40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

New York City’s WPA Pools

Parks Department image: A busy McCarren Park Pool keeps Brooklynites cool on July 12, 1937.

The biggest pool news of the summer may well be happening this morning, with McCarren Park Pool‘s grand reopening after a 29-year closure. As exciting as that is, it is only one of dozens of fabulous City of New York Parks & Recreation outdoor pools opening today. I am unable to attend the McCarren event, but I look forward to hearing all about it and checking out that “new” pool sometime soon.

McCarren was just one highlight of an unprecedented and unequaled season of pool news back in 1936 when it first opened, in the midst of the Great Depression. During that record-hot summer, eleven incredibly beautiful and spacious new pools opened all around the city, and with McCarren’s restoration all eleven are still in service. They are architectural delights and engineering marvels, and I recommend that you visit all of them: Astoria (Queens), Betsy Head (Brooklyn), Crotona (Bronx), Hamilton Fish (Manhattan), Highbridge (Manhattan), Jackie Robinson (Manhattan), Joseph H. Lyons (Staten Island), McCarren (Brooklyn), Red Hook (Brooklyn), Sunset Park (Brooklyn), and Thomas Jefferson (Manhattan).

Adding to the attraction, most of these pools as well as several others participate in a city-run lap swim program, with “early bird” (7-8:30 a.m.) and/or “night owl” (7-8:30 p.m.) hours for lap swimmers only. I discovered early bird lap swimming in summer 2000, and it is now one of my favorite things about living here: free, reasonably well run, full of characters, and replete with incentives such as T-shirts, trophies, and a dinner! I’ve made a number of good friends thanks to the program and had some amazing pool tourism experiences as well. July 5 is the start date of the all-too-short season this year.

Now back to 1936. I would be remiss not to thank Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and especially Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, himself a swimmer, for this pool bounty. They were raring to go with plan for neighborhood pools throughout the five boroughs when the Works Progress Administration was doling out funds for shovel-ready projects, and the story of the design and construction is as amazing as the end result. Once opened, the pools provided relief and safe recreation to 43,000 “bathers”–not without segregation–at a time. They have since served as sites for Olympic Trials (Astoria, 1936 and 1964), learn-to-swim programs, performances, and lots lots more. A great exhibit in 2006 celebrated the 70th anniversary, and there was a 75th birthday party in Red Hook last summer. They are an incredible resource for the city, and I can’t say enough good things about them; please read more here.

Long live our WPA pools!

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#33: Roosevelt Island Sportspark Pool

Roosevelt Island pool view from the bleachersLocation: Roosevelt Island, New York

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: $5 (though it looks like we should have been charged $7)

Fees to Date: $163.74

My informal Pool Tourism Club is getting excited about outdoor pool season, which begins this week. To help get ready, we did a second annual visit to a lovely indoor pool followed by an outdoor, waterfront picnic and a thrilling tram ride last week. The pool belongs to Roosevelt Island Sportspark, a state-run facility convenient to the tram and subway stops on this residential East River island.

Stephanie, Kris, me, Joe, and Lisa Lisa

The gang’s all here: Stephanie, Kris, me, Joe, and Lisa Lisa.

Both times we’ve visited en masse, we received a warm welcome from the desk staff. This time the lifeguard also went the extra mile, politely relocating a swimmer so that we could commandeer our own lane. The staff is justifiably proud of this oasis, a sentiment that also comes through on the Sportspark website: “the pool sits amid stadium seating, giving the vital adult swimmer an ambiance of competition for their laps or energetic kids added grandeur to their play.”

Natural light that comes in via two banks of windows as well as the large skylight enhances said grandeur, and the water is sparkly clear. The only thing I would change is the steel siding, which I find challenging to push off of on flip turns due to the lack of traction.

A visit here can double as a history lesson. Last time around, we did drills such as swimming with our eyes closed or using only our arms in homage to the island’s various namesakes: Hog Island (1637), Manning Island (1666), Blackwell’s (1686), Welfare (1921), and [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt (1973). Next up for this looong, skinny island in view of–and politically part of–Manhattan’s Upper East Side is a high-tech university campus, which has been generating considerable buzz even before groundbreaking. Naturally, I hope the new campus will include a pool so that this lovely Sportpark is not overwhelmed.

locker room viewAnother highlight of the facility itself is the view from the locker room. That’s the Queensboro Bridge right there above my locker–a refreshing change from the usual basement dungeon!

The Roosevelt Island Tram runs right alongside the bridge and makes the visit here extra worthwhile, as the ride feels like an effortless float into Manhattan with a superhero-like view above streets and into apartment buildings. Next time, we’ll have to add a Superman drill to our repertoire.

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#32: Asphalt Green George Delacorte Olympic Pool

post-2008 looong swim

Photo by Neil Ohanlon.

Location: Upper East Side, New York

Configuration: 8 lanes of 50 meters, or various configurations involving 25- and 20-yard lanes

Fee: Free via Fitness Passbook

Fees to Date: $158.74

I can deal with hairballs, and I can deal with attitude, but they make for a demoralizing combination when at the same pool. That is why I am just not that into this Olympic-sized pool located a hop, skip, and a jump from my apartment.

The good news is that my visit here last weekend allowed me to do my last loooong swim in preparation for Stage 1 of 8 Bridges later this month. This will be my first marathon swim attempt since 2009, and I’ve enjoyed having the goal to focus on. I had planned to do the training swim at Manhattan Plaza so I could bask in the hot tub (hello, Iceland!) and sun deck afterward. Unfortunately, they turned me away; no guests allowed on summer weekends. Pondering the alternatives,  Asphalt Green seemed most logical, so that’s where I went. It has the advantage of easily visible digital clocks, helpful for keeping track of feeding times–something that would have been harder at Manhattan Plaza.

Because my trip here was on short notice, I hadn’t arranged to meet up with any friends, didn’t bring my camera, and didn’t want to “count” it. Part-way through, I got inspired to do the requisite laps of butterfly to make it count and decided I would therefore also have to do the blog post. The photo above is from 2008 after an even longer training swim; for a better sense of the pool, here are someone else’s pictures.

The pool opened in my neighborhood shortly after I moved to New York. It aspires to send New York swimmers to the Olympics, a worthy goal that is still a work in progress. The name comes from another building that is part of the site and used to be an asphalt plant, and I suppose the green is the artificial turf field. The complex has become quite the lively little corner of Yorkville. I was a joined in 2007-2009.

Having said some nice things, it is now time to present my main complaints.

How bad are the hairballs? Well, Westchester John has named the biggest one  Willard after the 1970s B movie of man versus rat. He reports that the masters team swimmers joke about lost toupees when they encounter particularly sizable specimens. Relief is on the way in August, when the pool closes for its annual cleaning. Why they don’t clean more often (and less disruptively) or have their Scuba class or lifeguard trainees rescue the hairballs I couldn’t tell you.

How bad is the attitude? Like the hairballs, it comes in different shapes and sizes. Some of it is turf related; space is very tight due to the number of schools, clubs, teams, tri groups, and other programs that have assigned times, leaving scant room for members. Lap swim is often squeezed into just four lanes, so there is a lot more bickering about space and etiquette than you might expect at such a large pool. That schedule is further reduced by frequent closures for meets and special events.

Equally frustrating is the antagonism between members and management. When I was a member, I felt like management constantly belittled us, poo-pooing legitimate concerns, taking its time on maintenance and repairs, and imposing restrictions that detract from the pool experience. One rule they implemented made circle swimming mandatory and disallowed the splitting of a lane by two swimmers, for example.

Maintenance projects drag on interminably (much like the building of Asphalt Green’s new pool in Battery Park City, which was supposed to have opened months ago but keeps being delayed). I remember tile work on the deck, for example, that had diving boards taken out of use and “caution” tape all over for what seemed like forever. The membership cards didn’t work to open certain necessary entrances for a long time after system upgrade. An on-deck sauna did not function the entire time I was a member, and an underwater viewing room seems to have been repurposed for storage. A digital display screen that used to show the time and other information was always a few minutes off, and rather than fixing it they stopped using it to show the time. For $100/month, you’d think there would be warm water in the showers, but the temperature was often cool or fluctuating. The “solution” was to post signs admonishing members to “please be patient” while showers warmed up. Um, if I get through my entire shower and it’s still not warm, I don’t think the problem has to do with my own lack of patience.

Two years of cold showers, broken saunas, in-lane cat fights, and hairball dodging was enough for me, and I gave up my membership after my 2009 marathon swim training was over. It’s taken me a while to find ways to hit the same yardage tallies, requiring traveling farther from home but costing less. Oddly, I am now grateful to Asphalt Green for being so mediocre. If I liked it any better, this project may not have ever come about, and I would have missed out on many wonderful experiences.

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#31: Seltjarnarneslaug

hot pot with a viewLocation: Seltjarnarnes, Iceland

Configuration: 4 lanes of 25 meters + play area and 4 hot tubs

Fee: 500 ISK (Icelandic kronur), approximately $3.49

Fees to Date: $158.74

On my last day in Iceland, I wanted to squeeze in a visit to one more pool. I’d heard that the indoor-outdoor complex near where Elisabeth was staying was good enough to rival Laugardalslaug, but unfortunately it was closed for the day due to water-slide upgrades and other construction. Instead, I headed north of the Movie Star’s neighborhood to Seltjarnarnes Sundlaug, a beautiful, Modern facility with great views of  the sea and downtown Reykjavik.  The water slide wasn’t too shabby either. Unfortunately, I didn’t take as many pictures as I thought due to user error, so you will have to go see this pool for yourself.

pool view

Seltjarnarnes is a tiny, independent municipality at the end of the peninsula west of downtown Reykjavik. It’s got a beautiful lighthouse, a striking church, and a lot of athletic facilities. The pool uses pumped-in seawater, and it was clearer than the other Icelandic waters pools I’d seen. The degree of attention to design here was impressive as well. Clean lines, the simple wooden sauna structure, the cool whites and grays on the pool deck, and the bright tiles in the locker room all made me wonder who had gotten this commission.

The four lap lanes were definitely the least popular thing going here–no circle swimming necessary during my leisurely set. Instead, people lazed around in the hot pots and shallow hot tub, which had the best view of all. Small groups of teenagers were by far the largest contingent, and most of them did not budge from whatever spots they had staked out for the duration of my visit. I can think of worse ways for teenagers to pass their time.

My pool buddies had all either gone home or busied themselves with other activities, so I felt a bit lonely and old among all the teens, and yet I was content to soak in the sun and the warm water while enjoying the perspective on Reykjavik. One thing that struck me consistently during my week in Iceland was how clean everything is. Air, water, and earth all seemed unsullied by the small population. My usually runny nose calmed down, presumably due the lack of air- and water-borne irritants.  I was also impressed by the laissez-faire attitude. Never did I hear lifeguards yelling at anyone, for example. Even the locker-room matrons held off on their shower critiques, despite the many warnings about hygiene. The ethos seems to be to provide water wings and, later, swim lessons, and assume that people are equipped to fend for themselves or bear the consequences. I occasionally felt tentative about dipping into an empty pool or trying a play feature, but it was all good–no harm, no foul. It’s a lot easier to have that attitude with only 300,000 people, most of whom are distantly related and know each other by first names.

I can’t recommend Iceland highly enough as a pool-tourist destination, nor can I wait to return.

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Not a Pool: Nauthólsvík Beach

beach elements labeled

Iceland is famous for its spectacular natural beauty and unusual geological events. It gave us the word “geyser” and recently halted European air travel due to a volcanic eruption, after all. Now that Icelanders have figured out how to tap into their geothermal energy, they occasionally mess with nature–and to excellent effect here at Nauthólsvík Beach (“beef hill bay”?), which hosted IGLA’s open water competition under the bright sun at 9:00 p.m. on Friday night.

Hustling into the water

Kathleen, me, and Janet following Sara from DC into the water. Photo by HelgiR of IGLA 2012.

Those following along know that my training focused on hot pots and the 400 IM. The third and final area of concentration was this event, a 250-meter swim in water that was supposed to be in the 40s. I’ve swum longer distances in that temperature out at Brighton Beach, so I knew that the trick was going to be getting in quickly rather than squealing and pausing with each step. Janet, Kathleen, and I practiced our speedy entries out at the beach this spring, and when it turned out that the North Atlantic water at Nauthólsvík was about 10 degrees F warmer than expected we were actually a bit disappointed.

Disappointment quickly turned to enjoyment as we were able to relax in the deep green water and enjoy the sights clearly visible along the bottom. My favorites were the pudgy starfish and large green plants that looked like ship propellers. The race went off in groups of just five, and the three of us were in the first wave together with two other women whom we’d met repeatedly in the green room prior to the distance events, so we didn’t have to worry about dodging other swimmers. It was practically a reunion at this point, and like everything else it was a ton of fun, enhanced by the same disco soundtrack we’d had at the Blue Lagoon.

hot troughBest of all, a hot trough awaited on the beach (seen at right in a photo from my return visit). It was huge and wonderfully warm and proved conducive to accomplishing my main diplomatic mission. My friend and teammate Richard, who was not able to join us in Iceland, appointed me as his Swedish ambassador to make contact with the Danes and enlist their help in planning a swim between Denmark and Sweden next summer. I ended up next to a few of the Copenhagen Mermates in the hot trough and easily conducted my business. Hot pots really do make the world go ’round in Iceland!

There’s a second hot pot closer to the water, and it is designed to be nearly submerged during high tide, so that its water spills out and warms up the seawater that is nearly enclosed with manmade seawalls. (The open water competition was not in this enclosed area but rather on the other side of the jetty.) Add some imported sand and a full-service bath house and you have an awesome beach experience. It opened in 2000, and the Icelanders have quickly become experts at beach culture.

a late-night dip Janet swam a little extra during the event, as she had accidentally set her sights on a buoy farther afield than the course marker. Even that was not enough for her, though, so she went back in after the conclusion of the swim waves for a dip with some locals from the Sea Swimming Association. I watched from the end of the jetty and saw a loooong seal swim by them!

The beach was so lovely that I returned solo on my last day in Iceland. Lucky for me, the same locals were there, and I was able to join them for a swim to the other side of the bay. They told me that they’ve tried polo and synchro in the sea, and I told them about our shoreside synchro routines at the beach in Brooklyn. We are kindred spirits, for sure. They also said that in the winter, the water gets so cold that they have to break through ice in order to take their dips! We don’t have it quite so rough at Brighton Beach, but then again we don’t have a hot trough.

Said trough again proved helpful for my secondary diplomatic mission. John had asked me to try to get the pattern for knitting his own bathing suit, as we saw in an Iceland tourism video by the Movie Star (watch for this at 8:50). Sure enough, one of my fellow swimmers and soakers is the e-mail checker for the Sea Swimming Association, and she said that if I send an e-mail through their website she will track down the pattern.

All I ever want to do after a chilly swim is take a nap. Usually I have to go home for that, because it’s too cold to hang out at the beach on Brighton after being in the freezing water. Here, the hot trough had warmed me up perfectly, so I chose a wind-sheltered encampment alongside the jetty and stretched out for a nice snooze. When I awoke, the tide had come in and was just a few inches from my feet. That was my signal to get up and find one last pool.

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#29 & #30: Laugardalslaug Indoor and Outdoor Pools

Laugardalslaug key elements labeled

Location: Reykjavik, Iceland

Configuration: Indoor pool: 10 lanes of 50 meters
Outdoor pool: 8 lanes of 50 meters
Also includes water slide, 9 hot tubs, and a large play area

Fee*: 500 ISK (Icelandic kronur), approximately $3.84

Fees to Date: $159.09

*This is the regular day-use fee. I paid a lot more for the meet that brought me here four days in a row, but the meet included a lot more than pool entry.

I had no idea that I would be seeing such a fabulous pool complex when I signed on for the trip to Iceland. Laugardalslaug surpassed even my wildest dreams about pools in Australia, and yet here it is in the much more temperature-challenged country of Iceland. Thank you, geothermal energy! Doing it justice requires a looong photo essay, starting with the above image where I’ve labeled some key areas.

water slide!First things first: the water slide. I foolishly waited until day 2 of the meet to try it instead of making it my first order of business. How was I to know that it is the craziest, most fun water slide ever? Most sections are dark except for polka-dotted or striped lighting effects, which you pass as you twist, turn, and drop along the way. Thanks to the Internets, we learned that the best technique is to lay on your back with your arms crossed and tighten your core, so that only your heels and shoulder blades touch the slide. Anything soft will slow you down, and that could be hazardous not to mention less fun!

The first time down, the order was Amanda, Janet, me, and then our teammate Ryan. We didn’t all know the magic technique at this point, and I could tell from Janet’s shrieks of laughter that I was catching up to her. Little did I know that Ryan was about to rocket past me, so well banked on a sidewall that he barely touched me. He and Janet shot out into the pool at the same time and I was close behind. Amanda said that the Icelanders watching had very funny expressions on their faces. We laughed for a looong time, and from then on we made sure to do water slide repeats with a focus on technique throughout the rest of the meet. I tried looking up at the ceiling instead of down at my feet the last day, at the suggestion of my teammate Federico, and that was a whole new experience that even cured my migraine.

Take note that the slide and the stairs are fully enclosed. Chilly weather will not stop this slide!

shallow hot pothot pot with rock features When you tire from all that stair climbing, a soak in the hot tub is in order. There are plenty to choose from, including this shallow one at left. People camped out in it all day and had the sunburn to prove it! I worried that I might nod off and drown so tried not to linger too long.

As you look through the pictures, notice that there are people of all ages enjoying the water. Icelandic law stipulates that schoolchildren learn to swim at age 6. Before then, kids avail themselves of water wings available by the tubfull at the pool entrances. Notice, too, how many people are at the pools. I’d estimate that a couple thousand passed through here each day, a huge number considering Reykjavik’s population is just 110,000. Statistics from 2000 posted in the lobby state that Icelanders swim at least 15 times a year, and I bet that number is higher now as the country grows ever more enamored of its pools. Entry costs about the same as an ice cream, making it one of the most affordable pastimes in this very expensive country. Tourists are encouraged to visit, and the pools are included in top-10 lists of Icelandic attractions.

hot potsAlong the far side of the outdoor lap pool are four more hot pots of increasing temperature, one of which has massage jets. Helpful signage provides the following instructions:

The hot water in Reykjavik’s swimming pools has a particularly good effect on stress. First you enter the hot pot and relax for 15 minutes, before getting out and cooling down for a while. Then you go back in, this time in a hotter pot, and sit for 10 minutes before getting out to cool off. After that it’s back to an even hotter pot (if you choose) and sit for 5 minutes. Then you cool off and swim as slowly as possible for 200 meters. When finished you take a good shower and rest.

Wow, I’m relaxed just thinking about all that soaking.

outdoor poolHere’s the 8-lane outdoor pool for those easy 200 meters. It remained open to the public and for warm-ups and cool-downs while the meet was under way. On the last morning, I was the first one in, and it reminded me of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale with its large bleachers as it steamed away under the bright sun.

Speaking of sun, my visit lasted seven days with nary a drop of rain or even very cold temperatures. I’d been told that the island was misnamed, but I still was not expecting such good weather. My packing list included all kinds of rain and cold-weather gear that I did not need and lacked things like sun screen that would have come in handy.

Laugardalslaug indoor pool viewMoving on, let’s take a look at the recently added indoor pool, which is where serious training takes place. This is the deep end, opposite from where all of my races started. Although from here it looks like there are just 9 lanes, that’s because of the funny math involved in the signage. Really there are 10 lanes, unless you are doing backstroke, in which case there are only 8. The water was on the warm side . . .
hot pot. . . but not as warm as the hot pot right here on the other side of the deep end! The pool-to-hot tub transitions had been a major focus of my training, and I’m glad to say that my efforts paid off. I headed straight for a soak here after many a swim and got rejuvenated for future efforts.
team pictureTNYA took over a section of bleachers close to the start blocks, the “green room” where we had to go before our heats, and the café–a very strategic location. It was also convenient to where heat lists were posted, and that was a smart move, since the lists changed frequently. There’s my team on the last day with relay, split, and record mastermind Coach Christopher in orange in front. I am proud to report that our invasion of Iceland was a complete success; we won the swim, diving, water polo, and Pink Flamingo competitions!
indoor pool ceilingI mentioned that there were only 8 lanes for backstroke. That’s because the ceiling was out to get you. The blue lines on the ceiling look nice and straight in this view, but as you make your way through the pool under them, they appear to veer off at angles due to all the other things going on. The bleachers are curved, the windows are curved, and the ceiling has flared piping. Almost nothing outside the pool has right angles, which makes it very confusing for us (former) backstrokers accustomed to navigating by using the ceiling or the wall. Even our team’s former world-record backstroker found herself bouncing off the lane lines due to the optical illusions. The worst was when you came to the flags, which appeared as if they were strung at an angle across the pool.

When this pool first opened several years ago, there were no blue lines on the ceiling; they were added after a disastrous backstroke race. I’m not sure why only 8 were striped, but that is the reason we only used 8 lanes for backstroke and medley events. The wacky ceiling made me grateful for my choice to not swim the 200 back and instead do the 400 IM–if it is possible to be grateful for doing a 400 IM, that is.

That event was another training focus. I’d never swum it before, and it definitely provided a complete pool experience, as it incorporates every different type of stroke and turn. Despite having done a lot of early morning laps in Riverbank’s 50-meter pool, this pool felt even longer. As I slogged my way up and down the looong lane, an image popped into my head that made things much more enjoyable:

Long cat iz loooongSomeone had posted this picture on Janet’s blog after she wrote about joining in on my long training swim at the West Side Y, and it’s been cracking me up ever since. It helps that I’m a big fan of orange cats, and that I’ve encountered so many loooong things recently: the pool, the water slide, the meet, and my shadow in the midnight sun. Next time you are struggling through a long set, just think of looong cat and you’ll feel better.

lane line disappearing into a holeHere is one last cool thing about the pool: the lane line sucker. Instead of having to roll the lines up onto a reel, you just feed them down into a hole in the deck until they are needed again. Clever.
shoe areaThe locker room is also an important part of the culture. As I learned at Vesturbæjarlaug, there is a multistep process involved with getting into and out of the pool–no way can you run in for a quick dip. I came to realize that the remove-shoes, claim-locker, take-shower, dry-off, put-on-suit rituals serves to prolong the process and build the pool community, since each step gives you time to ease into pool mode and connect with your fellow pool-goers. I never saw any locals checking their e-mail or talking on a cell phone, even though they seemed to spend the whole day at the pool.

At left is the shoe area outside the locker room and a handy shoe horn attached to the wall. Photography was not allowed in the locker rooms, so you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that the lockers were wonderfully tall and the showers even taller.

original LaugdarslaugThe pool complex is situated near a hot water spring that was perviously a laundry area, of all things. The translation I’d seen of the name Laugardalslaug was “Pool of Pool Valley,” but I think “Baths of Spring Valley” is more accurate. The street Laugardalsveg is the main drag through town, thanks to all the washer-women and, later, horses who trod the route from the center of town out to the springs to do their laundry in the naturally occurring warm water. A stone-sided outdoor pool opened here in 1908 and remained in use until the fancy outdoor pool above opened in 1966.

A short distance from the pool, this installation and sculpture celebrate the springs’ history. One of the panels explains: “The hot water in the swimming pool was also a major attraction for foreign visitors, who were very impressed with its qualities.” Amen to that.

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Sundhöll Reykjavíkur

Sundhöll Reykjavíkur

Location: Reykjavik, Iceland

Configuration: 5 lanes of 25 meters + play area

Fee: 500 ISK (Icelandic kronur), approximately $3.84

The “Swim Palace of Reykjavik,” Sundhöll Reykjavikur was designed by the architect of some of Iceland’s most famous buildings. It doesn’t “count” for this project because I didn’t actually swim here, but I visited on Friday for a diving and synchronized swimming exhibition and can’t resist posting about it. Reykjavik’s first indoor pool and the city’s only diving facility, Sundhöllin opened in 1937. Brand-new diving boards were installed just in time for our meet, and the TNYA diving team took top honors!

Hallgrimskirja interior

The building was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, who later designed the nearby Hallgrímskirkja (left), the iconic hilltop church that is Iceland’s tallest building. The interiors feel similar to me with the way they allow light to come in to areas typically not known for their brightness–i.e., pool decks and church pews. Samúelsson was Iceland’s state architect from 1924 until 1950, and his other credits include the National Gallery, National Theatre, and University of Iceland.

The day after the diving  competition, the divers put on an exhibition together with synchronized swimmers from San Francisco. In the opening remarks, Iceland’s head of aquatics spoke of the country’s wish to use the event as a literal springboard to encourage the sport of diving.

TV camera at diving and synchro exhibition

Visiting swimmers and locals packed the deck for the excellent exhibition, during which the respective coaches explained some technicalities of their sports as their athletes gave demonstrations. It was a great show, and this pool tourist especially enjoyed the education in other pool disciplines. A TV camera showed up to film the action.

I read that the facility also includes outdoor hot pots with city views but didn’t have a chance to see them for myself. With all the big outdoor pools around town and not that much time left, I’m not likely to return here for an indoor pool workout.

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Not a Pool: Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

Photo from the Blue Lagoon website, because the picture is far better than any I took. Click through to their site and scroll part-way down for more images of this amazing place.

Imagine traveling for an hour on desolate roads, then walking down a path through the middle of a lava field and finding yourself at the most amazing party ever–with a disco soundtrack, dozens of your favorite people, and hundreds of other swim tourists from around the world. That was the IGLA opening party at the Blue Lagoon on Wednesday night, after the first day of competition. It was so. much. fun.

The setting was Iceland’s #1 tourist attraction, which we had all to ourselves for a few hours starting around 9:00 p.m. This being Iceland, it was bright and sunny out the whole time, and even the 1:00 a.m. walk back to our apartment after the return trip was in light you could read in, although the moon was also hovering over the city.

Blue Lagoon pop

Thanks to Kozo for capturing my ice cream moment.

The lagoon is a milky, steamy blue with a salty taste, and the temperature is comfortable enough to lounge in for hours on end. You wear a bathing suit and go through the pre-swim cleansing routine the same as at the pools, but this is not a swim destination. Rather, it is for soaking and relaxation. Sure, you can scoop white mud out of a tub and smear it onto your skin, or you could go hang out under a hard-pounding waterfall, but mostly you are just supposed to lounge here. When you need nourishment, wade on over to the bar for drinks, fruit smoothies, or ice cream. You can guess which one I chose.

power plant steampiping hot water into the capitalThe lagoon is an accidental industrial by-product. To understand why it’s here, it helps to understand geothermal energy generation, which Amanda and I learned about on our Golden Circle tour the previous day (and which I may or may not be explaining here correctly). Iceland, you see, is at the meeting point of two continental plates: North America and Eurasia. This gives warmth from deep inside the earth room to make its way to the surface, resulting in things like geysers, volcanoes, and hot springs. Enterprising sorts can drill down to the warmth in order to harness it. The bore-holes go down a couple kilometers in order to bring up steam, which is used to turn turbines and cooled down to a hospitable temperature by mixing with cold water from lakes. On our bus tour out of the city, we saw a power plant and the well-insulated pipes that feed hot water all the way into Reykjavik, where it heats homes, sidewalks, parking lots, hot pots, and pools. The leftover water is discharged near the power plants and usually soaks back into the ground.

The plant out by what became the Blue Lagoon was constructed for the nearby international airport area in the 1970s. The discharged water soon took on a life of its own, as the naturally occurring white silica caused a pool to form rather than letting the water soak back into the earth. Add naturally occurring algae for the pleasant blue color, and lo and behold you have the right mix for a tourist sensation. The power company wised up to this and built a bath house in the 1980s and added a spa more recently. Because of its proximity to the airport, it is all some travelers with quick layovers see of Iceland. I guarantee they enjoy their visits.

Danny, Janet, Hannah basking

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