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HE Travel Blog: A gay and lesbian travel column
Travel advice about everything from jet lag to telephone systems
bike vacation brings you the best of many worlds. You move fast enough to
enjoy a wide variety of sights in a single day, yet you can easily stop
to enjoy the view, to pick cherries in an abandoned orchard, or just to smell
the flowers. It's easier to meet people when you're on a bike, particularly
in countries like France or Italy, where cycling is a national sport. Enjoy
a healthy, guilt-free appetite when you sit down to dinner, and return home
feeling and looking better than when you left.
Biking in France
When does the trip start and end?
Each bike trip officially starts at 6:00 p.m. on the starting date given on our schedule and trip overview. We'll have a reception and briefing, followed by dinner. For those who arrive early, we offer an optional walking tour of town (along with a chance to meet other early arrivals). Finally, when our guides' schedule allows, you can give your bike a test ride at 3:00. On arrival at the hotel, please look for our sign in the lobby giving details.
Each trip ends after breakfast. There are no group activities on that day, so if you have tight travel connections, you can get up and leave as early as you wish. When your schedule allows it, you'll probably want to spend some time sightseeing in town, with others from the trip, before departing.
Can I do my training rides on stationary bike?
Stationary biking is a big help, especially for your legs and cardiovascular system. Since you're pedaling continually on such a bike, an hour in the gym can provide the workout of several hours of normal biking, in which you're often coasting. A spinning class can keep the hour interesting. Yet there are some things a stationary bike just doesn't train you for:
- Getting used to being seated on a bike for several hours at a time. The bikes we provide have upright handlebars, so you're in a fairly comfortable position. After several hours, however, your neck (which is bent back a bit more than usual) and butt may get uncomfortable, if the position is completely new for you.
- Other general bike skills -- steering, braking, avoiding potholes, remembering to put your foot down when you stop -- don't get any practice. Granted, these aren't neurosurgery, but it's helpful to have some practice.
New Yorkers, more than anyone, seem to have trouble finding the time, the bike, and the uncrowded roads to get out for a few training rides. Many people have joined us, with nothing but stationary bike experience, and had a great time. But we encourage you to see if you can't get in at least a couple of afternoon of actual biking, before the trip. If the last bike you were on had coaster brakes and you haven't biked for years, then we'd say it's essential to get some on-the-road experience.
Do I need cycling shorts and jerseys? How many?
We recommend cycling shorts. The padding will make your ride more comfortable. But they're certainly not essential. Two pairs are plenty; you can rinse them out and in most cases, they synthetic fabrics will dry overnight. (In humid weather, shorts with thick padding may take a little longer.)
Likewise, cycling jerseys are designed to improving your biking experience, and they'll do so. Most of them are also made from quick-drying synthetics, so one or two will get you through the week. You'll be fine with t-shirts instead; however. To reduce your luggage, shirts that are 50/50 cotton/polyester, while not trendy, will dry faster if you're sweaty, and if you rinse them out overnight.
You can buy special cycling shoes with a stiffer sole, which are slightly more energy-efficient than walking shoes. For the distances we go, we feel these don't generally justify the extra luggage weight.
Finally, a helmet is required; sunglasses are highly recommended as protection against both sun and insects (preferably wrap-around style); and padded cycling gloves will make your days more comfortable.
Can I bring my own bike seat and pedals?
You can, if you wish; nearly all seat posts and pedals come in standard sizes, and you can put your seat or pedals onto the bike we supply. Most travelers decide they'd rather pack light, and quickly get accustomed to the seats and pedals on the bikes we supply.
Many people, however, have brought light-weight gel seat covers, which go over the existing seat. These take up very little luggage space, and those with limited biking experience often find them more comfortable.
Biking in France
Won't I get tired of just biking?
You won't. The location for each of our bike trips was chosen because of its varied appeal. Cycling is a great vehicle for doing that. Unless you take one of our longer route options, you'll rarely spend more than 3 or 4 hours on the saddle in a day. Interspersed with your bike ride might be an hour exploring a picturesque town; a leisurely picnic in a riverside park; an hour at a castle; an hour browsing at a street market; half an hour playing boules. Next thing you know, it's time for a two-hour dinner, then a late walk through the narrow moonlit streets of a medieval town.
Do I need to speak French?
No. Most people who travel abroad with us don't speak the language. But if you do know a little French, we urge you to brush up on it; you'll enjoy the trip more.
What else can and should I see while I'm in France?
Paris, naturally, is the first stop that most people add when coming to Europe for one of our trips. We suggest you plan a Paris stay for after your biking week, rather than before. Chances are, others from the trip will do the same, and you can spend more time together.
How much additional spending money will I need?
Most expenses are included in the price. Here's what you should budget for:
- Lunches. We include two picnic lunches on most bike trips. It'll cost 20-50 euros a week, depending whether you go to cafes (typically about 10 euros for a good lunch) or buy things like quiches and fruit from a small shop and have a picnic (which can run as little as 3-5 euros a day).
- Dinners. On a typical 7-day trip, all but 2 dinners are included. These two evenings offer a chance to get out on your own. You can have a great dinner in France for 20-35 euros plus beverages. Those who want to splurge can pay twice that.
- Admissions. On most of our trips, about 30-50 euros will be enough to get you into all the castles, museums, abbeys, and other places you want to visit. For Valley of the Kings, admissions will cost about 5-10 euros at each chateau. There are often two or three chateaux on a given day. Some people like to see them all; others find that one a day is about right.
- Misc. Other expenses that are common, but obviously not necessary, are: camera supplies, snacks, pastries (which may seem quite necessary after you've looked in the shop window!), before- and after-dinner drinks, souvenirs, and art (we've had people buy and ship home some great stuff).
So, the quick answer to your question is: You can keep your extra expenses under 150-200 euros for the week, if you wish, without feeling that you're missing anything. If you can budget about 250 euros, you're in great shape. Anything over that, and you're eating entirely too much pastry.
Is the food in France as good as they say?
You may decide it's even better! We've worked hard to find restaurants that will give you a sense of both the quality and variety of cuisine that has given France such a special reputation. On our Provencal trip, one of our favorite restaurants is L'Olivier, specializing in fresh regional ingredients.
People who have traveled with us, as well as with companies such as Butterfield & Robinson, which charge about 3 times as much as we do, have told us they like the dinners on our trips better than what they got on the more expensive vacations.