Letters from Madrid – Public Restrooms

While I never came across one of these facilities in Madrid, they were not uncommon in the rural areas.

In the last letter we were visiting the parks and open space. While out on the streets in Madrid, public restrooms are not common, but you will find them. Many times we used the bathrooms in the bars and bought tapas or cup of coffee in appreciation of their services.


April 18, 1996

Public Restrooms
Restrooms in Spain are interesting. They are all modern, no holes in the floor you stand or squat over so far, just regular fixtures, largely manufactured by Roca. The light switches are invariably on the outside wall by the door as you go into the restroom. There are a few with interior light switches, but this seems to be the exception. In the bars and other semipublic restrooms the light switches, that are outside the door, are on timers. They switch on when you touch them and turn off automatically after a few minutes, often very few minutes. Furthermore, the floor plans to most restrooms in the bars are an entry with a sink and air blower hand dryer (paper towels are scarce in Madrid), and a room with a door and the toilet. Sometimes there is a urinal somewhere in between the sink and the toilet room. I have learned that when you walk into a restroom in a bar, you quickly familiarize yourself with the surroundings, location of fixtures, and which way the doors face and the type of handles on the doors and how they open. This is very important because for sure, the lights are going to go out before you are finished with what ever you a doing (even just washing your hands). Since all restrooms in bars are downstairs below street level, they are very dark when the lights go out. The first time the lights went out on me, I was quite surprised, since I had only been in the bathroom maybe 90 seconds. I had not paid much attention to the door handle or where things where, so there was much groping around trying to get through two doors so I could get the lights back on for another 90 seconds. I am much more aware of things in restrooms, but am still surprised when the lights go out. One interesting effect, however, is you never have to wait long for the bathroom even in the most crowded bar.

You find public restrooms spread very thin, and often closed. There will be a few on the busy round-a-bouts and in the parks, otherwise, Madrid is as bad as most cities in the US about public restrooms. Most public restrooms seem to be modernized versions of the old hole in the floor restrooms that Europe is so famous for. In the mens rooms, of these subterranean relief stations, there are urinals on the walls with a steel grate covering a drainage channel the runs the length of the wall. As you stand at the urinal and pee, you can watch it drain out of a hole in the wall into the drainage channel under the steel grate you are standing on. Every once in a while water is flushed through the urinals automatically, and then you get to watch a river running under your feet as you do your business. I guess the urinals keep you from peeing on the wall, your shoes and other peoples’ shoes, which I suppose could create a bit of tension among the men if someone where to spray someone else’s expensive, fashionable shoes.

At least the lights don’t go out on you in the public restrooms. There are always glass block lites in the ceiling letting daylight in, I assume they have other lights at night. There is always an attendant in these restrooms who keeps them clean an collects a paseta from you. Laurie and Tristan always have to pay. I have never been asked, and I have never seen any man pay. Laurie figures they are easier on the men because they know they will just go pee on the street otherwise (a lot of them do anyway. It is fairly common, especially after dark, to see guys stop and pee on the street).


Up next driving…

14 thoughts on “Letters from Madrid – Public Restrooms

  1. That had to be unnerving and irritating — especially the first time. The lights in my office building are similar. Supposedly motion activated. Inside an office, they’re supposed to stay off or on, if you touch the button for an extended moment. But they don’t. My office neighbors probably hear me cursing at mine when it repeatedly turns itself on… (Migraines, overhead lights… I use the window or my desk lamp, not the overheads.) But that’s nothing to being in a strange bathroom and having the lights go out. 😀 Hugs.

  2. I’ve run into one coffee house here with the light switch on the outside of the door. Seemed a bit strange to me! I remember from our own travels many years ago that Nevada had some interesting facilities along the interstate.

    • Hi Lavinia. Between Spain, France, Italy and Portugal, France has the most variety of strange and interesting fixtures.

  3. Tim, reminds me of the hole in the floor bathrooms in rural Japan! Did not pay much attention to fixtures in Europe! Interesting details about Spain! Always learn something from your posts! Thanks! Elizabeth

    • Hi Julie! That’s true, but I’ve rarely had to wait in lines. And potty parity wasn’t even close in those days, and it wasn’t in France when we were there in 2013.

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