Sunday, June 10, 2007

Kur ir tualete? (Where's the restroom?)

Among my family members, I have developed a reputation as a seeker and finder of public restrooms—a sniffer-out of WCs (ugh). Actually, I developed this skill back in 1993 when we spent 6 months in Latvia, during the time when it was part of the post-Soviet “Wild, Wild East”. Finding a decent water closet wasn’t easy. Locals were reluctant to answer the question “Kur ir tualete?” when a westerner asked them. In the foreign languages department of the University of Latvia where I taught, my female colleagues at first warned me that the WC in our hallway was in poor condition because of the philosophers—all males! What they meant was that the toilet had long ago lost its seat; there was no paper, no soap, no towels, and only a trickle of cold, rusty water from the sink. Apparently members of the philosophy faculty were so lost in deep thoughts they didn’t notice the horrible stink of this hell hole.

I’m happy to report the bathroom situation in Riga has improved immensely since then. After numerous visits to the country, I can provide a list of places where WCs are available to the public and some hints about procedures to follow.

Hotels and restaurants are still the best bet for finding clean, free restrooms, although if you are not a patron, some may be reluctant to show you where to go. Our hotel, Reval Hotel Latvija, has fine facilities just around the corner from the reception desk (near the children’s play corner at the restaurant).

Next come public buildings, such as museums, the University of Latvia main building on Raiņa bulvāris, and the city hall on Rātslaukums (directly across the square from the tourist information office). The airport also has free WCs—but the Central train station doesn’t. It is like most public toilets in the city: you have to pay a small fee when you enter. Usually a woman is guarding the door. First you pay her, then she gives you a scrap of toilet paper, and you proceed. Since the pittance for this privilege varies, it’s best always to have some santims, Kleenexes, and moist towelettes in your pocket. At the train station and up on the 4th floor of the ritzy new shopping center Galerija Centrs, the price is 10 santims. In Vermanes dārzs (near the flower stalls at the Terbatas entrance) and near the Laima clock (Brīvības and Aspazijas), the price is 15 santims. And to accommodate the tourists frequenting the beer gardens in Līvu laukums (toward the corner near the Cat House) the price is 20 santims.

Signage for these facilities is not completely standardized, although many have “WC” or “tualete” and then an indication of whether they are gender specific or not. Women’s restrooms might be indicated with only an “S” for sievietes (women), “D” for dāmas (ladies), or a triangle pointing up. Men’s facilities could be designated with either a “V” for vīrieši (men), “K” for kungi (gentlemen), or a triangle pointing down. Those triangles seem to be particularly popular.


At June 16, 2007 at 9:52 PM , Blogger Brenda Plakans said...

Ah, the foreign toilet experience. My scariest was either a French hole-in-the-floor that I had to balance over, while 7 mos.pregnant and praying that the timer on the light didn't go out (you weren't so lucky, O Friend of Latvia). Or a hole-in-floor in a park in Japan that was clean but had a mosquito problem, so you had to do a lot of waving of your hands while trying to balance. Tricky.

Latvia's WCs were mostly smelly, as I recall.



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