Cycle Cities, UNESCO and Sustainable Tourism for Development

cc blog photoWhile we all know that 2016 was a difficult year for many with some ‘interesting’ political developments and the loss of some of the world’s greatest stars, 2017 is already looking to make amends. The United Nations has declared this year as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

The tourism industry makes up around 10% of the world’s economic activity, and the UN is recognising its potential to help fight poverty and propagate an intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding across the world and its boundaries.

In a statement declaring the importance of tourism and 2017’s selection, the UN wrote:

“Fostering better understanding among peoples everywhere leads to a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilizations and brings about a better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures, thereby contributing to the strengthening of peace in the world.”

Here at Cycle Cities we have always valued the good that bicycle tourism can do in terms of helping the environment and reducing harmful emissions, but it’s fantastic to see UNESCO recognising the enormous potential of the industry in terms of helping to bring about social change.

The power and potential of tourism to propel positive social action is also reflected by our network and what we are trying to achieve at Cycle Cities. Tourism and globalization have led to a huge growth in the circulation of ideas, people and cultural trends. It can be channeled in ways that allow visitors to enjoy and learn from the wealth and diversity of cultural heritage, cultural expressions and intangible cultural practices, the same way our partners and clients are able to benefit from the sharing of knowledge across national and cultural boundaries to provide and experience only the finest bicycle tours available.

Help to support the UN’s mission and recognise the potential of tourism to help the world by booking a bicycle tour!

 

By Kiwi, Partner Communications at Cycle Cities and supporter of sustainability

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The best cities to cycle in

While Amsterdam – with it’s winding, expansive cycle paths – is traditionally known as one of the easiest and most accessible cities to travel through by bicycle, a great number of other cities are now on track to becoming havens for cyclists. London has opened several miles of segregated cycle track in dense inner-city areas, with many other European cities following suit. But what cities, and countries, are considered the best destinations for cycling? What places have those unbeatable combinations of smooth, unobstructed cycle lanes and beautiful ocean and hillside views?

Our friends at Partiv have put together this incredible infographic, which collates the favourite cycling destinations of 53 independent travellers and cycling enthusiasts and displays them on a map of the world.
Independent polls by travellers bear good news for those carrying Cycle Cities vouchers!

Destinations in the US are recommended most highly by adventurers, where fourteen locations across the country are awaiting your Cycle Cities discount codes! Argentina comes in at a close second in the polls, which is good news for our partners Urban Biking in Argentina!

Austria is labelled as a destination with ‘fantastic infrastructure for cyclists’, while for something more ‘challenging’, head to Italy and France, the latter of which was voted the most popular cycling destination in Europe. Stefan and Ursula from our partners at Reykjavik Bike Tours will be thrilled to hear Iceland’s cycleways recommended as a place that ‘makes you believe in trolls and faeries’!! Turkey, Australia, and Colombia are also all touted as some of the best cycling destinations the world has to offer, but don’t worry – Cycle Cities has you covered, with partners in locations as diverse as Istanbul and Bogota, reaching all the way around the earth to Aussie beauties like Cairns and Melbourne.

Cycle Cities has over fifty carefully-selected partners across four continents, offering you discounts with which to reward your loyalty and ensuring that you choose only the best bicycle tour operators the world has to offer. And with so much beauty, mystique, and miles to be cycled out there across the globe, there’s no time to waste.

Kiwi = New Zealander, explorer, and bike enthusiast.

Bikes and Backpacks – Buenos Aires

 

The sun was shining, and it was the third day of my planned three month excursion in South America – a trip that only came to an end 130 days, seven countries, and over 200 hours of buses, trains, and planes later.

Fresh off the plane from my native New Zealand, I had handed in my thesis three weeks earlier and promptly traded in student life for an existence backpacking and cycling across the rich culture and incredible wildlife of South America.

As I took to the streets of Buenos Aires behind the handlebars of a bike one late afternoon in November, the sun was still high in the sky. Pedalling leisurely down the wide streets of the city centre, I passed by the impressive Obelisco monument standing in reverence. Pockets of tanned bargoers lounged at tables on the pavement, sipping tall bottles of Quilmes beer and watching lazily as I left the hustle and bustle of the inner city avenues behind and headed towards Puerto Madero by the sea.

The waterfront pathway spread out before me as I breathed deeply; the aromas of the sea mingled with the smells of the various street food stalls on my left, selling ‘choripan’ and cold Coca Cola. To my left, some kids kicked a ball around with intense concentration, all clad in the eclectic colours of their favourite football shirts. To my right, the Rio de la Plata stretched past the boats on the horizon, all the way to the south coast of Uruguay. The streets were flat and wide, and the wheels rolled easily over the concrete.

I had spent the morning riding through La Boca, where the poverty can be seen juxtaposed starkly against the tourism, as flamboyant tango dancers performed in streets full of colourful, instantly recognisable buildings. The Boca Stadium loomed over proceedings, projecting the same air of passionate ferocity I had seen in the football game.

Before the sun sets I swung past Recoleta Cemetery and took in the lush greenery of the surrounding areas. The cemetery is the final resting place of socially progressive Argentine presidents, artists, and  writers, and its importance and history exude an air of formidable respect. Riding back to my hostel through seemingly never-ending avenues as people began to emerge from their siestas, it struck me just how well organised the cities straight, parallel streets are to navigate. Yet take a bike ride one day, soaking in all of the incredible sights, smells, and sounds the city has to offer, and you’ll be sure to see just how easy it is to get lost – in every sense of the word.

  • STAY: Hostel Suites Florida, Avenida Florida. A good, low-budget hostel with friendly staff and – incredibly – New Zealand plug sockets! I stayed on the ninth floor and the long walk down the stairs each morning was a much-needed sobering experience, although they do have an (albeit rickety) elevator. Outside, Argentines line the streets, muttering ‘cambio’ (change) to passing tourists; the black market for the US dollar is thriving in BA, and if you have the nerve you can get a lot more bang for your buck through the locals.
  • GO: Recoleta Cemetery. The necropolis at Recoleta is recognised internationally as one of the most beautiful and historically significant graveyards in the world. Go in the late afternoon to avoid the heat of the day – while a humbling experience, some of the elaborately decorated mausoleums (of which you can see inside) – can be chilling to look at.
  • RELAX: Puerto Madero. Grab a ‘choripan’ and an ice-cold Coke from a local vendor  and relax at a waterfront table while taking in the sights the area has to offer.
  • TRAVEL: From Buenos Aires, travel by ferry across to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay – a UNESCO World Heritage site and a relic of a colonial past that stands in stark contrast to the rush and frenzy of Argentina’s capital.
  • Bike Tour: Urban Biking Guided Tours Buenos Aires

By Kiwi, Cycle Cities Admin assistant and South America specialist.

Love Vienna

Following the theme of weekend trips to European cities from London, another one I got to do was Vienna. A keen skier/snowboarder, I’d been to Austria many times, but not to the far eastern capital city. Not so hilly down there.

Until I met a girl from Vienna in London. So one thing led to a flight to Bratislava. If you do know Vienna, but don’t know Bratislava, you should. The Slovakian capital is a short drive from the Austrian capital, and Ryanair fly there, so its a good way to get into Vienna, and save some cash, so you can take a girl out.

So whilst my motivation for heading to Vienna was not tourism, but more romance, the city suited the theme well. What struck me was how opulent it was. The grandeur was inescapable, no matter which way you walked. Monument after Museum after Music Hall, and massive gardens and parks.

My passion for song writing took me to the Museum of Music, and that evening the Wiener Konzerthaus for a modern classical performance.

Vienna has a flat, sprawling centre, the perfect kind of city to cycle in. The streets are wide and open, and safe, with cycle paths criss-crossing everywhere.

One of our London Bicycle Tour Company Tour Guides, Gerfried, now works as a guide for Pedal Power in Vienna, our Cycle Cities official bike tour partner. It’s great to share the love.

But my love in Vienna didn’t work out. I fell for the city instead.

Salzburg x3

The first time I went to Austria in 2004, was arriving in the town of Salzburg, and each time after that as well.

Sandwiched in between Munich, Zurich, Vienna, Prague and to the South, the Alps and eventually Venice, Salzburg is a crossroads and a gateway. I had the feeling I’d be passing through here again. Such a location really demands it. But the town itself does it’s best to ensure you’ll be back.

The intention of my first trip was skiing at Bad Gastein, a large ski area in the alps, well connected by train from Munich Airport, via Salzburg. The youthful traveller that I was, I checked into the yoho hostel. Central Location, highly recommended for the on tap stiegl and late night parties. It was just the one night in Salzburg, I was just passing through. It’s a beautiful town, but I wanted to get to the slopes, and I knew I’d be back.

Back there I was.

2007 I made a similar trip. Munich Airport, via the yoho again, and this time onto a different ski area, Grunau im Almtal. But again Salzburg was the gateway. And again, I didn’t explore the city, and again, I was reminded I one day should. Even sitting on the train station platforms and staring up at the peaks- stunning view.

Third time lucky. 2009.

I was in a campervan this time. Hooked up with some friends after Oktoberfest in Munich, and we could decide which way to drive. I suggested South to Salzburg. Fully equipped with our cases of Augustiner brau, we went via Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s ‘Eagle’s Nest’ retreat, and went to Salzburg for the night. No yoho this time. Campervan rules.

Believe it or not, this is the first time I realised that Salzburg had a river. It’s such a beautiful centrepiece to the town. You don’t see it from the station or the yoho! So this was my first REAL time in Salzburg. Spent the evening walking around, and the following day exploring the castle area and other parts of the town.

The mountains surrounding the city are imposing and you do get the feeling of being in a deep valley. Fortunately for cyclists, this means it’s a relatively flat town. You don’t have to ride far up or down river to get out of town, and find some wide open space. We had the van, so we were ok to get around. Shame I didn’t know about the Salzburg Bike Tour. But that’s what I’m here for now, to tell everyone how great it is to see a city by a bike. Maybe you’ll be able to do it before I get the chance.

It was the city I was supposed to see the first 2 times. To really get the most out of your travels, get out of the station, hotel and campervan, and explore the depths of a city.

If good things come in threes, my third trip to Salzburg supports that.

Buzzing Barca

I took a bike tour in Barcelona. I don’t make this up- I’m actually a bike tourist, so I’m the right person to be blogging about this!

The year was 2004. I travelled Europe a lot. I would mainly go on 2-3 day trips from my base in London, where I was living and working as a finance contractor. As my city breaks were generally short, I quickly discovered that bike tours were the way to get to know a city.

I had barely enough time to get from the airport, check in to my hostel, and join the morning bike tour meeting at the end of the famous Las Ramblas. I’m not sure if it still starts here, check out Bike Tours Barcelona for the actual start points and times.

The first thing I noticed different about this tour and the other cities I’d taken bike tours in was the age of the audience. Barcelona’s a young and lively city. I was in my early 20’s and I felt mid age range. I also think that 10 years ago, before bike tours were universally popular, it was an activity that only the young seemed to be taking up. These days, in cities all over the world, people of all ages and abilities are taking to bike tours. Less and less people are going on bus tours, walking tours, instead opting for the sensible choice. Why sit in traffic when you can glide through alleyways? Why walk when you can fly?

My tour (about 15 people) was great fun. The guide was great at setting the fun atmosphere and making sure everybody got to know each other and enjoyed the company. I was in Barcelona alone, so it was great to meet some people. I remember the alleyways, the monuments and the typical tourist sights.

Interestingly enough though it wasn’t the sights that blew me away in Barcelona, it was the vibe; the people. And I’ll start with the guide. Young guy, passionate about the city, with so much advice for young solo travellers like me, from what pub crawl to go on, to how to avoid being robbed in the street (don’t play football with strangers!).

We finished the tour by the beach. Chicken, chips and beers. It really was a great day out. And the night out was just as good, as most of us that were on the bike tour, decided to do the pub crawl as well.

Barcelona is a youthful city. And if you’re not into Gaudi, go for the buzz. And meet your friends on a bike tour. It turned the rest of my weekend into a party.

Rome with a View

I’m enjoying writing these destination guides for Cycle Cities ‘cities’. I have travelled to many places where our bike tour partners are based, so in thinking of creative things to write about, I go searching back through the memories, and it’s a fun journey.

Can I say that Rome is a frustrating city? Let me elaborate by saying frustrating in a good way, and in a way that is appealing and easy to overcome.

I was frustrated on my first visit to Rome because I didn’t know where to start. Arriving at the Central ‘Termini’ railway station, you really are spoilt for choice, but as any first time visitors to Rome would do, We headed for one of the main attractions. The Colloseum is easy to find, and you have to go there some time, so why not start there. What frustrated me were the tourists. I didn’t feel very relaxed. I was walking amongst a throng of Americans mainly, slowly, taking photos. I was also surrounded by street souvenir sellers. Any kind if feeling of a sacred place, lost world, step back in time, was quickly quashed by the crowds.

Through the ruins and on to the Altare della Patria or Wedding Cake’- big attraction number 2. This was different. This imposing monument commands your respect – quite literally – as guards and signs at the bottom ensure you get the message that you should be silent and respectful when walking on the monument. So we ascended, and it was slow and serene; quite the contrast to the frustrating hustle and bustle at ground level.

From the top of the Monument we could see an amazing view of the whole city. Everything we wanted to see in Rome in the 2 days we had to explore was laid out before us, and much more. It was at this time that I developed a new sense of frustration.. there were monuments and buildings that weren’t on our list, that looked amazing. We didn’t even know what they were, or that they existed before we laid eyes on them. If you want to see Rome and you don’t have much time, climb to a vantage point and feel the frustration.

Our 2 days in Rome came to an end as quickly as they started. We got to the main attractions, but we missed so much; there just wasn’t enough time. Unlike Berlin and Barcelona, I didn’t take a bike tour in Rome. That was a big mistake, because in 3 hours on a guided bike tour, you can get a great overview of a city, and be shown the hidden gems that the tourists don’t get to see.

So my Rome tourist advice:

1. Enjoy the Colloseum and the crowds

2. Get a serene view top of the Wedding cake

3. See the rest on a bike tour.

Berlin from Space.

There’s a reason I’ve visited Berlin more than any other city. It has everything, even a beach. But as a cyclist there’s one thing I love more than anything… space.

First time I went there I took a guided bike tour. It was the first one I ever took. We started at the bottom of the TV tower. I never saw a photo of Berlin before I went there. I knew nothing about it. The first thing you notice about Berlin is the TV tower- so a logical tour start point.

It was a while ago, and I remember seeing all the major sites, carving a route through Mitte, Museum Island westwards.

We stopped for a photo in front of the former Palast der Republik. Thinking back at that photo (I should find it and put it on this blog!) I remember all the space there was to cycle. Much of Berlin at the time resembled a large parking lot, as old buildings from the Soviet era (such as the Palast der Republik, RIP) were being razed. Berlin reinvents itself again.

The space we had on this first Berlin bike tour I took over 10 years ago was something I loved about the city. We continued west to West Berlin’s Tiergarten (a different kind of open space) and cycled in front of the Reichstag (again, acres and acres of space). Fortunately these spaces still exist today, and less resemble a parking lot, which I think would appeal more to the average traveller.

Berlin has everything, and a lot of space for cycling in between it all.

And that beach I mentioned- Monbijoupark. I wonder if it’s still there? Let’s not let a city reinvent itself TOO often.

The Charm of Nice

The ‘Cote d’azur’ or ‘French Riveria’ is a must visit.

It’s a vastly different experience to the busyness of Paris, France’s (and one of Europe’s) most visited city. The hub city, which I fly in and out of on most occasions is Nice. With a greater area population of about 1,000,000 it’s France’s 7th largest metropolis, making it not too big, but big enough to have everything that you need, and more.

The ‘more’ starts with the beach. There are several beaches in Central Nice and surburban, accessible by bus, and of course, bicycle. It’s not difficult to find a rocky outcrop, a sandy bay, a busy strip or a lively revellers paradise; whatever takes your French fancy.

Beyond the blue water, Nice hosts fine shopping, historical sights, superb outlooks, countless hotels and many day trip options. Try the world famous cities of Monte Carlo or Cannes, both just a short train ride away. For something a little quieter, head to the hills and the town of Grasse, the world’s capital of perfume.

To explore Nice, and get a great overview of the city and what it has to offer, take a guided bike tour with Nice Cycle Tours.

Steve Kopandy