Friday, September 12, 2014

The gentlemen of Sydney's eastern ocean pools

During August when I was writing, Into the Deep, a story for the travel section of The Weekend Australian, I spoke to a number of 'chappies' as my Dad would call them, who spend their days in and around Sydney's ocean pools.


At Wylie's Baths I met 80-year-old Reg, who comes to the pool each day but only if the sun is out.


He does about eight to ten laps and then retires to his spot at the north end of the striped timber deck to read. His favourite writer is Tom Sharpe and he doesn't mind a bit of Stephen King. "I've read nearly all Tom Sharpe's," he says. "He's funny and when I sit down and start laughing people wonder what's wrong with me."


A former Bondi Iceberger, Reg shifted to Wylie's when he moved to Coogee 15 years ago. "This is a good one," says Reg. "It's got an old world charm and friendly people and you are quite protected from the wind."


Reg believes his swimming keeps him fit and well and finds Wylie's the perfect place to relax. "You can't let yourself go for too long without doing something," he says, "and there's nothing like salt water to make you feel good."


A few headlands north at Bronte, you can't miss Les and his band of multicultural mates who spend their days swimming, talking and soaking up the sun outside the gents change rooms on the edge of the park.


"I'm Irish, then there's Greek, Russian, Croatian," says 76-year-old Les. "We all get on terribly!"  Les alternates between the baths and the bogey hole but adds he's doesn't swim in the bogey hole unless the beach inspectors are around. "It might look lovely but you never know?"


More of a dipper than a lapper, his mates say he does more laps with his tongue and if they had a dollar for every furphy he told they'd be multi-millionaires.


"If you come here every day you will know everything," says Les, who has been swimming at Bronte for 64 years. "Swim, talk, sun; that's the way to live."


At Bondi Icebergs I introduced myself to Grant, a long-time Iceberger, who'd just spent half an hour doing laps in the 16 C water in the 50-metre pool.


Recently retired, Grant learnt to swim at the pool when he was six and says he likes it because it's where he comes from. He says swimming in the cold water in winter certainly brightens you up and considers people who swim in wet suits are cheating.


"There's nothing better than a winter's day down here when the sun's out," says Grant, who finishes off his visit with a beer in the clubhouse with his mates.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

In my cossie at Milano's Piscina Cozzi

As I was saying, when we left Belluno I thought I'd had the last of my Italian swims. But on our first night back in Milan I discovered the Piscina Cozzi in a Wallpaper Guidebook at our friends' Jenny and Stephen's apartment.

Photo: www.milanosport.it
When I looked at the photo I knew I had to visit this circa 1934 pool.

Photo: http://piscineperesterno.mg-freewebsite.net
The next day after a tour of Villa Necchi Campiglio, a beautiful 1930s house with a lovely pool, we jumped on the number 1 tram and headed to Piscina Cozzi.


When we arrived at the imposing building, designed in Fascist architecture style, a combination of art deco meets ancient Rome and rationalism, it was after 3.


The main 33-metre pool was full of schoolkids practicing their diving off the tower, taking part in squad, playing water polo and perfecting their synchronised swimming moves.


In the foyer I admired the plaster sea horses decorating the walls and the bust of Roberto Cozzi, the World War I hero the pool honours.


When I moved inside I discovered apple green tiles around the pool's inside edge and when I climbed down the ladder I found I couldn't stand up at the shallow end.  When the depth dropped to 4.5 metres under the diving platform I felt like I was falling off the edge like I do at North Sydney, another 1930s pool.


Designed by Luigi Secchi, who was also responsible for the rebuilding of La Scala after it was bombed during the Second World War, the complex was renovated in 2008.  It has marble features, a 33-metre and a 20-metre pool, a diving tower with 3, 5 and 10-metre platforms and a grandstand catering for 700 spectators. In its early days it also included a barber and hair salon for ladies, as well as a bar directly facing the pool.


When I met up with Bruce and Trude after my dip I was almost certain I'd had my last Italian swim. But back at Jenny and Stephen's that night they announced they'd organised to spend our final weekend at Carlin Carlotta, an agriturismo stay (farm holidays) in the Piedmont region.


After enjoying the culinary delights of Neive and exploring the lovely hilltop town we cooled off in the refreshing water of Carlin Carlotta's brand new pool.


And the next morning after a beautiful dinner on the terrace and one or two many wines we cleared our heads with a morning dip overlooking the grape vines and the rolling hills.


The next day we caught the plane back to Sydney so that really was the last of my Italian swims. Until next time ...

Monday, July 28, 2014

On the piscina trail from Lake Como to the Dolomites

Soon after our plane touched down in Milan in early May I felt like a swim.


The weather was warm and I needed to stretch out after the long flight but when I stepped inside the closest piscina (the Italian word for pool) to our friends' place in Milan I realised I didn't need a swim that much. The four lane, 25-metre pool was stuffy and every millimetre of the water was filled with bodies doing aqua aerobics and squad. I decided to wait till Lake Como, our next destination on our five week trip in northern Italy.


At the spectacularly beautiful Lago di Como I got an even stronger urge for a dip even though my Milano-based friend Jenny said the Italians think it's unhealthy to swim in the lakes. She said they have a fear of being caught in seaweed and drowning like a group of children did in the 1960s, and so they leave lake-swimming to the tourists.


On our ferry trips around the lake the water looked pristine to me. So I wasn't put off but when the locals said it was far too cold to be wading in, I decided to check out the lido.


But the one in Menaggio was closed and was not due to open for another couple of weeks.


Oh well, I thought, maybe I'll swim in the sea at our next destination on the Ligurian coast.


But when we walked down to the harbour at Manarola, our base for a week in Le Cinque Terre, I couldn't find a spot where I could safely get in.


I postponed my dip till later in the week when we visited Monterosso where there's a proper beach.


But after exploring the town, the water didn't look very inviting and when Bruce said if we hurry we can make the next train to Manarola, 'out the window' went the idea of a swim.


When we headed north to Belluno to watch a stage of the Giro D'Italia bike race, I was not hopeful of finding a suitable place to swim.


But on our first day in the Dolomites' town, I spotted a small brochure with Belluno Di Piscina on the front. The next afternoon I left Bruce watching the Giro on TV and headed to the pool.


In the change rooms I met Fabbiana, whose husband was also at home watching the cycling race. She helped me attach my locker key to my cossie, showed me where to leave my shoes and where to shower, a compulsory activity before diving in.


Finally I was having a swim and from the moment I was in the 6 lane x 25 metre pool I was impressed. It was very clean, the water was a perfect temperature and loads of light poured in through the glass panels. When I turned on my back I could see the sky and clouds and as I swam along I felt my body relax.


"Belissima piscina," I said to Franco, one of the friendly life guards when I'd finished my swim. He said they worked hard to keep it clean, pointing to a machine at the other end, and that caps and showers before swimming helped.


Then I joined the kids and adults bouncing off the springboard in the diving pool and watched more daring souls somersault off the tower.


When I walked out of the Belluno Di Piscina I was transformed and ready to get into the Giro excitement in the town.


I returned to the pool two more times that week when the Giro turned Belluno pink.


On the train back to Milano I thought I'd had the last of my Italian swims until ....


Stay tuned for the next episode!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Captain Cook, rainbows and the Woonona ocean pool

The seas were wild the day we travelled south to Bulli and Woonona, just north of Wollongong, to see our friends' Pete and Zac and Marg.


After lunch at the Bulli Beach Cafe, we walked along the headland and looked down on the Bulli Ocean Pool.


Then we headed south one suburb to check out Marg's favourite swimming spot, the Woonona Ocean Pool near where Captain Cook attempted to land in April 1770.


As we watched the rising swell, I imagined his small boat struggling through the 'great surf which beat up everywhere'.


Then we moved down to the flat and circumnavigated around the edge.


Past the turquoise starting blocks lined up like monuments at the south end.


And the remains of the original Woonona Pool.


I dipped my hand in the blue-green water and wished I'd brought my cossies.


And then a rainbow appeared and arched across the ocean like the Sydney Harbour Bridge.


And cast a ring of light like a halo over the pool.