Barcelona. A city that I fancied from the first time I visited. From its hip cafes in Gracia (where you can actually get hazelnut milk) to its lovely beaches, at least for a large city, and its wide boulevards of Eixample, Barcelona can keep me entertained for days. It is Spain’s second largest city, but it isn’t Spanish at all. The Catalan language and culture dominates. Here in Barna, as the locals affectionately call it, you’re more likely to hear Catalan spoken than Spanish. The flag of Spain doesn’t commonly fly here, but the flag of Cataluña adorns just about every balcony in this fine city. And then there are the renegade “EU issued” tags on motorbikes that say CAT, for Cataluña, instead of E, for España.
Perhaps not the best place to continue to learn and practice Spanish, but for my current return to Spain, Barna drew me back exclusively. Perhaps it’s the Semana Santa festivities happening now in Andalucia which are keeping me away from my beloved Granada this time. Barcelona has so much going for it, and the fact that my favorite Spaniard-living-in-Spain happens to call the city home, it has been calling me back since I tearfully departed in January. When I saw the too good to be true, yet totally legit, fare on Turkish Airlines, I snatched it up right away and decided to work from Barcelona for a few weeks in March and April.
So here I am. Back in Europe. Renting an apartment in the neighborhood of Eixample, because I couldn’t find anything suitable in my preferred Gracia. Working my regular job from said apartment, and squeezing in as much time to explore as possible.
Barcelona has become quite familiar to me. It’s starting to feel like my second “Spanish” home, more practical than my first home in this country, Granada. While I am enjoying every second I’m spending in the city, the urge to go places I’ve never gone started to hit hard last week. Due to my work schedule, jaunting around Cataluña on day trips isn’t possible during the workweek. But weekends are meant for exploring! And that is why I decided to take the AVE just 40 minutes to Girona, a smaller town in Catalonia just 90 kilometers north of Barcelona this morning. And I’m so thankful that I did, found Girona to be enchanting.
As soon as my train pulled into the station, I hit the ground running to see and do as much as possible. The walk from the train station to the heart of town passes by Girona’s most famed postcard image, the Onyar River with its reflective, colorful buildings on both sides. Stopping to play tourist and take photos from the bridges, I continued into the old town. Girona, like Andalucia and Toledo, had a vibrant Jewish community until 1492. Right before my mom passed away, I learned that I have Iberian Sephardic roots on her side of the family. Though I am not religious, and hesitate to define myself as Jewish, I really embrace this part of my ancestry because it’s a connection that I have not only to Spain, but to my mother as well. These days, when I travel in Spain, I tend to visit old Jewish quarters and sites in towns that actually have them. Luckily, I stumbled upon some in Girona to pay homage to my mom and my Spanish blood.
Clearly I’m not at all religious, but I can appreciate visiting an old cathedral, especially ones that come highly recommended from Spaniard friends. My most trusted source on everything Cataluña, and an agonistic himself, recommended that I visit Girona’s cathedral. And his recommendation was spot on. I was lucky enough to be in the chapel at the perfect moment, when the sunlight was just right to create reflections of color from the stained glass. At times, and at certain cathedrals, this can be downright psychedelic. In fact, taking mushrooms in some of Europe’s old cathedrals would be really fun. Girona’s cathedral wouldn’t be an exception to this trippy party. Obviously, this is not at all socially acceptable, but the thought of it always gives me a giggle.
From the bathroom of the cathedral I spied a garden down below. (On a side note, seriously Spanish bathrooms have the best views. If you’re ever at the Alhambra, check out the vistas from the second floor of the restrooms.) Excited to play in a garden, I left the cathedral and followed the most likely path to it.
A lovely stroll through the small garden, led me up the stairs to the medieval walls of the city. For hours I walked along the wall, clammering up every secret staircase to get varying vistas of the city below. Scaling the old walls of any city always brings me such happiness. And unlike the old walls of, for example, Dubrovnik, on Girona’s, I was often alone, not swarmed with tourists.
The end of the wall had a staircase that led down to the beginning of Girona’s old town, on the opposite end of the cathedral. Like many towns in Spain, Girona’s centro histórico is downright charming. I spent some time wandering the small streets and taking photos. Though the architecture is very typical of Cataluña, Girona reminded me a bit of the Albaicin in Granada, with its cobblestone steps and streets too narrow for cars.
My Barcelonian advised me that Girona is even more independently Catalan than Barcelona. And this is so evident. Banners with the words “Catalunya nou estat d’Europa” (translation from Catalan: “Cataluña: the new state of Europe”) are everywhere. Just about every local business proudly displays their Catalan pride in one way or another. At one point today, someone stopped me on the street to give me literature about Catalan independence. Girona might technically be in Spain, but it is probably better not to mention that to the locals.
After a full day of exploring, I was starving. Tapas were not what I was craving, though. But I happened to pass a small Indian restaurant with outdoor seating on a little placeta. Indian in Girona? Why the hell not. Oddly enough, the Indian food I had in Girona is now officially the best Indian food I’ve had in all of Spain. Who would’ve known?
Everything about my day trip to Girona inspired and recharged me. My creative streak reappeared and I felt the urge to write and take photos. Since arriving to Spain last week, I’ve been looking for that inspiration, and I am thankful that Girona sparked the flame. It also reminded me that regardless of where I’m traveling and why I’m there, day trips to new places are a must. Getting out of the city, whatever city that may be, needs to continue to be a regular weekend activity.