Friday, 2 October 2015

Edinburgh City Center Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 6.6 km (4.2 miles), terrain: two hills, gain 100 meters

Somehow, I really have a soft spot for Edinburgh. I'm not sure if most visitors share the impression: the weather is often gray, wet and cold, the stone houses can look aloof in the bad weather, Scottish food isn't exactly celebrated worldwide... But if you keep your eyes open, or have good luck with the weather, you can easily fall in love with this hilly, out-of-the-way old capital of Scotland.
View over the city from Calton Hill
Some of the great things about Edinburgh are the great views from every hilltop, the lively pubs with live music, the castle throning upon the hill right in the heart of town, and those same gray-stone houses that lend their character to the whole town. And, to top it off, Edinburgh is host to the Festival every August, one of the liveliest events worldwide, with the streets buzzing with performers, and hundreds of venues offering shows day and night for a whole month.

I happened to be in town this August, so I got swept right into the Festival whirlwind, even during my evening runs.

There are a lot of possible routes you can take through the city center, and they're all good. This one tries to take in as many sights as possible along the way. We'll start right in the busy heart of town, near the Waverley train station, at the corner of Princes Street and North Bridge.
The archives on Waterloo Place
Standing there, you're surrounded by a collection of impressive old stone buildings: the Balmoral Hotel with its clock tower, the classical facade of the Scottish Archives on Waterloo Place, with its mounted statue of Wellington. And looking eastwards past a row of further elegant buildings rises the green slope of Calton Hill, with its telescope-shaped tower.

That's exactly where we'll head first, and get the biggest hill -- and the most impressive view -- handled right at the beginning of the run.

So turn to the east and run along Waterloo Place and pass the Old Calton Burial Ground on the right, and you'll come to the green slope of Calton Hill on the left side. Turn and go up the steps into the park, where you need to then turn right and head uphill right towards that telescope-shaped tower, dedicated to Lord Nelson and his great naval victories.

When you get to the top of the hill, the old observatory will be on your left, and you can turn around and look west over the whole city.

Keep running eastwards, past the Nelson Monument and take in the views to the south and east from the hilltop, where you get a great view of the Holyroodhouse palace and Arthur's Seat, that beautiful big hill right next to the town center.
View of Holyroodhouse, the parliament and Arthur's Seat
Now head north, between the observatory and the Greek-revival-style columns of the Scottish National Monument. Once on the north slope of the hill, turn left to get back to the main, paved walk along the west side of the hill, and turn right there (north) to head downhill along Greenside Path.

You'll exit the park at Royal Terrace, next to a little church. Turn left and run downhill towards the big intersection ahead, where London Road connects into Leith Walk.

At Leith Walk, turn left to run uphill to the next big roundabout out front of the modern shopping center called the Omni Centre.

Cross the street at the roundabout and head up towards the narrow gothic church, on York Place, bringing you back into the downtown.
The RBS headquarters
After a couple of blocks, turn left on Dublin Street. You'll run past a beautiful little square on the right, St. Andrew Square, and the old headquarters mansion of the Royal Bank of Scotland on the other side, at the two-kilometer mark.

Run downhill for another 100 meters and you'll be back at Princes Street, just a block west of where you started (sorry about that, but I thought you'd like to see a bit of Edinburgh's most popular and scenic downtown street now).
At the Sir Walter Scott monument
Now, cross the street and turn right to head west towards the pointy gothic memorial to Sir Walter Scott, the great Scottish novelist.

Off to the left, you'll see Castle Hill, across the valley filled by the Princes Street Gardens, full of people sitting around eating and reading during their breaks during nice weather. You can try a path up near the street or one of the parallel ones further down the slope.
Princes Street Gardens
The Princes Street Gardens is split in the middle by the classical home of the Royal Scottish Academy, where you have to round it along the Princes Street side. Now comes the west half of the park, where we'll continue for just 100 meters, and then exit the park to turn north onto Frederick Street.

After crossing George Street and then Queen Street, you'll come to a long, narrow park along the north slope of the hill. Run north, past the park and then turn left to run west along Heriot Row. This is obviously the posh part of town, where the stone houses are big and stylish.

The street ends by running into a circular square (is there such a thing?) called Moray Place. The park in the circle is for paying residents only, so just run around the perimeter and then do the same thing at the next circular square, Ainslie Place.
Posh Moray Place
Leave Ainslie to the south along Glenfilas, past Charlotte Square to the left and the imposing domed Register House on the right side.

Keep heading south until you hit Shandwick Place, with its huge, metal horsehead statues, the "Kelpies". Turn left there and you'll find yourself at the western edge of Princes Street again.
Princes Street: Edinburgh's big shopping street
Now cross the street to the western end of Princes Street Gardens, at St. John's Church.

Just east of the church, take the entrance into the park and head south, downhill, towards the castle ahead. You'll run behind a second church, St. Cuthbert and its graveyard, and then curve to the right as you run below the Castle Hill.
View up to the castle from near St. Cuthbert's
Exit the park again at King's Stables Road -- opposite a car park -- and turn left to continue along the base of the hill until the road runs into Grassmarket, a long square lined by lively pubs. Note this down as a spot to come back to in the evening!
The Grassmarket with Fringe Festival performers
Turn left to run north through Grassmarket, and then turn left at the north end of the square to curve uphill along West Bow. We're now heading up to Castle Hill.

Follow West Bow until it ends at George IV Bridge, where you turn left to continue the one block to the top of the hill. You're now at the Royal Mile, a really interesting street filled with a mixture of shops, public edifices, the cathedral, the castle and lots of little alleyways that lead to courtyards and stairways down the hillside.

The Royal Mile is also the home to the Fringe Festival, so if you head down the street during August, you'll have to navigate your way through the hundreds of performers handing out flyers for their shows. There are also a fair number of street performers everywhere you go.
Street performer on the Royal Mile
Turn right on the Royal Mile (to the right) and run downhill past St. Giles Cathedral and the town hall.

When you reach the corner of North Bridge, with the Radisson Hotel and the Royal Mile Market in a converted church, turn left and run downhill past The Scottsman newspaper and Waverley Station to reach the start of the run again.

NOTE: The corner at North Bridge and the Royal Mile is also the starting point of the Arthur's Seat run, so make sure you come back here again!

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Paris La Défense/Nanterre Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 6.4 km (4 miles), terrain: one small hill at beginning, gain 50 meters

Paris Running Routes:
Best Paris Running Routes: Overview
Seine island of St. Louis, St. Paul, botanical garden  
Left bank and Luxembourg Gardens 
Paris' green heart: Bois de Boulogne   

Canal St. Martin  
Rock formations of Parc Chaumont  
Seine loop with Champs Elysees and Eiffel Tower  

Seine riverside run 
Bois de Vincennes 
Versailles Palace Gardens 
La Défense/Nanterre 
For more running routes, see Route List

This run through modern La Défense and Nanterre shows you a very different side of Paris and the French soul. You wouldn't know it from most of Paris, but the French have a love of things futuristic, and of modernistic architecture: just land at Charles de Gaulle Airport and wander through the terminals. The old Terminal 1 is a vision of the future as imagined in the 1960s: shaped like a circular space station, with passengers transported through tilting glass tubes through the central hole. Or take a look at Centre Pompidou, with its revolutionary exposed pipes and conduits.
La Défense is full of architectural surprises
La Défense and Nanterre fit the mold, with flamboyance in abundance, embodying the current French vision of the Brave New World. Glass towers of every shape jostle for position to capture visitors' imagination.

La Défense is Europe's largest purpose-built business district. It began in the 70s but most was built in the 80s and later, and it's still growing. It's based on a very good idea: a modern city needs modern office buildings, but we want to protect our heritage, so move the skyscrapers to the edge of town. So a whole new business area was erected west of the city, continuing the axis of the Champs Elysees westwards.

A wide pedestrian open space, full of trees, fountains, benches and bistros forms the central axis of La Défense. Dominating the axis, the Grande Arche provides a gargantuan, modern interpretation of the Arc de Triomphe, visible on the eastern horizon. Grande Arche is itself an office building.
In La Défense
And Nanterre, just west of La Défense, continues the axis and includes lots of extravagant modern architecture, too. A lot of it is apartments, rather than offices. The most striking project in Nanterre is the collection of social-housing towers known as the "Cloud Towers". Each tower is a bundled collection of cylinders of varying colors, giving them a cloud-shaped footprint. With their muted-color tile facades, they look like they have been blasted in a nuclear war, which just might be an improvement. They would be the perfect backdrop for the next Mad Max movie.

And -- perfect for us runners -- Nanterre is centered around a nice park, Parc André Malraux, a lunch-hour favorite running route for workers from the nearby office buildings. So, if you put all that together, you've got the basis of a very interesting run! I was lucky enough to be back working in the area this past week, and got to try out this great route.

The Route
So lets head to the east end of La Défense, at the Esplanade de La Défense metro station. The station steps come up just west of a square pond full of artsy poles. You're in the pedestrian area that stretches westwards towards the lurking silhouette of the Grande Arche
Start of the run at the Esplanade
The way there goes gradually uphill. You can take the sidewalks to the left, right or center. The map here traces the northern walkway on the right.
Along the pedestrian area
Just enjoy the sights, watch out for the many pedestrians if you're here during the rush hour or at lunchtime. 
Lunchtime Boules players at La Défense: hey this is really Paris!
When you come to the Grande Arche and the 1-kilometer mark, cross to the left and continue running westwards along the arch's southern side.
At Grande Arche: continue along the left side of the arch!
NOTE: Or head up the steps to get a view from under the arch: it's worth it!

Now turn left when you get past the Arche, heading into the group of modern glass office towers around the Cours Valmy. The tall Société Générale building is right in front of you.
At the Société Générale building: keep right!
Circle the building around the right side, heading down the ramp to street level below. You now turn right and follow this circular street, Boulevard Aimé Césaire, into Navarre. You are rounding a cemetery. Unfortunately two cemeteries and some unbuilt wasteland separate the Grande Arche area from Nanterre, but the last bit of wasteland is now finally being developed, so soon you might be able to run directly past the arch into Nanterre to the west, without running next to the traffic on Aimé Césaire.
View back towards Grande Arche from Nanterre
When you come to the park-like pedestrian area in Nanterre at the 2-km mark, turn left and continue running west past offices and apartments until you come to the main exit of the RER train station.

At the station, turn left and run through the opening in the buildings to the south and through a little market square, towards the entrance to Parc André Malraux
Park entrance
The entrance is marked by a line of green/white columns. Just past the gate, turn right and follow the path along the park perimeter. At the 3-km mark, you'll go by two little hills that they piled up here with dirt from the artificial lake, so you can do some hill-work by taking the trails upwards, if you prefer.
The biggest hill in the park: used for hill-work
After circling the second hill, head to the south edge of the park and head eastwards, following the south shore of the little lake.
Parc André Malraux
Keep running past the playground to the eastern end of the park, towards the Cloud Towers straight ahead. You can't miss them.

At the towers, the path circles northwards again (to the left), going by another little hill. But now take the eastern exit of the park and run along Allée de l'Arlequin past the northern row of towers.

NOTE: For some added distance, you could just loop the park again at this point. That's what all the local runners do. At lunchtime, the park is totally full of runners, when the weather is good.
The Cloud Towers after a shower
Just before the last Cloud Tower, take the Chemin Vert pedestrian trail, continuing eastwards. It will go under Avenue Pablo Picasso and then head past more conventional-looking apartments on Rue Hoche. You are just a block south of the Société Générale building again.
Cloud Tower entrance
At the 5-km mark, a raised pedestrian bridge will take you over a freeway, the Boulevard Circulaire and back into La Défense.

Turn left to head past a mall, Les Quatre Temps, and the round UGC cinema into the main square in front of Grande Arche, where you run down the steps and turn right and head back downhill to the start.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Leeds Woodhouse Moor / City Center Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 6.8 km (4.2 miles), terrain: one hill, gain 65 meters

Leeds running routes:
Leeds Canal route
Leeds Center/Woodhouse Moor route
For more running routes, see Route List.

Leeds is one of those places that most people have difficulties imagining: is it famous for anything? Is there anything to see there? 

Well, the answer is: there is definitely a lot to see in this hilly Yorkshire town: elaborate Victorian office-buildings, markets, covered galleries, elegant squares, imposing municipal buildings, canal-side and river-side trails.
Queen Victoria relaxing in Woodhouse Moor park
Like most British towns, most of Leeds was formed during the Industrial Revolution. It was an important wool- and flax-mill town, with a lot of other industries flourishing to service the mills. Nowadays, it is a regional banking and service center. Additionally, Leeds has long been a shopping magnet for the region: the downtown is full of covered shopping centers, from quaint Victorian galleries to huge new malls.

So, if you want to see the sights in Leeds, here's a run that will provide some variety: taking you through the downtown, the university, some typical residential neighborhoods, as well as through Woodhouse Moor park (also called Hyde Park).

So let's get going and start exploring!
The town hall at The Headrow
The Run
We'll start the run along The Headrow, the most impressive downtown street. At the corner of Calverley Street, you'll face the huge, domed Leeds Town Hall to one side and the library and art gallery on the other.

Face northwards, and run along Calverley, running slightly uphill past the twin-spired Leeds Civic Hall to the right and then the hospital on the other side. There is just this one, long, easy hill at the beginning. The rest of the run will be downhill or flat.
The Civic Hall with kids' rides
At the end of the hospital, you'll come to a little traffic circle: keep right and run towards the little gothic building down the block, at the entrance to Leeds Beckett University.

I have a soft spot for running through universities: they're quiet, but always fun, full of youthful creative energy.
Beckett University entrance
So, go past the gate and continue running straight into campus. Just past the Edge fitness building, take the ramp upwards towards the right side, up to a square pond.

Run by the pond, past the trees and benches, then turn left to run westwards, up the next ramp into Chancellor's Court, passing the Botany building and its Sustainable Garden on the left.
On the way to Chancellor's Court: head left, up the ramp
Follow the red bicycle paving as it curves to the left and then exits the campus after the next buildings. You come out onto Mount Preston Street, where you turn right and continue running uphill past the edge of the university.

Mount Preston runs into Clarendon Road, where you keep right and continue following the edge of the school, still going uphill. You'll pass the old gothic buildings of the Business School on the left.
The Business School buildings
Then, where Moreland Road crosses Clarendon, you'll see Woodhouse Moor park ahead, to the left. Head into the park and stay along the right side to continue northwards. The park is green and beautiful, but not particularly big, certainly not like Hyde Park in London.

NOTE: For a really long park run in Leeds, head out to Roundhay Park, way out on the northeast edge of Leeds.

The trails in Woodhouse Moor: now this feels like real running country!
When you pass the monument to Queen Victoria, cross Woodhouse Lane and then head left through the northernmost part of the park, which looks more like an unused lawn and parking lot than a real park.

At the northern corner of the park, you come back to Woodhouse Lane again. Cross it at the bus stop and run past the playground to head back south along the west edge of the park, next to Hyde Park Road. The neighborhoods west of here, Hyde Park and Headingly, are pretty typical for Leeds: cramped working-class row-houses lining the hillsides. But most are well-kept and you can sense neighborhood pride.
Along Hyde Park Road: typical Leeds neighborhood
At the south edge of the park, turn left and run back to where St. John's Avenue turns off to the south, a little lane between the red-brick houses on the right side.

Now you're finally running downhill through quiet residential streets. The street name changes to Rosebank Road, and a narrow park begins on the bluff along the left side. From a distance, it looks like the park has some Stonehenge-like boulders set up in circles. But they are all of recent origin, carved decorations for the lookout.
Mini-Stonehenge at Rosebank
Rosebank curves into Belle View Road, which later becomes Park Lane, itself curving eastwards along the ridge, back towards downtown. You'll see some office buildings in the distance, marking the city center.

When you reach the busy intersection at the A58 freeway, just keep going straight, and follow the little pedestrian suspension bridge on the right side to keep going eastwards into the town center. The street is now called Westgate.

The Town Hall is just a few blocks ahead, but -- ahhmmm, excuse my rambling -- we'll take a loop through the downtown now and see more of Leeds.

But Westgate is loud, let's get out of here! So take the second turn to the right, onto Park Square West. In a few steps, you'll be at one of the most elegant squares in town. The well-kept Park Square is surrounded by Georgian homes and the Moorish-style St. Paul's House.
Park Square
Run left through the square then to the right, to St. Paul's Street.

Now you turn left and run to the end of the street at King Street. This is a bit loud, too, so let's find a quieter way to go...

Turn right, then left onto Quebec Street and run past the beautiful Quebecs Hotel (ex Liberal Political Club), coming out onto City Square. This is a huge, busy square, with the train station behind the massive Queens Hotel, and the renaissance-style Cloth Hall on the left. Statues of famous Leeds residents line the square, like James Watt (developed the steam engine) and Joseph Priestley (discoverer of oxygen).
Cloth Hall at City Square
Cross the square to the small gothic church on the other side with the huge Trinity shopping center behind it, then turn left to head north along Park Row.

At the prancing metal horse of the Lloyd's Bank, turn right onto the pedestrian street (Bond Street) and now run eastwards through the shopping district.
Lands Lane: good burgers straight ahead at Byron's
It looks like a typical British town here, but there are shopping malls all over the place.

At Lands Lane, turn left and head back north towards The Headrow along this pedestrian shopping street. On the right side, you'll pass two very elegant Victorian-era shopping galleries: Queen's Arcade and Thornton's Arcade.
Thornton's Arcade in the evening
At The Headrow, turn left and run the last few blocks back to the start. So now you know that there is indeed a lot to be seen in Leeds!