A Blue flag of the Danish Outdoor Council in at Kamares, Sifnos in Greece
After spending the last 2 weeks in Greece, I figured it was as good a time as any to write a little article about clean water and swimming.
You've perhaps noticed Blue Flags on beaches, both around Denmark and elsewhere around Europe and the rest of the world. During a trip to Greece this summer, I was surprised to discover that the organisation that runs this Blue Flag Program is actually a Danish organisation based in Copenhagen - The Foundation of Environmental Education (FEE), or 'Danish Outdoor Council' (seems they are a bit confused themselves about just what name they would like to be referred to as...)
An unlikely sign to find on a sunny Greek island...
Surprise, surprise. Denmark is light years ahead of pretty much any other (non-Scandinavian) country when it comes to environmental issues. It's not coincidence that cars in Denmark cost about 3 times what they cost everywhere else thanks to the incredibly high taxes they are subject to and cycle lanes exist on pretty much every street found in Copenhagen and in cities elsewhere around the entire country (not to mention countless cycle paths connecting cities and towns).
There are beaches and marinas in 40 counties around the world participating in the Blue Flag program, at this point.
To digress away from blue flags, Copenhagen is one of the few major cities out there, at least at present, where it possible to swim in the channel the cuts through it. In most European cities (as is of course generally the case elsewhere as well), if there is a major river or channel or other body of water running through them (or nearby), you can be all but certain it's too polluted to swim in. The list of such places is long - the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris, and so on. But swimming in Copenhagen is no problem.
The authorities in Copenhagen had the grand revelation a few years ago that if the channel cutting through Copenhagen was clean enough, people might actually enjoy swimming in it. Who would have imagined that people might actually like to swim when it's hot and sunny out? It's kind of embarrassing that the authorities in other cities haven't come to a similar conclusion. Perhaps one day, someday, they'll also get it...
It all began about 6 years ago now, following a lengthy series of clean-up efforts that improved the water in the channel, with the addition of a handful of swimming areas (havnebåd) in the Copenhagen channel, and since then the dynamics of life along the channel - particularly at islands brygge - have changed dramatically.
...the swimming area at Islands Brygge
People lounge on the grass in huge numbers, a number of new cafes have opened up, and on a hot spring or summer day (or even a warm one) the area swarms with life. In short, it's a fantastic place to be. A second swimming area is found on the other side of Fisketorv, the large and ugly shopping mall on the other side of the channel from Islands Brygge, and now connected by a pedestrian bridge.
It's pretty rare to find natural salt-water public swimming areas in the middle of a major city - in fact I can't think of another city where you find such a thing. If only there were more hot and sunny days in Denmark to actually use them.
...lounging on the grass at Islands Brygge