40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#102: Berkeley City Club

pool view from the shallow endLocation: Berkeley, California

Configuration: 25 yards with space for about 5 swimmers to each have their own trajectory (without lane lines)

Fee: Members and hotel guests only

It felt like a different time even then, and more so in retrospect now that we are in week four of the worldwide coronavirus lockdown. Five wonderful early spring days visiting friends and family while staying at the medieval-style Berkeley City Club. Wake up before dawn, venture downstairs for a swim in the stunning pool, replenish in the dining room over breakfast and the New York Times (in print, thank you very much), and then set out for a day’s adventure. Life at this 90-year-old “Little Castle” was wonderfully civilized but not stuffy, active but relaxing. 

Like a precious few other pools I’ve experienced, this one was designed by and for women. Architect Julia Morgan — who broke gender barriers in her studies at Cal and the École des Beaux Arts and in 1904 became California’s first licensed woman architect — “had a special knack for swimming pools, using color, light, and shape to create sumptuous designs that flaunted a hedonism startling for so modest an architect,” according to biographer Sara Holmes Boutelle (Julia Morgan, Architect, 1988). Cal’s classically inspired Hearst Pool (my #53) whetted my appetite for her work, and I dream of someday swimming in her most famous aquatic creations at Hearst Castle. Most of her other pools, whether for private homes, YWCAs, or municipalities, are no longer intact.

Julia Morgan's first floor plan PLUNGE

The “Plunge Room” at right is the club’s largest interior space. Click for the full first-floor plan. Image courtesy Berkeley City Club.

For what was originally the Berkeley Women’s City Club (single-sex from opening in 1930 until 1962), Morgan made the pool the largest space in the entire building. According to Boutelle, it was put to good use from the beginning: “The Women’s City Club took special pride in ‘waterproofing’ its members, and indeed it pioneered in having a special swimming membership at a time when no other facility in Berkeley was open year-round to women for lessons or for recreational swimming. It is clear from the plan that the 25-by-75-foot pool (labeled ‘plunge’ by the architect) was to play a major role in club activities, since it was given the entire stretch of the building’s east wing.” 

pool view from the deep endAlthough built of concrete and steel, the pool has an Old World feel thanks to leaded-glass windows, magnificent tile work, decorative arches and beams disguised to look like wood, and abundant ornamentation. Swimming here also felt a bit Old World: no lane lines or pace clock, a co-ed locker room with private changing stalls, and a clientele that skewed senior. The water circulated at a healthy rate, and it got choppy with just one swimmer churning away. The very-shallow shallow end turned out to be good prep for the Trinity School Pool. The deep end no longer meets regulations for diving, so the board was removed.

pool view from the loggia

Pool view from the loggia. This is where I would hang out and work if I were a member.

It’s worth mentioning that in addition to the hotel, there are some permanent residents here and also a club membership option that I tried talking my brother into. What a nice place this would be to have always at your disposal.

The major drawback of swimming here is that it’s indoors in a city with abundant year-round outdoor options including Cal’s Spieker Pool just a block away. I always prefer swimming en plein air, and even the garden windows (open!) and portholes here didn’t do the trick, so stay tuned my report from a different option nearby. But first, a few more images from this treasure.

whale on the bottom

Whales swim through the chop at the bottom of the pool.

seahorses as if carved into a column

Naturalistic decor predominates, including these seahorses and shells in the poolside column’s capital.

central hallway

This way from the front desk to the pool.

arches and stairway

View from the main lobby.

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#105*: Trinity School Pool

Lane 2 at the pool

Photos by Piezy.

Location: Upper West Side, Manhattan

Configuration: 6 lanes x 25 yards

Fee: No drop-ins; membership or special event access only

Still unable to use the John Jay College pool, my team scrambled to find a place for the annual One Hour Swim competition and charity fundraiser. Lucky for me, it was a pool right across town that I’d never been to. The Trinity School pool, home of the Tunas, brought me good luck as I exceeded goals in both swimming and fundraising! With one week left in the fundraiser, my team is close to its overall event goal as well. (See below for info on the beneficiaries.)

10 feet deep diving wellAccording to Conrad, who was helping with the swim, this pool was built in the 1970s. It seems to have been well taken care of and also benefits from good lighting. The diving board was removed long ago due to stricter regulations on ceiling clearance, but the diving well remains, providing space for deep-water activities — which could be handy given that the lap pool is just 3 feet deep in the middle and 4 feet deep at the edges.

This shallow depth fed into a mindset of excuses at the start of my swim: choppy water, high walls (rather than turbulence-reducing infinity gutters) at the ends of the pool, and warm air and water temperatures were all potentially slowing us down. I also had a tickle in my throat, a bum elbow, and difficulty seeing the pace clocks. Whine, whine, whine.

On the up side, I had my own lane with Piezy as my trusty counter, I’d trained purposefully, a friendly lifeguard from Riverbank was on deck, and the above-mentioned conditions made me a dial back the pressure on myself. When Piezy stuck in a kickboard to signal that I’d completed my first 1000 yards, I craned to see the clock and realized my time was within range of my perennial pace goal. At the 2,000 mark I was on pace though slowing and not hitting the walls quite right. I decided to breathe a bit more often and found that I sped up every so slightly, much to my surprise. At the 3,000 and 4,000 marks I was still in range of my goal, and sure enough I hit it with more than 25 yards to spare by the time the hour ended! My total was five laps more than last year and my best hour swim since 2013, all thanks to staying relaxed and breathing often. (Is there a life lesson in here?)

After my swim I counted for Warren in the last heat of the day, admiring his perfect form, watching with awe as Shaina folded synchro moves into her laps one lane over, and seeing the other lanes hum with impressive swims. Afterward there was plenty of room for all the women in the spacious, if small-scaled, locker room. The rain shower head, at about a centimeter higher than my scalp, was a special treat that Jess directed me to.

Trinity School, I learned, was founded more than 300 years ago as a free school for poor students who would not be educated at home, as was the custom then. It is now the opposite. A member of the Ivy Prep league, its swim team has done very well the past five years judging from the poolside banners. Community members can join the Trinity Swim Club for regular lap swim access.

This year’s One Hour Swim benefits two charities; donations are being accepted until March 15. Each $50 donation also receives a raffle entry for round-trip JetBlue tickets. Thanks to the generosity of my team and its many supporters for assisting this year’s beneficiaries:

  • The Alliance for Positive Change, formerly the AIDS Service Center NYC, helps New Yorkers living with HIV and other chronic health conditions get the medical care, peer support, and housing assistance they need to achieve health, happiness, and stability.
  • The New York LGBT Bar Association provides free legal services to more than 1,000 low-income and vulnerable LGBTQ+ New Yorkers annually, with clients ranging from homeless youth to senior citizens on issues including housing, employment, discrimination, family law, and more.

*If you’ve been paying close attention, you may wonder about pools 102-104. I visited them prior to this in February — it was a good month! — and haven’t had a chance to post about them yet. I wanted to get this post up ASAP since the fundraiser ends soon.

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#101: Kelly Pool

lawn + pool

Location: Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

Configuration: 50 meters with 3 lap lanes during my visit; 8 lanes total

Fee: Free

I’d long been wanting to visit a public pool in the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia has the country’s highest outdoor pool-to-resident ratio (1:21,600 versus 1:150,000 in New York, according to the New York Times), and a higher total count of pools than New York despite having just a fraction the population. Their season starts earlier in June than ours (though it also ends earlier), and as is the case in New York, Philly’s outdoor public pools are free for all comers.

My anticipated end-of-summer weekend getaway to Philly turned out to coincide with a family emergency that would reshape my fall, yet somehow I still did most of the trip and got in some precious moments of outdoor lap swimming on a Sunday afternoon. Kelly Pool had the honors for this important mental-health duty, chosen based on a recommendation from Philadelphia’s pool blogger, who cited it both for its lap lane availability and its expansive lawn.

pool deck, museum in background

More remarkable to me was that we could just walk onto said lawn without showing our bathing suit liners and locks or submitting to a search for contraband items such as newspapers and colored T-shirts, as is necessary at New York City’s public pools. The only delay was that the pool area was at capacity, so we had to wait about a minute until other people exited to be allowed in through the gate.

While just a quadrant of the pool was open for rec swim, in accordance with the lifeguard count, the three lap lanes extended the full length. Another novelty for this New Yorker was that the pool had actual lane lines corresponding to the black lines at the bottom. Interestingly, the “deep end” was in the middle of the pool, with shallow ends at both ends of the lanes.

The fellow swimmers were an eclectic bunch of chlorine addicts ranging from polite to oblivious and using all manner of gear. I enjoyed the view of the Please Touch Museum alongside the lawn. It seemed like there were changing facilities in there, but we never made it over that way because of a grumbling rumbling. About 20 minutes before closing time, we suddenly had to clear the pool and exit the lawn due to a thunder-like sound. We heard something, but the sun was out and there was so much noise in the park that we were skeptical of there actually being thunder. Still, the lifeguards were more than happy to get off a bit early.

Philadelphia Aquarium history posterThe park is a bit of a distance from the downtown area. Knowing we were short on time even without accounting for the possibility of thunder, we took a cab to get there. Heading back into town, we caught a direct bus just across the street from the park entrance. There was a lot of free parking by the pool, and correspondingly a lot of people fled to their cars when the thunder machine roared.

Earlier that same day, we happened to learn some pool history at the amazing Fairmount Water Works Museum. Kelly Pool used to be right here on the Schuylkill in the former water works building, but it was destroyed by a storm in the early 1970s. The National Historic Landmark site is now full of information about Philadelphia’s water supply and environmental stewardship — I highly recommend a visit.

Likewise, I recommend the pool. The Parks Department website is short on detail, so see the pic below for some valuable intel about when you might be able to enjoy the lane lines at Kelly Pool.

sign with pool hours

Post-thunder exodus. All photos courtesy of Neil.

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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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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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#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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Closed for Renovations – John Jay College Pool

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.

Cheers theme song

John Jay College Pool is–or was–my pre-work happy place, where I was guaranteed to see friends, laugh, vent, continue conversations from week to week and season to season, and always be glad I came. Here we effortlessly sorted ourselves into lanes, trading the lead and adjusting intervals without need for discussion, as only long-term swim mates can do. We also traded cookies, books, gossip, even bathing suits (mostly too-small hand-me-downs to Lisa Lisa and Piezy). The community here supported each other through sporting endeavors and also, simply by being there, through career ups and downs, sickness and health, births and deaths, and other life changes.

This is not to downplay the pool’s issues: bugs on deck, the non-working suit spinner and wringer, inconsistent water and deck temperature, periods of chemical imbalance and lifeguard unreliability, pieces of the ceiling falling onto swimmers, faded lane markings, uncleanable “white” boards, menacing hair balls, malodorous locker rooms, and broken lane lines are among the things we grumbled about. Nonetheless, these were far outweighed by the convenience and luxury of having the whole pool to ourselves before work two mornings a week.

My team’s history here is as old as the pool itself, dating to 1990, and this is where I first sampled TNYA in the early 2000s. Through December, we held about 9 swim practices here weekly, along with synchro and polo sessions, taking over all five lanes each time. Thus, the long-threatened and now actual closure of John Jay as of this week is a seismic jolt.

JJ website screen shot

Much has changed in the area since 1990. The neighborhood, and Hells Kitchen to the south, have gone from dicey to high-end, the college has expanded through the rest of the block and been surrounded by Citi Bike stations, the hospital across the street has been taken over by a conglomerate, the nearby breakfast options have multiplied, a subway line going from my apartment to this part of town has opened, and the pool was overdue for refreshing. The nascent rehabilitation holds the promise of “new tile work in and around the pool, new mechanical systems including the pool chlorination system, a new ceiling and lighting and renovated locker rooms.” (Confession: I left behind a swim suit, slightly hidden, as a test to see just how thoroughly the locker room is renovated.)

TNYA’s leadership has diligently sourced other pool options, though none as convenient or capacious at the crack of dawn. The team is hoping that the work will only take a year, which is hardly a nanosecond in the CUNY-verse, but the college has quoted its swimmers a period twice as long. Either way, I already miss John Jay terribly and would return to the hairball-infested, overly chlorinated water in an instant if only I could.

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#98: Richmond Plunge

full length of pool

Location: Richmond, California

Configuration: 8 lanes of 25 yards plus shorter shallow lanes

Fee: $6 for non-residents

I thought I’d found pool heaven at Hansborough in Harlem, but it turns out that there is an even bigger, more light-filled pool paradise across the bay from San Francisco in Richmond, California. It’s the Richmond Plunge, which I visited on a sunny September Friday morning with local pool blogger Dave, who is a regular here on weekends. What a treat!

exterior with MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM sing

If only NYC’s Riverbank State Park had been built 70 years earlier, it might be showier, like this. The tunnel to the left leads to Keller Beach.

I’ve been unable to find an exact definition of this sense of “plunge,” but it seems to imply a cavernous, indoor, public pool built in the first half of the twentieth century, for both swimming and socializing, and situated near the California coast and likely near a train, too. The Richmond Plunge, opened in this bustling port and railroad town in 1926, ticks all these boxes. In fact, I first saw the building on my last trip to California, on the way to Keller Beach.

We had to wait a while out front for the pool to open due to a late lifeguard, something all too familiar to Riverbank swimmers a few years ago. The regulars who were gathered were reminiscent of Riverbank, too–a diverse slice of local life–making me speculate that perhaps my public pool of choice would have turned out like this if only it had been built 70 years earlier.

high ceiling above pool

How about that natural light and fresh air?

Once inside, I changed in the vintage locker room and paced the deck to fully take in the marvelous structure. The lights weren’t even turned on, all the better to appreciate the beams of sunshine streaming in from the east through windows that actually open.

The north half of the pool was set up with 8 x 25-yard lanes, and it was uncrowded enough that circle swimming wasn’t necessary. There was shorter-distance lap swimming without lane lines in the other end. The water had a silky quality due to the saline treatment system that was installed during a major renovation/rebuilding earlier this decade and is touted for its environmental sensitivity.

The San Francisco Bay Trail is adding new travel and recreational options for the area, which is part of a historic district in a town that’s seen some rough times. Anchored by this exemplary public amenity, and with a number of parks, museums, and historic sites nearby, Richmond and its plunge seem to have a bright future in store. I certainly hope to be back, especially now that my count of nearby nephews has doubled.

women's locker room windows

Simple yet classy locker rooms.

mural

This mural, based on a nearby park, was added during the recent renovation.

Hannah and Dave

Thanks to Dave for facilitating this pool visit.

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