Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall

For the first time in eleven visits to Finland, I finally visited Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall in Helsinki. This pool is notable, not only for its Classicism in design but also for its reputation as being a public pool where one can swim nude. In fact, I had checked out this place several times before (and on both prior visits with Mark) yet it was always closed. The pool does in fact close during the summer, while its staff relocates to other locations. Off-season is the time to go and we went during the afternoon of Tuesday, October 18, since Tuesday was one of the men’s days to swim.

We decided to pay extra for access to a steam sauna and an infrared sauna in addition to the obligatory wood-burning sauna, and paid 16€ to the upper floor. The attendant gave us a towel, a sauna mat and a robe that didn’t have a tie around the waist. The extra fee also entitled us to our own “cabin”. Before we were led to our cabin we had to take off our shoes and place them in a cubbyhole. The cabins were merely airy rooms with gauzy fabric walls with a cot and set of drawers. We couldn’t figure out how to lock the drawers until we realized we each held the other’s key.

Our second floor cabin (the arched area in the photo below) overlooked the pool. Tables were set up outside each cabin where you could sit and order from the menu.

I headed for the wood-burning sauna first, which is de rigueur in Finland. The YMCA in Mississauga only has an electric sauna, yet I crave the smell of smoke and wood and the sensation of rising löyly when water hits the rocks. Some men were already in there and they later took turns flailing the vihta on each other’s back, which filled the sauna with the aroma of birch leaves. Another man flung water onto the kiuas but I did the honours on later trips to the sauna.

I walked around the perimeter of the upper floor visiting each sauna while Mark went for a swim. The pool was divided into lanes for different swimming speeds. After raising my body temperature to such a degree I found it easy to slip into the cool water. Since I was afraid of splashing water getting into my face and possibly washing away my contact lenses, I merely did the dog paddle and treaded water. I can swim but I am not a swimmer; nevertheless I was determined to say that I had taken a swim in this famous pool. I had never swum nude before–so skinny-dipping was alien to me–thus the feeling of coldness penetrated areas that had always been protected (and warmed) by fabric.

After the pool I visited the lower level, which only had two electric saunas, one of which was out of service. You merely had access to that one sauna, plus a small locker for your things, if you chose to pay the lower rate.

Although this was men’s day, I saw at least two women working. Signs posted in the entrance area warned visitors of the possibility of seeing staff of the opposite sex. The women were handing out towels or serving drinks at the cabin tables. I wonder if men ever worked on women’s day.

Our entry fee was good for a two-hour stay and we were there almost until our time was up. Repeated trips to the various saunas dehydrated me yet I never had a drink the whole time I was there. I was insatiable for fluids by the time we got back to the hostel, but didn’t seem thirsty until I started drinking.

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