Milan: a Place to Be

Milano Bike Renting is a bike rental company, born from a Doctor and his Son’s passion for cycling.

We think Milan and Lombardy have so many possibilities to offer to cyclists.

First of all, Milan is home to some of the world’s most famous bike factories. Brands like Legnano, Cinelli, Colnago, Masi and Bianchi (the oldest known bike factory in the world) were all Milan based.

Moreover Milan is located in the center of the Lombardy region with it’s range of cycling routes and itineraries. From flat roads in the South to the highest European passes like Passo Stelvio, Passo Gavia and Passo del Mortirolo where the epic pages of cyclism were once wrote.

Explore the “Italian “Lake District”. Lago Maggiore, Lago di Como, Lago d’Iseo and Lago di Garda are all located in this region with endless itineraries and possibilities to discover on two wheels.

Close to Piemonte, some of the world’s most famous wines are produced (Barolo, Barbera,

Dolcetto) on smooth hills ideal for cycling, even in late Autumn.

If you prefer the sea, in only two hours it is possible to reach Liguria, on Mediterranean coast, where winter is usually temperate, and cycling is a pleasure even deep in winter!

With this incredible background, it seemed impossible to us that Milan didn’t yet have a bike company, so we decided to create one, and to offer everyone the possibility to “taste” Italy by bike.

From the Alps to Sicily, Italy is a treasure-trove of biodiversity, boasting an immense assortment of

climates, ecosystems and landscapes. Its geography makes it a bridge between north and south, east and west, and the peninsula is a busy natural thoroughfare crossed with scattered pockets of isolation.

Italy’s cuisine and Mediterranean diet are the culmination of this biological and cultural diversity.

On this basis we can offer you different options, from single day tours, weekend tours, or holiday weeks in some of our favourite places; Varenna (Como lake), Bormio (Valtellina at the feet of Stelvio and Gavia pass), Celle Ligure (Liguria, Mediterranean sea) and obviously Milan!

Our aim is to provide our customers with the best Italian bike experience, based mainly on a deep knowledge of our territory developed in almost thirty years of road cycling both in the Gran Fondo race and cycle tourism.

Cycling, avoiding congested roads, and discovering the food and wine heritage that makes Italy one of the most popular destinations for tourists all over the world, is our passion.

As the Expo 2015 logo says, Italy is “ ..a place to be!”

Budapest, Bikes, and Boats

by Steve Kopandy, Cycle Cities Director

Ben at Discover Budapest is a great guy.

 

I met him on a recent trip to Budapest, to discuss Cycling and Eastern Europe Tourism. It was great to share a cup of tea on the sofas in his shop, which would have passed as a great tourist information centre, with couches, friendly staff, a library of travel books and tour information.

It’s not just bike tours that you can go on. There are also segway tours, Communist tours, the list goes on. It was unseasonally hot, so Ben recommended for my girlfriend and I the evening walking tour and boat trip on the Danube.

We arrived back at the shop in the early evening and met our tour guide, Ana, and the other guests. It was a small group tour, and Ana was great at setting the atmosphere, getting us interacting and enthralling us with her knowledge of Budapest. We went to the Cathedral and learnt about St Stephen, Revolution Square, the main shopping district. All of this was in the frame of some excellent geographical and demographical info about Hungary, which helped put more of the city into context (did you know Budapest is five times larger than the next largest Hungarian city?).

The tour ended with a boat trip up the Danube, from where we could see the best of Budapest lit up, including the extravagant parliament building. It was a great chance to practice the night photography.

There are many tours in Budapest, but the moral of the story is go for a recommendation. See Ben and the friendly staff at Discover Budapest / Yellow Zebra Bikes, and no matter what your interests and preferences, I’m sure they’ll put you on the right tour.

Have a lovely time in this beautiful city.

Washington DC: The White City

I have this memory of Washington DC being the whitest city I’d ever seen.

There’s the iconic President’s residence/offices ‘The White House’ which I suppose typifies what I’m saying, but also the US Capitol building, and many other political buildings and monuments clustered throughout the centre.

The city was also covered in snow so this might be why it left such an impression.

January not the best time to be in DC. Bike tours close down, snow becomes a bit of a cycling hazard. I can recommend instead late March. The Cherry Blossom Festival is the start of this marvellous city coming to life for it’s long, warm spring and summer. I’d imagine it’s what many DC’ers wait for from Christmas onwards each year.

DC is also a very flat city.. so great for biking (when the snow’s not so deep!)

Steve Kopandy spent his 20’s travelling the world, and has taken guided bike tours and cycle trips in, and to, many European cities. He works as the Business Manager for London Bicycle Tour Company and started Cycle Cities to give more profile to bike tours worldwide. 

New York, New York: Make friends, will travel

I went to New York about 5-10 years ago.

It’s such a huge place. I’ve spent a total 15 days in New York. The only time I left Manhattan was to do the obligatory trek across the Brooklyn Bridge, and the obligatory free Staten Island Ferry – so I’ve been to 3 boroughs!

But I haven’t set foot in Central Park. Just not enough time! Manhattan is not a small place. There’s not really a ‘Central Manhattan’ as you would see it. It’s a jungle of different regions, styles, neighbourhoods, average skyscraper heights, and friendly natives.

My friend Darryll, who recently visited me in London and took a bike tour here, owns Bike and Roll in New York City. He’s got locations for bike rental right in Central Park. If only I’d have known this guy 10 years earlier! Mates rates I’m sure! It’s not a cheap place to go.

I took an open top bus tour. $50 ten years ago. And was stuck in traffic for hours. Again, Darryll would have come to my rescue had my contacts in the bike tourism business been a little more global at the time.

If you have a Darryll, or any friend with a spare bike, in NYC or anywhere in the world, make sure you don’t get stuck in traffic as I did!!

Steve Kopandy spent his 20’s travelling the world, and has taken guided bike tours and cycle trips in, and to, many cities. He works as the Business Manager for London Bicycle Tour Company and started Cycle Cities to give more profile to bike tours worldwide. 

Early Morning Istanbul

By Steve Kopandy  – Bike Tourist and Cycle Cities Director

The city of Istanbul is in a privileged position globally, being a gateway to the Middle East and Asia for those travelling East, and Europe for those travelling West. For shipping, to get from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, you will sail South to North right through the centre of Istanbul. It’s one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. It’s not hard to argue that Istanbul is both the ancient and modern crossroads of the world.

I, like millions of people per year, arrived at Istanbul Airport. I had a 6 hour stopover. I was treating the city like a hub in the sense that I was changing planes there, but not in the sense of my experience. I had a 6 hour stopover between Beijing and London, and didn’t fancy spending it at the airport. The obvious choice was to go and see the city, a city I’d never seen before, but always wanted to visit. Cem, the owner of Istanbul on Bike, picked me up from arrivals and we made our way Eastwards down the quiet motorway at around 5.30am.

Being in Istanbul at sunrise is a special experience. The traffic is silent, the 6am calls to prayer start to emanate from the mosques and fill the city, with little other sound to distract, probably the way these calls were intended to be appreciated.

We picked up Cem’s tour guide colleague, Çağrı, and proceeded to drive through the old city part of Istanbul. Seeing the old city walls against the dusky morning was a nice touch. I like my Middle Eastern and European history. I know about Constantine, Constantinople and the rich history of a city which changed at the hands of the crusaders centuries ago. Without the background of local guides, talking about their experiences being Turkish and seeing the city develop in recent years into a cosmopolitan wonderland, it’s easy to miss the detail. As with many destinations, it’s the people, and the stories which make it special in my opinion.

Turkish people love their bread, so after a suitably doughy breakfast, we picked up 3 bicycles in the Sirkeci station area where the Golden Horn inlet meets the famous Bosphorus, and took a trail North West, mainly along the shores of the river. The Cycling is reasonable, and Cem assures me facilities are improving all the time. Whilst there is a lack of cycling specific facilities in many areas, avoiding the main roads and sticking to the quieter neighbourhoods doesn’t seem to pose many problems. When waterside, there are wide, traffic free paths. Istanbul is built around the water, so these places are ample.

Cem took me to the neighbourhood of his childhood, central, rustic, and starting to be taken over by cafes and younger professionals in the burgeoning metropolis, looking for quiet characterful corners to be at home in. It reminded me of some parts of East London 15 years ago- places that are now full of young professionals and hipsters, strange street sellers, quirky hats and bands with too many keyboard players.

Further up the river we came across the 4th most holy site in Islam, the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, which is said to be the burial place of Eyüp (Job) al-Ansari, a close follower and friend of Muhammad. By the Mosque we entered a small Turkish tea house to sip the traditional beverage. It was a crisp morning so the warm Tea was a nice touch. I am a big lover of English breakfast style of tea with milk, but the Turkish style worked well for me. When in Rome.

More history and culture, just to my order, came with Cem’s commentary. It’s great to book a private tour as you can make sure the guide focuses on your specific interests, and you have more time to ask questions and get a real personal experience.

The Tour route was mainly flat, as it followed the river. The return to the start point was via ferry. It’s great to look back on the tour from the other perspective and see it all from a different direction, and the comfort of an uncrowded ferry where you can grab a drink and watch the water and city go by.

Istanbul is a strategic city built around the natural, important waterway of the Bosphourus. It’s a city split in half. It’s hard to say where the centre might be. I suppose that’s a matter of perspective. We didn’t travel to the East side on this tour, but other tours from Istanbul on Bike go there. There are a range to choose from.

Heading back to the airport, Cem took me via the coastal route along the Sea of Marmara, with scores of ships stacked waiting to dock, as a perfect reminder to the way the trade routes have shaped this city over it’s several thousand years of existence.

I’ve been to a lot of airports and I have to say Istanbul Ataturk is one of the worst I’ve ever been in. It’s completely overcrowded. In 2018 they will open the new Istanbul Airport, which will be the world’s largest, and the gateway this city deserves. They are also building a massive new shipping canal West of Istanbul to relieve the pressure on the Bosphorous, and a futuristic city along it’s banks. Istanbul has everything, including a very bright future.

If the hub brings you to Istanbul, organise a Private Tour with Cem and get out of the airport like I did. Or better still, stop over a few days and give this city the time it deserves! See pictures of the ride here. Steve Kopandy spent his 20’s taking short trips to Europe from his base in London, and has taken guided bike tours and cycle trips in, and to, many European cities. He works as the Business Manager for London Bicycle Tour Company and started Cycle Cities to give more profile to bike tours worldwide.

See pictures of the ride here.

Steve Kopandy spent his 20’s taking short trips to Europe from his base in London, and has taken guided bike tours and cycle trips in, and to, many European cities. He works as the Business Manager for London Bicycle Tour Company and started Cycle Cities to give more profile to bike tours worldwide. 

Antwerp

Antwerp is well worth a visit. If you’re in the area (and Belgium is not that big a place) you should consider it for a short break.

I first went to Antwerp in 2004 and I found, to my liking, that nothing much had changed 10 years on. Antwerp is much easier to digest than it’s big brother, Brussels. It has more a Flemish identity, and it’s a little easier to navigate. Shopping and fashion is vibrant, and each district of town has a distinct flavour.

A new thing to do in Antwerp is a guided bike tour. Ari and the team at Antwerp by Bike have been steadily growing their operation in the last couple of years, and offer tours in both English and Dutch (or Flemish, to be precise).

If you get the chance to do a tour with Antwerp by Bike, please let us know how it goes, buy using the voucher code you are given at the end of your tour to log onto Cycle Cities and review your tour.
We are looking forward to hearing more great things from Antwerp in the coming years!

Beers, Bikes, and Bruges

By Steve Kopandy – Bike Tourist and Cycle Cities Manager

Coming from London, Bruges is a great destination. With a Eurostar ticket it’s free travel to any Belgian station, via Brussels.

Bruges may be any belgian station, but Bruges is not any Belgian town. I’ve seen the capital, the Ardennes, Antwerp, Leuven, even Hasselt in the far East of the country, far from the tourist trail. Adding Bruges to the map seemed like the next logical place to check out.

I had my parents over in London. They wanted a Europe trip and I was the guide. Day 1 of about 45 was Bruges.

Bruges is a small town, easy to navigate, safe, and English is widely spoken. I was determined to practice my Dutch with the waiters on the main square, They’d just talk back in English, at it being an inconvenience to communicate with me in their native. No points for trying. I suppose they get a lot of well meaning tourists and the novelty may have worn off somewhat when there are 30 other tables to serve. Still my mum was proud.

If you like beer, you like Belgium. I used to jog past the Stella Factory on my morning circuit around the Leuven ring road. Is it just me or does a brewery smell like vegemite? And if so, is it supposed to? In Australia, Stella is a boutique, classy, import. In Britain, they call it a wife beater. In Belgium, it plays second fiddle to countless other fine beers. More for the novelty value, Kwak is one of my favourites. I took my parents to a traditional Belgian Beer House for a beaker of Kwak. The beer is served in what looks like a bulbous test tube straight from a chemistry lab. The glass won’t sit on a table as it doesn’t have a flat surface, so it comes with a wooden holder. In order to get the wooden holder, you have to leave a shoe behind the bar, so that you don’t walk off with the holder. You keep the ornament, you lose a shoe. Fair’s fair.

With 2 shoes back on, and my mum more tipsy than I’ve ever seen her, Day 1 was done.

Day 2 was cycling day, sans hangover thanks to the mostly preservative free brews from the night before. We rented bikes in Bruges and headed towards the town of Blankenberge on the North Sea. The 15km ride is flat, except for the motorway on and off ramps. Yeah, we ended up on the E403 – one of Belgium’s busier motorways. In Australia, you are allowed to cycle on the motorway or ‘Freeway’. I presume this is because often, the freeway is the only direct road between 2 cities. In Europe, not so much. We learn’t this the hard way. Fortunately, the next exit wasn’t far along.

Blankenberge was nice. It was nothing like an Australian beach, but it’s what’s different that makes you want to go somewhere new.

Train back to Bruges to drop off the bikes.

So over a day and a few miles of riding, 3 novice Australians learnt a lot and went on some great adventures in places no one ever has been before on bike (primarily because it’s against the law).

If you’re ever visiting Bruges or Belgium, grab a bike with a guide, to ensure you don’t end up on the E404 like we did. You can even do a Border Bike Tour which goes all the way to the Dutch Border.

For the best beers and bike rides, see you back Bruges.

Steve Kopandy spent his 20’s taking short trips to Europe from his base in London, and has taken guided bike tours and cycle trips in, and to, many European cities. He works as the Business Manager for London Bicycle Tour Company and started Cycle Cities to give more profile to bike tours worldwide.

Hamburg

By Steve Kopandy – Bike Tourist and Cycle Cities Manager

There is a tourist trail around Europe for mainly non-Europeans. Every year, millions of of people from other parts of the world, visit Europe, and plan an itinerary from city to city. The Geography of Europe lends itself to a loop of big ticket tourist destinations. Besides Scandinavia, the top of this loop is often the line between Amsterdam and Berlin, and Hamburg is missed by many. It shouldn’t be.

In fairness, a lot of people come to Hamburg. It has a fabulous reputation in Europe as a cosmopolitan, working, and vibrant city. But most of the visitors are Germans, and I think that to experience this new level of German culture, more foreigners should add it to their stoplist.

I grew up in a port city (Newcastle, Australia, the world’s busiest coal port), so stepping out of the S-bahn at Landungsbrücken, I felt right at home. I understand that portside cities are great for tourists and locals to soak up atmosphere. You can be a busyness bystander, taking life at a slow pace in the sun by the water, whilst the working harbour bustles around you, envious of your pride of position overlooking the mayhem.

A short walk away from the harbourside is Hamburg City Cycles. Go see Lars for a great bike rental, or a daily guided tour of this wonderful city, and take your position on the bike seat.

Steve Kopandy spent his 20’s taking short trips to Europe from his base in London, and has taken guided bike tours and cycle trips in, and to, many European cities. He works as the Business Manager for London Bicycle Tour Company and started Cycle Cities to give more profile to bike tours worldwide.

Cologne: the crossroads of Western Europe.

Travelling by train from Antwerp to Warsaw, of course I changed in Cologne. It was inevitable that I’d plan my day with enough time to stop in the city and meet Peter at Colonia Aktiv bike tours and rentals, a person I was quite interested to have a beer with.

Colonia Aktiv is a short walk from the main Cologne railway station. When I got there I was taken back by the bikes. These quality, German made steeds keep many a customer very happy, and I’m not surprised. They’re the best quality rental bikes I’ve seen in all my travels.

Time for a beer indeed, but unfortunately, not time for a bike tour. I only had the evening to explore Cologne. Peter gave me a map and some great tips for a walk though.

The Cathedral casts a shadow over the main station, and is the obvious point to orientate you in this city. The streets were buzzing with locals, foreigners, families, stag parties, and people like me, just keen to soak up the atmosphere and explore. A warm spring Saturday night in Cologne, you better get there early if you have a favourite spot. For me it was finding any outdoor table at Fischmarkt for a meal with atmosphere. Luckily i got one.

Later that night, the Amsterdam to Warsaw night train (via Cologne of course) picked me up to take me to the next installment of my journey across the continent.

If you find yourself on a train in Western Europe, and it doesn’t call at Cologne, likely you’ll be able to change for one that does. And when you get there, make sure you check out Peter and his bikes at Colonia Aktiv.

Cycling in Phnom Penh

IMG_20170323_135850Phnom Penh is one of the poorer Asian capitals, where skyscrapers barely scratch clouds. Therefore the contrast between those and their corrugated iron shack neighbours is not as profound as in say, Bangkok.

Its traffic, however, must be one of the most hectic I’ve ever experienced. Cars, trucks, tractors and motorbikes fly in every direction. This means you must pay attention to the oncoming traffic on the left, but also on the right. You must make sure no vehicle is barging in from the perpendicular streets at intersections as there seems to be no right of way. If you plan to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk, forget it. It will be crowded with food stalls, and the occasional trail of motorbikes forgetting the meaning of the word “sidewalk”.

While you’re riding the streets of Phnom Penh you might want to stop at one of the numerous coffee trucks along the road for a caffeine kick. If you’re more of a peaceful cyclist, you can ride along the promenade next to the Mekong or in the royal palace area for a calm cycling haven. A ferry will also take you to the other side of the river for less than a dollar. There you can ride in the suburbs that seem more akin to the country side.

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Buying bicycles in Phnom Penh is no cheap feat. People will try to sell you new bikes for less than a hundred dollars from an obscure brand. Don’t buy those as there are absolutely no trace of them on the net (and thus no reviews). The only go-to brand is “Giant” for which you will pay the price (minimum 300 USD). For the cheapest option go to Vicious Cycles. They are very knowledgeable, trustworthy and sell second-hand bikes. They also let you rent bicycles, as well as Lazy Gecko Guesthouse where rent is cheap and bikes are in good condition.

Cycling in Phnom Penh is pure mindfulness. Either you’re fully aware of your surroundings, or you’re on the floor, a few metres from your bike. It sure is exciting, and very emancipating if you get the hang of it. The road rules are not a given and are in constant flux. If you find a secret passage way, go for it, no one will stop you.

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by Cleo, traveller, cyclist, and lover of Southeast Asia