I arrived in Girona on February 1, and got the keys to my new apartment. I’d signed the lease sight-unseen, but I wasn’t worried, because I did my homework and made sure it had everything I needed:
– Washer (they don’t do dryers here)
-Elevator (carrying a bike up stairs gets old)
-Two bedrooms (my mom said she’d want to visit — more on that and our trip to the world’s best restaurant later)
-Location in Old Town Girona, with all the cobblestones and narrow streets where they film “Game of Thrones.” I’d lived in the outskirts of Girona in 2014, so I knew that you’re out of the bubble if you’re not within the 800 meters of “Old Town,” where it seems like one-third of the WorldTour has settled.
The place is small but nice, with one original stonewall built in 1200 AD, and a view of the cathedral. I put my two shirts on hangers in the closet, crammed the drawers with new Castelli gear, filled the spare bedroom with Cannondales, and plopped down on the sofa to admire my work.
Nice job, Phil. You thought everything out, and you’re going to be very comforta —
I jumped. What the hell was that?
Oh. That’s the cathedral. How often is it going to —
I looked out the window. Yep. That 15-foot bell is about 50 feet from my single-pane window and un-insulated 800-year-old stone wall.
I guess it’s three o’clock.
It rings on the hour of course, but also on the half-hour, and softly on the 15 and 45. Then sometimes it just goes for 20 minutes straight like the city is under attack, or they’re testing the emergency bell system. Maybe the hunchback has to practice.
My friends said that after awhile, you don’t even hear the bells anymore. “That’s when you know you’ve gone insane!” I argued.
Over a couple weeks, I got used to the ringing in my brain. I’m not buying a grandfather clock for the house back home yet, but I almost like it. When it rings 10 times in the evening, that means go to sleep. I’ll sleep through the night until seven bells wake me up, but that’s my snooze bell. Eight bells means it’s time to get up and scramble some huevos, and dump the oatmeal into a pot of boiling agua, and 11 means I’m already late to meet Mike Woods and Alex Howes at the bridge for a ride (it’s all downhill, and they’re 10 minutes late anyway).
I’ve done a few races so far: hard ones that you’ve never heard of, with power numbers on the Garmin I don’t see too often. It’s funny, because the NRC calendar hasn’t even started yet back home, but I’ve been riding the front, chasing breakaways, and surviving wet cobblestones for months. So far, though, the real adventures have been outside the race, adjusting to bells and the Euro-pro life in Girona.
In New York, locals brag about their knowledge of the subway system. (“You take the A to the G, walk across the street to the L, and that goes all the way to Queens”) (Don’t try that, and don’t email me. I’ve only been to New York a few times and I just picked letters at random, but that’s what you weirdoes sound like.)
In Los Angeles, we do the same thing with cars. “You take the 405 to the 101 and get off at Cahuenga to go into Hollywood. Never take Highland! Highland is for tourists.” (That wasn’t random. I live right by there. You’ve got to be crazy to get off at Highland.)
The thing in Girona is being an insider. If you have friends in town who don’t race bikes, that’s a real feather in your POC. Otherwise, there’s no big supermarket in Old Town, so you brag about knowing the right shops for everything.
“You got tuna at the Consum Market? Are you crazy? It’s fresher at the Spar. Now if you want salmon, don’t go anywhere but the Paraguayan fish market. Of course it’s only open on the second Tuesday of the month between 9 a.m. and 9:15.”
The real pros in Girona have a different store for every item on their shopping list. It takes some time to figure it out, and it’s hard to get everything you need at first, so you make compromises. I use Tabasco instead of Sriracha on my eggs, for example, but when Toms Skujins found the real Rooster Sauce at one of the supermarkets, he bought a bottle for everybody, because teammates work together.
My Cannondales got kicked out of the guest room for a couple weeks, but it was worth it to have my mom visit. My race schedule was open, so she’d planned to spend the week exploring Girona while I trained during the day, but right when she landed, Mavic asked me and Kristoffer Skjerping to fly to Nice to test out some new wheels. I told them I didn’t want to leave mom at home and we had a rental car already, so Kristoffer found himself on a road trip to France with the Gaimons. He was a good sport about it, and Mavic treated us to a lovely weekend, with a classy hotel, crepes on the Mediterranean, and some sweet carbon wheels, which helped Kristoffer and me win the Paris-Nice Gran Fondo.
The food scene in Girona is well-known, so on her last day, I took mom to Can Roca, rated the #1 restaurant in the world. Literally, it’s the best place to eat on the planet, so reservations are booked a year in advance, but I was lucky and got in for lunch on someone’s cancellation. I’m an “oatmeal and scrambled eggs” kind of guy, and I don’t think I’d even been to a Michelin-rated restaurant (I’d never cheat on Mavic with another tire, after how they treated me in Nice), so it was a lot like giving the keys to James Bond’s car to a 15-year-old getting his learner’s permit, but just as I might buy a plane ticket to go somewhere cool on vacation, this was an experience worth sharing with mom, and now you, the reader, if you scroll through the photos above. Thankfully, I’m not on $10 a day anymore, but I probably won’t ever eat like this again.
I was ready to go train when mom left, with Critérium International coming up.
“I guess it’s time for me to go to the airport.” She said.
“Oh, already?” I asked.
“The bells just rang eight, right?”
“Bells? What bells?”