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?

Below is an excerpt of a longer real-time narrative I wrote for Boots’n’All.

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.

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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.