Sunday, November 28, 2010

Time to go?

After a weekend like this, it would be a lie to say that I won't miss this place. Fortunately, it's not quite time to head back stateside just yet, as I have another two weeks left in Barcelona. I think that will be just right.

On Saturday, I set out for a long weekend ride with my friend Nick, heading out into the mountains to explore. Once again, I was shocked at how cold it can get here when you leave the city and get up into the mountains, especially after a long a windy descent. Where did that never-ending Mediterranean summer go? But, after stopping for some cafe con leche and bocadillos, we were both good to go again and cruised on home for just shy of 5 hours of riding. Next time, we'll be tackling the mountain we rode to the base of this weekend, Montserrat.

It's going to be a long climb.

Today, though, reminded me again of another thing I'm going to miss: the ever-wrong weathermen. Though we have those at home too, it seems that they are always wrong in the wrong sense of the word. Here, when they say it is going to rain, it never seems to do so. At home, when they say there is going to be sun, there always seems to be rain. Go figure. But, as the saying goes, don't fix it if it ain't broke. So don't think I'm complaining about today's non-stop sunshine on what was supposedly a rainy day. My three hours of not soaking wet riding were just terrible.

Despite all that, though, I am just about ready to head home. Living away from home for four months, especially in an entirely different country and in someone else's home, does get tiring after a while. I still love it here, I still want to come back here, and I still am just as sure that I could live in Europe, at least for a time, someday. Home, though, will always be the Northeast. And though there is not one tangible thing I can say that I painful miss, home is calling. Soon enough, though. Just soon enough, actually, because I'm not ready just yet.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A slice of home

Or a whole roast bird of it, rather. As I type this, I am sitting in my Barcelona bedroom, cozy and loose sweatpants on, belly uncomfortably yet pleasantly full, and stomach acids churning violently as I try to digest the Thanksgiving offerings I heartily finished shoveling down not an hour ago.

Since it's Thanksgiving and we are in Europe, my study abroad program put on a holiday dinner for us at an extremely nice restaurant, reserving an entire back room and two large communal tables for our feast. I have to admit, though, I tried not to get my expectations up before the meal. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year, both for the food and the family gathering, and though I knew they would try their best, I was afraid it would just not be the same. Especially over the past week, as I have been thinking a bit more about home than I have over the past few months, I didn't want to build it up too much. I'm happy to say, though, that the evening exceeded all expectations.

Now, I won't say that it was an entirely traditional Thanksgiving. We started off with salad and oven-roasted, garlicy baby artichokes, which I happily consumed. Neither of those fit into my notion of a Thanksgiving day feast, but that's OK. They were both delicious. When it came time for the main course though, the goods were delivered. A beautiful roast bird, or two I believe, was carried out before us, perfectly cooked, perfectly stuffed, and perfectly moist. The dark meat was tender and succulent, and the stuffing was chock full of pine nuts, dates, currants, and raisins. And the coup de grace: ramekins of salsa española; or as you and I would call it, gravy. And this gravy was just the way it should be, nothing more than pure bird fat, fortified with some stock and some butter. Oh, there were mashed potatoes too. But the gravy!

Sure, I missed my beloved sweet potato casserole. And sure, I missed my pumpkin, pecan, and lemon meringue pies (though the apple tart was delicious). But when the centerpiece was so fantastic, all else could be forgiven. As I overindulged again and again, probably eating a full gobbler all on my own by the time the evening was done, I could almost forget I wasn't at home. Between a scrumptious meal and the company of a great group of friends, all equally looking to make a little home away from home, I could be thankful.

Now, as I digest the night, both literally and metaphorically, I'm thankful for a number of other things too. But to focus on just one, I'm thankful for the way I have changed over the past year, both while here in Spain and throughout the year as whole. This time last year, and I mean that quite literally, as in last Thanksgiving, I was out riding as hard as I could to "dig a whole" for the Thanksgiving feast. I wanted to make sure I deserved that indulgence that day, fearing otherwise it would ruin my hard work. That is no way to live. Why can't I reward myself for the determination and dedication I've had over the past month? Why can't I just say, "What the hell? It's Thanksgiving, so I'm going to make the most of it." Well, you know what, I can. At least now I can anyway. A lot has happened for me, and to me, in the past year, much of it cycling related and none of which I will get into now, but I can absolutely say that it's all been for the better, and for that I am thankful. For that, and the turkey that gave it's life to help remind me of all this.

Now, it's off to bed (or into food coma) to hopefully digest the rest of this meat and to pray for no food hangover tomorrow. Some things may have changed, but some things never will: No class on Fridays still means I get to ride lots. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I thought this was the Mediterranean

It looks like I may have made a small mistake when packing for my extended stay here in Barcelona. Until recently, I never had a problem, but all of a sudden, as December approaches, the temperature is starting to dip a bit southward as well. Uh oh.

Normally, this wouldn't be a problem. I'd like to think that I'm a pretty hardy guy, and I've normally gone out as long as the temperature is above 15 degrees (Fahrenheit, that is). I've even more than once ridden while it was snowing. But, I've always had the right clothes to make the weather a non-factor, or at least tolerable.

Most days here in Barcelona, I ride at a pretty reasonable time of day, often setting out at 9 or 10 am. On Wednesdays, though, with class from 11 am to 3:30 pm non-stop, I usually opt to get out before class, as I just don't do well with afternoon rides. Like I've said before, I love the morning special and the feeling of starting my day off with a good ride, leaving the rest of my day open. When class starts at 11 and is a 30-minute commute away, though, that means I need to be out the door by 7:30 am to squeeze in two hours in the saddle. And at 7:30 am, it's usually pretty cold in the month of November, even in the Mediterranean, as I found out this morning.

The sun was not yet up when I left this morning. Things started out just fine as I rode out of town and then climbed 5 km to get truly out of the city. But, once I pointed my wheels downhill, the cold kicked in, and it didn't get better until I was going skyward once again an hour later on my way home. Ug. It's just no fun being cold, no matter how used to it you are. When you don't have the right attire, though, it's even worse. Fortunately, I only have two more Wednesdays left here and only one of them with class, so hopefully I won't freeze to death before returning stateside.

But fear not, fellow New Englanders: I'm not going soft. I'll still be riding in stupidly cold weather all winter long. I just want my damn warm gloves!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Jew in Paris: the king of street food

I'm just going to warn you now, this post is long. Very long. So long, in fact, that I considered cutting in two, using one half to talk about my day from an eating perspective and one from the site-seeing perspective. But, when I thought about it, I decided that the two were so perfectly intertwined today that doing so would be shame, and that I would unweave the beautiful web I spun around Paris yesterday, doing my last full day there an unforgivable injustice. So skim if you like, or don't. I'll have pictures up in a day or two so those may help if you aren't up for, or interested in, the whole thing. Here we go....

In stark opposition to my previous two days, the only meal I ate formally sitting down yesterday was breakfast, in my hotel. The rest of the day was spent on foot, starting at 9:30 am and ending at 8:30 pm, getting my hands and face right into whatever I was eating and doing all day. And it was without a doubt my best day yet.

I began with a walk to l'Arc de Triomphe, from the top of which I think is the best view in the city. Go wait in line for the Eiffel Tower if you like, I'll stay right here, staring down the Chaps Elysee and happily enjoying the lack of crowd. I also bought a four-pack of AA batteries here, which came in handy as I drained them all throughout the day.

Next, I set out to walk the Champs Elysee, hopefully to scout it out for a different point of view some day. Along the way , I spotted a Peugeot dealer, with a gorgeous array of sports cars inside. The best vehicle on display, though, was of the two-wheeled variety: a carbon Peugeot bike, the mode of transportation that, in my opinion, the company should stick to making.

Soon after, I spied the mint green exterior of what could only be Laduree, Paris's most famous of bakeries for macarons. I bolted across the Champs and barged inside. The display was overwhelming, and the task of choosing what to get was daunting, made possibly only by the fact that I knew I was here for macarons and macarons only. I finally settled on the box of 6, which still set me back 8 euro. My choices were this: vanilla, coffee, praline, chestnut, fig and date, and soft salted caramel. It was not yet 11 pm, so once outside I decided to try just one and save the rest for later. Vanilla it was, and let's just say I was glad to be sitting down already when I took a bite.

The lower half of the Champs was covered in both sides by a Christmas market, composed of easily over 100 white tents set up selling all kinds of food from crepes to kebabs to caviar and every trinket or collectible known to man. I quickly stopped for a vin chaud before cruising down one side and then back up the other, stopping to ogle nearly every item, but especially the edible ones, on display. After making it back up to the top, I decided that my original dining plans would have to be adjusted, because lunch was happening here. Despite the absurd selection, I knew what I must have: poulet provencal. Cooking in a stupendously large cauldron wide and deep enough to bath in (and don't think I wouldn't have), the rouge of this chick and potato mash called out to me the moment I saw it. As it was heaped in hearty amounts into my Styrofoam container, I knew I was in for treat. I set up shop at a tall table and dug in, instantly transported to the French countryside. Magnifique! A quick stop down the block for one oyster shooter, and I was on my way.

After another walk through much of the heart of the city, I found myself at the Cluny museum, as suggested by my uncle (thanks Ron), which is a former abbey and now hosts the pieces one stolen from or now replaced at many cathedrals and churches in France. It also gave the story of the development of many religious art forms in France, my favorite of which was the altar pieces, which I have always been attracted to and awed by.

After the museum, I set up shop in a park outside to indulge in my remaining macarons. One after another I popped them into my mouth and delighted at the soft and almondy goodness. Yet again, I was happy to be seated. The intense, almost red velvet, hue of the fig and date macaron was almost sensual, but the soft salted caramel took the cookie in my opinion. Next up, time for more walking, of course. As a side note, I did not use the Metro once yesterday.

Making my way out of the Latin Quarter, I spent a long time just meandering the 3rd arrondisment, also known as Le Marais. I had a destination in mind, but decided that if I should find it by chance, I would pop in. If not, something equally good would come up. I walked from store to store, sampling free wine and chocolates here and there, spotting incredible displays like a chocolate store that makes chocolate neckties, and just drinking in the charm that can only be found in a place when you explore it with no destination in mind. At 4:15, I caved and stopped at a place called La Suzette for the obligatory Nutella crepe. As the dough as spread out and began to sizzle in front of me, the Pavlov effect kicked in and I could feel myself salivating. Yum. Do get one.

Lucky for me, as I dug into my crepe, only half conscious of the road ahead, I found myself right at my semi-destination: Musee Carnavalet. Also suggested by Uncle Ron, I think this may have been my favorite museum yet. A true hidden treasure of the city in which I encountered few other Americans and sparse crowds, this building packs a mighty punch and contains much more than you would expect from the outside. For the next hour and half, I walked through a story book, discovering the history of Paris from Paleolithic times up through the 1900's. Set in paintings of the city's development and collections of furniture and fixings from important palaces from every time period, the museum is possibly the best way to learn how Paris got to where it is today.

Upon leaving, I had a few dinner plans in mind, and spent the next 30 minutes ambling about the area and debating all my options. I was torn in so many different directions that I once again arrived somewhere I had never intended to but am thankful to whatever God there is for bringing me to. As it turns out, he must be a Jewish one, because where do you think I wound up? The Jewish Quarter, of course! Once again, my plans were out the window once more, and deliberations began anew as I tried to decide where to go. The famous L'As du Falafel was closed (it was Shabbat after all) but that was not a problem. It was just one less place to choose. Finally, after some serious running back and forth, literally, I settled on the first place to catch my eye: Sasha Finkelsztajn. As I stood there, holding back a tear and trying to figure out what I should eat, another miracle took place: my dead camera came back to life! I immediately jumped out of line and started snapping pictures of everything. The food, the sign, the door, the street, the place across the street. All of it. Finally, though, it was time to eat.

To get to the point, dinner was a pastrami sandwich. But not just any pastrami sandwich. This salted beef was sandwiched between two halves of an onion and poppy roll, smothered in a baba ganoush-esqe puree, a paprika puree, and adorned with onion, tomato, and sliced kosher pickle. Oy gevalt! As much I have raved about the food in Paris, I found the winner. If you are ever in town, you are going. I'm sorry, but you have no choice.

I left that heavenly kosher deli/Jewish bakery/godly oasis thinking life could not get better. I was in such a mood that I decided I would walk home. And that is no short stroll, mind you, even if you go direct, which I did not. But, along the way, I opened up the final stroke of genius: an apple strudel. As I sunk my teeth in for the first bite, I was literally stopped in my tracks and let out such a groan that the woman in front of me stopped to turn and look at the lunatic behind her. I could only smile. As I walked back through the star-lit (and yes, it was, as this was the first and only clear day of the trip) Parisian night, taste of Jewish baking still on my tongue, I could only think, "When will I be here next?"

Friday, November 19, 2010

A happy accident: What luck!

Day Two in Paris was today, and it did not fail to produce. Out the door by 8:45 this morning, and I was on my way for another walking tour of city. Despite being a big-time breakfast person, I often find when traveling that some of my best breakfasts are grabbed on-the-go, and today was no different. Before hopping on the Metro, I stopped into a gorgeous bakery and asked for a coffee and one "Viking." How could you go wrong with that. The Viking is no more than a whole grain and nut bread, but as I ripped through its crusty exterior and bit into the moist and soft dough housed inside, I was ready to let out my greatest battle cry. Fortunately for my other morning commuters, I contained my joy.

This morning's Metro ride was just to the hotel I am spending two nights in, where I dropped my things off and was on my way once again, starting today's march by heading to le Mussee Marmottan. I arrived before opening, which is at 11, so I wandered around a bit until then. At 11, the magic began, and Marmottan was certainly my favorite site I have been to so far. Housed in a small, well, house, Musee Marmottan is a tribute entirely to Monet, the father of Impressionism. Alive with color and the vivid yet subtle differences of recurring motifs at different times of day, this small site packed a serious punch. Sadly, I forgot the camera today.

Following the museum, I set out on the long walk to my next planned lunch. Along the way, I picked up a few chocolates, eating one and saving the rest for later. Among the batch were nougat, praline, coffee ganache, and marzipan. This is when the happy accident took place.

I navigated my way over to rue Saint-Dominique without trouble, but when I arrived at what I though was my destination, I stepped into one restaurant too soon. The name of this restaurant was nearly identical to the one next door, where I had intended to go, and as soon as I saw the menu, I had a feeling I had made a mistake, but I was sufficiently enticed by what I saw to stay where I was. This meal was undoubtedly the high point of my culinary experience here so far. I ordered the pig's cheek stew with basil and basmati rice. When my plate arrived, I was thoroughly surprised, as in front of me sat a miniature pastry crust housing a bed of rice and topped with the meat. This looked like no stew I had ever seen. But as soon as I laid fork to the pig's cheek, it literally fell apart. I knew I was in for a treat. With the first bite, I had to lay down my fork, close, my eyes, and try not cry. Perfection. Every bite, first to last, was equally spectacular.

After lunch, I set out once more towards the Rodin museum, where a cute waitress at the restaurant suggested I should go. Along the way, I got distracted and turned in to the Musee de' Armee, which at the price of free (since I am technically a European student) was too good a deal. It was a great museum and a fun way to learn about the military history of France, particular during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, one of my favorite historical figures.

Next up, I did make it over to the Rodin museum, just next door and also free to students. Like he Martmottan, this is yet another smaller exhibit than, say, the Louvre, but with no less effect. Naturally, I found the Thinker, one of my more vivid memories from my last trip here. It was also interesting to learn in the Museum that Rodin and Monet were good friends and an influence on one another, so seeing the two in the same day was yet another happy accident indeed.

I spent the rest of the day generally wandering around this area of the city, stopping for a delicious quiche before exploring the Latin Quarter and sneaking my way into the Sorbonne to see what school in Paris is like. While waiting for my friends t make if over to the area, I walked into a wine store, at first only to peruse. I was about ready to leave, when another couple walked in and started talking to the employee and quickly bought two bottles. I guess buying is contagious, because before I knew it I was swiping my card for a 2007 Crozes Hermitages from Cave de Tain. Oops. But, at 8.95 euro, I decided that it was a truly a steal and that I would convince my waitress at dinner to let me drink my own wine.

After stopping at a bar to meet up with three friends, it was time for dinner. We found a restaurant to our liking at around 7:30 and took our seat. From the prix fixe menu, I started off with a mushroom and egg cassolette, followed by another duck confit, and finally a creme brulee. I know I had the confit last night, and I had originally ordered salmon, but when I saw a confit going by to another table, I had to have it. And oh how right I as. But, I won't deny it, the wine was the real star of the meal. The owner at first was not pleased with my asking to drink my own wine, but after a little bargaining and my offering to cough up a few euro for corkage, we understood each other. Merci, madame. Merci. I'm looking forward to finishing the rest tomorrow.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gimme three steps

Well, it was actually a little bit more than that today, as I think I can safely say I completed the Parisian marathon on my first day in the city. Save for my trip on the metro to get away from my cousin's apartment this morning, I did not take it again until tonight to come home. I like it that way, though. There were times that I easily could have hopped on and saved 30 minutes, but you can't see anything from underground, and that's a sad way to miss a lot of special things. So marching it was for me.

First stop: the Louvre. I decided to go today because I hoped that on a Thursday morning I would not have crowds to contend with. I was right. The first exhibit I checked out was the Egyptian collection (that's for you Kelly, if you're reading this). Next was the large collection of French paintings, where I found one of my favorite rooms yet. It was a room devoted to the epic, and by epic I mean both in execution and size, paintings of the history of Alexander the Great, done by Charles Le Brun. Of course, I also found the requisites, like the Grand Gallery and the Mona Lisa, but these paintings by far moved me the most.

After 2.5 hours, I was ready for lunch, so I began my first epic trek of the day, walking about an hour to find the singular restaurant I had in mind, as suggested by my grandma: Les Enfants de Paris, all the way off in the 11th. It is a Brazilian-French fusion restaurant that was well worth the hike. I ordered the lunch prix fixe menu, which first brought me a Thai shrimp soup to start. It was rich and hearty with a coconut milk broth, cut by slices of pickled ginger and bamboo that added a pleasant little kick to it as well. Next was a lightly battered and pan-fried sole, accompanied by a garlic aioli and a smooth helping of pomme puree, which I can only assume was flavored with a little tomato, which I am guessing from the color and taste as I could not tell from the French menu. To go with it, I had a glass of Alsatian Riesling. Like I said, worth the hike.

Next up, I marched back in the other direction to find Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle, back towards the center of the city. Along the way, I picked up an apple crepe. Yum. Notre Dame was spectacular, though in my opinion it is more incredible from the outside than in. Sadly, Saint Chapelle was closing, so I'll have to go back tomorrow, but I was able to find a small but moving Holocaust memorial in the park just behind Notre Dame. Though hidden and sparsely adorned, it was a solemn tribute that needed no words or images to convey its message.

Because I am a sadist, I decided to walk back to the Louvre for round two, since my ticket was good for the day. This time, I had one particular exhibit in mind: Napoleon's apartments, restored to look as if the little man himself were still kicking it there. The instant I walked in, I felt as though I had been there before, which, in fact, I have, about ten years ago. After a truly wonderful day of exploring Paris on my own, it was finally time to socialize a bit, so I started hour-long march number two, heading off in the direction of the Eiffel Tower to meet up with my friends and find out what they had been up to. Along the way, I of course stopped in just about every pastry shop I saw, debating the pros and cons of every pastry option. Finally, I made a choice: macarons. Seeing as it was nearly 6:00 pm, I kept i light, sampling a coffee and a pecan macaron. Let's just say that there was a party going on in, on, and around my mouth.

The journey finally came to an end as I found the rest of my fell0w-tourists at a cafe and we headed off to dinner, this time on the metro. After some meandering, we settled on a promising bistro and wine bar. When I asked the waiter her opinion on which mussels I should get, she was a little iffy, which I found odd. But when I inquired about the duck confit, she instantly lit up. My only response was to close my menu and smile. Canard confit it would be. And boy was she right.

Underneath a deeply browned skin was meat that literally fell apart at the touch of a fork, moist and flavorful. Alongside it were heavenly roasted potatoes and simple haricot verts, both of which I dipped in the spiciest of dijon mustards sitting on the table. Like I said, I am a sadist. To drink, I ordered myself a carafe of Cotes de Rhone Bertrand. It grew on me as the meal went on and accompanied the duck well, but it was nothing special compared to its poultry counterpart.

Because no day in Paris would be complete without one final indulgence, and I had already had my crepe for the day, on my back to the metro to head home I popped into the nearest bakery and ogled the selection. Pie and tarts tend to be my go-to bakery items, my vice really. The choice was not easy, as the spread ranged from pear to pecan, from cheese to flan. Finally, though, I had to make up my mind, and I went with the new and unknown: rhubarb. Though I am familiar with rhubarb as a popular pie filler, often accompanying strawberry, I've never before had it. So that made up my mind, and I was in no way disappointed. Walking to the Bastille to catch the metro home, rhubarb pie in hand, I could only think, "I hope tomorrow is as good."

(As a side note, I for once have a camera for this trip, as my friend Kelsey generously lent me her spare. I don't have the USB cable, so I will upload all the pictures back in Barcelona.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Aux Champs-Élysées. Au soleil, sous la pluie.

That's right, you guessed it. Tomorrow, I'll be singing my way around Paris, sipping wine, eating macarons, and living it up. It's been a long time coming and I am giddy as can be.

Despite the fact that I have been before, though it was far too long ago, Paris was instantly at the top of my list of places to go when I knew I would be spending the semester in Europe. I've already been to Amsterdam this semester, which was undoubtedly a trip, and a fantastic city that I would more than happily return to. But, the allure of Paris was, and is, greater. What it is, who can say?

Oh wait, I can: The food and wine of course!

If you know anything about me at all, it should be these three things: I like to bike, I like to eat, and I like to drink good wine. Period. Evan in a sentence. And if Paris is not the epicenter of the gastronomical world, then I've been sorely mislead. Through in an obvious affinity for cycling in all of France, and you have the makings for a match made in heaven.

Sure, you could say that Barcelona offers many of the same things. After all, on CNN's list of the world's Top 50 restaurants that I read before leaving for the semester, Spain notched five spots. And both Barcelona and Spain as a whole certainly have all the above attributes, and I did choose to spend the semester in Barcelona for a reason. But still, something about Paris is different. If I knew exactly what, I would tell you. Since I was only 11 years old the last time I was there, though, I can't say I know. I'm hoping that by the time I get back on Sunday I'll have an answer for you. Until then, it's munch, munch, munch, munch, munch. Oh, and gulp, gulp, gulp too.

I'll try to do a little food blogging while there. (Obviously there won't be any bike blogging since I don't trust EasyJet with my bike, and the fee would set me back a whole lot of meals and whole lot of bottles of wine.) My accommodations are going to be just as good as my provisions, too. For the first two nights I'm going to stay in my cousin's apartment. For the second two, my mom was able to set me up with a gorgeous room in a four-star hotel de gratis to help solve a little housing crisis my friends and I had last evening. That works for me. Thanks, Mom. I'll have a drink for you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The morning special

It's currently not even 3:00 pm yet, and my food count today is already through the roof. So far, I have eaten:
2 eggs, 1/2 a baguette with jam (breakfast)
1 Nutella and honey sandwich, 1/2 peanut butter sandwich (on the bike)
1 large unidentified pastry (post-ride)
1 entire mushroom pizza, meant for two (lunch)
1 tuna bocadillo (lunch number 2)

As a side note, for you unfortunate Americans still eating sandwiches between two pieces of sliced bread, a bocadillo is the Spanish version of a sandwich, made on a baguette and usually with some form of ham, tuna, or a tortilla. We could learn a thing or two from them about bread selection.

Anyway, the reason for the absurd amount of food I have torn into today is this morning's ride. A few weeks ago, I met Ismael, a cyclist from a town nearby whom I saw on a ride one day and decided to approach and ask if I could come alone. To make a long story short, I would say we have become friends very quickly and have ridden together often. This morning, I joined Ismael and some of his friends on a great ride. It would not have been too hunger-inducing, despite the extremely fast pace for November thanks to one or two very eager beavers, but the 45 minutes of riding pre- and post-route, both of which included 5-6km of climbing, tacked on enough to put me deep in the hunger cave. Fortunately, there is lots of daylight left for me to dig myself out of that cave, fork and knife in hand.

And that is one of the beauties of getting out and riding in the morning: you can ride 4+ hours and still actually have a day. Rather than leaving at 10 or 11 and not getting home until well into the afternoon, I was home by 12:30, a quality morning in the saddle already in my legs. You know that saying, "Why do today what can be put off for tomorrow?" Well, I couldn't disagree more.

Finally, I have to say how lucky I am to have met Ismael, as well as all the other riders I have befriended here. Walking around the city, going to museums, and traveling to other European destinations are all ways to explore a new place while abroad, and there is nothing wrong with any of them. But for me, there is no better way to see a place than to spend time with the people who live there and know it best. And perched atop a bicycle, it all goes by at just the right speed. Excuse me for butchering this, but a friend of mine once said to me, "A bicycle is the perfect way to see the world. By foot, you go too slowly to see enough. In a car, it goes by too quickly to see anything at all. On a bike, everything is just right." Now that I can agree with.

Friday, November 12, 2010

When things go right

Some things are just blog-worthy. What I have been up to in the four months since my last post, not blog-worthy. Today's events, definitely so. To give you some context in as few words as possible, though, I am currently in Barcelona, where I have been since August to study abroad and will be until December. Four months, in a nutshell.

Anyway, today I finally got the chance to do something that I have been hoping to do and excitedly looking forward to since I first confirmed that I would coming to Barcelona: ride with Michael Barry. We had never met before, but thanks to his writing in the New York Times, Velonews, and his own blog, not to mention his racing, I knew I admired the man. So I shot him an email and hoped for the best. To my delight, his answer was yes. (So this doesn't turn into a game of Jeopardy, my question was whether or not I could come to his hometown of Girona to ride together.) It never hurts to ask.

So at 6:30 am I was making coffee and eggs before hopping on the bike to catch the 8:15 train to Girona. By 10, we were rolling over to a cafe to pick up a friend of Michael's and then off to the open roads. Since I don't want to sound like some teenage pop-star groupie, though I guess I am in my own nerdy way, I'll just say that the day was everything I hoped it would be. The riding was fantastic, and I'm wondering why I don't live in Girona already. We climbed to a gorgeous reservoir that feeds (if that is the right word for drinking water) Barcelona, before ascending what I can only describe as a dirt and rock wall. With hardly a car to share the road with for the majority of the ride, we could pedal and talk care-free for 4 hours. Topped off with a delicious lunch back in Girona, the day could not have been better.

And that is one of things I love most about this sport: how easily we can share it. No matter how badly I wanted to, I could not go play catch with, say, Derek Jeter - though I would never actually want to since I am an unfortunate but painfully loyal Mets fan. But one of my favorite cyclists? No problem. And the fact that he's willing to host me in his hometown and on his favorite roads, even better. Like I said before, it never hurts to ask.

"So, how do we know you aren't just making this up to make us all jealous?" you might ask. Well, I don't own a camera, as I told my dad when he said I should bring one along. Fortunately, though, Michael does own a camera, so there are few pictures from the day so that especially all you New Englanders can be jealous of what I'm getting to do in the so-called winter here in Spain. I may miss fall in New England, and I most definitely miss apple pie (had to get a food reference in there somewhere), but I sure as hell don't miss freezing my balls off.

I'm not going to make any promises, but I will try to make blogging a more regular thing again. If nothing else, it will at least give me a reason to go find and do worthwhile things to blog about. And if anyone knows where to find a good pie in Spain, please let me know. The pastries here are delicious and cheap, but something about that gooey, fruity filling encased in a flaky and crunchy pie crust is just irreplaceable. The apple tarts just aren't cutting it.