Top 6 Cycling Experiences

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.

1. Lucca, Italy IMG_1211 IMG_1218

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!

2. Yangshuo, China IMG_0204 IMG_9407

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.

3. Loire Valley, France IMG_5627 IMG_5581

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 😉

4. Lake Bled, Slovenia IMG_6923 IMG_6942

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.

5. Paris, France IMG_1628 IMG_1646

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.

6. Tulip fields in Netherlands IMG_0228 IMG_0274

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.

Paris, Je T’aime

IMG_6004-tileAs I’m writing this we are in the midst of packing up our bags again, signifying the end of the first leg of our trip. We’ve booked train tickets to Provence which is our next destination. I’m excited to see what Provence has to offer, but at the same time feeling a bittersweet tinge for leaving Paris, the city I’ve come to adore. We’ve spent a total of 6 weeks exploring, living and getting to know Paris and to a certain extent, its inhabitants. Six weeks is nothing in the grand scheme of life, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re leaving with a good idea of what’s beautiful in Paris, what’s not and whether we will be back (the answer is yes to the latter, fingers crossed!)

To reflect back on every significant moment is impossible but for starters, I’m happy to have covered all but one item on my Paris Bucket List. The bucket list was fun to tick off and some of the highlights of our trip were in the bucket list, for example celebrating Bastille Day.

I’ve narrowed down 3 of my favourite things to do in Paris which was a tough challenge but fun to come up with :

1. Cycling in Paris – cycling fast became our usual mode of transport and it’s easy, fun and cheap (except for those darn hills in the left bank!)

2. Walking, cycling, reading, picnic-ing or just sitting by the Seine – the evenings where we just wander down the Seine a short distance from home are some of my favourite moments. Balmy temperatures, lots of people watching and generally a great summer vibe. It felt like a weekend every single evening.

3. Checking out every boulangerie I stumble across and comparing prices of croissants- have you heard of the Big Mac index? Well, I was attempting to do so by judging from the prices of croissants in different boulangeries across town. It ranges from 0.90Eur to 1.50Eur, and though I’ve not tried every single croissant in town, it gave us a pretty good idea on whether that part of town is pricey or not (and no, the cost does not reflect the taste as I’ve come to learn from a 0.90Eur croissant).

I’ve also come up with my top 3 favourite places to go in Paris:

1. Le Marais in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements – cool, quirky boutiques, narrow streets and some of the most stylish Parisians congregate here. Le Marais is also a 5 minute walk from our apartment which unsurprisingly became our usual hang out spot.

2. Canal Saint-Martin – understated, chilled out and unpretentious, the canal is the less touristy option compared to the Seine. I remember one warm Friday night cycling down the road parallel to the Canal and just being blown away by the number of people sitting by the canal in groups or pairs, just chilling out and enjoying the night with a picnic by their side.

3. The Seine, of course- as touristy as it is, it will never grow old and you get some of the best views of Paris as you walk across one of the many bridges over the river.

Until next time, Paris because we will surely be back!

Pictures above from my Instagram, capturing special moments from the last 6 weeks in Paris.

The crêpe seller at Le Marché des Enfants Rouges

IMG_3364IMG_3359-tileIMG_3366IMG_3360IMG_3370-tileIMG_3376France may be known for its food but Paris has its share of good and bad versions of each culinary delight. Take the much loved crêpe for example. I have tasted extraordinary crêpes but I have also eaten crêpes that bring shame to its name. So when we discovered this quirky crêpe seller at Le Marché des Enfants Rouges who makes the tastiest crêpes I have ever eaten in Paris, coming back for seconds was without question.

I loved watching him prepare his food. He uses the freshest of ingredients and takes a nibble or two off the cheese or ham in the process (if he eats his own food, that’s a good sign right??) while humming a tune and sipping some rosé on the side. He interacts with his customers who wait patiently in line and rewards every person with a piece of bread or a few french donuts from his stall. Very generous indeed. He also gets his customers to sample several types of cheeses before adding them to their sandwich. How often do you see market sellers going the extra mile in customer service? And his crêpes are moist, soft, slightly caramelized and so delicious. It’ll be hard to top this crêpe experience.

Tour de France

    IMG_3082IMG_3088IMG_3092IMG_3093IMG_3096IMG_3102IMG_3151Catching the Tour de France live in action is one of those ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ moments that lasts for mere seconds or minutes when it happens (it’s also in my Paris bucket list). In our case we strategically positioned ourselves on Rue de Rivoli by the Tuileries garden to watch these cyclists whizz past in a matter of minutes, 10 times! You’re probably wondering how is that possible?

We did a bit of background research on the route of the final leg and found out that the cyclists have to do quite a number of loops around the Tuileries garden before finishing up at Champs-Élysées. Lucky for us because we wanted to take some good shots of the cyclists, not just a blur of colours. And when you have 10 tries, the chances of good shots surely increases.

The experience was exhilarating. From where we were positioned, the cyclists would be rounding a hidden corner before entering onto the street we were standing so the cheers and applause of the crowds could be heard before the cyclists were seen, heightening the excitement. And boy were they quick. You could feel a strong breeze as they cycle past, a much welcomed relief from the heat and humidity of the day.

I may not be a cycling fan but I’m glad to be able to partake in one of the greatest sporting events in the world, especially at its 100th anniversary.

Some moments in Paris, not to be forgotten

IMG_0793The night of Fête de la Musique IMG_1094 Picture perfect Pierre Hermé macaronsIMG_1417 Musée d’Orsay’s centerpiece clockIMG_1671 Looking out onto the right bank from île aux CygnesIMG_2055One of many vendors appearing to be in a prayer position in front of the Basilica Sacré CÅ“ur

IMG_2093 Charming Montmartre windowsIMG_2116A pink corner café in Montmartre IMG_2130 Balconies never looked prettierIMG_2242 The steps made famous from the movie ‘Midnight in Paris’IMG_2897One of many bridges over the Seine at sunset IMG_2995Sunset from the banks of the Seine

A trip to Fontainebleau

IMG_2708 IMG_2709 IMG_2715 IMG_2722 IMG_2723 IMG_2766  IMG_2783 IMG_2798 IMG_2849You could think of Fontainebleau as the less prettier of two sisters when comparing to Versailles, but no less loved. It was apparently deemed the ‘king’s refuge’ during those gilded days and I could see why. Château de Fontainebleau is surrounded by the most beautiful grounds and woods I have ever seen. There is also a vast forest surrounding the small town that used to be the hunting grounds of the royal family back then.

We were excited to explore Fontainebleau and the château having seen the lavishness of Versailles and we’ve had quite enough of crowds and lines so a less popular attraction is always a bonus. We arrived and there was hardly anyone in the grounds of the château, which was a good sign we thought. Until we read the sign that the château was closed on Mondays, the day we visited. Bummer!

It turned out to be a beautiful day because we still got to explore the plentiful gardens and grounds and nearby woods. So peaceful and a welcomed break from the city.