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Monday, September 2, 2013

The Longest Pool in Canada (Vancouver Adventures with the White Rabbit)

I am a lifelong New Yorker, but every once in awhile I visit a city that makes me wonder why I continue to deal with the chaos that is NYC.  Vancouver is such a city (but -- no need to worry New York friends -- just when I think I'm ready to leave, NYC reels me back in).  Vancouver is urbane, clean, beautiful, healthy and friendly (with really superb Asian food and excellent public transport).

I recently spent a week in Vancouver meeting up with my Chinese-Canadian doppleganger, the White Rabbit (along with her husband, the Red Rabbit, and their adorable toddler daughter, the Pink Rabbit).  The White Rabbit and I worked together in London years ago and we've stayed in touch ever since thanks to email and Skype.  She lives in Hong Kong at the moment, so Vancouver seemed like a good meeting spot, until I can get over to Hong Kong for a visit.  We had some great adventures in Vancouver, mostly food related -- I am writing them up in a separate post.  

This was my second trip to Vancouver.  I was there briefly in May 1999 for the Vancouver International Half Marathon, which I finished in a freezing, driving, and bone-chilling rain (and then got right onto a red-eye to New York, stopping over en route at LAX for a coffee with my old friend NeNe).  I saw very little of Vancouver on that trip, other than the race route.  My memories of the 1999 trip were clouded by jet lag -- I got off that red-eye and went straight to jury duty -- I ended up falling asleep on a hard wooden bench in the jury room at 60 Centre Street for the better part of the first afternoon.

This time, the weather was more cooperative -- it was gorgeous, sunny and warm the whole week I was there.  I was determined to stick to my water exercise routine and also did a lot of walking, which balanced out some slightly unhealthy eating during my vacation.  I had no trouble finding affordable and convenient water exercise classes in Vancouver.  As luck would have it, we were staying within walking distance of the Kitsilano Pool.

At 137 meters long the Kits Pool is purportedly the longest pool in Canada and the only outdoor salt water pool in Vancouver.  During the summer months, they offer Aqua Fit classes several times a week (including 6 pm classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and morning classes on Saturdays and several other weekdays).  A day pass to the pool, including the class, was $5.67 (Canadian).  There are other options and passes for residents and longer-term visitors.  The pool was lovely and immaculate and the views were stunning.  

I enjoyed the fresh air and the spectacular mountain vista.  By contrast, in New York, I typically work out in windowless basement pools.  

The local folks were very friendly, unpretentious and helpful.  I queued up for the first class behind a gentleman with a long ponytail and a walking stick, sporting a full length kimono and a messenger bag from an origami conference (yes, I was definitely on the West Coast).  He was really nice and explained some of the ins and outs of the pool (i.e., how to avoid crashing into the lap swimmers).  

I went to two evening classes while I was there (I dragged the White Rabbit along to the first one).  The teacher, Ashley, was a bit like the energizer bunny -- we spent about 45 minutes jumping around to a good mix of pop music, and then stretched and did arm exercises for about 15 minutes.  It was an active class (men and women, young and old) -- the White Rabbit and I had to move to avoid a young guy who was splashing/flailing around enthusiastically.  The pool holds up to 1800 people and there were about 100 people in the Wednesday night class (the Friday class was a little smaller -- it was a bit chilly by that point).  It was incredibly orderly.  There were no ropes separating the lap swimmers from the exercise class, but everyone got along without any mishaps.  The locker facilities were clean and a little old school (stainless steel lockers with keys that attach to your swimsuit with giant orange safety pins).  

After the Friday class, I enjoyed the sunset, a glass of local white wine and some delicious salmon (and shared a decadent piece of strawberry ice cream pie) with the Rabbits at the Boathouse at Kitsilano Beach.  The setting was lovely and it was also very child friendly (they had high chairs and a kids' menu).

Unfortunately, the Kitsilano Pool is only open during the summer months, but there are other options.  The Vancouver Aquatics Centre, centrally located next to the Burrard Street Bridge, is open year round (it was closed for renovation during my week in Vancouver).  From the outside, it looks a bit like a bunker.  It has a 50 meter pool and offers a variety of classes (again, very reasonably priced).  The Aquatics Centre at the University of British Columbia also offers a variety of aqua fitness classes, which are open to the public -- a drop in pass is $6.30 (Canadian) and there are other options for multiple visits, season passes, etc.  There are also several other public pools (indoor and outdoor) listed on the City of Vancouver Parks, Recreation and Culture website.  They offer a range of classes (including deep water exercise classes at several sites).

I was really impressed at how easy it was to find a variety of inexpensive, accessible and fun aqua fitness classes (NYC has a bunch of public pools, but offers fewer water exercise classes in its public pools).  We could learn a bit from our friends to the north.  After two wonderful weeks of vacation, I am headed back to work tomorrow.


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