Christmas Day, which is a special day for parkrun. Not every run happens, but those that do can now count on a bumper turnout. Every year, but gets more popular to start the day with a free 5k.
Castle Park is right in the centre of Bishops Stortford, so there is plenty of parking nearby (I chose Elm Lane for the memories, having parked there for my trip to Sicily in January 2018, returning to a car with iced-up door handles). The run isn’t the quickest – although flat, it is mostly on fields, and this Christmas morning saw some of the tarmac sections a little slippery. It was a great occasion, just shy of 300 people running round fields, many of them in Santa hats and other festive details, Merry Christmas called out all round the place.
Christmas parkrun comes but once a year. That’s all the more reason to seek one out and make sure to add it to your planning for the day.
My second parkrun in Germany, and it’s a different course to Berlin. Which isn’t saying much – they’re all different in some way. This one is still in a lovely park, even on a brisk Autumnal morning, with occasional sunshine to warm bones.
It’s pretty fast and flat, none of the turns too sharp, and just a few muddy patches to slow us down a little. A straight on after the left at the top left of the course, as shown above, wasn’t completely obvious on my first run through. Second time round, the signs had been put back up, presumably after blowing down; either side of the path, they made the only indistinct section completely obvious.
There were marshals on course, too, and an American event director. She speaks German but, for speed, did the pre-run briefing just in English. It was a bit cold before we set off, though the day was warming up a bit so for running, at least, it was a lovely day.
This close to Christmas, the finish was decorated with some stand up wooden snowmen and the like, with a nice festive feel. My whole morning was great. Getting to the start is, I am told, simple using public transport. Even better, I thought, was the run there – along trails, once out of the centre, and I took a slightly more scenic route back, South through the park before joining up with trails again. Frankfurt has plenty of riverfront to run along, too, so it’s a great place to explore on foot.
My fastest parkrun of the year, and quickest since almost exactly two years ago, when I ran at my 250th different venue, Beckenham Place. Add a visit from Rosie Swale-Pope, who has run round the world, sailed across the Atlantic, and who ran here from the UK, and this was a great parkrun for me.
It’s also a lovely place to run, even on a freezing-cold day. I ran there in hat and gloves, and regretted neither (despite usually running a little warm), though I did take the hat off for the run itself, mostly so I could tuck my phone in it and leave it at the start, in a pile with other people’s bags and coats.
The course looks more complicated than it is. Start in the middle, and head West, to go clockwise. You do one big loop round the edge, ignoring the circle. And you only run the very bottom right section once, on that first big loop. The second time round, you take a right turn (marshalled) to run up the hill and complete the circle. Once you have run the circle, you are back where you made the turn, so this time you have to run past the turn. Which might be confusing. Run round the top section and take a right turn into the finish. Here’s a Strava Fly-By.
The run briefing was in English. Germans have taken to parkrun, and the number of events is growing steadily. Less than half the crowd, however, headed off to one side for the announced first-timers’ briefing in German, while the rest of us stuck around to hear the English version. And like an English parkrun, the start was pell-mell, with several people heading off very fast and then slowing. Noticeable for me purely because I just haven’t experienced that for a long time, so can’t help thinking it’s a British thing, though it may just be what happens once you get a larger field of people – 97 here, when recently I have been at runs with 11, 13, 30 odd, etc.
It’s a fast course, despite my watch deciding it was a little bit long. Although a whole group of people were out of sight in front of me, I was very pleased to feel like I was moving quickly, and see my mile splits were within a few seconds of each other. The difference was caused by the bit with the hill in. It is otherwise a pretty flat course, gently rising up one side and down the other, with one dip and climb, which is very short but feels tough at any sort of effort. The park itself is picturesque; autumnal now (what, in Autumn, you mean?) but must be green and pleasant in summer. There are trees all around, so there will be blessed shade on a hot day, too.
For me, a lovely gallop, a nice chat with a couple of Germans at the end (they weren’t so hard to find, despite all the Brits) and with Rosie in passing, and a whole new parkrun-country added to my profile. If I can just get to South Africa (technically Namibia and eSwatini have parkruns too, though for now they come under South Africa) then I will join a select group who have run in each country. Till the next one starts (editor’s note – the next one, Japan, has now started, with Netherlands following on 29/2/20).
Those names in Polish; Museum Narodowe w Poznaniu and Museum Historii Miasta Poznania. Both museums are in the old city, a short walk from one another. The town museum, and others in the old town, come under the auspices of the National Museum, in fact, which can be confusing if you follow links from Google Maps and keep being taken to the same website.
Poznan has an attractive centre, cobbled streets and old buildings abound. The central square is huge, as with other Polish cities, and with a similar arrangement to that of Krakow – a town hall and tower, remnants of old market buildings, and gaps where the scales (big buildings!) used to be. Outside there, even more ordinary buildings are attractive, with iron balconies and architectural flourishes. Just exactly what I needed after the starkness of more utilitarian North American/recent building.
Poznan town square, old town.
Tree-lined avenue, North of Poznan.
Frederic Chopin park.
To the museums. First up, I went to the National Museum. Unlike in Warsaw, where I expected more about Poland’s history, I knew to expect mostly art. The plan of the museum looks confusing, with ground, 1st and 3rd floors full, and the second only a partial display. But the flow is good, and I was surprised to realise I had come through the second and was back down onto the 1st. Yes, that sounds daft. It probably was, but I was just enjoying being somewhere that I knew roughly what I was doing, rather than blundering the wrong way round and being unable to say “excuse me, is there a natural order to this place?”
First up, the special exhibition of Josef Brandt, known for his paintings of historic battles. I thought they were magnificent, though all together, some were a little samey after a while.
Jan Karol Chodkiewicz during the battle of Khotyn”, oil on canvas 1865.
Tartar and Cossack paraphernalia.
Cossack on horseback.
Detail of market scene.
Painting detail, Josef Brandt.
Downstairs, in the basement, is the ancient art, then the medieval is upstairs and from there you are into different, more modern, periods, primarily Polish but also Italian, German and Spanish.
First, some ancient items.
Mummy – sarcophagus of Iret-Hor-Irou.
This is ancient, and still colourful. 6th century BC, from memory.
Terrible picture, but 11th century BC at the oldest – look at the colours!
I tend to be less interested in the medieval, which concentrates on religion.
Christ on a donkey. That’s what it said.
Medieval Triptych, including St George.
There were a few pictures of people with pitchers. Without exception, all were very happy.
And finally, a few more modern paintings.
January Suchodolski, [Napoleon’s troops] Fording the Berezina River, c.1859.
Modern art gallery.
Modern Polish art, climbers.
I walked into the old town a little, to the old town hall, which contains the Museum of the Cit of Poznan. It’s not a huge museum, nor an expensive one at 7 PLN, and not everything has much description in English. But the inside of the building is a great sight in itself, and it’s worth a walk around. Lots of stairs involved.
Every day at midday, two goats come out above the clock and butt heads, while a trumpeter plays. It is surprisingly good. I only made it on my final day – I kept running too long and returning at 11:30 or 11:45 and not quite making it. But I am very glad I did.
The exhibits are wide-ranging. They give a flavour of the place, particularly all the guild exhibits in the first room. Otherwise, its a range of ephemera from the history of the city.
Shoemaker’s guild glass – it has been painstakingly repaired.
Town hall main room ceiling.
Ancient plates and container – again, so colourful.
Oldest view of Poznan, c. 1618.
Old Polish coins. Mostly, I was surprised at how similar, but of lesser quality, they seemed to (much older) Roman sesterces.
Some more pictures from the town hall. I have little to add, except that it is worth a visit, and is unlikely to take more than an hour of your time.
4 continents represented by paintings. This is America; an Indian wearing a panache (new to me in this context: “A bunch of feathers or a plume, especially on a helmet).
Poznan city arms.
King Wladyslaw the Short, or “elbow-high” as wikipedia has it.
Decorated door frame and lintel.
Postcards satirising German occupation and disallowal of eduction in Polish.
Modern Polish painting – the dance.
Finally, one of my room mates left his bed like this. I am not convinced this is how you convince people the bed is occupied.
Zielona Gora is a largish town in the West of Poland and therefore, if you are travelling across Poland on the way to Germany and then the UK, on the way home. It also begins with a Z, as does its parkrun. Running parkruns beginning with different letters is a ‘thing’. Not a thing I have worked hard at – I had covered a lot of letters by sheer virtue of having toured before many people, and before these things got discussed (though uber-tourist Freyne has always had it in mind, and been way ahead of everyone else). I skipped Zillmere in Brisbane, though it was possible for me to get there, because I might have been a bit late for a friendly gathering at Commonwealth cycling. And there is no X at the mo, and I’m of the view that therefore you can’t ‘do’ the alphabet. But still, you can ‘do’ a “parkrun alphabet” and I have picked up extra letters when the chance has come. Like today!
The day was blessedly warmer than last weekend – a 20 degree swing, in fact, from -12 to 8, making the second layer almost academic. Almost. It was cold in places in the woods. I could probably have run without gloves, though, whereas last weekend, even two pairs had left my hands aching at the finish. I jogged to the start, temporarily confused by the work going on to upgrade the railway station. At one point I was jogging down platform 1, it turned out, which, like the road I started on, offered no way across the tracks. The flags were in place, but no people – no, wait, there is one volunteer there, in the trees. He was it, for the event team, but I had spotted their facebook post asking for volunteers and downloaded the parkrun volunteer app, which allowed me to scan barcodes after I’d finished. I’d never done it before, but it is super easy.
The out and back section, bottom right on the map.
There weren’t many of us there, so a short briefing later – this after the event director had described the course to me in English, though I had recced some of it and knew the outline – and we strolled the few metres to the start. Then everyone faced the wrong way! Oh, a photo. I really am blundering my way through things in Poland, usually only having any idea because of context. So long as the first question in a shop is “do you want a bag?” then I am fine. If they are saying something else, then who knows what I am rejecting.
We started. An energetic dog led the way, coming back to us whenever it thought there was a chance one of us might stop and throw a stick. That was pretty great, then, after the first turn, two deer burst out of the trees on our left, galloped across the path and disappeared, stage right. Another one pulled up short as our gallop got too close, and ran off the other way. I’m sure it worked out for them in the end.
The course is easy to follow, just a few turns and one out and back to get right. The first left turn sign had blown over in the wind before the start, but was replaced in time, and in any case, most people knew what they were doing; two of us were first-timers. A hardy 60-something ran topless, and went through a routine of loosening up before scanning his barcode at the end. Good on him. Another runner took over handing over the tokens, and the event director probably got to relax and enjoy the rest of it, though with only 13 of us, he’d probably have managed okay anyway. It’s not the quickest course. Flat enough, and not muddy, just soft underfoot. Sandy covering on a hard-packed mud base? Something like that, and some tree roots and the like to watch for. Not difficult, just notably slower than tarmac.
Group photo before the start.
Jogging back to the finish (knee strap fell off in the final stretch).
People didn’t hang around afterwards, and my offer to ease round and collect signs was unnecessary or un-understood, so I jogged back through the centre of town, showered, packed and was back into the centre before midday, for a 12:41 train to Poznan. Both last night and this morning I had followed the main road, all new and modern shops. This time, I spotted cobbled streets off to my right and followed them to find what seemed to be the ‘true’ town centre; shops and squares a-plenty.
The hostel I stayed in, Woodpecker, is directly opposite a theatre, which allows a great view if your room is on the right side.
I was warned about the air quality on returning from a run, and it isn’t great – much worse than, say, Poznan, or Berlin, but the city is such a pleasure to walk around that it is worth ignoring if not too bad. Some sights from wandering round the old town, below. These were all taken within several minutes walk of my base, at the NE corner of the old town, but the place isn’t that small, it being a mile or so to the river, just past the castle and cathedral.
Florianska (street), Krakow.
Old buildings with church behind.
Arch outside the railway station and shopping centre.
I wandered round mostly the outside of Wawel Castle and the Cathedral, though I paid (frankly, because it was the first ticket office I found and the price, 12 PLN, was cheap enough that I didn’t check what it was for) to go into the Royal Tombs and up the tower of the Cathedral. The ticket also covers the museum, but I was thoroughly confused when I came out, didn’t know to look for it, and didn’t stumble over it. This sort of cluelessness has been fairly typical in Poland, though without any danger resulting.
Wawel Castle, NE corner.
Big bell, Cathedral.
Main pedestrian entrance.
Krakow is well-served by trams, or streetcars, which buzz around efficiently. I say that confidently because they look it, not because I have actually been on one, preferring to run down the river, both ways, by way of exploration.
The main square, with cloth hall down the middle and tower, all that remains of the town hall, dominant. Other buildings, weighing buildings, rich stalls (selling goods to the rich!) were removed in the 19th century when they fell into disuse.
The centre also looks great in the dark, and I caught the horse and trap gathering just before they peeled off to look for punters.
Krakow square and christmas tree.
Cloth halls and horse-and-carts peeling off in front.
I also visited the town museum. Assuming I had the right place – and, gosh, I have blundered into the wrong ones often enough in Poland – then reviews tell you there are exhibits below the square. But there is construction going on, so for now there is a cybertech exhibition to take you through the history of the place’s growth. Tickets on the first floor, ignore the meeting happening to your right, then exhibit behind another closed door on the second floor. All of that I navigated fine. Then I set off round the exhibits in the wrong order. There were signs. Small signs. I wonder if I head the wrong way because I am left-handed and whatever people think will be an obvious flow is not obvious to me? I have made a habit, anyway, of going round museums the wrong way unless the signs are very clear. It’s not deliberate.
That cover image sums up my view of Warsaw nicely – modern and old, all together. Prosperity really seems to have hit, and the capital is lively and lovely, with shops, restaurants, cafes, sights, museums and parks all over. I headed for the National Museum, to the East of the centre, and set on a magnificent bridge. I’d run past it on Saturday, and the bridge had seemed particularly imposing from below; it wasn’t clear how I could clamber up onto it, but there are large sets of stairs underneath, which branch out to allow you onto either side of the bridge from below.
Church and statue.
Old town square. Musicians are playing in front of the tree.
Old town Warsaw, with the new in the foreground.
The museum is 25 PLN for entry to everything (20 if you want to skip the temporary exhibition. 30 if there are two of those), and another 10 if you want an audio tour. The temporary exhibition (Shouting: Poland! Independence 1918) is on Poland and it’s shifting state of independence, as different groups invade, life settles between wars before more invasions. The exhibition is, like the rest of the museum, heavy on the art, light on exposition, which works for this subject. Different rooms have different subjects, from war and its effects, to the cult of the hero (Marshal Pilsudski is depicted in a bewildering array of styles and media, paintings to sculpture).
1905 Revolution and art.
War and its effects gallery.
Polish armies at war
Painting – rifle bullet (bullet depicted as woman, capriciously picking out a soldier).
Marshal Pilsudski. Some depictions show him as large and imposing. This painting, less so.
I had expected more text about Poland and its history, and wasn’t quite ready for the amount of art. There are two huge galleries covering 19th century art (which then leads into 20th and 21st century) and The Old Masters, on the top floor.
Also on the 1st floor, with the 19th century art, is the gallery of Polish design, which is short, full of interesting artefacts, and fascinating.
Polish design gallery.
Crystal and Alexis, toaster and kettle; named, aspirationally, after Dynasty characters.
On the ground floor, I initially missed the Nubian art exhibition, tucked away (or really obvious, depending on where you look first) to the left of the ticket office. A big deal when first uncovered in the 1970s, the site has now been washed away. Some of the findings “found their way” to a gallery in Sudan, and some here in Poland; my impression was that this wasn’t the same colonial ‘preservation’ as other National Museums have, more the result of how the art was found. It’s astonishing, at any rate, to think just how old much of this is, some in remarkably good condition.
Nubian art – shhhh.
Nubian art – cross.
I wasn’t as bothered with the medieval art exhibition, heavy on the religious iconography, though the triptychs are beautiful. Also: dimly lit, so there’s no picture.
Medieval gallery (a little blurred).
Christ on the cross.
Job being mocked by his wife.
Finally, the main galleries. A smattering of the art within. I have little to add, because I just wandered and soaked it up. A wiser person might pause halfway through the museum, and regather energy before heading for the second enormous gallery. I chose to head back into the 19th century one after the old masters, which was reasonably effective as a way of viewing it through fresh eyes. The galleries are an art history tour, taking you through different artistic movements.
Sights of Venice, Old Masters gallery.
Battle of Grunwald, Jan Matejko.
Battle of Grunwald, Jan Matejko.
Stańczyk, Jan Matejko.
Battle of Somosierra, January Suchodolski.
Town Hall in Vilnius, Marcin Zaleski.
I had run past a statue of Jan Matejko in the morning, at that point clueless as to his significance. I had spotted that he was an artist, mind – see if you can guess how from the picture below. It felt like a nice piece of serendipity to then see some of his art on the same afternoon.
There are plenty of parkrun options in Warsaw but in the end I settled for the one nearest to my hostel. I was glad of that afterwards; with freezing hands, more than 4km back would have been intimidating, though actually I defrosted on the jog back.
This was event 286, with 56 attendees. All, as an English bloke from St Albans said at the beginning, looked lean and fit, but then these were no conditions to come for a gentle walk round.
The run is in the park behind/to one side of the National Stadium. The grey area at the bottom left of the photo is part of the stadium; the park is over a busy road, but not hard to find. I jogged there, timing it reasonably well by getting there at 8:45. It was -12 or so, no weather to be standing around. Poles tend to greet each other and shake hands, so I did that with whoever was looking and after some mutual leg and arm swinging, as we tried to stay warm, we all walked to the start.
The course is very flat. It’s a 2 and a bit lapper, heading anti-clockwise, then on the third time round, turning left to go down the central section to the finish. Worth knowing in advance, as there was no marshal there. Luckily I had someone to follow, so didn’t miss it – I am sure it is well explained; but in Polish.
It’s a scenic spot, very wide paths passing trees and lakes as you head round the park. Plenty of room to pass other park users, who were sparse in the cold. My hands got extremely cold, despite two pairs of gloves. Part of the problem, I think, was having my phone stuffed in one hand, which kept that hand from forming a fist, and meant the phone itself could carry its coldness into the hand. At the end, my thumb knuckle was numb, and fingertips painful. In a moment of madness, I was convinced that taking gloves off was a good idea, but I quashed it, pushing those painful fingers into nooks and crannies to warm them up while the Poles joked about an Aussie couple who had run in -20, reckoning it the coldest temperature they had ever seen. It’s cold, and I am not sure it entirely helped my running; just a little too much cold air coming into my lungs. This was my fourth second-place finish in a row, and a frustrating one, given that I was gaining towards the finish and had probably given up too much ground at the beginning. Still a fun run out, though.
I didn’t hang around at the end, jogging back over the massive and imposing bridge past the National Stadium. My hands warmed enough to take pictures of the ice flowing along the river, and the lego heads out on the sand, for which I have no explanation.