Hi guys, Claire speaking! I am the SmartHalo UX Test Designer, one of the lucky people who gets to test SmartHalo out on the streets! Recently, I went to visit my parents in Europe and I brought a prototype of the SmartHalo to test abroad. I discovered that it made a great travel companion so I wanted to share an overview of my bike rides and some travel tips for 3 of the best cities in Europe.
SmartHalo goes to Europe!
The first city where I tested the SmartHalo to was Leuven, Belgium, where the Stella Artois beer is brewed. I was volunteering for a BEST Europe sustainability course at the university KU Leuven. SmartHalo took me onto new streets and to parts of the city I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to explore. I biked through the beautiful KU Leuven campus, along the Sint-Donatuspark park and into the main square. I also went along the river and stopped at the Dijleterrassen, where the fire department pulls out an average of 500 stolen bikes every year! Maybe we should start looking for our stolen bikes in the St. Lawrence… Highlights of my time in Leuven were tasting Belgian waffles, eating fries with mayo and exploring Oude Markt, the longest street of pubs in Europe. Leuven has great bike paths and the students in this city are a blast to be around!
Enjoying summertime in Plzeň
Next, I tried out SmartHalo in Plzeň, Czech Republic, where my parents live and where the famous Pilsner Urquell beer is brewed. Europe actually has a lot of interesting beers! My friend Kari (check her blog Travelling Mug) came to visit and we rode my parents’ vintage foldable bikes around the city. SmartHalo held up well on the cobblestone streets and we went for a great bike ride along the river and into the main square. Plzeň has two free outdoor rock climbing walls and lots of outdoor rollerblading tracks and beach volleyball courts, all biking distance from the main square. In addition to having delicious beer, Plzeň also has tons of ice cream stands, cafes, restaurants and parks, making it a relaxing, refreshing and inexpensive side trip from Prague.
Bringing my travel companion to Prague
My mother and I took our bikes on the train from Plzeň to Prague on a mission to find bike touring bags. From the train station, we had SmartHalo navigate us to CityBikes, in a part of Prague that neither my mother nor I had been to before. We made it to the bike shop without any confusion or incorrect turns, and with extra time to look around at the buildings and people. From there we navigated to Domácí těstoviny, one of my favourite places to eat in Prague. On our way there we passed by the Zizkov Television Tower, a famous (and in my opinion, weird) transmitter tower with sculptures of babies crawling up on it. My mother even put the SmartHalo on her bike.
Some travel tips
It’s really easy to bring your own bike around Europe by train, most trains have a car with bicycle racks that can accommodate for about 12 bikes. It usually cost between 10 to 30€ to bring your bike but the spots can fill up fast, so you need to book your ticket a few days in advance. If train spots are full you can usually take your bike on a bus too.
I also picked up a Use-it map at hostels or tourist offices for each of these three cities. The maps are made by locals and designed as a hybrid between a city guide and a map. They are free, targeted for young travelers, and help you get off the beaten path to discover what makes each city special.
In order to use most of your travel companion’s features, you will need data on your smartphone. I bought a sim card in Europe (there are lots of companies, I used O2 and Vodaphone), it was cheap and allowed me to use my phone both in Belgium and Czech Republic.
Being able to use SmartHalo not only made my trips more exciting and interesting, it also gave me the freedom to look around and see the cities. Since I didn’t have to concentrate at looking for street names, it gave me the opportunity to see new things and to visit new areas and neighborhoods. SmartHalo also took the stress out of planning and navigating, adding to the fun of adventure and exploration. Right after my friends and family, SmartHalo was my ultimate travel companion!