So I fancy myself something of a swimmer and was very pleased to discover the Bilthoven zwembad (swimming pool, indoor, heated) not far from my apartment. It costs Euro 3.- and the pool is open from 7am until 4pm most days, it even has some hours on Zondag (Sunday)!
Now, I am an open water swimmer-- every summer exploring the weeds and muck of Lake Washington with the Phinney Ridge gang. Every fall I promise to myself to keep up the swimming in the pool that winter, yet every year I fail to do so. I can't do flip turns; I go 50 meters the same speed I go 3 miles; and it's just so boring!
Nonetheless, I do love swimming! So I trekked up to the Bilthoven pool (about 4 blocks away!) It is a nice pool: 25m long, 6 lanes, with nice windows on both sides. (There is also a hot tub and kiddie play pool that I have avoided thus far.)
Aahh, but what is this pool missing?? Lane lines! None, zip, zero. And what do the swimmers do? They pretty much float, flop, and sometimes even swim, any which way they please.
Now you've all heard me complain about the Dutch with their authoritarian rules, people shouting at me for running on the bike path, biking in the street, crossing against the light, etc. Well, there are apparently no rules in the water, much to my dismay.
My first foray into this, when the pool was not too crowded at all, I asked an elderly gentleman when he reached the pool-side which lane was he in? He, naturally speaking English, said, "I don't care!" I said, okay, I'll go in lane 3. He moved over a bit, so he wasn't in between lanes and all was good. This question though was obviously new to him.
I went swimming on a Sunday when things were decidedly busier. In the US we have pretty clear-cup pool etiquette. You don't bump into people in the pool, you don't kick them, you let the faster ones pass especially when turning at the wall, things like that. And I have definitely seen people yell at other people in America for breaking these rules.
Well here in Holland, its a total free-for-all. On Sunday, did we make sensible loops in the imaginary lanes?? No indeed. We all went back and forth, me going as straight and narrow as I could possibly make myself, others going as wide and wandering as they pleased.
And the Bilthoven gang--not so speedy in the water. I think the average person goes maybe 400 meters in an hour. Not that I have a problem with their speed--god knows I can be like molasses myself-- but the image is worth describing: they are like big, old, (can I say fat and not offend?) turtles, floundering around with no particular path, certainly not a direct line to the other side!
One group of 3 ladies entered the water and proceeded to swim breaststroke, side by side, chatting the whole time. It is like the Green Lake path on a Sunday with three ladies with strollers walking abreast allowing no one to pass in either direction -- and not caring a whit about it!
And how about the woman doing, (of all things in a crowded pool!) the upside-down-breaststroke, you know, where you are on your back, blind to your path, and take up about 5 feet of space! This lady I really had to watch out for, because she was certainly not watching out for herself!
I managed to swim 2k this day, though probably a bit more what with all the dodging and avoiding of others. One thing I am always working on is keeping my head down-- not such a good idea in Bilthoven! 40 swimmers, 6 lanes, no traffic pattern--look out!
I have been swimming several times since these first days and find that noon on a weekday is a good time --only about 10 or 12 swimmers. Yesterday, I started out in lane 2, and stuck on top of the stripe for 2500m. The old guys would come and go, always swimming the most frustrating of strokes, the breaststroke, sometimes kicking me in the ribs, but I figured that to give up my space would be the end of me so I did not falter from my "lane." People who swim at noon on a weekday tend to be retired and older, but do I let this faze me? No indeed. If one of them gets into my space, my narrow imaginary lane, I put my head down and pretend I am a missile and head straight for them.
It is quite entertaining really! And despite the frustration of being kicked in a swimming pool, one of my constant struggles with pool swimming is removed-- the boredom!