Great city bike tours
Inspired by our article about cycling through New Orleans, we list some of our favorite bike tours in Chicago, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco in this Web-exclusive roundup.
Let us know about your favorite bike tours!
New York's boroughs, demystified
It's not easy to choose between Bike the Big Apple's six standard five-to-seven-hour tours; they all take in a great range of neighborhoods often skipped by typical tourist routes. Our favorites might be the Bike and Bite Brooklyn options, one of which weaves through Manhattan's Lower East Side, across the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn, and through the hipster and Hasidic Jewish sections of Williamsburg—stopping at a local brewery and a gourmet chocolate shop—before returning to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge.Bike the Big Apple, 877/865-0078, toursbybike.com, from $65 with bike, helmet, and two guides; kids 8 and older pay the same price.
Chicago north and south
Bike and Roll Chicago's daily three-hour tours wind through the Windy City's residential streets, alternating between routes in the city's North and South sides. The first itinerary takes you north to the mansions of the Gold Coast, through Old Town, along the tree-lined lanes of Lincoln Park, and past Wrigley Field in Lakeview. The second route ventures south to the Mies van der Rohe-designed Illinois Institute of Technology, around the Prairie District, past Clarke House (the city's oldest house), and into Chinatown. Bike and Roll Chicago, 888/245-3929, bikechicago.com, from $30, students from $25, with bike, helmet, and guide; these tours are not recommended for children younger than 13-years-old.
In addition to daily tours of Capitol Hill and the national monuments, Bike the Sites offers a tour through D.C.'s leafy, residential northwest quadrant that is inspired by the picture book Wild Washington Animal Sculptures A to Z. Beginning with a walking tour of the National Zoo, the Wild Washington itinerary continues by bike along Rock Creek Park and the National Mall, while a guide explains all the animal references found in the monuments and fountains along the way. Bike the Sites, 202/842-2453, bikethesites.com, $40, with bike, helmet, snack, water, and guide; kids under 13 not recommended.
Around the bay
Views of San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge are already impossibly picturesque, but at the pace of a bike, they might be even more so. Depending on your pedaling speed—and whether you want to take a ferry back from the quaint towns of Sausalito or Tiburon—the route from Blazing Saddles' Fisherman's Wharf location, across the bay and back again, can take as little as three hours. Unlike the above tours, this one is self-guided. Blazing Saddles, 415/202-8888, blazingsaddlessanfrancisco.com, day rental $28, kids $20, with helmet and map; ferry from $7.
Related Story Rolling by the River: Bike Tours of New Orleans
The Balloon Fiesta
I've just returned from spending the weekend at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which runs through October 14. Now in its 36th year and touted as the "world's most photographed event," the fiesta is expected to draw some 100,000 people per day this year. My cab driver was not exaggerating when he warned us that traffic would be heinous. Even though our hotel was only 10 miles from the launch site, it took us nearly two hours to reach the balloon field. As we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Saturday, we could see the first balloons lift off at 6:45 a.m., glowing and flickering like Christmas lights. By the time we actually made it onto the field just before 7:30 a.m., the sky was already dotted with dozens of hot air balloons. Each time a balloon inflated, the crowd cheered as if it were the first of the day. Darth Vader—one of this year's new balloons—drew some of the biggest applause, although my favorite was the pink elephant. (The flying pig was a close second.) Due to the high winds on Saturday, only about 350 of the 700 balloons ended up flying during the mass ascension. [On Monday, after I had left for home, one of the balloons in flight tipped after snagging a utility line, sending a woman plummeting to her death, according to this AP story. An investigation to the crash has begun. As the article points out, accidents are rare. The last fatality at the Fiesta was in 1998. Before that was in 1993. In all three cases, power lines and unexpected wind played roles.] As it turns out, my friends and I chose not to ride in a balloon this time around. Instead, we hopped on the Sandia Peak Tramway ($17.50 a ticket), which offers panoramic views of the city from the comfort of a glass-enclosed gondola. More info For a schedule of Balloon Festival events and a list of Park & Ride locations, visit balloonfiesta.com ($6 adults, $10 parking). If you can't make it to New Mexico this year, the website also streams live webcam images and YouTube clips. If you want to try a balloon ride at another time of year, know that non-Fiesta rates start at about $170 per person with the balloon operator Rainbow Ryders. Photo of Darth Vader by Amy Chen. Photo of Pink Elephant by Laertes via Flickr and Creative Commons.
Quite the week for Richard Branson
No other airline chief has ever had a week like this. Richard Branson, whom you know well as the top backer of Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic, was seemingly everywhere. He jumped off a building in Las Vegas. But the stunt was botched by a snag. He suffered a cut hand and bruises when he dropped from the top of a 120m (390ft) tower and crashed into a wall. But he was still smiling. He reported that Virgin America is making scads of money, and he expects it to be profitable much faster than expected. He kissed Kyla Ebbert, the woman known in our previous blog posts as the Southwest woman who revealed too much. He also rang the bell to open the New York Stock exchange. And he threw a celebrity-filled party in Las Vegas. Details at Jaunted. And Budget Travel awarded his company an Extra Mile Award last night at a fabulous reception in New York. (He flew his team on his private jet so that they could attend the event while he rested up.)
Spill your secrets about Rome
It's our Question of the Week! Travel is one of those things where if you did it all the time you'd get really good at it. Unfortunately, few people get to do it all the time—including the staff of Budget Travel. So we thought it would be smart to pool our knowledge. We ask you a question, you share your advice, and then we spotlight the most helpful tips in a future magazine issue. This week's question comes from me, the senior editor of BudgetTravel.com: "I'm going to Rome on vacation in mid-November. A tip on a good walking tour or wine bar would be appreciated!" EARLIER: See reader answers to the question "What's there to do in Burlington, Vermont?" DEALS: New Italy packages from $599. RELATED: 14 top questions about Italy, answered. The fabulous photo is by Beachy via Flickr and Creative Commons.
Eid al-Fitr is the Festival of Fast-Breaking that followers of Islam are celebrating right now. Rick Steves has just blogged a post from Turkey about how this is a great time to be traveling. Here's one of his key points: Ramadan is, in balance, a great time to travel. You don't realize it, but most people are not eating or even drinking all day. I offered my waiter a suck of my hookah water pipe. He put his hand to his heart and explained he'd love to but he was fasting for Ramadan. If you sleep lightly, you'll wake to the sound of a prayer and meal just before dawn. Sun rises and the day-long fast begins. Then, at about 7p.m. the food comes out, and the festival begins. Mohammad broke his fast with dried date or olive—so that's usually the fast breaker to this day. Saying, "Allah Kabul etsin" (may God accept...your fast today)," the staff at a restaurant where I was just having a drink welcomed me to photo them and then offered to share. Every time I witness the breaking of the fast, people offered to share their food. At the restaurant I said no, but they set me up anyway—figs, lentil soup, bread, Coke, and baklava. I thought the Coke was a bit odd...but my guide said it's not considered American any more. It's truly global. This Real Deal offers a sweeping two-week tour highlighting the varied aspects of Turkish history and culture, from Istanbul to otherworldly Cappadocia to sun-kissed coastal towns like Kusadasi, from $1,649 per person—plus taxes of about $116. It's a great deal because as a BudgetTravel.com reader, you get access to the $150 special discount. (But, alas, Rick Steves is not associated in any way with this tour.) Today Gadling has a roundup of Eid celebrations. The L.A. Times recently ran an excellent story on how the workers at Egyptian resorts feel about Western tourists when they have to serve them, especially during the fasting period of Ramadan. Despite being five years old, a World Hum essay by Rolf Potts is one of the best travel pieces to have been written about how American travelers view Islam. (Note, his essay begins with a story about Eid al-Adha, a different festival.) Link, here. Photo of the Mosque domes in Istanbul, Turkey, by Andrew Ward/Life File/Photodisc .