Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Swimmy June 3: Swimming holiday in Croatia

This year I went to Croatia on another Strel swimming tour after an enjoyable time in 2013 on their holiday in Lake Powell, Arizona. Sid, my husband, decided to come too. He’s not a keen open water swimmer but likes the odd dip - and what’s not to like about being on a boat all day in a beautiful setting? I’d heard so much about Croatia and the wonderful swimming from Australian friends who went on the Strel tour there in 2012.

Sponge diver in Hotel's museum 
I booked the first trip of the season, starting 15 June, to avoid the intense heat of summer. We flew to Split then travelled by road (and ferry) to Krapanj Island using the hotel’s transfer service. The tour is a one-week stay at the Spongiola Hotel on Krapanj. The name Spongiola comes from, as you might have guessed, the word for sponge. Diving for sponges was big business in Krapanj a long time ago and there is a sponge diving museum in the hotel.

The hotel was four stars and comfortable . We had twin rooms, nicely airconditioned and with a fridge in the room. The hotel has a small indoor pool and a gym. They also offer a massage service.  The hotel has its own beach and provides a free ferry service to the mainland - it’s very close, about 100 metres, and some people defy the rules and swim it.

Krapanj is a small traffic free island. It doesn’t take long to walk round the island (longer to swim round!) There’s a local shop selling all sorts but specifically for the Strel Swimmer sun-tan lotion, sweeties, snacks and beer. There’s also a nice ice-cream near the hotel.  

We arrived on the 15th and met in the hotel for a briefing and dinner in the evening. We were nine people on the tour: four couples and a single man. Of that group two were non-swimmers. We had two swimming coaches and tour leaders, Nina Strel and Maja Cizmic. 

Some of the islands we swam to
Nina is is the well known Martin Strel’s daughter and Borut Strel’s sister. She usually lives in Phoenix Arizona near her dad. She, like her brother is an ex-champion swimmer and a very experienced swim supporter She supported Martin on some of his epic river swims such as the Yangze. Maja is a dual national, She was raised in the UK of Croatian heritage  and moved to Croatia her adopted county. She speaks the language and knows the area like the back of her hand. So we were in very safe hands.

The next day we all swam off the hotel’s beach so Nina and Maya could assess our respective abilities. We were then put into three groups according to swimming speed: Gavin and Rod in the fast pink  hat group,  me and Andy in the orange hat  group and then Michael and Fiona in the green hat group. The hats made us easy to spot in the water.
Swim assessment

Our group

The water really is wonderful in this part of the Adriatic: warm, calm and crystal clear. There were no nasty things in the water. No jellyfish. No sharks. No threat from jet skis. No strong currents.
Crystal clear water

The rest of the swimming was off the Strel boat, which was big enough, had shade and a toilet. We jumped into the water from the boat and got back in using a ladder. The trip typically included two swims a day of around 2km, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Nina and Maja provided excellent water safety, following us closely in inflatable dinghies and providing drinks during the swims. Lunches and snacks were provided on the boat and for us vegetarians (Sid and I) this was the best food we got on our whole holiday. Croatia is a fishy sort of place. The itinerary varied based on the weather, specifically wind speed and direction. On the second day we were videoed while swimming. In the evening, back at base in the hotel, we got to view the video clips and were and given feedback. Watch that drooping elbow Lindy!

The Strel boat

As well as swimming we had a couple of hikes to beautiful places. One day we hiked to, Krka Falls, bathed in the waterfall and then swam down the river. We also had dinner together in Sibenik, crossing first on the ferry and then getting a bus into this a beautiful old town. It has Croatia’s only Michelin-starred restaurant – which we saw, but dared not enter. Our trip coincided with Children’s Week, with self-portraits of the schoolkids posted in the streets of the town. I particularly liked Mate’s.
Krka Falls

Maja (back) and Nina (front) our guides, Sibenik
The children's self-portraits, Sibenik

The highlights of the trip for me were the island hopping (swimming from island to island), swimming in Hitler’s Eye (a tunnel where U-boats were kept hid in World War II) and the 3.4-km round island swim on the final day.
Hitler's Eye
Sid kayaking

The coaches were fantastic. Maja is so enthusiastic and loves her work. Nina has a wealth of experience in looking after open-water swimmers. They were very attentive and lots of fun. Nina took loads of photos which she shared with the group every evening.

We really liked Croatia – friendly people, efficient and keen to show off their heritage - and we are discussing next year’s trip.
Diocletian's Palace, Split
The trip cost £899 plus flights. This included accommodation (twin share) and all meals except for three evening meals. (If you tire of eating in the hotel, there is a shop on Spongiola that sells provisions). The hotel can arrange transfers from Split or Zagreb. On the way back to Split we shared a mini-bus with six of the group –15 euros each.

The local currency is the Kuna and this is the preferred currency. Credit cards are not widely accepted. We had to pay for our accommodation in Split in cash. But there are lots of ATMs and we had no trouble using them with our British debit cards.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Swimmy June 2
The Great North Swim 09 – 11 June, 2017

The Great North Swim is a fantastic open water swim in my opinion. It is held in Windermere, a fabulously scenic body of water in the Lake District. The event is now usually held early in June over three days. It used to be held in September but after a cancellation a few years ago due to blue -green algae the date was changed. Blue-green algae like warmer water which is more likely in September than in June.  

Windermere, Lake District
This will be my 5th year taking part in the swim. I usually like to pack more than one event into the weekend and this year was the same. I entered the 5km on the Friday the 1 mile on the Sunday.
The swims take place round a one-mile course in Windermere. It is an iconic fun swim. With over 10,000 swimmers taking part over the weekend. For many this is their first experience of open water swimming and many participate to raise money for charity.  
The first swim for me was the 5km. This involved three circuits of the  one-mile course. The water was warm  enough to wear my thermal wetsuit at around 17 degrees but there was a  bit of chop. This meant times were slower. My wave was at 12:00pm just after the first race which was the 10 km. The swim was lovely although a bit rough and choppy  at times. I finished in a slower time than last year but still managed to nab first place in my age/gender category at 1:46.
5km about to start

5km at the finish

As time passed the weather got windier so the organisers decide to cancel the Sundays events for safety reasons. Those who were scheduled to swim were offered slots on the Saturday instead. This was bad news for those registered for the 10 km and 5 km swims as they were only offered  1 mile spots. Mine was set for 3:30 on the Saturday. It was wet in true Lake District fashion, it rained pretty solidly all day. The reason the Lake District is so green and pretty is because it gets a LOT of rain. The 1 mile was fun, it’s the signature event at the Great North Swim and so popular that over 3000 swimmers took part in this distance. It was choppier than the Friday, the rain was not such a problem for the swimmers as the spectators and the poor dogs!. Again, I managed a category first at 32:57
Wet dogs

We stayed at a fantastic campsite at Low Wray. It’s a National Trust site. It had a free offer for swimmers of a coffee and pastry. Both the coffee and the croissant were delicious. The site also has a wood-fired pizza oven. We had pizzas both nights we were there and they were great.

Feeling great after the one mile

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Swimmy June 1: A weekend in London

June 2017 was an excellent swimming month, with three major events. First, a weekend in London: Sid to explore significant Beatles and Dylan places with his Bob Dylan group and me to do some swimming.  I discovered Jenny Landreth’s book on pools in London and selected a few that sounded good, unusual and not too difficult to get to using public transport. All of the pools I visited had a history.  Alas, some spots in Landreth’s book are not open to the public. And some are expensive. I wanted to go to the  RAC club’s fabulous Grecian-inspired pool in Pall Mall and the Virgin Club’s pool overlooking Canary Wharf but these are only open to members.
Jenny Landreth: Swimming London
Arrived on Friday and managed a swim in the Serpentine in Hyde Park - an iconic swimming spot, lots of geese, ducks and swans, rather soupy but lovely all the same. The lido is a roped- off section of the Serpentine about 100 metres long  with two single changing cabins and a single COLD shower outside.

Serpentine Lido

After a nice swim here I headed off to the Oasis Sports Centre between Holborn and Covent Garden. The entrance is from busy Endell Street. The pools were built on a bombsite after the war, but there has been a public swimming pool on this site since the 17000s. Now there are two heated pools. The outdoor pool is an unusual 27 metres in length and the indoor one 25 metres. Both pools have fast, medium and slow lanes and lane etiquette was excellent 

Oasis outdoor pool
Oasis indoor pool

On the Saturday I visited two large unheated lidos: Tooting Bec Lido and Brockwell Park Lido. The well-known Tooting Bec is Europe’s largest lido at 91 metres by 33 metres. Opened in 1930s. it is well known for its changing cubicles with colourful doors. This was the coolest water I swam in over the weekend, although supposedly 19 degrees. The changing rooms are large and have showers but there are no lockers. People just leave their stuff in a cubicle or on a square of concrete pool surround. Valuables can be left at reception though. It was quite busy poolside but the water was much less so. The pool is big so there’s plenty of room for everyone to do what they like. There were head-up breast strokers, bikini clad swimmers, doggy paddlers, kids in armbands, bombing boys and wetsuited triathletes. But, thankfully, there was no congestion and no arguments.
The café serves good sandwiches and wraps at reasonable prices.

Tooting Bec Lido

After a halloumi and salad wrap and feeling like another lido experience I went to Brockwell Park in Brixton. Built in the 1930s, its 50 m and unheated although it felt warmer than the other lidos. Landreth comments on the choppiness of the water because of the steep drop off to the deep end and indeed I did feel there was a slight swell in the pool as I swam. The pool has lanes and a messing-around section. This play area was very busy as it was a lovely afternoon but it was spacious enough to do lap swimming. The changing room is small but has excellent showers. I had to give up with the lockers as they are too small to accommodate an average swimming bag. 

Brockwell Lido

Sunday saw me opting for two historic indoor pools, Marshal Street Baths and Iron Monger Row. Marshal is marvellous. Built in 1851 and modernised over the decades, it retains its historic charm. In the 1600s it was where plague victims lived, died and were buried. The pool is peaceful and elegant - marble with a bronze sculpture at one end. I managed a quick snap of this one before being chastised by staff! Despite being quite a small pool it was not busy and I managed to get in a decent swim.
Marshal Street Baths

After the Marvellous Marshal Street,  I headed off to another historic city centre baths, Iron Monger Row Baths. The building and entrance to the pool are impressive. The 33-metre pool has been renovated to an infinity pool and is very pleasant to swim in. What impressed me was a spectator gallery that looks as though it is made of church pews. The Turkish Baths downstairs have been reinterpreted as a modern spa. I felt some of the charm has been lost by making the place into a leisure centre with its necessary signs, rules and warnings. I was unable to get a snap of this pool or have a good look at the building as I was nabbed by staff immediately. No photos! No wandering!. 
Ironmonger Row Baths