Well this isn’t going to be anything like a regular travel journal post. There was not much to write about Belgium and Amsterdam (as most of you already know, I was not too impressed by both those places). Well though I could still write a staid post about dull things, I decided to write something slightly different. So I’m writing of probably the most quirky thing I found in my trip yet.
In Amsterdam you’ll never find a public toilet. So in case you need to take a leak (you eventually will you know), you got to pay for it. Now it may not sound weird at first, but it is cause even if you’ve a meal in a restaurant (say McDonalds) or a drink in a pub and want to go to the toilet, they just ask you to pay!!! Yes anywhere you go in amsterdam, stations, shopping centres, anyplace. And the going rate is anywhere between 40 – 80 euro cents (which I think is quite extortionate even for their super clean toilets). Well why did it come down to this is the story that follows.
Sometime after world war II, the Dutch started receiving a deluge of tourists, which maily was due to their liberal laws and the crazy time that was the 50s and 60s. So the Dutch obviously had to find a solution to a problem they’d never faced, a place for the tourists to relieve themselves in privacy and hygine. They had a brainstorming session and came out with a wonderful solution – the “public toilet”. Yeah it was novel to them then. OK so the Dutch being very european, wanted to do this with all flair and built some snazzy looking warm, spacious public toilets. Well not the ones like anywhere else, these were beatiful little round ones with enough space for two (though only one person could use it at a time.
All fine and settled then. Obviously not. Amsterdam being the crazy place it is, the tourists just found what they had been looking for. A warm, clean and spacious place to spend their night for free! Just imagine a old person entering the toilet, only to find it occupied by drugged backpacker(s) – notice the plural – in not the most sober and dignified state (of dress). The Dutch had enough of it and closed the nice little rest rooms (in every sense of the word), forcing people to often look for far flung public toilets (which were increasingly getting paid). Also at this point not many restaurants charged for the toilets, but then you had to have something there to use the facilities.
So again Amsterdam being what it is and the tourists being what they are decided to revolt against this decree by the authorities. And to their relief (pun intended), they found perfect solace in the many narrow alleys and dark corners Amsterdam is abound of. Now this was certainly getting too much for the Dutch authorities. As if sleeping in toilets were not enough, now these infidels were messing up their beautiful city. There was yet another brainstorming session and yet another innovative solution – the “pee deflector” (yes that’s the official name).
so basically this marvellous invention was just a smooth curved peice of metal installed at strategic locations. The shape of the thing was designed so as to reflect any liquid thrown at it, back to its source. Basically the Dutch told the tourists, you can do what you want, till such time you accept to mess yourselves up as much as the city.
Oh the poor souls totally misjudged the free spirit tourists of Amsterdam. I mean really, any self respecting half drugged / beer drunk tourist would relish such a challenge. “Ah a pee deflector, now that’s great. Let’s see how well that works / how can I defeat it”. Um, correction actually, by tourists here , I mainly mean the men rose to the occassion, the women thankfully stayed away (thakfully as this being Amsterdam, you never know). So now not only did the Dutch have stinking alleys and corners to deal with, they also had stinking tourists with wet trousers roaming about their beautiful city and its architectural marvels.
Now now this was just not on and certainly called for desperate measures. So started yet another brain storming session and after much heated arguments they came out with yet another novel idea. This one was to run a mild electric current in the pee deflectors. Ofcourse this sounds like the perfect recepie for disaster, especially considering all the mess the comparitively logical suggestions yet had created. But the authorities claimed that they had carried out the necessary tests and the system was perfectly safe (wonder who volunteered for the tests). So it would just give a mild tingle to jolt the offender out of his misdeed and would certainly discourage him from repeating it.
Amazingly, the system did wonders. Offending tourists were shocked out of the peaceful bliss they were living in till then and finally did raise the white flag. Amsterdam was clean once again and all was good in the world. Yes there were a few first time offenders always, but they learnt their lesson and stayed away, and thankfully the system was as safe as the authorities claimed it to be. So all did seem to be settled for good.
But then again, this is Amsterdam we’re talking about and it isn’t just the tourists who’re drugged and crazy, the locals are pretty good at that stuff too. So one fine evening the lady on duty (legend has it that she was a woman), decided to have a bit of fun at the cost of the chauvanist men. In her own perverse sense of humour she raised the current levels a bit. Now legend also has it that she was not quite sober while doing this and the Dutch for all their technical brilliance never foresaw such a situation and therefore had not set a safe cutt off to the current level. So while the lady did not realise, things got a bit out of hand. I do not need to write what followed, I guess it would suffice to say that it was a real painful tale for a poor half drugged soul who got the worst and fastest hangover remedy ever. The Dutch authorities felt the shock in equal measure as they got duly sued, big time. I mean you cannot half-eloctrocute someone just for peeing on the street.
So out went the current forever and in came the decree that tourists could relieve themselves at any place in Amsterdam, but they got to pay for it, irrespective of the nature of place. That provided enough places and you need not search for a safe haven, while also not putting undue burden on the merchants having a long line of people queing to relieve themselves for free. This arrangement stands to this day as do the pee deflectors. They do not run any electric current now, but if you ask me, well I never tried my luck and would suggest you do not either. Yeah paying 50 euro cents may be a bit high for one of nature’s basic functions, but it stll is better than discovering a crazy Dutch just played a pathetic prank on you.
So this was one of the famous tales of Amsterdam. There are many more, but this was quite bizzarre and a bit funny (but for the end). I know some of you might say that this is not what a travel journal is about, but then travel is as much about discovering places as discovering strage tales. And they do not come any more strange than this. Also this being Amsterdam we’re talking about, you cannot expect a nice sober tale from the city. Next one though should be a normal post, hope you enjoyed this one. Let the bricks and bats flow. So Dank U for reading this and Dag.