Good morning and welcome to Summit Up, the world’s only daily column reporting on some of the technological innovations we noticed while touring the Old World recently, including a killer self-cleaning toilet that we think should be standard issue in all public lavatories.
We actually noticed this toilet on a previous trip and thought it was so cool that we went back to the same hotel in Munich just to experience the trippy, blue-swirling sensations once again.
The way it works is this:
After you flush and the water washes down the drain, the toilet seat rotates, passing through a little self-contained cleaning channel with a barely audible electrical whir and leaving the seat as neat and shiny as if Mr. Clean was personally in charge.
We note that this was one of those down-the-hall bathroom deals, as the rooms with private bath were a bit out or reach for our Euro-challenged travel budget.
People actually felt sorry for us because of the bad exchange rate, beginning with the folks at the above-mentioned hotel, who, right off the bat, as we were making reservations from Colorado, immediately steered us toward what they kindly called their “value-priced” rooms.
At one point, a waiter at German restaurant actually refused our tip when we told him we were Americans and offered to tip us instead!
“I’ve had a really good day. Thanks for eating here,” he said.
Fishing a few coins out of his pocket, he put them on the table and said we could use it for subway fare.
OK, we actually made this last part up, but that’s kind of what it felt like.
We also noticed how cell phones can be used not only to cause traffic accidents and annoy fellow train passengers, but as valuable instruments of commerce.
With the right type of phone loaded with a smart chip, you can buy chips, chocolate and chewing gum from vending machines by typing a text message code number into your phone as you peruse the selection.
This ends the annoyance of having to find the right change, or even having your coins get lost in the bowels of the machine.
But it also raises the question of why they can’t apply the same technology to public restrooms, especially in train stations.
We were left scratching our heads several times upon encountering public facilities where you not only had to pay half a Euro for the privilege, but you had to come up with the exact denomination of coinage to do so.
So if you can use a cell phone to buy gum, and if vending machines can dispense change even for bills, why is it so darn hard to gain entry into a public toilet?
The best we can figure is that it’s some sort of torture ritual that dates back to the Dark Ages, and those Europeans, well, they love to cling to their past.
This goes hand in hand with another minor annoyance, namely the fact that store clerks will ask you for the exact change anytime you make a purchase.
It doesn’t matter if you buy a newspaper for 90 (European) cents and hand the the clerk a one-Euro coin; they will still ask you if you have the exact amount and stand there waiting until you’ve emptied your pockets.
If they do have to make change, as often as not, they will make sure to give it to you in the smallest coins they have.
This all works directly in conflict with our desire to have many apppropriate coins as possible for, uhhh, sanitary emergencies.
None of this is a big deal, though, and there are many things we admire about the way they lead life.
The concept of personal responsibility and liability are quite different.
At one public swimming area in Piran, Slovenia, we noticed hordes of youngsters diving and flipping off a two-foot high rock pier into water that was barely waist-deep.
Other kids were flinging their fishing lures through waters crowded with floaty toys, and at one point we even saw a woman swimming with a dog standing on her back.
But not once that day did we see a lifeguard, and amazingly, it all worked.
Nobody died, nobody even was injured, and as far as we could tell, a good time was had by all.
We figure people just have a different attitude about these things.
We don’t think it’s a “life-is-cheap” mentality, but rather a “live-and-let-live” vibe that gives people wide latitude for their personal choices.
Yet another example: When our intrepid Summit Up field agents went to rent a moped, they were amazed that the folks at the bar (yes, you can rent scooters at a bar) didn’t even ask for a passport.
When we returned the little red Vespa after a fun-filled and thrilling evening of buzzing through the hills and cobblestone alleys of coastal Croatia and Slovenia, they didn’t even go outside to take a look at the Vespa to see if it was scratched or damaged (it wasn’t), just handing us back the deposit with a hearty thank you.
Meanwhile, back in Summit Up land, more wildlife sightings from the local hills.
Frequent contributor Lynzie Flynn sent us a picture of a bear spotted by her husband on the commute home.
Kim Fenske, another talented local shutterbug, sent the image of a marmot who appeared mystified by the recent closure of the Dam Road.
And Jim and Cindy Ernst sent in the shot of a baby hummingbird, who, if you look closely, looks like a fuzzy-headed alien with its arms hanging out over the edge of the nest.
We out, dialin’ for dollars.
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