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Cycling for fun and charities

Cyclists can ride with a purpose in England by joining an event organized by Bike Events, the U.K.’s largest organizer of fund-raising and recreational cycle rides.

The group offers a variety of trips, from one day to several days and locally or abroad. They’re designed for families or sports riders. Some of the rides are charity runs.

For example, on July 26, you can take your bike to London for the start of the 57-mile London to Cambridge charity ride for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Riders must be at least age 14 and those under 16 must wear a cycling helmet and be accompanied by an adult older than 18. Entry to the event is 18 pounds (about $27).

On Aug. 15-23, a group is traveling along the Seine from Caen to Paris, camping along the way. The cost is 435 pounds and includes round-trip ferry crossings (with overnight cabin), campsite costs, six breakfasts, five dinners, courier, cycle mechanic, luggage transfers, signed route and maps and bus transfer to port. The trip is called an "open event," with riders urged to find their own sponsors and charity.

On Sept. 9-16, a group travels from Cork to Kerry, Ireland, camping along the way. It costs 335 pounds (about $500) and includes campsite costs, showers, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, luggage transportation, signed routes and maps, cycle mechanic, pick-up vehicles, couriers and bus transport to the Cork Airport or ferry port.

A weekend version of the trip runs Sept. 9-12 and costs 195 pounds (about $295).

The full program, along with assistance on setting up a network of sponsors, is available at www.bike-events.com.

Rome history

Take a break from those serious tourist books in Rome and learn the history of the city with a Monty Python twist at an English-language performance put on by the Miracle Players.

The shows take place Fridays through Aug. 6 at 7:30 p.m. in front of the Mamertine Prison at the Roman Forum. Admission is free.

This year’s piece is titled "The History of Rome — Part I," which the group’s website says follows "the fortunes (and misfortunes) of the Eternal City." The production takes the best parts of past performances from 2000 on and rolls them into a 40-minute production. Actors’ props include cheap wigs and plastic chickens.

Find more details on the group and this summer’s production at www.miracleplayers.org.

Hip-hop festival

Tickets are now on sale for Hip Hop Kemp, one of Europe’s biggest international hip-hop events, scheduled for Aug. 19-21 at the city of Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic. Among the headliners of the 50 confirmed acts are several American performers, including Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek of Reflection Eternal, Chali 2na, formerly of Jurassic 5, and the group Breakestra.

The performances will be held in the Festival Park. Camping on the grounds is available for Thursday through Monday for 100 Czech koruna (about $5) per tent.

Advance tickets are now on sale. July prices are 1,200 and 2,200 Czech Koruny (about $60 to $110). Prices go up in August and at the site of the concert.

For further details, go to www.hiphopkemp.cz.

Ghent monastery nights

The Monasterium Poortackere in Ghent, Belgium, has several packages for those who would like to stay in a monastic environment.

The building dates to 1278, when it was built for the Beguines, a lay sisterhood founded in the Netherlands in the 13th century. The name comes from its location near a city gate (poort in Dutch) and a field (akker).

Before it was converted to a hotel, the building served as a cloister, orphanage, house for young women and student housing.

One of the options, the “Beer Package,” costs 87.50 euros per person, double occupancy. It includes one night’s accommodation with breakfast, welcome basket with East Flemish regional products from the historic Groot Vleeshuis (a market), a visit to the Gruut Brewery, tastings, lunch and tourist information package.

The “Discover Ghent” package costs 124 euros per person, double occupancy. It includes two nights’ accommodation with breakfasts, a lunch stop in the Groot Vleeshuis, an evening featuring a “search for St. Autbertus” — a bishop who helped develop monastic communities in Belgium — that includes stops for drinks and a tourist information package.

For reservations and details, go to www.monasterium.be

Cycling Flanders

If you’re thinking of cycling through Flanders in northern Belgium, be sure to consult www.fietsroute.org before you go.

The site gives details about bike trips in Flanders, with suggested rides organized by city and route, and includes itineraries and descriptions.

The routes are organized by numbered “nodes,” or points where the cycling paths intersect. You can use them to set up your own cycling trip, calculating the exact mileage of each length between nodes. Signposts along the way show both the node numbers and directional arrows. Also included on the site are proposed cycling routes, GPS routes, a list of bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Flanders, and a store for maps and guides.

Run the Matterhorn

Put your running skills to the test this summer by joining the International Matterhorn Run in Zermatt, Switzerland, on Aug. 22. The 8-mile route that starts in Zermatt and goes up to the Schwarzsee (about 8,471 feet above sea level) boasts some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world.

The entry fee is 10 Swiss francs (about $11). See www.matterhornlauf.ch

Robin Hood on the Web

Robin Hood, the famous Nottingham outlaw who robbed the rich to give to the poor, is in the forefront this year, thanks to Ridley Scott’s film "Robin Hood."

If you’d like to know anything and everything about the legend, a good start is at www.robinhood.info. It’s organized by the World Wide Robin Hood Society, based in Sherwood, Nottingham, England.

The site is divided into various "zones." They contain, for example, information about Robin Hood, the legend; the Society; and the city of Nottingham. The site also has an online store and chat forums.

Join the Society and get various benefits for as little as 3.95 pounds (about $6) with the Little John package. You receive an official scroll, membership card and arrow pen.

The site also lists special events centered on Robin Hood, including the Robin Hood Festival Aug. 2 to 8 and a special Robin Hood exhibition at Nottingham Castle and in Sherwood Forest. The latter features character costumes, props and weaponry from the film.

Nottingham city offers several breaks tied to Robin Hood. The Robin Hood Experience, for example, starts at 59.75 pounds per person (about $88), double occupancy. It includes one hotel night, an hour of archery in Sherwood Forest, a self-guided audio tour of key locations on the Robin Hood trail and a discount card for Nottingham.

See China with PayPal

If you’re a member of PayPal and China has been on your list of places to visit, you may be interested in a deal with China Odyssey Tours, one of the largest China travel agencies in the country.

If you pay using your PayPal account and you have a group of two to five people, you each receive a 20-percent discount on their "9 Days China Golden Triangle Tour with Expo 2010." Instead of paying 998 euros, you pay only 798 euros.

Highlights of the trip include visits in Beijing to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Longing Pearl Store, Temple of Heaven, Great Wall, Ding Tomb of Ming Imperial Tombs, Sacred Road and the Summer Palace.

In Xian, you visit the Terracotta Warriors, Ancient City Walls, Art Ceramic factory, Bell Tower and Big Wild Good Pagoda. In Shanghai, you visit the city museum, the Bund, Nanjing Road, Yuyuan Garden, Yuyuan Market, Jiangnan Silk Workshop and Expo 2010.

The price includes in-country flights between cities, admission to the Expo, driver and English-speaking guide for your group, eight nights at four-star hotels, breakfasts, round-trip transfers, entrance fees, tourist insurance and taxes and service charges.

The company also offers other China tours, focusing on ancient China, cycling, hiking and climbing, river cruises, ethnic culture and folk arts, and land and nature.

Get details at www.chinaodysseytours.com/paypal.html.

Stay at Cambridge

With students gone for the summer, the colleges at Cambridge University are offering accommodation in their residences on a bed-and-breakfast basis.

The rooms are available in 19 colleges, including Corpus Christi, St Catharine’s, Christ’s, Jesus, Downing, Sidney Sussex and Trinity Hall.

There are a variety of room styles and no single supplement. Prices range from 35.25 pounds (about $52) for a standard single to 110 pounds (about $162) for a superior twin ensuite in Buckingham House.

For online reservations, go to www.stayinacambridgecollege.com.

Musical mini-breaks

Interested in taking a musical break in northwest Germany? A new cultural project has combined concerts with mini-breaks throughout the German state of Lower Saxony. They range from operas in Soltau to performances on Australian didgeridoos in Hanover.

One example of the programs is the "Latin Nights in an Illuminated Castle Courtyard" in Oldenburg. The price starts at 139 euros per person, double occupancy, and includes three nights’ lodging, breakfasts, a salsa night on Friday, a tango night on Saturday and a jazz or new music concert on Sunday.

For the full program, go to www.partitouren-niedersachsen.de (in German).

Belgium’s royal palace

See how the other half lives and visit the royal palaces of the Belgian monarchy in Brussels, which are open to the public July through September.

The palace holds the working office of the king and queen as well as administrative offices for the national government. Among the highlights are the marble Grand Staircase designed by Alphonse Balat for King Leopold II, the Goya Room with tapestries based on drawings by the Spaniard Francisco de Goya, the Throne Room with bas-reliefs by Auguste Rodin, the Grand Hall with paintings on the ceiling inspired by the Louvre and Versailles, and the Mirror Room, with mirrors and allegorical scenes from Africa.

The palace is open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free.

Find more information under "Palace and Heritage" at www.monarchie.be/en.

Short London bike trips

Starting July 30, you’ll be able to make short trips on bicycles in and around central London, picking up a bike at one location and dropping it off at another.

Under the Barclays Cycle Hire program, the bikes will be available 24 hours a day throughout the year from 400 docking stations for the use of riders who are at least 14 years old and can handle a bike unassisted.

Costs are based on an access fee and usage charge. Twenty-four-hour access costs 1 pound (about $1.50), seven-day access costs 5 pounds and annual access costs 45 pounds. The first 30 minutes usage is free. Up to one hour costs 1 pound, 90 minutes costs 4 pounds and up to two hours costs 6 pounds. Prices rise to the maximum usage fee at 50 pounds.

Find details at www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/12444.aspx.

France’s summer sales

Continuing through Aug. 3, serious shoppers will hit Paris stores for the annual les soldes d’été, or summer sales. This is one of two times during the year that stores are permitted to officially hold sales, some offering discounts up to 80 percent.

For shoppers who want to get an idea of the bargains before reaching Paris, the Paris Tourist Board has organized a shopping guide at www.shoppingbyparis.com. Click on "Shopping Book" to download the Paris Shopping Book 2010 for six shopping itineraries at stores offering styles ranging from classic to fusion.

Castle illumination Whether by war or lightning, the castle in Heidelberg, Germany, has seen its share of damage through the years.In 1689, the troops of French King Louis XIV razed Heidelberg and partially destroyed the castle, returning to finish the job four years later. To commemorate its fiery history, Heidelberg annually holds a series of castle illuminations, the second of which takes place Saturday. The events normally start at 10:15 p.m., but this one might be delayed — perhaps until 10:30 p.m. — to avoid competition with the World Cup consolation game scheduled for the same day. When the event does start, Bengal beacon fires will flood the castle in a red light to simulate the historical fire, followed by fireworks that light up Old Town below. Find more details at www.heidelberg-marketing.de.The final illumination in the series takes place Sept. 4, and if you would like to see it from the Neckar River and stay overnight in the city, the Heidelberg tourist office has a package that includes one or two nights’ accommodation, breakfast, fireworks river cruise, a three-course meal in the Old Town, a walking tour and HeidelbergBeWelcomeCard. Double occupancy room prices begin at 110 euros for one night, or 155 euros for two nights.For reservations, go to www.heidelberg-marketing.de/content/index_eng.html. Click on “Package Deals” under “Tourism” and then “Castle Illumination.”

Picasso in ZurichIn 1932, artist Pablo Picasso held his first retrospective in the Kunsthaus Zürich (Zurich Museum of Fine Arts) in Switzerland. The artist chose the works to be displayed, a role usually reserved for the museum director.This year, the Kunsthaus Zürich celebrates its centenary with a revival of that retrospective. From Oct. 15 to Jan. 30, 2011, the exhibition will feature work from the artist’s pink and blue periods to his cubist and neo-classical phase and surrealist works. More than 70 masterpieces on loan from major museums and private collections will be on display in the main exhibition room.The city tourist office is offering a Picasso and Hotel package that includes hotel, breakfast and admission to the exhibition. A double room begins at 221.15 Swiss francs (about $205) for one night and 378.45 Swiss francs for two.For information on the Picasso exhibition, go to www.kunsthaus.ch/en/exhibitions/coming-soon/; for details on the hotel packages, see www.zuerich.com/en/page.cfm/hotel/spezialangebote/picasso/picasso_x.

Retiree specialRetirees can spend 10 days in Bavaria from Sept. 9-19 and attend the Passion Play in Oberammergau with a package offered by Edelweiss Lodge and Resort. The cost is $2,900 for a double room and $2,200 for a single. It includes transportation to and from Munich’s airport, welcome reception, 10 nights’ lodging, breakfasts, European Escapes tours, tickets to the Passion Play and farewell dinner. Find more details at www.edelweisslodgeandresort.com.

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