Swimming in Norway: Heated Pool Optional

Norway isn’t as cold as you think it is. Despite high latitudes and proximity to the Arctic Circle, the Gulf Stream current warms things up a bit. But this is of little consolation when you’re in a bikini about to dive into a fjord. In February.

Our fjord-swimming plan was developed in a warm kitchen while enjoying a dessert of waffles, brown cheese and beer. “It’s pretty good idea,” said Christian. “Wear wool socks and a wool hat. Maybe you won’t get frostbite.” We made a drunken pact and miraculously stuck to it.

A few days later ten of us ventured out to Lade (in northern Trondheim) and ran down the hill to the edge of the fjord. Figuring that we needed to get warm first, we started doing jumping jacks, screaming, and running around in circles. When I say “we,” I mean we females. The menfolk rolled there eyes, stripped off their sweatshirts and waded right in.

The actual swimming was a little anti-climatic. Still screaming we ran in, completed our pre-mandated three underwater strokes, and ran out. I don’t think we received any of the supposed cold water swimming benefits espoused by Tim Moss. It was all over in twenty seconds. After a quick change of socks we jumped on a bus and headed to Pirbadet.   

Pirbadet is Norway’s largest indoor water park, featuring several lap pools, saunas, a lazy river, a wave pool, climbing rocks, very high scary diving boards and a waterslide. Located on the waterfront, the glassed in water park offers a penguins-eye view of the Trondheim fjord and the tiny island of Munkholmen. From the confines of the heated pool, you feel as if you can swim right out into the ocean. Pirbadet also hosts movies and performances within the water park – just in case you want to authenticate your movie experience. There’s nothing like watching Jaws while swimming. The saunas and slides warmed us right up and within the hour we were ready to head back outside, having decided that our three-stroke minimum was too wimpy. Next time there would be a twenty stroke minimum. And no wool socks.   

If you go:

Pirbadet (Havnegata 12, 7010 Trondheim – right downtown on the waterfront) is open until seven on the weekends and nine on weekdays. A complicated pricing system is in place, and how much you pay depends on your age, membership status, ownership of a punch card, etc. Students get substantial discounts. If you are a non-student there for a one-time visit the cost is kr145 ($27) for a weekend visit or kr125 ($23) on weekdays. Swimming on any beach is Lade is free and pleasantly un-crowded in the winter time. It’s definitely the more economical option.

Midnight Skating in Oslo

My watch died my last day in Norway. This watch was also my only alarm and I had to wake up at four in the morning to board a plane back to the US. I was staying in an alarm-clock-free hostel and unwilling to spend my last few kroner to fix a watch. The solution was simple. I’d have to stay up all night.

It was a good decision. No part of me wanted to leave Norway. I welcomed the excuse to make the most out of my last few hours in the country I’d fallen in love with, where I’d lived and taught for a few way-too-short months.

Normally I love coming home. When the passport crew stamps my little blue book and utters the mandated “Welcome home to America,” my eyes literally fill with nationalistic pride. (And no, I’m not a Republican.) But Norway was different. I was desperate to stay, but a million things (a lack of a visa, a boyfriend, a college degree to finish) were pulling me back home. The last thing I wanted to do was catch that flight. At least that watch battery was on my side.

I headed out around nine. Being wintertime, the sun had set hours ago but the snow and moonlight brightened up the sky. I stopped at a convenience store to buy one last block of brown cheese. Then I took a tram down to the fjord so I could stare out at the cold gray water and enjoy the strangely sweet cheese.

I meandered back into town, wandering through side streets and past apartments and stores, closed for the night. It was snowing lightly, but not cold. White candles dotted darkened windows and laughter spilled out of cozy pubs.

My aimless wandering brought me to an open air ice rink in front of the Royal Palace where the last of the skaters were turning in their rentals. I offered the man a little extra and he said I could stay on the ice all night and leave the skates next to the rink – they’d be okay until the morning.

So I skated. I circled that rink a million times as I replayed every moment in those Trondheim bars and homes and schools and ski trails. I traced thousands of figure eights trying to convince myself that it was okay to leave my new favorite place in the world and head home. I skated as restaurants and bars closed and turned out their lights, leaving me alone in the middle of that ice rink on Karl Johans Gate. I’d never felt so safe and content. With every twirl and t-stop on the ice, I promised myself that I would come back. Soon.