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Running Europe: Salzburg

by Paul Thompson

After visiting and running in Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava the next stop on our train tour of central and eastern Europe was Salzburg. A regional commuter train got us from Bratislava to Vienna and a Railjet no less, operated by Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB), ‘flew’ us from Vienna to Salzburg in barely two hours. Would the hills be alive with the sound of running footsteps?

Sham couldn’t remember if she had been to Slazburg  – in spite of being a The Sound Of Music fan – but her sister swears they were there 20 years ago.  If her sister was right it had clearly failed to leave much of an impression on her. A short early evening run soon after checking into the hotel, a Mercure chosen due to its proximity to the station, suggested it ought to have left a big impression.


Salzburg bathed in early morning light.

I ran on the cycle path along the river and then passed through the old town. The town was jaw droppingly gorgeous: historic, quaint, green, Austrian. And an imposing fortress provided a breathtaking backdrop. Again I had to dodge bicycles. It felt like it was only a matter of time before I collided with one.


Salzburg Dom.

We spent a day chilling out – Viennese breakfast in a river side cafe, watching a classical orchestra in the Mirabelle Gardens, ambling through the old town, touring the castle and ending with dinner at  S’Kloane Brauhaus (brewhouse – my German vocabulary was fast expanding).


The fountain at Mirabelle Gardens which was featured in The Sound of Music.


Musical interlude at Mirabelle Gardens.


Running around the lake with Schloss Leopoldskron in the background.

On the morning of our day of departure to Innsbruck, Sham instigated a long run out to another place made famous by The Sound of Music   – the Schloss Leopoldskron. Our ten mile run offered much variety – river, old town, tunnel under the castle, lake and meadows. There is no doubt we will remember this visit to Salzburg. But Sham is still unsure whether it was her first or second visit.


Joy at being in Mirabelle Gardens.

Running Europe: Bratislava

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

After a couple of days in Budapest we decided to head back to Austria via Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. It was the first time visiting Slovakia for both of us. We got in late afternoon and checked into the Mercure Hotel where a room upgrade and lounge access gave us just the boost we needed.


Fountain of Youth in the gardens of the Presidential Palace

We decided feeding took precedence over running so we set off on the short walk to the heart of the old city. Along the way we checked out the Presidential Palace Park, a peaceful French-style garden  the gardens of the Palace. Amongst the leafy trees and summer roses were a statue of the Empress Maria Theresa on horseback, the Fountain of Youth by prominent Slovak sculptor Tibor Bártfay and avant-garde statues by contemporary artists. It’s only drawback – it’s not big enough for running.

The Palace is now the residence of the President of Slovakia but it was built in the 1760s by Count Anton Grassalkovich, the President of the Royal Hungarian Chamber and advisor to the Empress Maria Theresia and was a favorite meeting place for members of the Austro-Hungarian and Habsburg aristocracy, including the Empress who visited often.

Eschewing the hard core tourist restaurants and bars which were populated by large groups of young men enjoying cheap beer on a Saturday night, we headed to the edge of the old city. Facing a narrow park we found 17’s Bar, a pub-like place with an Italian-American menu i.e., burgers and pizza. We both decided on risotto dishes and local beer which proved excellent choices.


Bratislava’s old city

We only had one night here so knew that any sight seeing would have to be done on our run on Sunday morning. With temperatures expected to hit 90F later in the day we knew the earlier we got out the better. Our aim was to get up to Bratislava Castle which sits on a hill high above the town. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to what I knew would inevitably be a hilly run but it was the only way I was going to get up there before we left the city.

Setting out from the hotel, Paul somehow got us on the right route towards the castle. As predicted we began climbing early on but fortunately most of the way it was a gentle enough incline that I was able to maintain a steady pace. The houses got grander as we ascended culminating in ambassador residences near the top. We were impressed to see people out tending to their gardens so early in the day.


Soviet-style statues in Slavin Memorial park.

We eventually came to a memorial park dominated by the Slavin Monument which was built around 1960 to commemorate the city’s liberation from the Nazis by the Red Army in April 1945. It is also a cemetery for the 6845 soldiers who died in the battles to free the city. Besides the obelisk there are a number of statues built in the ‘heroic realism’ style associated with 1950s Soviet design style. We did a quick circuit of the pocket sized park and as we left noticed that the Russians were still present – the Russian ambassador’s residence sits directly across from the entrance to the park overlooking the city.


Paul checking out Slavin Memorial

Back on the road we had a couple of slight detours as we tried to find the right route to get us to the castle. We knew we were on track when we came upon tour buses and large groups from various countries. We worked our way past the crowd huddled at the entrance and headed to the main entrance. While the Castle is worth visiting for its exhibits of Slovakia’s ancient history, just the view of the city was enough reward for us.


Happy to have got all the way up to Bratislava Castle.


Danube River and the New Bridge

We had a great aerial view of the Danube as the old and newer parts of the city as well as the New Bridge. We did a quick trot around the perimeter of the castle and then made our our way out a different exit. The journey down was on a steep, cobble-stoned path. That in fact was the hardest bit of the run for me as my IT band complained about the uneven, steep surface. Fortunately it was a short descent and soon we were headed back to the hotel through the old city.


View of old and modern Bratislava from Bratislava Castle

Last stop: Budapest     Next stop: Salzburg


Running Europe: Budapest

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

For our 10th anniversary and my 50th birthday we decided to spend a couple of weeks traveling through Europe. That of course meant finding good running routes along the way. I joined Paul, who had been at a work event, in Vienna a couple of days before our anniversary. (Paul’s blog post looks at running in Vienna.) We decided to spend our anniversary in Budapest. This proved a good decision as it was both romantic and running friendly! And our hotel – a funky boutique place called the Bohem Art Hotel – was just the ticket.

We found a great run that takes you along both the Buda and Pest sides of the Danube River to an island in the middle of the river dedicated to sporting activities. Along the way you run by or on four of Budapest’s eight best known bridges. Run across Liberty Bridge, the shortest bridge spanning the Danube River, towards the Buda side to get onto the cycle/pedestrian path. It’s a wide flat path but you share it with cyclists most of the way. Three miles along this path gets you to Margaret Island.


View of Buda Castle and Palace complex.

A mile along is Elisabeth Bridge, one of the more modern looking bridges along the Danube. Soon after you’ll see the historical Buda Castle and palace complex looking down on the town from its majestic perch perched atop Castle Hill. Another mile takes you to the most famous bridge in Hungary – Chain Bridge. When inaugurated in 1849 this bridge was the first permanent stone bridge connecting the Buda and Pest sides of the river and the second permanent crossing along the entire length of the Danube. Two stone lions guard each end of the bridge.


Chain Bridge at night.

Once you pass Chain Bridge the view gets interesting on the Pest side of the river. The impressive Budapest Parliament Building dominates this section. When completed in 1902 it was the largest parliament building in the world. It’s design was inspired by the Houses of Parliament in London but with its statues of Hungarian rulers, Gothic ornaments and intricately decorated spires it outshines London’s version. Especially at night when it gleams of golden light.


The Parliament Building is spectacular at night.

The next bridge, Margaret Bridge, takes you to an island that’s a paradise for runners. It offers a 3.3 mile single lane all weather track around the circumference. Aside from a few worn patches it’s generally in good shape. Alongisde the track, on one side of the island is a tarmac path and on the other a sandy path which allows faster runners to pass. The island circuit is a unique way to take in the city’s architecture. On the Pest side as you head north stately old buildings quickly give way to high rise housing similar to the public housing in Singapore.


Paul running on the sandy path next to the one-lane all weather track.

Unexpectedly towards the north end of the island are several wellness resort hotels connected to hot springs. At the top end is a car park for those driving across Arpad Bridge..


One of the hotels on Margaret Island.

At the top of the island the trail crosses a road and continues south offering views of houses dotting the hills on the Buda side. You soon come across a huge swimming pool complex catering for both serious swimmers and those simply splashing around. Close to the end of the circuit was a gym and tennis courts. What was most impressive was how many fit and fast runners there were – including some older than us. Many looked like triathletes – and if they were, they had the facilities right here for it.

For a change of scene, and for me a slightly shorter route, I took  the Pest side of the river back. The drawback to this side is that there is no dedicated cycle/pedestrian path so you have to put up with varied surfaces, some less runnable. The route will take you right in front of the Parliament Building where you have to run on cobble stones but the view makes up for the discomfort.


View as you run right in front of the shadow of the Parliament Building.

Along this route is a less visible but powerful work of art. The Shoes on the Danube is a memorial honoring the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes and were shot at the water’d edge so that their bodies fell into the river to be swept away.


Shoes on the Danube memorial.

At the Chain Bridge one can cross the road to get onto an easier running surface. Heading down a promenade flanked by high end hotel restaurants and bars will get you most of the way to the starting point. After Elisabeth Bridge you’ll be running in the sidewalk past bars and restaurants with the end point in sight. All in all an interesting way to see some of the key sights along the banks of the Danube – all in 7.5 miles. It can be easily shortened by starting at Chain Bridge or even at Margaret’s Bridge. Or lengthened by doing laps of the island and travelling back and forth along the Buda side of the river – as Paul did.

Last stop: Vienna           Next stop: Bratislava


Running Europe: Vienna

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.


Next stop: Budapest