"It's all enormous. It's all incredible. In the end we managed to win finals. We won this one after suffering a lot and now it's time to celebrate."

--Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso.
This fits. The only thing that I'd add is that suffering on a bike is cause for celebration.

The Plan

Hola mes amis. That's right, Spanish and French in the same sentence.

Once again this summer Selena and I are off on another adventure. This time we've got three weeks in France and Spain planned. Should be great!

The plan goes like this:
>fly into Barcelona on Saturday, July 18
>rent a car and travel to the Hautes-Pyrénées in France on July 19 where we will be camping by the roadside for 3 nights
>catch Stage 16 (July 20) of the Tour de France on the famous Col d'Aubisque
>enjoy the Tour's Rest day by cycling my guts out around the Haute-Pyrenees (July 21) and challenging some of the most famous cols (climbs) of the Tour de France
>catch Stage 17 (July 22) of the Tour on the famous Col du Tourmalet, which will be the stage finish
>Enjoy July 23 somewhere in France hopefully cycling around copious grapes and doing significant sampling ;)
>Spend a week (July 24-31) living in an apartment in Girona, Spain (Cataluña Province), the European home-base of a majority of the North American contingent of the pro peloton (that's pro bike riders for you non-roadies :)
>PS Our great friends Rod and Deanna Rawding will be joining us for the week in Girona. So what will the week look like, you ask? Let's just say that Rod and I will spend as much time riding the training routes of the pros as we can get away with; Selena and Deanna will run often and enjoy the beaches of the Costa Brava; and altogether we will enjoy the cafes and tapas bars daily
>On July 31 we will say adios to our pals and to Girona and once again rent a car and spend our last five days touring the Costa Brava
>fly home Thursday, August 5

As per usual, I'd like to share as much of the experience with all of you as possible via this little blog, so as with the past two summers, please check in on us as much as possible and do drop us a comment to let us know that you were by.

You never know what once-in-a-lifetime experiences the road may provide as I found out last year. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 2, 2010


We're well into the third and final phase of our summer adventure. Having been to France and the Tour and ridden/beached in Girona, we've landed once again well on our feet in a place called Villafranca del Penedes...the French village. But I'm a little bit ahead of myself. On Saturday, we got a second car (PS to get this car, I got up, power walked to the bus station, caught the 9:30 bus to Costa Brava Airport, got in the short line-up at the Hertz desk, realized that I had left my driver's licence and passport back at the apartment...caught a cab back to Girona at 30 Euros, super-power walked back to the bus station, caught the 11:00 bus to airport, got in the L-O-N-G line-up at the Hertz desk, and rented a car :(

Ok where was I? Right, we rented the car and drove first north out of Girona to Figueres home to the Dali Theatre Museum. This is a museum that Salvador Dali (the surrealist) designed and created himself in his home town to specifically showcase his work. Having been (twice) to the world's second largest collection of his work in St. Pete's, Florida, this was on our list (or maybe my list). Incredible, mind-blowing, insert your own superlative here! I guess to keep it short, here's the bullet list of what most amazed me:
  • Dali was a multi-media artist--not just a painter, he did sculpture, jewelry, holograms, stereoscopes, movies, writing...it goes on.
  • The volume of work. This guy must have been at it ALL the time to have produced so vast a collection...what was his day like? Did he ever sleep? or not produce art?...like ever!? Think about sourcing the material...did he have a staff to handle these types of issues or was it all on his own? His mind must have been able to be creating in the moment and dreaming up the next 4 pieces to come as he was creating.
  • For something specific: ok, he did these paintings on a normal, flat, two-dimensional canvas. He would lay these paintings flat and put a wine bottle that's painted with a mirror-like reflective treatment in front of the painting...the idea is to look at the image of the image of the painting that's reflected in the bottle...IMAGINE PAINTING ON FLAT CANVAS AND PUTTING IT DOWN SO THAT IT WOULD BE PROPERLY REFLECTED IN A ROUND BOTTLE...how do you even come up with the idea?
  • I said I would keep this short, right? Lastly, we got to see Dali's most famous painting, The Persistence of Memory...click here to see it.

The couch (part of a larger, multi-piece sculpture)

A sculpture descending from the ceiling - the long tail is made of spoons (where would he have gotten all the spoons?)

The persistence of memory

Crazy stuff!

Dream come true...or too much wine?

Put lightly, the rest of the day finished the way it started out. After the museum, we drove south to Villafranca and were sort of painted into the corner of staying at a "Hotel Basic" in an industrial park on the fringe of town. PS for dinner...MacDonald's...this is not exactly the dream evening in Spain, but it was a necessary means to a perfect end. I should say though that we had the incredible blind luck (some call it mojo) to show up in Villafranca during a Castell competition. Castells are human towers or pyramids. I caught one on video, but it's been a pain to get uploaded - sorry. Fromone of the castells, two of the three kids that went to the top fell (like a ton of bricks) from the top to the heads/shoulders of the base group...you want to have seen my reaction...visceral. Oh man, I couldn't believe what I had just saw.

That 'end' (as in the means to an) was the County of Alt Penedes itself (Villafranca being the major town). There is only one way to sum up this area of Spain...'wine country' for on the outskirts of Villafranca lie the vineyards of the famous Torres Family Winery among others. Again, I'm ahead of myself.

We strolled into a small (really small) town called Pacs del Penedes on Sunday morning looking for a place to call home base for a few days. We didn't find it, at least we didn't find it there. What we did find was a lady named Maria who made several calls around town on her mobile (cell phone) in hopes of finding us a place to stay. She also informed us that (mojoistically) we happened into this down on the first day of "Festa Major" and that in 'una houra' the square would be filled with costumed revelers, and the drac (a dragon sculpture from which they set off the loudest fireworks in the world). It was hard to believe that this all was going to happen in the very sleepy very quiet little square, but really, everyone was at Sunday masse, and sure enough, they poured out of the church and the fun, dance, music, and fireworks started as scheduled. Within 10 minutes of meeting Maria and her husband, we were on our second glass of Champagne.

Our friends in the square in Pacs del Penedes

Kids dancing with cool costumes and even cooler masks

I beat one of the up and took the mask :)

After enjoying the early afternoon in Pacs, we eventually scored BIG TIME with our B&B accommodation within walking distance to the Torres winery. It's called Cal Santi, and I can't even begin to tell you how perfect it is. Once settled, I built the bikes back up and we went on a short spin about the vineyards. The day was capped with a bottle of wine on the terrace.

A ride around the vineyards

Great end to a great day

This morning it was up, breakfast of coffee, croissants, cheese, ham, and the cool Spanish tradition of rubbing a small tomato on a piece of toast and drizzling a little olive oil on top...killer! Once fueled up, we set off for a tour of the Torres winery. We first became interested in the Torres family when we attended a tasting seminar put on by a representative of the Torres family at the wine festival in Moncton. The seminar was inspiring, and well, here we are. We were toured through the entire process: first a video of the family history, then a tunnel where they attempt to give you a sense of the aromas (sense of the scents?) throughout the four seasons of wine making. Next we boarded a train and were paraded through the winery and estate were we came face to face with each set in the process, from harvest, to fermentation, oak aging in the cellars, bottling and corking. It finished with an eight-wine tasting which included Mas La Plana. We actually have been saving a bottle of Mas La Plana at home that we got at the seminar in Moncton. It was great to sneak a taste without having to cork our bottle and also to walk the vineyard that produced the grapes for that bottle of wine.

What can I say, I just follow the signs around here :)

Mas La Plana

Wine lovers Disney

The Torres family home among the vineyard

The Cabernet Sauvignon of Mas La Plana

Oak aging in the cellar

Five eighths of our tasting!

After the tour, we were off to the beaches of Villanova...nice sand, warm water, and the ultimate beach treat, French fries and beer.

A happy girl at the beach

Seleno at the beach

Post-beach recovery nutrition

Sunset on the terrace (at Cal Santi B&B)

Seleno on the terrace

That brings me to right now...about to put my only collared shirt on and head down stairs to the family meal here at the B & B...three courses and wine included for 20 Euros per person. Can't wait. Thanks for reading, sorry I can't seem to keep it short - so much to share.

PS Hopefully tomorrow will be a big day on the bikes, then it's off to the beach on Wednesday and home on Thursday...it'll be good to get home for a rest!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Life in Girona

Hi again, it's been a few days now, so I'd say there's been enough adventure and it's time to share. I'm usually one for chronological order, but I think I'll go with themes this time--Rides, Beaches, Food and Wine and a little surprise for last (no peeking ahead!).


Since that last post, Rod and I have managed to ride three out of the three days--proper thing, ya. Undoubtedly, the most epic in terms of length and heat battling was Tuesday's ride. We set out on another ride recommended by Michael Barry in Canadian Cycling Magazine that was described as being 4 hours and 'rolling'. It was all of that. It turned out to be a great day--110 km in the saddle and incredibly hot. I drank seven bottles and I'm sure that wasn't enough. This ride offered an optional out and back climb called Rocacorba, but we decided that we should leave it for another day (foreshadowing) given the heat and duration. Awesome day though as we headed west and north out of Girona climbing up through the small towns of St. Gregori, Les Planes d'Hostales, and Olot and descended/climbed (rolled) south and eventually east back into Girona via Santa Pau and Banyoles. A gratifing day on the bike, but tremedously hot. PS Lunch in Olot consisted of a ham and cheeze panini and a chocolate croissant. The croissant requires some description. Do you remember 'squirt gum' when you were a kid? We were sharing one of these decadent numbers so Rod decides to break it in half and it exploded oozing chocolate. Oh, it was good. Did I mention that both outside ends of it were chocolate dipped - crazy.

Our friend Dave getting us off on the right road out of town

Rod burning a descent - full gas!

The RS's flight deck

The next day, the plan was to ride easy for a couple of hours and get back in time to go with the girls to the beach. All pretty much went according to plan except that I flatted (MY FIRST EVER FLAT ON THE ROAD - I actually feel some relief because now I can talk about it without the fear of jinxing myself; seriously five years of riding and zero flats until yesterday). Tube swapped, and we were back under way. The plan was to head to a town called Le Pera, former home of Salvador Dali, the famous surrealist painter. If you don't know who Dali is/was, the best way I can describe him is to say that he's the melting clocks artist...ring any bells? If not click here. Running a little behind time because of the flat, we decided to head across country to Madremanya and over the back side of the Els Angels climb from Monday's ride. It was much harder (and hotter) this way (short distance so steeper). Fun though!

Approaching La Pera among the sunflowers - perfect!

Probably the closest I'll ever get to Salvador Dali

Rod atop Els Angels

Big descent

Last ride was yesterday. We ventured back up to Banyoles to challenge the Rococorba climb. Fourteen kilometers at average of 6.5% doesn't sound too bad, but k's 8 and 9 are at 10.5% (which I think is steeper than anything I climbed in France) and the last 4 k's are at 8.5%. I guess you could say that it starts out fairly easy but gets very intense up top. Dave, the owner of a local bike shop told us that the pros make good use of this climb in training and actually do a time trial on is frequently. We made it to the top and were happy to find clear skies at the top for the camera. The summit actually offered 360 degree views, so we were able to see a distinctive mountain valley that we rode through on Tuesday off in the distance. Pictures taken, the descent was fast and furious. After lunch and coffee in Banyoles, we burned back into Girona (Brad Vein style - aka FULL GAS!) and managed to skirt the ridiculous rain storm that was baring down on the city. Jinx, you say? I flatted again in Banyoles and if that weren't enough the valve stem on the replacement tube failed, so had to change it again - good thing we both carry a spare tube.

Our heroes set out for Rococorba on the cobbles of Girona, and yes, we bought matching Cycling Girona kits for the occasion

One of the sights along the way - a border collie at work

The stats on the climb

Rod's climbin' calves!

We're keeping good company on this climb as evidenced by the writing on the road

Success! Man, climbin' mountains feels good!

This is at the summit - we were told it's a hand gliding launch-way. Can you imagine the nads it would take to jump off this thing?

The beach

If Rod and I have handled all cycling related business ;) over the past couple of day, it's been Selena and Deanna's job to make sure the beaches got invaded. They've had a great time exploring the beaches of the Costa Brava--I think they may even have had a plate of French Fries. Tops are of course optional on the Spanish beaches...actually bottoms are even so in some cases, I guess. The water is blue and warm but refreshing given the heat.

Rod and I joined them on Wednesday after our ride. We drove out to a beach city called Palamos and ended up at Platja de Castell. Last one in's a rotten egg. Pretty much your standard beach day really except for the kayak rentals. Fifteen Euros got us a tandem open kayak each for an hour and we were able too paddle around the point and through a big seacliff archway. Also paddled into a bit of a cave. Good times.

The arch that we paddled through

Rod and Dee paddling under ground


Bad time for an earthquake

Food and Wine

This post is getting long, so I think I'll let the pictures do most of the talking here. Suffice it to say that we've lived pretty high on the hog around here over the last couple of days. First was Draps (see previous post), then was a France place for stellar crepes (mine was stuffed with sausage, cheeze and a fried egg), and lastly a Basque tapas bar called Zanpanzar. At Zanpanzar, you pick up your tapas at the bar, each with a toothpick shoved into it; you collect these toothpicks throughout the evening, then your bill is based on the number that you've collected - no we didn't 'mistakenly' let any toothpicks fall through the street grate :)

Pre-game cerveca at the apartment

Inside (yes, inside) the crepes place (you can eat inside the old bus; we, of course, opted to eat in the alley way outside the cafe)

We seemed to develop a thing for stacking dishes???

The end to a perfect evening. Please note the three people behind the counter of this little gelato place are the three people that we got to know best having 'spoken' to the EVERY night. Like I always say, a day in Europe without a dish of gelato is like any old day in North America

One final, major piece of news

I think I mentioned a post or two ago that our time in Girona was to be a sort of Tour de Michael...Michael Barry being one of mine and Rod's favorite pro riders. He's a Canadian from Toronto and rides for the British Team Sky. Michael is a also a writer, so we've spent a lot of time over the past few years reading about life in the pro peloton and specifically about the life of a pro cyclist living in Girona. Indeed this is what inspired us to come here in the first place. This city really is a road (and mountain) cycling mecca actually. It's very common to see (obviously) pro riders riding about town on their way to or from a training ride. It's fun; their training groups/friendships don't at all observe the boundaries of 'team'; they seem to be a big family really living and training together here in Girona. We've been lucky enough to spot a couple of Saxo Bank riders, a few Garmins, a lone BMC'er, but as you can imagine, our eyes have been peeled for our patron saint of Girona, Mr. Barry. (Rod, brace yourself for what you're about to read...I'm sorry buddy, but it happened this afternoon just outside the store where we bought the Bikecat kits.)

In keeping with the good mojo that helped me meet and ride with Lance Armstrong last year in Dublin, Ireland, I was lucky enough today to meet Michael Barry and his wife Dede as they were coming back into town from a ride. Michael just completed his first Tour de France (he's race several grand tours, World Championships, and Olympics, but 2010 was his first Tour) so I imagine he was on a little recovery spin about the area shaking out the legs. As they rode by, about 30 or so feet away from where I was walking, I recognized him and shouted, "Hey Michael!" They could easily tell that I was a fan, and true to my impression of the man that's come from reading his blog and articles, they were gracious enough to stop and chat for about 15 minutes . It was so great to be able to tell him face-to-face that we had been on what I called the "Tour de Michael" as we've enjoyed three of his four eating recommendations and three of the four riding routes that he described in the article in Canadian Cycling. They were very curious about our trip and I was able to tell them that we'd been in the Pyrenees for Stages 16 and 17 and that Rod and I had just yesterday climbed the famous Rococorba. He said his legs were a bit sore from the tour, but nothing too major or unexpected. We chatted about the local pros and their commaderie, about Selena's conquering the Col du Soulor, ah, it went on... I love this sport! In what other sport can you meet one of your heros in this way? Professional cyclist and the sport itself are so accessible. Check Ticketmaster's website for the price of Tour de France tickets--you won't find any, not because it's sold out 8 years in advance, because it's free, stupid! I'll stop now and fill you all in on the details when I see you. I did give Michael the link to this little blog, so maybe he'll throw us a comment--cyclists are like that...if he is reading this, thanks again, man - it was a real thrill meeting you two.

Our inspiration, Mr. Michael Barry! (PS I was by myself and happened to be carrying the camera; good thing as I'm sure no one would have believed this one.)

And just like that...they were gone

Check out Michael's blog here.

We travel on, our time in Girona all but done, our friends departed this morning; we plan to head south of Barcelona to check out the beaches and hopefully do a little cyclo-wine-touring. Thanks for reading (this novel) and please drop us a comment. Home in 6 days.

PS Believe it or not, I do have much more to say about Girona and would like to put more pics of the city up, so if I run into a good wifi connection in the next couple of days I'll try my best to do so.

Monday, July 26, 2010

First Days in Girona

Hey there blogger people! Sorry for the recent hiatus, but it's been interesting around here. Where to begin?

After camping one more night (Thursday) at the base of the Tourmalet, Selena and I pointed the car back up the famous Col--the road being re-opened to traffic. The plan was to reach Spain via an alternate route; on the way up to France, we went up the east coast then shot west to Tarbes, Lourdes, etc. On the way back we climbed the Tourmalet, and the Col d'Aspin then caught a tunnel (10 minutes drive through a mountain) to Spain. The tunnel was amazing. The rain during the tour on the North side of the Pyrenees has been well documented. When we emerged from the tunnel in Spain, on the south side of the Pyrenees, it was like someone flicked a switch--blue skies, no clouds, and 25 degrees - 30 by the time we got back down to the base of the mountains. Surreal. That night we camped on the coast north of Barcelona in a virtual desert--stark contrast to the conditions in Bareges.

Saturday was spent scoping out the beach towns for Selena and Deanna, getting moved back into the apartment in Girona, doing laundry, and dumping the rented car back at the airport. Then...

At 6:30 two people showed up (Rod and Deanna) with two carry-ons...pass the beer nuts. No suitcases, no bike :((((( I won't spend too much time on the details here, but suffice it to say that it was NOT a happy time. Frequent phone calls to the airport, iffy service in English, unreliable payphones in the street, a stake-out vigil on the sidewalk lasting hours and spanning two days. Then our incredibly generous apartment neighbors graciously loaned us one of their cell phones so that we could give the airport an actual contact number (our apt doesn't have a phone) and eventually, at 2:30 today, some 48 hours after the arrival of the Rawdings, the successful delivery of the baggage/bike occurred.

The girls were already off to the beach, and Rod and I had his bike out of the box and built back up in no time. We set off on the cobbled streets of Girona for our first ride :))))))

Looking to spin the shit out of our legs (that hadn't been moving for a couple of days), we took off on Michael Barry's 1.5-2 hour Easy Ride. By the way, a lot (all or most) of our riding here over the next few days will be based on Michael Barry's article from the current issue of Canadian Cycling which you can find here . Michael is a pro rider, originally from Toronto, who rides with Team Sky who recently finished his first Tour de France and makes Girona his permanent home. This ride saw us over the Els Angels climb which the likes of Armstrong, Barry, Christian Vandevelde, Levi Leipheimer, and George Hincapie use for interval workouts. It was a great climb, ridiculously hot, but we were smiling all the way. The ride then looped back to Girona via a small ancient town called Madremanya. The only way to describe this small place would be to tell you that as we were riding about it's archways, tunnels, and small alleyways, I suggested to Rod that we could play a game of hide-n-seek on our bikes...very twisty, circuitous little passages built in the 14th and 15th century.

In the end we made it back to Girona coming in on the road that we parked the car on. As we were criding in on this road, we met the girls who were just coming home from their day at the beach. At this point, they didn't realize that the luggage had arrived, so we were able to share the news by riding by and saying hello from our bikes. Very fun!

The day was capped with a pitcher of Sangria, and a meal at Draps, a restaurant that specializes in meals to share - we ordered three meals and shared it all around with a great bottle of wine. Each meal is designed for 2 - you do the math. The requisite 2 boules of gelato finished off a great first day (with bikes) in Girona.

Thanks for reading and please comment freely :)


Some other dude riding up the upper slopes of the Tourmalet while we drove.

This pic is still worth something

Check out the dusty campsite

View of the Onya River from our apartment in Girona

Fun at the beach

Ah, diddo!

Rod at the top of El Angels

Shane at the top of El Angels - some of my buddies might notice a new purchase in this pic - couldn't help myself

Riding into Madremanya

Pretty much says it all really

This is the street we live on, Carrer Ballesteries - the lighting at night is sureal

Fred and Barney

Betty and Wilma

Just so we're clear, I can eat 21 power gels, a deep fried turkey and my body weight in gelato without throwing up