The “timelapse trend” seems to be going strong. We’ve certainly featured several breathtaking mini-films in the past, from Europe to Disneyland and everywhere in between. And today, we have yet another awe-inspiring timelapse — all the way from Rio de Janeiro. Remember, have HD on and full-screen viewing enabled for the best “sigh-inducing” viewing experience.
Why spend your summer vacation on subways and buses when you could be out exploring places on two wheels?
Thanks to an explosion in bike-share systems and a general appreciation for bike culture, making cycling a central part of your travels is becoming easier and easier. You don’t have to throw down, pack your bicycle and head off on a full cycle tour to get the pleasure of seeing a place on two wheels; there are plenty of cities around the world that are bike-friendly and perfect for anyone who enjoys the thrills of riding in a new place.
Here are the ten best places to explore by bike.1. Amsterdam
There’s no denying that if you’re a bike lover, Amsterdam should be at the top of your list. Here people are practically born on bicycles, and if you want to experience the city like a real local, there’s no better way. Start off in the Jordaan district, rent a bike at the friendly Bike City and get ready to master the dance that is cycling in the Netherlands.
Bike riding in Scandinavia is truly part of the local lifestyle, and nowhere is this more true than the Danish capital of Denmark. This is the birthplace of Cycle Chic after all. There are over 390 kilometers of designated bike lanes and over 50 percent of locals commute by bike on a regular basis. The Copenhagen tourism office has a round up of top bike rental places to make fitting in easier than ever. Just remember to wear your finest — Scandinavians look good on their wheels.
3. Portland, Oregon
Beer, baristas and bikes; it’s the Portland trifecta. You can get all three at Velocult, the city’s hub for bike related events and general fun. If you’re downtown you should be sure to hit up the Courrier Coffee Bar, opened by one of the city’s favorite pedal-delivered craft roasting companies. Add Trailhead to the list as well, another bike-powered artisan roaster. And when you’ve had enough pedal-powered caffeine for the day, take your bike, roll over to the bike-centric bar Apex and drink one of their 50 beers on tap.
Ok, so Paris might not be the first place that comes to mind on the list of bike-friendly places – you do have to do a lot of scooter and pedestrian dodging – but thanks to the successful Velib bike-share system, cycling is a big part of Parisian culture. The key in Paris is to identify that bike paths; you’ll find separated lanes around the city that make two-wheeled Paris a true delight.
5. San Francisco
Don’t let the hills scare you off. Through the late spring and early fall you can take advantage of Sunday Streets, a collection of events that closes off streets to cars in different neighborhoods around the city, and in Golden Gate Park there are car-free Sundays and Saturdays. For a longer adventure, make your way to Marin County.
Berlin is in the top 10 of bike blog Copenhagenize’s bicycle-friendly cities and with good reason. Around 13% of the population ride their bike on a daily basis, and in some neighborhoods it’s as high as 25%. There’s the 1st Bicycle Gallery which is all about showcasing gorgeous bicycles . There’s an online route planner you can use to facilitate your ride, and if you want a different look at one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, cycle the Berlin Wall Trail, tracing the former wall.
7. Rio de Janeiro
A bike-share and over 250 kilometers of bike trails make a normally congested city ideal for the cycle crowd. A large part of the bike push has come for preparing for the Olympics in 2016, and above and beyond the Bike Rio bike-share system, there are plenty of bike rental options around town.
Beach and bikes; it’s no surprise that Barcelona is popular with budget-savvy travelers looking for a little warm weather and outdoor strolls. There are over 100 stations for the city’s Bicing program, and a variety of rental and tour options. Top that ride off with some tapas and you have the perfect day.
Montreal is the place to be if you’re a cycle lover. There are trails, separated lanes and designated biking streets, easily navigable on PedalMontreal. The city is also the gateway to Quebec’s Route Verte, boasting over 5,000 kilometers of bikeways all over the region along with bike-friendly accomodations. You may need a few weeks.
Bogotá’s CicloRuta s one of the most extensive in the world. Given that a very small percentage of the local population has access to cars, bicycles make economic sense. If your destination is too far to ride to, the network of bike lanes connects well with the local transportation system, complete with bike parking at several designated stops. As the city’s ex mayor Enrique Peñalosa said, “I think the future of the world has to do with bicycles.”
Rio de Janeiro boasts some of the beaches you’d spy on calendars, postcards and the odd screensaver in your dentist’s office cubicle farm. So when we passed through on a whirlwind trip to Brazil, I took the advice of our friend Kent Wein to jump off a mountain to get a better look at things, as they say.
Paragliding – it’s a growing sport in this South American country, and it’s easy to find a good safe pilot who can take you up on a beautiful tandem jump over the city. Take a cab down to the beach at the foot of Pedra Bonita to get started. At this landing zone you can find the right group and get your adventure started.
A Brazilian pop star who calls himself Latino has put TAM Airlines in the hot seat after he was allegedly invited to sit in the captain’s chair during a cross-country flight from Recife to Rio de Janeiro. Pictures of the singer in the cockpit of an Airbus A320-200 were circulated on Instagram and posted to the musician’s website the day after the incident, but were later removed.
According to an incident report on The Aviation Herald, autopilot was on and the first officer was in his seat when Latino climbed into the captain’s chair. After a few pictures were snapped, the captain took back his seat and the aircraft continued for a safe landing in Rio.
The news outlet reports the airline initially claimed the photos were taken while the plane was on the ground, but later admitted the aircraft was in-flight, evidenced by engine instruments and navigation displays in the background of the photos. Both pilots have been fired as a result of the occurrence, and Brazil’s Agência Nacional de Aviação Civi – the country’s equivalent to the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States – has opened an investigation.
The worst day of fishing beats the best day of work.
Years ago, I knew I found the right job when I was a co-pilot on a charter flight in a 15-seat Twin Otter for a day of fishing on an Alaskan beach. I remember thinking of that adage, and telling everyone that it was the best day of work and the best day of fishing.
How could it ever be possible to top that trip? Well, I think I just did it.
First, a little background is in order.
A year and a half ago, around the time I was learning to paraglide near New York City, I flew a few trips as a co-pilot to Rio. I took my camera and paid a guy $5 to take me up to the launch area at the Pedra Bonita ramp where hang gliders and paragliders launch at a rate that rivals the JFK airport in New York.
After chatting with a few pilots there, one of them asked me how much I weighed, suggesting that he had a glider and harness I could borrow. Having only flown from a 50-foot training hill, I politely declined. But I’ll admit, I was tempted.
I spent the day filming multiple launches, some of which weren’t so successful, and when I stood at the end of the paragliding ramp I set a goal to get a few hours under my glider so I could give this place a try.
Just this February I managed to rack up 20 hours of flying in Costa Rica. I figured it was time to bid the 34-hour Rio layover for some paragliding, but I wondered what would it look like to the passengers when I tried to go through security with what could be mistaken for a parachute on my back? I knew I would seem out of place, but in the end, it proved to be worth the hassle.
Starting at the last week of April and through the month of May, I found myself with five Rio trips in a row. I had heard that some crew members were able to leave bags at the hotel when they flew the trip often, and I planned to do the same with my 36-pound orange paraglider for the month.
As luck would have it, I knew the co-pilot, Mike from our days working together out of Boston to Paris and enjoying the bike tour there. Rio flights have one captain and two co-pilots for the required crew rest break on flights over eight hours.
Mike told me that the captain was a jovial kind of guy who, it turns out, had flown hang gliders in California when he was younger. I couldn’t have asked for a better cockpit crew, and the flight attendants were friendly, if not curious about my layover plans with such a large backpack.
Going through security, I joked with a TSA agent that I just didn’t like the pillows and blankets at the hotel.
In the cockpit, I was relieved to see that the bag fit perfectly in a recess next to the relief co-pilot seat in which I would occupy for takeoff and landing; I could see this wouldn’t impact my co-workers in the least.
Safely at the hotel in Rio, arrangements were made to meet both the captain and Mike in the lobby after a two-hour nap at around noon. We picked up a cab to the paragliding and hang gliding landing zone at the end of São Conrado beach, and I paid the $30 for a one-month pass to fly there.Mike wanted to be at the top of the mountain for the launch and to see how the whole operation worked. He was tempted to go for a tandem flight, but I assured him that the conditions weren’t conducive for anything other than a “sled ride” down with little chance of finding lift.
Reaching the top of the mountain, there were at least six other local pilots who let me go to the front of the line while they waited for the afternoon thermals or at least the sea breeze to pick up enough to soar along a ridge. I was content, especially for my first flight, to take a 10 minute hop to the landing zone.
Just before I launched, Mike pointed out a paraglider that was having a bit of success staying up along a ridge just in front of the manicured grass landing field. But by the time I was ready to go, the pilot had landed.
The steep ramp had actually made the takeoff easier than I expected, and out front I attempted to circle in a small, weak thermal. I gave up after one turn and spent a moment taking in the view while flying to the beach. On the left, was Pedra Dos Dois Irmaos peak, visible from our hotel, and to the right was the massive Pedra da Gavea mountain. The sightseeing didn’t last very long as I knew things would get busy for the landing and I needed to snap just a few pictures lest anyone didn’t believe I managed to fly my own aircraft on a layover. It was mind boggling even for me.
After putting the camera away, I flew to the ridge Mike had pointed out, arriving just above the treetops. I figured I could see what lift was available there, since at any point the “runway” was just below the 200-foot hill if things didn’t work out. The instrument I fly with, called a vario, can quickly sense any climbs or areas of sink. It also shows the altitude as I was paralleling the ridge, which I made note was 70 meters.
My plan was to make one pass and if I haven’t lost too much altitude, I’d consider one more before giving up. On the next pass, I was at the same altitude. So I went for another, each one taking less than a minute. Pretty soon, it was apparent that I was gaining about five meters with each leg. Before I knew it, I was holding steady at two hundred meters. Finally, I had time to pull out the camera and share the view.
Before long, the pilots who had been waiting before launched and joined me. At the busiest, there were three other hang gliders and two paragliders, most of which were flying paying passengers. I was kicking myself that I had discouraged Mike from being one of those passengers. Fortunately, we would make up for it the next day.
Mike hitched a ride down to the LZ (landing zone) and enjoyed a beer with the captain while they watched me having all the fun. My goal soon became one hour, and that came and went. At an hour and twenty minutes, I felt my bladder might give out before the lift does. So I set an hour and a half as the new goal, which I managed to reach without wetting myself.
Mike and the captain understandably grew tired of watching me hover over a rock with a few frigates and a turkey vulture or two, and they weren’t fully recovered from the 10½-hour flight to Rio that morning, so they went back to the hotel. I landed, packed up my glider and chatted with some of the tandem pilots and their passengers before catching a ride to the hotel with one of the regular drivers at the mountain.
That night over dinner, we shared some of the pictures with two of the flight attendants and a Miami-based pilot named Dewey, who was itching to check out the launch the next day. Mike decided that since he wasn’t going to be flying Rio for the foreseeable future, he would take a flight with Max Kälin, a Swiss tandem pilot and instructor who does a fair share of the paragliding in Rio, and who helped me considerably with the ride logistics and advice on the best places to find lift depending on the wind direction.
The next morning, Mike, Dewey and I went to visit Max. We made plans to launch with as little time between us to hopefully join up with each other inflight. As we jumped in the truck to get a ride to the top, one of the passengers said, “Kent!” I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a Dallas based co-pilot and old friend named Glenn. Coincidently, he had been the pilot on my flight down to San Jose, Costa Rica, just a few months prior. Apparently I had done such a good job of convincing him that paragliding was the ultimate way to fly that he had to see it for himself during one of his layovers in Rio.
He too would be flying tandem, with the mindset that he may want to take lessons.
Glenn getting ready for his tandem while Kent shows Mike how the lines are arranged.
Once again, the weather didn’t look promising. The windsock was completely dead at the ramp and almost everyone was logging ten minute flights. It was no different for Glenn, and then me and finally Mike. While I managed to fly under Mike and Max, I was still about 200 feet below them for the entire flight since I launched first. Max gave Mike the controls and let him make a few turns before they set up for the landing.
Max gives Mike a lesson in flying a paraglider in Brazil.
Just 20 seconds after I touched down, Max and Mike settled in for a perfect touchdown, and I could see his smile as I gathered up my glider a few hundred feet away.
Sometimes we hear horror stories about the places we fly and the dangers, such as crime or even being run over by a bus. Every major city in the world has its issues and if we live our layovers in fear, rarely leaving our rooms, what is the point in having a job that offers the chance to see so many places?
More than just seeing these locations, it’s the chance to visit with the locals there that makes travel such a gift. Paragliding is the perfect reason to travel as you’re assured of meeting like-minded and fun people along the way.
If you want to try tandem paragliding in Rio, look up Max or Flavio (Altitude Parapente) respectively.
I’ve talked at length with both pilots and I’m amazed at the amount of experience they have. I would highly recommend either one of them.
And if you’re itching to learn to fly a paraglider, take a week or two off and fly with my instructor, Benoit Bruneau at Let’s Go Paragliding just north of New York City or Chris Santacroce at Superfly in Salt Lake City. And if you happen to live in Europe, where paragliding is far more common than in the U.S., well you can just about walk to your local paragliding shop and take lessons there.
Who knows, maybe I’ll join you in a thermal somewhere over Rio de Janeiro someday.
[Photo/Video credit: Kent Wien, Max Kalin, Mike Hurley, Dewey Gray]
Related: “Cockpit Chronicles: Fly Rio!“
“Cockpit Chronicles” takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the 757 and 767 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the “Cockpit Chronicles” Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.