Sunday, 14 December 2014

Gainesville Florida Historic Districts Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 4.7 km (2.9 miles), terrain: flat

Photos courtesy of Google Maps. Thanks!

For more running routes, see Route List.

Gainesville FL, although it is now a sprawling city that covers a wide swath of land, still has a heart that could be found in a thousand southern small towns. There are quiet streets lined with old wooden homes with wrap-around verandas, yards full of dogwood, azaleas and giant live-oak trees, dripping with Spanish moss. There are three historic districts in the center of town, all with beautiful old streets.

There is also a (partly) old-fashioned downtown with a lively restaurant scene. In short, it's a nice spot for a run! I should know, I lived there for 10 years, and it's the place where I began running. And my last years in this dynamic town were spent in this neighborhood.
Live-oaks in the Northeast Section
The downtown itself was partly redeveloped some years ago and is livelier today, with new apartment buildings full of students and young professionals, with restaurants and bars on their ground floors. Before that, the old stores had been dying off, one by one, and were only partially re-purposed with lawyers' offices and bail-bondsmen, a process common in towns all over America during the last 50 years.

The three historic districts surrounding the downtown are the Northeast Section (Duck Pond), the Pleasant Street district, and the Southeast Section, each with its own character. This route will loop through all three, but you might want to later zig-zag through more of the neighboring streets in further runs. They're worth discovering!
The start at the clock tower. Head up that street on the left!
So let's get ourselves ready for this little run by going to the corner of University Avenue and NE 1st Street, right in the heart of Downtown. There is a little clock tower there. The tower houses the clock from the old courthouse which was torn down there earlier. This is now a little square in front of the new City Hall. There is a another square across University Avenue, the Community Plaza, but we'll come through that later, when we finish the run.
The author with his Gainesville clock tower T-shirt
Now turn north and run up NE 1st Street, with its green divider strip. In just four blocks, turn left onto NE 4th Avenue, and run westwards into the Pleasant Street Historic District. This is traditionally the black part of town, as every Southern town once had. Blacks were forced to live here then, and they were often glad to get out. But in recent years, local pride has grown, and the neighborhood has undergone a renaissance. Some of the old wooden houses have been nicely restored, and the city has improved sidewalks and street-lighting, and the section earns its "Pleasant Street" name. All the streets have the newer, numbered names, plus the original, more poetic names.
Entering Pleasant Street Historic District
First, though, you have to run through two blocks of boring offices and parking lots, but when you cross 1st Street NW (Garden Street), the homey little houses with their big porches and gingerbread-woodwork begin. The house with the wheel-shaped porch-beams is my favorite, just before 3rd Street NW. Many of the houses are small and simple, but each one has a character its own.

At NW 4th Street (Grove Street), turn right and run north for two blocks until you pass the red-brick church, where you turn right (east) onto NW 5th Avenue. This street has a few shops and new sidewalks, forming the heart of the neighborhood.
Along Grove Street
Turn right onto NW 3rd Street and then turn left immediately at the first side-street, NW 4th Place, to continue running eastwards until it also ends in a block.

Now turn right onto NW 2nd Street (Pleasant Street) and run south until you get to NW 3rd Avenue, where you turn left and soon leave the Pleasant Street District.

NOTE: The Pleasant Street Park, a pleasant playground (what else would you expect on Pleasant Street?) surrounded by white picket-fences, is just a block north of here, if you want to take a quick little detour!

You'll cross NW 1st Street, where we started, but continue eastwards into the Northeast Section. This is already the next historic district. The Northeast Section is known for its jungley yards, wide verandas and its huge live-oak trees.
Houses in NE section
Run straight to NE 4th Street, past houses with wrap-around porches. Now turn left to run north through this pleasant neighborhood, home to a mix of students, professors and townspeople.

NOTE: I used to live just a block from here, and it always does me good to be back in this beautiful neighborhood.
Homes along NE 4th Street
Run until the street ends at the Thomas Center, a hundred-year-old former hotel and college. Now it's used as an event venue. This is the side entrance, so turn left to run to the next driveway, so you can now turn right and run past the beautiful front side of the building, looking like an Italian villa, and through its park-like grounds.

At the north end of the building, at NE 7th Avenue, turn right and run downhill the two blocks to the little stream that defines the neighborhood: Sweetwater Branch Creek. Sweetwater runs through a park-like median strip between the two halves of NE Boulevard.

Turn right here and run south along the creek. In just a block, the creek widens to become the Duck Pond, with a little island full of cypress trees in the middle.
Along the Duck Pond
At the far end of the Duck Pond, take a look to the right, up along NE 5th Avenue, to see a couple of the most spectacular live-oak trees in town, covered in Spanish moss.

But now turn the other way, heading east along NE 5th Avenue two more blocks to NE 7th Street, where you turn right and head south, exiting the Northeast section, and coming back to University Avenue in a few blocks.

Now continue south into the third, and smallest, of the historic districts, the Southeast Section. Unfortunately, some of the old homes have been torn down near University Avenue, and downtown buildings have encroached from the west.

Continue to the first cross-street, SE 1st Avenue, and turn right. Many of the houses are a bit funkier here, and smaller, than in the Northeast Section, more like cottages.
In the Southeast Section
In a block, the street turns to the left, but continue running straight along the public footpath that goes into a small park ahead. This is another bit of parkland along Sweetwater Branch. The path bridges the creek and continues westwards into the downtown.

You'll now pass the typical, bunker-like buildings you find in most American downtowns, like the federal building and the county building. When you pass the parked sheriff's department patrol cars at the Alachua County Courthouse, you'll run past a square, the Bo Diddley Community Plaza. It's named after the creative founder of rock and roll (who lived his last years outside Gainesville).

You'll see a little brick building with a roofed-over entrance, next to the street. This is the Bethel filling station, the town's oldest gas station, now used by a snack bar. We'll be back at the plaza in a few minutes, but first comes one, last little detour.
Downtown Gainesville
Turn left at the old filling station, onto SE 1st Street. There are newer apartment buildings along the left side, and original downtown buildings on the right, now full of bars and restaurants. The new residents, mainly students, have revitalized the area. This neighborhood has become a fun spot for hanging out in the evenings.

You're heading for what looks like a Greek temple straight ahead: the Hippodrome Theater. The former post office houses a theater troupe which began as a group of theater-loving hippies in the 1970s, who quickly built a reputation for creative experiments. And they're still going strong.
The Hippodrome Theater
Turn right at the theater, onto SE 2nd Place, and run the one block to Main Street, at still another modern county courthouse. Now turn right and run two blocks past more traditional downtown buildings to SW 1st Avenue again, where you turn right and run the one block back to the Community Plaza and the Bethel filling station. The plaza is home to a lot of live music in its bandstand.

Now run through the plaza, towards the left and you'll come back to the bell tower where you started. Nice little town, huh?

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Melbourne Carlton/Fitzroy Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 8.4 km (5.2 miles), terrain: flat

Melbourne Running Routes:
Fitzroy Gardens
Yarra River at CBD
Tan Track
Carlton/Fitzroy 
Yarra Bend Trail
Albert Park Lake / St. Kilda Beach
Williamstown 
For more running routes, see Route List.

Just north of the Melbourne Central Business District, you can find some of the city's oldest, nicest neighborhoods: Carlton and Fitzroy. These quiet suburbs are full of pleasant streets lined with Federation-style row-houses, with leafy squares, the University of Melbourne and a few really big parks.
Federation-style houses in Fitzroy
The west half of this run goes through Carlton, the east half through Fitzroy. Carlton is dominated by two universities, a big park landscape and Little Italy. Fitzroy is Melbourne's oldest suburb, long a working-class stronghold, and now a hip nightspot with live music clubs, bars and quirky restaurants concentrated along Brunswick Street. There are a lot of off-beat shops, too. But the area is gentrifying and has its share of cafés and galleries.

Here's a route that loops through some of the most interesting sights in both neighborhoods, while keeping to quiet streets and parks as much as possible.
Carlton Gardens: the start of the run
We'll start at Carlton Gardens on Victoria Street, at the northeast corner of the city center. This shady park sits on the boundary between the two neighborhoods. The La Trobe tram stop is right at the main entrance to the park.
The Royal Exhibition Building
We'll head westwards first, through Carlton, then loop clockwise to the north then eastwards to enter Fitzroy before returning.

So, ready to explore this down-home side of Melbourne? Then, off we go!

Run north through the park, along the tree-lined alley towards the domed Royal Exhibition Building. Now run around its left (west) side, with its adjacent modernistic Melbourne Museum and IMAX cinemas.

Just past the museum entrance, turn left (east) onto Pelham Street in Carlton, where you'll run for six blocks. After two blocks, you cross Lygon Street and Little Italy, lined by one Italian restaurant after another. Most restaurants have outside seating: a great street to hang out in the evenings. I fell in love with Lygon Street as soon as I saw it in the evening, so take my tip and head out that way for dinner some time. The area's other university, RMIT, is just a couple of blocks south of here.
Skateboarders in Argyle Square
Across the street is Argyle Square, with its skateboarders. Then 2 blocks later you'll cross Lincoln Square. And in another two blocks, you'll arrive at University Square. Here, turn right  (northwards) at the fountain and run straight north towards the entrance of the University of Melbourne. The north end of the square looks like it is set up for concerts, and along the right side are beautiful row-houses.
Row houses at University Square
Cross Grattan Street and run past the gate-house and through the entrance into the university campus. Keep running straight, under the "Welcome" sign, going up a few steps, and onto the South Lawn. This is one of the nicest spots on campus. The oldest buildings surround the lawn: the library to the left, and the Old Quad straight ahead.
South lawn at the university
Run towards the clock-tower ahead, then through the archway with the "1970" inscription to the right of it. In the next little courtyard -- dominated by an exotic tree -- run along the left side and exit to the left. After a few steps, you'll come to Bank Lane, where you turn right and run past a few old botanic sciences buildings, with a lot more exotic landscaping.
The botany buildings
In just a few meters, at the north end of the street, your path will be blocked by the University House building, where you have to run around it along the right side. When you run past this building, you'll come to a sports gym, and a trail to its left side that continues northwards past the university sports fields.

Head up that trail, with the running track to the right and more nice buildings on the left: Trinity College with its rose garden. Keep running north, past the cricket field on the right and the Gothic buildings of Ormond College, and the trail will turn onto a little street to the left, Morrison Close.
The path along the athletic fields
Now, run up Morrison and you'll exit the university campus at College Crescent. Now turn left and -- at the next crossing -- cross the street. This will bring you into one of Melbourne's biggest parks, Princes Park.

So now we're out in parkland, with wider horizons, which feels great. Run north along the wide dirt path along the west edge of the park, next to Princes Park Drive. The main cemetery is across the street to the right.
In Princes Park
Princes Park is part of a network of parks, including Royal Park and the zoo, stretching further west from here, and they're worth exploring sometime. This route, though, will turn east just before the cricket stadium, at the north end of the cemetery. Just continue following the cemetery fence eastwards along Macpherson Street, running past pleasant old cottage-homes on the left side.
Homes along Macpherson Street
At the east end of the cemetery, back at Lygon Street, Macpherson continues a few meters further south, entering Fitzroy. Keep following Macpherson past more Federation-style homes for another seven blocks until you get to Nicholson Street. At Nicholson, again, turn right for a few steps, then turn left onto Brookes Crescent, running eastwards as it (becoming Watkins Street) curves to the left a bit. You will exit this little neighborhood at Brunswick Street, with its tram tracks.

Cross Brunswick and run straight into the big park across the street, Edinburgh Gardens. There is a lawn bowling green to the right. Run straight into the park for 100 meters, past the tennis courts. Now turn right onto the next paved path heading south. You'll run past a cricket batting-practice field and continue southwards until you exit the park and continue along Napier Street.
Cricket practice in Edinburgh Gardens
After a few blocks, you'll cross two busy streets, Queens Parade and Alexandra Parade. But just keep running straight south along Napier. Pass the little park, Smith Reserve (with a painted warning to bicyclists: "Slow Down: rug rats and elderly people all over the path"), and then head into the main Fitzroy neighborhood.
The Fitzroy town hall
Continue to run south for another 12 blocks to the Fitzroy Town Hall, which looks like a combination of a Greek temple and a firehouse. Now turn right, along Moor Street. In two blocks, you'll be back at Brunswick Street. This section of Brunswick, as run-down as it looks, is one of the trendiest parts of town, full of clubs and restaurants.  
Brunswick Street
Keep running west along Moor Street, and in a few blocks you'll arrive at the northeast corner of Carlton Gardens again. Now turn left and run southwards along its east side, passing the Melbourne Museum and the Exhibition Building again from the other side. Now head through the shady middle of the park to the starting point on Victoria Street.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Best Lisbon Running Routes and Trails

Top 5 Lisbon Routes

Lisbon is one of those cities that I never tire of visiting. There is something so appealing in Lisbon's lively mix of winding alleys, steep hills, ancient trolleys, with the twin old-towns climbing the hills to each side of the downtown. There is plenty of good food and wine, and it's full of down-to-earth people.

Portugal was the first European country to be successful on the world stage, which added a number of grand monuments, squares, boulevards and buildings. But that brief golden age of glory was soon eclipsed by the expansion of bigger, stronger neighbors. Luckily, though, Lisbon's fading elegance has been compensated by its residents' creativity and resilience. People here are traditionally not very rich, but they know how to live, and the street-side lifestyle and the music can match the cultural scene in any other city.
The Miraduoro (outlook) in Bairro Alto
And the wonderful variety of neighborhoods provides a lot of opportunities for great runs.

So here they are, the five definitive routes in this city of character.

The Best Lisbon Running Routes
Alfama: This is Lisbon's oldest neighborhood, going back to pre-Roman days. It's full of winding lanes, with hole-in-the-wall shops and canaries singing overhead on the balconies, and wash drying overhead. There are few European cities with such an original old town as this.

Downtown/Baixa Avenues: This route follows tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade out to Parque Eduardo VII, heading through old squares, past monuments, fountains, and a botanical garden. At the park, you top it off with a great view over the town center.

Bairro Alto: This is the other old-town, the one with all the hip stores, restaurants and bars. It's full of young people every evening and also offers some great views over the downtown and towards the castle.

Belém: This elegant suburb is home to multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including its famous tower and monastery. There is also a beautiful stretch of riverfront here, another botanical garden, some big museums and the presidential palace. It's also home to those wonderful Portuguese natas, (those amazing custard tarts).

Park of the Nations: This modern neighborhood was the site of the 1998 Expo. Now, its extravagant modern architecture and landscaping is home to offices, shops, apartments, museums, hotels, and a wild-looking train station. Along the river, there is a ski-lift, a marina and a few parks. This run explores it all.