Un matí a Girona

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June 12th 2010
Published: June 13th 2010
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It's hard to believe we made it through another five days in Andorra, but somehow we did! As a reward it was time for another vacation, this time to the Catalan-speaking enclave of L'Alguer on the Italian island of Sardinia. But first, as we were flying out of Girona, a city perhaps an hour south of Barcelona, we had the opportunity to spend some 6 hours meandering about another one of Catalunya's major cities.

In its early history Girona changed hands between the Iberians, Romans, Moors, and Visigoths until it was reconquered in 785 by Charlemagne and made one of the fourteen original countships of Catalunya. It became a legitimate city in the 11th century and was one of Spain's most prominent centers of Jewish culture and learning. This obviously changed during the Inquisition, but the city's Jewish quarter remains one of the most well-preserved. With a mere 100,000 inhabitants the city is dwarfed by more "prominent" Catalan cities such as Barcelona but it remains a vibrant and lovely city certainly worth more than just a trip to its airport for a cheap RyanAir flight.

We arrived at 8am thanks to there only being two buses daily from Andorra, the first one at 5am, but at least we had an easy direct route. We of course hadn't legitimately planned anything but first stop was certainly breakfast. Unaware of where the bus station was exactly in relation to nicer parts of the city, we settled for a café nearby and had ourselves some coffee and a good ham sandwich. Despite it being just after 8am, the city's elderly seated at the bar seemed to have no problem with their Anís del Mono (Spanish anise liqueur) and brandy at this hour.

Once finished we found our way to the city center with no issue and began to explore. The center seems to be cut in two by the Onyar river, across which are a number of nice bridges both uber-modern and more traditional. The river itself is very "marshy" and full of lush green seaweed as well as reeds that serve as a refuge for many aquatic birds. Looking down the river's path one can see that every house is painted a wonderfully rich orange, red, yellow or pink which gives it a sunset-like quality.

Our first stop was the city's old walls and fortifications that once served to protect Girona from invasion - according to Wikipedia the city has undergone twenty-five sieges and been captured seven times, so considering they still exist is a decent feat I suppose. The walls still surround a decent part of the city and climbing them offers nice views of the city and surrounding valleys. Eventually we descended and headed through the winding streets of the old town, which were quite beautiful. At one point we stopped inside a small chapel that was part of a convent of the "Slaves of the Blessed Sacrament" or something like that. Seeing a few of the "slaves" clothed in white and praying behind the metal bars was actually rather frightening - I couldn't imagine a life like that.

Next was the ancient cathedral, the site of which had been used in the past by pre-Christian worshippers as well as the Moors for a mosque. The present structure is one of the most important monuments of the school of the Majorcan architect Jaume Fabre and an excellent example of Spanish Gothic architecture. It is approached by eighty-six steps that are kind of crammed between two rows of buildings. The facade is nice, featuring stone carvings of various religious figures, but aside from its side not overly impressive. The interior however, is absolutely massive and almost menacing - the "fear of God" was certainly instilled in the ancient worshippers. Pictures weren't allowed inside, but it was too dark to get any legitimate shots anyway.

Moving on along we stumbled upon the arab baths, actually a 12th century Romanesque construction where I imagine the city's inhabitants communally bathed and relaxed. There were fun flower-shaped holes in the ceiling through which light poured in - they were exactly the same as in the old Ottoman baths in Skopje, Macedonia I visited some time ago.

Eventually we headed back toward the center and ended up at a flea market. Alas, no Fireking but they did have some peach-lustre-esque cups. Unfortunately they were a little too "out there" and wouldn't have gone with the family luxury china, lol. Alex bought a little Catalan children's primer printed in the 1930s that featured some archaic Catalan forms as well as interesting gender-role portrays. I couldn't resist some antique Pastis 51 glasses, and had to withhold buying antique Estrella Damm beer glasses as well.

The next hour or so was spent meandering at the government bookstore and walking around a bit more before settling at a place in a plaza for lunch. We had plans to dine at Le Bistro, apparently a well-known and delicious restaurant in the city, but alas the Spanish lunch time did not go well with our 2pm departure on the airport bus and we had to settle for a ghetto tapas chain. Oh well, it got the job done...

Next stop, Sardinia!

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13th June 2010

Looks like it was worth leaving at 5:00 AM to have a few hours in Girona. Seems like like the Catalan speaking people spread to some of the most picturesque places in Europe. Can't wait to see your pics and read about Sardinia.
13th June 2010

Hey, thanks for checking on the Fire King for me! You just never know where you might find that fine china!
13th June 2010


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