by Paul Thompson
As this was my third trip to Vienna I’ve gotten familiar with some great running routes in the city. As usual I was here for work and running had to get squeezed into the daily work routine. Fortunately on this occasion I arrived on Saturday afternoon so had a full day to myself.
On arrival, after an overnight flight via London, I spent some time convincing myself that I needed to get out for a long run before I crashed – I’d gotten 2 hours sleep on the way over. So around 5pm I ventured out. Within a few minutes of departing Hotel de France I was headed east on the north bank of the Danube Canal. The canal is a strip mall of bars, some with deck chairs perched on sand to mimic the beach, and artistic graffiti. Viennese have an anarchistic side, deep below that orderly veneer.
I had hoped to keep running for several miles and then loop back. This would have been perfect since I would not need to engage the brain. But after around 2.5 miles I found the path blocked as was the south bank. So I resorted to Plan B – I headed to the nearby Prater, a huge city park complete with amusement park. I ran along the south fringe of the Prater, a big expanse of wooded land with a maze of footpaths not unlike Wimbledon Common. And like Wimbledon Common it’s hard to navigate though there are maps to remind you that you’re somewhere different to where you thought.
The underfoot conditions were soft owing to recent rain fall. I ran this way and that trying to tot up the miles and eventually exited the east end of the Prater, just north of the golf course, and suddenly found myself on a big river – the Danube. A mile across it looked like, and indeed is, a giant ship canal, only far from the sea.
I headed west for a few miles until I passed under a large road bridge. I scaled a few flights of stairs and followed the bridge’s underbelly on a cycle path. The path took me back into the Prater where after a circuit of the Ernst Happel football stadium. I got back onto the canal for the final few miles home making 16 in total. Back at the hotel I grabbed a quick shower and headed to the hotel restaurant for dinner. The beer and food slipped down without appeating to touch the sides. And I was asleep by 8pm, even before my head connected with the pillow.
I woke up late Sunday so resigned to a late afternoon run. I had a big breakfast, late morning, and then worked. Suddenly it was 3pm and time to run. This time I thought I’d stick to the south bank of the canal and head west. The path had quite a lot of cycle traffic, more of the athletic than the commuter variety. I quickly realized it was best to stick to my designated side otherwise I’d be repeating my being knocked over as I did a year ago while on the Manhattan Bridge.
For almost 3 miles I ran west along the canal. Then the bike cum footpath made a slight left and suddenly I was running alongside the Danube. The weather was perfect – a light breeze, bright sun and 70F (20C). I did a U turn as my Garmin chimed 5 laps (5 miles). As I rejoined the canal I opted for the north bank. There were fewer cyclists but dogs to dodge. The Austrian format of cyclists and of pedestrians sharing the same piece of asphalt is an acquired taste. I did not acquire it. There was the occasional confusion as to who has right of way and some cyclists leaving little or no room for error.
While the route was out and back the ‘traffic’ kept me alert and the city scape kept me interested. And being flat helps explain the almost effortless feel of the average 6:20 minute mile pace for the 10 mile run. Once again I was back at the hotel late afternoon and a quick beer and dinner set me up for a big sleep. Tomorrow I’d be on duty at a work event and running would have to take a back seat – for a few days.
Some ten days later Sham, who had joined me straight after the work event concluded, and I were back in Vienna for two nights prior to catching our flight home. We stayed at the Boutique Hotel Stadthalle. It enjoyed great reviews and was close to Wein Westbahnhof. The hotel did not disappoint – it had a great garden for eating breakfast and strong sustainability credentials. And while far from the canal and Prater there was a palace with grounds nearby.
That palace was the Schonbrunn, an impressive baroque pile set in hundreds of acres of wooded gardens. The front gates were barely ten minutes from the hotel and once there, like Versailles, you had the freedom of the gardens. In brilliant early morning sunshine Sham and I took in a run around the perimeter. A perfect way to start the day but I’m sure not one the Hapsburgs ever imagined.