Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Best Berlin Running Routes and Trails

Top 7 Berlin Routes

Berlin, the fascinating town that it is, is also a great place to run. There are some great parks, the historic center, interesting neighborhoods, and it's surrounded by lakes and woods to the east and west. And -- using the extensive U-Bahn system -- you can easily get to any of Berlin's inspiring running routes.
A Russian band playing in Tiergarten
So, this is it, the list of the best runs in Berlin

Best Berlin Running Routes
Historic Center (Mitte): This run takes you by all the most interesting sights in the old city center, the Brandenburg Gate, the Chancellor's office, the Hollocaust Memorial, the Reichstag building, along the Spree River, the cathedral, Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie, etc. 
Tiergarten: This expansive park in the heart of town provides a vast green stage upon which to hold your run. There are a variety of sights in the park: the president's palace, the victory column, the Soviet memorial, the Bundestag... A great place to get a history lesson while letting off some steam. 
Prenzlauerberg: This is undoubtedly Berlin's coolest neighborhood. If you'd like to loop through the laid-back streets, past creative cafés and playgrounds, and even run past a remnant of the Berlin Wall, this is the run for you. 
Kurfürstendamm: The Ku'damm was the pulsing heart of old West Berlin, full of cafés, clubs, fashion and food. Here are two routes that trace the Ku'damm and also the old-world charm of nearby Wilmersdorf. 
Grunewald West: Grunewald, along Berlin's western edge, provides a big forest full of lakes and hills, a great escape from the daily city life. This route loops through the western part of the woods, along Wannsee lake.
Grunewald East: And this route loops through the eastern part of the woods, tracing the chain of small lakes that makes this route such fun. 
Potsdam palaces: Potsdam is a bit outside Berlin, a bit like Windsor is for London: a beautiful town nestled by the great Prussian royal gardens and palaces. A great place to get out and about! 
Ode to Berlin: And just for fun, here's an essay on what makes this great city so fascinating in the first place.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Barcelona Beach Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 10.1 km (6.2 miles), terrain: flat

NOTE: You can reduce the run to 6-km if you start right at the Olympic Harbor and only run along the beach.

Pictures courtesy of the creative folks at Flickr Creative Commons. Thanks!

Barcelona running routes:
Montjuic hill climb
Beach run
Old town and harbor route
For more running routes, see Route List.

Barcelona is one of my favorite places on earth: with people strolling past the pet-kiosks along the Ramblas till past midnight, with the moody, ancient lanes winding through the old town, the modern dance-bars of Port Vell pulsing with music, and modern businesses lining Avinguda Diagonal, the crazy Gaudi buildings... And topping it off, there is a lot of great beachfront, right in the center of town.

When I first came to Barcelona, 30 years ago, the waterfront was lined by decrepit industrial ruins and decaying wharves, cut off from the city by the train line. But all that is a thing of the past, as the waterfront has been turned into a swimming/sunbathing/boating/running beach paradise. The 1992 Olympics gave the city the opportunity to give the waterfront back to the people, and they did it just right.

This route will cover the northern half of the beach area, and add a section through the parkland at the Ciutadella. The southern part of the beach was touched by the Old Town route, so maybe give that a try, too!
The Arc de Triomf, photo by Anne Helmond
So, if you're ready to go, get yourself to the Arc de Triomf at the northwest end of Passeig de Lluís Companys. 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 through the park, lined by date-palm trees and really cool decorative streetlamps.

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 world's fair buildings are still standing, like the Castell dels Tres Dragons on the right side (now a biology museum).
The fountain and quadriga, photo by Modes Rodriguez
Most of the scenic spots in the park are further to the left side: an impressive fountain with golden quadriga statue, a tiny lake with rental boats, and a formal gardens. So you might want to take a detour to the left and go past them. The Catalan Parliament is also off to the left side, behind the formal gardens.

Keep running straight through the gardens until you come to the car driveway, with the fountain in the roundabout. Turn right there to exit the park. Unfortunately, we can't keep going straight because the fenced-off Barcelona Zoo occupies the southern part of the park.

At the park exit, immediately turn left to follow the Passeig de Circumvallació, which curves along the zoo's eastern end. The railway is blocking us from running directly to the beach here. This is the least scenic stretch of the run.

But soon, at the 1.5-km mark, you'll come to a raised terrace of a park on the right side. Go up the cement stairs and run diagonally through the small park towards the right.

Exit the park at the next cross-street, Carrer de Ramon Trias Fargas, where you turn right and run straight towards the water, to the east.
The twin towers and fish, photo by Wade 48
The street ends at a giant fish statue on top of a restaurant at the beach. Turn left here onto the beach promenade and go over the little bridge, running just 100 meters until you hit the Port Olímpic marina ahead, the harbor for the 1992 Olympic sailing teams.

You have to turn left to run along the marina's southern edge, towards the twin high-rise office buildings perched near the water like a modern gateway to the waterfront (the lucky people who get to work there!).
Port Olímpic sailboats, photo by Santi
Then turn right to follow the marina's western side along Passeig Marítim del Port Olímpic. You could also take the path closer to the marina if, like me, you love boats.

You now basically just follow this palm- and park-lined beach promenade all the way to the end towards the northeast for the next three kilometers.
Volleyball along the beach north of the marina, photo by Spiros K.
This is the life: just enjoy the Mediterranean sun and beach life. If the weather permits, I like to stop somewhere, kick off my running shoes and jump into the water. You'd never suspect that you were in a big city.

At the 4-km mark, you'll run past a sunken stadium along the left side.

At 5-km, the beach ends at a rocky jetty, where you turn around and head back the same way that you came.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Paris Bois de Vincennes Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 10.2 km (6.3 miles), terrain: flat

Paris Running Routes:
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 
For more running routes, see Route List

NOTE: I did this route on a rainy March evening. I only got pictures of the chateau before the rain got too bad to take any decent pictures. I'll have to return soon to get more pictures!

The Bois de Vincennes is for eastern Paris as the Bois de Boulogne is for the west side: a big woodsy park full of athletic fields, a horse-race track, lakes, two botanical gardens, a zoo, a horticultural school, a sports institute and all the stuff that urban residents need to get a healthy dose of green, fairly natural environment. There is even an old fort/castle there (the chateau), and some small military bases next to the castle. For obvious reasons, it is one of Paris' most popular running areas.

So if you're staying in eastern Paris (near Nation), or you just want to try something different, head on out to Vincennes! This route loops through the main sights in the eastern two-thirds of the Bois.
Eastern wall of the Chateau de Vincennes
This run will start at the Vincennes Metro station, the eastern terminus of the number 1 (yellow) Metro line, so it's easy to get to. You will be standing there at the northeastern corner of the Chateau de Vincennes, at the bus station. The nearby neighborhood is a pleasant Parisian suburb, quiet and upscale.

So turn south and start running along the Cours des Maréchaux, with the chateau on your right side. I like running close to the impressive, stone barrier of the castle walls. Most of the chateau was built 600 years ago, and the tallest tower is the highest fortified tower in all of Europe.

Along the left side of this tree-lined street is Fort de Vincennes, a small French military base.

This short street ends after 400 meters, at the south end of the chateau. There is a parking lot and the main entrance into the Parc Floral, a botanical garden that charges for admission. Turn left here on the divided little street heading east, the Avenue des Minimes, between the fort and Parc Floral.

At the eastern end of the fort, keep going on the smaller path straight into the woods, as the Avenue des Minimes curves off through the woods to the right. The trail ends by running into the north end of a lake, the Lac des Minimes, at the 2-km mark. If you miss the turnoff, no big deal, because the Ave. des Minimes runs into the same lake, a bit further south.

Now, at lakeside, turn right and run along the western edge of the lake, watching the people in their rented paddle-boats and sitting around at the lakeside café.

When you get to the southeast corner of the lake, at the 3-km mark, where the water gets very narrow, you come to a little stream. Turn right and follow the stream-side trail as it turns south.

It will soon come close to a road along the park's eastern edge, the Avenue de Belle Gabrielle. Cross Avenue Tremblay at the 4-km mark, using the zebra stripes next to the big traffic circle (roundabout).

Now run westwards for a short way along a dirt path next to Route de la Ferme (farm road) until the pedestrian trail turns off to the left, between the fenced-off horticultural school and the A4 Autoroute. This is at the first turnoff to the left: look for the paved trail heading straight off between the Route de la Ferme and the turnoff, which is an exit ramp for the freeway.

This trail is called the Avenue de l'Ecole de Joinville.

After crossing Route de la Pyramide, you will run past the Arboretum, which is the second botanical garden, on your right side.

You'll then pass the police school, and -- after the 5.5-km mark -- run past the second small lake, the Lac de Gravelle.

The horse-race track is just north of the lake. Now continue westwards, following the Route de la Tourelle, which soon turns into a narrow paved trail for the next 1-km, through more woods. More interesting is to follow the dirt path along the small stream to the right of the Route de la Tourelle. 

At the spot where the stream crosses the street towards the left side, at about the 7-km mark, continue running northwards along the trail as it enters an open space, a lawn cutting through the woods towards the chateau to the north, past some picnic tables and fenced-off bushes. Don't worry: if you miss this turnoff, the road comes to Avenue du Polygone later, and you'll connect back into the route again.

NOTE: You could continue running westwards along the stream, bringing you to the park's biggest lake, Lac Daumesnil, lined by old exhibition buildings, with the zoo to the north. If you round the lake, then follow Route des Batteries north, you'll add a few kilometers to this route.

At 7.5 kilometers, you'll come to a place where you need to go around a circle full of bushes, where straight trails cross geometrically from many directions. Keep heading north for another kilometer towards the chateau towers that you can see far ahead. There are tree-lined trails to each side of the lawn on this section, called the Allée Royale.
One of the castle gates
At the north end of the Allée Royal, where lawn ends, take the cross-trail to the left, running westwards for 750 meters along the south end of another little military base, the Quartier Carnot.

At the first paved street, the Avenue du Polygone, turn right to run north along the west side of the chateau, as the street name changes to Avenue Carnot.

When you get to the north end of the chateau, at the Avenue de Paris, turn right to run the last 500 meters along its north wall, back to the starting point. How was that for a totally different experience of Paris?