Tuesday, September 28, 1999

TR Scotland

Trip Report
Edinburgh Marathon
Edinburgh, Scotland

Hi! I’m back for a few days and waiting for Nicole to return from her Asian business trip before we take off again. I feel sorry for her because she is going to be severely jet-lagged!
After Nicole and I parted company in the Vienna airport she proceeded directly to Hong Kong and I flew home to repack and pack up the car. Edinburgh, Scotland was hosting their inaugural marathon on Sept 26th. They have hopes of this race becoming the premier fall marathon for the UK and threw a lot of money at it. It was quite successful and very well organized. But more about the race later.
Since I had not run a marathon in Scotland I had planned to run this one. And since Nicole would be away on business I figured that I might as well leave early and accomplish another goal I had for Scotland –to play golf! I tried unsuccessfully to book tee times at St Andrews and Carnoustie only to find out that singles cannot reserve tee times. You just have to show up and hope you can get slotted with a group.

Since it is an eight-hour drive to Edinburgh I decided to leave a day early and take my time to explore some parts of England and Scotland that I had not visited yet. So I jumped onto the M25 and M6 motorways and made my way north to Leeds @ 100mph. From there I took back roads through the Yorkshire Dales National Park which is very scenic with lots of green hills and valleys. I continued west to the Lake District National Park that is one of the prettiest areas of England.

I stayed a night in Windermere, a small village located on Lake Windermere.
I was curious to see how it compared to Lake Windermere and Inveremere, British Columbia. I had visited the Canadian versions over 30 years ago when my brother lived there. The Canadian Lake is more scenic because the surrounding mountains are higher but the English village of Windermere has more charm because it is much older. My B&B was an old Coach Inn over 200 years old. I walked a few blocks to have an excellent meal of Scottish salmon in a restaurant that has been operated by the same family for over a hundred years. And then I walked across the cobbled street to enjoy an ale in a 400 year-old pub! But both the English and Canadian areas are very pretty and have their own unique charms and I heartily recommend that you visit both if you get the chance.

The next day I continued north through the Park on back roads that went through and over the Cumbrian Mountains (this term is used loosely since the highest peak in England is Scafell @ 3206 feet!). These roads would have scared the crap out of me six months ago but now that I have my Ph.D. in UK driving I rather enjoyed barreling down the 8 to 10 foot wide roads with 4 to 6 foot high stone walls on each side never knowing when you may meet another car or even a bus on the next curve! When you do meet another vehicle you just move over as close to the wall as possible and pray that there is enough room for both vehicles. The English are really good at it –they don’t even slow down!
I passed through some really pretty villages and by some nice lakes and this definitely an area that I want to bring Nicole back to before we leave. It would be great for hiking and walking.

I eventually worked my way back to the M74 motorway that heads north to Glasgow but after a hundred miles got off on back roads again and headed for Lanarkshire (Lanark County). The Wallace Clan grew up in Lanark County, Ontario, Canada and often visited the town of Lanark, Ont. that had a large woolen mill. Lanark, Scotland is a small city that is very old and one of the main attractions is a an old church at the entrance of High (Main) Street that has a life-size statue of Sir William Wallace sculpted into it’s front fa├žade! Lanark is situated in the highlands of Scotland and has a lake, Loch Lanark and the Clyde River flowing through it. A mile south of Lanark is a small village called New Lanark that is designated a World Heritage Village. In 1785 a Scottish entrepreneur built a large woolen mill (at the time the largest mill in Scotland) on the banks of the Clyde River and also built a small village to house his employees. This village has been restored and about 150 inhabitants –mostly direct descendants of the original families- live in the employee houses.
Lanark, Scotland has more going for it than the Ontario version!

Then it was time to head to St Andrews. St Andrews is a small city, about 40,000 people of which half are students at St Andrews College- the oldest college in Scotland. There are also two private schools in St Andrews for lower grades. There is lots of history. St Andrews cathedral was built in the 1200s and there are some castles in the area also. And of course St Andrews is the home of golf and the St Andrews Golf Club. The Club has five golf courses, all are link courses.
After finding my B&B on the edge of town, the owner was able to advise and assist me. He used to be a member of Carnoustie so was able to call and get me added to a group on Friday afternoon. So with that tee time reserved I proceeded to St Andrews Golf Club the next morning to wait in line for an opening. After an hour’s wait I was slotted with an American couple from Boston. I was ready to play at the home of golf -St Andrews! Then one of the following four things (or combination of) happened:
1) My playing partner was a very good golfer and I had to play at his level
2) The golf Gods smiled down on me all day
3) Some ancient ancestral Scottish gene that had played the course 200 years ago took control of my body and played for me
4) I pulled shots out of my butt all day
Because I shot a 42 on the front nine and a 43 on the back nine for the lowest score in three years. And that was only the second game of golf that I had played since retiring!
Believe me I was very excited and happy
After the game I went for my last training run around St Andrews. I explored many parts of the city and ended up running along the West Sands beach where Chariots of Fire was filmed. I got rained on pretty hard but that was ok as the weather during the game had been surprisingly good. I had expected cold rainy weather but got cool sunny weather for most of the week.
By this time I was beginning to feel cocky and confident but that would not last long. Carnoustie brought me back to reality very quickly the next day. Everything you have heard or seen about that course is true. It is a bitch! It is very, very long –two par 4s are 460+ yards. And every hole is target golf since the fairways are so narrow. There is always a wind blowing from some direction from the sea- usually in your face! The rough is very difficult to hit out of. Eventually I realized that the best shot out of the rough was a pitching wedge and hit it as hard as you could and hope that your ball made it back into the fairway! There are bunkers and burns (creeks) everywhere. The bunkers are humongous- again the best shot is a sand wedge just to get the ball back in play. On the 16th hole, a long 245-yard par 3 protected by two huge bunkers, I put my tee shot into the left bunker. My ball was lying in the sand three feet from an 8-foot high vertical wall of grass! I considered hitting backward to the fairway but decided to take one attempt at getting it up over that wall. Somehow I made it, barely, and two-putted a 20-yard putt for one of my few bogeys. But I did manage one birdie- on the shortest hole on the course- a 147-yard par 3 protected by the burn, bunkers and a dragon (or so it seemed)!
I actually had a respectable 93 standing on the t-Box of the 18th. But I misread the distance in the scorebook and placed my put my third shot directly into the burn protecting the green. But unlike Van der Velde at the Open, I did not take off my shoes and socks and contemplate playing out of the burn. But it cost me a triple bogey for a 50 on the front and back nine for an even 100! But even though I considered myself to be humbled I enjoyed the challenge of Carnoustie and would love to play it again!
A short travel tip here. If you go, stay in St Andrews because there is nothing in Carnoustie except the golf course!

The next day I had to head into Edinburgh to prepare for the marathon. I detoured north to Perth, Scotland. I wanted to visit Perth since my mother was born and raised in Perth, Ontario and my grandparents lived there most of their life. Perth, Scotland is a fairly large city but very pretty. They have kept all the old buildings, there are few modern buildings and all buildings are five stories or less in height. High Street has been turned into a pedestrian mall and it is a very charming city – much nicer than the Ontario version.

My B&B that I had booked through the marathon was located just off the Royal Mile, the main street that runs from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood Palace where the Queen still spends part of the summer each year. Edinburgh is a real neat city to visit. There are lots of attractions and history to explore. Also lots of cafes and even more pubs. Unfortunately the drawback of marathons is that you can’t enjoy the pubs until after the race.
I didn’t experience any of the difficulties of the past few marathons in picking up my race packet because there were no communications problems. And the next day turned out to be the coolest day of my visit which is what you want for a marathon. We were bussed out to Dunfermline in the Kingdom of Fife for the start. The start was close to the Abbey where Robert The Bruce is buried (you have to be Scottish to know who he is). Fortunately I just happened to meet 5 or 6 colleagues from the Stortford Running Club so we were able to shoot the breeze until the start. A few local runners told us that the course was very hilly and after only four miles I realized that they were not lying. At mile 6 we ran over the Forth of Fife Bridge, a long suspension bridge very similar to the Golden Gate Bridge but the scenery is not as spectacular. At that point I knew that brains were more important than brawn in this race because of the hills. So I immediately started to slow down. As it turned out the hills actually helped me because by 10 miles my right leg was hurting again (I had been concerned that it had not recovered from Austria) and I discovered that it hurt less when I was running up or down hills. I assume that was because I was using different muscles that were not strained. When I was running long flat stretches and my leg would start to hurt I would actually wish for hills!
At mile 24 I decided to press the pace because the last two miles were downhill along the Royal Mile, through the courtyard of Holyrood Palace (which the queen was kind to lend to us for the day since she wasn’t using it), along the base of Arthur’s Seat (a mountain overlooking the city) to finish in the Meadowbank Sports Stadium where the Commonwealth Games were held. I figured I could stand the pain for just two miles if it would help me finish under 3:35. The last two miles were the fastest of the marathon for me and I had to sprint the final 200 yards in the stadium to finish in 3:34:30!
Then it was straight to the massage hall again. But they had many more masseuses than Austria and someone helped me on to a table immediately and started working on my sore legs. It sure helped and I need a quick recovery since I have another marathon this weekend!

Finally the rewards: a quick hot bath, some food and then I started pub hopping and enjoying the fun atmosphere of Edinburgh –even on a Sunday. However I had to be careful because all the pubs were watching the finals of the Ryder Cup and there were a lot of pissed-off Scots drinking. And that is not a good combination –especially if you are an enemy! So I had to be very silent and careful with my cheers! I never did see the end because I had to leave for dinner.

And lastly a long boring 8-hour drive directly home @100mph-except through Birmingham where the M6 is always backed up bumper-to-bumper for an hour!
I am looking forward to few days’ rest and to catch up on the NYSE before Nicole and I depart again. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 20, 1999

TR Austria

Wauchau Marathon
(9//15 –9/20/99)

The first thing I had to do before taking this trip was make a quick trip into London to visit the US Embassy. Although my passport is only three years old it had absolutely no more space for entry/exit stamps so the embassy added twenty more pages which should keep me going for the rest of my time in England.
Then it was off to Vienna. Nicole thought that she had already visited Vienna on a previous family ski trip so I left a few days early to explore Vienna on my own. Although it is an old city dating back to 100 AD most of the history revolves around the Habsburg emperors who ruled from 1282 to 1918. And most of the buildings in the old city only date back to the 1800s when the fortification walls were torn down and a majestic boulevard (about 5km) was built around the city as a ring road. All the main public buildings such as the opera, theatre, museums and palaces are built along the ring.
It is very easy to walk to all the major tourist sites in the old town.
The main tourist attractions include the Imperial Palace, home to the Habsburgs. It has several wings, one of which contains the Spanish Riding School where they train the Lipizzan stallions. The formal performances are held on Sat & Sun so I attended one of the morning training sessions that included most of the rides without music. The riding arena is spectacular and exemplifies how lavishly the Habsburgs lived. Then there is a summer palace called Schonbrunn built in the 1700s. It rivals the palaces in Russia for decadence! There is more gold used in the interior decorating than exists in Fort Knox.

I lucked in and managed to get a ticket to a special concert of Mozart and Strauss music held in the grand ballroom of the summer palace. Mozart performed a concert in that room when he was six years old! The acoustics were great without any amplifiers or microphones, etc.
Other attractions are the opera, national theater, several churches, and homes once occupied by Mozart and Strauss. A local landmark is a giant Ferris wheel, 200 feet in diameter, built over 100 years ago. There were three similar wheels built in London, Chicago and Paris that have all been scrapped. There are 15 gondolas that hold 37 people and offer spectacular views of Vienna. I went for one ride since they have just built a new 400- foot wheel in London for the Millennium celebration and I intend to ride it before I leave England.
There are also cruises offered along the Danube to view the sites of Wien or you can cruise for several hundred miles if you prefer. I decided to wait for Nicole and cruise the Danube along the Wachau Valley.
Nicole flew in on Friday evening and quickly realized that it was Salzburg, not Vienna that she had visited before. But no problem as her trusty husband/guide took her on a quick three-hour walking tour of the city.

Communications was not a problem in Wien. Although all the signs, information, menus, etc. are in German, most people speak at least three languages and will respond in English if asked. It makes a linguistic-handicapped American feel very stupid.
However when we left the city on Sat morning for the Wachau Valley, it was a very different story! Only two people- the desk clerk and barman at our hotel spoke English. I had the usual difficulties trying to pick up my race number and packet for the marathon since none of the volunteers spoke English. And dinner was a funny experience each night. There were no English menus and our waiters spoke no English. It’s kind of like one of those TV games- “What’s menu item # 4?” “What will you get if you order #2?”
But we made good guesses and we always had great wine and beer because those important items I had learned real quickly.

The Wachau Valley starts in Krems about 50 miles west of Vienna and runs for about 30 miles along the Danube. They have been growing grapes and fruit and making wine in the valley for over 1000 years. Krems was granted city status in 995 AD.
I try to compare wine valleys to Napa but Wachau is just so much different. The Danube flows down the middle of the valley and the mountains rise rapidly from the river edge. The towns and villages are built along the river and up the mountains. There is a bike path, a two-lane highway and railroad track running along the length of the valley and in many cases all three are cut into the sides of the mountains. We took a boat cruise from Krems to Durnstein and discovered that you get a much better view from the boat. The little villages are very old and scenic. Durnstein is the home of the Durnstein Castle where King Richard the Lionhearted was captured and held for ransom during the Holy Crusades. I thought it was the nicest of the several small villages along the valley.
The vineyards are typically tiered up the mountain above the villages and all the vineyards have a cellar or outlet in the nearest village so that you don’t have to drive all around to do your wine tasting. You can take a train or boat to a village, walk around and visit a dozen cellars and crawl back to the train or boat.

As for the purpose of going there- the Wachau Marathon- well that’s a different story. The marathon was a point-to point race. We took a train 18 miles west to Aggsbach. The Austrians may speak German but they don’t share the German organizational skills and efficiency. We got our first glimpse when we went to the pasta party to find a complete fiasco so we left and found our own pasta. The next morning the race started 20 minutes late. The course ran along the Danube passing through several small villages with vineyards all the way. The last 8 miles were run around Krems. Since the course was point-to-point and fast I decided to go for broke and started at a 7:35 pace. But only 8 miles into the race my right leg started to tighten and by 11 miles it was cramping and I was in pain. That is the first time in 140 marathons that I had ever experienced that problem. I figured the best thing to do was stop, stretch and massage the leg until it loosened up. I continued doing this until 13 miles when it finally relaxed enough so that I could run without pain as long as I didn’t run faster than an 8:30 pace. Around 18 miles it seemed to loosen up and I foolishly (in retrospect) dropped the pace back to 7:45 but that only lasted until mile 21. At that point it was cramping so bad that I knew that the wisest thing to do was just back off and jog in and hope that I didn’t injure it seriously.
When I finished (3:47:12) I went straight to the medical tent but they were so overloaded with serious dehydration cases (it was very hot!) that they just directed me to the massage tent.
There I waited in line for 45 minutes before they could get to me and by then my leg was so stiff and sore that I couldn’t move it!
But a massage did help some and then it was limp around for another hour while I tried to find my finisher’s T-shirt and claim my warm-ups form the baggage bus. What I am trying to paint here for my fellow runners is that the course was great and the area fantastic but the organization and logistics sucked!

To summarize the two areas for those who might be interested in visiting. Vienna is an interesting city that can be visited in two or three days. If you are into classical music you could spend more time and not be bored. It is reasonable cost-wise by European standards.
The Wachau Valley is very beautiful and would make a great vacation spot if you are into wine and food. I would love to go back and do a combination bike and cruise vacation. You could easily spend a week or two biking, hiking and cruising along the Danube and stopping at a different village every night.

Well I must close this report and go repack my suitcase and start packing the car as I am driving to my next country. Nicole deserted me in Vienna on the way home. She had to leave for Asia on business direct from Vienna and will be gone for a week. So I am leaving early to play some golf in Scotland before the marathon next weekend. Stay tuned for next week’s traveler’s tips!

Monday, September 06, 1999

TR Norway

Trip Report
Oslo Marathon
Oslo, Norway
(9/3 –9/6/99)

Oh! What a difference a week makes! At least in communications.

Oslo is much different from Moscow; 800 Thousand vs 10 Million people and about 40% speak English as a 2nd (or 3rd) language.

This was my third trip to Oslo this summer and I was hoping that this one would leave pleasant memories unlike the first two. The first trip was during the weeklong train tour through Sweden and Norway. When I got to Oslo there were no hotel rooms to rent so I had to visit for the day and then travel on to Goteborg, Sweden to get a room. The next trip to Oslo was during our Baltic cruise. It was the last port and my sinus infection was kicking into high gear and pain and I spent most of the afternoon on the Acker Brygee drinking $8 beers trying to kill the pain with booze!

But fortunately the third time was the charm as I had a very pleasant visit this time.
Oslo is a fairly small city even though approximately one-third of the Norwegian population lives there. Although it is celebrating its 1000th birthday this year there are very few buildings older than a few hundred years because they have all been destroyed by fires, wars, etc. Even the Akershus fortress and castle which is the oldest landmark in the city and celebrating its 700th birthday has been rebuilt several times during that period. So its architecture is not as impressive as many younger castles throughout Europe. But they were holding a pageant this past weekend, which included full dress re-enactment of life and battles around the fort during the 17th century which were very interesting.

Oslo’s beauty lies in its location. It is situated at the mouth of the Oslo fjord that is about 150 miles long. Oslo is built up on both sides of the fjord. The downtown core is built along the harbor and rises up into the mountains on both sides. There are several parks and green areas throughout the city. The downtown is small –about one square mile running from the harbor and the Aker Brygge (similar to Fisherman’s Wharf but more modern and upscale) to the main street called Karl Johan Gate that runs one mile from the Central train station to the Royal Palace. Inside that core is the Aker Brygge, the Akershus castle, the national Theatre and most of live and movie theatres, hotels restaurants, pubs and sidewalk cafes. The streets are filled with sidewalk musicians and entertainers and on weekends there are literally tens of thousands of locals strolling around and enjoying the cafes and pubs.

There are many other tourist attractions such as the Viking ship museum that houses two 1000-year-old Viking ships and artifacts; the Kon-Tiki museum that houses the Kon-Tiki, a papyrus ship that sailed around the world; and the Vigeland Sculpture Park that contains hundreds of nude sculptures of men, women and children depicting life from birth to death. On the outside of town there is the Hollmenkollen ski jump high above the city with some spectacular views. And of course there are several museums that focus on Norwegian and Viking culture.

One can easily spend two full days visiting Oslo but make sure it is in the summer!
As for the marathon I leave with mixed feelings. They screwed up my entry form; i.e. they lost it. No matter, I went to the problem desk and got re-registered. At least I was able to find someone who could assist me in English. But all the written race instructions and info was in Norwegian. And after charging $50 for the entry fee I had to pay $15 to get a T-shirt!
Then I decided to go to the rice party since it was the cheapest dinner in town – only $5 which is a bargain in Norway. (more later on prices in Norway). Since this is really considered a local race they don’t advertise outside of Scandinavia. As a result it is small; 1500 half-marathoners and 500 marathoners. There were only three entrants outside of Scandinavia; a German, a Brit and me. And I couldn’t find the Brit at dinner so I had nobody to talk to again! And they conducted all the presentations in Norwegian!
The race started at 1:30 pm on Saturday at the Bislett Stadium. Track enthusiasts will recognize that track as one of the main venues in Europe for track events. I just don’t understand why the Europeans start most of their races between 11am and 2 pm. It was too damn warm by start time –low 70s! The marathon was twice around the half marathon loop that was three concentric loops around the downtown core and Vigeland Park. But the loops overlapped so it was very confusing which direction to go, etc. Oh yeh! They had signs and were shouting directions –in Norwegian! I had to concentrate on what kilometer I was on and when I arrived at a junction I would shout the next km and someone would point in the right direction. Pain in the ass but it worked! And I ended up running by my hotel on Karl Johan Gate four times. By the fourth time my hotel room was calling to me “Come lay down, have a beer; come lay down----------“ You get the idea!
On top of all that the course was very hilly and we got to repeat those hills many times and by the time the first half was done there were no more sponges and very little water left. In other words they don’t get an ‘A’ for logistical support. But somehow in spite of all these obstacles I was feeling great and got into a ‘zone’ right from the start. I had decided to go out at a sub-8 minute pace and hold it until the end or I crashed –whichever came first! I don’t know why but the crash never came and I finished the race feeling good in 3:25:37! That’s my fastest time in eighteen months so obviously I am very pleased with that performance!

After the race I decided to treat myself to another reindeer steak at one of the finer restaurants on the Aker Brygge since I don’t plan on going back to Scandinavia for awhile. Now I need to fill you in on prices. Norway is one of the most expensive countries in Europe! I just don’t understand how anyone can live there? A beer at a pub runs $6 to 8. On the Aker Brygee, $8 to 10! A personal pan pizza and pepsi cost me $15 at Pizza Hut. A Big Mac is $9. Don’t even think about wine with dinner. A bottle of house wine is $30 to 40! I felt a bit guilty about paying $30 for a reindeer steak until I checked a beef steakhouse; a 16-oz T-bone was $50, a 12 oz Filet -$70! And from what I can determine all other living expenses are proportional.

But do not let that stop you from visiting Norway. The west coast of Norway, from Bergen all the way up above the Arctic Circle has the most spectacular natural scenery in Scandinavia. The mountains rise up out of the sea and go along the fjords for mile-after-mile of awe-inspiring beauty. It is similar to the scenery in Alaska but more of it and I think more forests and greenery on the mountains. It is truly one of the prettiest parts of Europe! And of course it should only be visited in the summer preferably June when you would have the summer solistice and 20+ hours of daylight.
Hope you can make it some day. It is truly a lifetime experience and memory!