Different Worlds – Outdoor public swimming/activities

It is high summer, and most of us love it. We seek quality time outdoors. From relaxing on the lawn in the parks or in the garden (if you’re lucky to have one) – with some light summer reads -, to the (obligatory) BBQ with family and friends, it all adds to boost our spirits. Others like to be more active and take advantage of the pleasant temperatures to exercise outdoors. 

Hanging out & relaxing in the Egmont Park in Brussels © Kaat Cleenewerck

In a densely built city such as Brussels, there are not a whole lot of possibilities to do so. I see sports enthusiasts running laps in the (central) Warande park. Other people take their bikes to get through town, or go for longer rides in the greener outskirts. Nothing too strenuous, mainly to enjoy themselves …

Being more of an “aqua” lover, I look for places to jump in the water! On hot days, I prefer a swim in the ocean but to do so, I need to put up with a 1,5 hour train ride to get to the North Sea … 

Then I miss my Venice Beach life where I lived only a 5 minutes walk from the Pacific Ocean! Even in the winter I regularly went for walks on the beach and an occasional water splash!

Unfortunately, nowadays, the capital of Europe has no (official) public outdoor swimming possibilities. The last open air pool closed in 1978! Can you believe this? It’s a shame! This is in stark contrast with other European major cities, i.e. Berlin has about 17 (!) outdoor pools.

Le Bassin de la Villette in the Northeast of Paris © Henri Garat/Marie de Paris

Paris has quite a few too, and even a unique one: le Bassin de la Villette, located at le Quai de la Seine , open in the summer season, as part of “Paris Plages”. The city has invested in the necessary infrastructure to make that possible. And access is gratuit, yes, free! How great does that sound?

Imagine the excruciating heat waves we recently had to endure in Brussels (and all over Western Europe), with no opportunities for a refreshing jump in the water … When the temperature hit the all time record of 105°F (41°C) children (and even some adults) had to seek relief under the city’s fountains!

Children seeking relief under the fountains in Brussels on the hottest day ever © BRUZZ

There is hope though. For a few years, the citizen’s initiative “POOL IS COOL” has been striving for outdoor swimming places in the Brussels area, and in particular the use of natural spots like existing ponds, or parts of canals … etc. They started to revive the open-air swimming culture with a series of (playful) actions, like the yearly ‘Big Jump BXL’ in the canal, and ‘Badeau’, the construction of a “big” children’s pool in a park.

BADEAU – first public swimming pool in Brussels in years © Paul Steinbrück (2016)

Recently, the organization developed some scenario’s in which it investigated the potential for natural swimming places. This resulted in this summer’s “expedition swim”. In collaboration with several cities’ authorities, POOL IS COOL had organized some weekends of “bathing exploration” in several ponds in Brussels.

Rest assured, the water of the ponds was first thoroughly tested for its quality by a professional laboratory. The criteria being very strict, only when the green light was given, were the participants allowed into the water for a safe splash. For the first time in 40 years people could actually officially swim in open air! – For the record, due to inconsistent results of the water quality, 2 locations were unfortunately cancelled -.

This summer, thanks to the efforts of POOL IS COOL, for the 1st time in 40 years people could officially swim in open air, in the Neerpede pond © Paul Steinbrück

Towards the future, POOL IS COOL will take into account the experiences of these “explorations” to further develop this temporary project into a more permanent one. Local officials will need to be in favor of the idea and willing to invest, … following the leading examples of neighboring countries?

In the meantime one is still dreaming of outdoor swimming in the capital of Europe. And I have to be content with a 1 hour bus ride to the nearest open-air swimming pool …

But not for long. In a few days, the Santa Monica sun will be calling, and even more the oceanside. Looking forward to lingering along the Pacific shore and hitting the waves.

A visit to the Annenberg Beach House pool is also a nice option … I love the restored historic setting – remains from the Marion Davis Estate -, and only a few yards (meters) away from the ocean. I sometimes like to alternate: a jump in the ocean and right afterwards I go for a swim in the pool (or vice versa) … a rejuvenating treat !

Happy me after a swim in the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica © Kaat Cleenewerck

When I ride my (friend’s) bike to the Beach House over the boardwalk, I am always amazed at the number of people who are (power) walking, rollerblading, biking, running, doing yoga on the beach … you name it … at any time of the day. Sure, the mild-warm yearlong weather is so inviting. Though some are obviously fanatics. Can’t help that I have the impression that for those it’s clearly showing off their trained, toned, tanned bodies … inherent to the westside body culture, no doubt … ?

About Kaat Cleenewerck 8 Articles
After a 12 years "life adventure" in Los Angeles where Kaat Cleenewerck worked in independent film and as a journalist, she relocated a couple of years ago to her native country, Belgium. Yet, the ties with Los Angeles are still very strong, inviting, and most of all, inspiring.

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