Once you get out of Girona, it’s not as complicated. You follow the road you’re on until you get to the next round-a-bout; there will be signs directing you to the next town you’re interested in. But round-a-bouts in the middle of town, that only lead you in the direction of areas and regions, and not street names, are a terrible idea, and I want to speak directly to the urban planner who designed this traffic fiasco that is Girona, because thanks to them, a 3-4 hour ride turned into a 7-hour nightmare, more or less, probably much less, but it seems like a lot more, and this brings me to my next gripe: there just aren’t enough emergency coffee shops with pastries when you need them here in Catalonia. I realize that this might sound tangential. On the other hand, I like to think that given more time to acclimate and adjust to Catalonian ways, I could learn to overlook these trivialities, and take in the actual beauty of the scenery.
On the other other hand, we have successfully completed our first journey via rented bicycle in Catalonia, and we hardly made any wrong turns, once we found our way out of Girona. We took the road southeast, a relatively flat road on the side of the highway, to Sant Feliu de Guixols, a town right on the Mediterranian, and then made an accidental turn to the right, which turned out to be spot on, which led us up and down the Costa Brava, before making another turn up to the Ermita Sant Grau, built in 1452, but it was at this point that I was nearly bonking (dying from hunger), so I didn’t even think to stop to appreciate it, I just kept pedaling this rent-a-bike — I swear I rode on a nearly flat tire, I just swear it — to the top of the peak, before gliding down to the town of Llagostera.
We thought that might be a good place to stop, Llagostera, so we pedaled to the center of town, hoping to find some eatery open — this goes back to my complaint about the lack of coffee shops — and although the narrow cobblestone streets were as picturesque as any town we’ve seen thus far, the local flavor seemed what I can only call depressed, in every sense of the word, from emotional to economical, as there was not a single shop open, and maybe three or four people wandering the streets, with deep tans and leathery skin, in worn clothing. The women’s heads were covered. This didn’t seem to me to be the best place for a gal in lycra to hang out, aside from the fact there was not a single sign on any shop window that said Coca Cola.
So we kept pedaling, back down the highway, past the woman in the white bikini and high heels. I missed her the first time we rode by, but Chuck (I think I gave away my secret) says she had been standing there when we headed out. What a study in contrasts, I marvel now, between the women covered in sheets from head-to-toe in one town, and this beauty on the side of the road only a few miels away who I can only guess was selling, maybe, summer fashion? Just work with me here. I want to pretend I don’t know what she was doing there.
Please notice that I have not once said that we are in Spain. I say this in respect to the Catalonians who are defiantly not Spanish. You can see this in signs on the street that have, for example, directions or instructions in all the major European languages. Spanish was once there, but the locals have gone through the trouble to spray paint these sections out.
Even as we were riding up and down the Costa Brava, there were messages spray painted by cycling fans to root on their heroes in the Vuelta de Espana, slogans such as, “Come on Contador,” and “Go Armstrong!” and then, “No Spain!”
I can’t stop thinking about how, so far, the terrain reminds me much of our Californian coast, or rather how it would be, if drivers weren’t so innanely lame in California. I couldn’t imagine riding down the highway in California. In fact, I did once, near San Luis Obispo, and I thought we might be run off the road by territorial drivers. Here in Spain Catalonia, it’s a different story. Even when we were riding in the middle of the road, because we were sometimes so completely clueless, drivers slowed down for us, to give us room, so we’d feel safe. So riding down the highway, with cars passing us at three times our speed, was at first nerve racking, and then not so much, though I may never get completely used to it. But even when we were lost in Girona, not a single driver honked at us. I never got the sense that we were annoying anybody. Instead, I got the sense that people actually might feel bad if we got hurt.
We’ve been in Girona now two nights so far. What makes this town special, at least to cyclists, beyond its historical properties, is that many professional cyclists, especially American pros, have chosen Girona as their European cycling home, including Tyler Hamilton, Lance Armstrong, and Levi Leipheimr.
As it turns out, according to Llolanda (I’m taking a complete guess at her name and its spelling, but it looks Catalonian to me), our apartment manager, Levi Leipheimer and his wife Odessa Gunn lived in this very apartment building that we are in now. Ivan Basso lived here, too, she said.
It’s not in the old part of town at all, but in a much newer building – I’m guessing it’s only twenty or thirty years old — in a newer part of town, where most of the buildings are shaped like boxes. It’s only a twenty minute walk to the town center, but I cannot lie, I’m getting very tired of walking. After two days of walking in Girona, after two days of walking in Madrid, our five hour excursion on bicycle felt like a rest.
The center of town, in contrast, was built in the 9th century. It is divided in two by a river, the Riu Onyar, but connected by several pedestrian bridges. Looming over the city, in the middle, is the Catedral, a place we have not yet visited, but we’ve walked by several times.
We’ve been lost now on the narrow streets, many times, in fact, which is, unlike getting lost on a bicycle, pleasurable, because I swear to you, on nearly every street corner is a gelataria. I must go now, because we are athletes and as everyone knows, athletes need recovery food.