When in a new place, it often takes time to find your favourite running spots, so I guess it’s normal that for now I haven’t quite taken to running in Amsterdam. Running in big cities is tricky anyway. Especially, when what you prefer is a sort of a running retreat, a quiet place, a getaway where you feel comfortable, relaxed and confident.

The first thing we tried when we came over to the Netherlands in January, so Chan could start working, was Vondelpark. When you mention people here that you run, that’s where they say you should go. Vondelpark is relatively big and close to the city centre, which makes it a convenient meeting place for all sorts of training groups. I guess that’s how everyone associates evening workout with Vondelpark. Sure enough, you get a big variety of activities going on any time of the day. Runners, bootcampers, crossfit groups, families with kids, people walking dogs, cyclists commuting through, students drinking on a bench and local vagabonds smoking weed… From what I’ve heard and seen in photos, in summer the list grows bigger. During the daytime the park is just too busy for me to run, but it does get more quiet in the evenings or at night.

Sunday in Vondelpark - we haven't seen such a crowd yet, but wait till summer comes. © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar
Sunday in Vondelpark – we haven’t seen such a crowd yet, but wait till summer comes. © Jorge Royan, http://www.royan.com.ar

The official loop around Vondelpark is little over 3k, so if you aren’t planning to run much and don’t want to overcomplicate things, just drop in, do a few laps, and you are done. Plus the night scene is actually kind of fun, so definitely worth giving a try. The park is lighted up  and there’s a wide trail parallel the road, so you actually get to choose between running on the pavement or on soft surface. Most runners wear lights fixed on their arms or shoes, which makes a cool view with many people training in groups. Although, while lights are handy, you should still watch out so you don’t get run over by any fierce cyclist, especially if you’re doing tempos. They act like you are not there, and they don’t stop. Ever. If you get over this slight inconvenience, you can run round and round to your heart’s content, passing other runners with their colourful blinking lights until find you sort of feel like you are skating in rounds in a Friday night ice disco.

Vondelpark by night, Credit: Maarten Brante http://www.maartenbrante.com
Vondelpark by night, © Maarten Brante, http://www.maartenbrante.com

Fine, so Vondelpark is one thing to do on weekdays. But, what when you have done 12+ loops during your dark winter workday nights and want an alternative for weekend long runs? Here’s what we did for the first two occasions. Chan somehow figured that we could go and run pretty far out of the city following the Amstel river. So we memorized the fastest route from home to Amstel and off we went. Both runs ended up being sort of a mixed experience, however. In fact, although none of us said it out loud, we both thought to ourselves that we’d better find something else for next time.

Windmill by the Amstel canal
Windmill by the Amstel canal

While you run along the canal, you pass from the city to the outskirts, go past office buildings, a big park, big mansions to arrive in more rural looking areas, another park, pass under a highway, run past a few road side cafés, meet cyclists and other runners, until you arrive in Amstelveen, where there is a bridge, so you can either cross to the other side of the river and loop back, or just go on. Along the way you even get to see two windmills. Needless to say, it is a flat ride all along and, for the most part – if you are on the right side of the river -, you get to choose between running on the side of the road or on a narrow footpath by the water.

The route is somehow it’s depressing though. Because you run along the road, you don’t get the “I’m out in nature” feeling, while there is also not much to entertain you along the way. Even the fat black and white coots don’t seem to care about you. They might as well just sit in the middle of the footpath without moving a feather as you approach (no kidding, I almost tripped on one). Plus, there are two big inconveniences: no toilet and no bushes, and there is wind, wind and a lot of wind.

Fearless coots make runners by the Amsterdam canal wonder
Fearless coots make runners by the Amstel canal wonder “what kind of a dinner would this bird make?” (c) J.J. Harrison, Wikimedia Commons

Third time winner. Last weekend when I was coming over to the Netherlands I was already thinking to myself “oh no, another one of those runs”. Good thing I only had 18k on my schedule for Sunday. But against all expectations, we were about to have one good weekend run.

Last Sunday was pretty much the first day with nice weather I managed to spend in Amsterdam since January. As if March 1 was supposed to be the first day of spring. This time we set out to explore a biggish park Chan spotted from the tram on the way to the airport. Sloterpark is more on the outskirts of the city, but it turned out to be just about 15 minute jog from home. We went in total expedition mode, with no idea of what and where or how much, but we managed to run around the big lake in the middle, cross a pedestrian bridge over the road, explore what’s on the other side, come back, complete the loop, and run around Rembrandtpark on the way back home.

The loop around Sloterpark is way bigger than Vondelpark and much less crowded. Although you have to run on paved footpaths or cycle paths all the way, with the trees around you sometimes get the impression of running in the woods. On top of it all, we saw flowers, spring indeed! It might be due to the much expected sun, but we both agreed we found our so far favourite running place in Amsterdam. Though more expeditions are due still.