2024 Travelogue: Running Water

A long overdue travelogue, I reflect on the placid joy of running alongside rivers. Berlin 🛫 Amsterdam & The Hague 🛫🚄 Passau 🚄 Munich

There’s something about rivers I adore. It’s not just the calm (or occasional fury) of the running water, it’s also the deep connection they represent connecting nature with civilization. A good, well cared for river present you with wildlife, scenery, culture, and humility. Rivers have a place in history that astonishes me. I think it’s a privilege to witness them. That’s the Thames, don’t you get it? The Thames! You read about rivers in history books and then, somehow, you can see them knowing that they hold them same opportunity and wonder for us now than they did for the people then. It’s that small town kid sense of wonder that I still have, getting to behold a historically and culturally relevant body of water feels like I have gotten away with a crime. It’s like something I never thought possible.

So this spring, when I got back into running, I found myself with a unique opportunity to go jogging along all sorts of famous rivers during my travels and I have to say there’s really no better way to start your day than jogging alongside a body of water that has given life and livelihood to hundreds of miliions of people over the years. My normal Berlin run takes me along the Spree, but I travel often and this gives me the opportunity for new things.

In my last travelogue I ran along the Thames, not only a couple weeks later I found myself underway again. First stop: Amsterdam.

My relationship to Amsterdam is strange. It’s a city I’m in with relative frequency, and I enjoy it, or I feel like I should enjoy it more than I do. The city has its charms but it is absolutely sodden with tourism and is overcrowded. Every jaunt through the city makes me marvel that people aren’t dying all the time. Amsterdam is the first city where I feel like my PTSD-induced hypervigilance is justified. There’s always a bike flitting around the corner, a car speeding by, a tram somehow sneaking up on you. Sometimes all three at once in the same 5 meter radius.

But Amsterdam is a fantastic city to jog in early in the morning. The April mornings were cool but pleasant, I got out before the morning rush started and the city was quiet. My route took me over the Amstel, around the canals over to the Rijksmuseum and down along the Museumplein as the sun rose, cherry blossoms still blooming. Sublime. Amsterdam is a rich city, if it weren’t for the crush of tourists it would be one of my favorites (for this reason I enjoy Utrecht) much more). But one thing I do love about Amsterdam is that you can get decent bagels there, so I finished my run by ending up at a bagel joint along the Prinsengracht, immediately replacing whatever calories I had just burned off.

After a few days there, my travels took me back across central Europe to the far corner of Bavaria, to Passau, where I would speak at the Passau Data Summit (PasDaS). For someone who likes rivers, Passau is a treat. The city sits at the confluence of three rivers: the mighty Donau, the Inn, and the smaller Ilz. The small Bavarian city is home to a university with a strong reputation in technology, and the conference organizers planned an event dinner at the Oberhaus, a restaurant in an old fortress overlooking the confluence. It was a spectacular view to behold as the sun set. My talk was well received, I spoke on the EU Data Act, an interesting law that will mandate data openness that is getting much less attention than its sister laws like the Digital Services Act and the AI Act.

A bridge over the Inn

I’d been to Passau before, I booked the same hotel near the cathedral, sitting just meters from the Donau. From there to the University was a pleasant walk (or jog!) along the Inn. Rising above the river on the opposite bank was Austria. I was so close my phone kept getting confused as to which network to join. But the hotel itself carried reminders of the power of a river: the building nextdoor kept a tally of the high water mark of floods throughout history, the highest being far out of my reach. The warming climate will surely break that record soon. It is a harsh reminder. I keep a memento mori of my own on my bookshelf at home: a bottle of wine covered in mud from the devastating and deadly floods in Western Germany in Ahr Valley in 2021. A charmingly designed minimalist label calls it “Flutwein.” I bought it from a Kickstarter designed to support the economic recovery of the area. Yet in 2024, everyone seems to have forgotten what happened there, none more forgetful than German society itself. I am a sinner, too. If the climate revolution puts me against a wall, I plead guilty for my crimes.

Passau as seen from the Oberhaus at dusk

After Passau I headed into Munich briefly for dinner with a colleague and then back to Berlin, but only for a few days, enough for a jog along the Spree. I soon headed out to Milan, where I would attend another colleague’s wedding south of the city, just outside Pavia. I had never been to that part of Italy before and the weather was cooperative. Rains and wind had cleared the lowlands and from our perch in the foothills of the southern Italian Alps one could see the entire arc of the Alpine range, all the way to Switzerland and across the top of Italy’s boot. I had seen the region only in maps before, my understanding was only intellectual. But seing the area like that roused a sense of wonder and mysticism. One understands how the region was of such historical importance for so long. I embraced the opportunity and spent the weekend exploring villages outside Milan. A B&B in Bressana, a romp through Pavia, dinner on a ship-turned-restaurant anchored on the Po.

An abandoned shack at the train station in Bressana

In Bressana, my run in the Italian sun hunting for the Po ended in vain. I took a wrong turn, but as a consequence managed a personal record. Back at the bed and breakfast, which was the most beautiful room I’ve ever hired, the host, who didn’t speak English, cooked breakfast for us and I was amused as I helped the family next to me understand the menu, hacking through the Italian using my knowledge of Spanish, then translating that to German to communicate it to the family next to me, who in turn passed it along to their family members in Turkish. It was a bit rough but we got what we wanted. The wedding, meanwhile, was beautiful, and Milan a city I absolutely must return to.

A beautiful B&B in Bressana

Three cities, six rivers, and an immeasurable dose of history. What a privilege it is to live it.

Vineyards in the southern Italian alps

Trip log, 2024 (cumulative):

  • Airports:
    • BER
    • EWR
    • IAD
    • FRA
    • HEL
    • MUC
    • BRU
    • ORD
    • LHR
    • NCE
    • ZRH
    • AMS
    • LIN
    • MXP
  • Countries:
    • United States
    • Germany
    • Finland
    • Belgium
    • United Kingdom
    • France
    • Monaco
    • Netherlands
    • Italy
  • Cities:
    • Charlottesville
    • Washington, DC
    • Berlin
    • Helsinki
    • Brussels
    • Chicago
    • London
    • Monte Carlo
    • Nice
    • Amsterdam
    • Passau
    • Milan

Posted: 29.06.2024

Built: 14.07.2024

Updated: 29.06.2024

Hash: ce694ce

Words: 1218

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes