17 July 2010

I finally get Girona

I really like Spain

It might be that I grew up in California (I feel at home around the language and tiled roofs) or it might be that it is just plain good, but I like Spain. And I like the language. I finally understand why Girona draws professional cyclists as a place to live. It is the lifestyle off the bike. If I was a 20 or 30 year old cyclist and I was paid to ride, I would much rather live in Girona, Spain than in Aspen, Colorado (and I live in Colorado!), or in Austin, Texas.

When I first arrived in this city I imagined it would have been more picturesque. I drove to the Cuitat center hoping to find my hotel, that I had booked only 5 hours earlier (sitting in a peage reststop), and was thrilled that there where signs leading me straight to the hotel. Getting into the city was easy enough but it didn't give the perfect first impression.  I needed to wait, to let the city unfold and present itself.

I did go out last night at 10:00pm and discovered just around the corner was the Placa Independencia (plaza). It was full of cafes and people and life. I strolled the streets, thrilled to find 12 gelato places within blocks of each other. This morning I sat in the square and enjoyed a nice slow cappuccino and read a novel that I had started. It was simply wonderful.

I saw mountain bikers and road cyclists pass by my table at the cafe where I sat. These are real cyclists. Real bikes and real bike bodies and real team kits. I later saw a Team Jelly Belly guy standing on the street with all his luggage, and some other Live Armstrong band wearing cyclists. Other than that, this is a real city with tourists and locals. I like this place a lot. I am surprised. I believe the draw could indeed be the rolling hills and mountains nearby, with the sea only kilometers away, but more likely the real draw is living here in Girona.

This is a very lively town, with lots of shops, lots of cafes, and lots happening. It is a University town with an interesting old town section and modern apartments. At first I couldn't quite imagine cycling out of this town, but what matters is how you live when you cycle back into town.

Here in Girona, they sleep late, they are active between 9:00am-1:30om, they eat from 1:30-3:30 and rest. They work again from 4-7, and eat at 9 or 10 and come out in masses to visit with friends. It is a perfect timeline for a professional cyclist. I finally feel like I am on vacation. I like it here. This is not the kind of town to arrive into with an itinerary. I enjoyed a nice lengthy lunch with wine (best melon & prosciutto I have ever had), finally not worrying about having to ride or drive. I stroll and walk and wander happily with no intended course in mind. Although the Tour de France looms nearby and I am trying hard to remind myself that I love the Tour, this could be hard to give up - they have gelato on every block!

The Tour de France is currently passing through the area where I was 2 days ago. The fields of sunflowers were spectacular. No wonder Vincent Van Gogh was so overwhelmed with them upon his arrival from Holland. I was a bit creeped out driving through the roads lined with plane trees again. These trees are killers. They are basically speed control in the countryside. They look nice, add charm, are quintessential France, but there are also black cut out human silhouette markers along the roadside marking where fatalities have occurred, it is a bit creepy.

The plane trees of France are actually Sycamore trees. I can't drive through the plane trees without wondering WHO planted all these trees and why is there a need to keep autos cool? Well obviously they were planted well before the cars came. Just as Napoleon was responsible for many of the roads in France, he was also responsible for planting many of the plane trees that line the roads in southern France. The purpose was to keep his troops cool while passing through. The trees grow rapidly and need little water.

I have a friend Megan, who is currently on one of those massive company tours that chase the Tour de France and after reading her stories of standing around in hours in lycra in the mayhem, I am scared to jump back into the thick of things. I am feeling so spoiled. Yet, I love professional cycling, so I suppose I should jump back into it. However, I have been more than happy enjoying this time off in the interim.


The Placa Independencia in Girona, Spain, where I sat this morning with a cappuccino and read a novel (in the shade). This plaza sits maybe 400 people in the evenings:
The old city (Cuitat) section of Girona. **If you can find this place during the day, go back at night, they place tables outside with candles and lights, it is super romantic and relaxed:
The hills outside of Girona, and the area around the Cathedral:

There are nice pedestrian bridges over the river from the plaza to more small shops and cafes, the art museum and cathedral. 
 I am not quite sure how to capture on film the air conditioning in my hotel, but that is worth sharing as well. I am looking forward to another evening of strolling this town at night, drinking wine, eating tapas, and enjoying more gelato!
Tomorrow - back to France, darn. Maybe it was a good thing I wasn't there today, Vinokurov won. I am not a Vino fan. I am a Andy Schleck fan.

A New York Times article about why pro cyclists live in Girona, Spain: Finding Nirvana on Two Wheels.  Another travelogue by Pezcycling - Travel: My Girona Holiday