Poland is an obviously rapidly improving country, and thriving Wroclaw, its fourth-biggest city by population and with enviable culture, art, parks and public transport all over is a great expression of that improvement.
I didn’t know that; it just seemed a logical place to head for from Czechia, being big and on major transport routes, near to Germany for future travel, cheap and with a well-established parkrun.
The run is a straightforward out and back, on flat but slightly rough (tiny loose stones) terrain near the side of the Odra river. It is a tiny bit, a few metres only, longer on the way back, as the finish is off to the left, down the slope, with the start at the top of the slope.
The run director on the day, Kate, wandered over, knowing I was a tourist because of my 250 top. Although this was event 313, no one has run enough to yet qualify, she said, with around 225 the most. The course is simple enough, but I reassured her that I wouldn’t be out front, and she gave me a quick briefing to make sure I knew what I was doing – it’s always worth knowing there’s a group photo, for instance, otherwise you can feel you’ve worked out where the start is, then end up posing facing the wrong way, ready to race off while everyone else waves for the camera.
She also paused a few times during her run to take photos part-way down the course, which was a nice touch.
Me and the chasing pack – two of the three caught me – on the way back.
This tiny tot finishing was a highlight (she only ran the last bit, I think, with dad just ahead).
The finish is downhill, but that downward section is short. You can, though, get your charge on, along what has the look of a runway.
A lone runner heading into the finish.
View up the finish funnel.
Although the numbers are generally around 70-90 (74 today, 186 the record), it is reliably lively up front. I ran a second slower than last week, but while that was good enough for 4th at Westpark, it put me 10th here; and that despite the extra incentive of running in the second pack (of 8 or so people) for the first mile, and with different people passing each other through the run. I got a shuffle on at the end, sighting the bridge with 18 minutes just past, thinking I might nip under 19, decided it wasn’t on 30 seconds later as it started to hurt, and was then passed by a 50-something in the final 30 metres. It was all a better motivational experience than the several “just going to sit on your shoulder, m mate” merchants I’ve had over the last few weeks.
I jogged to the start, taking the road route there, past the front of the zoo, and the river route on the way back. There is an island (‘Wyspa Opatowicka’) just over the bridge, not part of the route, that’s worth a jog, too, though work going on currently means you can’t go all the way round the edge. Just near the area where everyone gathers there are some old planes, including a couple of military jets. And if you want to see futility in action, watch the branches and detritus throwing itself repeatedly at the water tumbling from the weir under the bridge. Mesmerising.
Jaz Opatowicki bridge. Next to the start/finish, but not part of the course.
Detritus dragged down stream, meets the flow coming the other way from the bridge.
Military jet. Wroclaw is written on, somewhere (I forget!).
Before my trip to Czechia, I did a quick search for ‘beautiful towns’ in the country, thinking I might find a few. In the end, rather than a list of 10 or so, I found one of 30, and promptly decided not to even try to surf across a sample, sticking to just Český Krumlov. It is a beautiful city, with a large castle looming over medieval buildings, sited on various almost-islands on a river with tight S-bends. If you just follow a river here, you might go round in circles.
I spent a couple of days walking the streets and taking in the view. Frankly, in a couple of days walking you’ll either be heading up the hill to the new town (which has supermarkets and the like) or covering the same ground more than once. It is very pretty, mind, and worth a good look but I am sure the tour groups that come through by bus feel they get a good feel for the place in a couple of hours.
Monument in a cobbled square, in the rain.
An arch under the castle, with a high walkway above
Weir with a view.
Courtyard in the Castle.
Church and buildings on the riverfront.
By day three, I fancied some different sights, so took myself off into the trails that head out of town. They are clearly marked and easy to find, mostly. I recommend maps.me, a freely downloadable app, if you have a smart phone. Not only does it allow you to download offline maps for navigation, but it is very good at pointing out trails.
I followed some markings, but at one point found myself in a quieter area. I walked down a faint trail, avoided what was definitely someone’s private pond, but wasn’t sure what the jaunty sign with a person in a red circle meant, so continued till I found a bigger trail out. “Prohibited”, is what it meant, so I shouldn’t have taken that turn.
Some trail markings.
This sign looks welcoming. It actually means cars and people are “prohibited”.
Back on the trails you are meant to walk on, there are information boards to show you what wildlife you might find. Spin the board round for info in Czech.
I recommend heading out and following a trail. There are websites with suggestions, though most appear to be GPS traces of people’s walks, including around town, which isn’t very helpful, while the best cover some distance and stay in the countryside but are point to point (not circular), so you’ll end up away from town. I didn’t find a site I could recommend. Lots of results, but not much that is useful.
Better, perhaps, to download maps.me and pick trails from that, though be prepared to change your plan if it turns out one of the trails marked there heads into a backyard. Be prepared for hills, with views over countryside once you’ve put in the work. My best advice – go out and back on the same route. Sure not to end up anywhere you shouldn’t be, and you see the route in both directions.
Some pictures from my day walking.
View through pines.
Bird hide in the woods.
Don’t forget the views. So many views.
Assuming you lose sight of town on your walk, coming back in view of those buildings and that winding river is a huge pleasure, and a reward for getting back to where you started.
A bright and sunny but cool May morning, and I jogged through the streets of Munich – wide, separate cycle paths a-plenty and greenery everywhere, not just in the parks. Westpark is also near to several stations if you want to use the excellent public transport.
The course is straightforward enough to find – head for the SE corner of the park and then walk in, West, if you don’t think you’ll get to the right spot by going through the park itself. The course is marked with cones, so those will guide you in the right direction if you’re there once it has been setup.
This isn’t an old event, with this being event 18. Attendance varies, with 39 the week before, 65 this week, and 103 at the inaugural back in January.
Westpark is lovely, and well-used, but the paths are wide and can accommodate a lot more runners, and plenty of other park users. It is a bit like Dulwich, in the UK, with wide paths making you think about what is the most efficient line through.
I ran the whole thing with another runner, who was just a little quicker up the hills. They aren’t big, but there are two that are just cruel enough to hurt if you are pushing, and both near the end of the lap. He ended up passing me, so we chatted once we had our breath back. It turned out he had just moved from London as part of the current brain-drain, knew Hertford and often ran there. And he was at this run to bring his mother-in-law, a fellow Ware Jogger. I hadn’t noticed her at the start, but we got to chat at the end. All the way to Germany and I end up running with people from home.
It’s a fairly English affair, but with plenty of locals in the field as well, making it feel German while being totally accessible to an English-speaker.
On a sunny day, the park itself is a glorious thing to stroll around once you’ve finished. Almost any direction is the right way for one of the transport stops, so stroll and be happy.
Noah’s ark installation at a park entrance (not on the run route).
Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, a country that is 60% forest, has a population of just over 2 million, and presented proof, if it were needed, that the British ruling party’s approach is to blag their way through life, as it was described by Jeremy Hunt as a ‘vassal state’. I took a similar approach to preparation, spending 5 minutes the night before learning about Slovenia and therefore arrived in the capital with just the word “Hvala”, for “thanks”. At least that let me be polite and I did, at least, manage to avoid upsetting anyone, so I am way ahead of that idiot.
He is, of course, expected to have a shot at being PM. There are depths yet to plumb.
So vote for me. Or don’t; it won’t matter, as apparently I can just interpret a vote for anyone else as a vote for me, in the modern British political world. It won’t surprise you to learn that the young, energetic, well-educated people I have met recently from the US, Germany, Brazil, Mexico and elsewhere are, without exception, laughing and scratching their heads at the state of the UK. I’ve been happy to fill in a few things (mostly a long list of UK lies told about the EU) they might have missed, which have added sympathy to their incredulity.
Slovenia, though, is busy growing vibrantly, with little time to spare worrying about the UK. It has a picturesque capital, a great place to spend a few days. I was recommended the horse burger, as “the best meat for the human body”. I don’t know about the truth of that, but for 6 euros you get a big burger. There’s a smaller one for 4.
The obvious highlights are the castle, and the view over the city from its environs, and Tivoli park. I just walked up the roads/paths to the castle and wandered round the outside (you can buy a combined entry ticket to the castle and funicular ride up its intimidating-looking aspect, if you prefer to avoid the climb).
Tivoli park is a beautiful and well-maintained park, with a, larger, forest right next door for further exploration. I was staying just a little out of the centre, and had to walk past the park to get there, so it was really the first thing I saw. I wandered round it in all sorts of different ways, and scrambled through some of the less maintained bits of the forest on a run. You really can forget you are anywhere near a city once in the woods, though you are never far from a path to somewhere.
There’s also the monument above, to which I walked mostly because it popped up on the map. Don’t make a special trip. Though the reviews on Google maps are worth a read once you’ve seen it.
“This fish changed my life. Knowing that this fish died for my sins, made me a better person… no… a better human.”
The weather has been pretty bad all week. On a particularly cold day I wandered into the City Museum, which has a very good exhibition on the history of the city on the 2nd floor. That’s all it has for the moment, so I presume it is in full off-season mode, getting the first floor ready for visitors later in the year.
Wooden shooting target; some effort put in to the decoration.
Slovenian technology exhibits. The music machine at the bottom is branded ‘Ljubljana’.
I was taken by the two-storey garages behind a housing complex.
I leave you with a fairly typical street – cobbled road and attractive buildings on either side.
Given I was heading to Lucca for parkrun in the morning, I picked up my ticket for the train the night before. The machines in Italy ask “do you want to buy your return?” when you get the first, but with tickets honestly priced (a return is twice the price of a single – which shouldn’t be a surprise, but is not how things work in the UK), there doesn’t seem much need. So I kept my options open, thinking perhaps I could run part way. How far is it from Lucca to Pisa anyway?
Finding the answer to that question (about 15 miles) led me to checking out how much pavement there is on the route, pondering whether those tracks on maps.me were private or open tracks and, finally (after spotting the road route held a hideous-looking tunnel that definitely did not look pedestrian friendly), to The Way of the Aqueducts, a mostly off-road route between the two cities. Note: these are 19th century aqueducts, not Roman, and you see them at the beginning and end of the walk, not in the hills in the middle.
I followed (more or less) the instructions on the blog below, which also has some historical information about the aqueducts, cisterns and so on on the route.
The weather forecast was off-putting, with thunderstorms due at 12 and 5, but I figured I’d wait and see how bad the first was, and see if I could make it before the worst of the second. After some time poking round Lucca, which is a pretty city, and eating a burger and chips, which is a luxurious brunch, it was midday, the weather was set fair and I followed the subway under the railway lines to the start of the walk.
Some sights from Lucca. I walked at random, so these attractions are picked at random and you may have to take it on trust that Lucca is a pretty city. There’s a great nun joke in there, though.
How much water did she get? Nun.
Towers at an archway.
People walking through cloisters.
City wall park.
Whichever city you start in (and for reward, Pisa to Lucca is probably the one that ends with more of a high, and a long downhill to recuperate from a tough up), the first few kilometres are as straight and flat as you like, with the aqueduct running alongside the path. I passed few people, but some were out walking dogs and the occasional cyclist rolled along.
Wait, I am back on the pilgrim route? Ah; an alternative one (main now goes Pisa-San Miniato).
Temple-cistern of San Concordio.
Water source under the aqueduct.
Ivy growing in an arch.
There’s a footbridge over the A11 – at this point the aqueduct has been removed, rather than removing the top of high vehicles. After that, you’re heading away from traffic, following a path that weaves around the gardens of houses. The path isn’t totally direct, taking a left turn after the cistern of Guiamo, which marks the start/finish of the arches. A grassy, stoney path follows filtering wells and cisterns, before turning right to head towards “The words of gold”. These are inscribed on a bridge, and actually made of brass; they are named because people mistook it for gold.
Cistern of Guamo, 3km from the start (or finish) in Lucca.
A filtering well.
Just beyond the words of gold.
Path past the words of gold.
A climb behinds, past these stone ‘steps’ in the (empty) waterway.
Plenty of signs at this point.
After that site, the route climbs steadily, passing a dry set of stone cascades running down the slope. This is path 128, and you might see that number painted on trees from time to time. At the top of the first hill is the Astronomical Observatory of Capannori. The observatory itself is a further short walk uphill, if you want to get close enough to see it properly, though the site itself is likely to be locked.
From here it is a downhill walk on quiet, paved roads, into the village of Vorno. If you search for the route you will find organised trips that stop here, but I was only a couple of hours in and so continued on the roads, uphill and out of the city. There are signs to Pisa to make sure you take a left turn past the community centre. I was lulled by following the road and initially missed the left turn off the road, marked by a painted number 124. I was also confused by the multiple “Privato!” signs in this area, but it’s just a case of eliminating the impossible and going with what is left – private straight on, so follow the road uphill, then turn left onto the mule trail, steep and rocky initially, before the next private property. There are also plenty of Via Francigena markings (a white and a red stripe) on this route, for reassurance (though I did not follow these markings for all of my walk).
Mule track out of Vorno – note the VF marker.
Track climbing through denuded forest.
Path 124 marker painted on a tree.
I stopped at what turned out to be the top of the climb, just over halfway through, and allowed myself a late lunch. Checking directions from the other blog post, I realised I was at Campo Croce, which is marked by a sign and multiple paths leading off in different directions. To the right of the sign, the path is marked by a VF marker, but the instructions are to take another path, to the left of the sign, which I did, thoroughly enjoying going downhill on a wide path.
Campo di Croce sign.
Many paths cross at Mirteto – 119 is the route, but I stayed on 117 (which had already been steep) to ease the load, and was rewarded by goats.
You are apparently taking path 16 here, then on to 119. It isn’t all clearly marked, but so long as you take the path to the left of the sign, you’re fine. And many of the others will get you there – have a look on maps.me (free app), if you have a smartphone.
Spectacular views over the valley, off to the left of the path
Views over the valley – enough to make you miss your turn.
Crucially, you need to watch out for a right-turn towards Mirteto. There is a signpost here, but it is partially hidden by trees.
Signpost – Mirteto off to the left, red arrow.
View heading downhill – sign off to the right, as is your path.
After following that path for a while, you come to a t-junction that is actually a crossroads. There’s a wide path to the left. Ignore it! And a wide path to the right! Walk on that for a metre or two, then take the little path to the left, downhill (so heading back in the direction you were heading when you got to the junction). The other paths do loop round, if you don’t fancy the steeper path down.
Wide path to the right, yours on the left.
Heading downhill, spotting a VF marker. Very reassuring, given the roughness, and in places steepness, of this path.
It is a bit of a clamber in places, but look – despite having ignored the VF-marked path at Campo di Croce, we’re back on that route again. A lot of these paths are connected, so you can’t go too far ‘wrong’, just some are more direct than others.
That path was steep enough that when I had the option to continue on it, down a steep-looking small path, or take a shallower, more obvious, route on path 117, down to Mirteto, I took the latter. It’s not much further, and there are goats.
Mirteto itself is an abandoned settlement, but (by the standards of a mostly deserted route), a popular one, as people trek up there from Asciano.
Path 119 into Asciano.
Cisternone (big cistern) above Asciano.
View over Asciano; easy route, and easy navigation from here.
Looking back at the hills from Asciano, for a sense of achievement.
Signs to Lucca and Pisa. And Asciano has a Carrefour express!
Pisa 1.5hrs. Lucca 6.3. Only if you stop (the whole took me 6:15 in total).
The best bit of Asciano was its Carrefour Express. A can of Pepsi, one of beer and a bottle of water for €1.45; find a bench in the small park behind the shop.
Finally, it’s a long, straight walk into Pisa, following more aqueduct arches. It’s still over 5km from here, but you can get a shuffle on if you want, now it’s flat, and there are more water sources (with locals filling up water bottles) under the arches. How long you follow the arches for depends on where you are headed to in Pisa – I became a little mesmerised by them and headed further into the centre than I needed to, but it is a pretty city. Prettier than its “everyone comes for the tower, it’s only worth a day” reputation.
Medici aqueduct, en route to Pisa.
Aqueduct arches, not always totally intact.
One end of the Medici aqueduct.
Flowers grow under the arches.
A broken arch, despite the metal support.
Brick gateway, Pisa.
The path is very close to the road, which makes it noisy in places, but there are wildflowers growing right under the arches, and I never got bored of looking over at them as I passed. I absolutely loved this walk – it came out at just under 26kms, from the start to my hostel in Pisa, which was just South of the railway station. On reflection, I think it might be more beautiful the other way, as you’d get the biggest climb out of the way, then head down into Vorno, and end up walking down to the Words of Gold before the flat walk into Lucca. But there isn’t that much in it. Just perhaps don’t get over-optimistic and think “right, I’ll run there to parkrun!” Save it for afterwards.
Several people recommended this parkrun to me, both travellers and Italians, so at some point I decided to save it for my last weekend in Italy. It’s certainly a fabulous one (though I don’t pick favourites; they’re all great). A loop all the way round the city walls, looking down at the city, or over surrounding hills (and at other people promenading round the raised route).
As the finish line photo shows, in places the route is very wide. It is never narrow, but runners will have to weave a little to move round other path users, and watch out for bikes. A large group of walkers came through after many of us had finished, but their presence was no surprise; why wouldn’t you use such a fabulous walkway?
The route round the walls is under 5km, so the start takes you clockwise to the first monument, turn left to go round that clockwise, then back, now anti-clockwise, past the start and all the way round to finish in the same place.
It’s flat and fast, barely an undulation to slow the pace; just any loss of concentration, which can be easy if you’re used to differing terrain, or hills, to keep you thinking. Two locals raced off into the distance, but another sat on my shoulder for much of the run, which kept me working. This was only his fourth parkrun, 2 here and 2 in Florence, and he took a minute off his best (after a gap of several months), so the competition did us both some good. And I kept him honest, too, sometimes shaping to go right round walkers, then choosing left, which must have made him check where my heels were.
This wasn’t an especially warm day, though the sun came out during the run, but the course is lined by trees and would give some good shade cover on a warmer day. The event team were enthusiastic, with several English speakers who came over (more than once) to explain the route and make sure we knew what we were doing, as well as a run briefing in Italian and English.
There were also plenty of tourists; a couple of cyclists from Cambridge, who had caused a minor incident with their husbands by heading off to do a parkrun ahead of 50 miles+ cycling later in the day. A couple of South Africans, one cycling round. A friendly group from Huddersfield, who eyed up my 250 shirt even as I did the same to theirs. And an Englishman who now lives in Australia and had spent a month in Lucca, but was only able to do the parkrun at the last, thanks to a dodgy knee. Plenty of people to talk to and share travel/holiday stories.
I stayed in Pisa, a half-hour train ride away (7:50 gets you in at 8:23, the station is 400m from the start and has free (squat) toilets). Just be warned that the shortened “2to” platform on some displays means “2 ovest”, which platform is next to platform 1. Platform 2, which is where my train was, is a completely different one, with a different train leaving at 7:50.
British tourists chat. The ladies have flower for Mothers’ Day.
Mura di Lucca parkrun start.
Pisa also makes for easier travel to Florence for a bus on Sunday morning, which suits me. I still had time to wander round the pretty town of Lucca for a couple of hours, marvelling that I was poking through lanes, finding piazzas and art, all in an area round which I had already run. It brought it home that 4.4km encircles quite a large area.
A two-lap course, on another (like Caffarella) typical Roman park, in that it is not a manicured park of flowers and fountains, but a half-wild open space with paths. On a rainy day, the trail course was at its best (in that it was muddy) and worst (in that it was slippery).
It rained through the early part of the morning, as I wandered through Rome to the Parco Regionale Urbano del Pineto. It’s a decent walk from Roma Termini (8km or so), but I had time to walk, and time thereby to see a few sights and also get very wet, despite an umbrella. Following directions on my phone got me there just fine, but I was sure that I wouldn’t have to follow the twisty road through the middle of the park – there’ll be a way in to the park, I’ll just take that! There is no way, or not till you get near the North end of the road, and at that point I wasn’t about to risk diving into the park through long wet grass.
If you go, walk North on the path behind Balduina station, or get the train all the way to Gemelli, and avoid that road through the middle. Not only is it twisty, the pavement comes and goes, and the cars go. Never quite dangerous, but I paused once or twice to let cars go by and then move round the overgrowing plants. On a dry day, less of an issue.
The run itself is lovely. Lots of the regulars were up in Lucca, as there’s a half marathon there tomorrow, so there were 18 of us, exactly half tourist first-timers. Normally the briefing would be in Italian, but today Salvatore did it in English, with assistance from an English migrant who works as a librarian in the city.
We were warned it might be a bit slippery on the paths, and the grass might be more secure, and they were right. I ran with another tourist, and we both slipped and slid. In my case, I took the experience of the first lap, forgot it and got into the same or worse positions on the course, the second time around.
It’s lovely, though, and the rain more or less abated as we got ourselves round. The course looks complicated, but with signs and cones all round, there was no chance to get lost. As it’s up on a hill, there are also views of Rome, below, though we were too busy looking at our footing to see them till the end.
The run to start the second lap, and to the finish, is uphill, which is tough at the end, though it isn’t that big a hill. It certainly isn’t the quickest course, even more so when wet. But the welcome is warm, organisation slick and it gives you an excuse to see a part of Rome less travelled to.