Why winter-swimming is the finest spectator sport in Bratislava

Advice

Emily Downing wins this week’s Just Back travel writing competition and £250 for her account of the resolve of swimmers tackling the frozen Danube.

“Is she not wearing any trousers?!” my husband remarks.

“What?” I reply irritably.

Irritable because on our last day before leaving Bratislava, we have travelled to the castle to see the ruins, and the public transport system has not been easy to follow. I don’t like flying and the last day of any holiday I spend anxious, sad to leave and wishing the flight could be over and done with.

I am also irritable because it is January and so I have wrapped up, and am now uncomfortably warm after a longish walk. Blocks of ice float disconsolately down the Danube, the impacted snow and ice making streets hard to navigate. Specks of snow have been in the air and my glasses have frosted over several times.

Beautiful Bratislava, the Slovakian capital

Beautiful Bratislava, the Slovakian capital

Credit:
getty

Consequently, my socks are wet, and I can’t change them. To top all this off, after our long, weary journey the castle is closed, and we have no option but to wander the banks of the frozen rivers.

“Seriously, I think she’s in her underwear, and a big coat.”

“She really does look like that; I suppose it takes all sorts.”

The lady is indeed wearing a swimming costume, and a parka, topped off with goggles.

However, it turns out that on this trip we are the ones in the minority, as we see, coming around the corner, a group of other hardy and eccentrically dressed souls standing in a loose group on the edge of a frozen river, blocks of ice floating sedately and menacingly in the waters.

“They’re not going to, are they?

Oh yes they are.”

Witnessed by ourselves and two bemused Russian backpackers, the group listen briefly to an address given by a man in lime green Speedos, and dive in. Plunging through broken sheets of ice, they swim determinedly through the frozen river to the cheers of what must be friends and family.

Strangely, as well as being highly admiring of their resolve and athleticism, I envy their camaraderie, the bragging rights to come, as well as the sense of refreshment and pride they must feel when the swim is over, and warm towels and drinks await.

The Danube freezes over in the winter

The Danube freezes over in the winter

Credit:
getty

The Russian teenager next to us emits an earthier version of the saying “What on earth?!”

“Exactly,” I murmur drily, causing ourselves and the backpackers to unite in a brief moment of shared bemusement and laughter. Pepped up by pride in making a stranger laugh and enjoying the fleeting feeling of being with people united in watching something so unlikely, I am so glad the ruins were closed.

And then it’s over. The swimmers climb back up the banks. I still have wet socks, I still don’t like flying, but for one moment I was distracted by a brave group of ice swimmers, shared a joke with strangers and have a memory I will always smile at.

How to enter the next round

Email your entry, in 500 words (with the text in the body of the email), to justback@telegraph.co.uk. For terms and conditions, see telegraph.co.uk/tt-justback.

The winner will receive £250 in the currency of their choice from the Post Office.

post office

The Post Office is the UK’s largest travel money provider, offering up to 80 currencies in more than 11,500 branches with 0 per cent commission.  

All currencies can also be ordered online for next day branch or home delivery. Check exchange rates at postoffice.co.uk/travel-money/currency-converter.

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