Friday, 1 April 2011

Paris Seine Loop Running Route

Length: 11.6 km (7.2 miles), terrain contains one gentle rise
NOTE: This route can also be shortened, if you're not up to the distance covered here: just turn it into an out-and-back up the Champs Elysées. And if you just want to stay along the river, try the Seine Riverside Run link below!

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 
For more running routes, see Route List

This route is what I consider the classic loop through the heart of Paris, the most elegant city in the universe. The route takes-in a lot of the most interesting sights around the Seine riverfront: the Louvre palace and museum, the Tuileries park, the Champs Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and the elegant buildings and bridges along the Seine River.
Looking towards the Louvre from Pont Neuf
The run starts at Pont Neuf (New Bridge), which is really Paris' oldest existing bridge, in the heart of town. It joins both sides of town at the Cité island, and is easy to get to by Metro. If you stand on the bridge, looking westwards towards the Louvre and beyond, this is the basic direction that we'll be running.

Looking at the statue of Henry IV on his horse, turn right and run northwards to the right bank, then turn left and run westwards along the Seine riverside, towards the Louvre. You will pass the row of booksellers with their green boites or boxes set up along the embankment.
Booksellers' "boites" along the Seine
When you get to the Louvre after just 2 blocks, cross the street on the right to the plaza in front of the old Louvre palace. This sprawling complex of buildings served as a royal palace since the 1300s. The museum started as the private royal art collection. Later, the place was avoided by the royal family after they built the even bigger Versailles. (No wonder the guillotine was invented!)

Now, turn left to run through the palace's front entrance and you come out into the big, square courtyard. Continue straight ahead, through the next archway, and you can see the glass pyramid of the Louvre museum beyond, whose entrance is underground, beneath the pyramid.

NOTE: If you're in Paris on a work trip, the Louvre is open until 10 p.m. on Wednesdays. It's amazing collections are worth it: the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, Dutch Masters, antiquities from Egypt, Greece, Rome, much more than you can take in during just one visit.

Louvre courtyard, looking towards Champs Elysées
Keep going straight, westwards, through the smaller, older Arc de Triomphe (Napoleon built the much bigger one (Etoile) later to celebrate his increasing ego). Cross the street and you're at the entrance to the Tuileries gardens. If it isn't evening, when the gates are closed, run straight through the park, past the statues, flowers and cafés.

NOTE: If you get there after the gates are closed, you have to run around the park, either around the left or right side. I prefer the left, along the Seine, where you can see the elegant Musee d'Orsay across the river, and the constant parade of tour boats.
You gotta love those Paris cafés: in the Tuileries
After the gardens comes Place de la Concorde, with its obelisk, fountains and the ship-shaped streetlamp posts. Cross the square on the right side and keep going straight towards the bigger Arc de Triomphe in the distance.

You are now on the Champs Elysées. This part of the street is a tree-lined boulevard, bordered by parks. On the right side is a nice park for sitting and watching the flowers, with cafés and theaters mixing it up. Across the street, the park is a bit lonelier, but sometimes very entertaining: I've seen it full of french-horn players a few evenings, where they were all playing varying mixtures of solos and group-efforts in a merry chaos of hunting music.

On the right, you'll pass the backside of the Palais de l'Elysée, home of the French President.

When you hit the big traffic circle at Place Roosevelt, Champs Elysées transforms itself into the famed shopping street, lined with boutiques, cinemas, restaurants and lots of streetlife. The street goes uphill a bit here until you get to the pinnacle at the gigantic Arc de Triomphe (Etoile). You can take the tunnel around the back side to get there under the many lanes of traffic, and even go up to the roof, if you like.
Champs Elysées street scene
The route now goes off to the left, so cross several of the streets fanning out from the arch, to get to Avenue Kléber to the left. (That's how this gigantic traffic circle got its name as "Etoile" or "star", from the streets radiating from this spot.) Now run straight down Kléber for 1 kilometer, taking you directly to the Trocadéro, a modern museum complex on a hill across the river from the Eiffel Tower.

View from the Trocadéro
Make sure you run out to the raised terrace above the Trocadéro park for a great view of the Eiffel Tower. It's especially impressive in the evening when the tower's strobe lights are turned on, every half hour. Run towards the tower through the park, then cross the bridge over the Seine to the tower. The place is overrun by tourists and even more so, nowadays, by African trinket sellers. I must have had to zig-zag around a hundred on my last run.

Run under the tower and out through the Parc du Champs de Mars, towards the military academy straight ahead, the Ecole Militaire.
Peace monument and joggers in the Champs de Mars
Turn left (north) when you get to the school (ironically, there is a peace monument there), and run straight out Avenue Picquet to the next big intersection, at Avenue de Tourville, and turn right. You are now running eastwards towards the amazing gold-domed Invalides, a veteran's hospital from the 1600s.
Rugby games behind the Invalides
Run past the front side of Invalides, with its moat, then turn left on Boulevard des Invalides to run along the east edge of the complex, heading north again. Behind the main building, a park opens up to the river, where you can now run through the park until you get back to the Seine.

You arrive at the beautiful Pont Alexandre III bridge to your left. Paris has, in my opinion, the most beautiful collection of bridges anywhere, and this one is maybe the most impressive.
Pont d'Alexandre III on a rainy evening: still looks impressive!
Now just turn right and run with the water to your left side all the way back to Pont Neuf. You'll pass, among other things, the French National Assembly (House of Representatives), the elegant Musée d'Orsay impressionist art museum (in an ex-train-station) and the French Academy of Sciences.

You can't also help noticing the last bridge before Pont Neuf, a small pedestrian bridge, the Pont des Arts, going across to the Louvre from the Academy of Sciences. This is a favorite meeting place and hangout for young people every evening, filled with picnic spreads and wine bottles, with a beautiful view of the river and the surroundings. Tourists have taken to hanging padlocks on the bridge railings in recent years.

View towards Pont Neuf from Pont des Arts
Just a couple of minutes later, you're back at Pont Neuf. Voila!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Running The Malecon; Havana, Cuba

Length: 6.5 km (4 miles), terrain flat

By John Griffith, founder of the great UK running site,

John has a love of exotic routes: See John's Mediterranean hillclimb here: Amalfi, Italy Running Route

For more running routes, see the Route List!

For longer than is healthy I’ve had a burning desire to visit Cuba.  To shuffle out a salsa in a downtown bar to a rough ‘n’ ready band whose average age is about 76 while drinking dark rum or a Mohito cocktail then to chug back to a forlorn hotel in a ’64 Cadillac where in dim lamplight we smoke a fat cigar to round off a perfect evening.  Then after too little sleep and in a haze of cane syrup alcohols and flashing images of the night before to breeze out onto the famous “Malecon” – the coastal main road for an early morning run round the bay.

Well last week my dream came true.

It’s hard not to talk about Cuba without conjuring images of ancient American classic cars and women smoking cigars in brightly coloured headscarves.  All these clichés can be seen on almost every corner of Havana.  It’s been discovered, invaded, owned, sold, re-invaded and freed several times over in its history so it’s little wonder Cuba has character.  And that character is forged not just by the country’s history but to a large extent by the unique sight of the 60’s Cadillacs, Fords and Buicks that make up the traffic.  These were brought over by mafia money in Cuba’s only boom time economy which divided the rich (mostly unwelcome Americans) and the poor (mostly angry Cubans).  They were left in a hurry when the achingly handsome and very popular Che Guevara won the people’s hearts and their freedom in a successful people’s revolution.  As the last Americans left in 1964 he told the Cubans “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine”.  Stirring stuff.
A '59 Edsel in Havana
The Malecon Running Route
But to the run: This loop is an easy, flat route of about 4 miles taking in the old town, the Malecon, a bit of their Chinatown and a piece of, well, just real Havana.  The Hispanic architecture, most of which went up in the period leading to the revolution that took place in the 60’s, has mellowed to a kind of crumbling colonial charm which makes for lots of eye-catching scenes, so take a camera if you can carry one (I used a blackberry to take my shots).

At the Capitolio: a '59 Plymouth
Starting at my Hotel, The Saratoga, which is about opposite the old government building known as the Capitolio (now a museum) I headed down to the old town via the street known as “Obispo” to see Plaza Viejo, now tastefully restored and looking mighty fine in the morning sun.  On one corner stood the Café Taverna where later that night I was to see the Buena Vista Social Club – a must if you have the time.  It’s old blokes making dance music and completing salsa moves that made me reach for the glucosamine.

Along the Malecon
From there straight down to the seafront and turn left towards the harbour entrance now aglow in golden morning sun.  Round the point and onto the Malecon with the sun on your back from where you can see right round the bay that the town is on.  All along the front are houses that spoke of better times and one or two Hotels once owned by American Mafiosi but now state-run.  Peddlers selling beads and artefacts offer cigars and currency swaps (DON’T take up these offers – you’ll get Cuban Pesos worth nothing at all and not the international convertible Pesos usable in the shops by tourists).

Plaza Viejo in morning light
Turn left onto Belascoain and you head into some real downtown Havana.  Kids on their way to school, restaurants washing down pavement terraces, shops re-stocking, broken down cars undergoing open heart surgery by engineers up to their elbows in black engine oil.  Keep going until you reach Avenue Zanya where you throw a left and head up towards the Capitolio again.  This time you pass Chinatown, the Rail museum which is really a steam train graveyard – guarded by a fierce dog as I passed.  Back onto the pretty open square next to the Partagas Cigar factory and you’re home.

Go to Cuba for sun, rum, music by old blokes, dancing, cigars, beaches and value for money but don’t go for luxury - not much works and nobody in Cuba has any money, although of course they'll welcome some of yours.
The cars are older than the musicians in Havana