306. An ode to the Velib system

IMG_3514 (480x640)Without a doubt my favourite thing in all of Paris was the Velib system. The velib system is a city bike system, where for €8 per week (or less if you are there longer term) you can pick up a bike from one of the stations all over the city and ride anywhere you want (so long as you drop it at another station within 30mins).

It was so much fun being able to cycle around the city and take it all in, with a really easy method of transport, and being able to get around so many different places so quickly. Granted there were sometimes some hiccups, like dud bikes, or being charged extra for going over time, or not being able to find a bike nearby when leaving a popular place at a busy time, but overall it was a fantastic system and I really loved it!

If there’s one thing I can definitely recommend in Paris it is grabbing a bike and cycling round to take it all in!

I wish it was that easy in more cities (many you have to live there or can only get a 3 month membership etc)

296. Tour de France Final

IMG_3336 (640x480)Despite some hiccups in our plans, we managed to make it to Paris in time for the final leg of the Tour de France, one of the few distinct events on our combined bucket list. We waited for what seemed like hours in the blistering heat on the Champs Elysée, gradually elbowing our way to the front, and it was totally worth it!

Even the parade of advertising floats (the original Raison d’etre of the Tour de France) was great fun. I found it quite entertaining that everyone on a float had a really industrial sized harness on, and wondered how many promo girls fell off before that became the norm.IMG_3245 (640x480) IMG_3277 (640x480) IMG_3275 (640x480)

TDF4 TDF3

TD9 TDF2 TDF1 This washing powder float actually had a guy gyrating and thrusting along to “I’m Sexy And I Know It.” Interesting choice…TDF6

And then of course the cyclists. They came whizzing by unbelievably quickly! Not to worry though, as they did 8 laps. Would have been all very anti-climactic to wait there for 2 hours just for 3 seconds of action. There was also a great buzz around the area afterward, with temporary bar/restaurant areas set up. We attempted to get close to the prize giving, but it seemed they roped off so much of the surrounding area you couldn’t even get close to seeing what street it was on.

TDF5 IMG_3337 (640x480) IMG_3336 (640x480) IMG_3312 (640x480) IMG_3285 (640x480) IMG_3286 (640x480) IMG_3288 (640x480) IMG_3289 (640x480)

We were also lucky to be directly in front of the action when this guy needed to change his tire. Never have I seen a car screech to a halt so quickly, and amazingly he had a new tire and was back in the race in less than 5 seconds!TD7 TD8

Few things beat being able to say you have stood on the Champs Elysée watching the final leg of the Tour de France!

202. Cycle Tour of Berlin

With an ever growing love for cycling (the parents will be thrilled), I thought a cycle tour of Berlin sounded like a fantastic idea. I’m a bit skeptical of tours, always wondering if it would be better to save your euros and walk, but the highlights of Berlin are all over town, and there’s just so much to learn about Berlin.

We picked Fat Tire Bike Tours and did their “All-in-one” tour and gosh I just couldn’t rate it higher! Our tour guide, Kate, was hilarious, knowledgeable and incredibly passionate about what she was doing, at one stage pausing to draw us a map of how the East-West Berlin checkpoints worked throughout the whole country.

There was a pause for lunch at a Beer Garden in the middle of Tiergarten, where we had the delightful surprise of a naked sunbather, who felt it was important to position himself not in the designated naked sunbathing spot (aaah Germans) but instead right next to the path, up on one elbow, ensuring he was angled so everyone could see his bits.

My favourite part of the tour was when we were taken down a wee side street where an original guard tower of the wall remained – I like that best because it was definitely not something we would have come across on our own. The tours are available in Paris, Barcelona and London, so I’ll definitely keep them in mind. Not sure if I’ll get a guide as good as Kate though…

178. Get on the Aperol Bandwagon

In Denmark I had seen a tonne of billboards and ads in bus shelters for Aperol, some kind of orange aperatif. In a cafe in Milan, we kept spotting these orange drinks with ice in wine glasses going out to customers. On enquiry, it was an Aperol Spritzer – a mix of Aperol, soda water, a slice of lemon and Prosecco, and apparently quite the famous Italian cocktail. Yes, please, sign me up! After getting a round they proved quite delicious and I can definitely recommend them.

Later on, when I became a cycling orphan (the folks ditched my to spend three hours riding up a steep hill. Don’t ask me why they put themselves through that), and had made my way around the entirety of the small town that is Bormio, the obvious answer to what to do with my time was to sit in the sun and drink my new favourite cocktail on my own. So much better than 3.5hrs of torturous bike riding!

177. Bormio

Bormio is a ski resport in the mountains of Italy, very near the border with Switzerland. I ended up there after crashing Mum and Dad’s holiday as my exams finished earlier than expected (due to the helpful fact that my last exam time was only confirmed a week before). They chose Bormio as it is the intersection of two famous cycle routes that were part of the Gyro D’Italia, and relatively close to France, as they have come to Europe (for the first time since they were my age) to chase the Tour De France.

Bormio is a truly bizarre concept of a town. One would be forgiving for thinking they were in Austria or Switzerland, apart from the Italian writing everywhere. It is clearly an alpine ski resort, and the buildings look nothing like what you would expect in Italy. A small dip in the valley, with dramatic mountains and sharp cliff edges everywhere you look. It seems like there are only two houses that realised they were in Italy and didn’t have a bavarian/alpine feel to them.

I later discovered the old town, which is where all the italian influenced houses and buildings are. There are beautiful old midieval alleways with grey stone creations of all sizes. The “town sqaure” was a little tricky to find, but once we spotted the cathedral spire and the clocktower we were headed in the right direction. The square was quite the sight, and as we sat down to our very Italian 10pm dinner, it felt all very authentic. Especially once the Aperol’s and Prosecco’s arrived! It was also the most amazing Italian food I had ever tasted. A simple peperoni pizza was so much better than any other I’ve ever had – there’s a lot to be said for good quality ingredients.

Looking out of our hotel window, we could see the a big grassy patch carved out of the mountain side, leading straight to all the cabins and lined with lights – obviously the main ski run off the mountain in Winter. Oh how I would love to come down the mountain to my luxurious accomodation! A far cry from a New Zealand ski field, but it definitely has the Queenstown/Wanka/Methven feel to it: perfectly groomed alpine resort, with nothing but flashy accomodation and exbhorbitantly priced cafes and bars. Very aesthetically pleasing though, I must say. Even if I joined the Cycling Orphan club for much of the time, I definitely picked a winning time to crash mum and dad’s holiday – a bit of a step up from Cook’s Beach!

144. Drive on the wrong side of the road

There are two sides of the road: the left side and the wrong side. In Europe they drive on the wrong side. I know this is true because rules about which side originated in England, and they drive on the left. Even in Europe they were driving on the left side, until Napoleon, the King of Small Man Syndrome, decided to change the rule completely due to the fact he was left handed, and driving/horse riding rules were based around being able to protect yourself with your sword hand. Aaah the French. Anyway, most of the rest of the world is now stuck with this silly rule, and getting around in a car can sometimes be a bit of a necessity, so they say.

Actually in Denmark they do incredibly well with cycling everywhere and have a pretty decent public transport system. Most people don’t have or need cars, especially living in cities, and the city centre is positively littered with bikes, which I think is great!

However, I had my go at driving on the wrong side of the road. I thought it would be a challenge, but having spent months being a passenger and being around cars going in opposite directions to what I was used to, and given I was concentrating very hard, it was actually fine! The only real difficulty was getting used to my orientation within the lane. I’m used to the centre line being to my right, and my line of vision skewed to the right of the lane, so it felt very strange havng the centre line to my left! I had to keep correcting the car to make sure I didn’t drive in the gutter, as I wasn’t used to being slightly left of centre in the lane!

I’m planning a huge road trip around Europe over summer which I am super excited about, so I’m glad to know it really isn’t that hard to drive on the opposite side of the road!

Also, fear not, the photo above was taken whilst parked.

115. The Giro D’Italia

The Giro D’Italia for some reason starts in the middle of Denmark. Possibly to do with the highway that goes direct from here to Italy. On Monday, it was coming by about 2kms from my house. I thought it might make for some good motivation to go for a run and stop and watch. As I left the house, Ratata, the family dog, followed me along on my jog, which I didn’t think twice about as he’s been doing that a lot lately.

On arrival at the spot where they go past, there were houses decorated with pink balloons (official colour) and quite the crowd of people. The road was roped off, there were police on motorbikes going up and down and there was even a little army man making sure cars didn’t go past. Later, on the jog home I saw a fully uniformed police man pissing in a bush. I thought public urination was illegal..?

Anyhow, when I arrived, I suddenly realised just how much of an inconvenience it is to bring a dog without a leash. As he was roaming along, sniffing and pissing on things and running around the middle of the road, a look of sheer horror spread across my face as I imagined him running out in the middle of the race, bowling all the cyclists over. It seems I wasn’t the only one imagining that scenario as everyone else seemed to be giving me dirty looks. I didn’t mean to bring him along!!

Holding on to Ratata for dear life

So after spending a good 5 minutes trying to coax him over to me I sat him down and held on to his collar for dear life, while he was trying to get away and go on his own little dog adventures. After a ridiculously long procession of police motorbikes and vans selling merchandise (I’m fairly sure there were actually more police motorbikes than race entrants), the cyclists came whizzing past while I tried my hardest to wrestle with a Labrador who really wanted to join in.

They went by incredibly quickly, so I got a little excited with the continuous shutter function on my camera. I was also surprised to see how it seems like every cyclist has at least eight spare bikes being driven along behind.