Monday, 25 January 2016

Amersfoort Old Town Running Route

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Length 4.1 km (2.5 miles), terrain: flat

Amersfoort is a fairly typical Dutch town, with a beautiful old town full of narrow lanes lined by elegant old houses, market squares full of outdoor seating for an ample assembly of pubs and restaurants, with the whole place criss-crossed by canals, boat-locks and sluices. And surrounding the old town, there's a pulsing, modern city with big, planned communities of tidy row-houses and bike-ways. The Dutch have a knack for preserving their heritage while embracing the modern.
Doors on Muurhuizen
Here's a scenic little running route that takes you up and down some of the nicest streets in the old town, following the canals and the old town walls as much as possible, passing the main sights, and avoiding traffic.

So, if you're lucky enough to be spending a bit of time in this friendly town, head to the main market square, the Hof, at the St. Joris church. There's a little fountain in the center of the square, so let's start there: turn south and run out of the square along the narrow alley between the two pubs and cross the next street and canal.
The Hof market square: run straight that way!
The street lining the canal is called Langegracht, where we'll turn left to run southeast.

In a block, you'll cross the main (pedestrian) shopping street, called Langestraat, and then run by the little covered fish market. 
The fish market
Just keep running straight along the canal, where the street is now called Kortegracht.
Kortegracht
The street ends at Muurhuizen, so turn left here and run north along the long-curving lane. The houses on your right were built into the first of the two old city wall rings, built aroung 1300.
Muurhuizen houses along the old city wall
There is an arched gate tower later on, and when you get back to Langestraat, turn right and run out the old city gate at Kamperbinnenpoort
The city gate called Kamperbinnenpoort
You'll see a canal lines the back side of the Muurhuizen houses, and we'll turn right here and follow the curve past the way we came, along Zuidsingel (southern moat).
Along the Zuidsingel canal
When you reach the cross-street called Kleine Haag, turn left to run south one block to the second city wall ring, which was built a hundred years after the first one.

Now turn left to head north again, curving along the path at the walls. This wall-ring is now a narrow park with a path called Plantsoen Oost. There are distance markers painted on the asphalt walkway every 100 meters, to remind you of your progress, although I don't like such frequent reminders!
Along Plantsoenoost and its city walls
So now we're running the course of the newer medieval walls, with still another moat (actually, the Eem River) to your right. Sometimes you'll run by remains of the walls, and a couple of blocks still have complete walls.
Some surviving city wall
A loud street, Stadsring, lines the beginning of this section, however, making it a bit loud. After crossing the street called Kamp, you can even run along the top of the walls for a block, if you like (hey, who doesn't like something like that?).
Running on top of the city walls
After that, the traffic across the moat dies down and it's nice and quiet again.

Just after the 2-km marker on the pavement, you come to the biggest surviving gate, Koppelpoort. It's nice to turn right to run through the gate and cross the bridge outside it to get a better look at it.
Koppelpoort at night
Then just turn around to follow the canal back into the old town, heading southeast along the street called Spui, which ends after one long block.
Spui, with its sluice
At the end of the block, facing the museum across the water, keep left to continue along the water as it makes a sharp turn to the right.
Langegracht
Now take the first little bridge to your right to get back onto Langegracht, where we started the run, heading past a small church towards the big church tower visible over the housetops.

Before we go back to the main square, though, take the first diagonal turnoff onto Lievevrouwestraat, heading to that big church tower at the other main square in the old town.
The square at Lieve Vrouwekerkhof
The square, Lieve Vrouwekerkhof, is dominated by the giant church tower, the third highest in the country. The Lieve Vrouwe church itself was blown up 230 years ago in a gunpowder explosion, and the spot where the church was located is now the square. Now, the place is lined with pubs and restaurants and is a great spot to hang out in the evenings (I love the Hete Kolen barbeque restaurant!).

Now turn northeast to head up Haversteeg the two blocks back to Hof, the main square. And there you are: another great run in paradise!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Byron Bay Running Route

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Length 6.1 km (3.8 miles), terrain: a couple of hills, 75-meter gain

Pictures courtesy of Google StreetView Trekker. Thanks!

Byron Bay is a relaxed, artsy village of 5,000 people perched on a point of land sticking out into the ocean on Australia's east coast. It's great location makes it popular with surfers. Beaches line the town to the north and east, and nature preserves protect natural woods and bushland beyond.
Along the Byron Bay Walking Track
The few tourists -- a mix of backpackers, campers and wealthier travelers -- wander the tiny downtown between a sprinkling of laid-back restaurants, bars and boutiques. This is a place for outdoor fun, with surf-schools, diving, whale-watching, and great hikes and runs like this! The village stretches along the water along Cape Byron, Australia's eastern-most point, and is one of the most charming places you'll ever visit. I had the good luck to camp there, right next to the main beach.

So, if your luck also brings you to this great spot, lace up your running shoes and get ready for one of the most beautiful runs you'll ever do: running along the beach sands and then take the Cape Byron Walking Track as it climbs and winds along the clifftops and secluded coves, past the Cape Byron lighthouse, and back again. There will be spectacular views at every turn and a mix of nature preserves and nice neighborhoods. And -- if you're really lucky -- you'll see some marine life: dolphins, rays, turtles. Between May and October it's also possible to sight humpback whales migrating past the cape.
Start of the run at Johnson Street: head straight to the horizon!
Start the run at the heart of town, where the main street -- Johnson Street -- hits the water at a parking lot. This is also the main beach, Clarkes Beach, and the most popular spot to surf.

NOTE: that great-looking restaurant behind you, the Pacific Dining Room, with its big outdoor terrace beneath giant fir trees is the place to go in the evening. You'll enjoy an amazing acoustic show from the squawking parrots who fill the trees, gathering each evening to scream the day's news to each other.

Now walk out onto the sand beach and look around. You can see Mt. Warning across the bay to the north.

This spot is called the Wreck, because of the sunken ship just out in the water, which you might see if the tide is right. It sank there in a cyclone almost 100 years ago, and it causes interesting waves for surfers, making this a popular surf spot.

So now turn right to run eastwards along Clarkes Beach, with the little green stripe to your right that separates the town from the sand. This is where the surf schools hold their classes. The best running is on the wet, compact sand near the water.
Fishermans Lookout
Just run along Clarkes Beach all the way until it ends at those rocks and cliffs you see in the distance, to the east. At that big rock in the water, Fishermans Lookout, you can climb the wooden stairs to get a wonderful view out along the rocks of Cape Byron.
The view from Fishermans Lookout: we'll keep running along those cliffs!
Now leave the beach by taking the paved ramp up to the parking lot to join the Cape Byron Walking Track. This is one spectacular trail! The marked trail is a popular 3.7-kilometer path through bushland and along cliffs.

Keep left in the parking lot and turn onto the brick pathway leading east through the woods. This is the walking track.

You'll head uphill, and soon find yourself at the clifftops, with great views over the rocky coastline again. We're in the Cape Byron Headlands Reserve.

The trail then heads downhill to tiny Wategos Beach, with a quiet little neighborhood nestled between the hills, along Marine Parade.
Wategos Beach
Just keep running straight after the beach ends, as the trail now heads upwards over more cliffs. You will now be heading uphill until after the lighthouse.

As the trail goes up over the hill, though natural bushland and woods, it starts curving southwards as you round Cape Byron. 
The bush on the way to Cape Byron
NOTE: Before you reach the top of the hill, there is a little side-trail that heads out past Little Wategos Beach and over the rocks to Cape Byron itself, Australia's easternmost point. I'd recommend taking that little detour, although it means heading downhill to the cape and then back uphill again.
The trail at Cape Byron: this is as far east as you can get!
The main trail then comes out of the bush to follow the clifftop, heading southwards. There are spectacular views every few steps, with mountainous shores in the distance, rocky islands and the cliffs below, with an occasional glimpse of the lighthouse.
Cliffs, heading towards the lighthouse
As you get closer to the lighthouse, there will be a lot more people on the trail, because there's a parking lot at the lighthouse.
The lighthouse
The 120-year-old lighthouse itself is beautiful, with more great views up there south to Lennox Head. Arakwal National Park begins just south of here, lined by natural Tallow Beach. Ah, life is good in Byron Bay!
View south past Tallow Beach to Lennox Head
Now the trail follows Lighthouse Road for a while, but then the brick trail veers off through the bush of the nature preserve to head downhill towards town. This preserved bushland is a great chance to experience real Australian nature. The trail soon turns into a dirt one, and you have to watch your footing, with lots of roots and steps to cause a tumble.
The bush on the way home
The trail comes out where Lee Lane enters Lighthouse Road. There's a parking lot for the Cape Byron preserve across the street, at a spot called Captain Cook Lookout. Captain Cook, during his explorations, named the spot after one of his officers, the grandfather of poet Lord Byron.

Run through the parking lot, past the lookout and down the steps to Clarkes Beach again. Now just turn left and run back to the starting spot. This run was so good, you won't want to stop. So if you want to add extra distance, just continue running westwards past the Wreck and run along Belongil Beach. Enjoy your moment in paradise!
Clarkes Beach heading back towards town

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Barcelona Parc de la Ciutadella Running Route

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Length 2.4 km (1.4 miles), terrain: flat

Here's a nice little park run in Barcelona, Parc de la Ciutadella. It has everything a pleasant city park needs: ponds, fountains, statues, playgrounds, cafés, row-boats, lots of dirt paths, exotic trees, tropical plants... It also contains some unexpected extras, like the city zoo and the Catalan parliament building. Plus, in a narrow extension of the park, the Arc de Triomf stands watch over the whole scene.
The main path through the park
Unfortunately, the eastern and southern edges of the park are occupied by the zoo, and you can't run through those areas (although you can sometimes smell the zoo animals on the other side of the walls and fences!) The Parc de la Ciutadella a bit small for a run by itself, but it's easy to connect it to other routes to make a longer run. You can run there in a few minutes from the Plaza de Catalunya (along Ronda de Sant Pere) or from anywhere in the old town, or you can also quickly get there from the beach, either from Port Vell or the marina.
The Arc de Triompf
Or, in another way to add distance, you might just want to do a couple of rounds in the park itself, each time trying different trails: this is one of the greenest, most pleasant hangouts in town!
Exotic trees and greenhouse in the park
So, if you're ready to go, get yourself to the Arc de Triomf at the northwest end of Passeig de Lluís Companys (Metro line 1 stops here). The arch was the main entrance into the 1888 Universal Exhibition, and the park-like green-stripe behind it will provide the first part of the run.

Run through the arch and continue southeastwards through the park, lined by date-palm trees and really cool decorative street-lamps.
The lamp-posts
After 200 meters, you enter the main Parc de la Ciutadella, the old world's fair site, and earlier site of a fort. The unloved fort, built by the Spanish kings to keep the Catalans under control, was torn down by the town 150 years ago.

Some of the Universal Exhibition buildings are still standing, like the Castell dels Tres Dragons on the right side (now the zoology museum).
Out front of Tres Dragons on a December morning
Keep close to the right edge of the park, running past Tres Dragons and then some greenhouses.

When you get to the western entrance to the park, with its driveway, turn left to run past the statue of the general mounted on his horse, running past the zoo entrance towards the domed church ahead.  
The garrison church
The church was for the troops stationed in the citadel, which was the largest in Europe. After the citadel was torn down, only the church and the few other buildings next to it were left standing.

Run past the church, into the formal gardens behind it, surrounding a little pond. Run to the far side of the gardens and turn left to head northwest, past the big building on the right. The building is the former citadel arsenal, now the Parlament de Catalunya.
Runners out front of the parliament
After passing the parliament building, you come to one of my favorite spots, the lake. This is where lots of people enjoy life, sitting on benches beneath the date palms or paddling around in a row-boat. 
The lake on a quiet winter morning
You'll now pass a big mastodon statue and then come out at the most spectacular sight of the park, the fountain (cascada) with its golden quadriga statue mounted atop an archway.
The cascada, with its golden chariot
Now continue running northwest, running behind the fountain. You'll immediately come to the northwest corner of the park, where you turn left to continue back towards Tres Dragons.

Now you turn right and run back to the start at the Arc de Triomf.

That was so nice, you might want to try it again, maybe running it the other way around!