Sunday, 12 February 2017

Atomium Running Route, Brussels

Click here for route map
Length 4.4 km (2.7 miles), terrain: small hills

Brussels Running Routes:
Avenue Louise/Bois de la Cambre  
Center Loop 

Old-Town Sights
EU Quarter/Woluwe Park
For more running routes, see Route List

A lot of the Brussels tourist sights are clustered together at the north edge of town, in Laeken (Laken in Dutch, in this bilingual town). This is where you'll find lots of the stuff from the tourist brochures: the Atomium, Brupark, Mini-Europe, the Kinepolis, the Exhibition Center, royal palaces (3 of them!), oriental towers, the Art and Design Museum and Heysel -- the main soccer stadium.

But what you might not have heard is that there is also a big park there, Laken Park (Parc de Laeken), a great running spot that links the various attractions together. During one fairly short run you can enjoy some nature and see (from the outside, anyway) a lot of what the Brussels tourism industry has set up for you.
The Atomium
The dominant attraction is the Atomium, a glittering relic from the heady days of the Atomic Age. It was built for the 1958 World's Fair, back when everyone expected to be soon flying through town in atomic-powered rockets. Viewed from below, it's really impressive, with its metalic facade glinting in the sunlight. You can even go inside and take escalators from globe to globe, but I like it best just to view it from various angles from outside.

So, if you feel like doing this scenic little run, take either Metro line 6 or tram line 7 to Heysel and get out there. You'll find yourself standing between the stadium to the west, the Expo to the north and the Kinepolis (IMAX cinema and 29 screens) to the south.
The Grand Palais at Expo
Directly across the street, Avenue Impériatrice Charlotte, you'll see the art-deco-era Expo halls. They are impressive in their own right: built for the 1935 World's Fair, they were re-used for the Expo 58, the 1958 World's Fair, and continue to be used for all kinds of expositions and trade shows.

In fact, this whole area, including Laken Park, was part of both of the World's Fair-grounds, now open as a public park.
Heysel Stadium
From the pond out front of the imposing Grand Palais Expo hall, turn south on Boulevard du Centenaire, running slightly downhill towards the Atomium. The sidwalk pavement is pretty bad, so watch your footing.

You'll pass the IMAX theater on the right, and -- right next to it -- the Brupark amusement park with its big water slide.

And just past that on the right is Mini Europe, a little exhibition that has many of the most famous spots in Europe recreated for visitors.

To the left, you'll pass the ADA design museum.
Atomium runner
The Atomium, though is the star of the scenery here, and it gets more impressive with every step. It's actually supposed to represent an iron molecule, not a single atom, but not many people care exactly. It's fascinating just to see the giant, glittering globes hovering in the sky above.

You can run directly under the Atomium, then exit to the left, where the green woods and meadows of Laken Park await.
Along the lake: looks like a river
Head eastwards into the woods along the dirt trail, keeping the narrow lake to your right. It's a nice bit of Belgian nature: the beech woods on rolling hills are typical of the area.

You'll see an outdoor amphitheater across the water to the right. When you come to the bridge over the lake, cross it, heading southeast towards a lookout over the lawn-filled valley to the south.
The local beechwoods
A little road, Avenue du Gros Tilleul, follows the valley floor, and you'll see a little roundabout there. We'll now head down that way: first turn right and take the first trail to the left to run downhill towards the roundabout.

From now on, all the trails are paved.

RAF memorial and American Theater
On Avenue du Gros Tilleul, pass the roundabout with its memorial to downed British RAF planes, heading eastwards towards a strange, rounded structure ahead. This fairly abandoned-looking place was the American pavilion in 1958, now used as broadcasting studios and as a concert venue, the American Theater.

Just before the pavilion, you'll see a divided trail to the right, heading uphill to the south. Take that trail.

NOTE: The Chinese and Japanese pagodas would be straight ahead, past the pavilion, if you want to see them. But they straddle a loud street, so I left them out of this route.

You'll pass a bit of woods behind a wooden fence, and then see another trail to the left, continuing up the hill towards a gothic spire. Take that trail.

Heading towards the spire
This trail will wander upwards along the hill, with the fence to the left, passing the spire, which is on the hilltop behind the woods.

Keep running until the trail comes to a paved street, Avenue des Narcisses (there is no traffic here, though). Turn left here and continue running uphill straight towards the gothic spire. The spire is a monument to the royal dynasty and King Leopold I.
Last stretch to the tower, guarded by trained watchdogs
You're now at the hilltop, with a good view over the city to the south. Behind the monument, a stone fence blocks off a big part of the park, with the Château du Belvédère behind it. There are three royal palaces here, which are private and are walled off to the public. Most of the park is inside the private Royal Domain.

But the biggest palace is south of here, so let's run downhill along Avenue de la Dynastie towards the iron fences guarding the main royal palace, the Château de Laeken.
Château de Laeken
A busy road, Avenue du Parc Royal, runs past the palace right in front of the fence.

So now, turn right to run parallel to the fence, then turn back into the public park to the right on paved Avenue des Seringas, a wide footpath.

Start of Seringas
You're now back in the quiet expanses of lawn, heading north through the park towards the Atomium again. Just to the left, downhill, there is a little chapel and springs of St. Anne.
Chapel of St. Anne
Now just follow Seringas as it twists its way northward. On the left is the west edge of the public park, with Château du Stuyvenberg behind the brick walls, the third of the three royal palaces in Laken.
Follow the trail as it heads downhill, with a fenced-off area to the left where a tram line tunnels under the park.
Along Seringas, with Atomium in distance
The trail ends at a little basketball court. Turn left to run the few steps back to Boulevard du Centenaire. This is at a roundabout called Place Louis Steens, with a little monument on the side.

Now just follow the dirt trail just inside the park to run northwards towards the Atomium, and from there continuing straight towards the Expo and the start of the run.

That was a lot to see in one little area!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Sonnenloipe Cross-Country Trail, Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Germany

Click here for route map
Length 4.1 km (2.5 miles), terrain: small hills, 77 meters rise
Connects into the 8-km Spiegelthalerloipe for more distance

It got wintery in Germany again, so instead of risking my neck sliding along the streets in my running shoes, I switched sports and headed out to the cross-country skiing trails in the nearby Harz Mountains. Everyone who has tried cross-country knows that it's the perfect winter sport for every trail runner: out in nature with no lift-lines or big crowds, just you and the white hills stretching out to every horizon.
Frosty bushes along the trail
And another great thing is it exercises your arms as much as your legs. So it's even better training than running, you can't beat that!

So I headed to the old mining town of Clausthal-Zellerfeld with two other runners looking for winter trails. We found it in the wonderful, prepared cross-country tracks heading out from town. The snow was deep and in perfect condition, the sky was blue and the town was charming: it was heaven!
Sonnenloipe trail sign
The first track that we tried was the Sonnenloipe (Sun track), a 4-kilometer-long, fairly easy trail that connects into the harder, 8-km Spiegelthal trail. This route describes the Sonnenloipe alone, but can easily be extended by following the red markers for the Spiegelthal trail.

Unusual for Germany, the Harz towns were built of wood, and Clausthal-Zellerfeld's wooden houses give it a feel of being in another country. The town's mines once made it rich, as you can see from the two huge churches, but the mines are now history, and the town has fallen into a Snow-White sleep, kept alive by a bit of tourism and a small technical university.
In town
The Sonnenloipe is at the north end of town. The entrance is at the turn-in for a pair of supermarkets, Aldi and Rewe. The turn-in is just before the route-241 road leaves town to head north to Goslar.

Immediately after turning into the driveway for the supermarkets, you'll see a smaller way branch off it to the right, and then head parallel to the parking lot up the hill. In just 200 meters, you're at the trailhead. The Sonnenloipe trail is well-marked. It's a fairly easy trail, so it's marked in blue signs (medium trails are in red, and hard trails are marked in black). Usually there is one direction which is the right way around, so there aren't too many encounters underway. 
At the top of the first downhill
Just turn right and follow the blue track-markers northwards as they count-down the kilometers till the end. After a hundred meters, you'll come to the first long downhill spot, which ends in a fairly sharp left-hand turn. A bit of a surprise for beginners.
On the trail
Then it flattens out for a while, then crosses a dip where a stream flows in warmer weather. Just enjoy the sun glittering off the snow crystals and the seemingly endless fields and woods. This is pure nature!
Another downhill spot
Cross-country skiing is easy to learn, although you can expect to spend a lot of time falling on your butt on the first weekend. But after that, you're on your way. We had one beginner with us, but she was ready to confront every new challenge, and she ended up mastering each track we tried, including some harder ones on the following day.

The Sonnenloipe trail continues with a few zi-zags between the fields. Just after the 3-kilometer-mark, you'll come to a wooden farm-shed. This is where the 8-kilometer Spiegelthal trail takes off for a lot more adventure (it's a red trail), heading off to the right.
Runners at the shed
If the Sonnenloipe is enough for you, just follow the signs pointing to the left, which will take you towards some houses on a hilltop, and next to them a sledding hill with a little ski lift, just south of the trail, across Spiegelthaler Straße.

Head up the tracks to the hill next to the houses, then it's all downhill from there to the starting place. Now there's a substitute for running that doesn't feel second-class to the real thing!
Successful end of a cross-country day in the Harz!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Paris Jardin du Luxembourg Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 4.6 km (2.9 miles), terrain: flat

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 
Saint Germain 
For more running routes, see Route List
Here's a nice little run that packs-in a lot of real Parisian flair: a route from the middle of the Seine River through the creative Left Bank neighborhood of St. Germain and then on through the elegant Jardin du Luxembourg park. Along the way, it will pass such historic sites as the École des Beaux-Arts, Saint Germain des Prés church and the French Senate palace.
Picnic on the Pont des Arts. The love-locks have since been banished
The St. Germain neighborhood is full of history, famous for its cafés, bookstores and art galleries. It's long been the home of great French designers, students, revolutionaries, musicians and free-thinkers of every sort. St. Germain was almost predestined to become the home of the existentialist philosophy movement in the 1950s.

Intrigued? Then let's get going! Head to the Pont des Arts footbridge across the Seine, at the Louvre. This is one of my favorite bridges anywhere: gathering place for couples and friends for a bottle of wine and a piece of cheese on nice summer evenings, with the Louvre Palace on the one bank and the domed elegance of the Institut de France on the other. But we're not here to just hang out and watch the tour boats glide beneath the bridge, so off we go!
Facing the Institut de France, with fish-people doing their thing
Run south across the bridge, heading towards the Institut dome, then turn right to follow the river and the green booksellers' boites for a block along the quay. Now cross the zebra stripes to the left to enter narrow Rue Bonaparte, heading south again.
Boites along the Seine
The galleries begin immediately, with amazing objects which you would you can hardly imagine that such things really exist. Every cross-street around here is full of even more galleries, a collection that no other city in the world can offer. After a block, you'll pass the École des Beaux-Arts, the French national school of design. The lucky students who get to study design around here!
Art-gallery opening-night vernissage across from the design school
In another two blocks, you'll cross Rue Jacob, and down that street on the right the Treaty of Paris was signed between the US and Britain, ending the American War of Independence. Benjamin Franklin led the American delegation. 
Amazing objects at this gallery
NOTE: And down Rue Jacob in the other direction, there's one of my favorite Parisian hotels, Hôtel des Marronniers, set off the street on its own courtyard, with a beautiful breakfast terrace out back.
The good life in the Hotel des Marronniers
After another block, you'll come to the church of Saint Germain des Prés, what's left of a once-important monastery. It was closed during the French Revolution and was then partly used as a prison, where a massacre of the prisoners was carried out when counter-revolutionary armies approached Paris. The church is beautiful, and maybe you'll get lucky and be able to visit it for a concert some evening.

Now cross the busy street Boulevard Saint Germain and keep running south along Rue Bonaparte. In a couple more blocks, at the one-kilometer mark, you'll see the huge, strangely unfinished church of St. Sulpice. The bell tower to the right side was never finished: work stopped when the tower threatened to collapse.  
Saint Sulpice church
NOTE: By the way, this church played a role in Dan Brown's thriller, The Da Vinci Code, where a nun is murdered by a bad-guy who was searching for a clue buried under the Rose Line running through the church floor.

Continuing south from the church, Rue Bonaparte is lined by a narrow park on the left, making it even nicer.

The street ends at Rue de Vaugirard, with the fence for the Jardin du Luxembourg straight ahead. Turn left and run along the fence until you find the entrance after just 30 meters.
Chess players in the park
Now run into the park, continuing southwards through the trees, past the chess-players and the playgrounds and the mini Statue of Liberty. There are oases of quiet towards the back side. While other Parisian parks, like Tuileries, are totally overrun by tourists, this one is still full of locals. How refreshing!
Quiet spot in the back-end of the park
When you get to the back end of the park, keep to the left to exit at the main south gates, at the two-kilometer mark.

You are now running south through a green, narrow square, the Jardin des Grands Explorateurs, flanked by some old university buildings.

Run the two blocks until the square ends, rounding the fountains with their wild copper horses and return to Luxembourg Garden along the other side, re-entering the south gates.
Heading towards the palace
Run straight towards the Palais du Luxumbourg ahead, home of the French Senate. Keep along the right side, and enjoy all the people relaxing in this amazingly elegant setting, passing the three-kilometer mark. 
The palace, home to the Sénat
You'll pass another quiet oasis on the right side, the Fontaine Medicis. The 350-year-old palace and gardens was built by Marie Medicis, mother of King Louis XIII.
The Fontaine Medicis, with obligatory couple making-out
Now exit the park next to the palace and turn left and run towards the Sénat entrance and the police watch, and then turn right to head up Rue de Tournon.

This fairly residential neighborhood is typical Saint Germain, upscale but creative, with a lot of nice local shops and a covered market to the left in a couple of blocks.

The street name changes to Rue de Seine and you'll cross busy Boulevard Saint-Germain again.
Lively Rue de Buci
In a block, you'll cross Rue de Buci, a street of door-to-door restaurants full of tourists, but a fun place nevertheless.
The famous Boissonnerie fish restaurant
Run past the wonderful mosaic facade of the Boissonnerie fish restaurant and you'll find yourself back in the heart of the galleries again, with each gallery window more amazing than the last.
Still more galleries
In a few blocks, you'll be back at the Institut de France, and just a few steps away from the Pont des Arts finish. Ah, Paris!