Several years ago, two friends and I started to write a “Napa Valley Potty Guide.” We visited public restrooms around the Valley and rated them. Those were simpler times back then. Besides a few amenities, what we mainly were looking for was “availability, accessibility and cleanliness.” Bathrooms didn’t need or come with instruction manuals.
Now I read that high-tech potties may be coming to Napa. I hope they come with instructions.
On our recent trip to England, Wales, and Scotland, instructions explaining the facilities would have been helpful. “How do you turn on the shower?” or “How do you adjust the heat?” were frequent questions yelled out from the bathroom as we changed hotel rooms almost daily.
Our bathroom adventures started on a cruise to England on board the Cunard, Queen Victoria, out of San Francisco where we were introduced to the challenge of the shower and its controls. The shower was tiny and the shower head was very low. It had a temperature setting dial with meaningless numbers. We tried to keep the temperature setting on the same number because if you looked at it sideways, it would go from cold to scalding hot in a New York minute.
I did have a scary and potentially expensive mishap in our bathroom on the cruise. I discovered that my gold medical alert charm was missing from my bracelet. Philip and I searched our room and around the ship. Later, I wondered if it had fallen down the sink drain when I was washing clothes. I called the purser and asked if the ship had a plumber. Yes, they did. Five minutes after he arrived, off with the pipes, and I saw my charm in a P-trap. I was so relieved and we felt so much better. Cruise ships provide almost everything, and we learned it is worth asking for help.
Arriving in England we had to master a new bathroom every day for the next month. Many tourist accommodations are owned by foreign corporations so the controls came from all over the world. They were often complex, high-tech and needed to be studied before being used. Or we could have risked being frozen or scalded. Why can’t shower controls all be the same? And to make it more interesting, many older buildings have been remodeled in unusual ways to accommodate indoor plumbing.
While enjoying my early morning walks, I saw many old and historical buildings. They had black glossy painted pipes running down the outside walls from top to bottom and then into the ground. These were the water and disposal pipes that were connected to every bathroom. It was probably the least expensive way to add modern plumbing to them. We used to have an old 1950’s era Basalt house in the Stonecrest area of Napa just like them.
One famous example of added pipes was The Marine Hotel in Troon, Scotland, where the British Open is often held. We were happy to have a room on the top floor with a fabulous view of the 18th green and the ocean. But our toilet was in an old small closet where your knees would hit the wall. It seemed an odd place right next to the entrance to our room. Across the room a small A- frame area was added. A tiny shower had been inserted in the center with a sink and tub on the lower sides. There was a foot high step to get into the shower, so getting in was easy. Getting out was the tricky part.
One night we were in a delightful B&B in Brecon, Wales with a beautiful bathroom. It had been newly remodeled with large green tiles and half glass shower wall. The owner did give us detailed instructions. The shower had its own heater with a pull cord. You had to pull it first if you wanted hot water. Once in the shower, you pressed a button for the desired temperature and down the water flowed. There was no shelf in the shower, so shampoo and soap bottles with beautiful gold laminated labels were outside the shower. It was dangerous to reach around the glass wall to get them.
In another motel the bathroom had a beautiful modern shower with two shower heads. One was in the standard place and the other, with a long hose, was mounted on the side wall. Without an instruction manual it was impossible to know which shower head I was turning on, where would the water come out and where should I be standing? Yes, I used most of the towels to mop the place up that morning.
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It is always a woman’s dream to find a soaking tub in hotel bathrooms. But this evening I mixed up the water controls. I am not very mechanical. I turned on the valve I thought was the correct one to fill up the tub. It was a round heat gauge with red and blue colors on it. So I put the red under a little notch. The water came out cold but I assumed it would heat up in a few minutes. Returning, the water in the tub was freezing. Doesn’t red mean hot and blue cold? Not this time. I tried to heat it up with blue but it would take too much water. I turned it off for the most uncomfortable and fastest bath in the world.
Night after night, I started noticing the same things in each new hotel. Often one little bar of soap was provided for two people. Rubber bathmats were seldom to be seen. The bathrooms only had plugs marked for shavers, no plugs for women’s’ devices, which were always in the bedrooms. I never saw a make-up mirror and counter space was usually sparse too.
In the Orkney and Hebrides Isles of Scotland, bathrooms became more of a problem. Our tour guide had emphasized daily that we were going to the remote parts of Scotland. Be prepared. Hotels were older; sometimes three stories high, with narrow staircases and no elevators. These rooms were usually extra small with tiny bathrooms. There was no place to put your luggage; lighting was dim and the bedding thin. I guess Highland Scots are a hardy bunch and they expect tourists to be hardy too. Not me, I always asked for an extra blanket.
Our guide was right to warn us about the accommodations so we weren’t shocked, but none of us really minded. It was all part of the journey and worth it to see the Highlands with the roaming “hairy coos” (cows). On the bus one morning and with a smile in my voice, I asked a few fellow travelers how their hotel rooms were working out for them. This question became a morning topic on the bus. Many would say to me, “Well, Lynne, I was thinking of you this morning before my shower.”
While in the Highlands and to the relief of many, our tour bus stopped at a few old community restroom buildings along the only road. Many countries have had these facilities in their communities for years. I was happy to learn in the Napa Valley Register that Napa is going to provide these new conveniences downtown.
The evening before our flight home, we had a final traumatic event, which included our bathroom again. We were staying at an elegant French hotel at Heathrow Airport. Local cruise friends came to our hotel for a good bye dinner. We were enjoying time in the lounge before dinner when the lights flickered and went off. Without electricity, new guests could not register or use the glass elevators. The bar and the restaurant closed as no charges could be made. It continued to get darker and soon our guests gave up and decided to leave. A hotel employee physically raised the parking lot gate for them.
Philip was getting anxious and asked about the hotel’s emergency systems for getting guests into their rooms and safes. We needed our luggage, tickets, and passports very early the next morning for our flight. He was initially brushed off. A little later, Philip asked again more forcefully and finally an employee led us through the dark hallways, up three flights of stairs with flashlights and manually opened our room and safe.
We had no lights or water, but we had packed earlier so we decided to go to bed. Power wasn’t restored until the middle of the night. We decided to get out while we could so we got up at 4 a.m., but still there were no lights in the bathroom. At least the water pumps worked and with Philip’s flashlight we were able to take showers in the dark. Fortunately the shower controls were easy to use.
We fled the hotel early and had a very easy time checking in at the airport. We finished our British Isles visit in the United First Class Lounge (thanks to Mileage Plus), which featured bright lights and a wonderful leisurely breakfast.
It was strange how these bathroom issues continued to haunt us. However, in spite of them, we still had a fabulous trip and good stories to share with you. And the old line is true: It is nice to be in your own bed with your own bathroom at home here in the Napa Valley.