The Spoked Traveller | Winter swimming in Iceland
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Winter swimming in Iceland

Winter swimming in Iceland

It’s about -15 Celsius and I’m swimming laps in an outdoor pool in Iceland. Every time my head bobs to the surface, the freezing air electrocutes my wet hair. Through a cloud of steam drifting across the water, I can barely make out the heads of other swimmers next to me. Resting on the side, it’s been ages since I swam laps. I turn to a man beside me: “It’s exhausting.” He doesn’t answer, then pulls his ear plugs out. “I said, it’s tiring.” “Yes,” he replies, “but you won’t have sore muscles like running.” Agreed. It’s like he knew what I was thinking. Running has destroyed my feet, but that’s another matter.

From downtown Reykjavik, it’s a 10 minute bus ride to the Vesturbaejar Swimming Pool.

Taking the bus to a suburb just west of the city, I’m jumping up and down inside; actually, I’m screaming because I’m about to partake in Icelanders’ national pastime. In fact, there are more swimming pools in Iceland than anywhere else on the planet– per capita that is; about 126. That’s one pool for about every 2,500 Icelanders.

At 600 krona, about $6 Canadian, swimming is one of the cheapest things you can do in Iceland. I had a fish supper last night at a fancy place called the Fish Market that set me back about $80. Two pieces of fish and one glass of wine. One. I know, I only drank one glass of wine.

At the counter, the older lady informs me of the swimming pool rules: “you must wash in the nude before entering the pool–this is to ensure we don’t have to use much chemicals in the water.”

Ok. Nude it is. The last time I was nude in front of women was at a hammam in Morocco; an old woman scrubbed me down like a burlap sack. Walking into the shower, I wrap a towel around me. Silly, I know. Lose it, Chambers. Just rip it off. But I can’t. I’m shy. haha. Even writing that made me laugh, but in this case, it’s true. A few other women are baring it all, so I drop the towel. Brr. I can’t help but examine other women’s bodies. And I must say: Wow. Scandinavian women don’t believe in waxing–of any kind.

I put the bathing suit on, which is a mix of a purple exercise bra and black yoga shorts, and head out. Placing my towel on a bench, I dash to the lap pool and descend the steps into the water. Ahhh, it’s warm. Really warm. I promised myself half an hour of swimming laps. It’s 2:50. I swim until 3:30 and finish exhausted. Now comes the fun. As I emerge from the stairs, the knife-piercing cold hits me and I tip toe run to the hot tub labelled 44 degrees. “Ah, it’s hot!” I say to the guy in the hot tub. “Yes, it’s supposed to be.” Smart ass.

Next, I walk up the steps and sprint to the next pool: 40 degrees. “This is such a nice thing you have in Iceland, ” I say to the guy next to me. “Yes, instead of the bars we come here. I’m working now, but I come here for a while to relax.” Wow. “In Canada we just go to the pubs,” I reply. “Well, we do that too in Iceland.” He laughs. At 4pm, the sun is heading down already. Christmas lights in the windows glow and car headlights light the road.

I run to my last pool, careful not to slip and fall on the salt. It’s a larger 40 degree pool with more people in it. Resting my head back, closing my eyes, and letting my limbs float to the surface, I’m not thinking about a single fucking thing.




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