Monk statues perfectly aligned in front of a monastery in Hpa An, Myanmar
Exploring a new place on two wheels can be very rewarding. I’m not much of a cyclist but I’ve discovered the immense pleasure of cycling leisurely along a flat road with the wind in your face and an endless view to die for. It makes the uphill slog and leg exercise worthwhile.
Here are my six best cycling experiences, accumulated from our travels around Europe and Asia, and in no particular order.
Lucca is a beautiful medieval city in Tuscany with intact city walls that circle the old town. Cycling the city walls is a perfect way to get to know the charming old town. My favourite bits are exploring the old town through the many narrow back lanes and hopping on and off our bikes for a quick gelato break. Oh, and the bikes we hired were so cute I wish I could take them home with me!
Yangshuo is famous for its distinct limestone karst terrain that covers a huge area best explored by bicycle. We would wake up very early in the mornings and cycle to neighbouring villages, passing rice paddies and locals going about their daily lives. In the afternoon as it got hotter we would retreat back to our rooms and venture out again in the evenings to explore other areas. It was so simple and idyllic that it became a routine for us during our time there.
Exploring the Loire Valley of France was a challenging 4 day adventure of cycling from one chateau to another with one too many wrong turns, uphills and glorious sunflower fields to distract us. Of course, we could have easily visited all four castles by train or car but the satisfaction and pride from completing 160km for a newbie cyclist like myself is something worth boasting about 😉
Bled is such an underrated place that I wish more people would know about. Cycling around the most exquisite turquoise waters of Lake Bled was the highlight of our time in Slovenia. Your eyes are constantly drawn to the stunning lake which occasionally throws you off your cycling course! We could stop any time at our whim and fancy, take a few pictures and have a sandwich by the lake with our feet dangling over the waters and ducks waiting to catch any bits of our crumbs.
Paris remains one of my favourite cities in the world and when it’s not freezing cold, cycling on the busy streets, by the Seine or along Canal St Martin is an amazing way to soak in the city. Chic cafes and stylish Parisians line the sidewalks and you get a glimpse of La Tour Eiffel every now and then. The velib system is also easy to use and so cheap to get around town.
Cycling amongst blooming tulip fields in Holland in search of more blooming tulip fields felt like a kid unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. We would be cycling along a stretch of striking red tulips and then spot a streak of purple tulips ahead that we would race down the flat road to get to that field. It was a fun experience of finding tulip field after tulip field, with each discovery getting better and better.
Visiting Le Mont Saint Michel has been high on our to do list since we first embarked on our travels around Europe. This man made wonder is a sight to behold. Le Mont Saint Michel was built to be a beacon of hope to pilgrims all around the world since ancient Roman times and to this day attracts busloads of tourists who are intrigued by the history or just splendid architecture. The abbey perched on the top of the island is worth a meander around, but what really stayed with us was the view of Mont Saint Michel from afar. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
Our first workaway stint in the South West of France has ended and we left with plenty of sunshine in our pockets as we made our way up north to a region of France called Bretagne or Brittany. Saint-Malo was our first stop in this region known for its crepes and galettes (buckwheat pancakes) and our day in Saint-Malo was far from sunny with an unrelenting rain welcoming us into this beautiful walled city. Sodden but not downtrodden, we went ahead and explored the city with its many cobblestone streets, beautiful buildings and cosy creperies. Walking along the city walls was a highlight for us despite our constant battle to stay dry under a teeny tiny umbrella and rain that came sideways. Already so captivating in the worst of weathers, I can only imagine Saint-Malo attracting busloads of tourists in the summer. In a way we had this city pretty much to ourselves to soak in. Here’s hoping the weather turns in our favour as we make our way further into the region and begin our second workaway stint with a new host family.
One of our aims for the second half of our European travels is to find new ways of maximizing our travel experiences. A bit of research led us to this website that cleverly connects travelers who want to work on desired projects in desired locations around the world in exchange for meals, lodging and a local cultural experience, with hosts who can provide just that. This concept isn’t new and we’ve toyed with this idea several times before. Turning this into reality was just one big step we had to take to challenge ourselves further.
We are incredibly lucky to have found a French family who were willing to take us in for a couple of weeks to work on renovating their estate with ambitious plans to turn it into a Bed and Breakfast in the South West part of France, close to Bordeaux. Not many projects were running during the winter season and we were focused solely on finding hosts in France because of our keen interest in the language and culture.
We are halfway through our time here and it has been an enriching and rewarding experience, to say the least. We feel very much a part of the family especially during meal times and the solitude and peace from being surrounded by the countryside outweigh any of the hard yards we’ve had to put in. We’ve learned a thing or two about the types of work involved in such an ambitious project, and are left in awe of the vision and determination of this small family who simply want to live their dream. We’ve also been exposed to the many facets of the simple rural French lifestyle and there are parts of it that we wish to take with us into our future home and family.
So here you go, a little update from us to kick off 2014. Happy new year!
All pictures are of the estate which is a working progress and the surrounding countryside of Saint-Thomas-de-Conac.