It’s been said (by one of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) that the best way to get to know a new country is to eat the food and wear the clothes. But Lonely Planet has a different take: Use the toilet. “Toilets are a window into the secret soul of a destination,” according to the introduction of Toilets: A Spotter’s Guide by Patrick Kinsella. The book captures some really amazing bathrooms from around the world, and who knows? You may find one that inspires you so much, you’ve just gotta go.
We spoke with Robin Barton, an associate publisher for Lonely Planet, about the book via email.
We wanted to make a fun and entertaining book that was also informative and showed the wonderful variety of the world. Because toilets are a universal experience, we thought they would make the perfect subject. We were amazed at the range of restroom experiences available, from peaceful wilderness lookouts, to swanky, arty, and surprisingly public possibilities.
What are some of your favorite or most unique toilets in the book?
Personally, I appreciate loos with the most magnificent views. There’s the Scott Duncan Hut outhouse, in Alberta, Canada, which basically overlooks Banff National Park. There are toilets in Iceland with views of a volcano. In London, a restroom in the Shard tower provides an amazing view of London beneath you. And, on a similar theme, the urinals in the Felix Bar in Hong Kong look out over Victoria Harbour.
Also, some of the architect-designed toilets are worth a shout-out: the weathered steel restroom by Miro Rivera Architects on the Lady Bird Lake Trail near Austin, Texas, is stunning, as is the roadside rest stop in northern Norway by architects Manthey Kula. This Corten steel structure replaced a restroom that blew away in the Arctic gales — we don’t know if anybody was inside at the time.
Related: So, how do space toilets work? Astronaut Tim Peake answers ‘the big question’
We’d love to hear a bit about the range of tech from country to country. There are obviously some that are super high-tech, while others function with pretty much no tech.
I’d heard of, but not experienced, Japan’s famous high-tech toilets that perform a wide and slightly strange range of functions at the press of a button (let’s just say that the water pressure is adjustable on many of these machines). But I didn’t know that there was also a urinal in Japan where you can play computer games while going about your business. We also feature a Tardis toilet, which is in the very twee surroundings of Warmley, England, but time travel is not enabled. Ultimately, a high-tech toilet and a hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere perform pretty much the same job.
Do you envision people going on toilet pilgrimages to see some of these sites?
I’m not sure that anybody is enthusiastic enough about toilet-spotting to actually travel with that purpose, but we have included some basic coordinates just in case people are in the area when the call of nature strikes. The toilets in metropolitan areas or high-trafficked travel destinations could easily be found if you’re feeling inspired!
What surprised you most in writing the book?
New Zealand. There are some truly amazing public restrooms in that tiny country, from wonderful arty designs such as the lobster loos in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital and, my personal favorite, the boat-shaped lavatories in Matakana, designed by Steffan de Haan. Something as humble as a restroom can reflect a community and a place. Then there are some out-of-this-world outhouses in New Zealand’s beautiful National Parks. If there’s a single country the lavatory fan should visit, it’s New Zealand.
And Texas; who knew that Sulphur Springs installed a mirrored restroom (nominated for restroom of the year in 2013) that people could see out of but not into? That was a surprise!