25 May 2011

Laugardur: The Geothermic Municipal Swimming Pool

One of the things I was most looking forward to before our trip was visiting one of the geothermal pools.  It's something I've gotten to do a few times in Hungary and really enjoyed.

A friend of ours had been to Iceland recently and went to the Blue Lagoon, which is the largest and most famous of these places, especially for tourists.  But when I looked on the map, it turned out that the Reykjavik municipal pool was only a 5 minute walk from our hotel.  So when we got to the hotel, we took our stuff to our room, had a quick bite to eat, and went to the pool.

If (when!) I come back to Iceland, I'd like to go to the Blue Lagoon, but I think Laugardur was definitely the more native, local experience.  It's not fancy, and it was mostly people coming after work (by the time we got there) to swim for exercise or team sport -- but it is very clean and well-organized (like it seems most things are here).  The pictures from the Blue Lagoon look amazing as well, and I'm sure it's much bigger and maybe a bit fancier.

It was clear to me before going that there's some sort of procedure for using these pools, but as much as I looked all over the internet, I only found one quick article about it.  The man at the front desk was really helpful (considering, and considering the relative standard of helpfulness we experienced here) and told us what to do, and then we rented towels (which nearly doubled the entrance -- we could've just snagged hotel towels for this outing), scanned our receipt at the turnstile, and began this ritual -- which is really what it feels like.

In a hallway, outside the locker rooms, there are benches lining the walls and a shelf for shoes.  You put your shoes on the shelf, and walk into the locker room in your socks.  The locker room is like any other locker room I've ever been in -- lockers and benches and hooks.  The lockers all have keys attached to bracelets on them, so you just strip down, put everything in your locker, put the key on, and take your suit and towel into the shower room.  The shower room has rows of showers, and you put your towel in a cubby and take a shower.  There are automatic soap dispensers and signs everywhere explaining that it is very important to wash before and after without your swimsuit on and the signs also explain where you need to especially wash yourself -- this is important because I don't think the water has many chemicals in it, which is nice.  I'd rather prance about naked and get into more natural water than go into a pool where the chlorine can knock you out.  There are also signs everywhere saying that photos are not allowed, which is nice because everyone's walking around completely naked, but it would also be impossible to take pictures anyway unless you had a waterproof camera.

No one has sandals on, and what we didn't realize was that you don't carry your towel out to the pools -- because the wind might blow them away.  The temperature outside was hovering around 40°F, and the pools are between 36-42°C.  So after showering and putting on your suit, you run outside barefoot and try to get into the pool as quickly as possible.  Once we got outside, there was no place to put towels anyway.  The first pool we got into was pleasantly warm, but it was certainly the cooler pool, so we moved to the smaller pool which was much warmer -- like perfect bath water temperature.    Had I been more motivated, I would've moved back and forth between the different pools more, which is more invigorating.  But after all of the delays and everything, it was exceptionally pleasant just to sit and get pruny.

The small, hot pool had seats and volcanic rocks to sit on.  Clearly, it was a really social thing, with groups of people sitting and chatting, young people with friends, business guys, some people on their own, parents with their small children.  People just kind of sit down right next to you and move around and it's all very chill and democratic because everyone's just in swimsuits.  The beautiful thing about it is that there's no cell phones, no nothing except the perfect temperature water.

When finished, you run back into the locker rooms, strip out of the bathing suit and shower again.  This time, it's really important to dry off well because it's apparently also huge faux pas to leave a puddle in the locker room, because at that point, you can slip easily and also who wants wet socks?  The nonchalance was super amazing, some women were getting dressed to go out on the town, others in regular clothes, everything was just very normal.  Then we walked back out to get our shoes, and at the end of the hallway there's a row of tables with mirrors and professional-strength hair driers, which added to the civility of the entire experience.  Girls were braiding each others hair and I gave myself a quick blow dry before putting on my hat.  We dropped our towels off at the exit turnstile and headed out into the non-sunset -- when we left around 6:30PM, the sun was still high in the sky, though it was cloudy so it wasn't sunny.

After all of the airplane delays, and minor stress of not knowing whether we'd be able to get out of EWR (actually, that's a large stress, because the goal is to get the hell out of EWR as soon as possible), I really felt relaxed after leaving the pool. 

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