After being in Spain a mere three days, we hit our first city. Full disclaimer: we’re not overly fussed on cities. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t HATE cities and I’d even go as far as saying we love some of them (Edinburgh and Venice to name, well, two). So if you’re the type of person who likes to spends a lot of time (and money) checking out all the major tourist hotspots, this blog probably isn’t for you. If however, your looking for a quick guide on how to visit Girona on foot, without spending a single cent on entry fees; welcome aboard.
Consulting park4night, we decided to stay in a secure motorhome car park just north of the city centre. When we arrived we were greeted by the larger than life security guard Juan, who managed to explain most of what we needed to know with his limited English and our pretty non-existent Spanish. But we got by. When he laughed, we laughed. When it looked like he was asking if we understood what the hell he was going on about, we said sí (not a clue!). It was €14 euro for one night, which is more than we usually like to pay for parking (free nights are obviously preferred), but on occasion it’s worth it to ensure our van is safe.
When it came to paying, Alex decided he was going to give Juan a €20 note and €4 in change, you know, to make things easier. It didn’t. Instead of giving us our change Juan put the money away and started getting together bits of paperwork along with maps and other bits to help us on our way (whilst speaking to us very quickly in Spanish as we just politely nodded along). We assumed our change would appear eventually; it didn’t. So we asked, and he said “oh, did I not give it?”. Nope. Followed by “oh sorry sorry” and passed us €6. No, try again. After what felt like a lifetime of Juan and Alex firing different numbers at each other (not understanding a word of what the other was saying), a lot of finger counting and pointing to a €10 note, Juan somewhat reluctantly, but in a somewhat jokey way, handed over our change. Ordeal over, we were on our way!
Before we go any further, I want to point out that it was a Monday, in January! It was quiet to say the least; which actually suited us perfectly. However, if you were to visit any other time, like in the peak of summer, I imagine it would be very different. But anyway, this is how we got on.
The walk to the city centre was only 10 minutes. We had a rough idea what the main sights were, but the plan was to just walk and see where we ended up. It wasn’t long until we reached Plaça de la Independència (Independence Square), named to commemorate the French invasion in 1808-1809, and although it’s the largest square in Girona, it is smaller than your typical city square. But this didn’t take away from its charm and made it feel more intimate and exclusive. The tall archways that surrounded the square were brimming with an array of restaurants, with a few locals sat enjoying a cup of coffee and the lack of tourists.
Realising we had reached the Onyar River, we decided to find the Eiffel Bridge; made by Gustave Eiffel before he made the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Now, I don’t know about you, but I hear Eiffel and think architectural wonder. Well, don’t get your hopes up because when we saw it we both let out an audible “oh”. It’s underwhelming at best. It’s small and a bit simplistic. The only thing it has going for it is the bright red colour which goes nicely with the coloured buildings lining the river. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just us and were missing something. The river below was unfortunately, just as disappointing. The water levels were low and what was left was a murky brown sludge. Im sure during the summer with bright blue skies, clear water and the sunlight bouncing off the bright red bridge and lighting up the buildings, its a beautiful sight. You’ll have to visit and let us know.
Luckily the other side of the river was much more appealing. A labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets lined with coffee shops, restaurants and bakeries, selling all sorts of Spanish treats. Of course, 90% of them were closed, so when we came across a cute little shop with a window full of fresh empanada’s, we couldn’t resist. Having recently given up meat (with only the occasional fish/seafood for me and the occasional bit of meat for Alex; it was my idea so he wants to be a bit more flexible) we opted for one spinach and cheese and one caprese (mozzarella, tomato and basil). They were delicious! We believe the best reason to visit a city is the food and this was a great start.
Fully-loaded with pastry goodness we made our way through the winding lanes towards the Basilica de Sant Feliu. We reached the entrance at the same time as two other couples. Whilst we were outside admiring the doorway (see picture below, it was a nice doorway), they both walked in, and walked straight back out again. We figured that you had to pay and they decided it wasn’t worth it. So in we go, with absolutely no intention of paying, just to try and steal a sneaky glimpse of the interior. From what we saw it was a stunning building, so if you like that kind of thing and don’t mind paying, we would definitely recommend it. But after already seeing hundreds of incredible (and free) cathedrals and churches all around France, we were in no hurry to pay to see another. So once the man behind the till had burned a massive hole into the back of our heads with his eyes, we left.
Tucked just few streets behind the basilica, stands the very impressive Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona (or, Girona Cathedral). You come across it somewhat unexpectedly as it is surrounded by other buildings. But this just adds to the experience as you turn that last corner, only to be stunned by the cathedral towering high above the city, proceeded by a large staircase leading you up to one of its main entrances. Unfortunately we didn’t go inside as once again you have to pay. But honestly, we we’re just being very tight as one ticket gets you into both the cathedral and the basilica. So again, if cathedrals are your cup of tea, go for it!
We carried on strolling until we came across the Jardins dels Alemanys, right in the heart of the old town. A mixture of gardens interspersed with ruins, it’s generally quite pretty and I imagine even prettier in spring and summer. That is, apart from one thing. The bright bloody blue benches they have scattered all over it, which stand out like a very cheap and tacky sore thumb. I mean it’s great that there are plenty of areas to sit and relax, but why blue? Who knows. Anyway, I digress. It was a lovely walk which leads you to Passeig de la Muralla (Walk of the Wall). As we’re from Chester, we love a good city wall and this one was no exception. The walls span around 3km and offers the most breathtaking panoramic views of the city. It was our favourite part of the day. We had the walls completely to ourselves and there wasn’t a sound; it was so peaceful. If you do visit Girona it is an absolute must.
From there we carried on through the old Jewish Quarter, El Call, ensuring we had gone down as many of the little streets as possible. It is one of the most preserved Jewish Quarters in the world and if you would like to know more about its wonderful history you can visit the Jewish museum. We of course didn’t, you know, because we’re cheap and google is just as informative. But we did get a sneaky peak inside (sensing a theme here?) and it did look very interesting and well laid out.
Unfortunately, by now it was time for us to head back to the van to feed Barney and stretch his little legs. After freshening up (which in a van basically means a baby wipe wash and a change of clothes) we headed back into the city in search of food. Generally cities having bustling night lives, full of bright lights and the sounds of people having a good time. It was deserted; which should have been our first clue that this wasn’t going to be easy. During the day we spotted a restaurant that served massive portions of paella, but after looking at the god awful reviews online we decide to pass. Plan B was a restaurant not far from the Eiffel Bridge that said vegan friendly outside; great reviews, great menu, that’ll do. Nope. Closed. Like the majority of Girona apparently. No wonder it was so quiet.
Eventually we found an Italian restaurant on one of the main streets. Bingo! Can’t go wrong with Pizza, good prices and best of all it was open. We had been clutching our purse strings all day and this was why. We went all out! Three courses and a bottle of red wine. Started with calamari, which luckily we got one to share because the portion was huge! Followed by a pizza each, which were bigger than the plate, made fresh and spot on. And for dessert we had Panna Cotta with raspberry coulis. Everything was delicious, the staff were great and for €50 we were pretty happy. Well and truly stuffed we headed back to the van to give the cat another quick walk and settle down for the night.
Before setting off the next day we headed over to La Devesa (the park) for their weekly market (Tuesday and Saturdays) on the recommendation on Juan. It was the most people we had seen in once place since arriving in Girona and it was brilliant! Stall after stall after stall of fresh fruit and veg. And let me tell you, the women of Girona we’re going nuts for it. They will do anything for the best orange or the best pepper of the bunch. So much groping, chucking and taking massive bites out of things to make sure it was ripe enough. We loved every second of it; people watchers paradise. Of course very different to your typical British market where we would just politely glance over the produce, before carefully selecting whatever was closest as to not get in anyones way, even if it was the battered and bruised one stuffed into the corner. So as they say “when in Rome”, we got stuck in and armed with bags full of our morning forage, we went home to prepare for our next leg of the journey, the Costa Brava!
Thanks again for visiting our blog, this week we have found out that Alex will be returning to UK to fly out to work very shortly (holy crap on a cracker!). So come back soon to find out what an absolute train wreck I am when riding solo!