Swimming is not big in Austria. Sure, there are people that do it, but not that many. Well, what did I expect from a land-locked country anyway? In Australia it seems like there is a pool every 5km – that is definitely not the case in Austria.
My first swim alone was a bit of an adventure.
I arrived, ready and rearing to go, having navigated the city driving, found a park and buzzed my way through the door to the swimming pool. Whereupon I found myself in a giant, humid underground room filled with lockers. There was no designated male/female section, just lockers and benches, interspersed with small changing rooms.
So I got changed. The lockers required 1€ and I didn’t have one. Which was a shame because I’d only brought a standard, small backpack. And it was winter, which meant I was wearing far more than a standard backpack worth of clothes.
So I left most of my clothes in an open locker (hope no one steals my pants!) and headed up to the pool deck – but first through a shallow pit of festy-looking water.
The 25m pool (drives me crazy to swim in such a small pool, but there is no such thing as an indoor 50m pool here) was practically empty but there were still only two designated swimming lanes. I reiterate – not a swimming country.
I slid myself into the water and almost immediately drowned. Must be the deep end, I thought to myself. But later I realised this is not the case, there’s just no standing up in this pool at all! Quickly I discovered that when two people swim in a 25m pool in Austria, you just take a side and swim up and down. Ingenious, actually. But if a third person happens to get in the lane, you must revert to swimming up on one side (the right, same as driving) and back on the other.
So I swim. And finally I am in the water and swimming. For almost the first time since arriving here in Austria I feel normal. I feel at home.
Following my swim I manage to find the female showers. Then I wade back (wrapped only in a towel) through the festy pit of water into the communal change room. I’m a little ill at ease at this point because it seems there are teenage boys running around everywhere, but I just go with it.
Once I’m changed I face my next problem – wet hair. Here in Austria, in Winter, my head may actually snap-freeze if I go outside without drying my hair. I dig through my bag for 10c (thank goodness) and utilise the hair dryer.
Finally I make it out, thoroughly exhausted but victorious.
So to recap, here in Austria the pools are few and far between and are filled mostly with older people doing breaststroke or school kids doing bombs off the diving boards. And it’s expensive. When my 10 pass ran out and I discovered that I would have to pay the equivalent of $12 to go for an hour’s swim, I decided that I would become a ‘summer only’ swimmer here. Just like the locals.
At the time of writing this, however, we’ve just hit the start of the swimming season and so the local pool (10 min bike ride instead of 45 min drive) is open and I have procured myself a student season pass at a magical cheap rate! It’s even a 50m outdoor pool and affords some of the best views of the snow covered hills surrounding the town. And so for now, I’m happy little swimming frog.