Girona: Catalonia’s sleeping beauty

“It’s so dead here”, S said as soon as we went out of Girona’s gleaming train station. We arrived on Pentecost Sunday, unbeknownst to us, the next day, Whit Monday, was a holiday in Catalonia. The city was almost deserted, even by tourists, and the unseasonal drizzle did not help. 

We found our way to our hotel, where an ascetic room with a shared bathroom waited for us. The stone townhouse in the old centre felt like a convent. S was not impressed, but we found some comedy in the fact that one of the rooms had a glass wall towards the shared bathroom. “We should have stayed in Barcelona” was an unspoken understanding, although I still had some hope. This was the new King’s Landing, after all, the GoT fan boy in me shouted.

As soon as we went out, our spirits improved. Chilly stone streets of the old city seemed very distant from the warm facades of Barcelona, but the many alleyways and stairs gave the city almost mystical atmosphere. It was easy to see why any location scout would love Girona: it has so many different faces. . The spectral-white cathedral, a mix of baroque front and Catalan Gothic interior, with a Romanesque tower jutting out of the side, was a show stealer majestically perched on the top of ornate stairs. In the drizzle, the vaults of Call, the fantastically preserved Jewish Ghetto, looked like a great setting for a cloak and dagger mystery Less showy Sant Pere de Galligants abbey and the stream below it, on the other hand, conjured up films about romantic dalliances in provincial towns.

Once we crossed the Onyar, one of the four rivers in the city, colourful houses on the banks evoked Florence, while the majestic Placa de la Independenca had a whiff of Milan. Going towards the more modern parts of the city, however invited slightly less flattering comparisons. An ugly tower block at Placa de la Catalunya, looked a derelict hotel in any Serbian backwater town, while the baffling concrete sculptures at Placa de la Constitucio evoked sci-fi human sacrifice altars.


It was there that we stopped at the only lively place we found: Taverna la Taverna. As we were fasting on wi-fi in our monastery lodging, we indulged our famine and started frantically googling what else there is to do in Girona. Shops were closed, as were most of the restaurants. We decided to hike around the next day, but that evening looked destined to be empty of activities. 

We were magically saved from a very boring night by Girona’s football team. Gironians, clad in white and red took the streets to celebrate their team getting into the first league so we joined the celebrations. The red flares, fireworks and chanting ensued. Celebratory air was palpable, and children dressed in Catalan flags joined their parents in the fun. Tired from the whole day of looking what to do, we went to have an awesome pancake at “Crepdeque?” and retired to our sparse room.

 

The next day, we applied ourselves to hiking, hoping to walk the boredom away. After a hearty hipster breakfast at the cyclist haunt (La Fabrica) we first decided to clear the main tourist sights: the cathedral and the Arab baths. As a fan of medieval architecture and cloisters I loved the cathedral, which also had one of the best medieval tapestries I’ve seen.  The Arab baths were also great, especially as we accidentally walked into them without paying the ticket price.

 

Once we finished the obligatory stuff, we still had the whole day of closed shops and bars ahead of us. We claimed the city walls, which although less impressive than those of Dubrovnik, the previous stand-in for King’s Landing, still managed to get a few sighs from us. Then we climbed the hills around town and made our way to a deserted fortress, a hangout for teenagers and the homeless. We even walked some 5km to find the local cemetery, to test our newly minted hypothesis that the most important places to see in every city are the food market, the cemetery and the main park. It was shut, but we did not mind – it was not as if we could have done something else. As everything was shut, in the evening, we once again relied on the outpouring of the Catalan patriotism and Gironian local patriotism for entertainment, as the celebrations around Girona FC’s success entered their second day. S was bored out of her wits. I actually enjoyed the quiet, as a respite from frantic days in Barcelona and London.

  

The next day, our last in Girona, everything was open and the city got the lively vibe, you would expect from a place close to Costa Brava. We celebrated our departure by going to the (over) hyped ice-cream parlour owned by the famed Roca brothers – Rocambolesc. Although the gimmicky soft-serve in a bun, allegedly inspired by their deserts, was tasty enough, we did not find it superior to the run of the mill gelatos we ate before. After some light shopping we were off.

“We could have done it all in a day. Go early, leave at night.”, S mused. Still, after several visits to Spain, it was good to witness for the first time the thing I thought was very un-Iberian: calm.

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One thought on “Girona: Catalonia’s sleeping beauty

  1. Thanks for posting this. I’ve followed some of your travel ideas for my last trip (Southern Balkans), and will be going to Spain soon. You keep giving me good ideas.

    -Nick

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