile phone when she closed the toilet door behind her! Did she have eight hands to maintain a conversation, keep her suede jacket from touching any part of the wall, her leather shoes dry, the oversized designer bag urine free, the hair exclusive of moisture, some toilet paper or alternative wiping material and a method of keeping the hem of her jeans from trailing in the puddles?

We didn't buy a coffee on the way out.

After lunch (not at McDonalds) we trekked up the hill to the cathedral.  Every old city has one.  Toilets too, if the French are feeling generous.

They were, but not for toilet seats or toilet paper.  Just the bare metal, hospital-like commode was installed, in faint deference to the monk-like, no frills lifestyle of the dark ages perhaps. No absolution, just ablution. 

It isn't exactly fair to claim that Lyon's bouquet is wholly whizz-scented; cigarettes vied for top billing as well.  We were staggered at the volume of people with lung darts hanging from their lips and despaired of finding a spot not clouded in second-hand snorted smog.

Toulouse might be famous for violets and Nice for the refreshing scent of the sea, but for my money, Lyon's signature fragrance would be this one: Cigs et Piss.  One squirt (or stray dribble down your trousers) and you'll be instantly transported back to the second largest city in France....

And it was all capped off perfectly when we left Lyon on the train.  As I pulled my tray table down, there was a poem in French, written in beautiful, swirling hand writing. How appropriate then, to see the word 'l'anus' in amongst it.


Anji said...

That sounds really awful. We always go in caf├ęs now, decent looking ones. Unfortunately, coffee always makes me want to go again half an hour later. I went to one exceptionally clean loo one day only to finish with an allergic rash in the shape of the seat from the cleaning product. You can't win sometimes.

Poitiers has a nice loo in the tourest office.

Windsmoke. said...

Sounds like its becoming expensive and dangerous to spend a penny these days.

Katrina said...

Sorry, but I can't stop giggling while reading this....I just have this picture in my head of you frantically rushing from toilet to toilet. May I suggest that you don't travel in Africa though...that will make these toilets seem pristine

drb said...

Amen, another reason why I didn't like French.

BTW, you are not supposed to pee if you don't have the urge to pee. The more often you preemptive pee, the smaller your bladder will become and by the time you are 70, you will be incontinent. Why?

Because, your bladder nerve will signal to you to go when it is only half-full, so that you have time to look for a proper location. If you preemptively go, say at 30% full, your brain will learn that it should signal at 30%.
If you still continue to preemptively go, the signal will come sooner and sooner, and eventually you end up using nappy again.

If you go more than 8 times in 24 hours, you have developed an overactive bladder.

Our bladder is able to hold 300-350 ml of urine. So, if you haven't drank >300ml of liquid, don't panic.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,









Free advice from somebody who hates toilets abroad. I usually sneak into cafes and bars - but its easier for me - I am male.




aquascrap said...

OMG what a nightmare! I HATE using public loos too......would rather hang on than go in one.

When we have needed a public toilet and I've had our granddaughter MCDonalds here in little ol Adelaide have nothing to be proud of......your description of the one there sounded like you had stepped into a couple here.

Andrew said...

Yeah, we can pronounce Lyon, can't we all?

I seem to have an ability to shut my system down when travelling as I just can't stand dirty toilets. Of course it is not so bad for blokes. Lyon is off the list.

Kirstie said...

I can't believe how many bad toilets you found. I mean, one always expects one or two horror loos (Kyoto, Japan features my best and worst loo tales) when traveling, but that is appalling. Even Macca's!

MedicatedMoo said...

Anji, we ended up using cafes too. The irony didn't escape us though: Empty the bladder before buying a coffee and filling the bladder up again....

Windsmoke, more dangerous and horrifying than expensive. The underground car park travesty was the only one I had to pay for.

Katrina, it did end up making us laugh, which didn't exactly help when I was busting to go!

drb, I wonder, then, if it's too late for my 'if you see a loo, use it now' trained bladder?

PlasMan, I do indeed remember your posts on the Chinese toilet situation and wonder what on earth I'd end up doing if I visited there. Grown up nappies perhaps?

Aquascrap, even the Maccas loos in Adelaide were - if overused and a bit unkempt at times - at a standard we could only dream of in France... :)

Andrew you couldn't guess how many times I envied having an 'outie' instead of an 'innie' when bushes or non-protected alleyways were nearby....

Kirstie, I know - even Maccas. I'm half tempted to write to the Lyon tourist office and tell them that the toilet situation isn't not good enough, but what would they care?

River said...

So Lion is actually Leon? huh.
Now I'm going to be crude and suggest doing as the French apparently do. Keep walking and pee as you go.

I find myself agreeing with drb on bladder capacity and training. I blame my mother who always insisted we "go" before leaving the house (or wherever we were) whether we had to or not. More recently, I've discovered that NOT drinking coffee helps a lot. Caffeine is a diuretic. By limiting myself to one a day after I get home from work means I no longer search for a loo every half hour. I only wee 3-4 times a day. I did think though, that an adult bladder was supposed to be able to hold 500ml?

MedicatedMoo said...

Pee as I go, River...? I think that'd be much easier if I were a bloke!

Elephant's Child said...

I hear you. Even here I know where all the public toilets are in town and which ones are fine, and which are to be used only by the desperate. Note to self: those final words are now an earworm sung to the tune of 'only the lonely'. Oh dear.

MedicatedMoo said...

E-Child, now you've passed Roy Orbison's 'Only the Lonely' ear worm on to me:

My bladder's bursting
And I really need to pee
But I'm in France now
And the streets all stink of wee

Jilly said...

OMG - I have to agree with DrB - I heard the other day that you mustn't just "use a loo if there's one there" - because it does lead to a smaller bladder. But, hey, I have travelled with you before (Expo 1988 Baby), and have experienced firsthand the Kath Loo Requirement. Very funny. How about one of those little devices that I've seen in camping shops - like an insert that you can wee into and dispose of anywhere??? Really, they do exist. Hey, that's a nifty birthday idea right there... xxx Jilly

Fen said...

OMG this reminded me of my toilet experiences in Macedonia, truly horrifying!!! I have a bladder the size of a pea, lol, so much fun!

MedicatedMoo said...

Jilly, I can't think of anything worse than buying something to insert in case of peemergencies....

Fernstar, me too. Even when I try to 'hold on' it still lets me down...

drb said...

Thank you River and Jilly. :-)

River, you are correct, the human bladder can hold 500-600ml.

There you go Kath, no need to dash into any loo you see. You can retrain the brain, and the bladder is like any muscle, use it or lose. So, try to hold on. :-)

nuttynoton said...

what Jilly says is called a She Wee it might be useful?? Unfortunately my experience of toilets at the railway station in Paris as always made me wary of toilets in France. I remember one holiday in crete I used to go around scoring the toilets and most were awful the best were in an ice cream parlour!
Great post made me chuckle sorry I know you were suffering!

Jilly said...

Thanks Nuttynoton - "She Wee" - will put that on a list for Kath's Christmas pressie.

Red Nomad OZ said...

And I thought the public-loo-free 900+ km stretch downunder from Pt Augusta to the NT border was appalling!! I wonder how long it would take the Lyonnese to render the whole Outback untravelable??!!

diane b said...

A very funny pee post and it created some interesting pee comments. Your stories reminded me of dreams I used to have, where I needed to use a toilet but everyone I found had something wrong with it, usually full and brimming over or no door, no bowl or the pedestal was too high to reach.
I'm lucky that I can go almost all day without going probably trained my bladder as a school teacher where I never had time to go.But I must admit that I can now multi task. I can cough and wee at the same time.

MedicatedMoo said...

drb and Jilly, you'll be pleased to know that I didn't go with my usual modus operandi of 'see it, use it' but HELD ON as much as I was able to in Paris....

.... ended up, erm, 'leaving a part of myself behind' at the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower!

Nutty and Jill? I'd rather eat my own HEAD than try and use a She Wee!!!

RedNomadOz, if there are pubs around, I'd give the French a week :)

dianeb, if you can cough and wee at the same time, you should star in one of those tena lady commercials! :)