When we visited France recently, we made it a point to try riding our bikes from Versailles to Paris during an afternoon just to see what it was like. Although it was not an easy ride and we got lost numerous times, it was an unforgettable experience and a special way to experience these two famous French cities.
Alas, I have put together a video of that experience to share with you all. It shows the entire ordeal from riding within the well-paved and leafy suburbs of Versailles to getting lost on a forested path with weeds as tall as your head, to wandering upon an enchanting garden overlooking Paris. Part of it is a music video, part of it includes dialogue. Hope you enjoy!
Click on HD to watch in high definition.
Also, a short video of biking along the canal in the beautiful park of the Versailles Palace.
Bike the whole world! And vive le vélo!
We have visited 9 historical sites and found 2 that are awesome for casual bike rides and one that has the potential but fails miserably.
1. If Paris is your destination, you must pay a visit to Palace of Versailles. It’s only 13 miles/31 km train ride (or bike ride!) that costs about 3.5 euros. The Chateau de Versailles is an UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 30 years and it is one of the most marvelous achievements of French architecture and art. 3 kings from Louis XIII, XIV and the XVI with Marie Antoinette had lived there until the French Revolution.
Adjacent to it, are the Gardens and Park of Versailles where you can ride your bike for miles (~6 miles/10 km). It is heavenly and breathtaking! And it’s free for admission. If you don’t have a bike, there’s a bike rental. And if you want a different angle of the park, they have boats for rental too. The downside to the bike paths is that some parts are not paved, but quickly you forget about it due to the immense beauty of the park.
2. Another epic casual bike ride is to Mont St. Michel, another UNESCO site. It is situated in between Normandy, France on a island when high tides occur. Mont St. Michel started off as a monastery during the 8th century and over hundreds of years became a fortified city. The city of Minas Tirith in the Lord of the Rings, director Peter Jackson used this castle. It is majestic and godly.
Photo above is a new path to Mont St. Michel. From the car parking, it’s 1.6 mile/2.5 km of bliss riding to the place. As I was riding on this path, I felt as I was on a horse galloping from the danger behind me to safe haven like in Lord of the Rings. It also hosts night events and the place is lit up after dusk. A bike ride to it at night must be amazing!
Once the new path is completed, I hope they let bikes in and to include bike racks at the foothill. For now, bikes are allowed. Moreover, it would be wonderful to have a bike/ped path that wraps around the island commune, too.
Currently, there are 40 some residents living inside while the site get 3 million visitors, the most outside of Paris. It is pretty packed at the bottom of the castle, but the crowd thins out at the top where cost of admission is applied.
3. The last but not least epic site to check out is Chateau de Chenonceau in Loire Valley. It’s most visited chateau in France after the Palace of Versailles. Chenonceau was built during the early 1500s and overseen by 2 different queens, a rich heiress and a mistress, all women.
Again, we brought our folding bikes expecting to ride throughout the vast garden of the chateau, but it was a huge disappointment! I understand that some parts of the chateau should only be designated for pedestrians, like Catherine’s Garden, Diane’s Garden and the Maze. These are crowded places with lots of details to appreciate, so you would most likely want to walk anyway. What they did with the Palace of Versailles is a great example. The Palace and the nearby Gardens are off limits, while the Park is opened to all.
A huge and beautiful place like this, does the organization of the place expect people to walk throughout the whole area? As anyone knows, biking is quiet and covers large distance, which won’t degrade the emotions and the appearances at all.
Bikes are banned from entering and must be parked at the entrance. You can see in the next few photos that most of the paths away from the chateau and the gardens are all empty of visitors. It’s a great shame!
To conclude, France is a beautiful country with many huge spaces dedicated to historical monuments and buildings and if bikes are allowed and regulated properly, the enjoyment of these sites would be even more enjoyable.
We just got back from France and would like to report on what we observed about bicycling in Paris.
We decided to ride from our hotel in Versailles all the way to Paris. It was about 13 miles /21 km and when we got to Paris, the first thing we noticed were huge bike share stations called Vélib (short for bike and freedom in French). Everywhere you go, there’s a bike share station. The program is comprised of a whopping 20,000 bike shares in 1,800 stations, located 300 meters apart which explains what we saw. That’s about 1 bike per 100 Parisians, the largest bike share scheme per capita.
It’s no wonder that every 10 bicyclists we saw, about 8 of them are on a Vélib. And it’s so popular that Paris also has a kids’ version called P’tit Velib.
Although Paris has such a great bike share scheme and I do appreciate that the bridges over Seine River have separated bike paths, but their bike infrastructure on regular streets remains lackluster. You can pretty much tell that wherever there’s space, they just slap on some bike signs and say, “voila!”
I didn’t feel comfortable riding around. Many big streets don’t even have striped bike lanes and you’d probably want to avoid riding on them as much as possible. Cars are going pretty fast. In addition, the turnabouts are frightening to go into. Cars are always coming into the roundabout without slowing down, and drivers are always making right turns (I wouldn’t be surprised that right-hooks would make up most of the accidents there) in roundabouts. Moreover, the abundant exhaust fumes from the diesel engine cars was repulsive. There were so many scooters too and their emissions are not regulated.
I have to give a hats off to Parisian bicyclists. They don’t wear any head protection, no hi-vis outfits, and ride in fast and congested traffic.
However, there were some good ideas like what is shown in the photo below. It shows that bikes can go in the opposite direction of a one way street.
I noticed that all the bike signage were painted in a simple white color. I find this to be interesting because I think French design tends to be more artistic and elaborate. Also, the bike stencils are pretty crude.
Another good idea is having cross-bikes through wide intersections. That is sorely needed in the States, particularly at freeway passes and boulevards.
Notice the wide street above doesn’t have demarcation for cars. It has been shown to calm car speeds.
In conclusion, riding in Paris seems pretty dangerous but the city averages about 2 fatalities per year between 2007 – 2012, a fairly low rate for a city this big with 2.2 million residents. The French (at least the Parisians) have the bicycling spirit. They are a country of Tour de France, inventors of Velocipedes and derailleurs that made what modern bikes are today. Paris has a flat topography, density and beauty, and more would jump on bikes if they had the proper infrastructure.
We have lived in and visited both coasts of the US and have a pretty good understanding of both sides. But we never quite understood Middle America, aside from what the media shows us. So, we decided to go visit Denver, Colorado. (No, not because of marijuana legalization there.) It’s not too far of a trip to take from the Bay Area, and I heard it’s not a bad city to bike in. Denver is referred to as “the mile-high city” or 5280 which is the number of feet it sits above sea level, and it’s located next to the Rocky mountains, which are the highest mountains in the United States.
This time, we planned to travel light which meant that Nellie brought only a single backpack and I brought only my messenger bag. We left our Bromptons at home because we thought the bike-share program that they have in Denver would suffice and be more convenient. The closest bike-share station would be only a block away from our hotel, so why not. As a bonus, our hotel was located next to the only cycle track in the city, on 15th St.
As a matter of fact, the bike-share stations are nicely distributed across downtown Denver. There are 700 bike-shares in 83 stations, twice as many as in San Francisco. It’s called Denver B Cycle, and sourced from the same company as most other bike shares in the US, Alta Bikeshare. Although their mobile app didn’t work, we could locate another station without even looking for one. It’s that ubiquitous. There was this brand-new redeveloped neighborhood called Prospect which was not completely done, and a bike share station was already in place. I was impressed.
The bike shares are always located on the sidewalks and not in the street, which I think is an ideal setup. The sidewalks there are generally very wide, up to 20 ft/6 m wide. By locating the stations on the sidewalks, you don’t feel the pressure to hurry because you are in a safe zone. Also, it’s nice to undock or dock your bike off the street, unlike how it is in SF. Bike shares invite newbies, so having them on the sidewalks makes them more welcoming.
However, I still don’t like using bike shares when I would like to mindlessly wander throughout the city exploring. The 30-minute grace period was always on my mind because I didn’t want to accrue penalties. Also, docking/undocking is a huge hassle when you have to do it every 30 minutes. My opinion is that bike-shares are good if you know where you are going and only need it for going short distances. It would not be good for recreational our touristic cycling and for going long distances.
Our hotel was located next to the only cycle track in town on 15th St. It was nicely done with crossbikes and protected barriers, but the intersection was not protected. Also, what I don’t get is why the cycle track was on the left-hand side. I heard that another cycle track is coming to a nearby street on Broadway, a north-to-south commercial corridor which should make a better network of bike paths.
Another commercial corridor in downtown that is bike-friendly is the popular shopping area, the 16th Street Mall, which is closed off to cars. There are hundreds of shops and street vendors located on this long stretch. The identical tiles on both the street and sidewalks give it a very pedestrian-friendly feel to it. No need for bike signage.
Denver has a bike modal share of 2.9% in 2012 (20% jump from 2011), most of which I see riding on the extensive Cherry Creek bike trail. The Cherry Creek trail stretches 11.2 mi/ 18 km from Cherry Creek Reservoir in the south and through downtown in the north. It serves for both recreation and transportation. It’s a must if you do visit Denver and go for a bike ride. Some of the best scenery within the city is along this riverside bike trail. The water running next to it is surprisingly clean!
What I like about Denver is it’s numerous parks, and the majority of them you can really bike within them for quite a distance with flat topography. City Park is my favorite and has a zoo and the Museum of Science and Nature. It’s located not too distant from downtown. Another park I recommend is Washington Park in the Pearl St. neighborhood. It’s voted as the most favorite park in Denver by the locals.
I still think Denver has some ways to go in terms of bike infrastructure and reducing their use of cars. But I admire how much they are embracing the ideas of New Urbanism and I feel like they are doing the bike thing better and faster than many other American cities. For example, their 15th St. cycle-track was completed this year and now, the city is proposing another cycle-track on Broadway St. In addition, I really like their ubiquitous bike-shares, but it’s just not ideal for visitors to use them to explore the city because of the time limits. Visitors and recreational riders should rent a bicycle instead. Their Cherry Creek bike path is great fun to bike on and quite scenic, but then, it doesn’t go in every direction to really serve bike commuters. However, I do think that overall, the city government gets it and it’s just a matter of time.
A couple of more things I want to mention for anyone who is going to visit Denver and bike around. You may need some time to adapt to the higher elevation. At higher elevations, oxygen is less concentrated and so your body will have to adjust and breath shorter but more frequent breaths. At first, you might feel worn out faster when exerting yourself. However, the air is just fine for Denverites who are known to be very active outdoors. So once you adjust, you should be fine. Also, one of the fun things you can do in Denver, if you are of drinking age, is to ride your bike around to all the different local breweries and do some free tastings. Denver has great local beer! Many can be easily reached by bike.
Last post, I shared the first part of our experience biking in Half Moon Bay and cooking a recipe from a bicycle/camping cookbook called The Weekender by Pedal Inn. I continue here with the second part.
So, what happened to that pot of cabbage?
Sadly, for our stomaches, nothing!
Because of the strong and cold winds, the water could not get to a temperature hot enough to boil. The wind kept minimizing the flames from the propane stove. So I could not boil the shredded cabbage and when it had come time to sautee it in the pan, I surely wouldn’t have been able to. The cabbage was an essential part of the Eggs Benedict recipe- the delightfully poached eggs were to sit upon a savory bed of sautéed red cabbage with onions and garlic, topped with creme fraiche and served with slices of hearty bread. We tried cracking an egg into the pot to see if it would cook and it never did.
While we were still waiting for the pot to boil, a little chubby boy was walking by on the sand and when he saw our pot he exclaimed, “That’s cool!” In my head, I was like, “You have no idea, kid!” Chris said he got really appetized waiting for the pot to boil and had been looking forward to the meal. So we were both disappointed when we couldn’t get the stove hot enough to cook the food.
I was sure the dish would have been delicious if we had been able to cook it. The windy and cold weather did not cooperate with our plans, and we later found out that the first part of the year is not really the best time to visit Half Moon Bay. It is warmer and less windy during the latter half of the year. Also, I used a propane stove which I think is designed more for indoor use. They make stoves specifically for camping and those burn alcohol. Maybe that could have withstood the wind better.
Defeated, we packed up our stuff, shook the sand out of our bikes and then headed home. But in my head, I was determined to try this dish. I had to know how it tasted! I was going to try again, but this time in my own kitchen. I still had the unopened pack of creme fraiche. I had the carton of eggs we bought and there was still a lot of red cabbage left.
One morning soon after our excursion, I made the recipe at home and it came out fantastic! The flavors blended wonderfully and the dish seemed fresh and healthy. I don’t have a lot of experience poaching eggs so I kind of overdid them, but nevertheless, when I ate them with creme fraiche, it was heaven. I could imagine how much more wonderful it would have been to eat this dish at Half Moon Bay on a good day, with the sights of the sea, sky, and cliffs.
Now, about The Weekender cookbook, I really liked and learned many things from it and the whole experience. I now use the combo of creme fraiche with poached eggs on a regular basis- yum. Even though I don’t personally feel cut out for camping and cooking outdoors, I think the recipes are still great for cooking at home. I think they really represent the flavors of California and Bay Area cuisine. For anyone who loves the outdoors, camping, biking, and cooking or is curious to try, I think this cookbook is the perfect resource for you. It will challenge you a bit which is what I think is part of what makes the outdoors exciting. Challenging yourself to go to new places, climb a hill or mountain (with your two feet or two wheels), and then achieving that great reward at the end- a sense of accomplishment, amazing and breathtaking views, and renewed sense of wonder about nature and the world.
As it pertains more to biking, it is also a great reflection of the biking experience. In a previous post titled Exploring A City by Bicycle (a love letter to urban biking), I wrote about how biking is a very sensory experience where almost all your senses are engaged. When biking, you see many things with your eyes, you hear and smell the world around you, and you feel the breeze on your skin. The one sense missing is that of taste. This cookbook, The Weekender, fills in that last piece bringing the biking experience and taste together to create a complete experience for all your senses. So I believe that with this book, and with those who have the initiative and drive for adventure (and good eats), the rewards reaped will be like a “sweet song that you [and your tastebuds] will remember for as long as you can”.
Pedal Inn Weekender Cookbook
Currently $19.95 USD for the print edition at their online store
THE PEDAL INN WEEKENDER INCLUDES:
♥ 5 Weekender menus, inspired by 5 enticing Bay Area bike camping destinations
♥ 25 camp-tested recipes for two hungry cyclists
♥ Meal plans ideal for the overnight jaunt or for the savvy home cook
♥ Dishes designed for flavor & freshness first but with an eye towards ease and efficiency
♥ Tips, insights, and inspiration helpful for new and experienced bike campers alike
♥ Weather-resistant, tour-worthy vinyl pouch, fit for a cycling jersey or handlebar mount
There is also an e-book version for $7.95
Answer: Biking and eating!
In this post, I share our experience biking in Half Moon Bay, California and cooking a recipe from The Pedal Inn Weekender cookbook right on the beach. If you love biking and eating/cooking, then read on!
A few years ago, on one of our memorable nights out biking with the SF Bike Party at a rest stop upon a hill taking in the sights of the beautiful city, someone handed us a yellow matchbox with an illustration of a crest on it with “The Pedal Inn” written across the top and an image of two people wearing outdoor gear having a picnic beside their bicycles. On the back it read, “For lovers of adventure and good eating”. I was curious what that was and the woman who handed it to me told me it was a cookbook. I was intrigued because I love biking (that’s the name of our blog) and I love eating and cooking too and here was a couple that had combined these things into a single concept that they could share with others- a cookbook and guide to biking/cooking/camping. After visiting their website at www.pedalinn.com I said to myself, I have to try this one day!
Not too long ago, I decided it was a good time to try out the cookbook. Thanks to Nick and Lindy, the authors of the cookbook, I was able to get a copy of it for myself. When it came in the mail and I unwrapped it, I saw it was beautifully put together. Inside the plastic pouch, was an assortment of booklets/pamphlets. The main book had Weekender written across the front and was nicely illustrated inside and out. The others were more like simple folded pamphlets with recipes in them and were designed to be easy to travel with. Each recipe pamphlet had the name of a great Bay Area biking locale such as China Camp, Lake Del Valle, and Mount Diablo to name a few and the corresponding recipes that matched the theme of each place. The writing was a joy to read and it began to dispel the mysteries of camping/biking/cooking to me.
You see, although I love biking, I have very little experience in the long-distance touring sort of rides. Also, I have only camped outside maybe once or twice in my life when I was young and my much older sisters took care of everything. They packed the tents and brought all the provisions. I still remember the yummy baked bananas my sister made over the grill using foil but I didn’t really know how it all came together, just that it tasted unbelievably good (something about eating food in the great outdoors enhances it).
So as I perused these guides with names of places that called out to the adventurous side of me, a feeling of anxiety began to set in. After cooking for five nights a week for the past seven years, I can now say I know how to cook with complete confidence. So perhaps it was because I know how to cook that seeing the recipes made me break into a sweat. Because of my experience, I could quickly see this wasn’t just a cookbook about throwing together some Chex Mix to bring with you onto the trail. This was, you could say, gourmet stuff and what made it challenging was picturing myself trying to cook this stuff not in a kitchen in the sterile comfort of my home, but outdoors in an unpredictable and variable environment. I was sure the efforts would probably have been worth it once we tasted the finished dishes, but getting to that point was the hard part.
As I began to plan the trip, I was thinking in my head, “How the heck can I do this? I can’t do this. No, I CAN do this. No, I can’t! Yes, I can! And finally, “Okay, I just won’t camp out overnight and even though I don’t know how I am going to cook this stuff outside, I am going to do it anyway! I will do this whether I can or not.”
Fast forward two weeks later, and it is the morning on a fine Sunday. Chris and I are shuffling around the house trying to pack stuff. I grab our propane stove we have used many times for Chinese hot pot. I grab some spatulas, spoons, and pour some olive oil into a small plastic case. I didn’t pack everything I needed because the idea was that we’d stop by a market along the road during our bike ride to buy fresh ingredients. That would be part of the Pedal Inn experience.
Our destination was Half Moon Bay, a place where we would ride along a path overlooking the sea and then camp out on the beach for the afternoon. The recipe pamphlet for Half Moon Bay was stuffed into our Brompton bag pocket, and we were off in our tiny car with the bikes and cargo stuffed in the back.
When we got to Half Moon Bay, we first stopped into a market on Main Street. We found what we needed there and even a fresh pack of creme fraiche. We were going to make Pedal Inn’s version of Eggs Benedict. They use creme fraiche instead of Hollandaise sauce. That was just the breakfast recipe and the only one I felt confident enough to try. They also had a recipe for dinner and dessert. Dinner was Fish Tacos with Pom-Persimmon Salsa and dessert was Blackberry “Shortcake” in origami folded cups. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? These are also the perfect recipes for Half Moon Bay, a place by the sea that is influenced by Mexican culture due to the migrant workers that live in the area and who work on the local farms.
We then rode our bikes along the path by the beach and it was a picturesque and lovely experience. The view was amazing and the waves crashing onto the beach were furious. We saw people riding horses and many people walking along the path. People were sitting out on the beach down below. I had the stove in a backpack on my back along with all the ingredients. It was getting kind of heavy. Having panniers would have helped a lot with that.
After riding around a bit, we went down to the beach and opened up our picnic blanket. We set our bikes on top of some succulent plants so that less sand would get into the chains. We set up the stove and the wind was blowing so hard, I was afraid that we would not be able to get the fire lit. But it was lit. We poured water into the pot and waited for the water to boil. I cut the red cabbage on a small cutting board on top of my backpack. I added the cabbage to the pot and then…
This story is getting long so check back next post for what happened to the pot of cabbage!
To be continued…
When you are exploring a city on the seat of a bicycle, you are making a deeper connection with it. You are engaging more of your sensory faculties and your whole body is in motion. With every pedal forward, you are opening yourself up to what is around you, making yourself vulnerable but also much freer. When you are on a bicycle, there is nothing between you and the world around you except a space of air. There is no glass, perfumed interior, no controlled climate which can keep you comfortably contained. The raw elements of the world reach you. But you can be more quick and nimble, and you can choose to go at your own pace- you decide. Almost all of your senses are engaged. With your eyes, you can see wonderful sights- from the shape of a landmark set against the sky, to the reaches of the horizon. You can see humanity around you and the expressions on people’s faces. With your ears you can hear the soundtrack of the world- of laughter and sneezes and conversation, set amidst the medley of city noises. With your nose you can smell the scents of not just exhaust and refuse, but also of trees, flowers, and grass, Chanel perfume, and bread being baked. Most wonderfully is the experience of feeling the wind on your skin and in your hair. Sometimes the air is crisp, sometimes more humid and warm, but always you feel something. This creates a symphony of sensory input that feeds into your body, mind, and imagination. The music of this chorus is like a sweet song that you will remember for as long as you can. It is one of the most delightful and simplest of joys- riding a bicycle in the city and especially one that you love.