We had decided that Monday would be a travel day with a plan to get out of Barcelona via train on a trip to Girona, a small medieval city on the fringes of the Pyrenees. Our hotel desk staff was unable to offer us any guidance in terms of departure times so we left early, caught a quick breakfast at a smoky little sandwich shop on La Rambla and took the Metro to the main train station – Estacio Sants. The subway here is very easy to use but that ease came to a screeching halt at the train station where nothing was clear. Leaving My Lovely Wife in a long line at the information window, I went off to try and get a feeling for how the place worked. I found a row of “medium distance” ticket windows and went back to retrieve her from the wait. It turned out to be a good idea as the window I chose happened to be the correct one. We purchased two round trip tickets for 25 Euros and set about waiting the 50 minutes for the departure.
Like so many public transportation facilities this one had a serious lack of places to sit. We finally found a couple of seats near the entrance to our platform and spent some time reading the International Herald Tribune. Fifteen or so minutes before the scheduled departure we went down to the platform to wait. The train – The Catalunya Express – pulled into the station on time; we boarded and left on schedule.
The train left Barcelona via a long tunnel finally emerging in an industrial area to the north east. The view here was like that along any train track anywhere I’ve ever been – poor neighborhoods, graffiti on every square inch of concrete, factories and a lot of trash. Eventually we cleared the edge town and continued on into the countryside and the scene outside improved greatly. Off in the distance two mountains wore a fresh crown of snow. Farms and small towns now dominated the view and we began to see more of the rural homes of the region – broad facades with a high single point and long red tile roofs sloping from the middle downwards to the sides. All built of plastered stone and whitewashed in tans and yellows.
We stopped at a handful of small stations before rolling into Girona about an hour and twenty minutes later, exactly on schedule.
From the train station Girona looked just like a smaller, less urban Barcelona – apartment buildings and businesses lined the major boulevards. But our goal was the old quarter on the far side of the river where the skyline is dominated by two big cathedrals and long sections of the original city walls still remain. We walked along Carrer Barcelona before randomly choosing a right turn that led us to a small bright red steel bridge to the other side.
The atmosphere changed instantly – the cars were gone, as were the people going about their daily business. This quarter was mostly abandoned with a few tourists and fewer residents roaming around. We picked a street and climbed up through the ancient Call, one of the oldest and best preserved Jewish quarters in Spain. At the end of the climb the Cathedral of Girona presented itself at the top of a tall, broad expanse of stairs. We climbed them and went in taking the time to wander through a small museum featuring a wonderful collection of religious artifacts spanning ages from the 10th century to the present. In a small dark room at the back, behind thick velvet curtains designed to limit the light entering the room, was the Creation Tapestry, a relic from 1100 AD.
The church was undergoing a significant restoration project so it wasn’t quite as peaceful as the Cathedral in Barcelona, but it was very impressive nonetheless, especially the cloisters which date from the 1200’s. This small square was lined with tiny caskets, mounted high up on the walls, holding the remains of the noble faithful.
Off the back of the church, a 3 mile section of the city’s original Roman wall runs along the top of the hills overlooking the modern city. The view from here was spectacular, taking in the whole valley below and the skyline of the old quarter, the Eglesia de Sant Feliu and several Roman towers stood out against the blue sky.
Coming down off the walls we roamed the quarter for a while before settling on a restaurant for a late lunch. Baked cannelloni, pate with toast, paella with prawns, calamari and mussels, coffee and flan provided a nice Catalonian repast for a chilly afternoon.
It was now time to head back so we did a bit of window shopping along the streets leading to the train station arriving there about 1 hour before the next departure. We settled in for the wait and were entertained by a group of boys on some sort of backpacking expedition who were trying to retrieve their soccer ball from a ledge above the escalator to the platform. I missed how it got there, but watching them get it down was quite amusing.
The train ride back was quick and we chose to get off at an earlier station that was within walking distance of our hotel.
Girona was a wonderful place, made better by having come to it without expectations. A slow pace, good food, spectacular sights, excellent company – what more can anyone ask from a day trip? It’s certainly on my list for a return trip somewhere down the road.