travel

Cruise Running

For years, I’ve resisted going on a cruise. My old travelling days were built around a knapsack and hitchhiking or very cheap buses, and it’s been hard to see myself as a member of the cruise set. Times change, though, and I figured I could too. Two things nudged me to try this cruise. One was the route – Dubai to Muscat to Abu Dubai to Dubai. The other was that the ship had a running track.

Bingo, I was in!

Costa Serena

The ship was the Costa Serena. (Yes, it’s a sister ship of the Costa Concordia. Remember? The one that ran aground off the coast of Italy when its captain decided to get really close to shore without using a harbour?) The Serena’s one big puppy, carrying 3,800 passengers and 1,000 crew. It also features the most obnoxious decor I’ve ever seen – kind of “Disneyland meets Hieronymus Bosch.” It was, needless to say, a long way from a knapsack and a hippy bus.

Running track

But the Serena has a running track. It’s near the stern of the boat, and it goes around the ship’s funnel. It’s not a big track (150m, to be precise), it’s not banked, it’s often wet (it was at 5:30 AM, anyway, when I ran on it, because it had just been swabbed down for the day), and each lap involves running past two huge vents that bring the smells of the ship’s kitchen up close and personal. Very up close. Very personal.

There were some surprises. I ran when the Serena was going through the Strait of Hormuz. Because it’s an important transport corridor and a hugely important military location, the Strait is always busy, with immense freighters, oil rigs, cruise ships, and dhows always in sight. One morning I saw a submarine surface-cruising about 500 meters off the Serena’s flank. I also saw warships – from the UK, Australia, and the US – both in the open water and in the harbours of Muscat and Abu Dhabi. They were nasty-looking – flat grey paint, heavily armoured, and bristling with weapons.

But I ran on a ship, in the Strait of Hormuz, under the open sky, and on my lonesome. There’s a lot to be said for that.

Of course, there’s cruising and there’s cruising. Dhows like the one in the photo below, taken in Muscat’s harbour, have been cruising the Gulf for 2,000 years or so. A long time ago, they carried spices. Now, their cargo is more mundane stuff, like air conditioners and television sets. But, as far as I know, not one of them has a running track.

Dhow

Dubai

Burj Khalifa

Dubai’s kind of a weird place.

It’s one of the richest cities in the world, home to the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa, at 830m/2200 feet) and the biggest mall in the world (the Dubai Mall, with 1,200 shops, an aquarium, and an Olympic-sized skating rink). It’s one immense construction site, but at the cost of serious human rights abuses among those who are doing the building. Before 1970, it was just a small – and poor – fishing and pearl-diving village. Now it’s one of the planet’s “world cities.”

Never mind. Even weird places offer opportunities to run.

Like Amsterdam, this was a stopover – just a couple of days before setting out on a cruise. So, of necessity, my run started and ended at our hotel. The hotel (a Holiday Inn Express, no less) was between the “old” city and the “new” downtown, along a busy stretch of road on the way to Jumeirah Beach.

Jumeirah Road

It was an interesting piece of road. I passed a big construction site in the first 500m (for the upcoming Etihad Museum, designed by Canadian architects Moriyama & Teshima), then moved into a mixed retail and residential neighbourhood. On the way, I passed the elegant Jumeirah Mosque, where, the following day, we attended an “Open Hearts, Open Minds” presentation. As I approached the mosque, I heard the call to prayer, which I’ve always found a lovely experience when visiting Muslim countries.

Jumeirah Grand Mosque

My turnaround point for the run was just passed the Dubai Zoo, with its pungent smells and sounds of animals large and small behind its walls. Then it was back along the same route to the hotel. The run, which I did in my Bedrock Syncline 1.0 sandals, took about an hour. Temperature was about 18C (it was, after all, winter in Dubai).

Amsterdam

In 1970, when I first visited Europe, I missed going to Amsterdam. Not that it wasn’t a desirable location – very much to the contrary, in fact – but, as a 22 year-old hippie on his way to India, I had other priorities in mind. As if that weren’t bad enough, I missed it the next time around, in 1971, when I returned, once again on my way to India.

So, when I had the opportunity recently for a brief stopover in Amersterdam – this time, on my way to Dubai – I jumped at at the chance. To be sure, it was going to be a very quick visit, and it was going to be in early January, but what the heck…

I wanted to run in Amsterdam. I love tourist running in cities I visit. It affords one of the best ways to see a new place – slow enough to peer into all kinds of places, quick enough to get across some good distances, and, ideally, with lots of opportunities to get creatively lost. (Though, to be fair, I usually do a little bit of pre-run planning.)

In Amersterdam, we stayed in a hotel near the IJ, the city’s northern waterway, just north of the beautiful Centraal Railway Station. From there, an easy crossing of a footbridge and running through an underpass took me quickly to Haarlemmerstraat, a little, mostly traffic-free street of small shops.

Haarlemmerstraat

It was Sunday morning, but it was still busy with bicycle traffic. (Heck, Amesterdam’s always busy with bicycle traffic.) It was cold (about 4C), wet (a fine drizzle was falling), and it was very windy. But I was running in Amsterdam, and I was happy.

After a while, I turned a corner to run along Herrengracht, one of Amsterdam’s hundreds of smal canal-side streets. It was all residential here, with the canal on one side of the narrow street and tall, narrow houses on the other. The houses, dating from the mid-1670s, were topped with the distinctive gable fronts that grace so many of the city’s canal-side buildings.

Herrengracht

Down Herrengracht to a small side canal street, along that, up yet another canal street, and I soon found myself crossing Dam Square, a big, open space in the centre of the old city. From there, it was only a short jog back past Centraal Station, and then back to the hotel.

My Earth Runner Alpha X sandals and Injinji wool socks were perfect for both the weather conditions and the cobblestone streets. I’d run for about an hour.

So, 45 years late, but I’d done it. I’d not only visited Amsterdam, but I’d run in it. And I’m going back. There are other streets I want to run, along the canals and along the waterfront, and there are some beautiful parks to explore as well.

Next time, though, I’ll be there when It’s a little warmer and drier.

Excursions

CON2338

I’m about to go on holiday. A couple of days in Amsterdam, a few days in Dubai, then a cruise through the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, with stops in Abu Dhabi and Muscat. Aside from the delights of visiting places I’ve never been before – not to mention going on my first ever cruise – I’m really looking forward to running in Amsterdam, Dubai, and on the ship (which has a running track on its uppermost deck). I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks.

During that time, my access to the Net will be irregular. I’ll try to post here when I have time and access, as well as to my Twitter feed. (If you’re reading this on my WordPress.com blog site, you’ll see my latest three Twitter posts on the sidebar to the right.) I’ll do my best to include some photos of where I’ve run.

New experiences, interesting places, and some much-needed sunshine and warmth. It’s all good.