Saturday, 15 October 2011

Madrid Old Town Sights Running Route

Length: 6 km (3.7 miles), terrain fairly flat, with 40 meter rise and fall

Madrid running routes:
Madrid Old Town Sights route
Madrid Parque del Oeste route 
Madrid Parque del Retiro route

Madrid Casa de Campo trail run 
Madrid Rio Manzanares route
Madrid Cañadas trail runFor more running routes, see Route List.

Most photos courtesy of

Royal Palace from Calle de Bailén, © Konstantinos Dafalias / PIXELIO
Here's a route that visits a lot of the main sights in central Madrid, through the old town. This is the plan:
  • Start at the main plaza, the Puerta del Sol
  • Head through the main shopping area to the theater area (Callao)
  • Pass by the Opera and into the Plaza de Oriente across from the royal palace
  • Do a small loop through the palace's Sabatini Gardens
  • Take in the Almudena Cathedral, 
  • Provide a stunning view to the countryside to the west from the viaduct
  • Go through the park below the bridge to the San Francisco basilica
  • Then heads back through some alleys to the historic city hall and the magnificent Plaza Major before heading back to the Puerta del Sol
That's a lot to take in during one 6 km run. Let's get out there!
Restaurant near Puerta del Sol, photo by Keith Hauser
We'll start in one of the liveliest (meaning busiest) plazas in Madrid, the Puerta del Sol. This is the heart of town, with the regional government building along the south side, metro- and bus-stations in the middle, and the main pedestrian shopping streets leading off the north side. This is also the place where people come to speak their minds, such as the recent student demonstrations.

There is also a marker in the pavement here, kilometre zero, locating the central spot where all road distances are measured from in Spain. So kilometre zero will also be our starting point...

Kilometre zero, © Helga / PIXELIO
Turn to the north side of the plaza, towards the El Corte Inglés department store. The street leading away on its left side, the Calle de Preciados, is Madrid's pedestrian shoppping street. But it can get really crowded sometimes, so if it looks like it will be a bother, go to the other side of El Corte Inglés and take Calle del Carmen, which runs parallel, and ends up in the same spot. Carmen starts at the statue of the bear and the madroño tree, symbols found on the town's coat of arms.

Bear and tree, © Helga / PIXELIO
Preciados and Carmen both lead to Callao, a plaza that's a bit like Madrid's Picadilly: surrounded by bright lights and cinemas. Run through the square to the main street on the other side. This is the Gran Via, Madrid's central boulevard. This is pretty busy, so let's head for quieter terrain.

Gran Via, © Daniel / PIXELIO
Turn left onto Calle de Jacometrezo, running by the Callao cinema, straight to a little raised plaza, the Plaza de Santo Domingo. Run straight through the plaza and down the little steps at the back.

Now turn left on Calle de Campomanes as it curves around to the plaza in front of the Tearto Real, the royal opera.

Teatro Real, © Gabi Eder / PIXELIO
Now follow the way around the right side of the opera, and you'll come to the beautiful Plaza de Oriente, with a spectacular view of the royal palace across the street. The plaza is lined with statues of Spain's past kings.

Royal Palace, © Dirk Pollzien / PIXELIO
But before you cross over to the palace though, turn right and run to the northeast corner of the plaza to view the royal monastery of Encamación.

Now turn left and head along the north edge of Plaze de Oriente towards the palace and cross the street, the Calle de Bailén. To the right of the palace, you'll see a formal gardens, the Sabatini. Go down the stone stairs and do a loop through this beautiful little oasis.

In the Sabatini Gardens, © Daniel / PIXELIO
Come back up the stairs and turn right to run past the palace. Just past the building, turn right into the giant courtyard in front of the equally giant cathedral, the Almudena. The building looks old, but it was just finished in 1993 after 110 years of construction.

Almudena bronze door, © Helga / PIXELIO
When you have finished gazing at the church, run out to the street again and turn right to continue southwards on Bailén. You just have to run a few hundred meters, and you'll find yourself jogging over a high bridge, the viaduct, with a great view off to the right, to the countryside to the west. Madrid ends here at this bluff, and the royal palace has the same view. The scrubland to the west, the Campo, is a great run in itself. Maybe tomorrow!

But the view down in the park below is great too. So turn around and run back to the beginning of the bridge (north end), and cross to the other side of the street. There is a stairway going down from there to the bottom of the viaduct. Once down at the bottom, you'll discover that the bridge is a spectacular arched viaduct.
The viaduct, courtesy of Google StreetView
At the bottom, turn right and run downhill under the bridge, into the park ahead. That park is nice in itself, but we'll immediately turn left, just past the bridge, onto Calle de Beatriz Galindo, which curves back uphill, with a great view of its own. This is an uphill slog that will be great training.

Just follow the street straight back to where it joins Bailén again, which will be right out front of the San Francisco de Grande basilica. The church is named after St. Francis of Asisi, who founded a monestary on the same site 800 years ago.

San Francisco de Grande basilica, © poldy / PIXELIO
To the left of the basilica is a little park, which is worth doing a little loop through, with another view out at the back. Then run back to the front of the church and cross the street, running past the little traffic island and heading eastwards up Carrera de San Francisco.

In just a few blocks you'll come to a plaza on the left with a domed church, San Andrés, behind it. The plaza is a favorite hangout for teenies and other locals, and is a laid-back place to do some people-watching. The streets to the right, Cava Alta and Cava Baja, are full of interesting restaurants (known as La Latina, this a great area to come back to in the evening), but we'll head up along the left side of the church through a series of plazas, keeping to the right. This whole part of town is full of interesting little alleys and hidden-away plazas, and is the oldest quarter in Madrid.

The last plaza ends at Calle de Segovia, where you turn right (if you look backwards to the left, you'll see the arch of the viaduct again).

The old market hall next to Plaza Major, photo by Keith Hauser
In just 100 meters, the street makes a jog to the left. Turn left here to head up the narrow alley, Calle de Cordón. You'll soon go up a few steps and see a beautiful stone building in front of you. Keep running straight up the alley along the side of the building. You will come out to a plaza at the town hall. This is an ensemble of historic municipal buildings.

On the other side of the plaza is Calle Major, (Main Street). Turn right and run just two blocks and you'll see a little plaza with some stone balls guiding you towards an archway. Follow the way through the archway (the town marketplace is off to the right). You now find yourself in Plaza Major, Madrid's great square, and the town's most popular hangout. Just take it in, this is the place to spend some time: The house to the left has a beautifully painted facade, the arcades along each side are full of restaurants and bars, and there are strolling musicians all over.

Plaza Major, by Allan Reyes -- Flickr Creative Commons
Turn right and run to the arch at the southwest corner with ancient steps leading down to the street below. This is the Arco de Cuchilleros (the knife-maker’s arch). It's worth going down the steps and taking a look at the ancient taverns (mesones) in caves dug into the bottom of the plaza.

Now go back up the steps and cross the plaza to the right side to leave through the arch on the east side, in the northeast corner, running eastwards into Postas, a lively side-street.

Postas comes back out to Calle Major, just a block from our starting place. Just turn right and run the one block back to kilometre zero at the Puerta del Sol.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Singapore Chinatown Running Route

Click here for route map
Length: 3.3 km (2 miles), terrain flat

Singapore Running Routes:
Main tourist sights  
East Coast Park  
For other running routes, see Routes List 

Pictures are from Google StreetView.

NOTE: Singapore is in the tropics, and the climate is very muggy: expect high humidity, so try to run in the mornings, when the air is coolest.

We'll start this short jogging route in the heart of town, on the river at Bridge Street, just like the Singapore Sights Route. This is my favorite spot in town: with parliament presiding quietly on one side, and the bum boats bobbing in front of the line of pubs along the other side. This stretch of river is just inviting you to a pleasant waterside Singapore evening.
Bridge Road, with downtown in the background
This route is a 3-kilometer loop to the south, through Chinatown. Why a city that is three-fourths Chinese has a neighborhood called "Chinatown" is beyond my comprehension (I suppose it was coined in the colonial days), but it's a colorful neighborhood, and well worth seeing. It's amazing to think that the Chinese were originally imported by the British as coolies to do the hard work in the harbor, and that they soon turned the city into one of the world's economic powerhouses.

So, off we go, running south on South Bridge Road. After a few blocks, you'll cross Mosque Street and see the old Jamae Mosque on your right. Then, one block later, you'll come to the Sri Mariamman Hindu temple, at Temple Street, naturally. Then, one block after that, you'll come to a pagoda-like Buddhist shrine on your right, which holds what is thought to be one of Buddha's teeth.

One block after the temple, Bridge Road splits into Neil Road and Maxwell Road. Keep running on the smaller street that goes straight ahead, Tanjong Pagar Road.
Thian Hock Keng temple
When you get to Wallich Street, in 2 blocks, turn left and run until the street ends at Maxwell Road. Cross Maxwell and run through the little park that angles up along Telok Ayer Street. The street curves to the right and after 2 blocks passes the ornate Thian Hock Keng Taoist temple on your left.

Now you just run straight for the last few blocks to the downtown bank buildings on Chulia Street. You can run straight past them to the water side of the buildings, then turn left and you find yourself among all the pubs and restaurants at Boat Quay again. In one more block you'll be at the Bridge Road bridge again.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Maidenhead Thames South Running Route

Length: 8.4 km (5.2 miles), terrain flat

For more Maidenhead routes, see Routes List.

Maidenhead is just far enough outside London to have its own character, which is great if you are there on a business trip to Britain's "Silicon Corridor". There is a halfway prosperous town center to be enjoyed, and a green, pleasant running stretch along the Thames River. And the local "Green Way" public footpath runs north/south right through the center of town to two beautiful nearby villages, 3 km to Cookham in the north and 2 km to Bray to the south. The Green Way can easily connect up with the Thames Path at either end or at the center, at Maidenhead Bridge.

Check the town's description of the Green Way at this link.

The Thames also runs north/south, parallel to the Green Way, flowing down along the east edge of town. The river is lined by a National Trail, the Thames Path, that follows the river from its origins in the Cotswolds all the way past London City and Greenwich. Here's a good link to a Thames Path site.

This route starts in the center of town, follows the Thames towards the south, winds through Bray, and then heads up along streets back into town through Braywick Park along the Green Way.

The Green Way across from the Bear Inn
Let's start on the High Street at the Bear Inn, where the Green Way passes through the town center. The Bear was the last inn built back in the days when Maidenhead was just a coach stop on the western road to London. Maidenhead became a real town after the stone bridge was built east of town, routing traffic southwards from the old ford upstream. Let's head right for the bridge.

Just turn east on High Street and head straight out of the center. High Street then merges into Bridge Road at the old almshouses, located across the street. Follow Bridge Road the few blocks out through town to the river and, of course, the bridge.

Maidenhead Bridge
Maidenhead Bridge was built in 1770, back before the American Revolution, and predecessor bridges stood here since 1240. We'll run over this beautiful stone bridge, and then turn right on the other side to run down River Road, behind the Maidenhead Rowing Club.

We are now heading south along the Thames. There are nice homes on both sides of the river here. You will soon run under the railroad bridge, famous at the time it was built for having the flattest arches of any bridge in the world.

Thames River Road heading towards railroad bridge
Soon the houses stop and the dirt trail begins along the riverside. Open fields line this east side of the river. On the other side, though, the homes get bigger and more impressive. This is "Millionaires' Row" in the village of Bray. The line of homes seems to go on for miles.

Millionaires' Row
The riverside is also great for birdwatching. Besides the usual ducks, geese, swans and seagulls, I saw kingfishers and even a flock of green parrots when I was there.

Thames Path across from Bray
After the river curves to the left, you'll come to a boat-lock (Bray Lock), and an island behind it (Monkey Island, now home of a nice hotel).

You will see and hear the M4 motorway bridge straight ahead in the distance. You need to keep running to the bridge, take the steps up to the freeway above, cross the river, then continue running along the loud roadside for a few hundred meters until you get to the next overpass, where you finally get to leave the motorway. There is a footpath along the pasture below, but there are no stairs to get down there.

Running along the M4, my least favorite part of the run
Just before the overpass (Old Mill Lane), the motorway footpath turns to the right and joins Old Mill Lane as it heads northwards, back towards town. Run north on Old Mill Lane.

The first right-hand turn-off is the street leading to the Monkey Island Hotel. It was originally named after monks, not monkeys, but this didn't stop later owners from adding exotic monkey-themes to their estate.

Running straight ahead on Old Mill Lane, you are now entering the scenic village of Bray, winner of the "Best Small Village" award in 2005. You can tell that this is no run of the mill village when you see that the first pub-looking building houses a posh restaurant called "Caldesi in Campagna" (and this isn't even one of the two 3-star places in town).

The lane makes a sharp left turn at some half-timbered row houses. But keep running straight along the footpath along the side of the houses.

Run straight up this path past the nice rowhouses
The path ends at other end of the houses, at Ferry Road. Let's take a short scenic detour to the right to run 100 meters down to the river and the old ferry landing. The building on the left is the Waterside Inn, housing one of the 3-star restaurants.

At Bray's celebrated Waterside Inn
Now turn around and run back out Ferry Road till it reaches the stone cross at Bray Road.

At Bray Cross
Turn right here, and in a few steps you'll pass a non-descript grey house with no sign on it. This is the "Fat Duck", the other 3-star restaurant. Just past it, and even better in my opinion, is the beautiful old village pub, the "Hind's Head".

View of the Hind's Head, taken from front of the Fat Duck
In just 100 more meters, at the last street (The Causeway) on the left before the fields begin, turn left to join the Green Way. This is just across from the Cricket Club entrance.

Entrance to the Causeway: turn left here
The causeway merges into Hibbert Road, where you run 100 meters straight, past the nature center on your right. You'll see a parking lot for the nature center and the Green Way trail on your right, too. Turn right here and then just follow the "Green Way" waymarkers all the way back to town.

Just follow the Green Way waymarkers through Braywick Park
At first the way goes to the right, past a little pond, then turns north to head up Green Lane through Braywick Park.

Along Green Lane
Just as Green Lane comes to a bridge over the Cut (also called Maidenhead Ditch or York Stream), turn left and follow the footpath as it crosses Stafferton Way to then go under the railroad.

On the home-stretch of the Green Way
The Green Way path continues straight north to the library and the Bear Inn.