Sunny Spain! (We gained 35 degrees F with a four-hour flight!) Warm, green, welcoming, beautiful Spain…our first stop: Girona. Just 65 miles northeast of Barcelona, it is a medieval gem, so much so that Game of Thrones filmed Season 6 here, and the crew didn’t have very much to modify to make it look ancient. Founded in 79 BC at the confluence of three rivers, Girona has undergone 25 sieges and has been captured seven times. It has been occupied by the Romans, the Visigoths, and the Moors, among others, so its history is rather complicated. You would never know this looking at the first photo, though! It looks like tranquillity itself. We took a wonderful free tour today with Christian, of GuruWalk, seen below describing a wall in the old Jewish Quarter. He told us that the area in the first photo is filled with flowers during a spring floral festival, although we think it is perfect as it is.
Next up is the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Girona, with its magnificent 90 steps, gorgeous facade, and a bell tower with the oldest bell dating to 1574, still ringing today. We like the southern entrance, with those multiple arches emanating from the niches where the 12 apostles once stood, now lost for various reasons. The photo after the arch is interesting, as you can see Movie Magic at work. We were at the doors of the cathedral, looking down the 90 steps, and Christian is holding a photo from Game of Thrones, also looking down. You can see, in reality, that the bottom of the stairs meets a courtyard surrounded by buildings, but the series needed it to look like the stairs led to the sea. So, the buildings were photoshopped out, and the sea was photoshopped in! The next photo shows a photo of the same location, on the steps, where not much modification is necessary because the city setting is just about perfect. While this was not a film tour, there were many of those happening around us for fans of the series. The Old Town was shut down for two weeks during filming, which did not please a lot of the residents, but it means there is a treasure trove of locations to visit.
The three photos after that one are most interesting, as they are from the ancient Jewish Quarter, also known as the Call. There was a thriving Jewish population in Girona in the 12th century, but it all came to an abrupt end in 1492, when Jews were given the ultimatum: convert to Christianity, or be expelled from Spain. Most chose to leave, trying to sell their homes to Christians (who didn’t want to buy a home in the Call, as they feared being thought of as secret Jews). Others boarded up their doors and windows, thinking they might return some day. But Jews were threatened with execution if found in Spain! So in the first of these photos of the Call, you can see several stories of a building, while in the second, many steps lead up to the next area. All of this level of buildings was under the city for hundreds of years! The area, filled with cobbled streets and plazas, was gradually developed with people building on top and around it, and the residents eventually forgot that there had ever been a Jewish area/population there! The Call was lost until it was discovered in the 19th century, when excavations for a railroad to France unearthed a whole underground sector. In the last of this trio of photos, Christian is showing us a part of the wall that used to be a residential doorway, but was sealed over.
After those are some photos we liked from around the Old Town…a flowered shop, some narrow streets, a terrific chair outside a store (looking closely, you can see that it is chained to prevent theft), and then you see a red bridge. It is the Pont de les Peixateries Velles, the Old Fisherman’s Bridge. Dating to 1877, it was built 10 years earlier than another, more famous landmark by a man named Eiffel. Sound familiar? You can see construction similar to his other work inFrance, with all that ironwork and rivets. Then there are more city sights that we liked, including a building being used as a residence by a pigeon. The pool with the columns flooded by light from above is in the old Arab Baths, and the gorgeous colonnade walkway you see runs for three sides along the Placa de la Independencia. The giant foot with a better pedicure than ours is of St. Narcis, and you attract good luck if you touch the back of his foot. The photo after that (featuring Winnie and Stephen from Washington, DC), honors Girona as the city of flies (true!), and if you touch it you will receive a miracle of your choice…a very superstitious city!
We HAD to put in two photos of the Catalan separation/independence movement… many buildings and apartments were adorned with the Catalan flag, yellow ribbons, and various mottos and signs. Then there is the gelateria, Rocambolesc, a less expensive way to enjoy the wares of the Brothers Roca. Their restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, is considered the best in the world, is fully booked for the next 14 months, and a tasting menu begins at about $200 per person. So, their ice cream tops out at around $5, and it is heavenly. They sell lollipops honoring Game of Thrones and Darth Vader, among others. Their soft-serve ice cream is some of the best in the world. And, following the sign of their popsicles is a photo of their most expensive ice cream treat: panet. Start with a brioche bun, fill with your choice of ice cream and three toppings, lay it on a panini press for 20-30 seconds, and out comes an embossed treat that is hot and crispy on the outside, cold and creamy on the inside. Heavenly.
The last three photos show an interesting Catalan version of No Junk Mail; an unusual model wearing a hat; and the Spanish obsession: Ham. This was taken in a neighborhood grocery store. You can see four clamped pig legs, each costing a different amount depending on the quality of the ham, with their hooves still attached. The desired amount of ham is shaved off. There are hundreds more on the wall behind and on either side. It is prized by many, but we ordered a dinner on a previous trip to Barcelona, and we were chagrined that each slice was 60 percent fat to 40 percent meat, which is exactly what the Spaniards love about their beloved ham. We carefully cut off all the fat and ate only the meat, which probably drove the staff mad when they cleared our plates!