Eclipse Trip 4: San Francisco

Thursday

For my final breakfast on board I opt for the signature dish of French Toast, which is rather good.  I spend most of the morning in the Sightseer Lounge, while we glide through canyons and along the Colorado River.  Here, people messing about on the river greet the train in their own special fashion, earning it the nickname “Moon River”.

There’s a 10 minute stop at Reno.  We reckoned that was so that couples who had been together 24/7 from Chicago could get a quickie divorce.   For lunch I tried the veggie burger, which was rather tasty.

We arrived at Emeryville, a transport hub on the edge of  San Fran at 4, and didn’t have to wait too long for the bus transfer.  We alighted at the Financial District drop off point,  and took a  taxi to Bush St, where we were staying at the  Grant Hotel, just north of Union Square.

The room was a decent size, but had a potentially treacherous step up into the bathroom.  Causing me to call out “Step!!!!” anytime R went to the loo in the night.  Our first night’s aimless wandering took us to Chinatown where we enjoyed a rather large meal for 2 special.

The walk home was a bit trickier – whilst the city is still on a grid system, there’s no indication of where the really steep hills are.  But we found that the little Kwik-e-mart on the corner does booze.

Friday

The breakfast in hotel is very spartan. There’s no milk for tea, not even in wee plastic jiggers.  There are pastries and croissants, but no butter or jam.  Or cutlery.

I’d researched the various ho-ho bus options, and chose City Sightseeing, as it included a Sausolito tour across the Golden Gate, and an evening tour. (The other companies were offering guided walking tours, which after last night’s steep hills experience I wasn’t prepared to risk).

On our first circuit on the bus, we learned the reason for Crissy Field cancellation – an alt-right free speech rally, which of course prompted much outraged protest rallies to be arranged.  Trump you’ve gone too far this time, messing with a parkrunner’s tourism plans!  The bridge itself is shrouded in mist, and we learned that this month is known as “Fog-ust”.

At Pier 39 we were delighted to watch the sealions at play, and checked various transport details at the visitor centre.  Trams and buses $2.75, payable to driver, cable cars $7.  A MUNI pass is good if you’re there for a few days, but we’d already gone for a 2 day bus pass.  I had lunch of traditional clam chowder served  in a sourdough bowl overlooking the bay.

In the evening, we’d booked the “Alcataz by night” tour – these sell out months in advance, so it’s worth booking online beforehand.  There is no booze allowed to be sold on the boat out, and none on the island.  It is chilling, in every sense.  The island is cool and foggy, and the cells suitably spine-tingly.  We had an audio guided tour narrated by former inmates and warders, and learnt of the various escape attempts.

R had a hot dog on the boat home, while I was ready for a glass of vino, and I got some humous from the Kwik-e-mart for supper.

Saturday

No parkun, boooooooo!

We treated ourselves to a fantastic brunch in the little diner on the next corner.

We got back on our City Sightseeing Tour, which was a bit detoured by all the protest and counter-protest shenanigans, and to our dismay find that it isn’t doing the Sausolito Tour.

They could’ve said earlier!  And I should’ve read the reviews on Trip Advisor.  We got off instead at Golden Gate park in the midst of a marijuana festival.  We weren’t too clear where the boarding point is, as these bus tours aren’t allowed to have anything useful like signs, but we made it back to hotel.  We took tram back  to fishermans wharf, where we intended to take the night tour, only to find that we’d missed the last one.  Again, I’m appalled by the lack of communication.  We took the tram back to the hotel, and I had a really lovely sushi roll in the place next to the hotel.

Sunday

We’d booked a hire car from the place across the road from the hotel.  Not just any old hire car, a Ford Mustang convertible, which we’d had visions of driving down Highway 1 in by the ocean, warm breezes in our hair.  After the compulsory argument with the  Sat nav  we escaped the city’s gravitational pull, and got onto Highway 1.  Sadly, Fog-ust extends down the coast, and we saw precious little in the way of surf or beaches, nor could we put the roof of the car down.

We stopped at Half Moon Bay for brunch, where I had Califormia Bendict.  This means it had avocado in it.  On to Santa Cruz, where R was meeting a biking chum, who he’d only ever previously engaged with online.

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We came back to the city via the Big Basin redwoods which are stunning, though the  teeny winding roads were a bit hairy.  Having successfully returned the car before closing time, we had a fabulous  dinner in Del Populo of eggplant salad and pizza, chatting to UK tourists sitting beside us.

Monday

Crissy Field is not the easiest place to get to, so we took an Uber to get there so I could do a freedom parkrun.

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It’s always hard running solo,  and I had to conjure up imaginary cheering marshalls.  There were still some chalk markings visible,  left by counter proterstors.

It’s compulsory to take a cable car ride, but these can be hard to actually board as they are always full.

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Most people queue at the end points and no-one gets off, so it’s pointless waiting at any other stop.

At Fisherman’s Wharf we had lunch at Cioppino’s – scampi aurora and a free cup of clam chowder.   We enjoyed a potter around the Musee Mechanique, where I got a mechanical fortune teller to tell me my fate.  I have have set myself rather a high goal, apparently, which I will surely reach!

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I took a quick visit to the Giardhelli chocolate shop.  We took the  cable car back down Powell, and opted for dinner at the pizza place across the road.  These served very odd antipasto, and an even odder carafe of wine which was only a fiver.

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Tuesday

On our last day, we had brunch at Lori’s Diner, which was really cute, with a vintage car as part of the décor.  R bid farewell to the super-duper Apple store, and we took a taxi out to the airport.  Our tickets said Terminal TI, which we read as “one” but really it was “I for International”.  Aer Lingus were as efficient and pleasant as I’ve always found them to be, and we had a hassle free journey home, even managing some sleep on the plane.

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I would go back to San Fran: as a bridge aficionado, it was disappointing not to see the Golden Gate, and of course I shall have to do Crissy Field properly!

Even Tony Bennett left his heart here.

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Eclipse Trip 3: Grand Junction

If it’s Tuesday this must be Denver.

 

After the very late boarding of the train in Lincoln, I woke in need of a decent breakfast, and joined the queue of people waiting to be put on a list.  It’s amusing to be seated with total strangers, and to compare plans and journeys so far.  My breakfast companion was a woman who lived in Glenwood Springs, and had travelled on this train many times.  We went for the creole eggs meal, which was tasty, though I wasn’t so keen on the grits.

There was a fair bit of shifting and shuffling at Denver.  I learned later that this is a switchover point for the track providers from BNSF to UP.  We were still running a couple of hours later, although there is a planned stop of 1 hour here, which was reduced to 15 minutes.

Coming out of the Mile High city, and the scenery really starts to get interesting.  To climb up into the mountains, the train takes a number of S bends, and the view back down over Denver was impressive.  We then began to travel though a series of tunnels, including the famous 6 mile long Moffat Tunnel, and the views each time we emerged were stunning.

Conversations with fellow passengers centered around the eclipse. For many, it had been their first experience, and I was impressing people with “it’s my 3rd total, plus a failed attempt to see an annular in Iceland” story, until I met someone for whom it was his 15th eclipse. He and his party had been so concerned by the clouds in Nebraska that they’d hired a plane to take them above.  And they were already planning the next trip to Chile in 2019.  I’m not sure I’ll make that one, though there’s one visible in Spain in 2026 (on Jemima’s birthday!) that might be in my plans.

There’s not too much that a train can do to catch up on lost time.  We were growing concerned about making our next stop in Grand Junction.  The timetabled arrival was 4.30, and we were due to pick up a hire car.  The hire car place closed at 6, and from what I could gather we were running about 2 hours behind schedule.  There’s no wifi on the train, and travelling through these remote regions a phone signal is not always guaranteed either.  When we did get a signal, we couldn’t work out what the USA access code was.  in the end, our wonderful steward Ralph lent us his phone to make the call, and Enterprise GJ were themselves monitoring the eta of the train, which they could see as 5.33.  I guess this is a situation they are all too familiar with!

We were met at the station and taken to the Enterprise offices not too far away, and a very smooth and swift handover process followed (complete with the compulsory oh wow, one day I hope to visit Ireland!).  I drove to our hotel, the Palamino Motel, where we checked in to a large room complete with fridge.  The receptionist recommended the Mexican restaurant a few doors down, and indeed the food was excellent, though far too much.  I saved some prawns, rice and avocado for lunch the next day, making use of our room’s refrigerator.

Getting back to the land of wifi, I checked on Facebook, and to my utter devastation learned that Crissy Field parkrun in San Francisco is cancelled this week.  Having been planning this whole trip for well over a year, and started a project to spell the word DANCER with my summer holiday parkruns, this was a huge disappointment.  But hey, these things happen, and I could still complete my spelling with a bit of rearranging.

Grand Junction is in a very fertile part of Colorado, famous for its fruit (especially peaches) and wine.  Our morning plan was to drive around Colorado National monument, which is a stunning scenic drive with lots of views of canyons and gorges and balancing stones.

 

After a bit of compulsory arguing with the sat nav, we got there, and the radio played Sweet Home Alabama to complete the idyllic picture.

We had our lunch at the Visitor Centre, where I loved seeing the bright blue colours of a pinyin jay.

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We left the hire car back in the early afternoon, dropped our bags at the station, and had a little explore of the town centre.  It’s definitely got a hippy vibe to it, with lots of street art and interesting shops.  We called into a café so I could try some local wine, which I have to say was delicious.  I’m not sure if it’s possible to obtain Colorado wine back home, but I’m going to try!

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The train was only 20 minutes late today, and around 5 pm we boarded along with about 30 others.

I’d been concerned about the train’s dinner reservations issue, as these are given out before 4 pm each day, but had been assured that our cabin steward would sort us out. I was less than impressed by the dining car staff, who said they’d squeeze us in somewhere, which meant it was 8.45 before they were hustling us into place, clearly while trying to get us out as quickly as they could.  We were supposed to get a side salad, which was not offered, and a dessert, which I had to prompt them about.  I do apologise to the people we were sharing a table with, for I was not very good company that evening.  They’d ordered a baked potato, were served mash instead with no explanation or apology. But we were charmed by John in the Lower Lounge of the sightseer, who was terrific company, and worked out how to make Roger a special vodka diet coke.

Back to my ironing board bed for the last night on board.

 

Eclipse Trip Part 2: Totality in Nebraska

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Boarding the California Zephyr at Union Station, Chicago, felt very momentous, but we were a little unnerved to find that when the ticket said “reserved coach” it meant that we had a seat in the coach class carriage.  Any seat.  Not a particular one, just whichever ones we could find free.  This led to a bit of unseemly scrambling, but we were happy enough with the pair we found in the upper deck.  There’s plenty of leg room, and space to store bags.  We had to stay put until the ticket guy had registered our names and assigned them to those seats, after which we were free to move around.  And the first place to move around to was the sight seer lounge.

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This has a variety of seating facing outwards to large windows and a panoramic roof.  Space here is at a real premium, and there’s an element of “towels on the sunloungers”.  However, announcements remind passengers not to hog seats, to vacate them if going to be away for a while, and not to place bags or sweetie wrappers on unused seats.

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There’s a real sense of unhurry, and people take the opportunity to talk to their fellow passengers.  Lots of them had this journey on their “bucket list” of things they must do, and had been planning it for some time.  There were quite a few  Amish and Menonites taking a trip, and of course lots of eclipse chasers.  Having failed to secure eclipse glasses in The Windy City, I was delighted to spot a NASA ambassador from Langley Research Center, who provided us not only with eclipse glasses but many other maps and goodies besides.

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There aren’t an awful lot of announcements given during the actual journey – I was glad I had printed out the detailed Route Guide which gives a paragraph or so about each stop and the area we were traversing.  We did get an announcement when crossing the Mississippi, which is half a mile wide. I was impressed by the  mile-long freight trains carrying coal pass us in the opposite direction.  And we cross from Illinois to Iowa and some point, and from there into Nebraska.

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We would be leaving the train at midnight, so I hadn’t booked a sleeping car for this leg.  Sleeping car tickets include all meals, and so reservations for dinner are offered to those passengers first.  Coach class passengers have to try to get hold of the dining car attendant as they make their way about the train, and Roger was successful in snaffling a dinner reservation, but it is dear ($ 100 for the 2 of us, with drinks).  The tables are in groups of 4, and so you will end up with strangers, who are happy to talk.  We even found an openness about discussing politics, particularly Trump and Brexit, which was refreshing.

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This isn’t the most scenic part of the journey, and anyway it was dark at about 7.  We arrived in Lincoln at half past midnight, and worryingly outside the small station there was  no sign of any cabs and the police are doing something across the road.  Left with no other option, we hired an Uber at $50 to take us to the hotel, about 2 miles away.  I usually avoid booking hotels in the railway district of cities, as they tend to be less salubrious, but we were regretting not having a hotel that we could have walked to.

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Baymont Hotel is fine, but a bit outside the town centre.  And for breakfast you could have biscuits and gravy.  If you like that sort of thing.  Our Sunday morning Uber retraced the journey from the night before, but this time cost only $7.  Like most places, Sunday mornings are quiet but we enjoyed a relaxed mosey around Historic Haymarket which has tried to retain its old buildings, with painted signs, and helpful plaques at each one telling their history.  There are many independent shops, bars and cafes here, and it is a lively enough spot once things open.

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We had lunch at a fabulous burger bar, with the “cry and fry” fried onions and fries side dish,

before paying a visit to the helpful people in the visitor centre, located in the OLD railway station.

 

We had planned to spend eclipse day in Beatrice, but that was one of the sites chosen by NASA to broadcast from, and Bill Nye the science guy would be there.  Along with, of course, thousands of other people.   We were concerned that if we got stuck in traffic we wouldn’t be able to return our hire car in time, though the half past midnight train shouldn’t be an issue.

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The helpful visitor centre staff ordered us a taxi to take us out to the Enterprise car place on the edge of town, where the friendly staff gave us an upgrade to something with a sat nav.  Anytime we said we were from Ireland people’s eyes lit up, and they would tell us about their granny who came from Limerick, or how they wanted to visit Dublin.

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Driving in The States takes a bit of getting used to, especially at junctions, but we made it safely back to the hotel.  There are a few drive through restaurants nearby, and we chose one of those for a Chinese dinner.

Monday

Up early for eclipse day, and an anxious look at the weather forecast. There would be hazy high cloud all day, with little chance of it burning off.  The newsreader reminded people not to try driving whilst wearing eclipse glasses.

We set off for our alternate viewing site at the little town of Crete, where we found a good spot to park near to coffees and loos and the like.  We enjoyed a great breakfast at IMG_2136Sport 9, whose staff were clearly experiencing  a bumper volume of customers, many of whom also wore eclipse T shirts.  During a wander around town, I was charmed by the home made signs about the eclipse, and we were greeted warmly.

One passer by even invited us to join her and her family for lunch down the road.

First contact was at just after 11, and I did my traditional happy clappy dance.  For this part of the eclipse, the high cloud wasn’t a real issue.

Lots of people kept popping out of their shops and business, and putting on their eclipse glasses to look up to the sky.  I spotted a tiny patch of blue sky, and held my breath and crossed my fingers, and sure enough….it reached the sun just immediately before totality.

 

IMG_2140 There was the most beautiful diamond ring, and then a good 2 minutes of corona.  The eerie purple-black darkness gave a spooky feel, and I wondered at the cars driving past with their lights on – did they not even have 2 minutes to spare to stop and enjoy this wonder?  Well, most of the village was out in the streets enjoying it, and when we repaired to Als on Main for lunch, they had just re-opened after being closed for the event.

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I’m always a bit self-critical after these things – should I have gone to Wilber where there was a bigger festival?  Or found somewhere out in the open where we could watch the shadow race across? Or should we have braved the traffic in Beatrice?  But from what I could gather afterwards, the cloud was an issue in Beatrice so it was just as well we didn’t go there.

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On the way home, we followed a brown sign to see a lakeside recreation area.  And then of course, having tried to avoid it, we hit the Beatrice traffic on the Interstate.  But we made it to the hire car place in time, and across the road from it was an enterprising young man selling eclipse T shirts, so I bought one of those.

We then had a 6 hour wait until our train, so we found a good spot in one of the Irish bars and set about making new best friends.  I did manage a quick shopping spree before 6, and got some souvenir Nebraska wine, and some liquorice for an emporium dedicated to that particular sweet.

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One of our new best friends collects old beer cans, and I showed them my parkrun analogue tracker.  They help us with our bags to the station, where we discover that the train is delayed, and it’s nearly 2 am before it arrives.  There are many passengers sprawled around the station and platform, and we are all ready for our beds.

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The sleeping car is small. The lower bunk isn’t too bad, but the upper one is little more than an ironing board, with a webbing strap to stop one falling out.  I have to channel my inner Jack Lemmon and pretend I am in Some Like It Hot before falling in and out of a restless night’s sleep.

 

Eclipse Trip Part 1: Chicago

This trip has been years in the planning.  Its origins date back to my first eclipse, in France in 1999, which I watched with cousin David and his wife Karen.  We discovered that the next eclipse in that saros would be on 21 August, 2017, which would be their 30th anniversary.  The path would travel right the way across the United States, making it one of the most accessible eclipses in history.  We would be there, come hell or high water.

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My husband had long wanted to take one of the iconic train journies that go right across the States, and so we looked at the route of the California Zephyr, worked out where it crossed the path of totality, and the bones of our itinerary were formed.

chicago posterPutting together the various components took quite some doing.  It began with the segments of the train journey, ensuring we would be in the eclipse zone with time to spare.  Then plane journies were added a few days either side of those, and finally hotel accommodation and car hire at key points were reserved.

Wed 16 August, and we began!

An early start and a drive to Dublin airport, where we parked at the Clayton Hotel.  Cars are packed in tightly here, and it took some searching to find an accessible spot.  But it’s much cheaper than the official car parks, and there’s a shuttle bus which ferries passengers to the shiny terminal 2 building.  Cases successfully weighed and checked in, we relaxed over breakfast before making our way to the US pre-clearance area.  More security checks, and then some finger printing and face photographing, plus some questions about the ESTA – had I answered all the questions correctly? It really is a huge bonus to be able to do all this before flying, and saves hours of queuing on landing.

The Aer Lingus flight was very smooth, with a tasty meal, and I watched The Founder, and Going In Style.  Having already done our pre-clearance, we arrive at Chicago’s domestic terminal, where our bags appear quickly, and we hop in a taxi to the Freehand Hotel.  There is heavy traffic – we could have taken the El train,  but I wasn’t too sure where to get off.

The hotel is in a good location, but the rooms are very small, with nowhere to store suitaces.  We spent out first evening indulging in “Aimless Wandering” by the River Walk.

chicago riverWe stopped at O’Briens for something to eat, and to  shelter from the heavy rain storm which came out of nowhere.

chicago obriensAfter chatting to the Irish staff, they recommended Big Bus tours.  We popped into an Irish pub on way home, where there was a pub quiz going on. I winced as I got the bill – the dollar- sterling exchange rate is painful at the moment.

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Thursday

I need tea to start my day, but discovered that the lobby café produced the Worst Tea Ever. I accept that the USA is a coffee drinking nation, but work out that ordering a “hot tea with milk” will get me something close to what I’m after.

We found the bus tour stall, and chose the 2 day ticket which included an architecture boat trip.

IMG_2024As the at least partial eclipse would be visible right across the states, the whole country was gearing up for it, with special mention at each weather forecast.  The Chicago Adler planetarium was giving out free eclipse glasses at the square, but by the time we’d got there they had run out. On the bus tour we stopped at planetarium itself, but the queue for the entrance was rather long,  so we just admired the skyline views.

We went to Navy Pier for lunch at Bubba Gump, and enjoyed the sight and sound of the  Blue Angels rehearsing for the Air and Water show passing overhead.

Friday

Next door to the hotel is West Town Bakery, where I get something tea-ish for breakfast.  Roger tries a Reuben sandwich.

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We walk to the modern art museum for an exhibition by some Japanese dude – Rog is entranced, but it’s not my cup of tea….

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The Hancock tower is round the corner so we opt for the view and drink package.

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In the afternoon, the Architecture Boat tour is very good – Pat the tour guide most informative. The city is very Gotham-like, and the skyscrapers are amazing.

IMG_2082I can’t find a hot dog place I like the look of, so we go for deep pan pizza at Pizzeria Uno.  It’s not my favourite, I’m not a huge pizza fan to begin with, but much prefer the thin and crispy style, rather than this overly sweet thick bready base.

Saturday

There’s no parkrun in Chicago, but I had planned to do their version organsied by CARA.  However, I abandon that idea as the Air Show is on and I’m not sure how to get there, am  worried about traffic and getting back in time for the train.  I run 5km along River Walk instead, before a WTB breakfast.  I’d estimate that more the half the people using RiverWalk at this time of day are fellow runners, and I feel I’m in good company.

We take an Uber to Union Station with plenty of time to admire the cavernous space, and vow to rewatch The Untouchables.

And I finally get to enjoy a hotdog with everything.

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It seems a little disorganised – announcements are unclear, and we just line up when told before being marched single file down to the platform.  And there’s the train!

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The next chapter awaits us.

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parkrun tourism: Edinburgh

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I’d harboured a bit of a question mark over whether I’d be able to make this one.  All my nearby easily accesible events have now been done, so any additional ones require a bit of effort and sacrifice.  I knew I could squeeze Edinburgh into my week at  St Andrews summer school, but it would mean missing one class. I’d applied for some financial assistance to attend the course, and would have felt morally wrong in doing this  had that been forthcoming.  As it was, it was with a clear consience that I boarded the X60 bus which took a lovely leisurely journey along the Fife coastal route to the capital.

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Access:

Aside from the scenic bus route, the Edinburgh course is sited at Cramond promenade.  Car park spaces are few, thought there is plenty of additional space at the Silverknowes approach.  Many people chose to arrive by bike, and it’s also a short stroll from the no.41 bus route.

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Judging from the lowness of the planes passing overhead, it would be a short taxi ride from the airport, should you find a suitably early flight. Don’t forget, it’s a 9.30 start in Scotland!

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I was staying in a lovely Air BnB a short distance away, and my 10 minute stroll to the start line went along the Almond river, where I heard a woodpecker, and saw this little chap chewing some nuts and spitting the shells into the water below.

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Bobbing among the boats was a craft called “Sea Dancer”, and as this run was putting the E into my spelling out DANCER in parkruns, I smiled at the congruence.

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Course:

This is a dead flat route, out and back with a loop at one end, named in honour of a departed and much missed local runner.

IMG_1991 The views are just magnificent, and I was stopping to take photos as I went.   As a bridge afficianado, it was inspiring to see the tips of the now 3 Forth bridges to Fife, the latest Queesnferry crossing being a stunning creation.

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The course is fast, and as I hit the 2km marker, the top runners were passing me on their return leg. The male course record is 14.31, the female 16.35.

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Facilities:

There are some clean toilets near the start line, and a choice of nearby cafes for coffee afterwards.

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Gear:

I was wearing my cow cowl, and met up with some fellow tourists, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries.  IMG_1972

My earphones died just at the start, so I ran with my phone in my hand, ready to take pictures along the way.

This allowed me to hear all the great support from marshalls and others.

People:

It’s not Scotland’s oldest parkrun,  but it is by far its biggest attended.  There were nearly 600 running the day I was there, but their record is 731.  The numbers increase during Edinburgh Festival season…

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The first timers brief was one of the most energetic I’ve ever experienced – the guy delivering it and I worked out we’d met before when he’d been in a group of Scottish runners doing all the Norn Irn parkruns in a weekend, and I’d been at Wallace dishing out haribos.

He threw away anyone’s water bottles, named and shamed those with no barcode, and asked questions at the end of the brief!

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I was most impressed by the support outside the cafe, calling out cheery encouragement to many runners by name, and reminding us that we were “living the dream! Scotland’s Bondi beach!”

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There were a couple of 250 shirt wearers.

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And as I’m spelling my way through the word DANCER, I’m trying to get someone with the correct inital to affix the letter to my tracker.  I asked around at the first timers brief, and found a willing Emily (who only went on to be 2nd lady!)

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Strangely Approrpirate Song On Shuffle:

Music I had none, so I just had to listen to my breathing.  Which I reckoned was in jig time, (as opposed to jog time) and the tune going through my head was Brian the Laundry Boy, by Maureen Rutherford, which Adam Brady had played most beautifully during the demonstration team performance earlier in the week.  The tune starts at 2:57.

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Time:

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Well, I had no Minnie, no music, kept stopping to take photos, and hadn’t run all week.  Yes, I’d been dancing morning, noon, nad night, but that’s different muscles and different breathing. And anyway, as I’m fond of saying, don’t knock yourself out on a first visit – leave yourself room to grab a PB on a return visit.  Of which I truly hope there will be, some day.

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All my parkruns

 

 

parkrun tourism: Elusive Letter I at Inverness

Not that I take this parkrun tourism malarkay seriously or anything, you understand, but there’s an alphabet to be completed and I’m on a mission to conquer it!

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There’s no X at time of writing, and the nearest Z is in Poland.  Someone on the UK parkrun tourists Facebook page shared a link to a tracker, monitoring progress towards various targets, which includes an alphabet table, minus the X and Z.  I modified the tracker slightly by adding an admittedly amateurish outline of Ireland, and a COWELL countdown which will take me to 50 different events.  Oh and I colour coded it (well of course I did….)

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So.  Inverness.  I managed to be doing this one by dint of having a meeting in Edinburgh on the Monday, and travelling to Bonnie Scotland a few days early.  I’d never been in Inverness before, and I like nothing more than a new city to explore at my own pace.  I found Inverness to be utterly charming – the River Ness is big and fast flowing, and the various bridges crossing it each have their own, often wobbly, personalities.

IMG_1714It’s a small enough town to get your bearings quite quickly, and is heaving with kilt, shortbread and whisky purveyors. I was staying in an Air BnB close to the parkrun site, but even that was only a 20 minute walk from the city centre, along a glorious riverside and island hopping path.

Access:

I flew into Inverness airport, and a fairly regular bus service takes you to the city entre for £4.20 in 20 minutes.  The parkrun used to be in Bught Park, but its alternative (and probably permanent new) home is a few minutes away in Whin Park.  Easily reachable by car, and the number 2 bus passes close by as well. If you’re a tourist, the Hop On Hop Off Bus stops nearby too!

Facilities:

There’s a reasonably sized car park, and some decent loos, intriguingly financed by the delightful sounding Common Good Fund.

IMG_1712Coffee and post-run analysis talkes place in Cobbs cafe in the botanical park a few minutes away.

IMG_1739This is a really sweet cafe, but they do ask that runners remove their muddy shoes before entering.

IMG_1734  They do bacon and egg rolls, scones and snandwiches, but I was overawed by the selection of traybakes, opting eventually for a pistachio and cranberry slice.

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Course:

The Whin Park course starts at the playpark, and uses the duck pond as a gravitational focal point.

One lap of it, and then onto 3 larger laps, passing the plastic hippos 3 times.

IMG_1726It’s by the river, so it’s a fairly flat course, but can get a bit mucky.

Most of the pathway is gravel or trail or grass (or puddle) , so trail shoes are a good idea. Start and finish are in the same area, so you can find a tree or picnic table or bit of helter-skelter to leave your coat and keys at.

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Crowd:

Average attendance is a nice manageable 150 – there can be a bit of overtaking round the duckpond, but there’s no big bottleneck problems. I found the regulars really welcoming and chatty, and was quickly laughing and comparing stories with a few of them.  Billy was lovely – a pretty speedy guy, he shared the profound thought that some runners find it hard to just run, and not compete.

IMG_1732 I’ve never had this problem, I must admit, but we both agreed that the success of parkrun was dependent on it being a run, not a race.

Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

The parkrun weather fairy was having a bit of a lie-in, I think, and it was decidedly dreich as we set off, although the rain did stop after a while.  But yeah, the Dave Mathews band intoning

“These fickle fuddled words confuse me
Like will it rain today”

brought a wry smile to my face.  And then a softer heart-tugging moment when “Calum’s Road” came on, geographically apt, and I’d also been dancing to it the night before thanks to Nicol McLaren’s Band at the Dingwall Rally in Culbokie.

Gear:

Oh, my Garmin really is starting to worry me! You think you’ve located satellites, and then when lined up at the start it loses contact! My 150 shirt and tartan leggings were commented on,and I was using my arm pouch instead of my waist belt for my phone.

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Time:

Nope, my times are not getting any better at all, and I sauntered in around 34 minutes.  This is close to my first ever parkrun time, which makes me wonder if I’m getting any better at running at all.  But I try not to focus on those negative views.  I’m running every week.  And meeting new people.

 

IMG_1730And setting myself targets that I can acheive, and get excited about.

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And The Rest:

I adored Inverness, and I hope to revisit again soon.  There were lots of lovely eating places to chose from, many with menus offering 2 courses for £9.95, or even 3 courses for a tenner!

The scenery was stunning, and I took a trip on LochNess and to Urquart Castle.  And I even managed an evening’s Scottish Country Dancing with some more hospitable and charming locals. We danced till midnight, and when we left the hall it was still light outside…

All My parkruns

 

 

 

 

parkrun tourism: Ballincollig

 

IMG_1547We’re getting into a good groove now – my husband lets me know when he has business trips to parts of Ireland, and I work out which one has a nearby parkrun I’d like to visit. On this occasion it was to the city of my mother’s birth, and the capital of the self-styled Rebel County, Cork.

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It’s a 4 1/2 hour drive door to door, but we broke the journey on the way down, and then I got my first opportunity to drive his car and use the sat-nav to get to the Clayton Silver Springs Hotel.  Well, I  missed the turn-off first time round, as it’s a funny flyover affair, but I got there in the end.

Access:

I used the sat-nav to get me to the parkrun as well,  using an approximate nearby attraction.  The course page suggested parking at the Lidl store, where there is  loads of space.

IMG_1548  It’s a wee walk to the start of the run at the Regional Park, where there are a limited number of parking spaces.  And also a loo, though it’s one of those plastic pods which demands 20c off you.

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Crowd:

They seemed fairly young and speedy, but were very friendly and chatty.  I do love the very melodious Cork accent, but had to tune my ear in to catch the pre-run brief.

Course:

Two laps, pretty flat, all on tarmac or gravel, through some gorgeous trees.  It’s a sort of bow-tie shape, and as the start and finish are beside each other you can leave bags or jackets there.

IMG_1553There are markers at each km, and also a countdown at the finish.  Useful info is chalked onto the path at the start, as well as an encouraging message near the finish.

Gear:

This was their event number 47, and so they have no home-grown milestone T-shirt wearers yet.  I saw one red 50, but mine was the only black 100 on show, and that certainly attracted attention, in the form of supportive cheers on the way round, and some natter afterwards. My Garmin worked well, so did my headphones, and I used my Dogfit bag to store all my gear in, left at the tree at the start.

Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

I’m excited that it’s Eurovision 2017 next week, and have downloaded the CD already.  I smiled at the “Running on Air” song by Nathan Trent for Austria.

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OK so what’s your excuse for not sub-30-ing?:

Well, it was quite windy round the playing fields part.  And I get a bit nervous running on gravel.  And I’m nursing a sore throat.  Nothing to do with the amount of wine I drank last night, no, no, not at all.

And the rest:

Cork is a bit mad. I spent an afternoon aimless wandering its streets and entries, discovering that most of the cafes displayed a “Toilets are for customers use only” sign on the door. I’m guessing that there aren’t enough public toilets, everyone’s on a pub crawl, or the fact that the city centre is an island surrounded by water just promotes the urge…Pub Crawls aroud the heritage taverns, each with a suitably rebel name, are promoted, and I also enjoyed visiting the Elizabeth Fort and st Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

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After my parkrun I ventured down to Cobh.  Having visited Titanic Belfast, and Sea City in Southampton, I wanted to see how this town’s memories of Titanic had a local flavour.  The sat-nav and I fell out when she wanted to take me down a perilously steep road – Cobh is on a really sharp hillside and so consists of many many hills and steps.

I found myself wondering if its residents were particualrly fit after all that exercise, and. as if to prove my point, around the next corner I found a statue of Sonia O’Sullivam, Ireland’s greatest athlete.

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I visited the Cobh Heritage Centre, and learned not just about the Titanic connection,

but also about the Lusitania, the emigration story, the deporotation of convicts to penal colonies, the tale of Annie Moore, the first person to be processed through the Ellis Island immigration center, and the SS Sirius, the first ever ship to make the transatlantic crossing.

References to Titanic were everywhere – I walked all the way out to the memorial garden, which is a goodly hike out of the town centre.

I sustained myself with a seafood chowder at the heritage centre, and a delicious gluten free choclate cake at the Leonardo cafe in the town.

And the highlight of the trip was the breakfast stop-off at Blarney Woollen Mills – definitely worth a visit!

All my parkruns