Forgo crammed tubes and snail-paced buses, and explore Europe's diverse cities via an equally eclectic array of transport. Paul Murphy investigates how to escape trudging amid the city crowds, and instead become part of the scenery with these unusual ways of sightseeing.
London by pedal power
Cycling around London may seem like a crazy idea, but why not let someone else do all the pedal work for you? Ride in (relative) comfort on the back of a pedicab/rickshaw/chariot/bug or whatever other name they dream up next, and zip around London whilst avoiding sweaty tubes, stop-start bus journeys and over-priced taxis – the perfect solution for navigating bustling Covent Garden and winding streets of Soho. For more details visit www.carettarickshaw.com, www.londonrickshaws.co.uk, www.ecochariots.com or www.bugbugs.com (who launched the first pedicab company in London back in 1998).
Imagine the banana-yellow 49cc love-child of Herbie (the Love Bug), children’s TV favourite Brum, and a golf buggy; add a dash of élan, and you have a GoCar (www.gocartours.es): the world’s first computer-guided storytelling car. Following great success in San Diego, San Francisco and Miami (Time Magazine called it “the coolest invention of the year”), they can now be found in Valencia, Barcelona and Lisbon. Each car seats two people (minimum driving age is 21) and reaches 60 kmph (35 mph). All have GPS routes for you to follow; it’s also perfectly OK to go “off-piste”. Prices are a very reasonable €35 (per car) for the first hour, €20 to €25 for subsequent hours, or €99 for the day, including fuel and insurance. Lisbon also has electric GPS-story-telling buggies (www.golisbon.com/tours), which are similar in price, but have the option of four passengers or a chauffeur.
The Segway looks like a sawn-off scooter on oversized wheels. Created in 2001 by maverick American inventor Dean Kamen (said to be the Willy Wonka of the mobility world), this nippy device is perfect for exploring foreign streets whilst avoiding sore feet. Grasping the basics takes around 10 minutes, but, unless seriously uncoordinated, staying upright isn’t too tricky. The controls are simple: lean forward to go forward, back to go back, and twist the steering grip to go right or left. Tours can be found in Barcelona (www.segwaytours.cat), Madrid (www.madsegs.com), Berlin, Budapest, Paris and Vienna (www.citysegwaytours.com), and in Florence and Rome (www.nerone.cc). Segways are not yet licensed for public use in the UK.
Scooting around the Eternal City
When in Rome, do as the Romans do – which generally means looking unfathomabley cool whilst probably riding a Vespa. The only problem is the million other notoriously anarchic Roman road users who think the Highway Code is the next novel by Dan Brown. But this doesn’t mean you can’t ride a Vespa, it’s just that it’s more sensible (and cheaper on your travel insurance) to let a professional local take the evasive action while you ride pillion and concentrate on the sights. Nerone (www.nerone.cc) offer Vespa tours, and extend the idea to four wheels with the classic, small-but perfectly-formed Fiat 500.
Deux Chevaux in Paris
Edgy, slick and chic are three typically Parisian adjectives that you will never hear applied to the humble Citroen 2CV. It’s more Pierre-Yves Gerbeau than Thierry Henry, more Zut Alors! than Ooh La La! and more “b-room-cough-b-room” than “va va voom”. But, ironically for a city where the natives are renowned for their self-conscious style, that’s perhaps why Parisians and visitors love the Deux Chevaux. It is cheap, fun, and an anti-style icon, albeit every bit as French as the Eiffel Tower, Brigitte Bardot, hoopy jumpers and strings of onions. Tour company Quatre Roues Sous Un Parapluie (Four Wheels under an Umbrella) (www.4roues-sous-1parapluie.com) offers tours around central Paris, with flat-cap-wearing chauffeurs providing informative and entertaining local commentary. The soft-top roof allows panoramic views of the sights, and the steep narrow streets of Montmartre, off-limits to bus tours, are easily negotiated. Prices start from €19 per person.