Back in August at a pintxos bar in Girona called Zanpanzar, myself and a couple of cyclists from Calgary were having dinner after a long day of riding. The four of us sat at a communal table along with a Catalan husband and wife. They overheard us speaking English and politely asked where we were from? They had lived in the States for a year while the woman was teaching Spanish to students in Conniticut. She was also fluent in French which came in handy as the Canadians were as well. Like so many locals here they could not have been more friendly. By the end of dinner I was invited to their home for lunch to which I of course graciously accepted.
Lunch with Anna and Miquel quickly became a weekly routine. Every Monday at 14.00 I would arrive at their home with a bottle of wine and we would share a meal while speaking in English, Spanish, and Catalan. Often the conversation would dive into the origins of certain words and how they were used in different parts of the world. Anna loved to break out a massive dictionary with the history of words and phrases. It was great for me as my Spanish and Catalan improved, Miquel was able to practice his English and Anna, having retired from teaching, got to spend time doing what she loves.
As the holidays approached I was invited to their Christmas day dinner in a town called Besalu which is about 30km north of Girona. It was at the home of Miquel’s brother Lluis. What an incredibly nice gesture. I was truly grateful.
Knowing full well that this was going to be a day of consuming incredible amounts of food it seemed like I should at least squeeze in a workout. Christmas morning was spent on the bike doing repeats up a 2km climb into a neighborhood called Montjuic with breathtaking views of the Girona cathedral and the snow caped Pyrenees way off in the distance.
After that is was home for a quick shower before heading to Besalu which I later came to learn was a town of great importance during the Middle Ages. It is famous for its 12th century bridge over which features a gateway at its midpoint. Miguel’s brother Lluis lived in a very large home that sat adjacent to the church of Sant Pere, consecrated in 1003.
Even though I was 4,000 miles from home, there was a striking resemblance between Besalu and where I had celebrated Christmas in the past.
However, while standing on the balcony of Llouis’s house with Anna and Miquel’s son Quim, I asked him about a mountain way off in the distance. Quim informed me that it was called Mare de Deu del Mont and in fact there was a paved road to the top. Well I’d better add that to the list.
Christmas dinner was fantastic and it reminded me of my first exposure to European family gatherings nearly 20 years ago when my sister was married in Italy. Those great Italian dinners went on for hours with incredible food and wine with seemingly every family member in attendance.
This day had very much the same feel with Anna and Miquel’s 3 sons and their families. We spent the whole day eating and similar to back home, the children’s anticipation of opening gifts was present the entire day. After opening gifts and snapping a few photo’s, a long and much needed family walk through the town of Besalu was a great way to end Christmas day.
The next morning I rolled out of Girona to climb Mare de Deu del Mont. It was a 19km climb of 950m with the final 3km averaging a brutal 9.5% but stunning views at the top. The elevation profile looks like this:
And when former Team Sky rider Micheal Barry descends from the top it looks like this: