Sunday, April 30, 2000

TR Poland

4/21 –5/1/00

I had intended this report to only describe Poland but there were some events in the UK leading up to this trip that adversely affected the Poland trip so thought it would be best to include those also.

And you probably thought that I was just sitting around on my hands after I had waved goodbye to my team of ex-virgins from the BBR at the end of the London Marathon.
Wrong! Four days later my baby brother Doug and his wife Darleen arrived from Richardson, Texas. I made them stay up that first day as I toured them around Cambridge in the rain. From experience we have determined that it is best to stay awake till your normal bedtime and then crash and sleep for as long as you need. When you finally do get up most of the jet lag is behind you! The next day (Friday) was the start of a long weekend so all four of us took off (in the rain again) on a worldwind tour of England and Scotland.

We drove up through the Lake District and stayed in the Lake Windermere area. The following day we toured through some of the back roads in the Lake District as we made our way north to Lanark, Scotland. We stopped in Lanark for lunch and a short walking tour to discover more facts about Sir William Wallace –Braveheart. This is where he did indeed marry 18 year old Marion Braidfute in 1296. And she was later killed by the mean old English sheriff of Lanark called Haselrigg whom William killed for revenge by splitting his skull with his huge broadsword. But contrary to the movie version, William and Marion did have a daughter before she was murdered.
We traveled on through the city of Perth to Stirling where we stayed overnight and Doug was able to complete his pilgrimage to the Wallace Monument. Stirling is the location where William Wallace reached his historical peak with a magnificent victory over an overwhelming English army on September 11, 1297. In 1298 he was appointed as ‘Guardian of Scotland’ and in 1305 he was betrayed by Sir John Montieth. On August 23, 1305 in Smithfield, he was hanged, disemboweled whilst still conscious and his entrails burned. His head was displayed on London Bridge and the four quarters of his body sent for exhibition at Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth. And you thought this was a PG-report!
It is fitting that the Wallace National Monument was built on top of Abbey Craig, Stirling – a 330-foot volcanic plug from which Wallace mounted the attack. The Monument was completed in 1869 and the top of the 220 feet high tower is reached by climbing 246 steps. Three chambers house various Wallace artifacts including Wallace’s famous double-handed broadsword. I always told my kids that if they could raise the sword above their head that they could lay claim as chieftain of the Wallace Clan!
The movie ‘Braveheart’ did provide a lot of positive exposure to Wallace and Scotland but I think that they might have gone too far in their appreciation when they built a new statue of Wallace or ‘Braveheart’ at the base of the Monument – in the image of Mel Gibson!

But now it was time to move north to Loch Ness and like everyone else who is captivated with the legend of the monster - look for ‘Nessie’. I told my baby brother that since he was the youngest and therefore more agile and quicker that it would only be fair that I hold the fishing pole and he swim out into the Loch with the line and bobber. He was to splash and act like a big fish and call “Here Nessie, here Nessie”! After we checked into a local hotel/B&B in Drumnadrochit we met a local Scotsman called Willie in the bar. We asked him where to look for Nessie. He told us that the only chance we had to see Nessie was to buy a large bottle of local Scotch Whiskey and the more we drank the better the better our chances would get! We had a delightful evening talking with Willie. And how smart he was!
For the next morning we went directly to the ‘Loch Ness 2000 – the new exhibition’. It is a high-tech, multi-media exhibition and presentation on the history of Loch Ness and Nessie. It covers everything from sightings over a hundred years ago to recent scientific studies and explorations including the last one a few years ago where an armada of sonar boats scanned ever square inch of the Loch. The conclusion was damnable frank! There is no Nessie and the Loch cannot ecologically support a monster or mammal of that size! Well- Burst our Bubbles! The next thing you know some scientific jerk will tell us there is no Santa Claus! And then none of us will get any more Christmas presents from Santa!
We were so flabbergasted and shocked that we just left and traveled on to St Andrews through the rain and intermittent sun. At least I knew that we would find great golf courses, some castle and church ruins there!

Everyone enjoyed St Andrews as it is a very pretty and picturesque town with a lot of history. We even managed to buy some Wallace tartans and momentos there since they were impossible to find in Stirling- I guess everyone believes that they become an honorary member of the Clan if they visit the Monument?
But now my own misery was about to begin. Did I mention rain a few times? Did I mention that this past April has been the wettest April on record in the UK? Well of course I had been running in this wonderful liquid sunshine all month including each day of the trip. Now I don’t know if weather is the reason but as each day of the trip progressed I seemed to feel worse and worse with a cold or flu. That final morning in St Andrews I got up early to run along the ‘West Sands Beach” where they filmed ‘Chariots of Fire’. It was so cold, rainy and windy as I ran along the beach that I quit after two miles. By the time we started the drive to Edinburgh I was feeling very poorly. But I wanted to show Doug and Dee the city of Edinburgh since it is a pretty city with a lot of history. It was raining so hard that we had to take a city bus tour and stay on the bus. Finally we left the city after lunch and started the 8-hour drive home. It rained all the way but thankfully my kind wife took pity on me and drove for two hours through torrential rain while I grabbed a nap. By the time we arrived home my cold or flu was in full bloom –and I was schedule to leave for Poland in two days!

Not only did I feel sick for the next few days but I felt badly that I could not accompany Doug and Dee into London to explore the city during those days. But they managed fine without me as I stayed in bed trying to kill off the flu bug that was unfortunately winning. Finally on Friday it was time to leave for Poland. If I had not prepaid the nonrefundable tickets and booked the hotel, etc I would have stayed at home. But the marathon was on Sunday and I still had hopes for a recovery in the next few days? So off I went! What a long miserable journey as I flew from Heathrow to Warsaw and then connected with a commuter flight on to Wroclaw. I had done a fair amount of research on Poland before leaving and was to find out that 75% of what I read or learned was wrong - at least when applied to Wroclaw.

Wroclaw, the city of 100 Bridges, is the fourth largest city in Poland with a population of 700,000. It is situated in the southwest province of Silesia. The city is celebrating its 1000th anniversary this year and has had a tumultuous history. For centuries the city was known as Breslau when it was part of Prussia. At the end of WWII, the city was confiscated from Germany and the German population forced to leave. Polish citizens from the city of Lwow in Ukraine were then forced to leave that city and occupy Breslau which reverted back to its Polish name of Wroclaw. Most of the city was destroyed in 1945. Wroclaw’s city center or ‘Old Town’ is delineated by the River Odra to the north and the original defensive moats to the south. The town square, called Rynek is the heart of the city and is the largest in Poland. It reminds me very much of the town squares in Tallinn, Estonia and Prague, CZR. The center-piece of Rynek Square is the Ratusz or town hall which was built in stages between 1290 and 1504. It has a large astronomical clock like Prague and much of its interior is well preserved and contains many original furnishings and paintings. The rest of Rynek Square has been reconstructed since 1945 to resemble the buildings of the 15th century. They have done an excellent job and the square is very colorful and artistic. But in Prague and Tallinn the old town squares contain the original buildings that have been restored and you really can tell the difference! And this is one of the first major errors I found in the guidebooks. They claimed that the cities were dirty and crime-ridden – I found just the opposite. Wroclaw is clean and most of the buildings in Old Town have been rebuilt or refurbished and new office buildings and hotels are being built. There are no signs of crime; e.g. bars or security screens on windows and storefronts. People walk around at all hours of the day and except for a few beggars there is no hassle or threats. The people are very friendly and strangely unfamiliar with tourists because tourism has yet to be discovered. It is a very pleasant city to visit. The only drawback is language. The guidebooks stated that most Poles speak English. Wrong! The only person I found to speak English in the whole city was the desk clerk at the hotel. Surprisingly even the young people could not speak English!

There are many other tourist attractions in the city. If you are into old churches then Wroclaw is your place. It could easily be called the ‘City of 100 Churches’. Most of the churches were built in the 14 and 15th Centuries and have been fully restored. But I have been ‘churched out’ and only viewed them from the exterior. But I did enjoy Wroclaw’s best-loved sight –‘The Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice’. This gigantic painting/mural, 360 feet long and 45 feet high, was commissioned in 1894 to celebrate the centenary of the defeat of the Russian army by the Poles near the village of Raclawice. It is housed in a specially designed rotunda that includes soil and props from the actual region and is so well done that it is difficult to tell where the props end and the mural begins. It is accompanied by a half-hour presentation to describe the battle scenes depicted in the mural. It had lain damaged and in storage for years until Poland escaped the communist cloak and is now Poland’s most visited site!
All these wonderful sites and attractions I was able to visit in only a few days while still feeling like a piece of warmed-up crap! Fortunately the weather was sunny and hot –very hot - which seemed to help me. Or maybe it was the scantily clad Polish women enjoying the first heat wave of the year as they walked around Old Town. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many young Polish women have unbelievable Barbie-Doll type figures –ultra slim bodies with large wonderful boobs! Forgive my male hormones – but the truth is -it was wonderful! Again a major drawback was that none of them spoke English.

The language issue did cause a few problems during my visit. When I finally found the race HQ to pick up my entry, etc. not one race volunteer spoke English. Since I have been through this routine a few times I was able to sort my own way through the process until it came time to pay. The entry fee was a whole 30 Zloty (zl) or $7.50 which included a T-shirt, goody package and finisher’s medal ( vs the norm of about $50). When I tried to pay they just kept saying “Nie” ( No). They refused to take my money? The only reason I can guess that they comp’d me is that I was the only American entered in the race and maybe they figured I spent enough just getting there? Another problem was that all the race instructions were in Polish and I couldn’t figure out what the last minute instructions were. But I did figure out where the race started so I just made sure to show up early so I could follow the crowd.
And lastly I had a difficult time with the menus. Piwo (beer) and woda (water) were easy to learn but most of the other important food groups were not as easy. But its amazing how quickly you can adapt to survive.

Finally Sunday or M-day arrived. When I woke up I felt about 60% which is the best I had felt all week. So I figured “shit, I’m here, I’ve nothing else to do and if I run real easy there is a good chance I may not die”! So off to the start you lazy bugger! It was a 9 am start which was probably OK in a normal year but the temperature had already climbed above 70 degrees F. This already had the signs of getting real ugly! Things actually went fairly smoothly for the first 20 miles but then my prediction started coming true. My body was still running a fever with the flu and by 20 miles the temperatures were exceeding 80 degrees and I just couldn’t cool down fast enough. And the race only had woda every 5 K which was not enough in that heat. But to make a long agonizing and painful story short, I finished (3:57:57) and I survived to do it again another day and another race!

Now for the reward! Lots of cold piwo while sitting under a cool umbrella at an outdoor cafĂ© on the Square while watching all those wonderful Barbie Dolls parade by in their mini skirts, shorts and halter-tops. Ah! Life doesn’t get much better!

But I would probably trade at least a few minutes of that glorious R &R to get rid of this damn cold that is still plaguing me even after my return. I have now resolved to rest and back off running until I beat this thing completely. Fortunately I have a few weeks before my next running adventure. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 16, 2000

TR London & Paris Marathons Part 2

France and England –Part 2
4/6 – 4/16/00

Now where were we? Oh yes! Arriving in Stortford after a 7-hour drive from Versailles. Did I mention that it started to rain as we approached the North Sea coast and it rained from the time we exited the chunnel until we arrived home? Welcome to England!
That evening the Wallaces and Ballingers stayed at home to rest and enjoy a home-cooked meal by the renowned ‘Chef Jean’ and complimented by some of the excellent French wines that we imported and liqueurs from other European countries.
A quick phone call confirmed that the rest of the BBR had arrived in London and Debbie and Holly were on a final shopping binge before they caught their flight back to Dallas Wednesday morning. John had to leave also on Wednesday for a business meeting in Budapest, Hungary so Fred planned to catch a train to Stortford and reunite with the rest of us for a few days at the ‘Wallace Hilton’ where the rates were much cheaper and the rooms better.

The following morning Dick and Sue visited with an elderly friend in a neighboring town while I picked Fred up at the train station. Nicole unfortunately had to go to work. Work –yuk! What a waste of good time that could be spent doing things that you LIKE TO DO!
Anyway the four of us non-workers took off to visit Cambridge. We toured around the city and the various college campuses. The weather unfortunately was not pleasant – sunny for one minute and cold and rainy for the next fifty-nine – not a satisfactory ratio! So after a few hours we returned home to prepare for an evening with the Bishops Stortford Running Club. I took Fred and Dick to the club to experience an evening with the local runners while Nicole and Sue went off to a local pub to experience local pub food and beer. The club members led us on a fast 8-mile tour around Stortford and as Fred commented “every hill in Stortford”. Actually it was only our regular route but Fred doesn't like hills. After the run and a quick shower at the club, I treated Fred and Dick to a massage by the club masseuse Sue – I call her ‘Magic Fingers Sue’ because she always finds some muscle that is hurting even when you think everything is fine. She didn’t let me down as she made all three of us writhe and scream in pain – but we all felt better after she was done!
Then we drank beer and talked with the club members whom explained to Fred and Dick that they weren’t sure whether the club was made up of “runners with a drinking problem” or “drunkards with a running problem”? I think both Fred and Dick were impressed with the camaraderie of the club and the participation for a small town like Stortford.

The following day (Thursday) turned out to be a rest or recharge day. With the weather still very inhospitable and everyone needing to do laundry we just lazed around the house and recharged our batteries for the next onslaught of activities. And of course another home-cooked gourmet meal by Chef Jean complimented by his exquisite wine cellar and liqueur cabinet –all part of the Maddog pre-marathon diet

Finally it was time to swing into action again! On Friday morning I accompanied the BBR into London on the train and they checked into their hotel – and indeed did confirm that the rooms were much better at the ‘Wallace Hilton’. The hotel selected in Paris by Marathon Tours was much better than the one in London. After they checked in we departed for Covent Garden to see if we could find tickets for ‘The Lion King’. I had tried to buy tickets in advance but the musical was sold out through October 2000. I didn’t hold out much hope but we proceeded directly to the Lyceum Theatre to see if they had any returned tickets. No luck! So we walked around Covent Garden until we found a discount ticket vendor to determine what shows he did have tickets for. As a joke I asked if he had six tickets for the Lion King and was shocked when he claimed that he had six tickets in a row in the balcony or Grand Circle for the evening performance. Sure enough – he did! He charged a 100% premium but we still jumped on them! Then I made a quick phone call to Nicole (still at work – yuk!) and asked her to meet us at the theatre. She wanted very badly to see the Lion King before we left London.
Then we were off to the marathon exhibition to pick up our race packets and visit the booths. It turned out to be a hectic day as we had to rush back to the hotel to meet and inform John that he was going to the Lion King and then meet Nicole at the theatre for dinner.
The Lion King is a great show. The sets and costumes are spectacular and according to Fred whom has watched the video many times with his six year-old son, follows the story line fairly closely.

On Saturday I left the BBR to do their own thing in London while I caught up on some personal chores at home. The weather was still miserable (cold and rain) and I have done the city tour too many times already. Apparently so had most of the BBR as they decided to spend the day indoors at Harrod’s! On Saturday evening I rejoined the group for the pasta feed and bunked out in Fred and John’s hotel room so that we could all catch the bus together to the start line. The marathon starts in Greenwich and Marathon Tours provided a charter bus to take their clients to the start. On Saturday we had reluctantly accepted the fact that the weather was going to be miserable during the race and were prepared to run in cold weather gear.

Boy, were we pleasantly surprised to wake up on M-Day to SUNNY and DRY skies! By the time the race started we had stripped down to shorts and a singlet! I forgot to mention that we all ran both marathons in a Texas-flag singlet that brought us many cheers from spectators that recognized the flag!
The marathon starts in Greenwich and the course passes many of the major tourist sites in London such as the Cutty Sark, Canary Wharf, the Tower of London, over the Tower Bridge, along the Thames River, past the London Eye, Big Ben and the Parliament Buildings to finish in St James Park.
Again we pledged that it was all or none – especially for the second one. Remember, I was escorting three running virgins on the second leg of their first-ever back-to-back marathons. Thus our primary goal was that everyone finish –the secondary goal was to beat 3:45 and our Paris time! And London did not want to make it easy to accomplish goal # 2! Although they used computer chips for timing just as Paris did the big difference was that the official time started with the gun and not the actual time that you crossed the start line (most races using computer chips start your time when your chip crosses the start line). It took us 02:15 to cross the start line plus 09:41 for the first mile so we had a huge time penalty to overcome to accomplish goal # 2. Again there were 30,000+ runners and the narrow streets squeezed the runners together and made it very difficult to stay together. But we used the same strategy that worked in Paris and always had each other in sight. We made up some of our penalty time in the first half and continued the strong even pace throughout the second half. John started to fade a bit after mile 20 (he hadn’t received the benefits of Magic Fingers Sue’s recuperative massage) but we took turns pulling him along with encouragement and lies. The last 10K are all willpower and mind games and we just helped him fool his mind. Much to his credit he sucked it in, focused on overcoming the pain and kept up with us! All four members of the BBR crossed the finish line hand-in-hand in 3:44:22! The three virgins accomplished an amazing feat –they not only ran the second leg of their first back-to-back marathons faster than the first but they ran a negative split in that second marathon. They should be very proud of themselves! As we walked back to the hotel through Hyde Park John commented “Well, we have just experienced a brief sample in the life of a Maddog – and once is enough!”

After showers and a short rest, Nicole and Sue joined us and we enjoyed a bottle of French Champagne to celebrate our success! Then we headed for the nearest pub to eat greasy food (to replace all the fat cells burned during the race) and wash it down with beer. Properly replenished we headed for the London Eye or as Dick calls it “the big-ass Ferris wheel”. I was able to reserve tickets in advance so we walked straight on for our ‘flight’ as they call it. The views of London are spectacular from the Eye. And unbelievably the weather was still cooperating with us –it remained sunny and dry until about 5 minutes after we got off the Eye and then it started to rain again. Thus we decided to tube it back to the hotel and find a restaurant close to the hotel for our victory dinner. Although we were all very pleased and wanting to celebrate it was a quiet dinner because fatigue was setting in. So we said our final good byes at the hotel and parted ways.

It was a fun time and I hope an enjoyable and memorable experience for all members of the BBR and their spouses who participated in this adventure. Maybe I will find out later this year as I threw a parting challenge out – there is an inaugural marathon in December 2000 in Tampa Bay (just up the road from our new home in Sarasota) the week after the Dallas White Rock Marathon- why don’t we do both????

Monday, April 10, 2000

TR London & Paris Marathons Part 1

France and England
4/6 – 4/16/00

The planning for this trip started over one year ago. As soon as we confirmed that we were moving to England a few of my running buddies from Dallas stated that they would run the London Marathon if we were still here in April 2000. After we arrived in England, I discovered that the Paris marathon was to be held the weekend before London so I asked or challenged them to run back-to-back marathons with me.

These runners are part of an informal group in Dallas called the ‘BrookBachRock’ or ‘BBR’ which is an abbreviation for Brookhaven College, Bachman Lake and White Rock Lake – the three locations in Dallas where we would meet for our training runs. The group has run together for over sixteen years and has added and lost various members throughout that period as some runners quit running and new runners joined the group.
When I left Dallas the group had dwindled down to about five members of which only two were from the original group. But those two, Fred Giles and John Hubbard, plus another ‘original’, Dick Ballinger, whom had retired and moved to Connecticut, accepted my challenge. Another member, Holly Moshier, also accepted the challenge.

Now to put the mentality of these runners and good long-time friends in perspective I must point out that these are the same group that gave a demure, non-competitive, non-obsessive person -‘moi’- the nickname “Maddog”! How was such a name derived? Surely it could not have been as simple as trying to denote that the owner was crazy?
Everyone already knew that fact? No, the explanation I prefer came from a sports article that was written when I completed the 50 + DC challenge. One of my esteemed colleagues/friends provided the following quote: “We call him Maddog because he is so tenacious. When he is in a race he will not give up no matter how difficult the obstacles or conditions are!” I accepted that comment as a compliment and have used the nickname proudly ever since.

Our initial plan was to submit our entries through the normal lottery for the London Marathon and use the ‘Wallace Hilton’ as our base. Since London gets over 200,000 entries for only 30,000 slots they use a lottery system. Many local runners here in England have to try their luck for years before they ever get accepted. We had expected/hoped that overseas entries might get special treatment but no way! We combined our entries under one check, which meant all or nothing, and we were both surprised and disappointed when we received a rejection notice. But not to be daunted we decided to buy our way in by purchasing a race package through Marathon Tours in Boston. The marathon tour operators get guaranteed entry slots for overseas runners to combine with travel packages. The advantage is that they provide all the travel arrangements and guarantee an entry. The disadvantage is the added time and cost because you must accept their travel itineraries and this factor caused Holly to drop out.
But the others were still game and indeed decided to use Marathon Tours to book both London and Paris for them. I had already sent my entry in for Paris but now I had a small problem –no entry for London! I called Marathon Tours and spoke to the owner and reminded him of all the money I had spent with his firm (Greece, Antarctica and London in 86). And since I was sending him three customers for Paris and London, the least he could do was sell me an entry slot. He finally agreed to sell me a slot – for $180! That’s the most I have ever paid for a marathon entry but I was not going to leave London after living here for a year without running the local marathon! So the BBR were on for back-to-back marathons!

The plan was to meet the BBR in Paris, run the marathon and return to our home for a few days before they moved into the package hotel in London. Nicole coordinated a business trip to Paris so we could take our car and make a final wine run also. In the final few days there was a surprising but pleasant change in plans. Holly decided to come to Paris just for the Paris Marathon and John brought his wife Debbie along also for the Paris portion of the trip. Thus there were five members of the BBR and three spouses in the final count when we met in Paris a few days before the marathon (Dick’s wife Sue had always planned to come on the trip).

To say it was a fun time would be putting it in very simple terms. We explored Paris together - well some of us. John and Nicole had to go off to work on Friday while the rest of us explored Paris (or shopped). But we terrorized Paris together the rest of the time. We did the city tour thing and wandered around the Louvre. Some ventured off to explore the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame and MontMartre. But we always met up for dinner including a great dinner cruise on the Seine on Friday evening. It just happened to be a birthday weekend for John and Dick. So everyone adopted the Maddog marathon diet – lots of food washed down with copious amounts of beer and wine! But we did get serious the night before M- Day, eating pasta and going to bed early. And M-Day turned out to be a fine day. The weather was cool and sunny.
The marathon started on the Champs Elysees next to the Arc De Triumphe. Fortunately the hotel selected by Marathon Tours was right next to the Arc so that we were able to walk to the start. The course passed through or by most of the major tourist sites in Paris such as Place De La Concorde, Jardin Des Tuileries, the Louvre, Place De La Bastille, through the Bois De Vincennes and past the Parc Zoologique and the Hippodrome de Vincennes, back along the Right Bank of the Seine past Notre Dame, the Grand and Petit Palais, Tour Eiffel, Palais De Chaillot, and through the Bois de Boulogne to finish on Avenue Foch next to the Arc De Triumphe.

We had decided before the race that it would be all or none; i.e. we would all finish together or not at all and the latter was not really an option! With 30,000+ runners and the narrow streets of Paris the race was very crowded and it was difficult at times trying to stay together. But we eventually worked out a system to keep each other in sight especially at the water stations and even for ‘relief’ breaks. Our goal was to finish in 3:45. We ran at an almost perfect pace except when Fred took the lead so we fired him quickly. And even though all of us went through a typical lull at some point during the race we pulled each other along to cross the finish line hand-in-hand in 3:45:12! Time to celebrate! So after our showers, rest, etc. we met and headed down the Champs Elysees to celebrate and enjoy a victory dinner.

On Monday the group had to separate and go different ways. Nicole had business meetings in Versailles on Monday and Tuesday so we decided to move to a hotel in Versailles. Since Dick and Sue were returning to England with us they accompanied us to Versailles. That gave us the opportunity to explore Versailles while Nicole was working and made it easier for her to get to her meetings. The rest of the group stayed in Paris because they planned to take the Eurostar direct from Paris to London on Tuesday. While they shopped and continued to explore Paris, Dick, Sue and I explored the Chateau Versailles and the town. As it turned out the Chateau and most of the town were closed on Monday but we were able to walk around the gardens or Parc of the Chateau and visit the Grand and Petit Trianons. The Grand Trianon was a ‘small’ castle or retreat built by Louis XIV in 1687 at the far end of the park to get away from the constraints of power and the crowd of courtiers at the Chateau. The Petit Trianon was built for the private use of Louis XV in 1760 and is situated in the middle of a botanical garden. It took us all afternoon just to walk around the park and to explore the old quarter of Versailles. We arrived back at the hotel about 6pm – and no Nicole? Nine PM and no Nicole and no message? I figured that she probably had to go to dinner with the NT people but normally she would always leave me a message. So finally we went to dinner and when we returned about 10:30pm –still no Nicole? I waited another hour and was in the process of demanding that the front desk contact the police when in walks – Nicole! She had left a message but the hotel had lost it! And they didn’t even offer us a bottle of wine or a drink to sooth our nerves?

The following morning Dick and I did an easy run through the gardens and park of the Chateau. They are so vast that we figured that you could run a 10K within the park without ever having to loop on any of the dirt paths. While Nicole was wrapping up her meeting, Dick, Sue and I visited the Chateau Versailles. It is the biggest palace I have seen in Europe –and I have seen a lot of them. Although it is grand and some rooms such as the Hall of Mirrors are definitely decadent, I have visited other castles such as the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia that are more gaudy and decadent!

But now it was time to make the long drive back to England. But first we made a stop at a local wine shop in Versailles where we bought four cases of excellent and high quality wines such as Margaux, Pauillac, St Emillion and Medoc to take back to our wine cellar in the US. We also bought four cases of inexpensive red wines to carry us through our final six weeks in England. Then it was a long 7-hour drive around Paris, across France, through the chunnel, across England, around London and back to Stortford. The rest of the BBR were already on their easy 3-hour Eurostar journey from Paris to London – but they didn’t have eight cases of great French wine with them!

And I guess I need to split this report into two sections to give everyone a rest. Rejoin us in England!

Saturday, April 01, 2000

TR San Marino

Italy- San Marino - Italy
3/29 –4/1/00

I had decided to book this trip on a spur-of-the moment whim a few weeks back. I realized that I would have a marathon-free weekend after Turin and did not want to sit around idly. So I figured that I could (should) explore one of those small countries on my European list. It is unlikely that I would ever want to fly all the way from the US just to visit one so what better time than now? I narrowed the list down to Andorra or San Marino and chose the latter since I figured the weather would be better there. If I hadn’t already purchased my tickets for Turin I would have just continued on from there last week by train. Now I had to fly to Bologna, rent a car and drive 135 km to San Marino. But it was a very pleasant drive since the highway passed through several vineyards and orchards and the blossoms were in full bloom.

San Marino is a small country in the heart of Italy about 22 km from the seaside resort of Rimini (10 km as the crow flies from the Adriatic Sea). It is shaped like an irregular quadrilateral with a total area of 60 sq. km. It is a very hilly country dominated by Mount Titano – 750 m high and in the center of the country. On the southwestern side of the mountain stands the town of San Marino, the capital of the Republic. Scattered in the hilly countryside surrounding Mount Titano are eight townships called Castles. The total population is only 23,000. The main highway approaching from Rimini has a large arched gateway but no border guards or custom agents. Other border crossings only have a road sign indicating that you are leaving one country and entering the other. The main road climbs from about 100-foot elevation at the border to the top of Mount Titano over 10 km (6 miles). It is a narrow two-lane road that twists and turns. I watched many cyclists tackling it during my three days there and it did not look like fun. No, I did not attempt to run it!

San Marino claims it is the oldest and smallest independent state/country in the world. Oldest maybe since it was established in 3 AD. But they conveniently omitted Vatican City and Gibraltar from their comparison list? I read in one of the tourist brochures that San Marino is hosting the ‘Games of Europe’s Small States’ in 2001. The participants are Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta and Monaco. See what I mean?
I think that I finally understand European politics. For thousands of years European countries have ignored or altered history and facts to suit their own selfish purposes and inflated egos! The main reason that there has never been (nor will be) a unified Europe is not the differences in languages or culture – it is because it is impossible to fit all the BIG egos in each small country into even one large country! ----- And I don’t even get paid for all this research and analysis!

But I do get to enjoy the research and San Marino is a pleasant country to visit. It reminds me of a combination of Gibraltar and Toledo, the medieval walled city south of Madrid. Mount Titano is similar to the Rock. The east side facing the Adriatic Sea has sheer and spectacular cliffs and what makes it even more spectacular are the three castles or defensive towers built on the edge of the cliffs at the three highest points. The First Tower or Guaita was built in the 10th century with a defensive wall around it on the west slope. The Second Tower or Cesta was built in the 13th century with a second defensive wall to expand the town. The Third Tower or Montale was built later (year unknown). As stated before, these towers were built on the highest peaks of the cliffs and were never taken in battle throughout their history. There is a man-made path called the ‘Passo delle Streghe’ or ‘Witches Pass’ along the very top of the cliffs that connects the three towers. Talk about some magnificent views and scenery! But one wrong step and you fall about 500 feet –straight down!
The towers were defended mainly by ‘Balestrieri’ or crossbowmen that were renowned for their courage and accuracy. There is still a regiment of sixty balestrieri in the San Marino military that compete throughout the region and the world in archery. And you can buy a crossbow almost anywhere- the price goes as high as $1000 depending on size and accuracy.

The old walled city is interesting but not as old or as spectacular as Toledo. There are several good cafes and restaurants and of course a million souvenir shops. It was one of the few places in the country that I could speak English. Other than the shopkeepers I was on another of those 3-day language immersion courses –in Italian! Even though the hotel had satellite TV, there were no English stations and I could not buy an English newspaper anywhere in the country. Just as well since I have now discovered that the stock market was not doing well and that would have just upset me.

All the time that I was driving around the country I kept visualizing and wondering “Where could one run a marathon in this place”? I mean –there was not a flat piece of land or road anywhere in the entire country! The best choice would be the road from Rimini to San Marino but that was a 4-lane highway with no shoulders and too much traffic. So I drove over to the stadium in another Castle (township) where the ‘Games’ are to be held and managed to locate one of the sports administrators. Surprisingly she was an American from NYC. Her parents had moved back to San Marino when she was sixteen and she had stayed to raise her own family there. She confirmed what I had already discovered but did suggest that I check out a walking path in a local park near the border. It was flat, safe from traffic but only 1 km in length. That meant 42 ---FORTY-TWO loops to complete a marathon! That did not appeal to me. I desperately drove around the other Castles looking for a flat road that was longer. But it just didn’t exist!
But later that day as I was reading some tourist brochures I noted that one mentioned a nature trail in Faetano Castle. So I drove over to check it out. Hellaluah! There was a dirt trail running along a small creek that had a few small hills but most importantly it was about 4 km in length. And by jumping up on a side road, a 2-lane country road that crossed over into Italy, I was able to continue another 6.5 km into Italy before the road merged with a major highway. I had laid out a 10.5 km path with only a few minor hills! And that meant only FOUR loops! I’ve done that before.
The Maddog Marathon was on! The next morning I drove back, laid out some water bottles at 2-mile intervals and started the marathon in Faetano. It was without a doubt the most boring marathon I have ever run. Even though I was running easy since I wasn’t competing against runners or a clock I hurt much more than last week in Turin where I was racing very hard? But I finished in 3:59 and have marked San Marino off my list. And that also represented the fourth time in the past five months that I had run a marathon (or part of) in Italy!

After the run I went back to the old walled city to explore some more and have a good lunch and a few beers while looking out at the magnificent views from the top of Mount Titano. Two days is plenty of time to explore the whole country!
The next day I had a late flight out of Bologna but I decided to leave early so that I could drive into Rimini and up along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. But there were so many beach huts, amusement parks, cafes, etc along the beaches that I could hardly see the beaches or the Sea. So I cut back to the tollway and proceeded on to Bologna so that I could have some time to explore that city also.

Bologna is a very interesting city that dates back to the Etruscans during the 6th century BC. But it was not until the Romans established a Latin colony called ‘Bononia’ in 191 BC that the city started to flourish. It experienced many wars and finally became a Papal State in the 15th century. There is an ‘old town’ or historic region in the center of Bologna that dates back to the 10th century. There are several unique and interesting buildings and tourist attractions centered around Piazza Maggiore in the old town such as the Neptune Fountain. It was built in 1563 and represents the symbol of papal power: Neptune rules the seas just as the Pope dominates power over the land. At the foot of the God Neptune are four putti which represent the Ganges, the Nile, the Amazon and the Danube, that were the rivers of the continents known up to that time. Just off the square are the “Le Due Torri’ – ‘The Two Towers’ that are the symbol of Bologna. The Asinelli Tower was constructed in 1120. It is 97 meters high. The Garisenda Tower was constructed in the same period but construction was halted at 47 m because the ground was unstable and the tower started to lean. It leans more than the Tower of Pissa and is therefore under constant care and maintenance. There are several palaces and churches in the old town that date back to the 12th and 13th centuries.
The old town also has the porticos or porches built over the streets like Turin which came in handy since there was a light drizzle most of the morning. I stopped at a restaurant in old town for lunch and had –guess what? - Spaghetti Bolognese. I don’t know what secret ingredients they use but the spaghetti sauce was without a doubt the most delicious that I have ever tasted anywhere in the world!!! I wish that I had had another day to explore the city. But it was time to return to cold, cloudy and dreary England.

Fortunately my 5th and final visit to Italy in the past eight months had no bad incidents or events so I at least left Italy with pleasant memories and a wonderful taste of that delicious Bolognese sauce.