Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Madrid Retiro/Prado Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 7.9 km (4.9 miles), terrain flat, just 30m height gain

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

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 run For more running routes, see Route List.

There is a green jewel on the east side of central Madrid that you definitely need to run through during any stay in the city. The area north of the main train station, Atocha, is a wonderful mix of wide, tree-lined boulevards, grand buildings such as the imposing Prado Museum and one of the most beautiful parks you'll ever find: El Retiro ("Parque del Buen Retiro", in full).

Retiro is one of those wonderful parks with something for everyone, with a lake full of couples flirting in rowboats, lawns covered with sunbathers and many quiet, hidden corners full of statues and fountains. Formal gardens and woodsy solitude alternate, balanced in harmony. It began life as the extensive gardens of Buen Retiro Palace and only later became a public park.
Beautiful lighting on a typical Retiro scene, photo by Koldo Oteo
And next door is the botanical garden, the Real Jardin Botanico, with its gridwork of tropical plantings.

This route zig-zags through Retiro several times. You can follow it exactly, or just use it as an idea on how you could loop through it yourself.

The Retiro Route
We'll start the route at the Plaza de Cibeles, at the crossroads of two great boulevards, the Calle de Alcalá and the Paseo del Prado, about 700 meters east of Madrid's heart, the Puerta del Sol.

This large intersection, with a classical fountain in the middle, is surrounded by some fairly colossal buildings. The most amazing is the post office building, the Palacio de Comunicaciones, with its roofline of jutting baroque towers.
Palacio de Comunicaciones, photo by alejandro blanco
Stand in front of the postal building and face eastwards and run along the Calle de Alcalá. In just two blocks, you come to the Plaza de la Independencia, with its monumental city gate, the Puerta de Alcalá. This was the eastern end of the town in the late 1700s, when the arched gate was built.
Alcalá gate, photo by _CaTa_
Just past the gate, on the right, you'll see the entrance to El Retiro.

Run into the park and follow the elegant pathway flanking the flower-beds that run down the middle. You are heading diagonally towards the heart of the park, the Estanque del Retiro, a small, rectangular lake.

When you reach the lake, keep running southwards along the lake, with the water to your left. The lake is the main meeting place in the park, full of families, couples and groups of friends, with food stands and cafés. The little blue rowboats are a popular attraction.
Estanque rowers, photo by Toniu
When you get halfway down the lake, directly across the water from the imposing monument to King Alfonso XII on his horse, turn right and run down the next elegant divided path, the Paseo Argentina, lined with statues. You are now heading west.

At the second big cross-path, turn left. Now run the hundred meters south to the first formal garden, the Jardin del Parterre. Turn right to run down into the sunken gardens, and immediately you'll be struck by the amazing trees on this end, with their pillow-like form. I don't know what kind of trees they are, but they're unforgettable!
Parterre's captivating trees, photo by CrispeLand
Loop the garden and exit at the same place where you entered. Immediately turn right and continue heading southwards.

This is a quiet, wooded area, criss-crossed by paths. On the right, you'll pass tennis courts and soccer fields. When you reach a cross-street with almost no cars, Paseo Fernán Núñez, turn left to head east.

In just 200 meters, you'll come to a fountain with a fallen angel. Turn left here to head north again, back to the lake, on the Paseo de Republica de Cuba.

You'll hit the lake again at the corner with a few cafés. Turn right and run along the south edge of the lake.
In Retiro, photo by Keith Hauser
At the east side of the lake, turn left to head north along its eastern shore, past the gigantic Alfonso XII monument.

Keep running northwards till you get almost to the north end of the park, then turn right to run eastwards, parallel to the north fence, but a few meters away from the street noise.

You'll cross a car-free street (it's also called Paseo Fernán Núñez) and come to a very little hill (it's more a mound) in the northeast corner of the park.

Turn right at the hill and you'll immediately see a little pond with a little pink house located on the water, the Casita del Pescadero.

The casita, photo by ladillas
Now run past the pond to the west to get back to Paseo Fernán Núñez. Turn left here and head south again.

When you get to the wide, tree-lined path, the Paseo Venezuela, turn right.

You are approaching the southeast corner of the lake again. Just before you get there, turn left to run around the old exhibition hall, the Palacio de Velázquez, running around its west side.

Run south for just a hundred meters and you'll come to an amazing structure, the Palacio de Cristal, an elegant, Victorian-era glass-house built entirely of glass and ironwork.
Cool picture of the Crystal Palace, photo by Felix Abanades
Run past the crystal palace then turn left to run along the pond sitting along its east side. There is a little waterfall here and a beautiful view of the crystal palace.
The cascade, photo by Rocio's World
From the east edge of the pond, turn south and head to the last highlight of the park, the rose garden. This is the highest point of the run, a small hill. You will run straight to the oval Roseleda.

Loop through it once and exit at the same spot where you entered it. Now turn left and run down Paseo Fernán Núñez, heading west this time. You are now going gently downhill.
In the Rosaleda, photo by coldomo
You will leave Retiro at Calle de Alfonso XII, and continue straight on the quiet street Calle Claudio Moyano, still heading downhill.

The botanical gardens is on your right. It is possible to run there, too, but you have to buy an entrance ticket to see its interesting collection of exotic plants.

At the next corner, the busy, tree-lined boulevard Paseo del Prado, turn right and head north. This is the lowest point of the run, now you'll run lightly uphill back to the start.
The Prado Museum entrance, photo by b12simon
You'll pass the Prado Museum on the right (well worth visiting!) and continue running past the elegant Ritz Hotel and the Bolsa (stock exchange) to end up back at the Plaza de Cibeles.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Potsdam Historic Sites Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 11 km (6.8 miles), terrain flat

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

Berlin Running Routes:
Best Berlin Running Routes: Overview 
Historic Berlin Mitte  
Tiergarten park 
Kurfürstendamm, heart of West Berlin  
Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin's coolest neighborhood  
Grunewald West  
Grunewald East

Potsdam Royal Residences
Ode to Berlin: my long-running love affair with this great city  
For other running routes, see Route List.
If you're in the Berlin area, make sure you take some time for the old Prussian royal residence town of Potsdam. Today, the town is basically a suburb, easily reached with the S7 commuter trains from anywhere in central Berlin. If you put on your running gear and ride the train a half-hour, you'll have one of the most scenic runs in the Berlin area.

Potsdam has a nice old-town, plus it's surrounded by parks and lakes and a variety of palaces of the Prussian kings. It's a bit like Windsor is for London, except that you can easily get there from the city.
Cool collage of Potsdam's Louisenplatz, photo by Frank Kehren
There are some beautiful runs in Potsdam along the Havel River and its lakefront parks. But we'll concentrate on the old town and palace gardens in this run.

The Potsdam Historic Loop
We'll start the run at the train station, head through the old town, loop through Sanssouci palace gardens and cut back through the old town on the way back to the station again.

From the station, go through the square to the main street, Heinrich-Mann-Allee, and turn north to run over the bridge over the Havel.

NOTE: As you start running over the bridge, look to your right and you'll see a path following the south bank of the Havel. For another great run, you could head up there through Babelsberg Park and further along the water in several directions.
In Sanssouci Palace gardens, photo by hazelowendmc
When you cross the bridge, you'll see the Mercur Hotel high-rise on the left and, hopefully, a finished reconstruction of this run's first royal palace, the Stadtschloß. The palace was badly destroyed in World War II, as were the other buildings all around this spot. The communist regime decided to tear down the ruins rather than rebuild it, and they put up a big concrete bunker-like theater in its place. But after German reunification, local people pushed for a reconstruction of the palace. The simplified new version has been under construction for years (I only know it as a big construction site). It should be finished soon.

Now head north around the left side of the Schloß along Friedrich-Ebert-Straße, with the long royal stables, the Marstal, on the left, now a film museum.

Turn right to go behind the Schloß to look at the square with the old town hall and the massive Nikolai church. A few socialist-era modern buildings to either side don't fit in, but that's life.
Amazing shot of the Nikolaikirche, photo by Frank Kehren
Now run back to Ebert Straße, turn right, and continue your northward run.

After just a block, you'll come to a big square on the right, the Platz der Einheit (Unity Place) surrounded by more modern buildings. Run diagonally towards the right, through the square, and then continue running north along Am Basin towards the big church ahead on the right side.

This is the Peter-Paul catholic church. Although Prussia and the Prussian kings were protestant, the country was known for its tolerance, and for hundreds of years it was a place of refuge for many religiously persecuted groups.

At the end of the churchyard, turn right on Gutenbergstraße, and you have reached the first interesting neighborhood of the old town. The houses here have a definite Dutch style, giving this neighborhood the name "Dutch Quarter" ("Holländisches Viertel"). The Prussians invited the Dutch to imigrate to Prussia to use their expertise with raising vegetables and draining swamps. Many of the Dutch were persecuted Mennonites.
In the Dutch Quarter, photo by TCHe
At the second cross-street, Hebelstraße, turn left to run into the Dutch Quarter for a block, then turn left to run westwards through the neighborhood on Mittelstraße, with its beautiful red-brick houses and their rounded gables and wooden shutters.

When you get back to Friedrich-Ebert-Straße, look to your right to see the northern city gate, Nauener Tor, with its two round towers.

Now turn left and run south for two blocks to Brandenburger Straße.

Here you turn right to run westwards the whole length of the old town on this pedestrian shopping street.
Brandenburger Straße, photo by TCHe
After five blocks, you come out onto Louisenplatz with its arched Brandenburg Gate (right, Berlin isn't the only town with one).

Run right through the gate and to the right of the fountain, and head up the street that leaves the square at the northwest, Allee nach Sanssouci, past the Steigenberger Hotel.

The street makes a turn to the left at an italianate building with two square towers, the Friedenskirche or Peace Church. Keep running past that building, then turn right to run up the path along its back side, heading north.
Even the buskers are from another age in Potsdam, photo by topsafari
You'll go over a bridge at a pond and continue running north for a few meters until you come out into a formal gardens with geometrically laid-out paths. You are now in the famous gardens of Sanssouci Palace.

Run to the fountain on the main path, which runs east/west, and then run west the 100 meters to the next, bigger fountain.

Look to your right and you'll see terraces rising up to the yellow palace on the hill, Sanssouci
The steps up to Sanssouci, photo by HerrK
Let's take a closer look, and run up the central stairway up to the top! This low, one-storey baroque building was built by Prussia's greatest king, Frederick the Great.

Turn left to run past the facade, and continue running westwards around the back side of the palace, running towards the tall windmill across the street.
Sanssouci, photo by Jacqueline Poggi
Now keep running westward along the street, with the orange-colored New Chambers on the left, with its short, eagle-crowned clock tower.

After the New Chambers, turn left to run down into the gardens again, then turn right at the first chance.

You'll run westwards again, past the Sicilian Garden, then around some other buildings, and then come to a round pond with fountain. Look up the hill and you'll see the imposing Orangerie, where frost-sensitive plants are kept during the winters.
Moody spot in Sansscouci Park, photo by hazelowendmc
Now, turn left to head south to the main path again, Hauptallee, where you turn right and continue running westwards, towards the red palace with the copper dome in the distance.

You are running towards the Neues Palais, or New Palace. Kings back then needed a new palace about every 10 years, so this massive one was added to the far end of the park.
The New Palace, photo by Viaggiatore Fantasma
When you reach the palace, turn right to circle it counter-clockwise.

On the other side of the palace, you'll see some other classical buildings now used by the University of Potsdam.

When you've circled the palace, run south past the small group of trees and then turn left to run back eastwards on the Ökonomieweg, parallel to the Hauptallee.

After about 600 meters, the path makes a turn to the left, and you'll see a fantastic, gilded pavilion on the left side, the Chinese House, once used as a royal party house.
The Chinese House, photo by Jacqueline Poggi
In 200 more meters you'll pass some smaller classical buildings on the right side, and see Sanssouci again off to the left.

Keep running straight until the path ends behind the Peace Church again, where you turn right and run back to the Brandenburg Gate again, in Louisenplatz.

But now, to see a bit more of the old-town, turn left to run a block to Gutenbergstraße, where you turn right and run eastwards four blocks to Jägerstraße.

Now, turn right and run south, crossing the old town through the middle.

Cross Charlottenstraße and continue southwards as the street name changes to Wilhelm-Staab-Straße.

Staab-Straße ends at Yorckstraße, with a canal running down the middle. The canal is being restored after being filled-in during the socialist era. Turn left here and run back the one block to Ebert Straße, where you turn right and follow it back past the Stadtschloß and cross the Havel bridge to the train station.