The global appeal of the swimming pool
I love visiting new cities around the world – places that I haven’t been to, places that I haven’t yet explored.
Not from a touristy perspective of needing to see the top sights or take selfies in front of notable monuments so that I can post them to Instagram and brag to my friends about my adventures – although admittedly, I do a fair bit of that. I love visiting new cities and pretending, just for a few days, that I live there.
I really enjoy immersing myself in a city – shopping at the local shops, hanging out in the local cafes, and perhaps most importantly, swimming in the local swimming pools.
I’m not the world’s greatest swimmer, but I like swimming – it’s a good way of keeping active and fit. It’s also the kind of exercise that doesn’t require a lot of kit - a pair of swim-briefs and some goggles and you’re good to go. It’s the ideal fitness regime if you’re determined to fly with hand-luggage only.
Your first visit to a new swimming pool always requires a bit of caution and tentative exploration, as you try and work out the logistics and the administration of the pool. Each country seems to have a distinct swimming pool culture, and each pool might have a few of its own idiosyncrasies.
Here’s a few of my favourite swimming pool experiences from my recent travels.
Helsinki is a fascinating city. In 1952, for the Summer Olympics, they built a new Olympic stadium – right next door to the stadium, they also built a new Olympic swimming pool. It’s an outdoor swimming pool - heated, obviously – and it’s a beautiful complex. You can lie up in the stands and work on your tan, plus they have very good saunas available in the changing rooms. It’s a joy to swim there.
Quite a different swimming experience is the old swimming pool in the centre of town where they have gender-segregated swimming times. The reason for the gender-segregation? It’s a nude swimming pool. It’s not a sexual thing, it’s just how they swim. You get changed, have a shower, go for a swim, sit in the sauna, go for another swim and so on. Incredibly relaxing and undeniably liberating.
The main public swimming pool in the centre of Luxembourg is an enormous complex. The attendants working there are particularly unfriendly, but quite efficient. The complex includes a cafe and a gym - people seemed to be spending the entire day there.
They have a really nice sauna and steam room complex – where you have to be nude obviously, that’s how they roll in most of Europe and Scandinavia – but it is a mixed genders sauna experience, so you need to be comfortable with that.
There is a beautiful old pool in the suburbs of Paris called Piscine Herbert. It’s not so much beautiful in the architectural sense, but it has the benefit of a retractable roof. On a sunny day, you can happily swim along while basking in the sunshine streaming down into the water. As an added bonus, they also have a large wooden decking area where you can work on your tan. The local water polo team trains here and, in true Parisian style, are often out on the deck languidly finishing their cigarettes before jumping into the water.