The stairs of Girona

TBEX Europe is coming up (that’s a travel blogger conference, for non-blogging readers). This year, it’s organised in Girona, so I’ve looked through some photos from last time I was in town.

View from the cathedral

Six years ago, I had never heard of Girona. Even though it’s the capital of the Costa Brava, Europe’s oldest beach resort, I knew nothing of its existence.

I had been in Carcassonne on a writing assignment, was on a Barcelona-bound train for a flight the next day and wasn’t looking forward to it. Nothing against Barcelona, you understand – I just wasn’t in the mood to wander about a very big city trying to find a hotel right then.

When the train stopped briefly in a place called Girona, I looked out – and hopped off on an impulse. Not all my impulsive decisions are great. Far from it.

But this one was.

Catedral de Girona, Spain Xocolateria Antiga, Barri Vell, Girona, Spain

I ambled about for most of the night, along the lively La Rambla and in Barri Vell, the old town. Early the next morning, I slipped in a side door of the Cathedral to have a look, then had breakfast at Xocolateria Antiga, mostly because of the name. Chocolate spelled with x!

It was a sweet little café. My croissant was sugar-glazed, my orange juice sweetened and the house special – hot chocolate Catalan-style – was strong, thick and sweet. And just to be on the safe side, I was provided with extra sachets of sugar.

I adore watching cities wake up!

Soon, the tables were filling up with people having their morning xocolatas. Next to me, three generations of local women elegantly dressed in bright colours chatted in animated Catalan. Mum and grand-mum puffed energetically on long, slim cigarettes, hands all over the place. It might have been the set of a Pedro Almodovar drama – Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I stared shamelessly, enjoying every moment.

Two other memories of Barri Vell stand out: a wonderful dusty old book shop (hope it’s still there) – and the narrow alleys and stairs appearing around every corner.

The Stairs of Barri Vell, Girona, Spain - 1 The Stairs of Barri Vell, Girona, Spain - 2

The Stairs of Barri Vell, Girona, Spain - 3 The Stairs of Barri Vell, Girona, Spain - 4

I spent twelve hours in Girona, most of it awake. It was so interesting, I almost forgot I had to be in Barcelona airport that afternoon. The town – and especially Barri Vell, deserve more time for exploration than a late night and a few early morning hours, so I’m looking forward to visiting next month.

Will I see you in Girona?

More Girona ramblings at Boots’n’All. And more fun travel photos at Budget Travelers Sandbox. I know nothing about Girona. Even though it’s the capital of the Costa Brava, Europe’s oldest beach resort, I knew nothing of its existence.

Having just visited Carcassonne for a writing assignment, I’m on a Barcelona-bound train for a flight home the next day. When the train stops in Girona, I hop off on an impulse. Not all my impulsive decisions are great. Far from it. But this one is.

An info board outside the railway station shows Girona has a medieval old town, Barri Vell. Easy decision which way to go then. On the way, the pleasantly bustling La Rambla tempts with life and laughter from numerous outdoor cafes. But it’s 11 pm. Must find somewhere to sleep first.

Asking a passer-by, I’m told I have a choice. Go to the right for a hostel – or to the left for a choice of up-market hotels. My legs go to the left. All by themselves. At Hotel Historic, I ask for the cheapest option. Turns out to be a huge apartment. Enough to house a large, latin-sized family.

I’m so lonely in that enormous space, I immediately request a change to a simple room. More expensive, but much better.

The shower is enormous, with a bewildering array of shower heads and settings. How to use it all? I never work it out, but playing with it amuse me for a good half hour. After that, I’m much too tired to go out.

Dinner then, is red wine and peanuts from the mini bar. Not the first time.

Sifting through my notes, accompanied by a German dubbed version of South Park on the TV, I barely have time to reflect on this global village – a Norwegian writer in Catalonia, close to the French border, writing in English while watching German-dubbed Spanish television – before I promptly fall asleep.

Catedral de Girona, Spain

The next morning, September has arrived. During the early hours, the air is nippy, the sun barely visible over the (beskriv, se bilde?) rooftops. The peal of church bells tempts me towards the imposing Catedral de Girona.

A side door is open, attracting me with its warm light. The sign on the door proclaims access is for religious purposes only. Can my visit be deemed religious? I’m awed by the sheer size and physical presence of cathedrals. That’s slightly religious, isn’t it?

IMG_0417

Peeking in, a vast silent nave of sombre, grey stone meets my eyes; the widest Gothic nave in the world, I learn. Not a soul is in sight. Like a rat to the flute of the pied piper, I’m drawn towards the sound of a deep voice chanting in the distance. Crossing the nave, I spot a priest performing some sort of ritual with an elderly couple. Close up, the voice of the priest resonates and seems to come from everywhere, in an eerie voice of God-effect.

Back in the nave, a sign points to the treasury. Displays of Catholic generally bother me; treasures were often amassed by violent and criminal means, in complete disregard for human rights. I decide the least I can do, is not ogle the objects.

IMG_0416

Meandering down the narrow Carrer Bonaventura Carreras i Peralta, with the street to myself, I quickly see that Barri Vell deserves more time for exploration than I can give it this morning. Narrow alleys and medieval stairs appear around every corner.

The Stairs of Barri Vell, Girona, Spain - 1

The Stairs of Barri Vell, Girona, Spain - 2

The Stairs of Barri Vell, Girona, Spain - 3

The Stairs of Barri Vell, Girona, Spain - 4

And Portal del Collectionista, a little bit of heaven for book lovers.

Further along, the hostel Cerveri de Girona, has a bright and airy reception area. Much livelier than my chic hotel. I regret not having chosen it last night, both for the price (EUR 15 as opposed to 110) and for computer access.

Breakfast is at Xocolateria Antiga, mostly because I’m attracted to the name. Chocolate spelled with an x! It’s a sweet little café. My croissant is sugar-glazed, my orange juice sweetened and the house special – hot chocolate Catalan-style – is strong, thick and, of course, super-sweet. Just to be on the safe side, the Xocolateria provides me with extra sachets of sugar.

IMG_0437

Girona is awakening. The tables are filling up with people enjoying morning xocolatas. At the next table, three generations of local women dressed in bright colours chat in animated Catalan, hands flying all over the place. Mum and grandmum puff energetically on long, slim cigarettes. Might have been the set of a Pedro Almodovar drama, this – Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Or something. I stare fascinatedly, sad I don’t understand Catalan.

Interesting as this scene is, it’s time to move on, in search of the Barcelona train and some protein. Few passersby speak English, but are eager to help all the same, replying in Spanish or Catalan. It works.

Twelve hours in Girona, much fewer in a an alert state. So interesting, I almost forget I have to catch a flight from Barcelona in the afternoon. Of course, there’s much more to see and do in Girona and in the Costa Brava. Next time.

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This is an excerpt of a longer narrative I wrote for Boots’n’All.

55 Responses to “The stairs of Girona”

  1. Ana O 7 August 2012 2345 #

    What a wonderful idea it was to hop off the train. Catalan-style chocolate is delicious! My granny added cornstarch to thicken it (our family heritage is Catalan, by the way).

    As far as I know, the x in the Catalan language sounds like ch, and the Aztecs referred to chocolate as xocolaltl, so it makes sense to call the place a Xocolateria :)
    Ana O recently posted..Travel Memory Mondays: drive from London to Southwestern France

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 August 2012 1200 #

      How interesting! Any connection between Catalunya and the Aztecs, maybe…?

  2. ItalianNotes 8 August 2012 0926 #

    What a lovely experience. I’d like to watch cities wake up too, but unfortunately it is an struggle against (my) nature.
    ItalianNotes recently posted..The musical attractions of Pesaro

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 August 2012 1201 #

      There is that! Travelling westwards, when jetlag works the right way, is the solution :)

  3. Angela 8 August 2012 1410 #

    Lovely lovely photos, Sophie! Great capture of different stairs!
    Angela recently posted..A trip, a photo – The simple beauty of Nossa Senhora de Prainha church, Fortaleza

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 August 2012 1201 #

      Thanks, Angela :)

  4. Andrea 8 August 2012 1744 #

    Girona is beautiful. Can’t wait to back in September. See you then!
    Andrea recently posted..The Cinquecento in Zagreb

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 August 2012 1202 #

      Yay! Look forward to seeing you again, Andrea.

  5. Leigh 9 August 2012 0634 #

    Girona looks like a fin place to visit but sadly I won’t be at TBEX. Are you going to Toronto next year?

    I too love watching cities come alive!
    Leigh recently posted..A World-class Hike:The Rainbow Range in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 August 2012 1203 #

      Don’t know yet. I have a ticket – and I want to go – and would like to meet you. But it’s nearly a year away. Who knows what happens :)

  6. Annie - FootTracker 9 August 2012 0859 #

    I also love watching a city awakening too. When I traveled to Japan, the first few nights I be wide awake, wondering from convenient stores to the next, then sat by the hotel window over looking the train station, eating my rice balls, and seeing people flocking into the station. =)
    Annie – FootTracker recently posted..FootTracker Fall Travel Plans

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 August 2012 1203 #

      Such fun, isn’t it…

  7. Muza-chan 9 August 2012 0924 #

    Great photos :)
    Muza-chan recently posted..A Japanese Song per Day: Complex – 1990

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 August 2012 1203 #

      Thanks :)

  8. Michele @ Malaysian Meanders 9 August 2012 1114 #

    Xocolateria definitely would have caught my eye, too. It sounds heavenly. Love the stairs.
    Michele @ Malaysian Meanders recently posted..R&R in Phuket, Thailand

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 August 2012 1204 #

      Thanks for stopping by, Michele.

  9. jenny@atasteoftravel 9 August 2012 1315 #

    There’s something quite exciting about jumping off a train on impulse. I did the same thing in Piemonte and it is now one of my favourite places to return to. I’d love to be going to Girona in September.The city looks fabulous and there’s a brilliant restaurant there that I’d love to try!
    jenny@atasteoftravel recently posted..Eating in New York

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 August 2012 1329 #

      Ooh, do share! (Loved your comprehensive NY restaurant guide, btw)

  10. Jackie Smith 9 August 2012 1632 #

    I love the concept of jumping off the train on impulse. We’ve often considered it but haven’t acted on it. I do wish I was coming to TBEX, it would be such fun to finally meet face-to-face. Sigh, but Seattle is a bit of a stretch. . .

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2314 #

      Bit of a long way that. Maybe Toronto next year then :)

  11. MMMM that Catalan chocolate sounds wonderful! I just don’t know if it would help me wake up or put me back to sleep!?! Love the way you just hopped off the train too. Would love to have that experience :)
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Photographic Europe: More of my Favorites!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2316 #

      It’s an interesting way to discover new and unexpected places, I think. Some good, some less so…

  12. InsideJourneys 9 August 2012 2151 #

    Could that be the name in Catalan?
    Anyway, I love this story, Sophie. Love your impulse and how lovely it turned out. You could say Girona drew you to her?
    InsideJourneys recently posted..Jamaica50 The Colors of Independence

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2317 #

      I think maybe it did :)

  13. Vera Marie Badertscher 10 August 2012 0124 #

    The pudding-like chocolate you get in Spain is so wonderful. I can’t understand why it hasn’t caught on in America. We seem to have exhausted ever other signature dish from every country. Why not a chocolate and churros shop? (We have churros–just not with chocolate.) I love these pictures, and am trying to figure out if you ever slept that night?
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday: TX Road Trip

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2318 #

      I did, but not for very long :)

  14. Natasha von Geldern 10 August 2012 0146 #

    How wonderful unexpected pleasures are! Love the stairs and the chocolate with an X :)
    Natasha von Geldern recently posted..Destination Belgium: Battlefields of the Western Front

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2319 #

      :)

  15. Jenna 10 August 2012 0322 #

    I also adore watching cities wake up. Girona looks lovely–I’m really wishing I could go to TBEX Europe.
    Jenna recently posted..The Colors of Brazil

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2320 #

      I wish you could, too, Jenna.

  16. Mary @ The World Is A Book 10 August 2012 0552 #

    I love the way you captured the alleys and stairways. Girona looks so charming. It’s always great to watch the city wake up and have these few stolen moments of crowd free scenes. I wish I was going to TBEX Europe. I hope to meet you in Toronto next year.
    Mary @ The World Is A Book recently posted..Discovering Grenada: The Caribbean’s Spice Isle

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2320 #

      Likewise :)

  17. Wends of Journeys and Travels 10 August 2012 0607 #

    I love the stairs and just rightly up, inspirational. i love the way you captured them and so tempting to just sit down on the stairs, grab a book and read. that will be life for me by then. :)
    Wends of Journeys and Travels recently posted..Hong Kong’s Clock Tower sentry of the past in the present

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2322 #

      Oh yes, I like that. Just sitting on the stairs reading. Or writing..

  18. Jessica 10 August 2012 0609 #

    Watching cities wake up is a great pastime! Have a great TBEX!
    Jessica recently posted..Searching for Something at the Orange Show Houston and Finding Smithers Park

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2323 #

      Thanks, Jessica :)

  19. Andrea 10 August 2012 1401 #

    I agree – it is fun to watch people going about their morning routines. Especially when I have nowhere I have to be myself!
    Andrea recently posted..Avoiding Hidden Costs When Moving To Norway

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2323 #

      That’s a given. Almost a bonus that – watching people hasten to work when I don’t have to.

  20. Victor Tribunsky 10 August 2012 1456 #

    We go to Girona this December :-)
    Victor Tribunsky recently posted..Petar I and His Baroque Church

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2325 #

      You’ll enjoy it, I’m sure.

  21. Laurence 10 August 2012 2234 #

    Looking forward to meeting you in Girona Sophie! I’ll be the confused looking one ;)
    Laurence recently posted..In photos: from the Facebook Page (Edition ii)

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2326 #

      Look forward to meeting you, too. Might be a bit on the confused side myself.

  22. Rick Calvert 11 August 2012 2042 #

    Can’t wait to meet you there Sophie or to stand on the steps of Girona again. It is such a beautiful and historic city.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2327 #

      Looking forward to both.

  23. Nancie 13 August 2012 0041 #

    What a gorgeous looking little town; a perfect escape for a day or two or even three. Enjoy your time there next month!
    Nancie recently posted..In Celebration of World Elephant Day–Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2328 #

      Too bad you won’t be there, Nancie.

  24. Johanna Bradley 13 August 2012 1752 #

    Girona was already earmarked for me. I just need to get over in that direction. Your post suggests it will live up to expectations. When’s the conference?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 August 2012 2329 #

      21 – 22 September. With fun things to do before and after.

  25. Brooke vs. the World 15 August 2012 1404 #

    I wish I were going to Girona. There’s still a SMALL chance… flights from Oz are just too darn expensive :/

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 August 2012 1643 #

      Fingers crossed, Brooke :)

  26. Treasure of Travelers 21 August 2012 1040 #

    Stairs made the town for sure! It’s a great city views, and I love “mornings’ discoveries” when you can explore a place without being disturbing.
    I will probably go in Girona, it will be the first time for me, so I’m hesitating yet to go or not…
    Treasure of Travelers recently posted..FoodAirlines, boarding to the flavors! #FoodPorn

  27. Fiona 5 September 2012 1638 #

    Wow – makes me want to go to Girona now – looks fantastic, loved reading about the chocolate cafe spelt with an ‘x’, makes me think about delicious chocolate con churros that you get in Madrid and South America…mmmmm

  28. Ramírez from pamplona 30 November 2013 1513 #

    All the pictures are uncommon :). In twelve hours you did a great job. Nice presentation. Are you a professional photographer?
    Ramírez from pamplona recently posted..Hotel Sancho Ramirez y San Fermin 2013

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