Friday, 27 November 2015

Playa del Ingles to San Agustin Running Route

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Length 7.8 km (4.8 miles), terrain: flat

If you want to go running in Gran Canaria's Playa del Ingles, you have basically two choices: run southwards along the beach past the gigantic dune towards Maspalomas lighthouse, or run along the beach in the other direction (northwards) towards San Agustin. And since the dune is a fairly obvious choice (lots of nature, no buildings and just the sound of the wind and waves), I think you would come up with that idea yourself. Go run it!
View from start, with end at the end of those cliffs on the right horizon
But many people don't know how nice it also gets along the cliffs of San Agustin, so this run will introduce you to the area northwards. Both runs let you get out of the packed tourist sardine-can that is Playa del Ingles and view the wide horizons over the Atlantic.

So, if you're ready, let's go explore the cliffs!

Get yourself to the starting-point, at the corner of Calle de las Dunas and Avenida Alféreces Provisionales (that's the squiggly street that heads downhill from the center of town, down towards the beach, kind of Playa del Ingles' version of San Francisco's Lombard Street, without the flowers).
Start on Playa del Ingles beach in the early morning
Standing at the traffic circle, you'll see the Ciao Ciao ice cream parlor, across from the giant Dunamar Hotel.

So head past Ciao Ciao through the open square to the beach. The dune begins just to your right (remember, that's your other big route). But now, on the sand, just turn left and start heading north, with the water on your right side.

After a few buildings, you will soon be running below a sand cliff, along the Bahía del Inglés.
The sand cliffs, with town above
After the cliffs start sloping slowly down to the shore, the beach becomes very rocky for about 400 meters, beginning at the Beverly Park Hotel. But, luckily, the pedestrian promenade also descends from the bluffs here. So you have a choice of either running along the paved promenade or running along the flatter parts of the rocky beach.

Sand beach soon returns after the next stone jetty. This is San Agustin's first little beach. So now, at every stretch of beach, you have a choice: stay on the promenade or run on the sand. I personally prefer running along the packed sand near the water's edge, closer to nature and the sound of the waves.
Fishing boats on the rocks
Just ahead, you'll see a natural stone jetty sticking out into the Atlantic crowned with some fishing boats, adding one of the few local touches to this tourist area.

The beach ends at the Don Gregory Hotel, and my favorite stretch begins: the pedestrian promenade rises above rocky cliffs, tracing the zig-zag shoreline for the next 700 meters, with nice bungalows lining the way.
Runner along the San Agustin cliffs
So enjoy this part of the run!
The San Agustin cliffs: nice spot!
The second beach in San Agustin begins at about the 3-km mark and stretches for another 600 meters, another chance to run along the water's edge. It begins with an old cement bunker right on the beach.
The bunker
At the north end of the beach, you'll have to go up to the next pedestrian shore promenade at the foot of the buildings lining the huge cliffs, called San Agustin Balcón. 
San Agustin Beach, with "Balcón" in distance
The buildings line the cliff-face from the sea way up to the bluffs, 9 floors above. The promenade then ends in nothing but rocks after the last apartment building.
End of the trail here!
Time to turn around and head back home the same way that you came!

NOTE: If you want to continue northwards, you can take the 9-storeys of steps that rise between the two balcon apartment buildings, then continue northwards along the street above, then take the steps back down (below Manni's bar) to the next beach, Aguila Playa. This is a cool little beach beneath shorter cliffs, with a walkway above for a few more blocks.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Gent Old Town Running Route

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Length 7.2 km (4.5 miles), terrain: flat

Having traveled to several Belgian towns in the last few months, the beauty of the old neighborhoods, the many canals and rivers, the elegant squares all combine to form a harmonic whole that infuses Flemish towns. So when you're there, make sure you run at least once through the old town.

So that's just what I did in Gent (Ghent in Dutch). I found a route that connected a lot of the most interesting spots in the old town. And, similar to Leuven, Gent also features two Begijnhof neighborhoods (medieval womens' religious communities), which lie at each end of the run.
Sint-Elisabeth church in the great Begijnhof
We'll start at the west side of the old town, at the Sint-Elisabeth Begijnhof, also called the Groot (great) Begijnhof. The small neighborhood of little homes surrounds a church and churchyard. The walls that once surrounded the community have been torn down, so it's hard to tell where it really begins nowadays.

Get yourself to the front door of the church on Begijnhofdries, and we'll start this very scenic run. First, we'll loop around the block to get a feel for the Begijnhof neighborhood, and we'll see a bit more when we get back later.
In the Great Begijnhof
So, facing the church entrance, turn left to run north past the homey little houses of Sophie van Akenstraat. At the end of the block, turn right, then right again on Gravin Johannastraat to run back to the churchyard.

Cross the churchyard park, behind the church, and now turn left to exit the Begijnhof towards the east. You'll see tram tracks at the next corner. Now, just follow the tracks as they curve eastwards down Burgstraat (Castle Street).

This isn't the most scenic street of the run, but there is the Carmelite monastery along the left side (behind the parking lot).
Gravensteen castle
When you get to the east end of Burgstraat, the houses get older and more beautiful, then you'll cross the Lieve River, with the impressive Gravensteen castle on the left side, and the fish market on the right. This is the one-kilometer mark.

Now the tram tracks turn right to head into the heart of the old town, crossing the Leie River at the old riverfront meat warehouse, and turning right again at the vegetable market.
The Korenmarkt
You are now running south, right into the Korenmarkt (grain market) square. The square is now lined by restaurants, and the trams drive through every few minutes.

The gothic Sint-Niklaas church marks the south end of the square, at the liveliest tram transfer spot in town, so there is always traffic here.

At the end of the church, turn left to follow the tram tracks eastwards past the Three Towers: Sint Niklaas, the town bell tower and Sint Baafs.
The three towers in morning light
This area is one of the most amazing medieval ensembles in Europe. The gothic cloth-hall sits next to the bell tower, giving the false impression that it is a church, and the huge, renaissance-era town hall occupies a block behind the tower.

When you get to the front door of Sint Baafs cathedral, turn right to leave the tram tracks and run south along Lang Kruisstraat.

This takes you into Gent's shopping precinct. You'll run through a little square with a fountain. At the far end of the square, follow the pedestrians along Koesstraat (there's a way-sign pointing to the Opera there, follow that).
The shopping streets
Keep running south as the street name changes to Kortedagsteeg and then crosses another river (really, a canal called Ketelvaart). This is the 2-kilometer mark.

You're now heading uphill, in the university neighborhood. There are a lot of fun-looking student hangouts.

Up the hill, you'll see the massive, palace-like Vooruit building. This was once the cultural center of the Vooruit (Forwards) labor organization and its co-op movement. Now it's a cultural center for the whole city, with a ballroom, cinema, cafés, etc.

Just before reaching Vooruit, though, turn left on Lammerstraat, passing some very interesting Latin-American-style restaurants, crossing the canal again, and coming to busy Woodrow Wilson square, with the public library.

Turn right just before the modern, rounded library facade, and head south along Franklin Rooseveltlaan. You'll see a long, thin park coming into view behind the library, Koning Albertpark. Try to run on one of the paths in the middle of the park
In Albertpark
After just 100 meters, you'll come to a mounted statue of King Albert, where you turn left and cross busy Orbanlaan to run into the side-street, Sint-Annastraat.

We're now getting close to the turn-around spot of the run. So now just turn right onto Lange Violettestraat and head south for a block. You'll see the brick wall of the Klein Begijnhof along the left. When you see the arched entryway through the wall, turn left to enter the grounds of this quiet little oasis.

Like all the Begijnhofs, this one also surrounds a churchyard, with the baroque Onze-Lieve-Vrouw church visible from every direction. Red-brick houses behind white walls line the perimeter of the Begijnhof.
In the Klein Begijnhof
It's nice here to just run a loop along the periphery of the grounds, past the many little gateways in the white walls.

When you get back to the main (and only) entrance of the grounds, run out to Lange Violettestraat again and turn right to head back home. But we'll run back a different way, and see some more Gent landmarks.

Lange Violettestraat runs into a busy spot around the green square of Sint-Annaplein, at the 4-km mark. At Sint Anna church, cross the square, using the zebra stripes on both sides, then turn right to head north on Filips van Arteveldestraat. The street turns into a riverside road along the Leie River up ahead.
Autumn colors along the Leie River
The road now takes you northwards along the river. Stay on the riverside trail, passing the public swimming pool, and a small-boat marina in the water.

There's a little park behind the pool, and you cross a little stainless-steel pedestrian bridge to continue along the river for another block.

You'll see Volmolenstraat heading through a quiet, working-class neighborhood to the left, so let's take that. After a few blocks, we're back in the old-town again, facing the back end of the gigantic Sint-Jacobs church. This is one of my favorite churches in Gent: it is so long, it seems to go on for miles.

Follow the zebra-stripes and run past the church along the right side (north). At the front door, turn right onto Wijzemanstraat and head into my favorite square, the Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market).
Vrijdagmarkt and the Wise Man
This beautiful square is lined with a great collection of old houses, many with restaurants and pubs. The gothic building with the round tower is the oldest on the square, and there is a statue of Jacob van Artevelde, known as the Wise Man of Gent.

The square is the place where the city's pageantry took place: foreign rulers were greeted here and public feasts were held.

The northern corner of the square is dominated by two more huge labor-union/co-op buildings, looking like palaces.
The great cannon
Leave the square at the northwest end and run the short block to the huge orange cannon parked at the Leie River. The cannon is a medieval "supergun" built to blast apart town walls during a siege. This one broke while firing and has been living a decorative existence ever since.

Turn right to run to the little drawbridge near the cannon, where you turn left to cross the river and head into my favorite neighborhood in Gent: Patershol.

This small neighborhood is full of little lanes and old houses, and is a favorite place for locals to go out in the evenings. You'll first come to the main shopping street, Oudburg, and its great old houses.
In Patershol
But keep running straight into the neighborhood, along Rodekoningstraat, to the 'tklokhuys restaurant, where you turn left to do a loop through part of the neighborhood.

At the end of the block, turn right on Hertogstraat, and follow it until you exit the neighborhood at Geldmunt street, with its tram tracks. Turn right here to run a block, where you turn left again, onto Lievestraat.
Crossing the Lieve, looking along Abrahamstraat
This street takes you, as you can imagine, across the Lieve river, where you keep running straight (under the name Abrahamstraat) until it ends at Bonifantenstraat. The Carmelite monastery that we passed at the beginning of the run is behind the walls straight ahead, but we have to go around it by following Bonifantenstraat south to Burgstraat.

Now we just have to turn right and follow Burgstraat back to the Begijnhof.
Provenierstersstraat, back in the Great Begijnhof
To see a bit more of the Begijnhof, turn left onto the lane of Provenierstersstraat to see a block of the little walled homes before getting back to our starting spot at Sint-Elisabeth church.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Gent Waterside Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 4.1 km (2.5 miles), terrain: flat

Gent (Ghent in Dutch) is a typical Flemish town: lots of 17th century architecture criss-crossed by rivers and canals, so that you are constantly crossing a bridge and viewing old brick houses reflecting in the waters. Every few steps, you find yourself surrounded by another fascinating collection of houses, churches, bridges and market squares. I love the style of the buildings, with their richly decorated gables and huge windows for their times.
At Graslei, pedestrian lane along the river
If you're in this impressive town and want a good run and to explore it more, this short route will easily provide both. It follows rivers and canals almost the whole way, circling the western side of the town center.
Graslei at night
It starts along the Leie, a river that strikes out on a long loop around the Ghent old town. The route then turns to follow the tree-lined Coupure canal, west of the old town, and then returns to the start by following the small Lieve River with its narrow, riverside lanes. Along the way, we'll pass some of the most beautiful old-town sights, see a bit of the new town, and then go past the castle to run to the heart of the old town again.

There's nothing like getting out there in the streets with your running shoes on, so let's get to the start right now!
Graslei, seen from the other shore
We'll start the run at one of the most beautiful spots in town: at the Graslei, at the Leie River, next to the Korenmarkt. Graslei was the town's original harbor, where grain was shipped and sold, the center for the grain trade for all of Flanders. Old warehouses still line the river just north of here. Graslei itself is lined by an amazing ensemble of medieval houses, each vying for attention with their elaborate facades. 

Face south, with the river to your right and start running along the riverbank, heading under St. Michael's bridge. Make sure to take a good look around at Sint Michiels: the view to the left of the town's Three Towers is impressive! Continue until the path ends at the next little swivel-bridge, at Hoornstraat.
The three towers, seen from Sint-Michiels bridge
Now cross the bridge and continue running south along Ajuinlei. You'll pass the impressive old courthouse on the other side of the river.
The courthouse, seen from the trail
The street changes its name a few times, but then you'll come to a little triangular park along the water, and then cross a canal that heads off to the right. This is the Coupure canal. Cross the canal over the little drawbridge and the little small-boat harbor. 

The Coupure canal
Now turn right to follow the sycamore-lined canal westwards, but watch out for all the students on bikes! They are definitely in the majority on this path. 
Did I mention that there are a lot of bikes?? The other bank is quieter
The Coupure was dug 250 years ago to connect Gent with the coastal town of Brugge. It provides a nice spot to run: there are sidewalks along both banks. If the path along the left side (Coupure Links) is full of too many bicycles for your taste, you can take the right-side path (Coupure Rechts). It's quieter but the paving is not very smooth. It's your choice.

The Coupure curves towards the right, bending northwards. You'll cross a busy car- and tram-bridge at Papegaaistraat and continue until the next car bridge, at Brugsepoort.

Now turn right and run along the only few blocks of the route without water, along Begijnhoflaan. The street has tram tracks running within a green stripe between both sides of the street. This street, like Coupure, is in the new town, with houses built in the last 150 years, typical neighborhoods for most Gent residents.
Rabot gate-tower, seen along the Lieve
Follow the street as it curves to the right, still following the tram tracks towards the little, double gate-tower ahead, called Rabot. At the gate-tower, the next stretch of water begins, the Lieve River. This is the narrowest of today's waterways, and it's lined by beautiful old houses and palaces on quiet lanes. Turn right to follow the Lieve eastwards along Bachtenwalle.
Along Sint-Antoniuskaai, statues honoring the life of Emperor Charles V, Gent's most famous son
Run a block along the Lieve, but before Bachtenwalle veers off from the water, cross the bridge and continue running east along the river, on Sint-Antoniuskaai, with the water on your right side.
Along the Lieve
Continue running as the river bends southwards, until the lane ends at Lievestraat. Here, at a beautiful spot on the river with a little park across the water, cross the bridge (and watch for the castle down the river to the left side).

The castle
Now turn left and continue running south along Gewad. You'll pass the impressive castle and then run south the one long (and beautiful) block along Jan Breydelstraat, past cool restaurants, a tiny park and the Design Museum. In just a few steps you'll be back at Graslei.
One of several cool restaurants along Jan Breydelstraat