“Run-seeing” — a different way to run when traveling
Exploring unfamiliar cities on the run. Plus: Brussels and Luxembourg revisited.
Sometimes, I travel specifically in order to run. At other times, I like to run when I happen to be traveling. In the past, I’d try to find a park or some trail while traveling where I could replicate my everyday running experience at home. That typically involves a distance of anywhere from four to 10 miles without having to worry about navigation or crossing roads and other things that might cause me to slow or stop. At home, my running is generally on waterfront pedestrian and bike tracks. Never on city streets if I can help it.
While agreeable surroundings are always important, the main focus of my regular runs is keeping going at a steady pace and, above all, not stopping. My emphasis on not stopping — or slowing to a walk — has its origins in the fact that running did not come naturally to me. I was not, to put it mildly, born to run. As mentioned in the “About” section of this blog, I only started in my fifties. Early on, I developed a motto of how to succeed, which was quite simply, this: “Don’t stop.” For me — and I get the irrationality — pausing seemed synonymous with giving up.
But lately, I’ve been intrigued by the concept of “run-seeing” — running in an unfamiliar city in order to see it. And making the “seeing” as much the focus as the “running.” That does mean pausing to look. Pausing to navigate. Pausing before being able to cross busy streets. Pausing to take photos. And even, perhaps, pausing briefly at the odd café. With “run-seeing,” the key metric is not the pace. It is a subjective one your fitness watch can’t measure — the pleasure of urban eye candy as you observe the destination city go about its day and take in some of its sights.
So on a trip to Brussels and Luxembourg in March, I decided to put it to the test. I enjoyed the experience in both cities. The Brussels route was just under seven miles, the Luxembourg one just over six.
The Brussels route took in much of the old city, including the Grand-Place de Bruxelle, and then went out past the European Union Commission headquarters to Parc du Cinquantenaire, before looping back. The Luxembourg route went from the newer part of town, near to the station, across the Pont Adolphe, then down to the leafy paths at the side of the Petrusse and Alzette rivers, and up to the old city — passing the Grand Ducal Palace among other places — before heading back.
Run-seeing tips and techniques
A nice thing about run-seeing is that you can invent it to be what you want. Your way may differ from mine. But here, for what they are worth, are my suggestions and some thoughts on how it differs from regular running:
Normally, I don’t run with my phone. But with run-seeing, you need a phone in order to navigate. Not to mention photos. I suppose you could navigate with an Apple Watch or similar. But a phone is just easier. And I ended up keeping it in my hand much of the time.
It makes sense to plan an overall route, in terms of places you want to hit. But don’t try to micro-plan the navigation in terms of the streets you take from one waypoint to another or rely on turn-by-turn directions. That involves too much looking at your maps app. It’s more fun to let your eyes guide you in the moment, so you can head up streets or paths that look interesting or most runner-friendly so long as they are taking you in vaguely the right direction. And then periodically look at your device for course corrections.
Also, use visual or aural clues to help guide you to your next waypoint so you don’t have to rely on your app more than necessary. Looking for a station? People hauling luggage might provide a clue. Looking for a cathedral? The sound of bells might help guide you.
I think run-seeing is an outdoor activity for big-picture sightseeing, not deep dives into particular places. So I wouldn’t extend the “seeing” part to going inside places such as museums, etc. I’d go back and visit them separately. While some stopping is an integral part of run-seeing, so is forward motion. Extended stopping breaks the run part.
Although much of the run will be on city streets, it’s good to include parks in an itinerary as well. It helps provide stretches of faster uninterrupted running. And parks are a good place to absorb the more relaxed side of city life.
Ordinarily when running, I try never to walk hills. So I choose routes where I’m OK with what hills there may be, occasionally challenging myself with races like San Francisco (which I plan to do for the seventh time in July). But some cities can be seriously hilly. Brussels wasn’t too bad, but Luxembourg contains many steep, winding streets. It’s part of its charm. Since run-seeing is about exploring, you don’t want to avoid interesting areas simply because they are too hard to run. So in the spirit of this exercise, which is ultimately all for fun, I think it’s fine to walk steep hills without feeling you’re wimping out. In Luxembourg — a city with distinct lower and upper levels — I even took a pedestrian elevator that connects one with the other. It’s not an elevator that’s part of a building. It’s its own free-standing thing — a form of public transportation, a bit like a funicular in its purpose, except it’s an elevator. I’ve never come across that elsewhere. And like other forms of public transport in Luxembourg, it’s free.
I usually listen to podcasts or music while running. But I left my headphones behind when run-seeing in Brussels and Luxembourg. I wanted to feel more connected with my surroundings.
You have more choices when it comes to hydration and nutrition with run-seeing. I normally carry water on runs of six or more miles. I didn’t in Brussels, but picked up a bottle in a convenience store along the way. I did carry water in Luxembourg, but also stopped for a few minutes to have a cappuccino and croissant in a café in the old part of town four miles into the run. It was quite early in the morning and I hadn’t had breakfast. So, again, run-seeing is a more relaxed form of running than my regular variety. And very enjoyable.
Of course, another way to run-see — without stopping — is to pick a race that takers in an epic city’s sights. None better in that regard than London Landmarks Half Marathon or the New York City Half, both of which I ran back-to-back a week apart a few years ago.
Exploring new cities is fun. But local knowledge can add to the experience. If you want suggestions of routes in unfamiliar places — either for run-seeing or for ordinary running — check out a site called greatruns.com. It describes itself as follows: “Great Runs is the ultimate guide to the best routes in the world’s major cities and destinations. It’s for travelers who run and runners who travel.” That sounds like me! I used it to help plan my Luxembourg run and found it very helpful.
Another option is to hire a running guide. That way you don’t have to worry about coming up with a route and navigating — and you get to connect with a local runner who could well lead you on a better itinerary than you’d have worked out yourself and be a source of useful information and advice. Check out gorunningtours.com. Its slogan is: “Explore the world on the run with expert local running guides.” It’s based in Denmark and has a network of local affiliates all over the world. So it can be a great one-stop shop for guided running in all sorts of places. I had hoped to try them out in Brussels, but left it too late and so ran on my own. However, I plan to do so — somewhere — soon.
Brussels and Luxembourg impressions
I was in Brussels and Luxembourg with my daughter on what was likely to be her last ever spring break as a student — she’s in her last year of law school. I’m posting separately about some epic spring break trips of the past. I hadn’t been to Brussels and Luxembourg for more than 25 and 35 years, respectively.
We were in each city for just two nights on this trip. So these were not in-depth visits. But we packed in what we could, covering a lot of ground on foot (aside from my run-seeing), despite relentless rain for most of our time in Brussels.
Brussels is really a lovely and lively city. It promotes itself as the capital of Art Nouveau. I’ve heard it said the city is “underrated.” But I think it’s more that it’s simply overlooked. I doubt there are many people who go there and say “meh.” Rather, it just doesn’t get on a lot of people’s European itineraries in the first place. But as overlooked as it may be, it’s nonetheless cosmopolitan. It could hardly be otherwise, being home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.
It’s also very walkable. And one can eat well at fair prices. Especially if you like the ubiquitous mussels. Think of it as a less demanding version of Paris.
While exploring, we stumbled across the Museum of Illusions — a fun place where mirrors and various optical illusions play tricks with your mind and appearance.
Brussels also seems to be a good place to buy stylish used clothes. At least, so my daughter discovered, including here.
Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe and among the wealthiest in the world. Germany, France, and others fought over its territory for centuries. The old city has plenty of evidence of the resulting fortifications. Luxembourg eventually became its own independent country, a Duchy (meaning its head of state is a Duke). The main language is French, but there are distinct German influences. Luxembourg City feels more provincial than metropolitan in parts, but is all the more charming for that.
Brussels/Luxembourg logistics and hotel/restaurant recommendations:
Brussels: There aren’t that many nonstop flights from the US to Brussels, and none from the West Coast. We flew on United’s nonstop from Newark. (That gave me a chance to check out United’s excellent new lounge in the C terminal — I’ll be posting about that separately.) My daughter was a revenue passenger, and I nonrevved standby. I had hoped a 777 to Brussels in March would have a decent number of empty seats. But I was wrong. I got on — but barely and with a middle seat in coach and not before making contingency plans as to how else to get there. (It was actually only my second middle-seat experience in what must by now be over 350 transatlantic segments, and my first on an eastbound flight. It actually wasn’t that bad.)
We stayed at The Dominican Hotel, a stylish and eclectic place in the heart of the old city. Kudos to them for having our room ready when we got in after a breakfast-time landing — I’d made the request in advance. The building grew out of what was once a monastery. Hence the name, and some of the architecture. Not to mention the piped monastic chants in the elevators and hallways. I’d stay there again. Even if you don’t stay there, the bar is worth a visit. And although I don’t usually eat in hotels, the aesthetics of the dining room at The Dominican can make this a tempting exception.
A couple of restaurant recommendations if you’re looking for classic Belgian food (both seemed mainly frequented by locals, even though they are in the old part of the city where those tourists who do go to Brussels tend to converge): Café Georgette (atmospheric; good choice especially for lunch or drinks/snacks) and Le Marmiton (located just inside the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, an iconic arcade, but entered from just around the corner; probably best for dinner and a good pick for mussels).
Getting from Brussels to Luxembourg: Brussels and Luxembourg make a good pairing for a short trip to Europe. The best way to get from one to the other is by train. It takes about three hours and costs $26 in second class, which is more than adequately comfortable. No catering on board.
Luxembourg: Nothing really grabbed me as all that interesting out of the hotel choices that presented themselves in Luxembourg when I booked quite close to arrival. We stayed at the Park Inn, a Radisson property, which was fine. Near to the station, modern, reasonably priced by Luxembourg standards, does what it sets out to do, but not a “find” for hotel aficionados.
Shout-outs to two Luxembourg restaurants we enjoyed: Restaurant Cyrano (Mediterranean French; the genial owner waits tables and gives bonus courses such as small starters); and Am Tiirmschen (more classic Luxembourg fare in the old part of town). ✈️ 🏃
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