my favorite pools

Since travel is not possible right now, I have been looking at a lot of pictures from previous vacations and thinking about finally writing some of the many blog posts that I took pictures for over the years. I love doing four things on vacation: riding bikes, riding public transportation, visiting libraries (and meeting librarians), and lap swimming. I’m especially interested in municipal pools because of their history in the United States. Here is a post about some of my favorite pools. I will do separate posts later for every pool in DC and Chicago.

Pools I’ve been to on vacation

Laugardalslaug, Reykjavik

Iceland has a lot of geothermal activity and its inhabitants have wisely decided to put it to the best possible use by having lots of heated public pools. I went to two pools in Reykjavik (maybe I’ll find pictures of the other one at some point) but the crown jewel is obviously the Laugardalslaug Pool northwest of town. My friends and I walked there (it was a long walk) and took a bus back. The busses there all have wifi, it’s awesome.

This pool is the best, not the least because it’s a direct bus ride from downtown Reykjavik and there is a hot dog stand next to the bus stop. I want to go back and go to every municipal pool in Iceland – I’m sure they’re all fabulous.

They have a number of outdoor hottubs (they call them “hot pots”) at different temperatures and there are guards that watch you shower and make sure you use soap everywhere before you put on your bathing suit. The pools are pretty lightly chlorinated so cleanliness is maintained aggressively.

There is an outdoor 50-meter pool that is the perfect temperature at all times. There is also a very cosmic waterslide.

I love Iceland because it is the only place where people love hot dogs and orange soda as much as D and I do. They do not have giardinara but they have the very best orange soda in the world, and some of the nicest busses I’ve ever been on. At the pool, there is a hot dog stand next to the bus stop so you can eat after you swim. The bus goes directly to the pool from downtown Reykjavik and they have Wifi on the busses!

I’d love to go back to Laugardalslaug in the summer and see the rest of the park, which includes a botanical garden and a zoo full of Icelandic animals. The zoo has seals and reindeer, and a coffee house that serves ice cream.

Also, the Blue Lagoon is actually totally awesome but I don’t think spas belong in this list.

Gordon Pool, Tel Aviv

Another outdoor Olympic pool that doubles as a showcase for Israeli ingenuity: it is filled with seawater and drained and refilled nightly. It is right on the beach, which surely has the highest concentration of insanely attractive and fit people outside of Rio de Janeiro. The water was a little cold for my taste but I think that probably made me swim faster. There is an Aroma on the beach about a four-minute walk from the pool. I enjoyed swimming here, having an iced coffee afterwards, and then riding the insane electric scooters along the beach. I think they must have regulators to go at slower speeds in the US because those things were way too fast and probably more people would be dead if they were riding around that fast in the United States.

D was not exaggerating when he told me to “get ready to be terrified by what you’re allowed to do” before my first ride. I cannot believe these things are legal, much less on sidewalks. I have had some sublime days in my life but I am not sure there is anything more fun than riding an electric scooter to Old Jaffa and eating the most wonderful kunafe in the world. Starting the day with some brisk laps makes it feel more and less decadent at the same time!

I also enjoyed several lovely hotel pools in Israel. I miss Israel. What a country!

Barton Springs, Austin Texas

This pool is cool but also weird. The bottom is slippery because there is algae, it’s cold, and there is plant life on the bottom that can hit your face when you swim in the shallower areas. There is low visibility and altogether I find it generally stressful and not worth the reward, especially since parts of the pool are too shallow to swim in so there isn’t even the satisfaction of going end-to-end. I didn’t really enjoy swimming here but I would come back here to hang out because the setting is undeniably cool. The pool feeds a waterfall that leads into a pretty creek below the pool. You can see the Austin skyline from the water, and there is a very special playground with a small locomotive that you can ride (now sadly out of service due to concessionare contracting conflicts). There are also great Mexican food trucks in the park and the park itself is pretty impressive and a good place for a hike. There is a nice open field across the street where you can go hang out and look at the city too. I don’t know if you can get to this pool on public transportation. I will almost certainly go there again but I’d wear shoes in the water and probably a bathing suit that covered more of my body so that I would not get as cold. Or I would go on a really hot day. Or both.

Chicago Pools:

Kennedy Park: This is a really nice 50-meter pool inside a large park in Beverly. My only complaint about this pool is that the lap swim times definitely wouldn’t work for me if I worked downtown, and I wish there were fewer water polo practices so I could swim later in the evening. They are pretty liberal with the age requirements for “senior swim” though so sometimes I can sneak a few laps in outside of the official lap swim times. This pool has a deep diving well and the park has tennis, a street hockey rink, and walking/biking trails around some large playing fields. I enjoy riding my bike here and there are lots of options to ride your bike to get a treat. There are many nice businesses to bike to on Western, including a bakery, a record store and Bookies, the greatest bookstore in Chicago. Beverly has lost some nice businesses in the past year (Ellie’s Cafe and B Sides are sorely missed), but there are lots of other sumertime destinations to enjoy after the pool: Jansen’s, Joey’s Red Hots (less charming, but somehow much cheaper than Jansen’s) and Rainbow Cone. During the swimming season, I like to ride my bike to the pool and then do my grocery shopping at County Fair. County Fair isn’t my favorite grocery store (I think probably the Pete’s in Bridgeview deserves its own post) but it’s a fine neighborhood grocer and I love doing errands on my bike. This pool is a rare gem on the South Side and it is lovingly maintained by an active local group. It was definitely a factor in my push to move to this part of the city. I’m so happy that this pool is in my life. Going here is one of the highlights of any summer day/week.

Portage Park: I LOVE THIS POOL. It was built for the 1959 Pan Am games and it is *off the chain.* It has a separate pool just for diving, a children’s pool, and the fastest 50 meter pool in the city. If this pool were in any other city it would be absolutely lousy with triathletes, but I think in Chicago they must all train in the lake or something, because I’ve never seen one here. We hardly ever go because it’s so far away, but when we do, there are a few restaurants and other cool Chicago things nearby that we enjoy, including: everything in Andersonville, Smoque BBQ, and Laschet’s Inn. (I think Smoque is kind of overrated. The food is pretty good but it all feels very focus grouped and no one would ever confuse it with real soul food. Laschet’s seems like more fun to go to in the winter. I will go back this summer and update this post with better destinations.) This is definitely the best pool in the city though and I wish sometimes I lived on the north side so we could go more often. The only thing about this pool that is not amazing is the locker room situation. The women’s room is often, inexplicably, flooded, they are very dark, and the showers are not reliable. I think the men’s room is better.

DC Pools:

Anacostia Pool

I love riding my bike here since it’s right on the Anacostia River Trail. I’m usually too lazy to do it since I have a lap swim membership at the amazing PG Pool, and tag along with friends there all the time. But this is a good destination if you want to make swimming the centerpiece of your day. I miss my old house. It was right on the Anacostia trail network. Riding through the Aquatic Gardens and through Anacostia and ending with lunch and ice cream (or a baseball game) in Navy Yard before coming home was the best.

Banneker Pool

This is the party pool! It has the most fun lifeguards and it’s in the best location. You can ride your bike downhill to U Street. I miss living in DC in my 20s! So fun!

Haines Point Pool

I love this pool because there is a view of the Washington Monument. It’s also “faster” than Banneker or Anacostia, has fewer kids, and has a longer season (open until October and possibly later because former mayor Adrian Fenty trains here for triathlons and installed some heating elements). It’s fun to do laps on Haines Point on your bike, and there is a mini golf course next door. Sometimes it’s annoying to swim here because it attracts very aggressive triathletes and there are not speed designations in the lanes. I think it has fewer lanes than Wilson so it gets crowded. Still, very special and fun!

Wilson Pool

This pool is fast (no real shallow end), and so are the people in it. This is the indoor winter triathlete training spot. Unfortunately the pool isn’t always in the 50 meter configuration because they use it for gym classes. So about half the time it’s set up as a 25 yard pool. I haven’t gone swimming when it is set up as a short course – perhaps it’s less intense. I have been here many times on weeknights, when it is definitely not a fun pool. Everyone is here to get in a serious workout! The pace is much faster than the Gordon Pool, which is the only other pool I have been to with lanes that are marked for speed. This is a convenient pool because it’s open pretty late on weeknights and it’s on the red line.

Private pools:

PG Pool: This is the best pool.  The waiting list is many years long but there is a lap-swim membership that lets you do laps for a few hours in the morning. If you are a lap swim member, you can usually buy a full membership at the end of the season for the last 4-6 weeks. There are dad band concerts and sometimes they even have Shabbat. You can grill. You can play sandlot volleyball. (No tennis, though.) Everyone is happy at the pool. I miss it.

The Kroc Center, Pullman, Chicago: This is my winter pool. I wish it were not a short-course pool, but the 25-yard competition pool is faster than the 3-4 lane pools at LA Fitness due to depth and length, and number of lanes. There is also a slower (shallower) lap pool with zero-entry (the slide is not accessible, however). I enjoy working out at the Kroc Center. The only thing that could make the Kroc Center better would be if they had racquetball courts. I can’t really ask for a nicer gym.

Ramot Resort, Galilee: Many hotels in Israel have very nice pools (and often ones long enough to swim laps), but this pool is truly perfect. You see the Dead Sea and vineyards and mountain desert as you descend to the pool through a path between private cabins. Never have I ever felt more that I was on vacation. What a heavenly place.  I hope I get to swim here again before I die.

Pools I dream of swimming in:

Dumbarton Oaks Pool: It is my dream to work at Dumbarton Oaks so that I can take a dip there. Do you work there? Can you get me in the pool?

Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle: One of my earliest memories is of wanting to swim in this pool. I was three or four, so it was easy for my mother to bodily restrain me. I’ve never stopped dreaming about it.

The Roman Pool at Hearst Castle: The Neptune Pool had a more siren call, but swimming here is also on the bucket list.

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