Run 121 : Lithuania – Vilnius

Please give generously to Cancer Research :

Date : 11th September, 2017

Time :  1h 0’16”

Total distance run to date : 1210 km

Run map and details :

Media :

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Did you know that Lithuania used to be the largest country in Europe? I didn’t – until I ran there. Which, to use a cliché, just goes to show how travel broadens the mind.

During the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (aka the Lithuanian Empire) stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and covered modern day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and parts of Poland and Russia.

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In the 16th century, the Duchy formed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with – and you may be ahead of me here – Poland. (Excitingly, the Poles were to the west of Lithuania – which meant that they could pass the Duchy on the left hand side*.)

The Commonwealth lasted for a couple of centuries before disintegrating under outside pressure with most of Lithuania ending up as part of the Russian Empire. Lithuanian regained independence from Russia in 1918 after WWII and the Russian revolution. Only to lose it again when the Soviet Union invaded in 1940 under the terms of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Germany and the Soviet Union.

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In 1941 the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa to invade the Soviet Union and occupied Lithuania along the way. The Soviets retook Lithuania in 1944 and it remained part of the USSR until independence in 1991.

I appreciate that not everyone shares my fascination with 20th century history (and obscure musical references…). However, I thought this was worth a couple of paragraphs because it could all become horribly relevant – not just to Lithuanian and the Baltics – but to all of us.

Following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014, NATO troops were stationed in Lithuania and a number of other Baltic / eastern European countries (but not the Ukraine as it’s not a NATO member). The idea being to dissuade Russia from any thoughts of reintegrating Lithuania and the Baltic states into Russia. The danger, I guess, is that the whole thing acts – not as a deterrent – but as a trip wire for WWIII.

And, at the risk of trivialising a serious and potentially very scary subject, if anything does kick-off then I suspect the British Embassy may be a touch too preoccupied to provide the same warm welcome to the next Brit visiting Vilnius as part of an attempt to run 10km in every country in the world.

There were about ten of us at the start and the route Sandra had devised took us along the banks of the Neris river towards the centre of Vilnius.

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It’s a very fine place to run enlivened by a number of sculptures and works of art. Including the (in)famous Embankment Arch (below).

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When it was first pointed out to me, I assumed it was a rusty old sewer pipe. Turns out its 29 000 euros worth of highly controversial art. (You can insert your own joke about it being a load of sewer pipe content.)

But please don’t take this as representative of Vilnius. Based on everything I saw, its an extremely attractive place which would make an excellent city break.

I wasn’t there long enough to compile a persoanl list of favourite sights and sounds but this article in the Telegraph’s travel section gives a good feel for it all.

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Anyway, back to the run. I was fortunate to spend a lot of it in the company of Ambassador Andrew Pearce and Defence Attaché Major Jane Witt. Conversations with diplomatic staff are always private but I don’t think I’m breaking any confidences if I say that I was struck, for the nth time on these runs, how lucky we Brits are in our diplomatic representatives.

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Having run c 5km along the Neris we did the obvious thing and turned round and ran back to the Embassy for refreshments, photos and a video interview with Sandra. It was all much more fun than most of these runs and I hope everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did.


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All that now remains is to say many ‘aciu’ (Lithuanian for ‘thank you’ – pronounced in such a way as to sounds like a sneeze) to the Ambassador, Jane, Ethel, Ina, Martyn, Erika, Deimante, Elisabeth for the hospitality and for accompanying me on the run.

And, of course, huge thanks to Sandra (below) who organised everything!


*Musical Youth had a massive hit in the 1980s with a song called “Pass the Dutchie ”. The chorus focused on passing the ‘dutchie’ – a Jamaican cooking pot – on the left hand side.


Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

Lithuania is a country in the Baltic region of northerneastern Europe. One of the three Baltic states, it is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east of Sweden and Denmark. It is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Kaliningrad Oblast (a Russianexclave

) to the southwest. Lithuania has an estimated population of 2.8 million people as of 2017, and its capital and largest city is VilniusLithuanians are a Baltic people. The official language, Lithuanian, along with Latvian, is one of only two living languages in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family.

For centuries, the southeastern shores of the Baltic Sea were inhabited by various Baltic tribes. In the 1230s, the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas

, the King of Lithuania, and the first unified Lithuanian state, the Kingdom of Lithuania, was created on 6 July 1253. During the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe; present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia were the territories of the Grand Duchy. With the Lublin Union of 1569, Lithuania and Poland formed a voluntary two-state union, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth lasted more than two centuries, until neighboring countries systematically dismantled it from 1772–95, with the Russian Empire annexing most of Lithuania’s territory.

As World War I neared its end, Lithuania’s Act of Independence was signed on 16 February 1918, declaring the founding of the modern Republic of Lithuania. In the midst of the Second World War, Lithuania was first occupied by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany. As World War II neared its end and the Germans retreated, the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania. On 11 March 1990, a year before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare itself independent, resulting in the restoration of an independent State of Lithuania.

Lithuania is a member of the European Union, the Council of Europe, a full member of the EurozoneSchengen Agreement and NATO. It is also a member of the Nordic Investment Bank, and part of Nordic-Baltic cooperation of Northern European countries. The United Nations Human Development Index lists Lithuania as a “very high human development” country. Lithuania has been among the fastest growing economies in the European Union and is ranked 21st in the world in the Ease of Doing Business Index.

Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and its largest city, with a population of 542,664 as of 2015. Vilnius is located in the southeast part of Lithuania and is the second largest city in the Baltic states. Vilnius is the seat of the main government institutions of Lithuania as well as of the Vilnius District Municipality. Vilnius is known for the architecture in its Old Town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Prior to World War II, Vilnius was one of the largest Jewish centers in Europe. Its Jewish influence has led to it being described as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” and Napoleon named it “the Jerusalem of the North” as he was passing through in 1812. In 2009, Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture, together with the Austrian city of Linz.

BBC timeline of events in Lithuania since 1915 :

NATO in the Baltics :


World Bank Data

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Lithuania – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

GDP                                               $42.7 bn    2016       $11.5 bn  2000

Population                                   2.87 m       2016       3.50 m      2000

Primary school enrolment*     103%          2015       107%        2000

% below poverty line**            22.2%         2014       20.5%        2004

Life expectancy at birth            75.1 yrs      2015      72.0 yrs     2000

GNI per capita                             $14770       2016       $6040        2004

*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

**The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)


Greatest Sporting Nation Data

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Lithuania performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:

Global Cup – 62nd

Per Capita Cup – 25th

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce a per capita ranking.”


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Run 115 : Australia – Darwin

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Please give generously to Cancer Research :

Date : 5th August, 2017

Time :  1h 0’28”

Total distance run to date : 1150 km

Run map and details :

Australia’s Northern Territory, the Top End. An enormous area of 1 420 970 square km (c 6 times bigger than the UK) that stretches almost 2000 km south from the central part of Australia’s northern coastline to Alice Springs, Uluru and Australia’s Red Centre. And in all that space there’s only 244 000 people. But no shortage of characters as you’ll see later in the blog.

We were in the northern part – the top end of the Top End if you like – and it’s a pretty magical part of the world. Darwin, the capital, isn’t a bad place to start – Mindil beach and its sunset market complete with drum and didgeridoo band (below), Crocosaurus Cove, a great wave lagoon and marine bouncy castle for the kids, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and the empty sands of Casuarina.

And nearby (by Australian standards) are three memorable national parks – Kakadu ; Litchfield and Nitmiluk – with their aboriginal culture, gorges, beautiful (and swimmable) water holes, crocodiles, rock art, look outs and magnetic termite mounds. And it’s not just the natural world that’s enthralling – you’re also going to meet some memorable people.

Take ‘Hamilton’, for example, our guide for a water cruise on the bizarrely named Alligator River. I say bizarrely named because there aren’t any alligators in Australia. But there are crocodiles – masses of them. And they like to congregate at Cahill’s Crossing where, despite all the signs and warnings, they frequently kill and eat people who decide that it’s a good place to fish or ford the river.

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Of course, Alligator River isn’t really its name in any event. Aborigines have lived in the area for approximately 60 000 years and Hamilton was able to give us the name for pretty much everything we saw. (I’d tell you Alligator River’s real name but the local Aborigine language is very hard for Europeans to follow – let alone remember – and Google hasn’t subsequently been able to give me the answer.)

Hamilton also taught us all about the local flora and fauna – much of it eaten as bush tucker ; spear throwing – which is done with a kind of sling which allowed Hamilton to throw the spear hundreds of meters ; and hollering out to ones ancestors. The phrase ‘cultural cruise’ doesn’t always set the pulse racing but this one was brilliant.

And then there are the good citizens of Batchelor.

Batchelor is a (mostly) peaceful town on the edge of Litchfield Park between Katherine and Darwin. We were told that it got its name from a onetime policy of giving land to bachelors in an attempt to make them – and the area – more attractive to women. Wikipedia has a more prosaic version of events involving Lee Batchelor, the minister responsible for the Northern Territory in the early 20th century – but I think I prefer the first story. (When researching this blog I found it unexpectedly difficult to confirm facts about Australia. Even an apparently straightforward query re the size of the Northern Territory produced numerous different answers when I Google searched.)

Batchelor is home to the Batchelor Butterfly Farm – one of the most wonderfully bonkers places you could ever hope to stay in. It has a butterfly house, loads of pick-upable and petable rabbits (mind those hind legs) and a farm full of everything from pigs to goats to turkeys. Best of all, it’s got Chris and Angel and an 80s soundtrack.

On our first night there we found ourselves (ever so appropriately) dancing to Madness and ‘Night Boat to Cairo’ in a couple of pith helmets that Chris had dug out from somewhere. And, no, it wasn’t a surprise that there just happened to be a couple of pith helmets lying around. In fact, it would be hard to name something that Chris and Angel hadn’t used for decoration somewhere on the premises.

“It’s just gone noon,

Half past monsoon

On the banks of the river Nile”

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Not all the guests were enjoying themselves as much as we were so, worried that we might be damaging Chris and Angel’s business, we retired to the local Rum Jungle Tavern and their infamous karaoke night. (Rum Jungle being an adjacent area that got its name from an incident when a thief stole 750 ounces of gold – that’s a million dollars’ worth of gold at today’s prices – from miners after getting them drunk with rum.)

At which stage things, if possible, became even more surreal.

At first it all seemed quite clear. The locals were fans of both kinds of music – Country and Western. But then a French woman, subsequently joined by her four children, got up to sing a parody of Vanessa Paradis’s ‘Joe le Taxi’. The de la Trapps then took their applause and disappeared from the tavern – only to reappear twenty minutes later in the kind of conical straw hats that you normally see in the paddy fields of Southeast Asia. Always best, I guess, to be ready for the sort of emergency that requires you to immediately go and plant some rice.

‘Joe le Taxi’ seemed to break the musical shackles and we were treated to an execrable Pink – who singularly failed to get the party started – a (weak) Sonny and (strong) Cher and then a beautiful rendition of ‘Can’t take My Eyes Off You’. Altogether now :

“I love you baby,

And if it’s quite alright,

I only know those two lines

So I’ll la la la the rest”

What’s all this got to do with running? Precious little to be honest – but I wanted to give you a flavour of the Top End. Should you ever decide to go – which I’d wholeheartedly recommend – then make sure you go during the Dry (which happens to coincide with the northern hemisphere summer). Because, if you go during the other season – the Wet -you’ll experience 100% humidity, dawn to dusk sweating and national parks transformed into lakes.

The climate isn’t always ideal for running but, in keeping with Australia’s sporting reputation (despite its relatively small population, it’s the 11th best country in the world at sports) Darwin has plenty of runners. And 3 of them – Amy, Dave and Ian – were good enough to join us for Run the World Australia.

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We started at Darwin’s ski club which, when I first heard it mentioned, I assumed was some sort of postmodern ironic comment on the lack of snow in the Top End. However, it does, of course, refer to water skiing rather than alpine skiing. And actually turns out to contain an element of postmodern irony as you can no longer water ski near Darwin due to the number of salties (salt water crocodiles) and stingers (box jellyfish) in the local waters.

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It was a lovely run along the shoreline with the sun setting off to the West. The others took pity on my knee and general lack of fitness and we took it fairly easy.  To be fair, I think I may have seen cane toads racing faster than I did that day..

As an aside, for those who have never been cane toad racing, it involves lots of jokes about cane toads with names such as Donald Jump, Jerry Springer, Fat Bastard, Skippy’s Love Child and Camel Toad. And then, much to everyone’s amusement, the ‘jockeys’ have to kiss their toads. The actual racing is fairly incidental to the whole evening. Which is just as well as the toads are generally quite happy to sit there – despite their ‘jockeys’ best efforts with the ‘whips’ (straws for blowing air onto the recalcitrant toads.)

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Back to the run, which, while it may have taken over an hour, was perfect for chatting. enjoying the scenery – and for my knee. We even did an extra 500m so that Dave could complete 21 km for the day (his daily training regime…)

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Afterwards at the club, we indulged in that Australian habit of an ice cold stubby or two and swapped war stories. Literally in this case as Dave, Ian and Amy were all ex-military. More of that in the next blog about East Timor.

For now it just remains to thank Ian, Dave, Amy, Chris, Angel, Hilton, the singers at the Rum Jungle Tavern and everyone else who made our run and time in the Top End so memorable.

Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

Australia is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world’s sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New GuineaIndonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. Australia’s capital is Canberra, and its largest urban area is Sydney.

For about 50,000 years before the first British settlement in the late 18th century, Australia was inhabited by indigenous Australians, who spoke languages classifiable into roughly 250 groups. After the European discovery of the continent by Dutch explorers in 1606, Australia’s eastern half was claimed by Great Britain in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from 26 January 1788. The population grew steadily in subsequent decades, and by the 1850s most of the continent had been explored and an additional five self-governing crown colonies established. On 1 January 1901, the six colonies federated, forming the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia has since maintained a stable liberal democratic political system that functions as a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy comprising six states and several territories.

Australia has the world’s 13th-largest economy and ninth-highest per capita income (IMF).With the second-highest human development index globally, the country ranks highly in quality of life, health, education, economic freedom, and civil liberties and political rights. Australia is a member of the United NationsG20Commonwealth of NationsANZUSOrganisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Trade OrganizationAsia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the Pacific Islands Forum. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia had the world’s 9th largest immigrant population, with immigrants accounting for 26% of the population.

The Northern Territory (abbreviated as NT) is a federal Australian territory in the central and central northern regions of Australia. It shares borders with Western Australia to the west (129th meridian east), South Australia to the south (26th parallel south), and Queensland to the east (138th meridian east). To the north, the territory is bordered by the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Despite its large area—over 1,349,129 square kilometres (520,902 sq mi), making it the third largest Australian federal division—it is sparsely populated. The Northern Territory’s population of 244,000 (2016) makes it the least populous of Australia’s eight major states and territories, having fewer than half as many people as Tasmania.

The archaeological history of the Northern Territory begins over 40,000 years ago when Indigenous Australians settled the region. Makassan traders began trading with the indigenous people of the Northern Territory for trepang from at least the 18th century onwards. The coast of the territory was first seen by Europeans in the 17th century. The British were the first Europeans to attempt to settle the coastal regions. After three failed attempts to establish a settlement (1824–1828, 1838–1849, and 1864–66), success was achieved in 1869 with the establishment of a settlement at Port Darwin. Today the economy is based on tourism, especially Kakadu National Park in the Top End and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (Ayers Rock) in central Australia, and mining.

The capital and largest city is Darwin. The population is concentrated in coastal regions and along the Stuart Highway. The other major settlements are (in order of size) PalmerstonAlice SpringsKatherineNhulunbuy, and Tennant Creek. Residents of the Northern Territory are often known simply as “Territorians” and fully as “Northern Territorians”, or more informally as “Top Enders” and “Centralians”.

World Bank Data

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Australia – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

GDP                                               $1.21 tn    2016       $415 bn    2000

Population                                   24.1 m       2016       19.2 m      2000

Primary school enrolment*     102%          2015       100%         2000

% below poverty line**            No data

Life expectancy at birth            82.5 yrs     2015       79.2 yrs     2000

GNI per capita                             $54420      2016       $21130     2000

*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

**The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)

Greatest Sporting Nation Data

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Australia performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:

Global Cup – 11th

Per Capita Cup – 11th

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce a per capita ranking.


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Run 114 : Brunei – Bandar Seri Begawan

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Please give generously to Cancer Research :

Date : 31st July, 2017

Time :  1h 02’42”

Total distance run to date : 1140 km

Run map and details :

Media: ;

A dinner party at a friend’s house followed by a final night cap at the legendary Studio 54 to say farewell to Brian and Emma (departing London for the Suffolk wilds).

Not a night for driving home. Which meant that the next morning I had a nice little cobweb clearer of a run to collect the car. Except that my knee hurt – and I didn’t seem to be able to run it off.

To my disgruntled surprise, the pain was still there the next morning.

Things continued to deteriorate and 48 hours later I realised I’d better do something about it if I was going to make my upcoming trip to Brunei and beyond.

A visit to my GP, an x ray, a consultation and an MRI later, I discovered that I had a macerated meniscus. (Macerated being, I think, a hybrid of ‘lacerated’ and ‘mashed up’ ; meniscus being the shock absorbing cartilage in the knee.) I also had some sort ganglia but apparently that wasn’t a pressing issue.

Here’s a picture of my knee. Interesting isn’t it… And, no, I don’t know how they can tell anything from that either.

Knee 1.bmp

The immediate problem was that, by now, it was Wednesday evening and I was due to fly out on Sunday morning. Dr Ade, who is also club doctor at Saracens Rugby Club (my local rugby team and champions of Europe for those who don’t follow these matters), explained my options.

There was no time for an operation or a course of physio. If I wanted to run in Brunei, I’d need a steroid injection in my knee.

In some ways I wasn’t that keen on the idea. The media is full of stories of football and rugby players who played on for years with the help of pain killing injections and can now hardly walk.

On the other hand, it was quite nice to be treated like an elite athlete (which, and this may surprise you, isn’t always the case). And it would mean that I could manage the 20 hour journey to Brunei and, more importantly, meet and run with a lot of great people once I got there.

Those good enough to make it to the start of the run included Maya and Ambassador Richard Lindsay from the British Embassy ; Zeti, the founder of BruActiv – – and her team ; and Esther with a group of runners from Total (pic below).

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There were also a number of people who’d seen Zeti’s ad for the run on social media (pic below).

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All in all, there were almost 50 of us (pic at the top of the blog) and the video below which, if you ignore my jet lagged and slightly incoherent words to camera, is worth watching :

After a warm up, numerous photos, a couple of interviews, and a welcome speech, we all set off from the national stadium.

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Most of us ran at a reasonably sensible pace which suited my knee perfectly. It also meant that I got to talk to a lot of runners.

And this brings me to what is always the trickiest part of these blogs. This is my 114th blog and, by now, regular readers are, frankly, a lot more interested in hearing about the countries I visit than the minutiae of my runs.

However, I’m always paranoid about writing something ill-informed or offensive about the country in question and upsetting my hosts who have gone to so much effort to support Run the World. As ever, I guess all I can do is try to be as accurate, interesting and positive as possible and ask my hosts to shout if there’s anything they think needs changing.

So here goes. The first thing you notice about Brunei is that it’s a rich country (Forbes apparently ranks it as the fifth-richest country in the world based on its petroleum and natural gas fields). And it showed in the area we ran in (around the national stadium) which was full of impressive architecture and what looked like first class sporting facilities.

Secondly, everyone I talked to during the run – expats and locals alike – seemed united in their appreciation of life in Brunei. A fine place to live by all accounts with many volunteering that it was a peaceful and ideal ideal for families.

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Thirdly, Brunei is a monarchy with a Sharia penal code (please see Facts & Stats below for more detail). While one of my key lessons from running with people all over the world is how much we all share, this does mean there are genuine and important differences between the West and Brunei in areas such as sexual behaviour, the consumption of alcohol and the importance of democracy.

Of course, much of Brunei’s Sharia law only applies to Muslims and not to its Christian citizens or to expats. And everyone I talked to emphasised that Brunei was tolerant of diferent cultures and, in its own small way, the run seemed to encapsulate this.

For example, the start time was set so that we wouldn’t be running during evening prayers. But it wasn’t as if everyone felt obliged to stop everything and pray at the relevant time. The aim was to be respectful by not actually exercising during prayers. Equally, there were a lot of women runners about and I saw some who covered their hair – and some who didn’t. (The expats wore what anyone in the west would run in on a warm evening.)

I hope I have managed to give you some small sense of what Brunei is like (there’s lot more information in the Facts & Stats below) – now back to the run!

The time of 1h 02’ 42” was over my usual self-imposed 1 hour time limit but, thanks to the company, it was as enjoyable as these runs get. My knee, strapped in a knee brace and slathered with some ointment that Dr Ade had recommended, just about held out. I hope everyone else had as positive an experience. (Esther later told me in an email that the run was ‘tiresome’. I’m really hoping she meant ‘tiring’….)

Thank you Maya, Ambassador Lindsay, Zeti and Esther for all the help and support organising the run – greatly appreciated. And special thanks to Zeti and her team for the meal out (those chicken tendon satays will stay long in the memory!) and the tour of the city and the beautiful central mosque (pic below.)  I had a wonderful time in Brunei.

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Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

Brunei officially the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace is a sovereign state located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Apart from its coastline with the South China Sea, the country is completely surrounded by the Malaysian state of Sarawak. It is separated into two parts by the Sarawak district of Limbang. Brunei is the only sovereign state completely on the island of Borneo; the remainder of the island’s territory is divided between the nations of Malaysia and IndonesiaBrunei’s population was 408,786 in July 2012.

At the peak of the Bruneian EmpireSultan Bolkiah (reigned 1485–1528) is alleged to have had control over most regions of Borneo. During the 19th century, the Bruneian Empire began to decline. The Sultanate ceded Sarawak (Kuching) to James Brooke and installed him as the White Rajah, and it ceded Sabah to the British North Borneo Chartered Company. In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate and was assigned a British residentas colonial manager in 1906. After the Japanese occupation during World War II, in 1959 a new constitution was written. In 1962, a small armed rebellion against the monarchy was ended with the help of the British.

Brunei gained its independence from the United Kingdom on 1 January 1984. Economic growth during the 1990s and 2000s, with the GDP increasing 56% from 1999 to 2008, transformed Brunei into an industrialised country. It has developed wealth from extensive petroleum and natural gas fields. Brunei has the second-highest Human Development Index among the Southeast Asian nations, after Singapore, and is classified as a “developed country“. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Brunei is ranked fifth in the world by gross domestic product per capita at purchasing power parity. The IMF estimated in 2011 that Brunei was one of two countries (the other being Libya) with a public debt at 0% of the national GDP.

Brunei’s political system is governed by the constitution and the national tradition of the Malay Islamic Monarchy, the concept of Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB). The three components of MIB cover Malay culture, Islamic religion, and the political framework under the monarchy. It has a legal system based on English common law, although Islamic shariah law supersedes this in some cases. Brunei has a parliament but there are no elections; the last election was held in 1962.

Under Brunei’s 1959 constitution, His Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah is the head of state with full executive authority. Since 1962, this authority has included emergency powers, which are renewed every two years. Brunei has technically been under martial law since the Brunei Revolt of 1962. Hassanal Bolkiah also serves as the state’s Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Defence Minister. The Royal family retains a venerated status within Brunei.

In October 2013, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced his intention to impose Sharia law on the country’s Muslims, which take up roughly two thirds of the country’s population. This would be implemented in three phases, culminating in 2016, and making Brunei the first and only country in East Asia to introduce Sharia law into its penal code. The move attracted international criticism, the United Nations expressing “deep concern”.

Brunei’s revised penal code came into force on 22 April 2014, stipulating the death penalty for numerous offenses (both violent and non-violent), such insult or defamation of the Prophet Mohammed, insulting any verses of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, robbery, rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims and murder. Stoning to death was the specified “method of execution for crimes of a sexual nature.”

Religious rights

Upon adopting sharia, the Sultan banned Christmas decorations in public places such as shopping malls, believing that it might interfere with the practise of Islam. However, local and foreign Christians are still allowed to celebrate Christmas as usual. On 25 December 2015, 4,000 out of 18,000 estimated local Catholics attended the mass of Christmas Day and Christmas Eve.

“To be quite honest there has been no change for us this year; no new restrictions have been laid down, although we fully respect and adhere to the existing regulations that our celebrations and worship be [confined] to the compounds of the church and private residences,” according to Bishop Cornelius Sim, head of the Catholic Church in Brunei.

World Bank Data

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Brunei – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

GDP                                               $11.4 bn    2016       $6.00 bn    2000

Population                                   423 k          2016       333  k         2000

Primary school enrolment*     108%          2015       111%         2000

% below poverty line**             No data

Life expectancy at birth            79.0 yrs      2015      75.3 yrs     2000

GNI per capita                            $38520       2016       $14680      2000

*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

**The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)

Greatest Sporting Nation Data

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Brunei performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:

Global Cup – no points scored

Per Capita Cup – didn’t place

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce a per capita ranking.



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Run 111 : Armenia – Yerevan

Please give generously to Cancer Research :

Date : 17th May, 2017

Time :  56’42”

Total distance run to date : 1110 km

Run map and details :

rtw armenia 5

Sometimes I could almost kill for a McDonald’s.

I know, I know. I’ve written over 100 of these blogs about running in countries all over the world – many of which have fantastic cuisines – and McDonald’s is my first food reference. Truly I am a philistine. A man without culinary culture. Or taste.

My hotel had recommended the restaurant around the corner. Armenian script being wonderfully indecipherable to the western European eye, I had pointed to a picture of a pork dish on the menu. Something bearing a passing resemblance duly arrived and, as I tucked in, I realised that the meat was almost exclusively fat and gristle. Now I appreciate that many people enjoy crackling, and other appropriately cooked cuts of meat fat, but, personally, they nauseate me. I just can’t stomach them. Literally.

One of the things about running is that it makes you hungry and the potatoes that accompanied the porcine lard hadn’t cut it. I needed more food. Rather than trying to find something else on the (to me) incomprehensible and expensive menu, I thought about trying somewhere else. And bang. I suddenly had a craving for a McDonald’s.

It’s not even as if I particularly like McDonald’s. However, the food doesn’t make me ill (even if its nutritional value is questionable), its relatively cheap and, crucially, I know what I’m getting. And sometimes, especially when you’re away from home and having to deal with a new country, culture and language every day, that’s what you want.

I guess that’s why it’s called comfort food.

So I set off into the centre of town on a quest for a McDonald’s and, extraordinarily, I didn’t find one. But I did get to see more of Yerevan including a really quite impressive son et lumiere et fountain display in Republic Square. (Sideways video of fountains dancing to the Star Wars theme below. I really must work out how to rotate my videos.)

I’d run through Republic Square earlier that evening on my way to the Cascades (picture at the top of the blog. While they’re not great for running, the Cascades are not to be missed if you’re ever in Yerevan. They’re both a giant stairway and an outdoor art gallery full of statues and fountains. Underneath the exterior steps are more conventional art galleries and escalators. (Video below – this time no rotation issues.)

And at the top you get great views over Yerevan and the legendary Mount Ararat. (Video below.)

Mount Ararat is Armenia’s national symbol despite being in modern day Turkey. Some Armenians believe it should belong to Armenia and see it as a reminder of the (much disputed) Armenian genocide when the Ottoman empire systematically murdered 1.5 million Armenians during and after WWI.

Mount Ararat is also the place where Noah’s Ark is reputed to have landed as the flood receded. (Numerous searches have yet to find the Ark though Mt Ararat, at over 5000m, is the highest point in the region and therefore arguably the obvious area for the Ark to have landed.)

I liked Yerevan and, while it may not be quite as rich in sights as Tbilisi, it’s certainly worth visiting if you’re in the region. It’s also, based on my wanderings, McDonald’s free – which some may see as a blessing.

But not this tired and a ’few thousand miles from home’ runner. I was becoming increasingly hungry.

Never mind, I told myself, I’ll get something back at my hotel – where I ordered a cheese & ham sandwich. How far wrong can you go with that? Quite far, it turns out, as two pieces of cardboard were served up with ham that contrived to be both artificial and almost entirely composed of white fatty swirls.

Never mind, I told myself again, I’ve got to be at the airport at 4.30 am tomorrow. I’ll get a good breakfast there. Guess what? My hotel didn’t have a monopoly on inedible sandwiches.

So there you have it. Yerevan is a great place to visit. But it might be worth popping into a McDonald’s before you go. ..

Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

Armenia is a sovereign state in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located in West Asiaon the Armenian Highlands, it is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, the de facto independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran and Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan to the south. The Republic of Armenia constitutes only one-tenth of historical Armenia.

Armenia is a unitary, multi-party, democratic nation-state with an ancient cultural heritage. Urartu was established in 860 BC and by the 6th century BC it was replaced by the Satrapy of Armenia. In the 1st century BC the Kingdom of Armenia reached its height under Tigranes the Great. Armenia became the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion. In between the late 3rd century to early years of the 4th century, the state became the first Christian nation. The official date of state adoption of Christianity is 301 AD.

Between the 16th century and 19th century, the traditional Armenian homeland composed of Eastern Armenia and Western Armenia came under the rule of the Ottoman and Iranian empires, repeatedly ruled by either of the two over the centuries. By the 19th century, Eastern Armenia had been conquered by the Russian Empire, while most of the western parts of the traditional Armenian homeland remained under Ottoman rule. During World War I, Armenians living in their ancestral lands in the Ottoman Empire were systematically exterminated in the Armenian Genocide. In 1918, following the Russian Revolution, all non-Russian countries declared their independence after the Russian Empire ceased to exist, leading to the establishment of the First Republic of Armenia. By 1920, the state was incorporated into the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, and in 1922 became a founding member of the Soviet Union. In 1936, the Transcaucasian state was dissolved, transforming its constituent states, including the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, into full Union republics. The modern Republic of Armenia became independent in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The Republic of Armenia recognises the Armenian Apostolic Church, the world’s oldest national church, as the country’s primary religious establishment. The unique Armenian alphabet was invented by Mesrop Mashtots in 405 AD.

Yerevan is the capital and largest city of Armenia as well as one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Situated along the Hrazdan River, Yerevan is the administrative, cultural, and industrial center of the country. It has been the capital since 1918, the thirteenth in the history of Armenia, and the seventh located in or around the Ararat plain.

The history of Yerevan dates back to the 8th century BC, with the founding of the fortress of Erebuni in 782 BC by king Argishti I at the western extreme of the Ararat plain. After World War I, Yerevan became the capital of the First Republic of Armenia as thousands of survivors of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire arrived in the area. The city expanded rapidly during the 20th century as Armenia became part of the Soviet Union. In a few decades, Yerevan was transformed from a provincial town within the Russian Empire, to Armenia’s principal cultural, artistic, and industrial center, as well as becoming the seat of national government.

With the growth of the economy of the country, Yerevan has been undergoing major transformation as many parts of the city have been the recipient of new construction since the early 2000s, and retail outlets as much as restaurants, shops, and street cafés, which were rare during Soviet times, have multiplied. As of 2011, the population of Yerevan was 1,060,138, just over 35% of the Republic of Armenia’s total population. Yerevan was named the 2012 World Book Capital by UNESCO.

Of the notable landmarks of Yerevan, Erebuni Fortress is considered to be the birthplace of the city, the Katoghike Tsiranavor church is the oldest surviving church of Yerevan and Saint Gregory Cathedral is the largest Armenian cathedral in the world, Tsitsernakaberd is the official memorial to the victims of the Armenian Genocide, and several opera houses, theatres, museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions. Yerevan Opera Theatre is the main spectacle hall of the Armenian capital, the National Gallery of Armenia is the largest art museum in the Republic of Armenia and shares a building with the History Museum of Armenia, and the Matenadaran repository contains one of the largest depositories of ancient books and manuscripts in the world. The neoclassical Republic Square is the center of the city and the monumental Cascade steps lead from the city center to Victory Park, home of a Luna Park and the statue Mother Armenia overlooking Yerevan.

Mount Ararat  is a snow-capped and dormant compound volcano in the extreme east of Turkey. It consists of two major volcanic cones: Greater Ararat, the highest peak in Turkey and the Armenian plateau with an elevation of 5,137 m (16,854 ft); and Little Ararat, with an elevation of 3,896 m (12,782 ft). The Ararat massif is about 40 km (25 mi) in diameter.

Despite the scholarly consensus that the “mountains of Ararat” of the Book of Genesis do not refer to specifically Mt. Ararat, it has been widely accepted in Christianity as the resting place of Noah’s Ark. It is the principal national symbol of Armenia and has been considered a sacred mountain by Armenians. It is featured prominently in Armenian literature and art and is an icon for Armenian irredentism. Along with Noah’s Ark, it is depicted on the coat of arms of Armenia.

The first efforts to reach Ararat’s summit were made in the Middle Ages. However, it was not until 1829 when Friedrich Parrot and Khachatur Abovian, accompanied by four others, made the first recorded ascent.

According to the fourth verse of the eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis (Genesis 8:4), following a floodNoah’s Ark landed on the “mountains of Ararat” Most historians and Bible scholars agree that “Ararat” is the Hebrew name of Urartu, the geographic predecessor of Armenia and referred to the wider region at the time and not the mountain today known as Ararat. Nevertheless, Mount Ararat is considered the traditional site of the resting place of Noah’s Ark and most Christians prefer this view “largely because it would have been the first peak to emerge from the receding flood waters.”

Searches for Noah’s Ark have traditionally concentrated on Mount Ararat. Despite numerous reports of ark sightings (e.g. Ararat anomaly) and rumors, “no scientific evidence of the ark has emerged.” Searches for Noah’s Ark are considered by scholars an example of pseudoarchaeologyKenneth Feder writes, “As the flood story itself is unsupported by any archaeological evidence, it is not surprising that there is no archaeological evidence for the existence of an impossibly large boat dating to 5,000 years ago.”

In the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, Ararat came to represent the destruction of the native Armenian population of eastern Turkey (Western Armenia) in the national consciousness of Armenians. Ari L. Goldman noted in 1988, “In most Armenian homes in the modern diaspora, there are pictures of Mount Ararat, a bittersweet reminder of the homeland and national aspirations.”

Ararat has become a symbol of Armenian efforts to reclaim its “lost lands”, i.e. the areas west of Ararat that are now part of Turkey that had significant Armenian population before the genocide. Adriaans noted that Ararat is featured as a sanctified territory for the Armenians in everyday banal irredentism.  Stephanie Platz wrote, “Omnipresent, the vision of Ararat rising above Yerevan and its outskirts constantly reminds Armenians of their putative ethnogenesis … and of their exile from Eastern Anatolia after the Armenian genocide of 1915.”

The Armenian Genocide also known as the Armenian Holocaust, was the Ottoman government‘s systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians, mostly Ottoman citizens within the Ottoman Empire and its successor state, the Republic of Turkey. The starting date is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day that Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested, and deported 235 to 270 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Constantinople to the region of Ankara, the majority of whom were eventually murdered. The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly, and the infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians and the Ottoman Greeks were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government in the Assyrian genocide and the Greek genocide, and their treatment is considered by some historians to be part of the same genocidal policy. Most Armenian diaspora communities around the world came into being as a direct result of the genocide.

Raphael Lemkin was explicitly moved by the annihilation of Armenians to define systematic and premeditated exterminations within legal parameters and to coin the word genocide in 1943. The Armenian Genocide is acknowledged to have been one of the first modern genocides, because scholars point to the organized manner in which the killings were carried out in order to eliminate the Armenians, and it is the second most-studied case of genocide after the Holocaust.

Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, repudiates the word genocide as an accurate term for the mass killings of Armenians that began under Ottoman rule in 1915. In recent years it has been faced with repeated calls to recognize them as genocide. To date, 29 countries and 46 US states have officially recognized the mass killings as genocide.

The Cascade is a giant stairway in YerevanArmenia. It links the downtown Kentron area of Yerevan with the Monument neighborhood. The construction of the Cascade was launched in 1971 and completed in 1980.

Inside the Cascade, underneath the exterior steps are a couple of escalators going the length of the complex. There are also rooms connected to some of the landings along the escalators which compose the Cafesjian Museum of Art.

The exterior of cascade, in addition to stairs has multiple levels with fountains and sculptures. The stairs afford walkers unobstructed views of central Yerevan and Mount Ararat.

Republic Square  is the central town square in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. It consists of two sections: an oval roundabout and a trapezoid-shaped section which contains a pool with musical fountains. The square is surrounded by five major buildings built in pink and yellow tuff in the neoclassical style with extensive use of Armenian motifs. This architectural ensemble includes the Government House, the History Museum and the National GalleryArmenia Marriott Hoteland the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Transport and Communications. The square was originally designed by Alexander Tamanian in 1924 The construction of most of the buildings was completed by the 1950s; the last building—the National Gallery—was completed in 1977.

During the Soviet period it was called the Lenin Square and a statue of Lenin stood at the square and military parades were held twice (originally thrice) a year. After Armenia’s independence Lenin’s statue was removed and the square was renamed. It has been described as Armenia’s and the city’s “most important civic space”, Yerevan’s “architectural highlight”] and the city’s “most outstanding architectural ensemble”.

World Bank Data

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Armenia – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

GDP                                               $10.5 bn    2016       $1.91 bn    2000

Population                                   2.92 m       2016       3.07  m       2000

Primary school enrolment*     98.5%        2015        98.5%        2000

% below poverty line**            30.0%         2014       48.3%         2001

Life expectancy at birth           74.8 yrs     2015        71.3 yrs      2000

GNI per capita                            $3760         2016        $660           2000

*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

**The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)


Greatest Sporting Nation Data

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Georgia performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:

Global Cup – 59th

Per Capita Cup – didn’t place

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce a per capita ranking.



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Run 110 : Georgia – Tbilisi

rtw georgia 5

Please give generously to Cancer Research :

Date : 16th May, 2017

Time :  57’54”

Total distance run to date : 1100 km

Run map and details :

I love running my 10 kms with other people. I learn about the local country and culture ; I get to spread the Run the World word ; and the company helps immeasurably with the pain of the runs.

The only downside is that they tend to want to run in places made for running. Like parks and open spaces and running tracks.

Places where you can keep up a steady pace and don’t have to keep stopping for street life, pedestrians and red lights. Safe places where you’re unlikely to be mugged, die of air pollution or be run over by traffic.

Which makes lot of sense – but does mean that you probably won’t be running past the top tourist attractions (such as the Holy Trinity Cathedral – picture below). Whereas, when you run by yourself, you can plan your run to take in those sights – and anything else that grabs your fancy along the way.

rtw georgia 16

My run in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, fell into the lonely category so I took a quick look at the tourist map and headed for the centre of town. Which was some way away as, inevitably, I was staying in the cheap part of town.

The run didn’t start too promisingly as I hit a large სპაგეტი* junction and various roads of a size that would be better suited to a motorway. Having navigated those, I eventually I made my way down to the bank of the Mtkvari (or Kura) river and found myself running along a road called ‘Nikoloz Baratashvili named left bank’. At least that’s what it says on Google maps.

From there I crossed over the river to ‘Zviad Gamsakhurdia named right bank’, past a street market selling everything from curved swords to jewellery to what looked like WWII paraphernalia to the Public Service Hall. This rather impressive building (picture below) houses 400 different public services under 11 giant petals atop steel ‘trees’.

rtw georgia 12

I continued along the river with views of the Rike Park Music Theatre and Exhibition Hall , which sits under the Presidential Palace with its classical portico under a glass dome and the magnificent Holy Trinity Cathedral, until I came to Peace Bridge. (A bow-shaped pedestrian bridge, constructed from steel and glass, and illuminated with thousands of LEDs that light up at night – picture below with the Music Theatre and Exhibition Hall in the background).

rtw georgia 17


I crossed over the bridge to Rike Park and there was the cable car that goes up to the ancient Narikala Fortress. Now, this is when you need someone from the rules committee. Am I allowed to take a cable car during my runs? Obviously the distance in the car wouldn’t count towards the 10km, but is the sit down allowed?

I’m not sure where the rules Johnnies were – it’s not as if there’s anyone else doing the challenge so you’d think they’d be nearby – but they weren’t in Tbilisi. So I had to take the decision myself. And got on the cable car.

The reward was great views over the city once I got to the top (picture 5 at the top of the blog) and a close up view of Kartlis Deda – the Monument of a Mother of a Georgian. This twenty-metre aluminium figure of a woman in Georgian national dress symbolizes the Georgian national character: in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends, and in her right hand is a sword for those who come as enemies. (Picture below.)

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From there I ran down through the botanical gardens to the narrow winding lanes of the Old Town before ending up near Liberty (or Freedom) Square. The location was first named Freedom Square in 1918, during the foundation of the First Georgian Republic following the collapse of the Russian Empire. In 1921, the Soviet Union invaded, absorbed Georgia and renamed the square “Beria Square”, and then “Lenin Square”.

It has subsequently been the site of various mass demonstrations including those for Georgia’s independence (from the Soviet Union), the Rose Revolution, and others. In 2005 Freedom Square was the location where U.S. President George W. Bush and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili addressed a crowd of around 100,000 people in celebration of the 60th anniversary marking the end of World War II. During this event, Georgian-Armenian Vladimir Arutyunian threw a live grenade at President Bush while he was speaking in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate him (picture below.)

rtw georgia 15


By the end of the run I’d decided that Tbilisi didn’t just have a great name – it was also a great place to visit. Admittedly, they still smoke indoors – it’s amazing how something can go from commonplace to shocking in ten years- and the locals will ruthlessly exploit any weakness in your queuing technique. But these are minor quibbles and you should go to Tbilisi if you ever get the chance! (I’ve included some words from Lonely Planet in the Facts & Stats section below to further whet your appetite.)

*’Spaghetti’ in Georgian

Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

Georgia is a country in the Caucasus region. Located at the crossroadsbetween Eastern Europe and Western Asia it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russian Federation, to the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The country’s capital and a largest city is Tbilisi. Georgia covers a territory of 69,700 square kilometres (26,911 sq mi), and its 2016 population is about 3.72 million. Georgia is a unitarysemi-presidential republic, with the government elected through a representative democracy.

In the late 18th century, the eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti forged an alliance with the Russian Empire, which directly annexed the kingdom in 1801 and conquered the western Kingdom of Imereti in 1810. Russian rule over Georgia was eventually acknowledged in various peace treaties with Iran and the Ottomans and the remaining Georgian territories were absorbed by the Russian Empire in a piecemeal fashion in the course of the 19th century. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Georgia obtained its short-lived independence and established a republic led by the Social-Democrats in 1918, only to be invaded by Soviet Russia in 1921 and subsequently absorbed into the Soviet Union as the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.

A pro-independence movement led to the secession from the Soviet Union in April 1991. For most of the following decade, post-communist Georgia suffered from a civil conflicts, secessionist wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and economic crisis. Following the bloodless Rose Revolution in 2003, Georgia pursued a strongly pro-Western foreign policy, aiming at NATO and European integration, and introduced a series of democratic and economic reforms, which brought about mixed results, but strengthened state institutions. The country’s Western orientation soon led to the worsening of relations with Russia, culminating in the brief Russo-Georgian War in August 2008 and Georgia’s current territorial dispute with Russia.

Georgia is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development. It contains two de facto independent regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which gained very limited international recognition after the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Georgia and the overwhelming majority of the international community consider the regions to be part of Georgia’s sovereign territory under Russian military occupation.

Tbilisi is the capital and the largest city of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Kura River with a population of approximately 1.5 million people. Founded in the 5th century AD by Vakhtang I Gorgasali, the monarch of the Kingdom of Iberia, Tbilisi since served as the capital of various Georgian kingdoms and republics. Between 1801 and 1917, then being under the rule of the former Russian Empire, Tbilisi was the seat of the Imperial Viceroy, governing both Southern and Northern Caucasus.

Because of its location on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, and its proximity to lucrative east-west trade routes, throughout history Tbilisi was a point of contention between various global powers. The city’s location to this day ensures its position as an important transit route for various energy and trade projects. Tbilisi’s diverse history is reflected in its architecture, which is a mix of medievalclassical, Middle Eastern, Art NouveauStalinist and Moderniststructures.

Historically Tbilisi has been home to people of multiple cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, though it is currently overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox Christian. Its notable tourist destinations include cathedrals Sameba and Sioni, classical Freedom SquareRustaveli Avenue and Agmashenebeli Avenue, medieval Narikala Fortresspseudo-Moorish Opera Theater, and the Georgian National Museum.

Lonely Planet on Tbilisi

Tbilisi has come a long way since the Rose Revolution of 2003 ousted the post-Soviet Shevardnadze government. To Tbilisi’s eternal charms of a dramatic setting in the deep valley of the swift Mtkvari River, picturesque architecture, an ever-lively arts and cultural scene, and the welcoming Georgian lifestyle have been added a whole new 21st-century dimension of inviting cafes and restaurants serving ever better food, up-to-date lodgings from backpacker hostels to international five-stars, funky bars and clubs, spruced-up museums, galleries, parks, plazas and whole streets, modernised transport and a sprinkling of eye-catching contemporary architecture. All of which make it a much easier, and more fun, city to visit and live in than it was less than a decade ago.

But the old Tbilisi is still very much here too. The Old Town, at the narrowest part of the valley, is still redolent of an ancient Eurasian crossroads, with its winding lanes, balconied houses, leafy squares and handsome churches, all overlooked by the 17-centuries-old Narikala Fortress. Neighbourhoods not far from the centre still retain a village-like feel with their narrow streets, small shops and community atmosphere. Small traders still clog up the pavements around metro stations selling fruit, vegetables, cheese and nuts fresh from the countryside.

World Bank Data

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Georgia – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

GDP                                               $14.3 bn    2016       $3.06 bn    2000

Population                                   3.72 m        2016       4.42  m      2000

Primary school enrolment*     117%          2015        97.3%       2000

% below poverty line**            14.8%          2012       20.1%        2007

Life expectancy at birth            74.8 yrs      2015       71.6 yrs     2000

GNI per capita                             $3810         2016        $750          2000

*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

**The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)

Greatest Sporting Nation Data

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Georgia performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:

Global Cup – 54th

Per Capita Cup – 27th

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce a per capita ranking.



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Run 106 : Costa Rica – San Jose


rtw costa rica 1 (2)

Please give generously to Cancer Research :

Date : 11th April, 2017

Time :  57’01”

Total distance run to date : 1060 km

Run map and details :

One of the questions I most often get asked is, “Isn’t a shame to visit all those countries and not spend more time there?”

Which is true at one level. I normally spend only 24 hours in each country, sometimes less. And by the time I’ve transferred to and from the airport, met people, done my run etc there’s not usually much time for sightseeing.

But Run the World is a challenge, not tourism. And it has a budget, and time constraints, so the idea is to complete it as cheaply and quickly as possible. (While still trying to spread the word and raise some money for cancer research!)

However. I’ve always wanted to go to Costa Rica. It’s got mountains and volcanos and rain forests and cloud forests and golden beaches.  It’s got white water rafting and hanging bridges walks and sea swimming and horse riding and zip lining. It’s got sloths and bizarre frogs and coatis and tarantulas and monkeys. If you like active outdoor holidays, with a bit of wildlife thrown in, then it’s probably for you.

So I broke with tradition and stayed on in Costa Rica at the end of my central American trip. And Liz and the girls joined me.

Was it as amazing as I’d imagined? Pretty much. It’s far more expensive than you might expect, the wildlife can be hard to spot and some of the taxi drivers were astonishingly blatant in their attempted rip offs.

On the other hand, it’s truly beautiful, the activities are great and most of the tour guides are extremely good. Take the picture below of a sloth’s bottom. We wouldn’t have seen the animal without our guide – and we certainly wouldn’t have learnt all about its lavatorial habits.

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Basically, sloths only exercise their butts once a week – and can excrete up to third of their body weight at one sitting. And, since sloths don’t move very fast, they have to find a way to hide their waste so that it doesn’t lead their predators directly to them.  Accordingly, once every 7 days, they make the perilous journey to the ground, dig a hole, do their business, cover up the whole, and dawdle their way back up to the tree tops.

Fascinating stuff.

Along with all the other positive things about Costa Rica, you’re also reminded at every turn that it’s safe. And when people in Costa Rica stress how safe it is, they really mean in comparison to many of its neighbours in central America.

In fact its roads aren’t particularly safe and it has the 35th highest murder rate in the world. But that pales into insignificance besides El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Guatemala – all of which are in the top 10 in the world for murder rates (per the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime).

On our trip, the only place that felt at all unsafe (apart from the zip wires, the white water rafting and the horse riding…) was San Jose – the capital.

San Jose’s not on most tourist itineraries but I’d thought it would be the best place for me to get in touch, and run, with some locals. That didn’t work out so I ended running the first 5 km with Liz and Sienna – picture above. (It was a little too hot for them to do the full 10 km).

We ran down Avenida Central – which takes you past most of the major tourist attractions – as far as Parque Metropolitino de Sabana (which was full of the kind of sporting facilities I’d love to see in more UK parks.). For a bit of variety, I ran back along Avenidas 6 & 10 which, while not as scenic as Central, gave a better sense of local life and reminder that for all its relative prosperity, Costa Rica isn’t Western Europe.

In truth, even though I love running with my family, it wasn’t the most memorable of runs. By contrast, Costa Rica is a truly memorable country full of wonderful sights and (taxi drivers aside) lovely people. Just don’t go there with post Brexit sterling in your pocket!

Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

Costa Rica (literally meaning “Rich Coast”), is a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Ecuador to the south of Cocos Island. It has a population of around 4.5 million, of whom nearly a quarter live in the metropolitan area of the capital and largest city, San José.

Costa Rica was sparsely inhabited by indigenous people before coming under Spanish rule in the 16th century. It remained a peripheral colony of the empire until independence as part of the short-lived First Mexican Empire, followed by membership in the United Provinces of Central America, from which it formally declared sovereignty in 1847.

An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica began in 1869 with elections. Costa Rica has avoided much of the violence that has plagued Central America. Since the late nineteenth century, only two brief periods of violence have marred its democratic development. In 1917–19, Federico Tinoco Granados ruled as a dictator.

In 1948, José Figueres Ferrer led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election. “With more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day Costa Rican Civil War resulting from this uprising was the bloodiest event in twentieth-century Costa Rican history.” The victorious junta drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the military. Figueres became a national hero, winning the first election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then Costa Rica has been one of the few democracies to operate without a standing army. The nation has held 16 successive presidential elections, all peaceful, the latest being in 2014.

The country has consistently performed favourably in the Human Development Index (HDI), placing 69th in the world as of 2015, among the highest of any Latin American nation. It has also been cited by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as having attained much higher human development than other countries at the same income levels, with a better record on human development and inequality than the median of the region. Its rapidly developing economy, once heavily dependent on agriculture, has diversified to include sectors such as finance, pharmaceuticals, and ecotourism.

Costa Rica is known for its progressive environmental policies, being the only country to meet all five UNDP criteria established to measure environmental sustainability. It was ranked 42nd in the world, and third in the Americas, in the 2016 Environmental Performance Index, was twice ranked the best performing country in the New Economics Foundation‘s (NEF) Happy Planet Index, which measures environmental sustainability, and was identified by the NEF as the greenest country in the world in 2009. Costa Rica officially plans to become a carbon-neutral country by 2021. In 2012, it became the first country in the Americas to ban recreational hunting.

World Bank Data

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Costa Rica – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

GDP                                               $57.4 bn    2016       $15.0 bn    2000

Population                                   4.86 m       2016        3.93  m      2000

Primary school enrolment*     110%         2015       113%          2000

% below poverty line**            21.7%        2015        21.2%         2010

Life expectancy at birth           79.6 yrs     2015       77.4 yrs      2000

GNI per capita                            $10840      2016        $3580         2000

*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

**The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)

Greatest Sporting Nation Data

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Costa Rica performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:

Global Cup – 113th

Per Capita Cup – did not place

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce a per capita ranking.



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Run 105 : Nicaragua – Managua

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Please give generously to Cancer Research :

Date : 31st March, 2017

Time :  54’34”

Total distance run to date : 1050 km

Run map and details :

I’m not sure about double albums*. Even the good ones seem to pad out what might otherwise have been a great album. As for triple albums, has there ever been a consistently good one?

Take The Clash for example. Arguably the greatest band ever, they released London Calling – generally considered one of the greatest double albums ever. But it’s still not as good as their eponymous debut single album (US import version obvs) – which is one of the top ten best albums of all time.

They then released a triple album which, while it is one of the best triple albums ever, is a victory for indulgent quantity over quality.  They named it ‘Sandinista!’ after the rebels in Nicaragua who captured their, and the world’s, imagination as they took on the Somoza regime.

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The Sandinistas came to power in 1979 and fairly shortly thereafter found themselves embroiled in a brutal civil war with the US backed “contras” in which an estimated 30 000 people died. In the second half of the 80s, this led to one of the most extraordinary stories to come out of the 20th Century : the Iran–Contra affair.

This involved the Reagan administration illegally selling arms to the radical Islamist regime in Iran. And using (part of) the proceeds to illegally fund the contras. All this at a time when the US and Iran were meant to be sworn enemies. Truth really is stranger than fiction. (Pls see Facts & Stats below for more detail.)

The Sandinistas lost power in the 1990 elections but came back in the 2006 elections and have been in power since (winning the 2011 and 2016 elections along the way amidst increasing concerns about the growing powers of President Ortega and his wife and the state of Nicaragua’s democracy.)

These haven’t always been easy years for the Nicaraguans. Nicaragua is reputedly the poorest country in central America (and the second poorest in the western hemisphere after Haiti). A tale I heard during my subsequent trip to Costa Rica appeared to underline this.

A Costa Rican guide was telling us about coffee and how dangerous coffee picking is in Costa Rica. Partly because coffee tends to grow on very steep slopes and the pickers have to be roped together. And partly because wasps, spiders and snakes live in coffee bushes and bites are common.

And who does this dangerous and low paid work? Not the relatively prosperous Costa Ricans of course. Apparently it’s all done by seasonal Nicaraguan migrants. Something to think about next time you sip on your skinny, flat, tall thingy in Starbucks / Costa / Nero.

However, not everything is gloomy. In recent years the (Sandinista) government has introduced a more open economy and has seen strong growth rates. (Governments (of whatever political hue) trying to run their economies centrally – and failing – before opening them up and seeing growth rates improve – is a story I come across all over word.)

It certainly wasn’t gloomy where I was dropped off near Puerto Salvador Allende (the recently renovated port area). Bizarrely and completely unexpectedly, I was in a space full of brightly lit tree statues (picture below). I subsequently discovered they were part of the 134 17-meter-tall “Trees of Life” dotted round town. Designed by Rosario Murillo, the wife of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, they dominate the central area of Managua and give a sense of her influence. (She is now Nicaragua’s Vice-President.)

Arboles Malecón

Leaving the Trees behind, I took a tour round the port area before heading up Avenue Simon Bolivar. There were Trees of Life and other brightly lit revolutionary something or others at every intersection. The picture at the top of the blog is the Unknown Soldier monument to the heroes of the revolution which is at the port end of Avenue Bolivar. Further south I passed a brightly lit mosaic of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela (picture below) who supposedly siphoned off a few millions from Venezuela’s oil revenues to support the Allende regime.


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As the Avenue began to climb more steeply, I started to feel the run – my sixth in five days – in my legs. And, for some reason, I also felt it in my toenails which ached with every footstep. It was time to turn back to the Port via Parque Luis Alfonso Velasquez which was full of sports & leisure facilities, a cathedral and government buildings. A final km or so back along the lake shoreline and amongst the Trees and I was done in both senses of the word.

I wish I’d had longer in Nicaragua – the bits I saw were fascinating and I was tempted to extend my visit. Should I stay – or should I go? The age old dilemma..

Finally, if you’re not familiar with the Clash, or think they’re only about shouty punk music, then here are 15 tracks to get you started. Everyone a cracker.

Should I Stay or Should I Go

Train in Vain

Janie Jones

I’m so Bored with the USA

White Riot

London’s Burning

Career Opportunities

Police & Thieves


London Calling

Rudie Can’t Fail

The Guns of Brixton

I Fought the Law

(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais


*For younger readers unfamiliar with albums as physical objects, a double album is defined as an audio album which spans two units of the primary medium in which it is sold, typically vinyl records or compact discs. (A triple album spans three units.)


Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

NB It was apparent when researching this blog that the events of the Nicaraguan Revolution and the subsequent years of Sandinista rule remain controversial subjects. I have therefore tried to keep the following section focused on the basic facts.


Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the north, the Caribbean to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, is the country’s largest city and the third-largest city in Central America. The multi-ethnic population of six million includes indigenous peoples, Europeans, Africans, and Asians. The main language is Spanish. Native tribes on the eastern coast speak their own languages.

The Spanish Empire conquered the region in the 16th century. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821. Since its independence, Nicaragua has undergone periods of political unrest, dictatorship, and fiscal crisis—the most notable causes that led to the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Nicaragua is a representative democratic republic.

The biological diversity, warm tropical climate and active volcanoes make Nicaragua an increasingly popular tourist destination.

 The Nicaraguan Revolution

The Nicaraguan Revolution encompassed the rising opposition to the Somoza dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s, the campaign led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) to violently oust the dictatorship in 1978–79, the subsequent efforts of the FSLN to govern Nicaragua from 1979 until 1990 and the Contra War which was waged between the FSLN and the Contrasfrom 1981-1990.

The Revolution marked a significant period in Nicaraguan history and revealed the country as one of the major proxy war battlegrounds of the Cold War with the events in the country rising to international attention.

Although the initial overthrow of the Somoza regime in 1978–79 was a bloody affair, the Contra War of the 1980s took the lives of tens of thousands of Nicaraguans and was the subject of fierce international debate. During the 1980s both the FSLN (a leftist collection of political parties) and the Contras (a rightist collection of counter-revolutionary groups) received large amounts of aid from the Cold War super-powers (respectively, the Soviet Union and the United States).

The Contra War ultimately ended following the signing of the Tela Accord in 1989 and the demobilization of the FSLN and Contra armies.] A second election in 1990 resulted in the election of a majority of anti-Sandinista parties and the FSLN handing over power.

The Iran Contra Affair

The Iran–Contra affair also referred to as Irangate, Contragate or the Iran–Contra scandal, was a political scandal in the United States that occurred during the second term of the Reagan Administration. Senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo. They hoped, thereby, to fund the Contras in Nicaragua while at the same time negotiating the release of several U.S. hostages. Under the Boland Amendment, further funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited by Congress.


Sandinista! is the fourth studio album by the English band the Clash. It was released on 12 December 1980 as a triple album containing 36 tracks, with 6 songs on each side. Anticipating the “world music” trend of the 1980s, it features funkreggaejazzgospelrockabillyfolkdubrhythm and bluescalypsodisco, and rap. For the first time, the band’s traditional songwriting credits of Strummer and Jones were replaced by a generic credit to the Clash, and the band agreed to a decrease in album royalties in order to release the 3-LP at a low price.

The title refers to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and its catalogue number, ‘FSLN1’, refers to the abbreviation of the party’s Spanish name, Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional.

Sandinista! was voted best album of the year in the Pazz & Jop critics poll in The Village Voice, and was ranked number 404 on the Rolling Stone list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” in 2003. Slant Magazine listed the album at number 85 on its “Best Albums of the 1980s” list in 2012.


World Bank Data

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Nicaragua – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

GDP                                               $13.2 bn    2016       $5.10 bn    2000

Population                                   6.15 m       2016        5.03  m      2000

Primary school enrolment*     123%          2010       105%          2000

% below poverty line**            29.6%         2014       48.3%        2005

Life expectancy at birth            75.1 yrs      2015       69.7 yrs     2000

GNI per capita                             $2050        2016        $970          2000

*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

**The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)


Greatest Sporting Nation Data

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Nicaragua performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:

Global Cup – did not place

Per Capita Cup – did not place

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce a per capita ranking.



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