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Paula H. Noe Headshot

And Italian Bathrooms...

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I yearn for a bathroom that is perfect for me, and admit, sadly, that I haven't found it in Italy. The idea of a lovely, clean, spacious room for me to luxuriate in (complete with a great tub and a fabulous shower) fills me with longing, especially after some of the Italian bathrooms I have braved. Somehow I have survived, and no one is more surprised than I am about what I can and have learned to adapt to and tolerate.

Let's just start with the fact that almost every bathroom I have seen in Italy, no matter what its condition or size, has a bidet. Even the bathrooms in restaurants and other public places often have bidets - I can't always figure it out.

My two full bathrooms in my Duomo apartment in Mercato Centrale in Florence
were great. I had no tub, but each shower was actually roomy and functional, with good pressure and water temperature. When I was alone in the apartment, I did luxuriate by using both bathrooms all the time, spreading out and setting up my own routines.

Then in Ortigia, in Ottavio's most wonderful apartment, I had two identical bathrooms that shared a wall. One of them opened into the front hall and the other one was in the master bedroom; each one was well-designed and fitted out with a nice (though small) shower, toilet, sink and bidet. The front hall bathroom had a high window so that it shared the light from the big window/door in the master bathroom; obviously, the master bath had the best light. Because of the shared wall, neither of the bathrooms was soundproof, but, then, many of the rooms everywhere in Italy are not soundproof! As I know, there are some advantages to living alone.

I didn't love any of my Rome bathrooms, except in the hotel I stayed in for a while (Residenza Cellini); part of the appeal of the hotel bathroom was that it was cleaned so well each and every day, and I loved that! And some of my apartment bathrooms could have stood a good daily cleaning, I must say.

And part of my yearning for a great bathroom is my fantasy of soaking, with or without bubbles, in a relaxing tubful of hot water. My Rome apartments had tubs, but they weren't very inviting. The tubs weren't ever big enough for me, and were often very high and narrow, making getting out of the tub a big problem. I even had the image, once, of the possible 'Shriveled Dead Woman Found In Tub' headline! I stopped using that tub, immediately after extricating myself from it.

One of my Rome apartments had a funny dilemma, too. It had two bathrooms next to each other (strange and silly, I thought, when they could have made one big, lovely bathroom), and only the smaller one had a free-standing shower for me to use; the other one had a much-too-high and slippery tub with a hose shower and it wasn't appealing in any way. The small bathroom required moving sideways to get to the shower, and it had, unfortunately, a very, very small shower. To make matters worse, the shower had a silly curtain that floated freely and interfered with the little space inside the shower. It wasn't very pleasant.

Since the Italian bathrooms are usually pretty small rooms, I have seen some pretty clever showers that fit in corners or otherwise maximize the available space. There are nice roomy triangular ones with retracting glass doors, good seals and nice shower heads; and then there are the others.

Here in Spoleto I have one of the 'others', and it is pretty funny. It is a small square shower cube, with fully retractable opaque (why? increases the claustrophobia, I find) doors on the two sides that are not facing the wall. The large showerhead is about 10 feet above the ground and, therefore, unreachable and impossible to adjust. I think they must have made the decision to invest in a large shower head and then realized that it was really and truly too large for the small space, thus necessitating the current high placement so that the water wouldn't flood out anyone attempting to shower. The end result is that the full force of the raining waterfall is inescapable, and the small space renders it impossible to move to avoid getting every head and body part, even the clean and dry ones, soaked instantly.

My current shower is the only one I have photographed, previously choosing not to preserve the memories.


Another necessity, for me, is a cleaning person to make my bathroom(s) as clean as possible. This adventure, also, has been interesting.

In Florence, the owner recommended his cleaning person, a lovely small young man from Morocco, who knew my apartment and was efficient and clever and reliable. He also understood no English, and I was at the very beginning of my Italian journey; we didn't communicate much!

In Ortigia, Maria, who also works for Giuseppina, was wonderful. She knew my apartment and knew how to take care of it, and she certainly did a great job. I loved it all. Since she was in the building a lot, keeping Giuseppina's apartments and the whole place in good order, I thought of her as part of the whole experience. Maria was lovely and sweet and happy to have Giuseppina as such a good employer; they were friends and shared the joy of Maria's smart and adorable son, who was often also around a lot. Maria spoke a little English, and my Italian was improving and Giuseppina was often available to translate, so we could be pretty clear with each other, fortunately.

In Rome, my strange and overly frugal landlady's cleaning person came to my apartment a couple of times, and I never even met her.

So now, here in Spoleto, I have had my apartment cleaned by Joanna, who works for my landlords, but she got too busy. So a friend recommended Daniela, who comes each week, huffing and puffing up the stairs and talking incessantly.

I don't quite understand Daniela, and she apparently doesn't quite understand me, either. It has taken me a while to catch on, but it seems that, even after we have a conversation (in Italian) with, I believe, clarity on both sides, I am disappointed and astounded. Even my "per favore, comincia in il bagno o in l'altra camera" (please start in the bathroom or in the other room), and even after her total oral agreement, she determinedly stays in the kitchen, chatting away, where I am frantically trying to finish some project. By design or by mistake or by misunderstanding? I just don't know.

And the other day I told her (so I thought) that next Thursday wasn't good for me, that the only good day next week would be Tuesday, and that 10 a.m. would be a good time for her to come. We made the date, I repeated the day and time, and we were all set, I assumed. About 10 minutes later, as I was leaving, I said, "a martedi" (see you Tuesday), and she screamed, "NO, a giovedi!" (NO, see you Thursday!). We had to start all over again. Again, the whole thing is pretty funny.