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Cycling Cities in Europe: FIVE lesser-known cycle-friendly European cities

Everyone seems to know how bike-friendly cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam are, but what about some of Europe’s other cities? Surely, city cycling is not exclusive to the Danes and the Dutch!

Lyon, France

Paris has long been known as a city filled with bicycles. However, France’s second largest city has an equally impressive cycling scene. Lyon’s extensive bike share program (called Velo’v) facilitates an impressive 16,000 city trips per day and is considered the second largest bike share network in the world (behind the one in Paris).  Lyon’s bike share network began in 2005 and includes 3000 bikes across the city’s vast network.

Dublin, Ireland

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photo: Flickr / William Murphy

In 2009, Dublin became the first English speaking European city to join the bike-share revolution when it launched ‘dublinbike.’ At present, roughly 1500 bikes are located at stations around Dublin.  Bicycles can be returned 24 hours a day, making them the perfect way to get around the city and are a popular choice for getting home from the city’s many pubs. In fact, the bike network has become such a success that as of 2014 Coco-Cola became a primary corporate sponsor of the bikes, renaming the bikes Coco-Cola Zero dublinbikes.

Bucharest, Romania

In Bucharest, cycling is not only a great way to get around but it has become trendy and fashionable. “Skirtbike” is an annual parade when thousands of women cycle through the city to promote “stylish cycling.” Also, popular Bucharest bars such as the popular “Bicicleta” have used bikes as their design muse. And Bucharest’s bike sharing network (called I’Velo) was launched in 2010 and now has over 1000 bicycles scattered throughout the city.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

A youthful city, thousands of Ljubljana students can be seen cycling to university on any given day. Cycling has become so much a part of everyday Ljubljana life that the city also boasts many bicycle traffic lights and special cycle paths. In 2011, Ljubljana’s share bike network, called Bicikelj, was launched and currently provides over 300 bicycles throughout the city. As one of Eastern Europe’s most progressive cities, Ljubljana also hosted the “Cycling in Central and Eastern Europe” conference in 2013.

Zagreb, Croatia

Cycling in Croatia’s capital city is steadily increasing in popularity among locals and tourists alike with bike racks and bike rentals readily available throughout the city. In 2013, Zagreb joined the cycling revolution by offering ‘nextbike’ share bikes throughout the city. ‘nextbike’ is actually an international brand (started in Leipzig, Germany) that now offers share bikes in more than 70 cities and across 3 continents.

The Best Books and Podcasts That Will Inspire You To Visit Ireland

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Ireland has nurtured an astounding number of writing greats for a country so small. What better way to get inspired to visit this spirited country than read a few lines from an Irish scribe.

TOP IRISH FICTION AND POETRY
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Major Works by WB Yeats
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Gulliver’s Travels  by Jonathan Swift

FUN IRISH NON-FICTION
How the Irish Invented Slang  by Dan Cassidy

PODCASTS FROM/ABOUT IRELAND
The Irish Times  www.irishtimes.com/podcasts
Voices from Ireland www.podcasts.ie/featured-writers
An Irishman Abroad (Culture/Commentary) www.soundcloud.com/an-irishman-abroad

Travel to Cuba Frequently Asked Questions (Your Questions Answered)

So, you want to travel to Cuba…

But lately, as interest in Cuba has increased, so too have the number of questions, especially since Obama’s announcements about the thawing of US-Cuba relations.

So, here are some quick answers to some of the top 10 questions being asked about Cuba. If you’d like a longer answer, you can click on the link and hear the longer audio version of our answers (that we recently recorded for you at our office in Vancouver, Canada). We thought some things are simply better answered with full audio.

TOP 10 CUBA QUESTIONS

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1) Can Americans use credit cards and ATMs in Cuba?

That one’s easy. NO.
American banks have not authorized their cards to be used in Cuba. So, American travellers are not be able to use their credit cards to pay for anything nor are they able to access ATMs with their debit cards.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here.

2) What currency is used in Cuba?

The standard trading currency for foreigners is CUC (Cuba Convertible Currency). Foreign currencies can be converted to CUC within Cuba. US dollars can also be converted to CUC in Cuba but with a 10% surcharge.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here. 

3) Can travellers access internet in Cuba? Can people use international cell phones in Cuba? What are the connectivity options?

Generally speaking, no. It is very difficult to find reliable internet connections in Cuba. Most internet connections, when you do find them, are painfully slow. Hotels outside of the resorts rarely have internet connections. Also, international phones other than US phones may work, but coverage is not reliable. Texting usually works on most phones in Cuba better than phone calls. Phone connections on international phones are unreliable. American cell phones do not work at all in Cuba. Some people buy Cuba sim cards for unlocked phones to use while in Cuba.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here. 

4) How can one book flights to Cuba?

There are various flight path options to Cuba. However, usually an agency is required for flight booking as the major booking engines such as Kayak and Expedia are US owned and will not allow you to search/book Cuba flights. Most travellers fly to Cuba from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here. 

5) Is a travel visa required for travel to Cuba?

Yes, a travel visa (also known as a “tourist card”) is required for travel to Cuba and can be easily obtained, usually at the airport or through the airline at time of travel.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here. 

6) Does everyone require medical insurance for travel to Cuba?

Yes. Every traveller to Cuba requires medical insurance. This is government regulated and you may be required to show proof upon entrance to Cuba. Americans will not be covered by their regular travel medical insurance plans in Cuba and will require purchasing separate Cuba travel medical insurance.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here. 

7)  What hotel standards can one expect in Cuba?

The hotel standards in Cuba will vary from what you may have experienced in other countries. While standards are reasonable, many factors have affected Cuba’s ability to maintain the same international standards one might experience elsewhere in the Caribbean. To best understand this answer, listen to our full answer here.

Also, you can listen to one traveller’s comparison of the cultural experience and standards staying a week at a beach resort in Cuba with the overall experience while on a bike tour through Central Cuba here.

8)What can one expect in terms of restaurants style, standards and cuisine?

Outside of Cuba’s all-inclusive resorts and outside of Havana, the availability of international ingredients is limited. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are rarely available in Cuba outside of Havana or the resorts.

In the cities around Cuba, paladors are excellent, authentic dining options and some of the paladors in Havana offer excellent cuisine and an experiences that meet top international standards. Outside of Havana, however, restaurants and menus are more basic.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here

9) Is Cuba cheap? What costs can one expect in Cuba?

Cuba is NOT a cheap country. To better understand why Cuba is not a cheap country despite being a relatively poor country, listen to our longer answer here. 

10) Is tipping required in Cuba and, if so, how much?

Tipping is expected in Cuba. For a detailed breakdown of tipping costs in Cuba, listen to our full answer to that question here. 

And here is a link to listen to the full audio recording in Soundcloud, answering all of these questions and more… 

How to decide if group adventure travel is for you

So you’re planning an adventure trip this year, and you’re not sure whether to join a group adventure tour or go it alone…

The truth is that group travel has both its advantages and its limitations. But, while it’s not for everyone, it can be an attractive solution to a number of problems and can really help you experience a place more fully.

Vietnam-Homestay-Meal2

So, here are some simple questions to ask yourself to help you decide if group travel is the best option for you:


Do you enjoy sharing travel experiences with others?

Do you enjoy making new friends while traveling?

Do you enjoy traveling to new places but have trouble finding others as eager and as adventurous to join you? 

Do you enjoy planning ahead and having details arranged ahead of time in your normal day-to-day life?

Do you enjoy your days when they are more structured rather than free flowing?

Do you enjoy completely stress-free vacations rather than ones that require on-the-go problem solving?

Do you find getting to know the rules and regulations in a new country frustrating? 

Do you get frustrated figuring out a country’s required visa paperwork and entry requirements?



If you answered yes to at least 3 or 4 of the above questions
, chances are group travel is worth considering for your next vacation. Group tours help you maximize your vacation enjoyment by helping you every step of the way, from the trip planning phase all the way through to your arrival back home. That can offer great peace of mind when you are considering travel to destinations where visa, insurance and other matters can be confusing. And the best part is that while on the trip, group travel allows you to experience all that a new destination has to offer while sharing the experience with new friends and knowledgeable, experienced guides.

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Secrets to Experiencing First Class Comfort in Economy Class

With the holidays upon us, we’re all going to be logging some serious flight time in the coming weeks. Here are some tips to help you elevate your flight experience from just bearable to first class comfort.

Top 5 Tips for getting comfortable on a long flight:

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Photo source: Flickr

1. Check your seat in advance.

This really is my #1 tip to anyone. ALL of the time.

There’s nothing worse that been sandwiched in between people, in the middle seat, during a long flight. Seatguru.com is where I check out the seating configurations of a plane (in advance of booking), as you are often able to at least make a seat request at time of booking (even if you may not yet be able to confirm it). I’ve snagged some stellar seats this way that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about, such as the window seat (33A or 33K) behind the emergency exits on Lufthansa’s 737-400. Those seats are the best economy seat on that plan because there isn’t anyone in front of you and you can get up from that seat anytime without having to bother your neighbours. They’re almost roomier than most of the business class seats on the plane, and for an economy seat price. Finds like that make checking out seatguru.com well worth the time. Ticket agents won’t tell you about these seats as they may not even know about all of them.

2. Organize a flight comfort kit.

When you fly first class, you get a care kit very similar to this. So, I always have the following 5 items on the ready in my special flight kit so that I can always experience these first class comforts:
-  a small, carry on blanket. You can sometimes arrange these from airlines, or pick a compact blanket up at most travel/luggage stores.  It can get darn cold on some flights.
-  a good travel pillow. My travel pillow is made by Obusform, the company that makes real pillows and mattresses. With a good pillow, it’s much easier to get comfortable enough to get some rest.
- an eye maskThis does wonders for helping me sleep during the hours I need to be resting, regardless of how bright the cabin happens to be at that time.
- a pair of comfortable slip-on shoes or slippers. It’s more comfortable to take your shoes of during a flight, but for those moments when you want to get up and walk around, it’s great to have an easy slip-on pair of shoes (especially when heading to the bathroom).
- hand cream and lip salve. The dry, recycled air sucks the moisture right out of your skin, and I feel that almost instantly on my hands and lips. Dry hands and chapped lips are the worst. So, this is a must have item for me on any plane ride.

3. Bring your glasses.

Contact lenses were not designed for airplane air. The dry cabin air makes contacts dry and uncomfortable. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of your contacts dried onto you eyeballs, and there’s nothing classy about that experience. So, I take my contacts out almost as soon as I get on the plane, or wear my glasses when I board the flight. And you’ll want to take your contacts out if you plan on catching any shut-eye anyway.

4.  Bring your iPad or tablet, preloaded with games or movies.

Domestic flights in the US rarely have seat-back entertainment. So, unless you have a good book to read, the flight can get boring rather quickly. Fortunately, virtually every Air Canada domestic flight has free seatback entertainment, even the short haul ones, but this is definitely not the industry standard. Many planes that do have seatback entertainment charge for the luxury of using them. So, come prepared with your own device and you won’t have to pay any more fees to better enjoy your flight.

5.  Invest in noise cancelling headphones.

While these can be somewhat on the pricier side, if you fly a lot and value your peace and quiet to feel relaxed, then these are absolutely worth the investment. Some would venture to say they’re worth their weight in gold. When you’re wearing these headphones, it’ll be so quiet, you’ll almost feel you’ve been sealed off from the rest of the plane in your own first class private suite a la Air Emirates style. And around the holidays, you may be able to find some great Christmas shopping deals on them too. (They may even be the perfect gift for the frequent traveler on your Christmas list!)

Follow these tips, and I’m sure you’ll experience your flight with much more class and comfort this holiday season! 

Happy Flying!