Torino restrooms: Your front-row seat

Updated: February 17, 2006, 7:44 PM ET
By Brian Church | Special to ESPN.com

At the start of these Winter Games, I predicted two major problems for visitors to Torino: Coping with the Italian language and the restrooms.

I was right on with the Italian guess, having watched people struggle everywhere. For restrooms, the jury's still out, as people don't like being watched.

Brian Church/ESPN.comOur man Brian Church finds some quality restroom doors.

Italian rules these Olympics -- I've not seen state TV interview a single non-Italian athlete -- but English can pop up in strange places. A cable car notice at the biathlon said: "Do not lean against the doors." Methinks anyone leaning against the flimsy doors of a swinging cable car 40 meters above the ground has more than a language problem.

So, this isn't the land of logic. Enjoy instead Italian charm and beautiful mountain villages, where the sun goes to enjoy the view below. The owner of my flat in Avigliana, 30 minutes from Torino, said she did not see a single vehicle on the road during her driving test. Sadly, she failed after overtaking a husky.

First thing you need to know about Italian restrooms: There's not much room to rest in them. Second thing: Don't judge a toilet by its cover; in this case, the café or restaurant. (Olympic venues have fine portable toilets, which can shake a bit when someone heavy enters next door.)

Italy is an enigma. Some of the nicest food in the world, great restaurants ... and lousy restrooms, often two basic footprints in porcelain, nothing else, a simple hole in the ground. No wonder this lot are such good skiers.

The funny thing is the minimalist toilets are often clean. Maybe the owners are hiring Olympic curlers for part-time work with their brooms.

Public restrooms are not very common. At large organizations and railway stations, look for DONNE (Women) and OSMONDE (Men). There's no harm with the occasional joke for my older readers. Male readers in a hurry should search for UOMINI.

If you ask to use the restrooms at a café, be prepared to travel. Many cafés in Torino are so small, they pay for the right to use a toilet up the road. No joke.

On my last visit in December, I was directed out of a café, up the street and told to stop at two big wooden doors (see photo). I opened them with the first key -- I'm not joking -- and walked into a yard full of cars and people's back balconies. Now, I had to look for a toilet, which opened with the second key. Still not joking. In the end, I went back to my hotel because it was closer.

We've gotta lotta chocolate news Saturday. It's what the locals do best.

Brian Church is a columnist with the Athens News in Greece. He will be contributing to ESPN.com throughout the Olympics.