40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Not a Pool: TWA Hotel

rooftop pool with TWA logo and runway view

TWA Hotel pool. Photos by Gordon Gebert unless otherwise noted.

As the temperature drops this fall, I’m thinking fondly of a summertime outing taken with my coworkers on a hot day this past July. We were treated to a tour of the new TWA Hotel and the magnificent public spaces within the old TWA Terminal at JFK Airport. Our day ended with a long lunch and plenty of time for dunking up on the rooftop pool deck.

The pool is shallow and short so I didn’t even attempt to swim a lap. Rather, it’s a nice place to hang out and watch things flying around the airport and Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which in our case included birds, a gigantic swarm of dragon flies, and airplanes (seen but magically not heard).

Our tour guide told us that the pool would be open year round, though some aspects of the heating plan had yet to be determined. I’d be curious to check it out in the winter, especially if the deck also has some warm spots.

Day visitors are welcome for a fee, but there are no locker rooms and you have to leave a long list of personal items with security, making the whole experience a bit awkward. We loved the spaces and the views, had some bumps with the service just like the New York Times critic, and all agreed we’d go back in a heartbeat.

Here are some more views of the pool area and the rest of the property from this wonderfully memorable day.

table set with pool-themed accessories

Our lunch table complete with pool-themed accessories and TWA wings. Note that everything on the deck is white and there is no shade. We weren’t sure if this was because the project wasn’t completed or they don’t want guests to overstay their welcome up there. (This photo is mine.)

"Connie" on the tarmac

Architect Eero Saarinen’s creation as seen from the pool area atop one of the new hotel wings, with the “Connie” lounge inside a plane salvaged from the Honduran jungle.

three of us in the sun

Nothing says a good day at work like a pool huddle with some of your favorite coworkers. Thanks to Michael for the pic!

lobby lounge

The entire terminal is now public space, open to hotel guests and visitors alike. There’s even free wifi! Check out the beautiful former departure lounge.

departure lounge

Another view of the terminal, in all its sweeping glory.

white walls, red carpet, tunnel with a light at the end

The light at the end of the tunnel: a fantastic promenade sans harried travelers.

curvaceous concrete and bike rack

Curvaceous concrete and bike rack at the terminal entrance. (This photo is by yours truly.)

group photo in stripy room

Let’s hear it for this great team! (Photo by tour guide Kelly.)

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#100: Kosciuszko Pool

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Configuration: 3 wide lanes of 100 feet in Early Bird lap swim area; pool is 230 feet the long way

Fee: Free

The prospect of pool number 100 hung over me all year. I wanted it to be local and special, a tall order given that I’ve spent seven years ticking off other pools that fit those criteria. Happily, Parks came to my rescue by adding a Brooklyn wunderpool to the Early Bird lap swim program.

As soon as I saw Kosciuszko Pool on the list, I asked four of my favorite pool pals — all of them with 40 Pools from the beginning — to join me there for 7:00 a.m. laps one Friday early in the season. In a summer full of unexpected health issues among this cohort and our loved ones, it was extra special that we all turned up that steamy morning ready to explore a “new” pool and check out a neighborhood spot for breakfast. Kosciuszko Pool, correctly pronounced with two sh sounds but known more easily as K Pool, was perfect for the occasion.

5 of us in swimsuits

Pool and the Gang: Amanda, Lisa Lisa, me, Janet, and Piezy sneaking some post-swim pics. That’s a nice-looking shade structure and the lap area off in the distance.

What’s more, Amanda agreed to be our designated photographer, Janet gamely composed a special workout for the occasion, and they both agreed to share their work herein. Thank you Lane 2 buddies!

Check-in was smooth and professional, with Lisa Lisa coincidentally getting card number 100 — a high count given that this was just the sixth day of lap swimming. Clearly, this addition to the Early Bird program was already well appreciated. The locker rooms were roomy with a larger bench area that we are accustomed to, and the lap swim staff and fellow swimmers were welcoming. No pool rage here. (My only significant criticism was that after the swim the showers gave us just a modest trickle out of each head.)

Unlike many of the city’s massive lap pools, this one dated not from the WPA era but the 1960s. Buh-bye brick, hello concrete! Despite the change in materials, the attention to detail was just as thoughtful as the pools from 40 years prior, with Modern play sculptures and a shade overhang incorporated into the design.

Pipes and pyramid

Architect Morris Lapidus designed this play space atop the locker rooms, but the slide he created is no longer in use.

The lap area is at the far end of the pool, and regulars told us it’s even available during the day. (As of this posting date, there are two days left of lap swimming and then one more week of outdoor pools, so get there stat if you want to see for yourself.) One challenge for Janet in her workout writing is that we didn’t know ahead of time what the distance would be. It turned out to be the “short” dimension, which is 100 feet across. Three wide lane-like areas were designated slow, medium, and fast, and the acquatics specialists kept a close eye on things to prevent collisions and misanthropy. More and more swimmers piled in as the session went on, and we gazed longingly at the vast empty water beyond the lap area.

Long view of pool and bleachers

The lap area is so small and far away that you can barely see it!

The week was steamy hot, making the water in my usual Early Bird pool cloudy and warm, but K Pool was amazingly chilly — too chilly for Piezy to even stay in but perfect for me. The biggest detraction was the remnants of a chicken dinner strewn across the bottom or our lane area. Really.

This superblock of a pool was the work of Morris Lapidus, an architect who designed resort pools full of flare in places like Miami and the Caribbean. An immigrant from Russia, he grew up in Bed-Stuy, so it’s fitting that the Parks Department commissioned him for a pool in that neighborhood. Riding my bike here that early morning and then to Queens afterward, I was struck by how quickly and dramatically the neighborhoods in Brooklyn shift. Immediately surrounding the pool are low-rise residences, a school, and not much commercial activity or greenery.

The pool’s namesake, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, an earlier immigrant from eastern Europe, has more than his fair share of structures named after him, including a New York bridge that reopened today. Janet incorporated colorful facts about both of these men into her commemorative workout.

With thanks again to my fellow pool tourists, here is Janet’s workout. And yes, I’ve continued to think about old Tadeusz whenever I try to do a good streamline.

Warmup: 400/533 yards (12-16 lengths). While swimming, streamline off of every wall, imagining your body as stiff and sturdy as the logs Kosciuszko used to dam rivers during the American Revolution. From Wikipedia:

The British advance force nipped hard on the heels of the outnumbered and exhausted Continentals as they fled south. Major General Philip Schuyler, desperate to put distance between his men and their pursuers, ordered Kościuszko to delay the enemy. Kościuszko designed an engineer’s solution: his men felled trees, dammed streams, and destroyed bridges and causeways. Encumbered by their huge supply train, the British began to bog down, giving the Americans the time needed to safely withdraw across the Hudson River.

Kosciuszko pool was designed by Morris Lapidus, the architect of the Fountainbleau in Miami Beach: “During an age when proper, refined American architecture was smitten by the big boxes and straight lines of such European internationalists as Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Morris Lapidus was drawing curves and installing cupids in his lobbies.” Be inspired by Lapidus’s curves:
Swim 4 x 1 length, alternating lane leader—play follow the leader, making your length as curvy as the pool/crowd permits.

More Lapidus inspiration, from the Washington Post [with emphasis added by yours truly]:

It was as if American design were dominated by something like nouvelle cuisine — stark portions of food artfully arranged on an otherwise empty plate — while Lapidus was serving up great, heaping, artery-clogging slabs of triple-chocolate cake. As he put it himself: “If people like ice cream, why give them one scoop when you can give them three?” His contemporaries said “less is more,” Lapidus recalls. “And I said, less is nothing.”

So — in celebration of both of triple layers of triple chocolate cake, topped with triple scoops of ice cream, and also in celebration of Hannah’s 100th pool, let’s do
3 x (3 x 100 (i.e. 3 laps)):
          1st set: easy 100, medium 100, fast 100
          2nd set: each 100 easy-medium-fast by length
          3rd set: fast 100, medium 100, easy 100

Now back to Kosciusko: At some point in 1777, Kościuszko composed a polonaise and scored it for the harpsichord. According to Wikipedia, a polonaise rhythm goes like this:
musical notations

Let’s see if we can do 2 x 1 length kicking to this rhythm in honor of Koko.

And finally: Kosciuszko has had monuments/bridges/pools/towns named for him all over the US as well as in Europe, including his native Belarus. Do you know who was born in Kosciuszko, Mississippi? Oprah Winfrey, that’s who! Be your best swimming self as you do 6 lengths perfect stroke warmdown.

nice landscaping outside the pool complex

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Wodny Park Pool

Amanda and Jack, lookin’ better than ever!

Location: Warsaw, Poland

Configuration: 10 lanes of 50 meters plus recreational pool

Fee: depends; see below

Ever-intrepid pool tourist Amander, aka Amanda, visited our beloved lane-mate Jack in his new home turf of Warsaw, Poland, this past spring. On a gray, drizzly, mid-March day, they ventured to an early morning swim with the Warsaw Masters Team at the Wodny Park Pool to provide this dispatch. I miss swimming with them both — Jack’s relocation coincided more or less with the closure of the pool where we all swam together — and love how their personalities come through in this post, which introduces a dialog-based format to 40 Pools. Not to mention, the pool is gorgeous! 

AmandaJack, how did you discover the team?

Jack: First of all, let me just say how lovely it was to host you, Ms. Amanda! As for team, one of the first things I did when we moved from NYC to Warsaw in February of 2018 was to start looking for a team. WMT is pretty much the only viable option in the city, but I found the whole process quite confusing. The website is in Polish (I didn’t speak a lick when I first got here), the whole structure of the team/payments/practices is different from our NY team, and their system doesn’t accommodate drop-ins the way ours does. In other words, you have to be cleared by the Team Administrator to attend a practice in advance, and I found it very difficult.

In the meantime, I swam in a couple of other pools that were closer to home and my office. It was a truly horrific experience. The pools were nice enough and it was beyond cheap, but there was no order in the pool whatsoever. Even lanes that were marked for faster swimmers had extremely slow sidestrokers in them. And forget about lane etiquette! Poland is a very individualistic society, so no one (even at the masters level) would think to stop at the end of the lane to let you pass no matter how much faster you are. So after several frustrating solo swims (one of which resulted in someone punching me in the water so I may or may not have kicked him in the face), I decided the only way to go was by finding a way to join the team and swimming at the Wodny Park Pool, locally known as “Warsawianka.” 

What did you think of Wodny Park, Amanda?

Swoon! (Yes, Jack, I am insanely jealous.)

Amanda: Plenty of aquatics facilities like to tout their “Olympic” pools, but Wodny Park can legitimately make this claim, at least in terms of size, with ten lanes of 50 meters. Additionally, according to the pool information on the Wodny Park website, “The first-class technical fittings include an electronic Omega timekeeper, an area for judges, commentators and trainers and appropriate lighting and sound systems in the swimming pool hall allowing for sporting competitions and television broadcasting to be performed. The water is maintained at a constant temperature. 600 people may watch sporting competitions in the auditorium at one time.”

Impressive numbers aside, this is a truly beautiful pool. In spite of the dreary early spring weather during my visit, the vaulted ceiling with wooden slats arcing gracefully over a full wall of windows on one side of the facility provided generous natural light. The water was a perfect temperature, and the pool is deep with well-marked lanes. Swimming long course was an extra special treat. And our hosts, the Warsaw Masters Team, were incredibly friendly and welcoming. Although the workout was given entirely in Polish, some very helpful lane-mates translated for us.

Jack, are they always so nice?

Jack: For the most part, yes. As I mentioned before, I had a hard time at first getting “invited” to join the team. My husband had the brilliant idea of basically stalking them – going to the pool while the team was practicing, swimming near them, and then introducing myself to the coach afterwards. It worked like a charm!

Once invited onto the team, most of the men and women could not have been more lovely. The main coaches I swim with, Milena and Patryk, always make sure to take time to explain the set to me in English (I’m the only non-Pole in the water on most days) or they ask one of the better English speakers to help me out. At the end of my first practice, I was even welcomed by one of the guys named Bartek to join them for breakfast and a fruit smoothie he had brought in for the swimmers from home!

Amanda – did you notice anything other than the gorgeous pool in the Wodny Park facility?

Family area with yonder water slides.

Amanda: The facility has so much to offer. There is a separate recreational pool with slides and toys for families; sadly, we did not partake. We also skipped the saunas, steam rooms, “snow cabins,” and solariums, but judging by the photos on Wodny Park’s website, it seems like it would be worth the splurge to pay the 79 Zloty (about US$21) for a full-day ticket to enjoy both the pool and saunas. The locker room, in the usual European fashion, is co-ed in the locker area, with private stalls for changing and single-sex shower areas. It is clean, well-lit, and spacious, with amenities like vanity mirrors and hair dryers. There’s even a bowling alley, spa, and full gym in the space!

Jack, have you tried out the snow cabins or the solariums?

Jack: I have gone to the “Russian Bania” once or twice, which is right off the recreational pool. It was quite an experience. I had assumed going in that it would be a more conservative (i.e., clothed) experience, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! Fully nude men, women, and children are all about using the several saunas, steam rooms, ice rooms, and even sunbathing outside on one of two all-nude sun decks. I mean, I’m from freaking Connecticut, you know? This was not normal for me – especially seeing a dad and his 12-year old girl chillin’ naked together in one of the steam rooms! – but when in Warsaw, you know?

Amanda – given all they had to offer, what did you think of the pricing?

Amanda: It’s very reasonable, although it is definitely a better value if you purchase a full day ticket and really take advantage of all the amenities. As a one-time visitor to the facility, I paid for a 2.5-hour single-entry swimming-only ticket for 35 Zloty (about US$9.25). Upon leaving, my ticket was scanned and I was reimbursed for the portion of time on my ticket that I hadn’t used (about 30 minutes). Aside from being a spectacular place to stretch out some sore traveling muscles and enjoy a fun organized workout, it was a really special part of my trip to be able to swim with Jack again and to have a little glimpse into his life in the place he and James are calling home for the next few years. 

Jack, how much did you love having me there??

Amanda: Honestly, it was one of my favorite practices of the year – except for the fact that you are now officially faster than me 100% of the time. Ok, well – we didn’t do any backstroke sets but otherwise you totally owned me!

Seriously though, it was lovely showing you off to my new Polish Team. So happy you came, and to finally be a part of this blog! Thanks Hannah – miss you and hope to swim with you soon!

To close, here are some of Amanda’s views of Warsaw’s Old Town Square, plus a current shot of what we are all missing at John Jay.

pool construction shot

Swamp no more? Reconstruction proceeds at John Jay College. (There’s a broken water pipe somewhere in here.)

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Not a Pool: Mirror Lake

whitewater in the lock

HOW MUCH FUN would it be to swim here?!

During a recent vacation in the Adirondacks, I was disappointed to have to stay in my kayak — rather than swimming — when going through the small-craft lock leading to Lower Saranac Lake, but I had some good swims in Mirror Lake in the town of Lake Placid.

Mirror Lake is one of very few easily accessible Adirondack lakes dedicated to human-powered craft, and it has the added attraction of a marked .6-mile-long course for swimmers and rowers. (The Lake Placid Ironman course is two full loops — 2.4 miles — so this is a very popular training spot for triathletes.) This impressive display of swim infrastructure consists of several rows of straight, taut underwater cables and myriad colored floats on the surface. Much as I Googled, I couldn’t find details about how the course was installed, equipment involved, maintenance required, and other questions that floated into my inquiring mind while swimming.

I visited twice, both times in the late afternoon, and could count on one hand the number of swimmers also using the course. Yes, I did run headfirst into a black-cap-wearing person in a full-body wetsuit with no swim buoy, but that was more a consequence of our differing understandings of where we were supposed to be swimming than my not not being able to see him. I never did figure out if you are supposed to circle around the underwater cable, as if it were a black line on the bottom of the pool, or use the floats like lane lines and keep them to your right at all times. Suffice it to say that I did more sighting in my second swim just in case another Neoprene-wearing lake creature and I were on a collision course.

With hopes that this post adds to Google’s infobase for Adirondack-bound swimmers, here are some photos of this lovely lake.

blue skies and puffy clouds above Mirror Lake

That’s the town of Lake Placid on the left (west) and fancy private boathouses on the right. If you zoom in, you’ll see the yellow buoys marking the .6-mile swim course — the “lanes” square off at the end here on the lower right and then head off into the distance toward the middle left. The orange buoy is attached to another swimmer peeling off the course. Other views along the way include private hotel beaches in town, understated luxe houses, and loads and loads of mountains. Photos by Neil.

The other end of the swim course, as seen from the lake’s northwest edge on the 2.7-mile ring road, which makes for a nice post-swim walk — particularly when the clouds are this dramatic.

view of the lake from farther back

Here’s another view of the swim course in the distance including the beachside pier that can be used for access from the town’s lifeguarded beach. There are bathrooms and vending machines here during open hours. Many open water swimmers seemed to prefer entering from the spot where this photo was taken, which is also a boat launch. Note that if you don’t like sharing the water with paddleboarders, this may not be the lake for you.

me and my buoy

That’s me and my buoy, a model of visibility, at the same, southern end of the course.

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8 Bridges Stage 4

On June 11, I had the pleasure of swimming Stage 4 of the 2019 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, aka the Highlands, from the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge to the Bear Mountain Bridge. Though I had company out there, I tried to focus on my own swim. If you’re interested in reading about it, please jump over to the 8 Bridges blog for my write-up, My Own Private Hudson. See also this compilation of screen shots from the GPS tracker thanks to my friend Hank.

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Winter Swimming in England

Thanks to Zoe (pictured at right alongside the Dart) for offering to report on swim conditions from her recent trip. With its year-round outdoor swim culture, England is high on my list of places to covet.

photo: Zoe feeling good after her Boxing Day swim in the River Dart.

Hannah’s suggestion that I visit some outdoor “lidos” during my Christmastime trip to England inspired me to seek out swimming during my vacation. While I didn’t end up swimming in an outdoor lido per se, I had two great swimming experiences.

Lido pronounced “lai-do” is British for swimming pool. Before my arrival in London (from New York), I did some research on winter outdoor lidos in the UK at the Outdoor Swimming Society’s website. A London-based friend directed me to an article, published in The Guardian newspaper in July 2015, on a swimmer’s journey over one weekend across London’s top 10 outdoor pools and ponds. I was fascinated to learn about the vibrant year-round outdoor swim culture in the UK, that also incorporates swimming in ponds and a lake London’s public parks.

In London, I headed to Hyde Park and walked alongside the Serpentine Lake that bisects the park while admiring the rich variety of waterfowl and other birds that inhabit it. Heading west, I arrived at the Serpentine Lido, the area of the lake roped off for the Serpentine Swim Club. The year-round open air swim club is the oldest swimming club in Great Britain. Members swim in the “lido” area between 6:00 and 9:30 every morning and also during its famous Christmas Day race. While I had arrived too late to see any people swimming, it was fun to see the lido and imagine the delights of swimming in this lovely public park.

photo: Serpentine Lake Lido, Hyde Park, London

Serpentine Lake Lido, Hyde Park, London

Hampstead Heath, a public park on a large ancient heath (an open area dominated by low-growing shrubland) in one of the highest points in London, is also well-known for its outdoor swimming. It includes one outdoor swimming pool and three bathing ponds; its Ladies’ Pond and Men’s Ponds are the UK’s only lifeguarded open water swimming facilities open to the public every day of the year. While I was attracted to the idea of swimming in outdoor pond solely for women, the cold water and my unfamiliarity of the park and the pond made me decide against it as the place for my first swim in England.

photo: light-filled 3-lane pool

The restored Art Deco pool at the Marshall Street Leisure Center in the West End of London.

After some online research, I selected as my swim venue the airy and light-filled 30-meter restored Art Deco indoor pool at the Marshall Street Leisure Centre & Spa, in the City of Westminster, in the West End of London. The location and open swim hours worked well with my schedule so I dropped in on a Friday afternoon after a visit to the National Portrait Gallery. The front desk associate was helpful and friendly, and, noting my accent, asked if I was American. I paid about $17.60 to use the pool and spa facilities, a rate that may have been discounted from the official rate for day use. The pool’s six lanes were divided into three sections: slow, medium, and fast. The medium lane turned out to be suitable for my approximately 20-minute swim, a combination of breaststroke, front crawl, and backstroke that seemed a reasonable workout, given that I was out of practice for lap swimming. Sharing the pool with about eight swimmers, my swim was pleasantly uncrowded. It was fun, as a visitor, to be able to use a gym and pool frequented by locals, and I felt grateful that I was allowed to do so. The swim and quick trip to the steam room afterward were welcome diversions from my sightseeing and made me feel more relaxed and open for the rest of my day’s tourist activities.

On Saturday, I boarded the train to Cambridge where I met my sister, Eve, who lives in and runs an interior design firm in the city. The next day, with her partner and son, we drove to Dartmouth, in Devon on the southwest of coast of England, where we met her daughter and eight other people with whom we would spend the next four days over the holiday in a large rented house up a hill above the River Dart. The Dart is an estuary that rises high to the moorlands of Dartmoor and releases into the English Channel at Dartmouth. The sparkling turquoise blue color of the Dart and the area’s mild climate that is hospitable to palm trees made Dartmouth seem almost tropical, amid the intermittent fog and drizzling rain.

photo: palm trees

A public park with palm trees in Dartmouth, England.

photo: riverside houses

Dartmouth on the River Dart in Devon in the southwest of England.

Swimming, it turns out, is a Christmas Day tradition in the United Kingdom, so on the holiday, I followed my fellow houseguest Tristan to the beach and watched him peel down to his trunks and swim far out toward the mouth of the turquoise river. Tristan told me that he always likes to swim when he’s on vacation. I promised myself that I would go for a swim the next day, which was Boxing Day in the UK. After breakfast the next morning, Tristan, another fellow houseguest Jon, and I set out downhill for the beach, accompanied by three others from our group. With the tide receding, we waded over a rocky bottom to deeper water with a soft sandy bottom, and then, screaming and yelling, we plunged in, while our companions cheered us on from a high point above the water. The river water was quite cold but not icy, and the outside temperature was about 50 Fahrenheit. I played with my fantasy of Dartmouth and England as a tropical paradise as I swam front and backstrokes and tasted the salty water, which Tristan noted was diluted with the onrushing freshwater draining down from the hillside into the river. We stayed in for just a few minutes and then ran out. After a wonderfully warm shower at the house, I was ready for an afternoon walk with my family members and newfound friends, who had generously shared this lovely part of the country and swimming in it, with me.

photo: Tristan swimming in the Dart on Christmas Day.

Tristan swimming in the Dart on Christmas Day.

Swimming, I learned, is an exceptional way to immerse myself in a culture and make a connection with people and a place. I returned from my trip energized and inspired, and excited for more swimming adventures in the new year.

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Not a Pool: Ohio Street Beach

outdoor lockers

Like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, a bank of free lockers just steps away from the urban waterfront is the stuff that dreams are made of — but the latter actually exists at Ohio Street Beach, Streeterville, Chicago.

signage pointing the way to Ohio Street Beach

Swimmer-friendly public signage points the way to Ohio Street Beach.

A work trip took me to the Windy City in late October. I arrived in the mid-afternoon, had no work obligations until the next morning, and saw that this time slot would be the warmest of my visit, so naturally I hightailed it to the beach immediately after checking into my Magnificent Mile hotel. Could there really be lockers, like the Internet said? Indeed, they were there, almost all free to be claimed!

Back to the hotel in 12 minutes to regroup and hustle to the beach once again for a swim. By then the sun was sinking behind the skyscrapers to the west, shooting long shadows across the waterfront esplanade into Lake Michigan, making my swim that much more memorable. It’s not often that I get to swim in and out of the shade of some of the world’s tallest and most famous structures.

skyscrapers dotting the waterfront north from Ohio Street Beach

The John Hancock Center peers out over the swim course from Ohio Street Beach. This photo is from the morning two days after my swim — better light and no shadows.

All this would have been remarkable enough, but the water was lovely to boot! Swimming in such an enormous body of freshwater seemed otherworldly. In fact, something about the water reminded me of the Blue Lagoon (and it wasn’t the temperature!) — a slight opacity that nevertheless felt really clean.

The swim course is along the sea wall. Channel markers a ways off the side protect the area, and there are regular ladders up out of the water onto the Lakefront Promenade should you wish to exit. Were someone to swim this close to the shore in Manhattan, you can bet that law enforcement would be on the case in no time. Here in Chicago, no one paid me any mind except a girl staging a Barbie photo shoot on the beach.

Due to the approaching darkness, the temperature (mid-50s air and water), and dinner plans, I limited my swim to about 20 minutes. Next time I’d like to make it at least out to the breakwater about .6 miles north, but I’d been confused by what it was when seeing it from water level.

Much to my delight, the clothes I’d shoved into the locker were still warm when I reclaimed them! The remainder of my swims on this trip were in my favorite indoor pool, where I contemplated whether perhaps I should relocate. In the interim, I’ll jump at the chance to return to the City of the Big Shoulders during outdoor swim season.

No swimming sign

Swimming northeast from the beach is not allowed.

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#99: MIT Zesiger Center

MIT pool - long viewLocation: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Configuration: 12 lanes of 25 yards plus diving well; 50 meters long in total

Fee: $10 day pass with non-MIT student ID, $15 day pass without student ID

A work event brought me to Boston in late September, so I seized the opportunity to try out pool #99 for a Friday night workout with MIT Tech Masters. What a good choice this was! The MIT Zesiger Center pool turned out to be the nicest indoor facility I’ve swum in on the East Coast. Opened in 2002, it still feels and looks brand new. The temperature was perfect, underwater visibility incredible, and my times faster than usual. If there had been a hot tub on deck, I’d probably still be there.

Coach Bill welcomed me to the workout, the club’s first on a Friday night since the spring. I shared a lane with just one other swimmer and somehow ended up doing about 14 laps of butterfly and 12 of breaststroke during the workout. Ouch!

The existence of a second pool (upper right) didn’t even tempt me, this one was so nice.

MIT pool artSwimming in the shallow end had the added benefit of proximity to a multipart art installation by Matthew Ritchie. The view at left, taken from the hallway outside the pool, is not as good as the one from within. Every time I breathed facing that window, I tried to figure out if it was a giant equation or other key to the universe. MIT takes its public art seriously, with a Percent-for-Art program of which this piece is just one example.

If the pool is any indication, sports facilities are taken seriously too — even though MIT is Division III. I wish schools in New York could do the same.

 

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Hafnarfjörður, Iceland

Amanda’s summer 2017 return visit to Iceland brought her to many Westfjords pools, which you can check out in her photo essay. Herein, she tackles Reykjavík, site of some of our previous exploits. Due to the “no photography” policy posted at all of these pools, she’s listed links to the websites for the facilities, which include images. The photographs below are hers. 

After a spectacular road trip around the Westfjords, we ended our 2017 Icelandic vacation with several days in and around Reykjavík, which in turn provided opportunities to visit a few more pools. My first stop was a return to Laugardalslaug, site of the IGLA Championships in 2012 that first brought me to Iceland. Unsurprisingly on a beautiful summer day, the outdoor pools and hot pots were crowded, but I had the indoor pool essentially to myself and enjoyed a nice long-course workout. I thought that the sight guides on the ceiling were a new addition, but photographic evidence from this blog proves me wrong. Nonetheless, swimming backstroke here remains a challenge. Most importantly, we did not leave the complex without a joyous trip down the waterslide, which was just as much fun as I remembered.

We spent a few lazy days at our friends’ summer house in the village of Borg, about one hour east of Reykjavík. Borg’s swimming pool is connected to an athletic complex featuring a gym, soccer fields, basketball courts, and a playground. Our 1000kr (US$9.30) entry fee gave us access to 4x25m outdoor lanes, one designated for lap swimming, two hot pots, a kiddie pool, and a basic (especially compared to the one at Laugardalslaug) waterslide. I found this pool unremarkable except for an epic meltdown by a young girl in the locker room, complete with crying, screaming, and the slamming of bathroom doors.

spectacularly blue waterfall

The spectacularly blue Brúarfoss, found not far from Borg.

What I did find remarkable was a pool in the quaint Reykjavík suburb of Hafnarfjörður, a picturesque harbor town and the third-largest city in Iceland, with 30,000 inhabitants. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Hafnarfjörður is that it is essentially built into the lava, with its well-kept houses, yards, and streets nestled carefully among hardened lava flows.

flowers

Some landscaping among the lava flows in Hafnarfjörður.

The city of Hafnarfjörður boasts three swimming facilities. We visited one: Suðurbæjarlaug. The 1100kr (US$10.25) entry fee included towel rental, which was convenient because we had walked there from where we were staying in Garðabær. The swimming facility is edged by a beautiful dark wood-paneled building, with a 5x25m outdoor pool with marked and roped lane lines for lap swimming connected to a smaller open swimming area. This large pool is also connected to an indoor pool, separated by a wall above the water, so you could swim under the wall and into the indoor section. It must be terribly convenient on rainy or snowy winter days.

At most of the pools we visited in Iceland, if anyone was using the designated lap-swimming lane it was usually only to swim a few leisurely laps before retreating to one of the hot pots. Suðurbæjarlaug was the only pool where I saw several serious lap swimmers with caps, goggles, and “toys” like fins and kickboards. There are also starting blocks, so my guess is that this is regularly used as a competition pool. As much as I enjoyed coming across this ideal set-up for swimming proper sets, I tried to keep my workout short so as not to get in the way of the locals.

The outdoor area at Suðurbæjarlaug also featured three hot pots and a cold pot, a kiddie pool, two waterslides, a steam room, as well as gender-specific nude steam rooms. The main locker room was spacious with full-size lockers, mirrors, and hair dryers. But one of my favorite features was the open-air locker room. When it’s available, I always opt for an outdoor shower. There is something especially pleasing about showering with an open sky above you. The presence of a neighborhood swimming facility like Suðurbæjarlaug makes it easy to understand why Iceland repeatedly ranks high in happiness measures.

A lovely street in Hafnarfjörður

A lovely street in Hafnarfjörður.

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Iceland’s Westfjords Pools

Amanda and I loved exploring pools and cultural attractions in Iceland in 2012. I was thrilled when she asked about writing for the blog in advance of a return visit with her husband and two Icelandic friends last summer. As if we needed more convincing, her photo essay provides full evidence of Icelanders’ love for the pool. Stay tuned for a separate post about the pool in Hafnafjordur, outside Reykjavik, which was her favorite of the whole trip.

The (very short) list of “stuff” that we would need for our trip to the Westfjords of Iceland included this bullet point: “Swimming gear! Let’s hit every pool in every town. Goal.”

Photo of waterfall in distance behind fields

Water, water everywhere. A roadside waterfall on day one of our Westfjords road trip. Photo by César Martínez.

I was 100% on board with this plan. My first trip to Iceland in 2012 included visits to several of the pools featured among the original 40 of this blog, and I have since remained a big fan of the country and the people, due in no small part to their passionate pool culture. Since I had already volunteered to provide some guest posts for 40 Pools, I was grateful that my fellow travelers shared in my enthusiasm to visit local pools in the Westfjords.

Photo of green hills

A typical Westfjords view. Photo by César Martínez.

In fact, a pool was on the itinerary for our very first day of travel, with a planned stop at the pool where Einar’s grandmother learned to swim. Attached to the Hotel Reykjanes, this pool has two things that are remarkable: it is large (50m long and 12.5m across), and it is geothermally heated to quite a hot temperature. It was not difficult to imagine Einar’s grandmother, along with everyone else in town, splashing around in this giant “hot tub” while enjoying the spectacular views of the surrounding fjord.

Amanda underwater with bubbles

Taking a dip in the heated pool at Hotel Reykjanes. Photo by César Martínez.

Steamy fields and water

Geothermal steam rising from the grounds outside Hotel Reykjanes. Photo by César Martínez.

Spectacular views quickly became a theme as we continued to check Westfjords swimming pools off our list. I had planned to swim some laps when possible, but in many cases this proved difficult, as the pools were oddly sized and usually only had one or two lap lanes available. Not to mention that most were far too warm for a proper workout.

Sketch of pool

An example of odd pool dimensions from the public pool in Suðureyri.

The pool in Suðureyri was packed with local families on a beautiful Westfjords summer day, with plentiful sunshine and temperatures in the high 60s. It indeed seemed that the entire town was there, some splashing in the small swimming pool and others lounging in one of the three hot pots. Given the strict rules about bathing properly before swimming in Iceland, I was surprised to see the largest hot pot full of small children eating popsicles while their parents enjoyed miniature cups of coffee from a dispenser on the pool deck.

Pool view

Photo by César Martínez.

We discovered a true gem of a pool in Patreksfjörður. The complex was clearly recently built, with a 16.5m five-lane pool, complete with lane lines painted on the bottom, as well as the customary three hot pots, on a deck with truly breathtaking views of the fjord. We timed our visit to coincide with summer’s extended dusk and puzzled over the Lonely Planet’s description of the town as “unattractive.” A full gym is attached to the pool complex, with a number of trophies from regional swim competitions on display in the hallways, one of the only pools we visited that seemed to offer a competitive swim program.

Hot tub and scenery

Dusk over Patreksfjörður.

Twilight view

Dusk over Patreksfjörður. Photo by César Martínez.

Eerie black and white image

The moonscape on the drive between Bíldudalur and Tálknafjörður. Photo by César Martínez.

That said, we completed our circuit of Westfjords pools with a beautiful competition pool in Tálknafjörður, featuring five 25m lanes with painted lane lines and starting blocks. By the time we arrived at 8:00 in the evening, the shade of the setting sun was beginning to encroach on most of the facility, so we didn’t enjoy basking in the hot pots as much as we had in Patreksfjörður, but what this pool lacked in atmosphere and views it made up for with a spectacular water slide.

talknafjordur hot pots

Raudasandur beach

Iceland also has beautiful beaches. Here’s the photographer on Rauðasandur (“red sand beach”).

Snow-capped mountains in distance

On the Snaefellsnes peninsula, on the road back to Reykjavík. Photo by César Martínez.

Westfjords map

Iceland’s Westfjords

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