Friedrichsau parkrun, Ulm

Friedrichsau parkrun, two clockwise laps by the Danube in Ulm
Friedrichsau parkrun route, 2 clockwise laps

Heading North and wanting to make progress through Germany towards the Netherlands, I picked a place somewhere away from Munich. I ended up in Ulm, which seemed adventurous but it’s a big place (126,000 inhabitants) and right on the beaten track, in that I could get a train directly there from Munich. It also put me back on the shores of the Danube, which has been a nice recurring theme of this trip.

The parkrun is to the NE of the city, and the number 1 tram stops very close to the start. Despite that, and even though had got my 9€ ticket for August some time back, I walked the 2.5km from the centre, and walked back the longer route along the Danube, which was all very pleasant. Even more pleasantly, the weather had broken. Last week, I saw a sweaty mess just walking to parkrun; this week I wore a long-sleeved top for the wander there.

Cones mark the finish on a cobbled path by a lake. The parkrun flag flies under a tree, while green grass neatly marks the verges

The start and finish were already setup when I got there at 8.30, while the event director was out setting up the comprehensive arrows on the course. The route map probably looks complicated, and there are plenty of places where two paths go in similar directions, but there are backup “yes, really this way” arrows in any place with ambiguity, and we really couldn’t get lost. The one exception might have been at a point where a sign had fallen, but it was still visible, and I and the other Brit there were following an experienced German runner at that point. One of the runners behind paused to put the sign back up, too.

There’s a toilet near the start that needs a euro for entry – my fellow Brit was not impressed by the state of what he found inside, but needs must. The start is by the Tiergarten entrance and looks over one of the lakes in the park.

A yellow arrow directs us left after the start, with a right-turn just visible along the path. Other paths criss-cross the location, while the route goes round a large green field in the middle of the picture
Shortly after the start, go left, then right after the monoliths, round the field.

There weren’t lots of people there, but they were all friendly, with several English speakers. Nonetheless, we felt like visitors rather than a majority, as is sometimes the case, and that feels like a good way round.

The route is pretty flat, with just an occasional incline to test a different set of muscles. None of the turns are sharp, either, and that combined with the significantly cooler weather meant I ran significantly better than last week – a relief, to prove it isn’t just pizza retention slowing me down.

A wide cobbled path heads into a tree-covered area which hides a bridge over the park's lakes.
View from the start line – beyond the bollards is a bridge, then you emerge into the field, above

We were presented with watermelon as we finished, and there was lemon drizzle cake and some other biscuits – frankly they had me at lemon drizzle – to tuck into and encourage people to hang around. Not that we needed to wait for the finish, with the tail walker running to keep up with the people at the back and less than 7 minutes separating all the finishers. Clicking through previous results, that’s a rarity and walkers are as welcome here as anywhere else.

A view of the finish line showing the lake behind the path, and a housing block that overlooks the lake.
Trams will arrive on the left of this area. We picnicked on the grass at the finish afterwards

A cafe is listed on the event page but even on this cooler day, there was no movement that way, and we just lounged on the grass. I felt particularly grateful to be able to do just that, given my fellow Brit had a 10-hour drive to get back to Durham and had already left. Instead, I took a leisurely stroll over a bridge and along the South bank of the river to head back to town. The day warmed up, most of Ulm was about walking and cycling and I felt lucky enough to head to another small parkrun in a relatively remote (but populous) spot. The town is a natural spot to stop if you are heading back from Austria to a French ferry, and avoiding toll roads, so I hope they’ll continue to attract a small but privileged group of tourists.

Results from Friedrichsau parkrun event 20, 6/8/22; 13 finishers.

Mensola parkrun, Florence, Italy

Route map for the Mensola parkrun, a three lap route, roughly in a figure 8.

Mensola parkrun route. 3 laps, anti-clockwise from bottom right

Mensola park is a (as of 2022) fairly new park to the East of Florence. I walked there from the centre, around 6km, but the number 17 bus goes very close. Buy your ticket at a tabaccheria. Firenze Rovezzano station is near (1.4km away), but trains don’t run there first thing in the morning. There’s a North and South part to the park, with the run happening just in the top section, North of Via della Torre. The entrance is past the football stadium (and museum), just past the Beach Volley & Tennis Centro. There are no toilets in the park.

It is known as being a bit exposed, and it certainly is that, but there is shade on a couple of lovely bits of the course, and at the meeting point. This Saturday was a little cooler than recent weather, but the temperature was still in the high 20s when we started, and was climbing into the 30s. This was their first birthday, so we celebrated afterwards. There isn’t a cafe nearby, so they usually bring something to eat and drink, but we may have been treated even more specially. There’s a Lidl en route (1.8km away) if you walk, and I was very glad I’d picked up extra food and drink. The run director had spotted me outside Lidl as she drove past, so I’m very glad not to have got lost which might have sparked the mystery of ‘what happened to the obvious parkrunner heading to our event?’

Through two thick trees stands dry grass and a villa beyond, at the end of a straight line of tall thin trees
Looking through the trees at the meeting point

I bumped into a few other tourists on the way in – in a group of 6, there were English, Australian and Danish. The Australian had been walking to Firenze parkrun when he bumped into the others and it was lucky he did, as that event is not currently running and may not restart – the run director who was there when I ran in 2019 is now running this event and it’s much more convenient for volunteers.

A sign at the park entrance, hanging on a metal gate, points participants to the start. Behind is a grassy bank, brown for lack of rain, with trees standing up behind that.
Shown the way at the park entrance – you can’t see the start point from here because of the bank, but it is only a minute or two’s walk
Runners in parkrun shirts head off along a gravelled path, with one running barefoot
Shortly after the start, so I’m still close to all these people, who finished far ahead

Although the ground is brown for lack of rain, the course is colourful, with the brown complemented by the beige of the gravelled path and grey stone, and offset by the green of plants and trees. The clear blue sky and bright sunshine helps that, too, though it meant I struggled on the actual run. The course is undulating and twisty, with gravel underfoot, so although you can’t really call it hilly, it isn’t the easiest. I’d have done a little better on a cooler day, though.

I had been amused to bump into a runner I knew last week, and even contacted a friend I met the same day, in Rome in 2019, saying she should say hello to him if he was back in Rome. He was not, he was here, so we again had a couple of photos together.

Luigi and me, pictured at two different parkrun events on consecutive weeks - we hadn't arranged to meet.
Luigi and me, in Florence (top) and Salzburg

Although I came from Certaldo, a 45 minute drive away, and he from Rome (c.3hrs), we had started our journeys around the same time. Admittedly, that is partly because I caught the 6:17 train not the 6:59, to allow more than an hour for the walk, but also Rome has much quicker and more direct trains. It’s a fairly straightforward piece of tourism either way.

On top of a berm stands the parkrun flag and some cones to mark the route.
The finish line. The course runs on the lower path, toward the camera, up a small hill then (on the last lap) turns left to the finish

The park was very quiet apart from us. One other runner joined us for a while, one other walked a dog and I saw a couple of people walking through the Southern section of the park. There was plenty of room, in any case, and would have been even with more than the 22 finishers we had. The volunteers were excellent, giving briefings in English and Italian and smoothly navigating us round the course. I had my 500 shirt on, so was encouraged with “Cinquecento!” – I managed to splutter that I felt like a banged-up old fiat in reply.

People in purple, red, hi-viz and other colours stand around talking in groups after the event has finished. Bags rest on a bench made from a cut-down tree stump.
Gathered after the event
After the event, some purple-wearing participants chat, while the event paraphernalia (a message board and some poles) rest on some tree stumps. To the right of the path are a few trees, mostly hiding the view of the hills behind.
Chatting after the event. The noticeboard reminded us all it was the event’s birthday

I absolutely loved this event, despite being a bit hot from the very start. The contrast between the dry park and the green hills in the distance is gorgeous, and it is overlooked by villas, enabling a heap of romantic fantasies. The event is slickly run and well worth the effort it takes to get there from Florence. If you run along the river it adds a couple of km, but allows for extra sight-seeing opportunities.

Results from Mensola parkrun event 52, 30/7/22; 22 finishers.

Round Salzburg with the Salzburg Card

At €30 for one day, €39 for two and €45 for three, the Salzburg card gives access to public transport (not including the S-bahn) and (one entrance only for each) attractions across Salzburg. Even in one day, it can save a small fortune, but over three you can avoid a lot of expense, and head into attractions purely on a whim. I was in the city for a week, so a three day card made sense, though I waited till after two very hot days had passed. I bought the card online, and saved a screenshot of the QR code to my phone for use, though there are plenty of places to buy a real one, and everyone else I saw had an actual card in hand.

I am not much of a one for heights, so the cable car at Untersbergbahn (South of the city – get the bus) was a challenge as well as a quick way up the mountain. Full price – €28 both ways, €18 one. Some people walk up and get the cable car down, though there are also long walks signposted on the mountain if you want to spend time up there. I had a short walk and took a ride down through clouds. It is quite a dramatic ride up, heading towards a cliff face before rising steeply to crest it, then jolting over the edge to hang over a valley, moving on and up towards the next peak where it stops. Most of the car I was in audibly “oohed” at that first jolt – the sense of space opening out under your feet is quite something.

View of the Untersberg mountain from below, With cables disappearing toward the mountain, appearing to not rise toward the peak.
Cables from ground level

Having bottled even the shortish walk up the next peak – it apparently takes an hour or so, and much older people and small children took it on quite happily – I was soon on my way North to the Hellbrunn Palace. I hopped off the bus at the zoo, a stop before the Schloss, just because some other people did, and ended up popping into the zoo (normal price: €12.50). Several people commented later that it seemed an odd place to have a zoo, several km South of the city, but it grew out of the wildlife collection/facilities built for same by Markus Sittikus, one of the city’s archbishops. It’s dramatically situated, built right up against the rocky hill in the middle of the park, and with the Untersberg mountain visible as you look away from the rocks. Plenty of animals, and it made me smile. On a day with temperatures 30+, it didn’t seem quite so cruel to have some of them there.

A large outside space with lots of birds in the water or nearby. There were also antelopes and ibexes in this enclosure, not shown.
Pelicans and others

After the zoo, I exited at the South side which took me into the park. I walked through, heading up the hill for the added difficulty, which brought me to the “Little-month Palace”. Set on a hill, this now holds the Folklore Museum (Full price €3.50. Entry included with entry to the Hellbrunn Palace, but you can go straight in with the Salzburg card). It’s worth a look, and they do a good job of providing a variety of exhibits, with folklore on the ground floor, art on the second and an example of a Great Giant Samson on the top. It’s a lovely building with great views over the estate from the top floor. It gets its name from the story that it was built in a month, though that is referred to as a legend.

Finally, I went down the hill to the main palace and the highly recommended Trick Fountains. At one time, all the posh houses had or wanted trick fountains, but when they fell out of fashion they were mostly removed, making these a stand-out feature. With a Salzburg card, you still need to head to the ticket office to get a timed slot for the fountains and you then use that ticket to enter the palace whenever you want to. I wasn’t initially keen – you’re given an audio guide, but then held in the first area. There is a reason for that, though; for one, they want to take your group’s picture and sell it to you later, but they also want to keep everyone together at a table surrounded by seats. And a lot of very wet concrete. The bravest, or most game, sat obediently at the table while the rest of us watched from the side, as a member of staff showed us what the hand-operated controls do.

Once through the first 3 items on the audioguide, you are free to walk at your own pace, with the audioguide talking you through each item and guiding you to the next. The whole thing won me over – the mechanisms are ingenious and very clever given their age, but also very naff (reminiscent of those jerking Santas in Christmas dioramas). It certainly invited opinion, I can’t imagine anyone thought “oh, let’s just leave it, it’s harmless”; nope, once this was out of fashion, it would have looked like the crappest thing in the world.

But for all that, when someone is squirted by a nozzle they didn’t spot, a deer’s head catches you on the way out with water coming from its mouth and antlers, covering a large area, or people run toward a grotto as the whole pathway is given a ceremonial squirting, it is tremendous fun and funny. Some of the nozzles are under control of the staff, who will give you time to avoid the water if you want – or indulge the kids who very definitely want to get wet.

I moved on to the palace, which has a very interesting exhibition about the life of Markus Sittikus, who built or inaugurated the Palace, Salzburg Cathedral and so on, despite not living to a grand old age.

The next day I used my card in the city, using the lift (MönchsbergAufzug) to get up the mountain to the Modern Art Museum, walking back down and going to the Natural History and Toy museums

I took the funicular up to the fortress. Having seen a queue outside the day before, I was going to wait till later, given the fortress is open till the evening, but there was no queue at 4. Once inside I realised that even a long-looking queue is only in place while the gates are closed and should clear fairly quickly – the Salzburg card lets you jump the queue in any case, but I preferred not to. The fortress is large, with several museums inside; the state rooms are not included with the card unless you go up before 11, but there’s plenty to see. I picked an entrance via some steps, which took me straight into the fortress but I felt a little as though I was being shuffled through a tourist experience for a while. I’d recommend walking round the outside first and enjoying the views, before going into the museums – they start with the regimental history, while I was still wondering what each room was.

A view of Salzburg from the fortress showing the river and several green-copper domes, including the cathedral.
Panoramic view of Salzburg from above

On my final day I used the bus to get to parkrun and back, all included with the card (though no one asked to see it), took a river cruise – I booked ahead as I was passing the ticket office, asked for 5, he checked whether I’d said 3 or 5, and then I got a ticket for 4. I realised in time to make it back from the Salzburg museum, which is about 1km away. All these things were good, and I was happy with them all, but they also seemed a smidge overpriced without the card – a fantastic bargain with one. I highly recommend you get the card if you plan on doing more than one thing.

The Salzburg Card – info on benefits and how to buy.

Hellbrunn parkrun, Salzburg

Map of Hellbrunn parkrun route, a loop round the grounds of the castle
Hellbrunn parkrun route. Not quite three laps, starting at top right and ending at top left

Salzburg is hilly. Hellbrunn palace looks onto hills and a mountain. The parkrun course avoids all of that and has Dutch levels of elevation – 1m in total (there’s always a margin of error, but still).

The palace and gardens are 7km or so from the centre of Salzburg, which meant a bus ride was the best way for me to get there – the no.25 which starts at the main station (and elsewhere) leaves every 30 minutes, so I hopped on the 7.35 to be sure. As a result I was very early, and rode an extra stop to the zoo so I could wander back to the palace grounds.

View of the mountain looking away from the zoo.

I’d visited the zoo a few days before. I wouldn’t normally, but Salzburg’s attractions are all (I thought) slightly overpriced individually, but then a total bargain with a Salzburg card, which covers all public transport and entrance to everything I wanted to do, plus queue skipping for the funicular if needed. 30€ for the day seems steep, though you can easily save with that, but €39 for 2 days, and €45 for 3 becomes more and more of a bargain. I was never actually asked to show the card (digital, on my phone, for me, but real ones are easily available – e.g. at the souvenir shop in the main station) on the bus, but scanned in to other locations willy nilly.

As a result of that prior visit to the zoo and palace, I knew my way around, and strolled through the grounds – essentially, from the zoo bus stop, head left at the zoo and keep following that path. It’s even easier from the palace stop. There are plenty of toilets at the palace, all open around 8am (or earlier, I can only go by when I got there). I used the ones I knew, next to the Trick Fountains, but there are some on the main drive to the palace, and more even closer to the parkrun start, almost directly North of the meeting point, next to the Fürstenweg.

The meeting point is by the small dipping pond – a neat circle on the map, East of the Palace – and that’s where the finish is. The start is further along the path from the palace and the route is nearly three laps. All the way round twice, then the third time, finish at four-way ‘crossroads’ of paths, on the grass. Signs wherever needed, a couple of marshals, and even I couldn’t get lost.

People gathered at the finish line, on the grass where several gravelled paths meet. Trees and grass are on each side.
The finish line

We had a very international crowd. I even knew a couple of them – one I had met at Linz last weekend, and was expecting to see. And tail walking today was “the fast bloke” from Roma Pineto – when I saw his parkrun shirt with the name of the run on it, I recognised him. I ran Roma a few years ago, fresh from finishing first at Roma Caffarella the week before. I hoped for a repeat, but was rapidly disabused by the event director when Luigi turned up and, sure enough, he had a jog and beat me by two minutes. Today, with a sore foot, he walked at the back but I can’t exactly claim revenge – he’d still have beaten me at a jog. We had a photo together for the memories.

There were also runners from Germany (Westpark – another fond memory, as I bumped into a Ware Jogger I knew, and had been racing her son in law (he beat me, too), New Zealand, England and South Africa. The event director was Irish and one of the volunteers from the US, for good measure. To be expected, in such a tourist-heavy place, but still impressive in a field of 31.

Looking away from the finish line – the route comes up the path to the right, then make a sharp right to head along the path on the left. The start is at the end of the left-most path. This is the sharpest turn of the course.

I struggled a little on this very flat course. Partly a week of good food and drink in Salzburg, but also I think that despite the very flat course with only one sharp turn, the ground is gravelly throughout, which takes some of the thrust out of each leg strike. I certainly wouldn’t claim it’s a hard course, but it’s surprisingly un-quick for such a flat one.

There are views on the course, though I’d recommend a good walk around the grounds afterwards to see things properly. If you have a card, or are happy to pay, the Trick Fountains are both tremendously naff and equally good fun and the palace is interesting with a well-curated exhibition on the archbishop Markus Sittikus (show your card at the ticket office to swap for a timed-slot for the fountains; that ticket then gets you into the palace). Most of the participants headed off to the cafe nearby and ended up nattering till midday before hopping on the bus back home. It’s a lovely run/walk, but with the attractions of the palace and grounds on top, you can upgrade it to stunning.

Results from Hellbrunn parkrun event 45, 23/7/22; 31 finishers.

A four-way path crossing, surrounded by high trees
View of the finish area (taken on a non-parkrun day)
Looking down an avenue of tall trees back through a hedge and to the grounds of Hellbrunn Palace, very small in the distance
View from the finish area towards the Palace Grounds

Lentos Kunstmuseum (Art Museum), Linz

The Lentos Kunstmuseum is right next to the river Danube and just a short walk from the centre of town. Entrance is €10 and the wifi is excellent – that wouldn’t normally be the first thing I noticed, but I had stayed in two places without wifi and had notifications to update.

The museum is in a distinctive glass building. The galleries are all upstairs on one long floor, with a couple of exhibition spaces in the basement, which also has cloakrooms and lockers (€1, refundable). That long exhibition space is supported by two feet – one has the ticket office and shop, the other the cafe. It’s described as a contemporary art museum, pointing to the majority of the main exhibition being modern art, but there are some older, more classical, pieces early on, too. Reviews vary in the amount of time recommended – I was there for an hour and a half, and that was a fairly leisurely pace.

Soap blocks make a large installation, with three videos projected onto the surrounding walls detailing the soap-making process
Sapun Ghar, Iris Andraschek. About soap-making in Aleppo, and the main installation is soap blocks.

The special exhibition at the moment contains work by Iris Andraschek, in a variety of different media. I’d highly recommend finding the exhibition guide by the entrance, though there was only one copy in English when I went. It gave good descriptions and context for the whole thing.

A series of aquariums, with found objects blown by pumps in the water, forming interesting shapes or making continual noise in the case of the balls in one aquarium
Aquariums, Iris Andraschek 1992-2022

There is a Picasso and a Warhol, though in general the museum focuses on art from artists from the area, or with some link to it. That doesn’t seem to limit them too much in where people are from, or in the breadth of exhibits, and I enjoyed my stroll through despite knowing very little about what I was seeing.

Donauradweg parkrun, Linz

Donauradweg parkrun route – head NE, back to the first (North) bridge and over, down to the South, back to the Southernmost bridge and finish in the same place, but on the grass

The meeting point for the Donauradweg parkrun is on the North side of the Danube, just next to (under if wet) the Neue Eisenbahnbrücke (New Railway Bridge). Don’t be put off by the name – it’s a pedestrian bridge, so it can be your route across if necessary. Indeed, it is part of the event route, though not currently marked as such on the official course page, which shows the old out and back route, which stayed North of the river.

Unfortunately for us, the usual course setter-up wasn’t there this Saturday, and we completed the first turn-around too soon. I figured it was early; we’d been told the turn was after a km or so, and I was initially impressed by how quickly the first runners were coming back at us. Then I made the turn after 100m or so more myself, was only about 600m in and thought it must be too early. Sure enough, we all got very quick times, though they might later get adjusted to fit!

The course has been changed to make it more interesting than the old out and back, and to let participants see a bit more of the river (and enjoy the climb up to the apex of the bridges) as they go. Other than the turnaround snafu, it’s certainly successful, and worth the work involved in getting permission from two different authorities. It sounded as though they were keen enough, guiding organisers through the nomenclature – parkrun is ‘official’ to us, but with no numbers etc., not so for the authorities, which makes getting permission easier. The parkrun guidelines required written permission, which was harder to get since the authorities deemed that unnecessary, but eventually they managed to make all the edges fit.

There are a couple of little climbs, including one early on – always keep to the higher path is the motto of the route. There are some tight turns, including the two 180s for the out-and-back sections, but otherwise this is a fast and flat route, if you’re not totally distracted by the river to the side.

Linz itself seemed, as I arrived by train, a very relaxed place. The railway station is a little way from the centre, which probably adds to that feeling, but despite being Austria’s third-largest city it isn’t such an obvious tourist destination as some of the others (Hitler spent his youth there and considered it his hometown, but that’s not something they make anything of) so I felt relaxed even in the city centre itself. I stayed up on one of the hills to the South of town, and walked (just under 4km) to the parkrun start though there are buses and trams nearby. There are portaloos and a drinking fountain just to the SW of the start if you need them.

Results from Donauradweg parkrun event 14, 16/7/22; 28 finishers.

Donaupark parkrun, Vienna

Donaupark parkrun route, three laps of the park by the Danube.
Donaupark parkrun route. 3 laps, anticlockwise.

Austria started parkrun in Salzburg in August 2021 and now has three events, in Salzburg, Linz and Vienna. Vienna started in October 2021, and was today on its 33rd event. It’s very easy to get to, albeit I broke with my tendency to walk to the start (it being 9+ km away from Westbahn) and hopped on the metro. From Alte Donau (‘Old Danube’) metro, on the U1 line, it’s a 400m walk and you can’t really miss it – take the Arbeiterstrandbadstraße exit, turn right and walk along the road, then cross over once you’re past the Sportcenter and you’re there.

Skyscrapers look over the park, while a hi-viz wearing volunteer gives the German-language briefing. An English one followed.
Introductory briefing from the concrete

By now I am used to hearing briefings in languages I really don’t speak, and enjoy picking out the bits that I can – three laps, clap for volunteers, qr code here if you’d like to help out in the future. But it was a somewhat wasted effort, in that the German-language briefing was immediately followed by a fulsome one in English, from a different volunteer. A nice touch, and helpful given the number of tourists.

The tall Donauturm, or Danube tower, rises in the park and the path and runners head towards it.
After the first turn, you run toward the tower. Even I couldn’t miss it.

I chatted to a couple of English people before the start, and we later found that we covered more-or-less exactly 20 years, with 10 years between each of us. They then took the Mickey out of me for not being significantly faster than them, which was fair enough. Both I and the 59 year old sandbagged; me suggesting I’d run a minute quicker than him, which made for a surprise when he came past me in the last 500m or so. There was little I could do about it, other than congratulate him.

A wide path, with trees and mowed grass on either side
Wide paths

No one really bit on my jokes about no-one knowing the name of the park (“What’s this park?” “Donau”), and how the situation only gets worse if you ask, well, okay then, what’s the river called? but I enjoyed them immensely. It’s good, I think, to have a nice time in your own head. I also had a perfectly decent time running round the park. It’s yet another parkrun with a mini-railway track running near it, and you cross that en-route.

Concrete blocks showing the park name
The briefing area, finish and start just behind here

The run is a fast and flat route, with a slight headwind today down the first/finishing straight to keep us occupied. It finishes in almost exactly the same place as it starts, so couldn’t be simpler, other than remembering to run round the edge of the area marked by the cones, rather than taking a shortcut across the tarmacced area from which the event briefing is given. The course was mostly unmarshalled, but just needed the few arrows it had to keep us heading the right way. Towards the end of the loop you take a smaller path to the right, to loop slightly away from the start/finish, but other than that I reckon I could run it again without markers, which is rare.

Post event we went to the Café Oide Donau (no, oi don’t know either) which is close, though not the cafe that is in the park so don’t head off for a post run cooldown and miss out. I sat chatting with a couple of Brits, enjoying the warm (but not too warm) weather before hopping on the metro with a new friend. Polish parkruns are great, but they do slightly miss out for not so often having a post-event cafe visit, and my three weeks there made this cafe visit all the sweeter. And this is a lovely event, which is never going to be a slow course unless there’s ice on the course. First place today celebrated that by setting a new course record – it’s not out of reach, but a good marker for decent runners to hit in the future. Whether you come for that or just to take in an Austrian parkrun, this is a easy to get to, straightforward to navigate and recommended event.

Results from Donapark parkrun event 33, 9/7/22; 58 finishers.

Poprad to Banská Bystrica, Slovakia

This journey, from Slovakia’s 10th to 6th biggest towns, also takes you from (towns with a view of) the High Tatras to the Low Tatras, though that was mostly serendipitous for me. I had pinned Poprad in my map because it was recommended by a Slovakian in whose AirBnB I had stayed, and travelled to Banská Bystrica because it seemed a fairly obvious way to break up the trip West. Bratislava was recommended by precisely no-one (despite a pretty old town), and so I was happy to spend time elsewhere.

Poprad is the gateway town for access to the High Tatras, and you can take a train to various small stations from which to start your walk, or pay a guide to sort the whole thing out for you. I did none of that, instead enjoying the bus ride from Krakow through the mountains and then walking South of town into the hills, from which the views back to the mountains (North) are dramatic.

A large cornfield fills the screen, with a flat town in the distance and the High Tatras rising behind.
View of Poprad from the South, High Tatras behind

I stayed in a cheap pension in Spišská Sobota, NE of the town (about a mile’s walk from the centre – definitely part of the town, but has its own beautiful town square, which felt very Swiss, or alpine, to me).

On the road heading South from Poprad, numbered 66, are a number of attractions, and there is an obvious patch of walking routes and hill off to the East of that. It seemed an obvious place for a walk, at any rate, so I took myself off that way, struggling up a hill or two before turning West to the lagoon at Banský náučný chodník v Kvetnici (trans as “Mining Educational Trail in Kvetnica). As an old mining site, this is a well-used site, and not a peaceful place for quiet contemplation. There is a quiet spot for barbecues and chilling out just to the East, which is where I cooled off after a few photos. The lagoon has prominent, and widely ignored, signs suggesting no swimming or fishing, and people were enjoying the place in the sun.

Brutalist apartment blocks of Poprad with mountains behind
Approaching Poprad from the South

I took the train to Banská Bystrika, which involves a change at Vrútky and takes a few hours. It also costs a bargain €9.xx via www.zssk.sk. Checking routes via the site also pops up alerts for bus services – this seems not to mean there will be a bus replacement, just that you might use alternative bus routes for the same journey. Whether a ticket bought here works on the buses, I can’t tell you. My first train was delayed by over half an hour, though, and so I assumed I’d missed my connection (with a 20 minute gap between the two). I am just old enough, however, to remember how a connected rail service works, and so as I got half way down the steps from the platform, my brain suggested that perhaps the train waiting on the adjacent platform was relevant to my interests. Sure enough, once I asked (both, for some nervy reason) the signaller and guard (actual people working on a railway – they should do away with that as soon as possible, obviously) “Banská Bystrica?”, I got a nod and jumped on. The gent I ended up sat next to immediately chatted sardonically (I think) to me, almost certainly saying something like “isn’t it great for you that we have a national rail service, which can hold one train and save you a two-hour wait, albeit I’ve had to wait an extra 20 minutes for my lovely walk?” but my Slovakian wasn’t up to it, and I made some appreciative noises as we moved off. It was great but progress led by private companies will wipe it out at some point if they are not careful.

The lovely happy gent found his English “thank you” as he hopped spryly off at Turčianske Teplice, and he was not the only backpack carrier to do so, I assume because that’s a good point to start a walk into the hills. The train hooks South then East from Vrútky to Banská Bystrica, with several stops at small towns that all looked inviting. I was happy enough to arrive in town and walk from the train station into town, with the Low Tatras another lovely backdrop. Just as good was the lovely town square, just round the corner from my accommodation, and a great surprise to me – I’d not stopped here for any reason other than convenience and a sense of progression across the country.

That part of town is full of bars and cafes, all with outdoor seating well-used at this time of year. I found a quiet cafe (Kaviareň Poetika) on a side street to the North, which was fabulous, with friendly staff and delicious food. The beer choice was slightly limited on the day – would I like the 330ml Leffe or the litre (it might have been more) of IPA (or “eepa”). I picked the former, given hunger, though machismo very nearly picked the latter.

For my full day in town, I walked the hills which are directly to the South of town. There’s a steepish but otherwise straightforward walk up to a church and then an observatory, though South of there the trails get a little ragged, and an easy exit to the East takes you out onto a busy road, so what might have been a 5-6 mile walk became nearly 10 as I retraced steps and tried an alternate route further South. That did find me some excellent shiny beetles, though, so I called it good.

Iridescent blue and green beetles look like baubles, partly hidden by leaves
Shiny beetles

parkrun Kraków, Poland

Kraków parkrun route map, a loop and a bit of the park.
Kraków parkrun route. Head anti-clockwise to the 734m mark, turn, back to the start/finish and then a complete loop of the park.

Kraków parkrun is easy to find. The start and finish are at the NW corner of the park Błonia, which is walkable from the old town, and has a tram stop directly opposite. I walked from town – about half of that time I was walking to the park, then the other half I was walking along that long straight you can see at the top of the map. It’s about a mile just for that section. That also takes you past the city stadium which this weekend was hosting the European Rugby 7s.

Grass in the middle of the park, very pale after days of sun
Blessed drizzle over the park

I had been in Warsaw at the beginning of the week. It was very warm, but cool enough on the Monday that lying in the shade in a park was pleasant. But no bedroom was air-conditioned, and the heat increased through the week. A cloudy day and downpour on Tuesday was relief enough for me to walk to the bus station on Wednesday, but Krakow was back to the same heat, and then more. As a result, the forecast drizzle and sub-20 temperatures of Saturday loomed like a mirage, even more so as the thunderstorms meant to arrive on Friday moved from the afternoon to evening to night. But sure enough, Saturday morning was cool. The pictures might look a bit dull and drizzly as a result so you’ll just have to trust me that for most of us, this was fabulous.

Chalk marks on the ground to show where to make the first turn.
The 734m turn around point

I chatted to a Frenchman at the start, after he’d explained the course to me. I hadn’t understood why on the way there I’d passed the 4km marker, then the 734m turnaround point. How would we turnaround, but still get to 4km on that stretch? It’s straightforward enough – head off clockwise to the turn, run around it and then do a complete loop anti-clockwise. So although you start on the long straight, you only run the whole length of it at the end, including that 4km marker.

4km chalked on the ground on the long straight
The long straight

I suspect the course is completely flat, but I struggled a bit, feeling like I found a headwind on that long last stretch. It might just have been a general sense of lag after a week of not sleeping very much. My brother, at any rate, thought that my next destination Slovakia suited me. I was just pleased to be warm but not hot. (Did I mention Poland was hot? So hot, for instance, that sitting on a park bench in the shade at 6pm was too warm.)

Wide and damp paths
Damp and lovely
Running along a wide path in the drizzle.
Sweeping turns and long straights
The finish line, marked with the word META
The finish line

Some friendly locals got me and others to sign the visitors’ book (/sheafs of A4) and chatted for a while at the finish line. As with other runs I’ve done in Poland, there’s no culture of heading straight to a cafe here, which is fine in the summer, and there’s plenty of space to mill about after the finish, either off to one side of the course, or the whacking great grassy area in the middle.

Results from Krakow parkrun, event 414, 2/7/22; 154 finishers.

parkrun Zamek w Malborku, Malbork, Poland

parkrun Zamek w Malborku route. Two out and backs, a long one then a short.

This region is well-served for parkruns. Other than Warsaw, they aren’t always clustered in individual cities, but there are several here that can be reached by a short train journey, particularly from Gdansk. Malbork is just a 40 minute, £2.30 train ride away (over £5 if you get the express train), and I opted to stay in town for a few days to make it even easier.

This event was their third birthday (but only event 84, thanks to Covid), and they had put the word out, upping attendance from last week’s 28 to 73. That, balloons, cake and celebrations made for a festive atmosphere, even if I and the two Irish tourists I’d bumped into on the way understood barely a word.

Group of runners walk to the start, on a path bordered by tall thin trees
Walking to the start

We were made welcome, though, and the run director made sure I knew roughly where I was going. It isn’t tricky, though this is their last run on a temporary route they’ve used while the boardwalk in front of the castle was being renovated, so you won’t need the details. Still; head North for a couple of kilometres, round the U to a turn-around point, all the way back and beyond for a few hundred metres, and back to the finish.

The sun shines through the trees that line the route
Shade covers most of this course

Today was a very warm day, comfortably over 20degrees even on the way there, let alone after the start at 9am. Much of Malbork, including parts of the boardwalk, is open to the sun, so this route was a huge bonus on a day like today. There’s an unshaded bit at the top of the course, and we really felt it at that point.

Brick pillars on either side of the path near the turn-around point
The first turnaround, 2km in. I totally missed the sign, but you go round the first barrier at the end

Swapping notes with the two Irish runners afterwards, both of us blokes had missed the sign that pretty clearly marked the first u-turn, but we had other runners to follow and made the turn without incident. The second u-turn, 550m or so from the finish, was marked by both a sign and a marker on the ground, so wasn’t hard to miss. It seemed a long way when I was going it, but it isn’t really – there is a little gradient here, so perhaps that’s why I was wishing it into view.

A wooden structure in front of the path, as the run goes round to the right then back to the left to head along the riverside
Heading back at the top of the ‘n’ shape

The first and last bits of the run are along the riverside (River Nogat), and I presume the percentage of the course that is there will only increase on the new route. Trees shield it from view much of the time, but it’s there, providing a sense of space.

Lush green vegetation by the path as the route heads through a car park
Crossing a car park towards the finish

In common with many events here, it runs with relatively few people, and just one marshal, at the car-park which is on the route. It was very quiet there, I never saw a car moving, and some cones reinforced the idea that something was happening.

The finish is on a narrow section of the path
Running in to the finish/meta

The finish is on a narrow section of the path, so we were all sure to step off the route quickly as people were still coming through the other way. I didn’t notice any problem even with 70+ people, other than a few finishers racing through the finish and having to be chased down by the lady handing out finish tokens.

Finish ("meta") sign on the path after the event, with small boats in the marina behind
A view of the marina

Afterwards we hung around and nattered while the sweat started to dry – it really was pretty warm, and stayed that way – before wandering back towards town via the boardwalk. The view of the castle there is pretty dramatic, and it’s a great backdrop for the whole thing. I had also done the tour the day before, so was filled with thoughts of the Middle and High Castles as we walked by. More usefully for a runner, if you keep going along the waterfront, you come to a man-made beach and a spot where you can take a dip in the river, which was sorely tempting today.

We roped in the run director for a fully international flavour – Polish, Irish, Irish, me.

Results from parkrun Zamek w Malborku, event 84 25/6/22; 73 finishers.

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