When we initially booked to go visit our pals Gordon and Roberta back in 2020, the plan was to fly in to Barcelona, then make our way up along the towns on the Costa Bravan coast, with a day trip to Girona. This time around, we almost didn’t even go to the Catalan city at all, but in the end spent three nights there, and I’m glad we did – because I really enjoyed it (and took more photos here than anywhere in years, so be warned).
Girona is a small city with a population of about 100,000, though when we arrived it felt much larger than that – partly because the train station felt very much like an airport.
The city’s heart is made up of a warren of winding stone alleys from medieval times, and I loved seeing and then exploring the various stairwells that branched off of one another. As much as I love Glasgow and understand the significance of its early grid system, I have a real fondness for the organic nature of labyrinthian places, and in many ways this reminded me of Edinburgh.
Girona is encircled by ancient city walls, and if you manage to brave the summer sun and climb to the top of all of those winding stone steps, you are able to walk along them, and get some beautiful views over the landscape.
I did laugh in despair at the following though: the construction of a terribly bland modern building right next to a beautiful ancient one. I’m aware that this was the result of a particular general architectural philosophy at some point (to not try and make new things look old), but while the intentions of such an approach may be good, the result is often terrible. It reminds me of the horrendous buildings that were built on the Glasgow University campus, and how much of a blight they are on the stunning main building.
All over Girona there were signs and symbols in support of Catalonian independence – something that I hadn’t quite appreciated or expected beforehand. As it turns out, the city not only had the highest turnout in the 2017 independence referendum, but also the highest percentage of yes votes. As a result of that vote of course, a number of the Catalan government were jailed or pursued by the Spanish authorities, and the yellow ribbon has become a symbol of resistance and solidarity. It was everywhere.
I have always had a bit of a fascination with flags, and was interested to discover that there were multiple flags associated with Catalonia, each with a different meaning. The ‘official’ flag is made up of red and yellow stripes. It doesn’t indicate any particular position on independence. This was mostly seen on government buildings and public parks, including up into the South of France. Another thing I hadn’t quite understood before was that Catalonia extends outwith the borders of Spain.
The flag that we see most often associated with Catalonia is the one below with the blue triangle and the white star – similar to the Cuban flag. This is the main flag associated with the independence movement.
There were some other interesting flags that were less common, and which I didn’t manage to get pictures of, but one in particular that looked like a Scottish saltire that had been flipped 90 degrees, with a star next to it. This is apparently a more defiantly pro-independence flag, reclaimed from historical events where it was used to indicate that the defenders of a particular castle would resist until their death.
Perhaps the most famous thing about Girona is its Cathedral. Hidden away down one of the wee stone alleys is this amazing Roman Catholic construction, nestled in between the surrounding buildings. Its steps are particularly imposing, and this scene – along with others in the city – were used for Game of Thrones.
You can go inside the Cathedral during the day, which we did.
Unfortunately it was very dark, and I had only brought my prescription sunglasses, so could only see the inside through a fuzzy blur. Luckily, I took lots of pictures to revisit later.
I found the scene below really funny. There was this big Italian family who were fussing over the girl sitting down, fixing her hair and positioning her so they could take a picture in the beautiful inner garden area of the Cathedral. It seemed like a full on production, though they were shooting at a strange angle on a phone, and would definitely struggle with the backlight in that area. I’d never seen anything like it.
We ate and drank well while we were in Girona. Not only was the city home to a bunch of local vermouths (which is a particular favourite of mine), but they also had these delicious filled pastry things that were kind of a cross between a donut, a croissant, and a cannoli. I can’t believe I only managed to get one of them. It would be worth going all the way back just for another.
For our first full day, we headed to one of the big local indoor markets, and bought up a whole bunch of different cheeses, meats, fruits, vegetables, and a bunch of natural wine – because as I mentioned in the blog on Toulouse – all that stuff is just infinitely better in Europe.
Indoor markets are one of my favourite places to take pictures, as everybody is not only so engrossed in what they are doing, but there are a whole variety of different expressions and interactions going on, and you are packed in close enough that you can get really brilliant candid pictures. Not to say that any of mine are particularly good, but it did provide a bit of photographic satisfaction that I haven’t had in a long time.
That inspiration continued for a while, and I found myself taking quite a lot of street shots around Girona.
I am definitely out of practice, and most of the shots are very much just people and things I found interesting rather than anything particularly great in of themselves, but it felt good to enjoy the process again.
Overall, Girona was well worth the visit. It seemed like most people come here just for a day trip, which meant that it didn’t feel quite as over-run with tourists as it maybe could have – especially at night when things quietened down. I got the impression that it was perhaps similar to Venice, in the sense that people would be quick to write it off as there being limited things to do or see, but if you spend a bit of time and let yourself sink into its rhythm, it has a whole lot to offer. I liked it a lot. Even the famous red lattice bridge with its views down the city looked way better in person than it appears online.
Oh, and I was complimented by a number of people on being stylish and fashionable, which has never happened before in my life, so I’ll be moving to Girona immediately.