Saturday, 26 March 2011

Nivelles swimming pool: a survival guide for the hapless Brit

Lest you suspect I am going to whine, let me be upfront from the start: Nivelles swimming pool is perfectly decent, more than decent in fact, especially when you consider that the population of the town is half that of Lowestoft (where I spent my teenage years), and the pool there is definitely not Olympic-sized.

The water is warm. The price is very reasonable. The pool is open every day - yes, even Sundays - although, this being Belgium, the hours are somewhat erratic. Also, the setting is idyllic - you walk across the Parc de La Dodaine, round the lake and past the happy children in the playground. (Children are always happy in playgrounds, unless they've just fallen and hurt themselves.)

However, going to the swimming pool in Belgium does present a number of challenges to a Brit, who may have certain expectations - like, perhaps, separate changing rooms for men and women.

So be aware of the following:

- You will be handed a token on your way in (without even having to ask for it!). On the plus side, it doesn't matter if you don't have a 1-euro coin with you. On the other hand, the system means that you can only close and re-open your locker once, so you'd be better off taking your shampoo and towel with you to the poolside.

- You will need a swimming hat. These days they come in a nice soft fabric that doesn't rip half your hair out when you take them off, though if you're nostalgic for that, those hats are for sale in the swimming pool shop.

- Men are obliged (as the Belgians would say) to wear Speedos. This is regrettable, but avert your eyes and all shall be well.

- The changing rooms, as mentioned, are mixed. And really, why wouldn't they be, since there are individual cubicles? I'm sure only the Brits (and possibly the Americans) would object to this. To lock the cubicles, flip the ankle-height bar across the door. (I say this because it was not immediately obvious to me.)

- There are a zillion signs that tell you that you absolutely must not under any circumstances be wearing shoes in the changing-room area. However, I couldn't find any signs whatsoever pointing to which direction to walk in for the lockers, the toilets, or the actual swimming pool. If you are geographically challenged, you will need to ask someone, but luckily, the changing rooms being mixed doubles your chances of finding someone to ask.

- There are swimming lanes, but these serve no practical purpose, since people don't swim up one end and down the other in a civilised British way, and children on swimming lessons bump into you (not least because their instructors call them over to the poolside, right into your trajectory).

- The showers (communal and mixed) are violent and ineffective. Make sure you are not facing the wall when you turn them on, or you run the risk of being blinded. Also, don't expect them to actually wash any of the soap away. They are warm, though, so that's definitely something.

Oh, and one last thing. You may not need a 1-euro coin, but if you bring two with you, you can make use of the coin-operated, pay-on-demand jacuzzi. Genius, or what?

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