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

Limavady parkrun

Unencumbered by having some landowner permissions dependent on the full lifting of restrictions, parkrun was able to return in Northern Ireland on June 26th – unlike England, Scotland and Wales. I’d already booked a trip, but was only in Northumberland till the Friday before, allowing me to hop on a ferry from Cairnryan and head over.

I picked a small event, both to avoid any over-excitement and to make sure I wasn’t a part of a tourist invasion – though that didn’t happen on this first weekend. Limavady is a small town in County Londonderry, with the run taking place in a long, thin park in the middle of town. It’s not quite a mile round, so to get the 5k it’s three laps then a little bit extra (more than you might want, if flagging) to the finish.

Limavady parkrun route. Start at bottom left.

Outside of a pandemic, they use the leisure centre for changing etc., from where it’s a short walk to the start. They had suggested using the closer car park in the hospital, but it really isn’t far from the centre and I just parked there.

There was a general feeling at the start of relief as much as joy at being back, with people slightly amazed that it had been 66 weeks since the last event – many had expected to be paused for just a few weeks. Overall, although I felt a warm glow as I finally got to the finish, it felt more like the “oh yes, that’s parkrun” feeling I’ve had when overseas, in which case that acts as proof that it’s really no different in a foreign country. I suppose I’d explain that feeling as showing that it felt no different, and very familiar, even after a year out.

A little burst of excitement at seeing familiar signs. Yes, it is really happening!

The paths, as you can see, are fairly narrow, though no problem with under 100 people (59 on this day). Anyone who has started too far back can use the grass to avoid getting stuck. There’s a tight turn at the far end, round a loop then back onto the same path, so for a very short period, runners/walkers are going in both directions. It’s not flat – the first straight is slightly downhill, there’s a short and sharper uphill after the turn, and a little more uphill to come at the end of the lap.

The event director keeping it short, as per guidelines.

Although I’ve had to resign myself that being slower that a couple of years ago is now a feature, not a bug, I managed not to be lapped, and this was the fastest I’ve run in a long, long time. Proof that just being around others wakes up my competitive side. There were a few spectators watching from the side of the park – a lapped course makes that relatively easy. In fact, if you were particularly keen, the park is narrow enough that you could go from side to side for each lap, and support someone multiple times if you really wanted to gee them along.

From behind the finish line.

It was perfect weather for running – cool but bright – and just a joy to be back. I wasn’t sure if I’d get the bug for parkrun every Saturday again, but it came back pretty quickly. More to do with the pleasure of finishing than the uncertainty of “how much will this hurt?” at the start, for me, but definitely still there.

The finish line; a couple of trees just off the course.

Results from Limavady parkrun, event 255, 26/6/21.


Great Amwell, United Kingdom

Great Amwell, United Kingdom

An early morning start, up at 3.30, leaving roommate Scott to sleep off the pint over which we’d shared stories last night and on to the shuttle bus to the depot. There were people up in the hotel bar, but not waiting for the bus – they were still finishing off the night before.

Reykjavik airport has big queues, Icelandair had warned, but their refurbishments seem to be sufficiently far along to mitigate the problem, so I was checked in, had dropped my bag off before 5.30 and was through security before passport control was even open. I could have taken an extra half hour or more in bed, but no matter.

Just under three hours and the plane landed at Heathrow. Mixed feelings – looking down over Thames Ditton and Bushy park was cool, realising where I was, less so. But that’s one trip ended, on to the next thing.

I got Seoul

I got Seoul
Seoul, South Korea

Seoul, South Korea

Friday started creakily. The instructor at BAF – I’m not sure if it’s “British army fitness” because they’re free of the BMF shackles at home, or just to make for the BAFIK acronym – had suggested ‘you’ll be sore in a couple of days, mate’, but it had kicked in straight away, and surely couldn’t be worse tomorrow. All those box jumps and bouncing up using the bridge balustrades for balance had done for my back, and dips and push ups added some subsidiary pain for my arms.

First, an errand. While my washing washed, I followed hostel Jimmy’s directions – this road, left, then keep going straight – and found my way first to Hongik University and then to the branch of Korea Post that, if you didn’t know to “keep gong straight”, you’d claim was a bit hidden away. It’s certainly not where I’d expect the local post office to be, but I was there so who cared? A box was 500 won, and after I’d packed it with ticket stubs, world championship souvenirs and a few other bits, I was ready with my guesstimate of 12000 won for surface mail. It was 5900. Not a rate I can see on their website for international postage but, always assuming it makes it, a bargain. Now my bags are a little lighter, and have fewer “ooh, I’ll keep that, it reminds me of…” things to keep making a decision about keeping.

I moved slowly, with no particular agenda, using my Yorkshire pass (T-money, it’s called) to move me round the city to Jamsil, exploring the Lotte department store there, and getting a little lost round the outside of theme park, Lotteworld. By now I’d realised that without concerted effort I wasn’t going to find a plain singlet to get the Seoul flyers logo imprinted on – it’s only 10k won, but an overnight service, and I’d used time up on it already. The sports sections of malls were a bit useless, all JJB sports (home of the non-exercise trainer and sportswear) in British terms. Near Dongdaemun there is a long strip of sport stalls in the underground mall, but all sell football and some baseball tops. Department stores have Asics, Puma, Descente and Coq Sportif concessions but with only t-shirt running gear. And an honourable mention to Nike, who appear to have somehow instructed their staff to follow closely on the heels of customers like me, which annoyed me so much when it was repeated in a second store that I arranged an inpromptu boycott of any others I came across. Not really the Korean/Japanese way of service, which is why it stood out.

After a run with a Canadian who joined me at the last “ooh, you’re going for a run-mind if I join you?” minute, which let my legs feel a little better by the end of the 5k local loop, on Friday evening I went for dinner with Swiss Marco, a Korea lover on his third visit, though with no great idea of where to go, just like me. I will admit I was going to get a takeaway pizza, but settled for Donbuki (sp?) which are cylindrical rice cakes, then a beer back at the hostel.

Marco was still jet lagged, and joined by German Max, who had topped off six months of bar work with a madcap two weeks travelling and fallen a bit ill, we were quite the sleep-in room by now. I was up a bit earlier on Saturday and at least got my run in first. Temperatures have dropped to the point where a run at midday is no longer foolhardy, and it is even cool when the sun goes down, and I passed a slow and painful five miles with the backdrop of the Han river, some Korean metal band playing to a relaxed audience sat in plastic chairs at garden tables, and plenty of other people exercising. I went off to the Olympic park stop to add another stadium to the list of those I’ve seen, only to find that the station is at the far end of the park from the stadium, and the stadium isn’t in the park anyway. Word to the wise, Chamsil stadium is next to the baseball stadium, at the Sports Complex stop (line 2). I got to see the gymnastics and handball arenas, along with the velodrome, on the way through, caught a tiny bit of a folk festival and then some classical outside the Olympic museum. It’s small but perfectly formed, the museum, with Korea’s first medallist-a marathoner, perfect-heavily featured. I also had a Korean give me his politics intro, fairly sure the Japanese were dirty, Iran, Iraq, North Korea all not good, along with others. But if you can’t understand it, it might not be racism, right?

The walk along Olympic-ro is festooned with statues, discus, weightlifter, cyclists and so on, and pretty cool, as is the park itself which was a hive of activity. I got back to the hostel in time for the Korean barbecue my hosts had promised, though Marco and Sue Yung were waiting and hungry, so possibly I was late for whatever time had been set. It didn’t matter, Grace and Jimmy had been to a wedding and though they only take an hour in Korea, with no evening do and joint meals for all the weddings there that day, they’d got stuck in traffic and arrived after me.

The barbecue is cooked on a grill at the table-mostly by Grace, in our case – then you dip meat in various sauces, wrap it in a lettuce leaf and eat, along with rice, mushroom, onion etc to taste. Good, anyway, as was the soju (sp!) which tastes very alcoholic but isn’t actually as potent as all that.

So marked my last day in Seoul. Most evenings at the lovely Mr Comma guesthouse were punctuated by Sue’s swishing of the electric mosquito killer-racquet, but she had moved out to sort out packing, so it was quiet on Friday night. Seoul is a mighty city, with a mighty river, and masses to do, even if I did include ‘get lost’ a bit too prominently at the top of my list.

Next time, perhaps, I’ll have more luck. Reading: A spell for chameleon, Piers Anthony.

WC final day

WC final day
Dolgoprudny, Russian Federation

Dolgoprudny, Russian Federation

As the championships draw to an end there’s a definite feeling of a gear shift, as we leave morning sessions behind and have just an afternoon one. It starts earlier, with the first medal ceremony at 3.40, but that still left time for a slow start to the day.

Italy's relay team warm up on the practice oval
Italy’s relay team warm up.

I set my stall out early for a lie in, stubbornly refusing to wake up for good even when it seemed everyone else was up and out. In the event, I later met Aden and he had only gone for a shower before more sleep, so I was only in silver for laziness. I headed out for a run around 11, and it was hard work from the start. I stayed on the inner ring, thinking to cut across the front of the stadium but found that it was possible to just run through the barriers and keep to the river bank, along a two lane cycle/rollerblade path. I had passed three female runners going the other way, one of whom waved at me, but I didn’t recognise any in the 800 final later on. I still reckon two of them for pro athletes out for an easy one. By three miles in I was moving, at least, and it was a lovely sunny sunday, worth staying out in. I decided I’d go across the river at Vorobyovy gory, but that was behind security so I had to keep going to the next, glass bridge, which looks the same so I assume it is opposite the one I had used to cross the river near the hostel on other days. I ran back past sparrow hills again, pushing on a bit to pass a runner who grunted and tried to come with me, and then some bladers closed on me but weren’t pushing it, so I allowed myself to keep accelerating as they did to get in a faster mile. About halfway in they went properly ahead, but then slowed and I closed, feeling pretty good about my pace-low 6s, for sure. Just then another runner came floating by, on the road to my path, making it look easy. I passed him a few hundred metres further on, so I suspect he was doing intervals but still, he must have kept to a decent pace to have stayed close enough to me that a rep was quick enough to go past. I eased off, or, more, came to a crashing slowdown, after a mile and a half. A bit short for a tempo, need to fix that, but I think I have been a bit under the weather this week in any case. With the route being a bubble-written U, doing the inner and outer side of the river bend, it came to just about 11miles, which makes for about 35 for the week; okay. Even better, at least to me, I tried sticking the garmin connector on the hostel computer and it worked, so I was able to transfer all my workouts into garmin connect, and clear the watch. It was hardly critical, but good for my head to clear something out.

Commentators preparing to leave for a party
Rob head for the booze but is startled by conversation.

I picked up drinks at the local unfriendly shop but didn’t eat and so was starving and fading by the time I got to the IAAF lounge. Score there, though, as they had pasta. Can’t complain, but some days it has been all meat, some days all potato and veg, today was just what I needed. Wolfed that and was in the stadium for the second medal ceremony and on to the action. Something that has surprised me is just how many families seem to be involved. It’s particularly noticeable amongst the sprinting brothers and sisters, and I tried to spot them in the relay teams; the Georges of Nigeria, Sprungers of Germany, Borlees of Belgium. Marriages perhaps make pairings of good athletes less unlikely (in that as an elite athlete you hang around with elite athletes), but it is still cool that the javelin bronze medallists are married (the lady, Abumakova, was the world leader coming in, and threw furthest in qualifying, so was disappointed, but did comment that at least they were synchronised), as are the silver heptathlete and the gold decathlete, Thiessen-Eaton and Eaton. There’s a good article on the guardian site, arguing that he is the greatest athlete in the world.

View from close to the track
I took a wrong turn and ended here. My pass let me be here, but the fuzziness of the photo shows how furtive I felt.

With the speed, excitement and chaos of the relays, it ended, though with the usual confusion for the Brits. Apparently the men had been on the verge of heading to the medal ceremony when told they were disqualified, though Ellington seemed to know he had gone out of his box, with no less a judge than Michael Johnson spotting it. Dad wondered if it was payback for the Brits’ tendency to point out others’ transgressions and get them disqualified, but they continue to do so-the French women were full of bounce on the medal rostrum, but were later disqualified at the Brits’ behest, the latter finding out about their medals just before the party.

I didn’t see Johnson on the beeb, of course. No, instead I left the stadium with dad and followed, saying goodbye to various people and then heading to the bus stop to say goodbye to others. Only two people waiting there; Christine, the only one on the radio team I hadn’t met, was chatting to Michael Johnson. Or, as it went in my head “bloody hell, that’s Michael flipping Johnson!” Dad was introduced, Christine introduced herself to me and we had a lovely chat before I finally managed to find a second to introduce myself to the man. “John”, I said. “Michael”, he replied, redundant-but-modestly.

Official pass and daily programmes
TV crew. Ha.

Although it was sad that the thing was over – I didn’t feel I could show up at the party as a hanger on – that was one pretty cool last act, and I strolled back to the hostel trying to switch my head from ‘end of adventure and no more chats with that lot’ to ‘new adventure and am I set?’

Summary: 1:30:15, 17.66km, bye bye Moscow, bye bye commentary team, bye bye walking past elite athletes and saying ‘excuse me’ etc to Phil et al.

Constitution day

Constitution day
Lodz, Poland

Lodz, Poland

Today is a holiday in Poland, as was Wednesday. Not ideal from a sightseeing point of view perhaps, but I’d aimed for a museum yesterday and left the Jewish cemetery and ghetto for today. The cemetery is a distance away-3 miles, trip advisor says, and I think that’s for crows. My walk was interrupted by exploring the source of loud bangs, possibly a gun salute, which was the constitution day gathering, and one long walk later I was at the cemetery. Which has a wall around it so, left or right? I picked left, went west and the entrance is on the east. I share it in the hope that you might be saved the complete perambulation.

The whole Jewish community of Lodz was lost so many of the graves have obviously had no visitors in some time. I found the one pictured the most touching, but it is an atmospheric place to visit.

As an industrial city that was largely undeveloped till 1820, Lodz has managed to hold on to plenty of green spaces. You’re never more than a km or so from a park, and today I’ve walked through 6, including the survivors’ park, with a memorial to those Poles who saved Jewish lives-star shaped if only I’d realised it in time to photograph it better-and rows of trees of remembrance. The open spaces are cheek by jowl with civilisation, derelict, run-down and new.

The long one

The long one
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Make or break day, I figured. After missing a couple of long runs, and with the scheduled 20milers becoming a 15 and an 18 out here, I really needed to get to 20 today. Mentally, if possibly not physically. I think overall I’m busking the marathon slightly, relying on having enough miles in my legs from the last year or so such that a slight gap in my long run is covered. But I had to get to 20.

I got to bed early last night, and set the alarm on the phone for 3.30-this being the phone that’s on British time still. Oddly, despite it being 7.30 on the phone (10.30 here) it said the alarm was set for 7 hours from now, not 8. I put it down to general confusion over time zones and went to sleep. At 6.30 it was still dark so I decided stuff it, I’ll go a bit later. Setting the alarm again I woke up at 7.30, checking the time by my watch and set off 15 minutes later. There was a group of chunky locals in the gym, but the breakfast room wasn’t open, and it is supposed to start at 7. Luckily they let me in so I could pick up a second bottle of water to leave by the fence while running.

I made it to satellite field, which was full of locals playing football, blues v reds (Liverpool and Chelsea kits, possibly not the latest), greens v yellows and so on. Two miles there, four 3+ mile loops, two miles back and though I’d slowed, I made it to camp with more than 18 miles down, allowing me to plod slowly round the 1k trail twice to finish off. Job done, I limped over for breakfast, hoping that they’d still serve at 10.55, with no one else in sight.

Breakfast, no problem, and as it arrived the Danes were setting off for their long run. A bit late, I thought, though it wasn’t as hot as the day before.

I finished up quickly and went back to the room. Only while browsing the web on the iPad did I spot it wasn’t yet 11. I think with my watch being on Moscow time, it had switched to their summer time, and lost an hour. So I’d actually achieved my original plan, to go out around 7, and be back before breakfast ended at 10 (though they serve till later).

Twit. I’ve gone for Eastern European time now, which should do for the rest of the trip. Rest of the day passed with food, lounging and more food, then topped off with some Wii sports with the Danes. An easy day tomorrow, one more big week and I’m done.

Summary: 3:02:52, 32.23k. Biggest week status; uncertain, but 66.36 miles is up there. Book, Double Comfort Safari Club, McCall-Smith.


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