As we drove through the Costa Brava region, we were more than happy that we had chosen Barcelona as our home. The towns were predominantly hotels and tourist apartments which screamed "British Package Holidays" wherever we looked. We were not that impressed!
Driving into Girona, I started to wonder if I had been wrong about this city. It was more modern than I had expected and I couldn't see any of the interesting architecture that I had seen on websites. Parking the car, we emerged out of the carpark to see what we could find.
To my relief, we weren't far from the river, and this is where our true Girona experience began. The old part of the city is built along the Onyar river, and it wasn't until we ventured over one of the bridges that we found ourselves surrounded by beautiful old buildings.
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We wandered into Independència Square, edged by restaurants, and chose one which offered local fare. The square is very pretty.
After a delicious meal of seafood paella, we made our way across the M. Gómez Bridge to lose ourselves in the old part of the city.
Girona has survived 25 sieges and has been captured 7 times. It was first inhabited by Iberians (a mix of Greek and Roman), and has also lived under Moorish, Roman and French rule, before being declared as part of Barcelona and ultimately awarded its own city status. (It is now one of the 4 principle cities in Catalunya together with Barcelona, Lleida and Tarragona.) In the 12th Century, there was also a thriving Jewish community in Girona, until the Jews were expelled in 1492 by the Catholic Kings.
It was extremely hot, about 40°C, so we were very pleased that we had thought to bring bottles of water with us. We carry a partially-filled frozen bottle, and another filled with cold water which we use to replenish the frozen bottle as we drink from it. There's nothing like iced water on a hot day, and the salty paella had made us thirstier than usual.
First stop for us was the Arab Baths: so called, because in 1194, they were built in the Arabian style. For €2 each, we toured the inside in about 10 minutes. It's interesting, but not fascinating. For me, there were more pleasing sights to photograph outside the baths.
Wandering back along the path from the baths, we came to the foot of the staircase which leads to La Catedral de Girona - an impressive Basilica which dominates the old town's skyline. The Moors had used the old church as a mosque, and when they were also driven out (circa 1015) , the mosque site was remodelled into a site for a Catholic cathedral.
There are 86 steps up to the front door - we know, because we counted them as we climbed. No photography is allowed inside, but the cathedral has the distinction of featuring the largest single arched vault in the world - it is an impressive sight. I wouldn't have thought that it was much bigger than the one in Santa Maria del Mar cathedral in Barcelona, but apparently it is!
Coming out of the cathedral, we meandered through the narrow and pretty streets of the Sant Marti and Jewish Quarter. I took lots of images!
The old buildings were very beautiful, and there were interesting shops to peer into along the way.
Hot and happy, we crossed over another bridge to get back into the newer part of the city, found our car and drove back to Barcelona. We made good use of the car by driving up Tibidabo so that I could take a night-shot of the Temple de Sagrat Cor - but that's another story.
What a perfect birthday, made possible by a thoughtful and loving partner who made it even more special.