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Category Archives: Travel

Fashion Friday: Call of the Wild in London

When you’re wearing a leopard print helmet from Sawako Furuno, you’ve got style no matter what else you’re wearing, or riding for that matter.

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Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Cycle Fashions, Travel

 

Velorution Prevails Where Barclays Fails

For shame, Barclays! The London cycle hire program your bank sponsors discriminates against Americans, whose credit cards lack “smart card” chips. And unlike the Velib system in Paris where you can buy a day pass online, the Barclays bikes require a smart card at the kiosk. Are they afraid that hordes of right-side-driving Americans will be massacred by aggressive black cabs and lumbering double-decker buses? Could be.

Riding these bikes was in my Top 5 things to do in London, so I was really bummed. Even though I was pretty sure we were out of luck, I had to ask the folks at Velorution, a bike shop focused on city bikes I had read about. The owner, Andre, confirmed that you either need a smart card or they can issue you a special card, but you have to be a London resident. But, he offered, Velorution rents Bromptom folding bikes at a reasonable rate. Interesting. I had never ridden a foldie and was intrigued.

While we were thinking about whether and how long we wanted to hire the Bromptons, we browsed through the store’s wide selection of bikes and gear. Of all the city bike-oriented stores we’ve been to, Velorution is one of the biggest, on par with Clever Cycles in Portland, Oregon. They also offer mail order, which could prove useful in the future. I searched the large selection of panniers, hoping to find the elusive Fast Rider Congres Black Charm. They didn’t offer anything comparable, but Matt took the time to look it up online and suggested I talk with their bag buyer when she came in to the shop later that afternoon.

Dick was immediately drawn to the Pedersen bikes with their hammock saddles and unusual truss frames. He took one out for a spin around the block and declared it felt natural with a comfortable seating position, despite its unusual look. “You have no idea how much I want this bike,” he confided. His birthday is tomorrow, but I don’t think there’s room in my luggage for a Pedersen.

Meanwhile, I moved on to helmets and clothing, where I found a delightful leopard helmet that I just had to have. A girl can never have too many helmets, can she? And there, amidst the dapper tweed coats and capes and smart modern jackets, I found the elusive Brooks rain cape. Last year, I searched for months for an outlet to buy this very cape which had received rave reviews at Interbike. And here it was at long last, unfortunately after I already have a cycle-specific rain coat I picked up in Amsterdam.

We left the store with a leopard helmet for me and two Brompton foldies for the rest of our trip. The Bromptons fit both of us well and only took a bit of adjusting for the markedly twitchy front end. We pedaled away from the shop as the sun went down and so our bike adventures in London began.

How far will you go for bike accessories or equipment? Would you pay the extra overseas shipping and taxes for a unique item?

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Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Gear Talk, Travel

 

On Tradition: Foot Guards, Ghosts and the Queen

Tradition is a curious thing. Some cling to it with all their might, others feel compelled to break free. Unlike other European countries, England has held on to its royalty even as it gradually became a democracy. There was no equivalent of the storming of the Bastille. No royal heads rolled here and the Royal Family is still beloved by the British and their goings-on make the news worldwide.

Before we arrived, my Scottish co-worker Heather suggested a traditional English pub, the Grenadier. She said it would be hard to find, and my Google maps agreed, but we took on the challenge anyway. Heather was right. But we kept calm and carried on until we happened upon the little alley tucked behind the Luxembourg embassy, not far from Buckingham Palace. The Grenadier was indeed a find.

Built in 1720 as the Officers Mess for the first Royal Regiment of foot guards, also known as Grenadiers, it was frequented by the Duke of Wellington and King George the IV. For those not up on history (like me), the Duke of Wellington was the General who defeated Napoleon. What else I did not know was that the pub was haunted. Apparently, a young Grenadier was caught cheating at cards and the other soldiers gave him a such a severe beating that he died after seeking refuge in the pub’s cellar.

I’m happy to say our meals were fine, the beers were traditional English brews and there were no ghost sightings or other paranormal incidents. No “solemn, silent spectres were seen moving slowly across the low-ceilinged rooms” or “unseen hands rattle tables and chairs” or “low sighing moans heard emanating from the depths of the cellar.” I’m glad I didn’t know about the ghosts until after we left.

The next day we visited Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guards, along with several hundred other visitors. Much of the ceremony was over my head, but the pomp and circumstance–bearskin caps and plumed metal helmets and the marching regimental band–was intriguing, but IMHO a bit overrated. A lot of standing around for a minimal view.

We didn’t realize that the ceremony was dragging on longer than advertised because the Queen was heading out for a state meeting, interrupting the ceremony. The bobby stationed next to us gave us a quick warning “this would be good time for your camera” and out rolled the Queen in her Bentley with her entourage of motorcycle police. Even though she rolled right past me, I would never have known except for the noise from the crowd of women, which bore a striking resemblance to Angry Birds. If there was a royal wave, I missed it.

Where do you stand on tradition? Are queens and foot guards and elaborate ceremonies still meaningful for you? Or are they ghosts of a bygone era?

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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Travel

 

A One Day Tour of Paris by Bike

Dick’s colossal flight delays left him with just a single day to see Paris before we had to catch the train to London. Fortunately, the Vélib bikeshare system made it easy to see the sights much faster than taking the Metro. Dick had two must-see items: the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, but we packed in more thanks to Vélib.

10:00 am Riding along the Seine. We picked up our first pair of Vélib bikes just outside our hotel near the Eiffel Tower. Dick raised the saddle up to its max, I put mine in the middle and we were off. We crossed the Seine and rode the cyclepath along the river toward the Louvre. The air was brisk, but it felt really good to have the wind in our faces since the day before was spent in airplanes (Dick) or subways (me). As we rode past the Place de la Concorde I shuddered, remembering how Michelle and I had accidentally gotten caught in the center of this grand traffic circle on bikes–after dark.

11:00 am The Louvre. After a quick photo opp in the main courtyard we turned in our bikes at a nearby Vélib station just outside the gates, and then entered the Louvre through the Pyramid. The Louvre has an expansive collection and we had little time, so we focused on statuary. I love the grand marble statues in the light and airy courtyards. Since most statues were made to decorate gardens it only seems fitting that the museum has created an outdoor feel in an indoor setting. Strolling the statue gardens was most relaxing, even though the guards had to clear one courtyard when an unattended bag was found. A quick jolt back to the 21st century.

3:00 pm Notre Dame & the Latin Quarter. After the Louvre we made a quick duty free shopping stop and then grabbed another pair of bikes. We pedaled over the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge crossing the Seine, to the Île de la Cité, the island in the middle that is the original village of Paris and home to Notre Dame Cathedral. We made a quick stop to gaze at Notre Dame, then crossed over to the Latin Quarter where we cruised this historic neighborhood’s narrow one-way streets. One way for cars, that is, not bikes.

6:00 pm Eiffel Tower From there we pedaled fast down the left bank of the Seine to reach the Eiffel Tower before the sun set. We dropped off the bikes at the Vélib station and then sat underneath the tower, snacking on sandwiches parisiens from the snack bar as darkness fell and saw the tower’s stellar lights come on. By the time we ascended the tower, the city was fully lit up and sparking, with gentle wisps of fog blowing by.

9:00 pm Dinner at La Fontaine de Mars Finding a restaurant for dinner proved to be a challenge since most restaurants aren’t open on Sundays. But we found one about a kilometer away–certainly walking distance. But given we were tired, we grabbed our third pair of Vélib bikes and pedaled to dinner at La Fontaine de Mars, which specializes in cuisine of the Southwest region of France. That means one thing only to me–Cassoulet–and I was lucky to find it on the specials menu. We shared a Tarte Tatin for dessert then grabbed our fourth pair of Vélib bikes for the quick ride back to the hotel, where we slept very well from our busy day.

If you only had one day in Paris, would would be on your must-see list?

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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Travel

 

Guilty Pleasures in Paris

Poor Dick! He was scheduled to meet me in Paris on Friday morning. But between mechanical failures, bad weather and careless airline processes, he didn’t arrive until Saturday afternoon, a full 33 hours late.

As I listened to him fume about his daily travel delays at a dollar a minute, I didn’t dare tell him of the fabulous time I was having while he was waiting in the terminal for hours on end, eating bad airport food and struggling to rebook his flight. I kept my guilty pleasures to myself.

When he called me to tell me his overseas flight was cancelled, he didn’t need to know I having a culinary high at Neva Cuisine. Or that while he was checking in at the airport hotel Michelle and I were riding Velib bikes around the city. Nor that I was in Nirvana at the Buddha Bar when he called to say he’d missed his connection and they couldn’t book him a flight until the next day.

But he kept pushing until he found someone competent enough to get him a flight that night, albeit with a stop at Heathrow, his third stop in a one stop flight. When he finally arrived at Charles de Gaulle he was tired, angry and wondering how unlucky he could be. The count: one cancelled flight due to mechanical problems, one wind storm in Chicago, one missing maintenance log and two instances of the gateway not being ready when the plane arrived. But all that mattered to me is that I could finally hug my sweetie.

What’s the longest you’ve ever been delayed on a flight?

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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in Travel

 

La Cuisine Gastronomique à Paris

After two full days of meetings and two full nights of social activities, our annual sales kickoff was over! Now my co-workers and I could explore Paris at our own pace. Stéphane, our customer support manager, knew just the place for a “gastonomic” dinner: Neva Cuisine. The chef at Neva was trained by Stéphane’s brother-in-law, who in turn trained Stéphane’s wife Sofie. With such connections we got the best table in the house, the same table that Metallica shared just last week. Maybe that’s what inspired Yannick to cut loose un peau.

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The dinner was indeed a gastronomic experience of carefully chosen ingredients, prepared carefully for maximum flavor. The was no ordinary dinner of foie gras and roast duck. The foie gras, embellished with gold flecks in the aspic top, melted smoothly across my tongue, and the Colvert Rôti was roasted to perfection.

But the pièce de résistance was la sphère déstructurée chocolat, an ice cream filled chocolate sphere glazed with silver and doused with hot chocolate sauce at the table. Magnifique!

After dinner we walked up to the 18th arrondissement passing the famous Moulin Rouge in search of a dance club. We considered and rejected more than one, then switched our search to finding a taxi, which proved just as difficult. We almost rented Velib bikes, but they didn’t take our chipless American credit cards. In the end, half of us caught a taxi and the others simply took a long walk back to the hotel.

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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Travel

 

Fashion Fridays: Prêt à Vélo

Armed with a city map and one day bikeshare passes, Janet and Michelle are ready to brave the busy streets of Paris on their Vélib bicycles. Skinny jeans and a full scarf on Janet and a classic pea coat on Michelle mean they do it in style.

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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Cycle Fashions, Travel

 
 
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