Monday, May 22, 2000

TR Denmark

DENMARK – 5/19 –5/22/00

This trip had been placed on my itinerary over one year ago. The 1999 Copenhagen Marathon conflicted with the Prague Marathon on May 23/99. We chose to go to Prague last year to begin my comeback from the ‘marathon burnout’ of 1998. But I immediately placed Copenhagen on my 2000 schedule. For awhile it looked dubious that we would be in England long enough to make the one-year anniversary of that date but Nicole came through and delayed our departure. I was very happy to be able to run the 2000 Copenhagen Marathon on May 21/00 because it accomplished many significant things for me:
1) It represented the 31st marathon that I completed during that year – a personal record for me with regards to the number of marathons run in one year
2) It represented the 31st country completed in the past year and a total of 40 countries that I have completed a marathon in
3) It represented the completion of a marathon in all the Scandinavian countries

Thus it is no surprise that the focus of this trip was the marathon. But I was also pleased that our last trip of this wonderful and exciting year in England should be back to the Scandinavian region that is my favorite area in Europe. The Scandinavian countries have some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Europe including the beaches and coastline of Sweden’s archipelago, the lake districts of Finland and the fiords of Norway.
The Scandinavian people are friendly, nature loving and athletic. And the Scandinavian women in my humble opinion are the most beautiful in the world! But –and there is always a but- the region has two major negatives: 1) the winters are cold, dark, and long! and 2) the Scandinavian countries have the highest taxes and cost-of-living in Europe!
So you don’t want to live there but it is a great place to visit – in the summer!

Nicole and I had been to Copenhagen last summer to start our Baltic cruise and had done the city and canal tours so this time we decided to explore the outskirts of the city and countryside. Fortunately we arrived early Friday and I was able to pick up my race package, etc that afternoon which freed us up to explore all day Saturday. We decided to take a Castle tour of North Zealand even though we are kind of ‘castled out’ because it offered the best tour of North Zealand.
Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is located on the eastern tip of Sjealland Island ( Zealand Island) that sits in a strategic position, separated from Sweden by the narrow Strait of Oresund. This strait is the only passageway from the Baltic Sea into the North Sea and the rest of the world!
The tour followed the coast north through the suburbs of Copenhagen along the ‘Danish Riviera’. There are many beaches, parks and beautiful homes and mansions ($500K to $5M) along the coast. The views are great as you can see the coast of Sweden across the Oresund. One thing that I noticed as we left the city was that the bike paths common throughout the city continued alongside the roads even out in the country.
We passed the Eremitageslot – a royal hunting lodge built by King Christian VI in 1736 before arriving at the Kronburg Slot (Slot = Castle) in Helsingor. It overlooks the port of Helsingor at the narrowest point of the Oresund.

Helsinborg, Sweden is only 4.5Km away. The castle was built in 1420 as a defensive fort from which the Kings of Denmark charged a toll or tax for all ships passing through the Oresund. It is also renowned as the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet that was based on this castle and a Danish King. Each year live performances of Hamlet are performed in the courtyard of Kronburg Slot.
We then proceeded into the lake district of North Zealand to visit Fredensborg Slot, a royal palace built in 1740. It is still used as the summer residence for Queen Margaret and the royal family. And finally we continued on to the city of Hillerod to visit Frederiksborg Slot. This castle, built in 1560 by King Frederick II, was severely damaged by fire in 1859. It was restored by the Carlsberg brewery in 1865 and turned into a national museum. It contains many of the original furnishings that were saved from the fire and is the most spectacular of the castles visited.
In addition to the castles we enjoyed the scenery of the Danish countryside and the small villages that we passed through so it was an enjoyable tour. But it was time to return to the city and partake of the standard pasta dinner in preparation for the race.

Sunday was M-day and it started out as a very nice day weather-wise – sunny and warm. But by the time the race finished (for us slow pokes) it had turned to overcast and some light rain. That was fine since the water stops were only every 5K like most European races. And I was surprised to find that the race provided local water in plastic cups vs bottled water like most races.
The course started and finished in the center of the city close to the Radhuspladsen – the City Square next to the City Hall. That and the fact that it was flat are the only two good things to say about it. I did not like the course! Only about 3 or 4 miles were run through the historic and interesting part of the city. The rest was run through the suburbs and industrial area near the docks. And the entire second half was run on bike paths and sidewalks next to the roads which meant a lot of stepping up and down which is hard on the legs and dangerous when you are tired.
I ran with a gentleman from Copenhagen for about ten miles. He was two years younger than me and running his 41st marathon this year in an attempt to set a world record for the most number of marathons run in one year. The record is 100 and he hopes to run 105! He had run a marathon on Saturday and I had to let him go at 18 miles because I was slowing and he was still pushing hard. In this sport if you start to feel cocky or mighty it is so easy to meet someone to slap you down and put you in place quickly.
I was doing OK time-wise and pain-wise until I hit that invisible brick wall at 36Km. The last 6 Km were not fun! I can’t remember how many hundreds or thousands of times that I told myself “Just one more step-just run one more step John”! But it worked as I willed myself to struggle across the finish line in 3:49:14. I was not pleased with my time but at least I finished alive and injury-free!

Now it was time for a quick shower and to spend the rest of the day enjoying ‘Wonderful Copenhagen’. The entry fee included free entry into the Tivoli Gardens so Nicole and I visited the park. It contains many gardens, concert halls and stages, an amusement park and several restaurants. Unfortunately we did not find it appealing or interesting. The restaurants and amusements rides were exorbitantly priced so we had a small snack and a beer and left. Instead we strolled down the Stroget to the Nyhavn.
The Nyhavn or ‘New Port’ was built in the 17th century and is now one of the major tourist sites in Copenhagen. It is very colorful with lots of great restaurants. We enjoyed an excellent dinner and wine while watching the beautiful women of Copenhagen stroll by. But the view wasn’t cheap –I had almost forgotten how expensive the Scandinavian countries can be. But then again, it was out last dinner and trip in Europe and it was worth it!

Now we are back home in England. The movers came this morning to pack up and move the majority of our stuff. We leave on Saturday, May 27th. We are flying to Houston via Dallas so that we can drop off some baggage in Dallas before continuing on to Galveston to visit Jason and pick up Nicole’s car. We drive back to Dallas on Monday. The movers come on Thursday, June 1st to load our stuff from storage and we will depart the next day for Florida.

So my loyal readers, this is the last trip report! I hope that I haven’t bored you too much and that I have passed on some interesting and useful information that will help you in your future travels. I thank you for giving me a forum and the incentive to write these reports. I am already finding that I need to refer to them to remember or sort out what happened to whom and where. If I had not kept this written record I am sure that I would have forgotten many of the small but amusing details. Thanks again and as a parting gesture I offer the following ‘Travel Advice for Europe’.


When visiting the Scandinavian countries make sure you take a walk or run along the (nude) beaches. You will probably get lost but you won’t care!

When visiting Scotland, don’t bother to pack your fish sonar to hunt for Nessie

If you stay at a haunted castle in Ireland don’t be surprised when your door opens mysteriously at 3am

When visiting Egypt do not forget the most important phrase of your life - “yella imshe”

In Casablanca, don’t bother looking for Bogie or Ingrid

In Italy remember to leave your donation for the pickpockets in your pocket and everything else of value in the hotel safe

Before going to any Balkan country (or Morocco) visit a tanning booth and dye your hair black

When visiting Portugal you may be able to afford a new, modern hotel. If you go out on the patio to enjoy the view, take a coat, umbrella and food because you may be out there a long time after the self-locking door closes

In many European restaurants meat and fish are sold by weight (Kg). Be careful or you will get to enjoy an $80 lobster!

Remember – it isn’t mainly Rain in the Plains of Spain, it’s Dastardly Doggie Doo-doo! (so be careful where you step)

When staying in a hotel in Moscow and a sexy female voice calls you at midnight and asks “Inglis- you want beautiful Russian girl come your room and give you massage or sex” - remember that you are in a foreign country and should not upset the locals – just answer “Da”!

Wednesday, May 17, 2000

TR Andorra

France, Andorra, Spain, Andorra, France
5/12 –5/17/00

As I sit here looking out the window of my office at a violent rain burst accompanied by a cool wind I remember why I told Nicole that we needed to travel away from England as much as possible in these last few weeks. She had hoped/expected to make some business trips into Europe but when they didn’t materialize we decided to take off on our own.
Nicole wanted to visit Marseilles and since I had only spent a few hours there on a previous trip I figured why not? Besides I wanted to experience the real bouillabaisse which Marseilles is renowned for.

We caught a direct flight to Marseilles and stayed in a hotel right on the Vieux Port. Marseilles is the 2nd largest and oldest city in France. It was founded in 600 BC by Phoceans (Greeks from Asia Minor). The Vieux Port (Old Port) is a natural inlet (calanque) and is the heart of the city. Most of the old city was destroyed during WWII but some old buildings remain and have been restored. The Forts of St Jean and St Nicholas were built in the 16th century to guard the entrance to the harbor. St Victor Basilica was built in the 3rd century and the Notre Dame De La Garde Cathedral, built in the 15th century on the highest hill, overlooks and protects the city and Vieux Port. Vieux Port and the old historical part of the city are the only sections worth seeing as far as I am concerned and that can be accomplished easily in two days. We also took a boat trip out into the Mediterranean to visit two islands – the Ile d’If and Ile de Frioul. Ile d’If has a large fort called Chateau d’If that was built to protect the entrance to the harbor and was turned into a state prison in the 17th century. The fame of Chateau D’If owes much to the French writer Alexandre Dumas, who made it the place where his hero, Edmond Dantes, was imprisoned, in The Count of Monte Cristo.
We stopped for a late snack on Ile de Frioul where I had some of the best tasting moulieres aux cremes (mussels in a cream sauce) that I have ever eaten.

If you enjoy seafood then you will like Marseilles – there are hundreds of great restaurants. As I mentioned before Bouillabaisse is the most renowned local dish. What we did not know is that there are several kinds of bouillabaisse. They are categorized (and priced) by the quantity and types of fish and shellfish that are included. The most expensive contain 6 types of fish and 3 types of shellfish. The soup or stew is a thick stock containing many secret spices. And then if you are still not confused enough they offer a ‘marmite’ that is bouillabaisse in which they remove all the bones from the fish (and charge more). And finally for those still not confused enough you can try ‘bourride’ which is bouillabaisse with a creamy garlic stock? Of course all these varieties also come in different prices and names just like the bouillabaisse.
We tried a top-of –the-line marmite (didn’t want to pick the bones) and we were both disappointed. We did not like the secret stew stock – maybe because we are used to the tomato based stock we normally get in the US. I was very disappointed because I was expecting/hoping for a true gourmet experience like the Bolognese sauce in Bologna? Oh well! Another surprising aspect of Marseilles was the language. They speak a dialect of French that contains many local or slang words that my interpreter did not understand. So we once got a double order of food for lunch and another time she received a local delicacy for an appetizer that was squid boiled in its own ink – and she is not a seafood lover like me!

After a few days in Marseilles it was time to move on to Andorra. We had reserved a car with the intention of driving but when the Budget clerk advised us that it was an 8 to 9 hour drive we changed our minds and took a train to Toulouse. We later learned that it was only a 4 to 5 hour drive and we would have had much more flexibility in our travels. As it was we had to rent a car in Toulouse and drive 200 km (3 hours) south to Andorra.
Andorra is located in the heart of the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. It covers approximately 180 square miles and the average altitude is 3000 feet. There are 65 mountain peaks ranging from 7500 to 9000 feet. The only way into the country is by road that runs from the French border in the northeast to the Spanish border in the southwest. The road through Andorra is 30km long. The entry from France is a challenging route as it rises from about 500 feet in France to the Andorran border at 7500 feet. There is a ski resort situated right at the border. Then you have to continue up another 1000 feet over the top of a mountain and drop rapidly on the other side. I now understand why the cyclists train in the Pyrenees for the Tour De France! I also realized how much I miss my cars in the US that have real motors instead of rubber bands like European cars. Several times I thought that I might have to get out and push my brand new rental Renault up the damn mountain!

Andorra is very beautiful. It reminds me very much of Colorado and British Columbia. Three rivers cross the country in a Y shape. The Valira d’Orient and Valira del Nord originate in the snowcaps along the French border and flow south to merge into the Gran Valira in the capital city of Andorra La Vella. Andorra has a population of 65,000 of which 60% live in the capital city and the rest are spread among small villages in the mountains. The official language is Catalan, a Spanish dialect. About 50% of the locals also speak French and only about 5% speak English. After the first day we gave up on English and tried French first and Spanish last. Money was also a difficulty. Most shops and restaurants posted prices in both French Francs and Spanish Pesetas but government offices such as the post office would only accept FF so you had to carry both currencies.

The country was first established in the 13th century with a ‘Pariatage’ or joint sovereignty shared by the Bishop of Urgell (Spain) and the Count de Foix (France). This pariatage still exists today even though a constitution was approved in 1993. One thing I noticed is the lack of an identity or nationalism that is so fervent throughout the rest of Europe – or maybe they just don’t display it (or flaunt it) as much?

Nicole and I stayed in Andorra del Vella but we explored every major road in the country (there aren’t that many). I was looking for a possible marathon route but the prospects were not very appealing. The best route would have been a start in Andorra del Vella and run 26 miles into Spain. The Spanish border was only 10 km south- all downhill and continuing downhill well into Spain. We actually checked out that route as we made a trip into Spain and visited the nearest town –a village called La Seu D’Urgell. We had a pleasant lunch there and discovered that the white-water kayaking events for the 92 Olympics were held there on the Gran Valira.
I decided against that route because there was too much crap to go through to get across the Spanish border. So we explored an alternative route that followed the Valira del Nord out of Andorra del Vella as it climbed up to the snowcaps along the French border. Yes, that meant that the road went uphill all the way! By starting in La Massana at 4,000 feet and climbing 1,000 feet to El Serrat the distance was 11km. Unfortunately there were also many, many, many hills of 200 to 300 feet elevation in between! But that was my route! So Tuesday became M-day for another Maddog special marathon. I rose at 5am while my trusty sports manager slept in and made my way to La Massana. I started the run by 6am and watched the sun come up as I ran the first leg uphill. I had the roads to myself, it was quiet, it was postcard pretty and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole run! It was so quiet and peaceful and the scenery so beautiful. The road followed and passed over the Valira del Nord which was rushing down the mountain full of spring run-off. The mountains were covered with forests and the tops still had snowcaps – it was so beautiful and inspiring that I didn’t even notice the hills along the route. But I was thankful that the last 10 km were downhill! I was pleasantly surprised to finish the marathon under 4 hours (3:58) considering the route I had chosen.

After the run we had to pack and head back to Toulouse to catch a train back to Marseilles. I was wishing at that point that we had driven from Marseilles so that we could drive part way back, stop and finish the next day. But we had to catch the last train that day because the early train on Wednesday would not get us to Marseilles in time to catch our flight home. So it was a very long day! But we finally made it, grabbed a late dinner in Marseilles and went to bed and crashed!

Now we are back in rainy England for one whole day – enough time for Nicole to show up at the office, then repack and head off on our last adventure in Europe. We have made all our moving arrangements and leave England on Saturday, May 27th!