Riomaggiore, in the Cinque Terre – “It’s a bit over rated really”

Riomaggiore, Italy, street view

Cinque Terre literally means “five lands”. No flashy bragging names, just five pretty seaside villages perched precariously along the rocky coastline of Northern Italy.  From a distance they look like a handful of partially licked skittles being thrown down a steep hill, just waiting to plummet into the Mediterranean sea. But, many of these buildings have been in situ for more than a hundred years, despite being buffeted by many a storm and earthquake, so who am I to question their sustainability?

I jumped up and down in various places, and nothing fell off, so I think they’re good.

Riomaggiore, Italy, street view

What keeps the villages of the Cinque Terre modest in comparison to other Italian tourist attractions, is the lack of arterial routes for ingress. There are no accessible roads that will take you into the towns, and very little space to drive if you could carkore (like parkour but with a small car. Yes I just made that up) your way in through the grape vines and fat Americans.

To visit the bathroom I am rating in this colourful wee village, you will need to take a train from La Spezia (a gorgeous port town in the Ligurian province which was a highlight of our trip) along the Cinque Terre train route, or walk the hugely popular tracks along the hills, looking out over the Mediterranean Ocean. It really is gorgeous, when you husband stops complaining about the heat, the sun, and the number of people also doing the walk (this is Europe you fool!! Did you think it would be as empty as Piha?).

The public toilets we came across in Riomaggiore were perched about halfway up the main drag, with scattered shops winding up the hill through the pastel coloured apartments.

Riomaggiore, toilet exterior view

While similar in material and basic structure to the one I rated in Point Chevalier, this little stucco shed shared no other similarities beyond their basic use as a place for people wandering about the world in a very privileged fashion, to release the much needed dump they have been building up all morning, since that very strong coffee they had with breakfast. Sultana Bran before a big walk? That was a dire mistake my friend.

Riomaggiore, toilet exterior, sign

Most of the time, in Europe but very often in Italy, if you want a toilet you need to look out for this sign. All tourist areas will try to cater for the multitude of languages spoken by their visitors but if you tried to write “toilet” in every language, you’d have a fucking huge sign and many people would piss their pants. If you didn’t know, “W.C” or water closet is an old fashioned term for a loo. Still in use in countries where the signs may have been first erected 150 years ago and very little has changed since (That was a facetious line. Obviously I don’t think this sign is 150 years old, give me a fucking break).

Riomaggiore, toilet exterior, sign

In Italian a toilet is gabinetto, but they frequently use toilette, which is more like a restroom, and quite handy for English speakers.

Riomaggiore, toilet interior, toilet

Almost all bathrooms in heavily used places in European cities will have attendants. These are usually older ladies who don’t always advertise a price but expect you to hand over some cash for access beyond their deck chair barrier. I was lucky on this day as the attendant appeared to have go off for lunch, or a nap, or just didn’t fancy working that day. Her seat was left empty the whole time I was visiting and I got to pee and photograph the place for free.

Riomaggiore, toilet interior, attendant's chair

Riomaggiore, toilet interior, paper holder

Riomaggiore, toilet interior, sink

 

Riomaggiore, toilet interior, toilet paper dispenser

Riomaggiore, toilet interior, toilet

Riomaggiore, toilet interior, hand written sign

I’m guessing this sign is referring to plastic bags for sanitary products but, there were no bags available or sanitary bins. I’m guessing you’d just have to chuck it in the regular bin, which honestly would be pretty rank during the very hot Italian summer.

Monterosso, Italy, beach view

After our walk along the hills, followed by a gelato in the sunshine, Josh and I sat on this beach and played cribbage while I got very angry people spotting and watching dickheads drop litter. The beach may appear to be sand but it is in fact small smooth marble pebbles, which kind of glisten in an opaque off-white fashion. It was here, after the dip in the cold, blue, tranquil Mediterranean that Josh said “Well, it’s a bit over rated really isn’t it?”. It may be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, covered in the remnants of one of the most sort after building materials of the last 600+ years (Carrara, where the marble comes from, is just up the line) but to my husband, it’s nothing compared to the deep dark green of the Waitakere Ranges or Bethells Beach on a summers day.  It took me a while to explain how spoilt we are as New Zealanders, and that this may not be his idea of paradise, but compared to a housing estate in Slough surrounded by nothing but grey skies and empty K cider cans, this place appears to be the land of Zeus himself (Yes, I’ve met clever people in England, but I’ve also met many who will never know that Zeus is not the King of Italy from history times. Yes, that was a mean, snarky joke about stupid English white trash people. No, none of them are likely to read this blog).

Riomaggiore, toilet interior, over full waste paper bin

 

Rating

Cleanliness :  5/10  These bathrooms are never what you’d call properly clean. Someone has gone over the floor with one of those disposable swiper things at the start of the day and maybe had a wipe around the sink,but as you can clearly see the ingrained dirt is never addressed. It didn’t smell bad, which was nice so they still get a few points despite over flowing bins and muddy foot/hand prints every where.

Interior :  5/10  I’m not a fan of pay toilets, but not for the reason you’d first think. I have no issue paying for the loo, especially if that money pays someone to keep the toilet in nice clean working order. I’m not a fan of having to pass a person (who may be judging me) when coming in and out of the loo. I don’t like the idea that my anxiety will latch on to the fact that, if I need to go back into the loo a few times I will either have to pay again (fine with a machine, but scary if it’s a human) explain my issues or lie and say something less complicated and more socially acceptable such as “Oh dear, I have such terrible morning sickness” to which everyone goes “Awwwww, pregnant lady!” and let you do what ever the fuck you want, how ever weird. And though, due to my rotund present condition, or lack of condition, I could totally pass as anything up to about 6 months pregnant if required, I just really hate lying. I’ll do it, but only if I’m really struggling and need to calm the stupid Bruce voice in my head that tells me that I must be honest in all things or feels guilt about adding to the stigma of mental health issues rather than taking the time to explain to the strange man at the desk in front of me, who may or may not be a little drunk, that I have a real condition that makes me panic but also need to shit sometimes. In this situation, the lady wasn’t there and I was feeling fine, if not hot and tired, but two toilets may be problematic if it had been busier.

Exterior :  7/10  The view is stunning and the access to this loo is very easy, not gates or turnstiles. The W.C is a few minutes walk up the hill from the train station and the port so if you were desperate you’d have to hope your ill equipped thigh muscles held out long enough to get you there without assistance.

Safety :  6/10  Italy isn’t the best place to leave your bag unattended. The fear of getting pick-pocketed is ever present, but these little villages felt safer than most (I’m looking accusingly at you Naples, you gross scab hole). If you were to ask a nice looking stranger to watch your luggage while to visited the little girls room, you’d have a pretty good chance of coming back to your luggage, still present and unmolested. This area of Italy is lucky enough to have a more stable economy than some others and less mass homelessness. Poor ol’ Italy has had a hard time. Even though she’s trying her best to maintain an attractive well put together exterior, she may be heading for a Greece style melt down sooner than first expected.

Snugglitude :  7/10  The day we spent training about this region was lovely. I also have great memories of the last time I visited the Cinque Terre with my family in 2003 ish, so just the thought of these sweet, semi-parochial villages makes me smile. We came across this toilet at the end of the day, on our way back to LaSpezia where we had a late afternoon nap. Visiting beautiful things, followed by a shower, snack foods, then a nap, that’s pretty much a perfect day for me. So, even with the above faults, I found this facility unexpected and quaint.

Total : 30/50

Riomaggiore, Italy, hill view

 

Matakana public toilets; I didn’t go on a Saturday because I don’t have a death wish.

Matakana public toilets, exterior view

I’ve been meaning to visit Matakana for a while. Not because I’m intensely cool and need to buy artisanal small goods from the Farmers Market, nor because I have completed my 20th contract killing and can finally afford a home on the extreme Auckland fringe. Other than odd-coloured organic vege and handmade goat cheese infused free range eggs, what is the only other thing people associate with Matakana? Their fancy surrealist toilet.

Like Kawakawa before them, this teensy hamlet decided to let some arty nut jobs grasp the reigns and hoped they would shit out a winner.

But unlike the Hundertwasser loos, the Matakana facilities are actually attractive (sorry, don’t hate me but I just fucking hate abstract surrealism. It makes me feel nauseated).

Matakana toilets, sign exterior

Because I am a first class researcher, with genuine professional citation standards, I looked on Wikipedia and found out that the Matakana bathrooms took 7 years to complete and were the outcome of a design competition won by a local guy, in his first year at Elam Art School. The body of the toilets represent the bows of local fishing vessels in a nod to their oceanic heritage, but who really knows about the disembodied bisected heads. A nod to downing a couple tabs of acid and a handful of laxatives simultaneously and hoping for the best?  I could make up some art wank, but why bother when there are toilets to review.

Matakana toilets, exterior view

Matakana toilets, exterior stall door

I like concrete, and I like shapes sprayed with concrete, so these fulfill my Playschool level need for geometric eccentricities.

They have pride of place at the juncture where the high street leads out of town. They sit like Ned Stark’s head atop it’s spike on the walls of King’s Landing.

Matakana public toilets, park

The bathrooms back on to a very pretty wee park, with a stream and play areas etc.

Matakana public toilets, exterior

There are two stalls, both of which are disabled access and unisex. The gendered signs have been hand crafted by a local artist. I’m not sure who did them but they are very cute and cartoon like. Sadly, other people liked them a little too much. In fact enough to pry them from the toilet door and nick off with them. That is cunty because now the rest of us don’t get to enjoy them. I really fucking hate people like this, with no sense of community. Selfish pricks. I hope they get a really bad sunburn and it hurts to sleep so they get very tired and do badly in an important job meeting.

Matakana public toilets, exterior, toilet signs

Matakana public toilets, exterior, toilet signs

Matakana public toilets, exterior, toilet signs

The exterior doors of the toilet have been heavily graffiti’d by scratching into the Macrocapa.

Matakana public toilets, exterior, scratched graffiti

Now, I’m not a fan of most graffiti as much as I’m not a fan of defacing public structures, but I don’t feel like these scratches take away from the bathroom’s overall charm. In some ways they are quite nice, if only they were less “tag-y” and more social like the scratched glass panes at The Red House built by William Morris.

Matakana public toilet, door handle

Matakana public toilets, interior of toilet

Inside the floors and one wall are mosaiced in orange stone or rock, maybe it’s pottery left overs, either way I like that it’s different but I stand by my opinion that almost all chunky modern mosaic is fucking ugly. It’s a terrible old lady craft made out of left over trash. I have seen exceptions to this general rule in the National Museum of Naples, but those were fine, detailed pieces of art, not left over scraps glued together like a prisoners art project and mailed to their pen-pal bride.

Matakana public toilets, interior of toilet

It was very difficult to get a quick subtle picture of the inside of these toilets as the doors weigh a fucking ton and the second they close it is dark as the arsehole of Satan in there.

While I was inside the first stall, a woman came over to partake of the facilities for their intended use (I’m guessing). She asked if I was actually “using” the toilet, which I wasn’t, I was standing there like a twat with her phone out. So I scurried over to photograph the other stall and get more detailed images. Unfortunately, the lock on the first bathroom was broken so she came over to mine,  leaving me with no time to get better pictures inside the bathroom proper. If I were a normal human I would have just asked her to wait a second but I’m a massive pussy and just scuttled off apologising as I went.

Matakana public toilets, interior window

 

Rating

Cleanliness : 7/ 10  The toilets weren’t dirty but they didn’t look great on the inside either. A little worn and less well looked after than I would have thought. No worse than a regular public loo so I guess being an art piece doesn’t make you special in the eyes of the Auckland council cleaning crews.

Interior :  7/10  The inside was just fine. They had sinks and toilet paper, though the paper was not in the paper holders because they were way too far away from the toilet bowl due to the hand rails getting in the way. Not so good in the ol’ design sense when it came to practical application. Honestly, I don’t think that two toilets would be enough for a busy day and I can’t imagine how long the line would get on a Saturday morning. Luckily, we were there on an ordinary week day during the school holidays so I had no issue beyond the lady who needed to pee. From the inside the wooden doors are very pretty, but other than the doors, handles and the stained glass window above, all the hardware is standard public loo grade so nothing special.

Exterior :  7/10  The view is nice behind the bathroom and there is parking down the hill to the left, but again not much parking when it is busy. It isn’t private so if I was panicking it wouldn’t be a great place to go. Every other dickhead in a 100 meters could see me coming out and I’m guessing there would be a lot of angry door knockers, which makes me panic even more.

Safety :  8/10  The exposed nature of the loos means that they have almost no hidden areas. I wouldn’t be worried about using these bathrooms even at night. There is a pub with tables and such outside right across the road so plenty of eyes to avoid a mugging from some curly mustachioed dude whose get away car is a well greased penny farthing.

Snugglitude :  7/10  This is a very close seven, nearly a six if I’m honest. I love art and the idea of making public toilets more creative, but when the Aart comes at the expense of good practical design it raises issues. Having been to art school, I get the need to spray concept wank over all practicality, but because my degree was in design rather than fine arts, I feel like the dude who designed these should have focused more on the practical aspects of a bathroom which would work for more people. All points given for the small touches of craftsmanship, like the toilet signs, wood work and the lovely brass door handles.  Points taken away again for the use of boring standard toilet, sink, paper and soap dispensers. For the massive price these loos cost, I feel like they could have done a bit better with the actual toilet set.

Total :  36/50

Point Chevalier, old lady gash, and swimming in your undies

Point Chev beach, sand and sea view

A few years ago, friends and I decided early one drunken New Years morn, to walk the 1.7 km from their flat to Point Chevalier beach. The route was strewn with broken glass related mishaps, thrusty dancing around traffic lights, and no doubt really badly off key singing. When we arrived, we ran down the sand in only our knickers to swim, or more closely loll in the bath-water-left-in-the-tub temperature sea, floating like booze swollen orcas.

Now, you can say we are idiots for swimming drunk, and you’d be correct. But, in our defense none of us went deeper than our chests, and handily one of our group acted as sober life guard. Better behaviour, I have to admit, than during my formative years growing up going to parties on the beach, or the many many times I’ve thought it was a shit hot idea to have a shower after arriving home pissed.

More importantly, it is a really nice memory, I didn’t die, and no one else did either, so get off my god damn ass.

Point Chev beach toilets, from the beach

Strangely, in spite having visited Point Chev many times over the last 18 years, I had never walked further than the weird looking expensive beach-side apartments 2 minutes walk from the stairs. But, a few weeks ago on a gorgeous sparkling blue winters day, I had the time and the inclination to explore the full length of Point Chevalier’s tranquil sandy beach, from concrete pohutukawa outcrop to concrete pohutukawa outcrop.

Point Chev beach, south end, jetty

Point Chev beach, south end, jetty

Having spent the past year in the UK and Europe, enduring sore-foot inducing pebble beaches, freezing icy winds and marble shingle, the softness and brilliant beige of home sand made me as happy as a methed up clam.

It was during my jaunt that I spotted this little stucco cutie, nestled among the pohutukawa branches.

Point Chev beach toilets, from the walkway

After a year of intensely Anglophiled architecture, and haphazard Italian facilities, my little heart was warmed by the sight of a traditional Kiwi beach toilet.

Point Chev beach toilets, from the walkway

Dappled light, filtered through massive intertwining pohutukawa trees, minimal rubbish, and the smell of warm sand and fresh air. Mmmm home is good.

Point Chev beach toilet, signage men's

Point Chev beach toilet, signage women's

Inside the bathroom, there’s a fuck load of space for people to change into their swimsuits. Strangely, these places always include someone’s Nan leaving nothing to the imagination and having no qualms of modesty, getting 100% naked between swimsuit and underwear (not my Nana. She’s proper). Over the years I’ve seen more old bush and sagging tits in beach and pool changing rooms such as this one than I would have ever chosen to see.

Point Chev beach toilet, interior changing area

It’s a basic set up with cold showers and benches to keep your clothes off the wet floor (Never works. You always end up with a wet patch). The poured concrete floor, breeze block walls, and cattle pen chic makes me feel young, idealistic and warm, right down to my broken belly.

Point Chev beach toilet, interior sinks

Point Chev beach toilet, interior toilet stall

Point Chev beach toilet, interior toilet stall

This one even had toilets seats, and loo paper that hadn’t been soaked by some little shit, dried, then gone all yellow and wrinkled in the heat.

Point Chev toilets, internal, rafters

Point Chev toilets, view from the doorway, pohutukawa

 

Rating

Cleanliness :  7/10  It was pretty clean. The floor had sand on it and some leaves but you can’t really avoid that at the beach. It didn’t smell bad and there was little to no rubbish/Woodies cans strewn about.

Interior :  7/10  I was there on a very quiet winters day, so other than a few dog walkers and the unemployed, no one was around. I imagine at the height of summer the bathrooms would be full to the gunnels with screaming kids and frazzled Mums as the beach is very calm with little to no wave action so a grand place for little humans who drown easily. There are 3 stalls, with space open above and below. If I were having a panic attack it wouldn’t be a quiet or private place to be, but I imagine the turnaround would be good so, if I had to lock myself in for 40 minutes, the other patrons would be less likely to break the door down wondering what I was up to inside.

Exterior : 7/10  The setting and the view are something magical. The light, the fresh salty breeze, and the calmness due to Point Chev’s position inside the appendix of a rather deep harbour (if the harbour was your large intestine), away from the mess and drama of the open ocean. It is not, howmever, a toilet at which you’d be able to park up and run inside if diarrhea hit. But, luckily there is a large bathroom up at the car park which services the patrons of the playground, the bit off to the side of the car park where people drink, and the large undulating park.

Safety :  6/10  I think the out of sight nature of this loo would make it safer but also conversely more dangerous than some I’ve rated. Point Chev has been gentrified to the point where anyone who isn’t married to a professional sporting person, or has never managed to rustle up a set of wealthy parents, would have a shit show in hell of buying a property there these days. But, any pretty spot near a main road, with a car park and park benches is likely to possess undesirables at times so, best you don’t hang out there unless you are armed with a group of your most violent-when-drunk friends.

Snugglitude :  7.5/10  After a year in the wilderness of central London, the peace and traditional Kiwi charm of this place made me well up with good feeling, and for once, not vomit.  It’s not a flashy toilet, but the memories associated with good times and the architecture of your childhood always add to the snugglitude of a place. And, there were cute little fungi growing in the leaf litter which made me smile. I like nature and shit.

Total :  34.5/50

Fungi, Point Chev beach toilets

Fungi, Point Chev beach toilets

 

 

Bugman’s where there should have been dwarfs

I ended up at Warhammer World because our friend Matt lied to me.

War Hammer World, internal foyer

When you’re asked if you want to go to a “dwarf bar”, what’s your first thought?

Mine was “Ohh, a bar run by or even just generally dwarf themed? Eeee!”. I was hoping to be surrounded by Lord of the Rings style, costumed dwarfs, with weathered faces and matted red/brown beards. Maybe even staring little people, as in the Wizard of Oz or Willow.

The whole car ride I was getting myself psyched up about my cross-over Wizard of Oz/Hobbit notions; a bar with dented tankards and raucous fiddle music. Gruff, bearded men serving flagons from a low bar, built to their specs rather than ours. A place where we tall people would feel like Alice in Wonderland because the whole place was built to small people’s standards. Perhaps even to the extent of having little toilets, really awkward and difficult for full sized people to use, so we all feel like gangly giants. That, I would have enjoyed.

But I was wrong. Or perhaps just cruelly mislead. I’m still so bitter Matt.

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, players

What I got was geeks. Loads of geeks.

I realised soon after we arrived just how wrong I had been. THERE WERE NO DWARFS ANYWHERE. NO LITTLE PEOPLE. NOT EVEN ONE. So, so sad.

The whole place is themed on the Warhammer World fantasy universe (or is it a multiverse? I neither know, nor care honestly) from the credibly popular, fedora loving, neck-beard, Tolkien off shoot games of the same name. I was always aware such a world existed but I’ve never known (nor cared) about the details. Having said that, I always appreciate a well kitted out theme bar/restaurant/cafe so it wasn’t all bad.

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, bar interior

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, bar interior

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, bar interior

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, bar interior

It was a shame it wasn’t a real fire. That would have lent a lovely warmth and smell to the place.

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, bar interior

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, bar interior

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, bar interior

The bar, called Bugman’s Bar is a part of the mythos of the game brought to life, offering food and drink to service the hoards of clever t-shirt and cargo pants wearing, pony-tailed game players. While there I was one of only 3 women visible, at least two of whom appeared to be there under duress, or at least under an extreme tit-for-tat compromise. I wonder, how beautiful were the shoes those ladies purchased in retribution for their afternoon spent in the splendor of figurine heaven?

It’s no Weta Workshop, but they’ve made a good effort. I liked the attention to detail, the availability of props to play with, and the people watching. I saw a man with a ponytail held aloft with a large tortoiseshell hair grip and bobby pins. He’d made a discernible effort to tame his flowing mane, I’m guessing to avoid stunning any and all ladies into silence with it’s magnifloriousness.

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, toilet door

However, I’m here for toilets, and that’s where they let me down.

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, toilet stalls

How incredibly boring is this?

Why go to all the effort of making a really well crafted themed bar if the toilets will jolt you right back into reality? It was a huge hit and miss for me. The illusion was broken the second you creak open the bathroom door to find yourself in a white, sterile, standard public toilet. These pictures could have been taken anywhere. Even public libraries and council buildings have more personality than these.

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, sinks

It seemed evident to me that the owners made an extreme decision to have the bathrooms look in no way themed with the bar it’s self, which I think is bullshit. Do you not care about the illusion created for your customers? Where is the magic? The themed toilet magic?

World of Warcraft, Bugman's Bar, toilet stall

It’s a classic mistake I’ve seen many times; a proprietor who doesn’t think through the whole dining/drinking experience. Because of my constant use of and need for publicly accessible toilets, I have crafted a solid, almost religious belief that the bathroom of an establishment tells volumes about the creator and how much they care about your experience. Ask yourself, how much does the owner of this restaurant care about my arsehole and the experience it has while I’m here? If you leave out something as vital as a good toilet, what does that say about how you run your business? It makes me doubt your intent, neigh your love of your customers. A dirty bathroom shows a manager/owner who doesn’t care about their customers. A lazy bathroom set up shows a company/owner who didn’t think through their customer’s requirements from nose to tail. You must to use every part of the buffalo Kimosabi, with love and care when making an effective customer lead business.

Rating

Cleanliness : 8/10 Yes, it was decently clean, but at what cost?

Interior :  4/10  This is where Bugman’s loses points for dullness. This bathroom was like a bleached arsehole. Perhaps it seemed like a good idea at the time but it had no personality or humanity.

Exterior :  7/10  I enjoyed sitting in the bar and people watching while Josh and Matt went to the figurine museum. The overall atmosphere of the place was unintimidating and hobby-esk.

Safety :  7/10  You might feel the wrath of a room of frustrated sweaty men if you wrongly questioned the validity or worthiness of table top games in today’s society. Or if you accidentally picked up and broke one of the super intricate models scattered about the place. They might stone you.

Snugglitude :  3/10  They missed a trick. It could have been such a cool themed toilet, but no. No dwarfs , not magical wizz palace.

Total :  29/50

Bugman's Bar, game players

Beirut; not the Lebanese capitol, but the high end restaurant down town

 

Beirut, food, hummus with celery water and crunch bits

I’m not an especially fancy diner. I love food and eating, but spending a ton of cash on a fancy meal has never seemed quite as enticing as buying a 20 box of chicken nuggets, some decent beers and gorging myself while parked up in a pretty spot. I will happily spend a silly amount on a nice handmade cheese from a farmers market, or a specialty salami from an international deli, but I have never quite graduated to the point of degustation; 10 tiny bites each containing 200 meticulously chosen, far-flung ingredients, filtered through every over-priced piece of kitchen equipment known to man.

My fine dining reviews would be the thing of nightmares; “Dehydrated milk foam; why? I see no reason to make milk hard. It didn’t work for me in the 90’s with the love them or hate them chalky milk bars, and it doesn’t work for me now. Do celebs only eat in fancy places because the tiny portion sizes keep them under nourished?” I’d be fired in a second.

But, I do like a fancy toilet. I’d even settle for a toilet in a fancy place.

So when my Mum and Aunt came to visit I was more than happy to meet them for dinner at Beirut on Fort Street , Auckland’s award winning, fancy Lebanese restaurant.

Beirut, exterior, Fort Street

To start off, I must admit to my own idiocy. When I walked along the facade of Beirut, I got totally confused as to where the dicksplashing entrance was. You would expect it to be one of the many glass doors along the front of the building, but you’d be wrong. The entrance is located in the wooden barn style door on the far right, which appears, from the street, to be a totally different building. I wandered about, looking like a cock, for a couple of minutes before texting my Mum “How the fuck do I get in??”. Luckily she came outside to save me.

Beirut, interior of the bar, Fort Street

Once you get inside the layout makes more sense. The barn doors open into a bar area which is set off the side of the dining room.

Inside the restaurant proper it’s dark as fuck. I imagine it’s on trend, they call it atmosphere, I call it aberration. The decor was very nice, comfy chairs and plenty of exposed wood and candle light.

Beirut Fort Street, light fittings

Beirut Fort Street, light fittings

The light fittings, though low in watts, were very pretty in a deco kind of way. They acted more as glowing roof orbs than actual light pendants but still, enjoyable.

Beirut Fort Street, toilet sign male

The bathrooms are located through the bar and around the back of the dining room. To access the loos you have to walk past a pair of industrial fridges and the open kitchen door. Now, I’m not keen on seeing behind the wizard’s curtain in a restaurant setting so I was kind of unimpressed that they hadn’t worked the layout better. No one, how ever unfancy and unfamous wants to walk past the kitchen to go to the toilet. It makes me feel like I’m in a cheap dumpling place on the scabby end of Dominion Road. No disrespect to the cheap dumpling places, their plastic table cloths and blank-eyed teen waitresses are far more my jam, but I would have thought for a fine dining venue, Beirut might have thought out the whole experience more effectively.

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior, sinks

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior, sinks

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior, sinks

Once inside the toilet I was more pleasantly surprised. Lots of polished concrete and chrome. There are 3 stalls in the women’s toilet including a SUPER generous disability access toilet with a shower and rails and all the bells’n’whistles.

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior, disability access stall, women's

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior, disability access stall, women's

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior, toilet stall

They had some nice individual touches such as the brass handles and locks. I appreciate any time a facility has little details that are obviously not from the Mitre10 standard racks. It’s the little things that show the personality and effort of the owner operators.

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior, door handle

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior, door lock

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior, handwash bottle

The Ashley & Co. hand wash smelled very nice but I found it odd that they had gone to all the trouble of fitting chrome soap dispensers to the walls, only to offer branded bottle of soap as well. I guess, as with my inability to door, some people didn’t see the soap and got pissy.

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior, handwash dispenser

Beirut Fort Street, toilet interior, handwash & smelly sticks

Rating

Cleanliness : 9/10  It was nice and clean, which I would expect. The most basic thing a restaurant/cafe/bar/club can do is have clean toilets and if the place is expensive and frequented by fancy pantsy people, then all the more reason.

Interior :  7.5/10  The facilities offered were of a high standard, which again, was expected. I liked the privacy the toilets offered, being that they didn’t come directly off the bar or dining room. I loved the facilities offered for people with disability access issues and thought they internal offerings to be very pleasing.

Exterior :  6/10  Marks down for the need to pass the kitchen and fridges (that’s just poor floor planning) but positive marks for the privacy of the toilet’s position. The confusing street entrance was a bit shit too. I might joke, but I’m not a dumb person and I was confused by the entrance. It’s a pretty basic thing to make the door into any kind of business as easy to access as possible, that’s just good marketing sense.

Safety :  7/10  Fort Street is not the crack den it used to be. Now re-imagined as an industrial gem, post 1990’s drug infested refurb. The whole area has been hard-out gentrified which in a way makes it far more accessible for people like me (weak pussies) but also takes away a lot of the genuine charm of the place. I quite liked the dirty bars and strip clubs. They made an evening out more of an adventure and less of an exercise in embarrassment at the lack of designer clothing you are wearing.

Snugglitude :  6/10  I genuinely enjoyed my meal at Beirut but if I’m honest the star of the evening was not the food. I was more interested in the fun of “being fancy” with my Mum and Aunt, wearing my awesome new Kat Von D lipstick, followed by watching TV’s Jaquie Brown walk out of the place with a napkin stuck to her heel. It felt almost like a bit scripted only for the enjoyment of the hostess when she told her about the offending paper towel. A comedienne making the world laugh one waitress at a time. If I were having a bad evening with panic attacks and spew guts I could for sure see this loo as being a place I could sit and get my head together. That said I saw Beirut at 6pm on a Saturday evening when no one was in the bar, so I imagine the sense of privacy and quiet would be totally lost as soon as 20-30 more people turned up to ra-ra-ra at their own self-importance.

Total :  35.5/50

Beirut Fort Street, flower display at the counter

Sans trees & a howling breeze; The Kirkbuster Museum, Orkney Isles

Kirkwall Museum, Orkney, sea view

When was the last time you were in a place that felt profoundly foreign?

Over the past year I’ve experienced that “other worldly” feeling in a handful of countries, but none felt somehow simultaneously close to home while also being totally alien in the same way as the Orkney Isles. Orkney is an archipelago of 70 odd islands north of Scotland. The largely uninhabited and pastoral nature of the Mainland (the very inventive name of the largest Island) made me feel a little pang for the endless flat fields of the north Waikato plains, but that’s where the similarity ends.

To begin with, there are no trees. I’m not even exaggerating. The fields just go on rolling from ragged cliff coast to ragged beach coast as far as the eye can see.

Orkney Islands, Mainland beach

The wind whips across this green but kind of empty landscape like an actual whip, sometimes enough to almost poke your eye out. We visited in the height of summer, and yet the top temperature during our holiday was 11°c. With no hills or trees to act as wind breaks, on an island that is only 25 km across at it’s widest point, there is no real main land to retreat to in hopes of sheltering from the harsh northern elements.

Orkney, Kirkbuster museum sign from road

Kirkbuster isn’t a town, more a patch of fields near another patch of fields. But it does have a dinky as fuck museum where we stopped to take in some local history and play with antique farm equipment.

Orkney, Kirkbuster museum sign from carpark

Orkney, Kirkbuster museum front door

Being a museum (not very) professional, I love visiting smaller local museums. Their content is genuine and old fashioned (even if they have worryingly low standards for collection care and pest management) but lacks the zeitgeist, on-trend approach that sometimes bog down big national museums. I feel a proper going back in time, 1950’s, joy in dioramas, mannequins, and historical tableaux.

The museum consists of a handful of dry stone buildings (in various states of repair) on a country lane, surrounded by fields. The exhibitions look a bit like this;

Kirkbuster museum, interior, museum display

Kirkbuster museum, interior, museum display

“This is what life looked like a hundred years ago and for the hundreds of years previous” exhibits. The hearth at the center of the room was pumping out smoke like a demon, so everything smelt very strongly of dark, dank peat smoke which stung your eyes and left a scent to your clothes for the rest of the day.

Kirkbuster Museum, exterior of building

The bathrooms had cheery red doors and had luckily been updated in the past century.

Kirkbuster Museum, exterior, toilet doors.

Kirkbuster Museum, exterior, toilet door

There were two unisex toilets, each containing one set of facilities. The interior walls of the toilet had funny little paintings all over. Twee bunnies and flowers, like a Beatrix Potter book.

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, toilet and sink

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, toilet and wardrobe

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, sink and mirror

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, flagstones

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, doorknob

As with many historical buildings in Europe, the doorways are very low, hence the need for foam padding on the upper door frame to stop dim people banging their already empty heads.

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, door

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, door

Rating

Cleanliness :  7/10  I get the feeling there is rarely, perhaps never, an all balls to the wall, super busy, run off your feet season. The toilets were clean, but unless one of the 4 or 5 people who visited the museum that day had been a real dickbag, the bathrooms were never going to be too dirty due to over use. Each day someone goes in and gives them a good going over and that is more than enough for the daily horde.

Interior :  7/10  Both toilets had all the facilities you would require and the privacy of a unit over a stall is always a plus in my book. The surrounding fields and gardens had plenty of places to hide if panic over took me but due to the remote nature of the Orkney Isles it was mostly an if you see a toilet , use it situation.

Exterior :  8/10  Very pretty, picturesque surroundings in a bucolic and slightly barren kind of a way. The museum must have a decent bit of funding as the facilities were in good order for a place in the middle of fuck nowhere, on an island miles from any real civilization.

Safety :  8/10  Getting lost would be the only real worry on Orkney. If you ended up alone, naked and lost in the middle of a field in winter, you might have a problem but otherwise, I think you’re pretty safe up there. Less people, means less arseholes. It’s basic percentages.

Snugglitude :  7/10  This place is cute as fuck and if I were driving the windy roads of Orkney looking for a place to stop during a panic attack, I would feel comfortable stopping at the Kirkbuster Museum. The only issue might be finding someone to ask permission to use the loos.

Total :  37/50

Our time on Orkney was lovey. We saw stones, and grass, and bigger stones, and a cuttick. After we left the Kirkbuster Museum we drove to the next parish where we stopped to take some pictures. While posing with the sign, I saw a local lady drive past and roll her eyes at our childish antics. What did she expect living in the town of Twatt?

We are, after all, only human.

Twatt Church, bench, Orkney Isles

 

 

Magyar Szecesszió Háza; Art Nouveau museum, Budapest Hungary

As the haze of my jet lag subsides, and I once again reconcile myself with the reality of paying $5.00 for a block of butter (Oh the joys of being home!), I submerge like the bloated corpse of Luca Brasi from the Northern hemisphere, with a suitcase full of Primark clothing, and a phone jam-packed with pictures of toilets.

Over the past year have received strange looks from people whilst taking pictures of toilets across London, up to Scotland & the Orkney Isles, in Hungary, Germany, Italy and Dubai. They are, of course completely correct in their questioning stares. I may be a bonafide loon. But writing about toilets is a nice, safe way to push my brain past the HUGE Bruce shaped anxiety bubble which currently looms over my mind. Now, with all the time in the world – I am for the first time almost in my life, a genuine unemployed person – I am struggling to find any creative inspiration or mental spark. It’s been four whole days since I, having settled into our new flat and my unsolicited position as house wife of two, have had no real work to do and so far I’m coming up dry. Dry like an 18 year old’s tongue, the morning after drinking two bottles of off-brand Kahlua, then vomiting so hard and long out their hostel room window that they pull a variety of muscles between their ribs.

So, Budapest. It’s a city in Hungary and I went there late last year.

Budapest, bridge scenic view

If you fancy yourself all worldly or just a bit of a pretentious dick, feel free to pronounce it; BoodaPesht.

Budapest has a huge variety of historical styles; romantic marble and tiles clashing wonderfully with cold war austerity and brutalism. Mmmmm, such art wank.

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau

The Magyar Szecesszió Háza or House of Hungarian Art Nouveau  is a 6-7 level, center-row terrace, filled with gorgeous furniture, prints, ceramics and other arts. To the Alphonse Mucha fan girl in me, this place is a stylistic wet dream. Those amazing double height wooden windows let in just enough light to cut through the dust’n’gloom to reflect light off various goodies crafted from silver, glass, pewter (not very reflective, I’m aware) polished bronze and glazed tiles. The three levels of the museum proper (i.e. open to the public) are put together like a hoarders cave or old-fashioned antiques shop. There was something pretty to look at in every direction.

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, internal, cafe window

As you walk in the front door there is a sweet little cafe and gift shop area. Behind a wall of furniture you will find a little old lady sitting at a desk selling tickets to the museum. As a museum professional (read: wanker) I will explain to my fellow museum wankers that this isn’t really set up like a museum. No labels, no exhibitions, very few real displays. It’s more like you’ve somehow found yourself in the basement of a museum where beautiful things are stored while waiting to go on display. But with no collection care or pest management.

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, internal, prints on wall.

The public toilets are on the lower level down a wrought iron staircase. Though they weren’t full-on art nouveau as I had hoped, they did have a few touches that made me happy and warranted a review.

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, internal, bathroom door signs

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, internal, bathroom door signs

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, internal, bathroom door signs

The toilet signage was original and gorgeous. I appreciate how much work must have gone into hand stitching these figures in classic 1910-20’s lounging attire. Seems the toilet is where you go to smoke in orange silk pajamas.

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, internal, door handle

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, internal, door guard

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, internal, room dividers/doors

The internal door-dividers were one of the best nouveau details, with long curved glass panels. The yellowy-orange glass made me think 1970’s but I loved that they were hinged in the middle so could be folded open if required. Why that would be required in a museum bathroom, I don’t know but, where ever they originated (maybe a theater or restaurant?) I’m sure this function was worthwhile rather than just decorative.

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, internal, stall

The toilet stalls, sinks, soap dispensers, driers etc. were all pretty standard, but the lack of other patrons made it rather nice and peaceful.

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, internal, sinks

Rating

Cleanliness : 8/10  Not bad.

Interior : 7/10  I liked the lack of people. Four stalls would have been plenty had there been more customers on the Sunday afternoon we visited but no one at all is always preferable.

Exterior :  9/10  The exterior of this building is stunning, a point which is often less easy to improve for most businesses. It was easy to get to on the cool as fuck cold war, brutal looking Budapest metro system. I was massively over charged for a gin and tonic in a bar nearby but even hyper vigilant tourists are fools from time to time.

Safety : 8/10  I found Budapest to be super not stabby, which I always appreciate. The museum was quiet and run by sweet little old ladies so really unless they were killing babies and hiding them under the floor boards, I think we were pretty safe.

Snugglitude : 7/10  The museum or “show rooms” were gorgeous and well worth the time to wander about. The bathroom could have been more in keeping with the theme, perhaps with nouveau sinks, carved stalls or even just stylized soap dispensers but as with everything, that costs money and I get the feeling this place is run on a pretty low budget. If I were having a panic attack, I could have left my husband upstairs to read in the cafe while I sequestered myself in one of the stalls to shit-a-plenty without too much of an issue.

Total :  39/50

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, internal, mirror in bathroom