Cycling on rise: around the world, two wheels are being shed

In Canada and in Europe, according to the Toronto Sun, cyclists are seeing more bike paths built. New attractions and offers are being designed to appeal to cyclists, and challenging routes are gaining popularity. In honor of Toronto Bike Month, which runs until June 25, the Sun has offered a few ideas for pedal-pushers around the world.

La Route Verte (the Green Route) is the longest ride in America. At more than 2,500 miles, it crosses Quebec both north-to-south and east-to-west. Take on this challenge, and you’ll pass through 320 cities and towns on bike paths and quiet roads, enjoying attractions like the Laurentian Mountains and St. Lawrence River from a new perspective. Accommodations along the way with “bienvenue cyclists!” signs will be ready for you, including bike tools and a safe place to lock up your ride.

Also in Canada, the Toronto-Niagara Bike Train is a new program to help cyclists get out to the Niagara Region. Some VIA Rail Canada trains are now equipped with bike racks to make transport exponentially easier.

In Trondheim, Norway, look for the world’s first bike lift. If you prefer not to blast your quads attacking a hill steep enough to have a name (Bbrubakken), take advantage of the Bicycle Lift Trampe. Using an electronic key card (buy or rent), you gain access to the easiest way up.

12 Amazing Crater Lakes

Environmental Graffiti, the same website that brought us those amazing views from the tops of the Seven Summits last week, returns with even more great images. The subject of their latest story is the 12 Most Incredible Crater Lakes on Earth. These amazing natural wonders are created not from the impact of a meteorite, but instead they are formed when the collapsed cone of a volcano fills up with water over time.

Some of the amazing places that make the list include Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, which was formed more than 84,000 years ago. The lake remains largely unexplored even now, and stretches to more than 340 meters (1115 feet) in depth. Its shores are lined with mountains, and there is still a great deal of volcanic activity in the area that was once home to the Mayan civilization.

Half-way round the globe from Lake Atitlan in the heart of Turkey, is another unique crater lake that sits atop a dormant volcano called Nemrut. The caldera of this mountain contains not one, but two very distinct lakes, one a cold body of water reaching 155 meters (508 feet) in depth, while a very short distance away is another lake that reaches more than 100 meters (328 feet) into the ground. That second lake has a constant temperature of near 140º Faherenheit, making for quite a contrast to it’s companion.

The other crater lakes on the list span the globe from Alaska to Australia and a number of points inbetween. They each are unique and wonderful, offering visitors some of the most amazing scenery on the planet.

Tour the world’s vandalism

Eyesore or art, graffiti is part of any culture’s public dialogue. Vandalism is visual profanity, and we all swear in our own f—ing ways. I’ve been drawn to these wall scrawls for a while, probably since I read Holden Caulfield‘s concerns about the subject in Catcher in the Rye. My fascination gained momentum while I was stationed in South Korea.

A soldiers’ bar in Tong Du Chon (the Peace Club, which is no longer there) was littered with attempted wit. “I used to believe in the common decency of main,” one drunken soldier-scholar printed at eye level. Another replied, “I still do.” Eight hours into a soju-induced haze, this stuff is profound.

Along the way, I’ve become a connoisseur of this crime, though only as an observer. I have seen social commentary and even debate. And, there’s even been a bit of meaningless paint spilled in the vain hope of making a point. I’ve soaked it all in and hit a few readers up for their tips, as well.

So, let’s take a tour of some of my favorite acts of defacement. Some reflect careful planning and show artistic talent. Others offer nothing more than layers upon layers of cries for attention and assertions of self-importance.In Iceland, I read in the local English language newspaper, the Reykjavik Grapevine, that an outbreak of graffiti was the result of building vacancies triggered by the weakened economy (and this was back in June). This was supported by the observations of the walking tour’s prophetic viking. Hell, the wall says it all.

The Parisians waxed political on the walls of metro stations. I was in town for the hotly contested presidential election of May 2007, and the ultimate winner, Nicolas Sarkozy, took a beating in the vandals’ press. This is nothing compared to the scratched-out eyes on campaign posters, though.

Translation: Sarko = Bush = Berlusconi = Shit. The tagger lumps the president of France with the now former president of the United States and the hotheaded former president of Italy … not to mention a steaming pile. Politics took center stage in Tallinn, Estonia, as well. Thankfully, the vandals worked in English, making it easy for me to take a stab at recreating the crime.

From what I could see, this is something of a public discussion. First, it seems, a disgruntled “activist” wrote “Fuck Fascism!” And, I have to admit, it’s hard to disagree with that. Next, a second person probably popped “anti” in front of fascism, before a third joined the spray-painted conversation by crossing out “fuck.” A fourth crossed out “anti,” and we’re left with fascism. But, the entire discourse supports the original position.

At least, that’s how I’d imagine the entire process unfolding.

The most compelling, however, was in Quebec. I found it fascinating that the retort to an assertion of independence was proffered in English.

Of course, my neighbors are far from innocent. Here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, we seem to be waging a war on body image. Custo Barcelona, an upscale fashion retailer, has ads on the corner of W. 71st St. and Columbus Ave. The models, wearing about as much body fat as they are clothing, glare at me every time I walk to Gray’s Papaya for a hot dog, as if holding me in contempt for my substandard diet. Someone (not me, I promise) decided to comment.

Hey, New Yorkers can be brutal, even in my quiet, peace-loving corner of the city. This is but one example of how the poor Custo models, have suffered, though. Check out the photo gallery below to get a sense of how Upper West Siders feel about this bit of eye candy.


And, this is just a taste of what I have collected. Take a look at the next photo gallery to see what our readers have submitted. Fortunately, their collections are a bit more high-minded than mine. The stories with each photos are in the readers’ own words (with some slight editing).



Canadian Valentine’s Day packages for under $300

Need some last minute ideas for Valentine’s Day? Consider our neighbors to the north. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has put together some fantastic packages that are sure to do better than the box of candy you have tucked under your arm.

The Fairmont Empress in Victoria, British Columbia is a 100 year-old castle. Right away, that sets the scene for you. The Lovers’ Escape package consists of a night at the hotel, three-course dinner for two in the Empress Room, a special chocolate treat from Bernard Callebaut and breakfast in bed the next morning. For $250, it’s actually cheaper than flowers and dinner (at least where I live).

In Montreal, the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth‘s “Do not Disturb” package will set you back $229, but it delivers a night in a plush guestroom, dinner for two at Le Montrealais restaurant … and a late checkout. You’ll need it. Further north, the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in Charlevoix includes a four-course dinner, buffet breakfast and access to a heated outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi. Book a room for February 14 at $279, and you’ll be called a romantic for the rest of the year.

Quebec has some insane deals

I know I just pitched cold-weather destination Montreal to you last week. So, why would I send you even farther north? Well, for skiers, this is a no-brainer. If you could get your third night (hotel) and third day (slopes) free, you’d probably battle the cold happily. This is exactly what’s going on in Quebec right now.

From January 5 to 29 and also February 1 to 12, you can get two-for-one hotel and lift access at Stoneham or Mont-Sainte-Anne. To sweeten the deal, they’ll throw in a guided tour of each mountain, access to the Mont-Sainte-Anne snowshoe trail and a free ski free rental, free skiing lesson or a half-day of cross-country skiing (with equipment). Prices start at $226!

While you’re in this part of the world, dash into the city for the 2009 Carnaval de Quebec. Explore the ice palace, shout during the canoe race and admire the snow sculptures while buried under 17 layers of clothing. Quebec may be cold this time of year, but that’s no reason not to go.