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.

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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’.

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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).

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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.)

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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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Run 109 : Azerbaijan – Baku

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Please give generously to Cancer Research :

Date : 15th May, 2017

Time :  1h 01’ 34”

Total distance run to date : 1090 km

Run map and details :

Media : ;

“Very often the question [is asked] “Where is Azerbaijan?” After the Eurovision song contest and after the European Games, most people will know the answer.”

These are the words of Azad Rahimov, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Youth and Sport, taken from an interview about the numerous sporting (and other) events that Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, has hosted over the past 15 years.

And they raise an interesting question – do you now know where Azerbaijan is? Could you place it on a map?

If you’re reading this in Azerbaijan or neighbouring countries, then the answer will presumably be ‘yes’. Other readers may require a little further education.

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It’s a question that goes to the heart of the rationale for the multi-billion dollar investments that countries / cities make in hosting sporting events. For a sports nut like me, they work. In my eyes, Baku and Azerbaijan have certainly had much higher profiles over the last few years.  But I don’t know if the same could be said of the general population.

Of course, profile raising is only one of the benefits of these events. They also create jobs, infrastructure and new skills. And, as anyone who was in London during the summer of 2012 can attest, the sheer joy of hosting a huge sporting event can be pretty special.

It’s also argued that these events inspire more people to play sport and help raise standards. Azerbaijan recent sporting performances seem to support this thesis. They’ve been steadily improving their GreatestSportingNation rankings in recent years and, in 2016, Azerbaijan was the 28th most successful sporting country in the world. Even more impressively, on a per capita basis, Azerbaijan came 13th in the world.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of these investments, Baku’s strategy is clear. Since 2002 it has been the venue for 36 major sporting events and it has bid, or is bidding, for many more including the Olympic games and both the Champions league and the Europa League finals.

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When I landed in Baku, it was in the middle of hosting the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games and the airport was awash with branding and welcome committees. They were also getting ready for this weekend’s Grand Prix (June 25th) with stands and crash barriers starting to appear on the streets.


On the whole, though, the country seemed slightly unaware that, on the evening of May 15th, it was hosting the mother and father of all global sporting events. Run the World Azerbaijan.

There were 6 of us at the start including Ian, grandmaster of the local Hash House Harriers, and Trevor who runs Baku Runners plus Vugar, Joanna and Kasia . We started at the Hops Pub – just off Fountains Square and spiritual home of the local Hashers – and made our way down to the waterfront. Which is an excellent place to run and gives you a great view of Baku’s shoreline.

To try to get a sense of Baku, it’s important to understand that Azerbaijan generates huge amounts of revenue from oil and gas. This funds not only the sporting events referred to above but all sorts of other ambitious and eye catching construction projects. We ran past what looked like replicas of the Sydney Opera House and the London Eye before turning round at the world’s second highest flagpole (picture below). Up on the hill overlooking our run were the mightily impressive Flame Towers whose facades are turned into gigantic display screens at night with the use of more than 10,000 high-power LED luminaires.

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As an aside, not on the run, but you won’t miss it when you come in from the airport, is the Heydar Aliyev Centre – an award winning cultural centre designed by Zaha Hadid. Rumour has it that the design brief given to Hadid by President Aliyev, was his signature. And nothing else. (Heydar Aliyev was President of Azerbaijan between 1993 and 2003. His son, Ilham Aliyev, has been President since his death.)

As we continued with the run, the rain came down harder and harder. By the end it was almost as much a swim as a run.

Eventually, we splashed our way back to the Hops Pub (picture below), hung up our wet clothes and settled into their beer and pie combo. It had been a night for heroes and it felt like we deserved a reward.

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I’ll finish with some further words from Minister Rahimov talking about the benefits of the European Games : “It will be a major chance to show Baku to the world as a European country, as a Muslim, but secular state, as a good bridge between East and West, between the Muslim Orient and the Christian Europe, and to show the beauty of the country.”

And when you’re there, you do get the sense of being at an enormous crossroads – between Europe and Asia; between religion and secularity ; between the traditional and the oil and gas funded new. I found it a fascinating place to visit.

It may have been damp but it was a great run. Huge thanks to Ian and Trevor for organising it – and to everyone else who braved the elements to join in!

Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.


Azerbaijan is a country in the South Caucasus region, situated at the crossroads of Southwest Asia and Southeastern Europe. It is bound by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west and Iran to the south. The exclave of Nakhchivan is bound by Armenia to the north and east, Iran to the south and west, while having an 11 km border with Turkey in the north west.

The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic proclaimed its independence in 1918 and became the first democratic state in the Muslim orient world. The country was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920 as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. The modern Republic of Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence on 30 August 1991, prior to the official dissolution of the USSR in December 1991. In September 1991, the Armenian majority of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region seceded to form the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The region and seven adjacent districts outside it became de facto independent with the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994. These regions are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan pending a solution to the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh, found through negotiations facilitated by the OSCE.

The Constitution of Azerbaijan does not declare an official religion and all major political forces in the country are secularist. However, the majority of the population are of a Shiite Muslim background. Most Azerbaijanis, however, do not actively practice any religion, and the country has been seen to be one of the most irreligious countries in the Muslim world, with 53% stating religion has little to no importance in their lives, according to Pew Research Center and Gallup polls. Azerbaijan has a high level of human development which ranks on par with most Eastern European countries. It has a high rate of economic development and literacy,  as well as a low rate of unemployment. The ruling party, however, the New Azerbaijan Party, has been accused of authoritarianism and human rights abuses.


Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region. Baku is located 28 metres (92 ft) below sea level, which makes it the lowest lying national capital in the world and also the largest city in the world located below sea level. It is located on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula, alongside the Bay of Baku. At the beginning of 2009, Baku’s urban population was estimated at just over two million people. Officially, about 25 percent of all inhabitants of the country live in Baku’s metropolitan area.

The Inner City of Baku, along with the Shirvanshah’s Palace and Maiden Tower, were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. According to the Lonely Planet‘s ranking, Baku is also among the world’s top ten destinations for urban nightlife.[6]

The city is the scientific, cultural and industrial center of Azerbaijan. Many sizeable Azerbaijani institutions have their headquarters there. The Baku International Sea Trade Port is capable of handling two million tons of general and dry bulk cargoes per year. In recent years, Baku has become an important venue for international events. It hosted the 57th Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, the 2015 European Games, the 2016 European Grand Prix and will host the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games and Azerbaijan Grand Prix in 2017 and UEFA Euro 2020.

The city is renowned for its harsh winds, which is reflected in its nickname, the “City of Winds“.

In 1917, after the October revolution and amidst the turmoil of World War I and the breakup of the Russian Empire, Baku came under the control of the Baku Commune.

The independence of the Azerbaijani republic was a significant but a short lived chapter. On 28 April 1920, the 11th Red Army invaded Baku and reinstalled the Bolsheviks, making Baku the capital of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.

Baku’s growing importance as a major energy hub remained in sight of the major powers. During World War II and the Nazi German invasion of the southwestern Soviet Union, Baku had become of vital strategic importance. In fact, capturing the oil fields of Baku was one of the ultimate goals of Operation Edelweiss, carried out between May and November 1942. However the German Army’s closest approach to Baku was no closer than some 530 kilometres (329 miles) northwest of Baku in November 1942, falling far short of the city’s capture before being driven back during the Soviet Operation Little Saturn in mid-December 1942.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Baku embarked on a process of restructuring on a scale unseen in its history. Thousands of buildings from the Soviet period were demolished to make way for a green belt on its shores; parks and gardens were built on the land reclaimed by filling up the beaches of the Baku Bay. Improvements were made in the general cleaning, maintenance, and garbage collection, and these services are now at Western European standards. The city is growing dynamically and developing at full speed on an east-west axis along the shores of the Caspian Sea. Sustainability has become a key factor in future urban development.

Baku and Sporting Events

Baku hosts a Formula One race through on the Baku City Circuit. The first was the 2016 European Grand Prix.

The city will also host three group games and one quarter-final of the UEFA Euro 2020 European Football Championship.

Since 2002, Baku has hosted 36 major sporting events and selected to host the 2015 European Games. Baku is also to host the fourth edition of the Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017.

First class sporting facilities were built for the indoor games, including the Palace of Hand Games and Heydar Aliyev Sports and Exhibition Complex. It hosted many sporting events, including FIFA U-17 Women’s World CupRhythmic Gymnastics European Championships in 2007 and 20092005 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships2007 FILA Wrestling World Championships and 2010 European Wrestling Championships2011 World Amateur Boxing Championships2009 Women’s Challenge Cup and European Taekwondo Championships in 2007. Since 2011 the city annually hosts WTA tennis event called Baku Cup.

Baku made a bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics and 2020 Summer Olympics, but failed to become a Candidate City both times.

World Bank Data

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

Population***                             9.65 m       2015      8.05  m     2000

GDP                                               $53.0 bn   2015      $5.27 bn   2000

GNI per capita                            $6560        2015      $610          2000

% below poverty line*              6%             2012      49.6%        2001

Life expectancy at birth           70.8 yrs     2015      66.8 yrs     2000

Primary school enrolment**   107%         2014      97.2%        2000

*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.)

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

***Population decrease due to emigration and negative birth rate

Greatest Sporting Nation Data

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

Global Cup – 28th

Per Capita Cup – 13th

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 113 : Romania – Bucharest

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Please give generously to Cancer Research :

Date : 19th May, 2017

Time :  59’ 29”

Total distance run to date : 1130 km

Run map and details :

Media :


Have you ever thought about combining travelling with a spot of running? I don’t mean the Run the World approach to life where you do 7 runs in 7 countries in 7 days. Or travelling for more hours than you care to remember only to end up somewhere like Papua New Guinea or Venezuela where, beautiful and wonderful countries though they are, you’re scared to put a foot outside your hotel door.

I’m talking about visiting somewhere fascinating where you also take part in an organised run of, say, 5, 10, or 42 kilometres. Somewhere you can combine travel, sightseeing and exercise with meeting new people. Somewhere, for example, like Bucharest, the capital of Romania.

Just be ready to enjoy the local culture. My usual pre-run routine involves plenty of hydration, lots of stretching and carefully controlled food intake in the hours leading up to the run. In Bucharest it involved shots of palinca – an intensely strong plum brandy – the odd interview and chunks of bread with salt. (Picture below.)

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And be prepared to run with sporting royalty. Constantina Diță  – Olympic gold medalist in the marathon – and Valeria Răcilă – Olympic rowing gold medalist – both joined the run which had been organised by Stefan Oprina who is one of Romania’s leading athletics trainers. (Picture below.)

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Including Constantina and Valeria, there were about 40 of us as we set off on our run which started with a gentle lap around the National Arena. From there we ran to Parcul Alexandru Ioan Cuza (picture below) – a picturesque park with a lake, plenty of crowds enjoying the evening sunshine and signs with the names of major cities from around the world. A perfect venue for a run, a chat or two and a group photo in front of the London sign – top picture.

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We took it all fairly gently. So gently that, as we got back to the National Arena at the end of the 9th kilometer, I realised that we were in danger of missing the 1 hour time limit I like to set for these runs. I mentioned this to the rest of the group and we started to go faster. And then a bit faster. And a bit more faster. By now we were running at 4 minutes per kilometer pace.

I turned to Constantina to check that she was OK with the pace. She smiled politely ; everyone else laughed. (Not only did Constantina win marathon gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics but she is also Romania’s national record holder at pretty much every road distance between 10km and the marathon.)

We kept going and by now I was starting to feel a bit hung over from the palinca. I could also hear quite a lot of heavy breathing. Which turned out to be me. No-one else was even noticing the pace.

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Eventually we finished just under the hour in 59’ 29”. After running the last kilometer in 4’11” – probably my fastest ever Run the World kilometre. To put that in context, Constantina’s national record for 10km (road) is  31’ 59.9” i.e. an average speed of 3’ 12” per kilometre.

Constantina, Valeria – it was an honour to run with you. In Bucharest, if you can’t beat them, then at least you can join them!

More palinca and photos followed before a big group of us headed off to an open air restaurant in Bucharest’s old town (picture below). As I got chatting to Stefan, Valeria – who is President of the Bucharest Marathon  – and the others I thought seriously for the first time about ‘running tourism’ and how it’s the perfect way to see a place and meet local people.

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So, if you think you might be interested in running in Romania (or any of the other countries I’ve visited) please get in touch. There are great runs to be done and great people to be met, all over the world.

Finally, huge thanks to Stefan, Oana, Valeria, Constantina, Radudonoiu, Daniel, Radu and everyone else who helped organise or joined in the run. It was a fantastic evening and I hope to be sending you more runners from the UK in the future!

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Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

Romania is a sovereign state located in Southeastern Europe. It borders the Black SeaBulgariaUkraineHungarySerbia, and Moldova. It has an area of 238,391 square kilometres (92,043 sq mi) and a temperatecontinental climate. With over 19 million inhabitants, the country is the seventh most populous member state of the European Union. Its capital and largest city, Bucharest, is the sixth-largest city in the EU, with 1,883,425 inhabitants as of 2011.

The River Danube, Europe’s second-longest river, rises in Germany and flows in a general southeast direction for 2,857 km (1775 mi), coursing through ten countries before emptying into Romania’s Danube Delta. The Carpathian Mountains, which cross Romania from the north to the southwest, include Moldoveanu, at 2,544 m (8,346 ft).

Modern Romania was formed in 1859 through a personal union of the Danubian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. The new state, officially named Romania since 1866, gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1877. At the end of World War ITransylvaniaBukovina and Bessarabia united with the sovereign Kingdom of Romania. During World War II, Romania was an ally of Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union, fighting side by side with the Wehrmacht until 1944, when it joined the Allied powers and faced occupation by the Red Army forces. Romania lost several territories, of which Northern Transylvania was regained after the war. Following the war, Romania became a socialist republic and member of the Warsaw Pact. After the 1989 Revolution, Romania began a transition towards democracy and a capitalist market economy.

Following rapid economic growth in the early 2000s, Romania has an economy predominantly based on services, and is a producer and net exporter of machines and electric energy, featuring companies like Automobile Dacia and OMV Petrom. It has been a member of NATO since 2004, and part of the European Union since 2007. A strong majority of the population identify themselves as Eastern Orthodox Christians and are native speakers of Romanian, a Romance language.

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

Population***                             19.8 m       2015        22.4  m      2000

GDP                                               $178 bn      2015        $37.4 bn    2000

GNI per capita                             $9510         2015        $1720        2000

% below poverty line*               25.4%         2013        24.8%        2006

Life expectancy at birth             75.0 yrs      2015       71.2 yrs      2000

Primary school enrolment**    95.5%         2014       96.8%         2000

*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.)

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

***Population decrease due to emigration and negative birth rate

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

Global Cup – 51st

Per Capita Cup – 52nd

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 112 : Moldova – Chisinau

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Please give generously to Cancer Research :

Date : 18th May, 2017

Time :  56’ 28”

Total distance run to date : 1120 km

Run map and details :

Media :–34-run-the-world-34-cu-britanicul-dan-thompson

Video of the run :

Photos from the run :

Can’t tell you the day started well. Up at 4am after 3 hours of sleep and into my running gear for the flight from Armenia to Moldova.  Travelling with a running belt in place of a carry-on bag isn’t ideal but I was hoping to take advantage of a 1h 40’ stopover in Moscow airport to get my Russian run done without the hassle of obtaining a visa. (Russian visa application forms apparently require you to list every country you’ve visited in the last 5 years. I’ve just had to do that for my US visa application and, believe me, it’s a time consuming and best avoided process given my recent travels.)

In the event, the flight to Moscow was delayed – which is apparently quite common now that Russian airlines have to avoid Ukrainian airspace. And then it took ages to deplane. And then the coach took a tour of the entire airport before dropping us off at the terminal. And then security had a few questions about my itinerary.

All of which meant that I needed to complete my 10km in a new world record if I was to make my next flight. Setting world records is never easy at the best of times, let alone in the confines of a busy airport. So I decided to give up on the plan and just relax and wait for the flight. And, after that, the day got considerably better.

Sporter – picture below – is Moldova’s leading sports portal and Serghei, its director, had invited me to their offices for an interview to be broadcast on Facebook. It’s part of Simpals, a fast growing media group chaired by Dimitrii Volosin, and they’re well set up for live interviews.

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David Lutsik*** interviewed me and, towards those end of the interview, he threw me one of those questions that interviewees dread : “Which country has been your best run to date?” Partly for reasons of diplomacy, and partly because I’ve genuinely had so many good experiences, I gave a politician’s answer and declined to name any specific country. He assured me that the answer would be ‘Moldova’ by the end of the day.

After the interview we set off for Parcul Catedrelai (Cathedral Park) in the centre of Chisinau. Bordered to the wst by Government House, it contains the Arcul de Triomf and the Nativity of Christ Metropolita Cathedral – two of Chisinau’s top sights.

We were joined there by Ambassador Lucy Joyce and Victoria from the British Embassy and by Jonathan from the Moscow Embassy who just happened to be in Chisinau. Picture below with Serghei and Dimitrii.

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Sporter organises the Chisinau marathon and a number of other mass participation events in Moldova. (Please contact me if you’d like to visit Moldova and take part in one of their events). They know what they’re doing when it comes to organising runs and it showed. There were about 50 of us and we were led out by a police escort and a van pumping out Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

rtw moldova 27 start of the run

The route was one lap of the Chisinau marathon course which circles through the city centre. It was my sixth run in 5 days and it would normally have been a struggle. But somehow, between the music and the company, it was painless and almost, dare I say it, fun.

The conversation I remember best from the run concerned emigration. A staggering one third of Moldavans are estimated to have emigrated in recent years. (See Facts & Stats below). And it’s no great secret why people leave. The average wage in Moldova is about 200 Euros a month. The cost of living is less than in Western Europe – but not that much less. So people leave to better their lives and look after their families.

In Western Europe this emigration is known as immigration and is, of course, the subject of a great deal of debate and angst. However, my suspicion is that, in years to come, the biggest issue with emigration / immigration will be seen to be the economic and social impact on the countries that have lost huge numbers of young and enterprising people.

The run finished back at Cathedral Park with Moldova’s Eurovision Song Contest entry blaring from the sound system. Time for some arms-round-shoulders-in-a-circle-dancing, a load of selfies and a final few words from yours truly. “Firstly, huge thanks to everyone who came along; to Serghei, Dimitrii, David and everyone at Sporter for organising a great run ; and to Ambassador Joyce, Victoria and Jonathan from the British embassy for their support.”

“Secondly, I was asked earlier today which of my 112 runs to date has been my favourite. The answer is, of course, Moldova”.

Watch Sporter’s video of the run and you’ll get a sense of why I enjoyed it so much.

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Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

Moldova is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east, and south (by way of the disputed territory of Transnistria). The capital city is Chișinău.

Most of the Moldovan territory was a part of the Principality of Moldavia from the 14th century until 1812, when it was ceded to the Russian Empire by the Ottoman Empire (to which Moldavia was a vassal state) and became known as Bessarabia. In 1856, southern Bessarabia was returned to Moldavia, which three years later united with Wallachia to form Romania, but Russian rule was restored over the whole of the region in 1878. During the 1917 Russian Revolution, Bessarabia became an autonomous and then independent Moldavian Democratic Republic, however in 1918 it was integrated into Romania following a vote of its assembly. The decision was disputed by Soviet Russia, which, in 1924, allowed the establishment, within the Ukrainian SSR, of a Moldavian autonomous republic (MASSR) on partial Moldovan-inhabited territories to the east of the Dniester. In 1940, as a consequence of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Romania was compelled to cede Bessarabia to the Soviet Union, leading to the creation of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (Moldavian SSR), which included the greater part of Bessarabia and the westernmost strip of the former MASSR.

On 27 August 1991, as part of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Moldavian SSR declared independence and took the name Moldova. The current Constitution of Moldova was adopted in 1994. The strip of the Moldovan territory on the east bank of the Dniester river has been under the de facto control of the breakaway government of Transnistria since 1990.

Due to a decrease in industrial and agricultural output following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the service sector has grown to dominate Moldova’s economy and currently composes over 60% of the nation’s GDP. Its economy is the poorest in Europe in per capita terms. Moldova is also the least visited country in Europe by tourists with only 11,000 annually recorded visitors from abroad.

Moldova is a parliamentary republic with a president as head of state and a prime minister as head of government. It is a member state of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and aspires to join the European Union.

Emigration from Moldova is a mass phenomenon, having a significant impact on the country’s demographics and economy.

Confronted with economic instability, collapsing incomes, and rapidly rising unemployment that accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union, people began emigrating from Moldova on a large scale in the first half of the 1990s. The Information and Security Service of the Republic of Moldova has estimated that 1,200,000 to two million Moldovan citizens (almost 45% of a population of some 3.6 million) are working abroad, most illegally. Only around 80,000 are estimated to be in their destination country legally. Russia (especially Moscow region), ItalyUkraineRomaniaPortugalSpainGreeceTurkey, and Israel are the main destinations (in decreasing order of importance). Due to the clandestine nature of these migration flows, however, no official statistics exist. Some 500,000 Moldovans are thought to be working in Russia, mainly in construction. Another estimate puts the number of Moldovans in Italy at 500,000. Moldovan citizens are drawn toward countries that speak their language or a similar one, such as Moldovans to Romance-speaking countries, Russians and Ukrainians to Russia or Ukraine, or the Turkic-speaking Gagauz to Turkey.

Remittances from Moldovans abroad account for almost 24,9% of Moldova’s GDP, the fifth-highest percentage in the world.

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

Population                                   3.55 m         2015        3.64  m      2000

GDP                                               $6.57 bn      2015        $1.29 bn    2000

GNI per capita                             $2240          2015        $370           2000

% below poverty line*               11.4%          2014        29.0%        2003

Life expectancy at birth             71.6 yrs       2015       66.9 yrs      2000

Primary school enrolment**    92.4%          2014       101%           2000

*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.)

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

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

Global Cup – 121st

Per Capita Cup – Unplaced

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.

***In the interests of fairness, I should note that David is one of the nicest people you could meet  – and, yes, he did pre warn me about that question.



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