Here’s a fact you might not be aware of: Iceland has more swimming pools per head of population than any other country in the world.
This morning we went for a long walk around Akureryri. We followed a river up through the town and out to the hydroelectric station that provides Akureryri with its power. The station was surprisingly small and sat in the midst of a lovely dramatic gorge with water rushing down at breakneck speed.
Our walk then took us up through some unlovely developments which really gave you the sense of Akureryri as a booming, but definitely regional, town. Lots of small houses with basic rectangular designs and none of the lovely cheerful coloured buildings we’d seen out in the countryside. We eventually came upon the town cemetery which was unique in our experience. All across Europe we’ve seen old cemeteries jammed full of graves. Akureryri’s cemetery has a coupe of football fields worth of space as yet unused.
Finally we looped back down into the centre of town and through the main shopping street. If you can judge a town by its shops then Akureryri’s character is clear. There are lots of shops selling cold-weather gear and many displays of suitcases. My favourite shop was the one modelling the latest in gear for trawlermen – that’s serious cold-weather gear.
After our walk we went to the local swimming pool. It was now about 12 degrees centigrade and a cold wind was making it fairly unpleasant. So we approached the open-air swimming pool with some trepidation. The first noticeable thing was the very organised approach to where you put your clothes. Like everywhere we’ve been there is a rack where you leave your boots so you don’t track mud through the building. There are particular places for clothes, others for towels. And there’s a slightly mystifying order in which you’re supposed to shower and dress for the pool.
The swimming complex is made up of a couple of main pools, several small pools of varying temperature and some great slides. All in the open air. The pools all have signs saying how warm they are. In the pools was just great; but the minute you got out you could certainly feel the contrast with the cold air. The kids were going down the slide and then back up to join a queue at the top while waiting for another turn. It made me shiver just to watch. Jennifer and I took up residence in the 43-degree pool and had a chat with a lovely Scottish blind man who’s married to an Icelander.
One of the great things about the pools is that there were so many small pools to just sit in that it was clear that the swimming complex was something of a social destination in the town. A place to come, sit in a hot pool and chat with others. There’s a lesson in pool design that could well apply in Australia – although maybe not so much with the hot pools.