Bathrooms. Not a topic we always want to talk about.
However throughout my many years of experience as a licensed tour guide in Israel, the number one concern of tourists is..bathrooms!
That’s right. Hotels are important. Restaurants too. Sites and Activities. Comfort and cleanliness are at the top of the list. Tourists and those of us who live here survive on creature comforts, our stomachs and bathrooms.
You can tell a lot about a country and its population by the number of bathrooms open to the public. Location is very important . After all, you always want to be near a bathroom when you get the urge.
And when you get the urge, your focus is only on the urge. Nothing else matters.
You can be at the most exciting site or activity on your tour itinerary, or listening to the most interesting facts or stories that your guide may be telling you.
But when the urge comes and you gotta go, you gotta go!
Did you know that at the Western Wall the bathrooms are open and free 24 hrs per day? Clean Stalls, Toilet Paper and water are always available ? To the best of my knowledge this is probably the only religious site in the Western World which offers such a convenience , for free!
National park sites all have bathroom facilities open during operating hours. Usage is included in the entrance fee. Other sites charge a small fee -2 shekels for use; those that charge keep the facilities clean! Even most restaurants, gas stations and rest stops throughout the country now provide clean bathroom facilities.
It wasn’t always like this.
Many of us remember what a challenge it was to find a bathroom, let alone a clean one. In the early years of the country from 1948 till about 1970..it just wasn’t important. We had other things to be concerned about, and still do!
Of course, people needed bathrooms back then. However we were a nation of pioneers. Pioneers who were educated in self sacrifice found the nearest tree or bush when nature called. If you visited a Kibbutz or Moshav, you probably used the communal bathrooms or outhouses. Gas stations and/or roadside stops offered shacks with holes in the ground. Tour buses would stop at these roadside inconveniences . Many tourists would hem ,haw and hold their noses. Most would try to wait till the end of the day when they arrived at their hotel. Not a pleasant experience .
Toilet paper was available. However most brands felt like crepe paper. Slowly, Israel joined the world in using 2-ply.
Many overseas students who came to Israel for their Gap year after high school, made it a habit to visit the bathrooms in as many of the modern hotels as possible to use the facilities and walked out with rolls of new, soft toilet paper in their backpacks.
In the 1980’s and early 90’s this was still the case. Office buildings, banks, etc had bathrooms. But they were only for the use of the employees .Even if you were a customer, there was a good chance that you would be turned away.
I can recall a time when I was walking in downtown Jerusalem and the urge came upon me. I happened to be standing outside the main post office, across from City Hall on Jaffa Road. I went into the Post Office and asked the Security guard if he could point me to the bathroom. His answer was” We don’t have any bathrooms here”. I couldn’t believe my ears . As he sat in his little security booth with a smug look on his face ..I couldn’t resist asking him the following question:”And where do you go?” He was not too happy with my comment . He stormed out of his security booth with an angry look on his face. I thought I was going to be arrested!. He marched me out of the building, pointed to the City Hall across the street and said (in Hebrew)- “that’s where they have Public Service-at City Hall”. As he walked away I understood the message. In Hebrew , the term for “public bathrooms “ is “SHERUTIM ZIBURIIM”-Which can also be translated as “public services”. So actually he was right. City Hall is where you get “public Services”-in every sense of the word.
Israel is now celebrating 75 years as an independent state. 75 years of moving from a pioneering nation of holes in the ground, shacks, communal lavaratories and more to modern facilities nationwide. Today you can tour Israel and experience modern museums, great restaurants, wineries, breweries and more, all with modern, clean facilities. No longer do tourists have to hold their noses when using the facilities.
What led to this change ? Have we become more tourist friendly?
I think so. Israelis have traveled the world as tourists . We have all experienced what other countries have to offer and realized that in order to attract tourists to our country, we need to match our facilities to what we have seen and experienced abroad. That means bringing our bathrooms, rest stops, hotels and restaurants up to par with the rest of the modern world and striving for better. I believe we have accomplished this.
Go into any restaurant . Our chefs are as good as anywhere in the world. Some have received Michelin stars and host TV food shows. Many have lived and worked elsewhere. Some have developed their culinary skills abroad, returned with these skills and adapted them to our taste buds and markets . Others developed their skills here, cooking or baking with their parents at home, breathing in the local culture and then opening great restaurants. The results would astound you ! Meat,Dairy, Veggie, Vegan, Kosher or not. Everyone can find a restaurant that suits their palate and pocketbook . Restaurants are modern ,tasty and clean.
The same is true of wineries . Israel has nearly 400 wineries today. Wineries that win international awards. Wineries that work in conjunction with the vintner, in order to cultivate the grapes that produce the best wines.
Local Breweries are also expanding and making inroads in the Israeli market. Craft Beers, Gin, Single Malts, Vodka and even Bourbon-Whiskey are now made in Israel and can be found in hotels, bars, and in many homes.
Drinking coffee and eating chocolate is the new national pastime. Artistic Baristas bring the coffee drinking experience to new heights while Boutique Chocolatiers create hand made delicacies.
The Israeli palate has come a long way , and for the better.
What does all this have to do with bathrooms?
Obviously , after partaking of any food or libations that Israel has to offer while you are on tour, the call of nature shall be heard. Todays touring facilities are among the best in the world.
Join me on a tour of our wonderful country. See the ancient and modern sites. Enjoy the culinary delights that we have to offer.
And when the urge arises, I for one will put my guiding on hold, and lead you to the nearest facility.