Saturday, December 17, 2011

Girona

On the spur of the moment this morning we decided to visit Girona,  just an hour away. Girona is perhaps underrated as a tourist destination. While many tourists fly into Girona - it is a major hub for Ryanair - they tend to head from the airport directly to Barcelona or the coast. But that may soon change. Frommer's has declared  Girona one of the top ten cities to visit in 2012, and others in the travel industry are also promoting the city's charms.

Girona has a colourful history. The region has been populated for perhaps a million years. More recently there were Berbers, Celts, Greeks, and Romans. The Visigoths held sway for a while and then the Moors who battled back and forth with the Franks. In the nine hundreds the city was handed over to Charlemagne. Its key strategic position caused it be involved in many wars and it became known as the city of the sieges after Napoleonic forces besieged it in 1808-09. The city suffered further depredations during the Spanish Civil War but has gone from strength to strength since the first civic elections in 1979. It is now one of the cities with the highest income per capita in Spain.

As we approached the centre of the city we passed wide streets and a beautiful park, which we will save for another day. After a quick trip to the information centre we crossed the River Onyar, which divides the 'old' from the 'new' city. We crossed the river, captivated by the colourful buildings that lined it, additional color provided by laundry drying on balconies. Looking down we saw numerous fish in the wide but shallow Onyar. It was all quite beautiful.

We wandered through the narrow streets of the old quarter and the Jewish quarter peeking into courtyards and countless narrow alley ways. There is a substantial Jewish museum here that we plan to visit on our next trip. We know that there was a lot of tension between the Jewish people and the cathedral and its clerics, and that all jews were eventually expelled from Spain in 1492.

Arab baths built in the twelfth century provided evidence of Moorish influence in the city. As we wandered around this well preserved site we tried to imagine the gossiping, deal making, philosophizing, plotting, intriguing, match making and more that took place here every day for more than four hundred years.

It was time for lunch in the old quarter. Seamus started with melon and serrano ham and I had prawns. This was followed by the most tender veal and mushrooms in a wine sauce. Then it was gelato and creme catalan. All this plus a bottle of wine and a large bottle of water for €12 each! 

We are very impressed with Girona. It doesn't have the intensity of larger cities but has history, character and charm to spare; we look forward to many more visits.

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