Spain 2: Girona

22/09/18 – 29/09/18

Thanks to @alongdustyroads for travel inspiration.

I experienced a coup de cœur in Girona and would not hesitate to recommend a visit to this friendly and picturesque city. Perhaps shrouded a little by the magnificence of its bigger and better known Catalan neighbour Barcelona, Girona is smaller but equally lively with plenty to see and discover, which can easily be done on foot, and a feast for the eyes and stomach alike. Bridges cross the shallow River Onyar than trickles through the city and colourful houses line the river banks; Catalan flags adorn most buildings and yellow ribbons are tied to any without a flag; cyclists now flock to this city for its year-round good weather, good roads and proximity to the Pyrenees; and good coffee and ice-cream are not hard to find.

View of the cathedral from the Pont de les Peixateries Velles.
Pont de les Peixateries Velles - my favourite! Designed by Gustave Eiffel the year before the Eiffel Tower.

I felt quickly at home in Girona and I think that may be thanks to our stay with Xavier just outside of the town and his enthusiasm for cycling; to the general acknowledgment of cycling as a key feature of Girona; to the lovely blog post mentioned above which provided much wanderlust; and to the general warmth and happiness that seemed to abound in the cobbled streets, up every step and along the town walls.

Girona had not been on mine and Olly’s “hit list” per se, it was ultimately a convenient spot to meet Olly’s parents who had earmarked a week in September to go abroad, seek some sunshine and discover somewhere new. How lucky we all were! We took a day trip to Barcelona during our stay and Hilary and I certainly crossed a big something off our bucket lists that day. However, we all agreed that as spectacular as Barcelona was – and we must admit to leaving it significantly undiscovered – the flavour that we got for the capital of Catalonia didn’t compare to that of chilled-out, pastel-hued, cycling capital of the city closer to our home for the week, the beautiful Mas Vinyoles apartment.

Another place to add to the ‘I’d love to go back’ list. It’s quite substantial already.

On Saturday morning we woke up in a tipi and were treated to a traditional, Catalan breakfast by Xavier. (Toast, rubbed with garlic and tomato followed by a sprinkling of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.) Xavier was running an adult, cycling course just around the corner from his house and we accompanied him there and said goodbye. We then set off into the centre of Girona to get a feel for the place before Olly’s parents arrived. We were immediately taken by the small, artisanal market on the Pont de Pedra and the views into the heart of the city from it. We bumped our way along cobbled streets to the east of the Pont de Pedra, winding our way to La Fabrica, a great café owned and run by former professional cyclist Christian Meier. It’s a quiet, sunny spot and the coffee, brunch and clientele are excellent: cleats, lycra and laughter a-plenty! We went twice during our stay: once for brunch, drawing a small amount of attention with our heavily laden bikes, and once with Andrew and Hilary for a sight-seeing pit stop: the Hummingbird cake was delicious.

Following brunch and a chat with some enthusiastic anglophones at the next table, Olly and I started to make our way out of the city towards Quart, south-east of Girona, and the cycle paths didn’t make this too onerous. Incredibly, as Olly phoned his mum to explain that we were stood opposite the pottery museum, a white car turned the corner with Andrew and Hilary in it! Happy hellos and hugs all round, before we set off to tackle the 7km climb to the apartment. It was windy, but manageable, especially given the strength and confidence we gained in the Pyrenees, and we had a break half way up to catch up some more, me and Olly relaxing in our Helinox Zeroes.

The apartment was wonderful and the white of the building stood in beautiful, stark contrast to the blue of the sky. Shortly after arriving, everyone was in the pool and it felt like the break from the bikes, our longest time on two-feet instead of two-wheels since the start of the trip, had truly begun.

During our stay at Mas Vinyoles, we took lots of down time and this involved driving along dirt roads to small, medieval villages and plenty of reading. I got really into Lethal White, the new Robert Galbraith book, which I had pre-ordered before leaving. It’s awesome and I really recommended it: I struggled for about ten days to get into a new book after reading it and would find myself cycling along wondering what – the fictious, I write to remind myself – Strike and Robin were up to ‘right now’... We also profited from having a pool and Olly had an almost daily dip, and we also took a very short cycle to the nearby church where the road ran out and it seemed nobody had been for years. Olly found an impressive snake skin there which he then took back to the apartment in a bid to spook his folks. This, along with the daily boar watch and the freaky tiger centipedes that made their way into the apartment (which lead to putting a pan over the plug in the shower), kept us entertained.

On Tuesday we took a day trip to Barcelona, catching the ‘middle-distance’ train from a nearby, smaller town. I really enjoy travelling by train and doing so in another country always makes me feel like I’m ‘discovering’. This is something I was really scared of doing when I first moved to France. I remember the first time I took the train from Toulouse to Souillac and I didn’t know how to recognise my stop, especially in the dark, and I was anxious about not understanding the tannoy announcements or how to open the train doors (as they were manual!). As a result, I stood up for most of the two and a half hour journey, next to a door with my nose pressed against it.

The train ride to Barcelona was far less stressful and we arrived, took the escalator and were immediately transported into the weird and wonderful world of Gaudi for whom, it seems, Barcelona was a bit of an architectural playground. We were realistic about only being in Barcelona for a day and so sought to capture the spirit of the city. Thanks to borrowed guidebooks, Google and a text to LT, we had an itinerary. We walked along La Rambla, learning that it used to be a stream of sewage, and paused at the vibrant La Boqueria market and paid far too much for four chocolates, in addition to sampling some other delights. We then got to the port before heading back in and weaving through several streets in the Barri Gotic, the Gothic Quarter, where we paused for beer, snacks and postcards.

Casa Batllo, locals call it 'the bone house' and the roof looks like dragon scales.

La Rambla

Overly expensive chocolates

The Gothic Quarter

We then took the metro to the Sagrada Familia, the piece de resistance, perhaps, and the most visited tourist destination in Spain (it attracts around two million visitors every year). The sense of anticipation was high and as we ascended from the underground station and looked over our shoulders the huge church materialised before our eyes. I had goose bumps! Upon closer inspection, however, the church was surrounded by cranes and people with selfie sticks. It is mind-boggling how long Gaudi’s creation has been being built for: it was started in 1909, Gaudi died in 1926, and the latest prediction is that it will be finished by 2032.

With time on our side, we then got back on the tube and headed to the Park Guell. Although I didn’t feel as though I’d stepped into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory to the extent I had imagined, it was nice to sit on a bench and watch parrots for a while before heading off in search of a much needed ice-cream.

The time spent wandering the streets of the Gothic Quarter was everyone’s favourite part of the day. Barcelona is BIG and we fitted a lot in to just eight hours which left us somewhat exhausted by the time we boarded the train to head ‘home’. I’d return to visit the Picasso museum and to stroll some more. The visit was a dream come true to many extents, but I didn’t fall in love with this city.

It was Girona that stole my heart. We spent a morning and an afternoon and evening there and one more day would probably have been perfect as we could have visited a museum and stopped at another café, got another ice-cream… Girona was charming and friendly and following a trip into an incredibly captivating toy shop, I found myself humming Comptine d’Une Autre Été as we ambled along the cobbled streets.

Walking the city walls

Girona Cathedral

Love me a rainbow zebra crossing.
In the late afternoon we climbed up to the city walls and marvelled our way along them. We then wandered over every bridge, kissed the lioness’s bottom and had the most delicious pre-dinner ice-cream from Rocambolesc – Hilary, who doesn’t usually go in for ice-cream, said it was the most delicious ice-cream she’d ever had! We ordered the same blueberry and vanilla sorbet with cherry jelly noses, Italian meringue and crispy strawberry pieces. My favourite kind of starter! Olly and Andrew both ordered a baked apple ice-cream which they seemed very pleased with.

Om nom nom.

Cherry jelly nose.

We then had a final evening meal together before Olly and I continued with our adventure the following morning. A word to the wise, no restaurants served food in Girona before 8pm and so be sure to clear the evening schedule and settle in for some dining Spanish style. We ate in a tapas restaurant ran by a French family and so it was a wonderful mix of everything experienced so far, especially the ‘French fries bravas’.

Packing, sorting, goodbyes de nouveau. Onwards.

PS. Andrew almost got away in this blog post with not being harangued for stealing my sunglasses. See him for more details...