I tried calling but couldn’t reach you. Here everything is okay; excellent, actually. We’ve just returned from a visit to Girona, a city I’m sure you’ll fall in love with.
As usual, I took care of all making all the arrangements for the trip while the guys argued. Danny wanted to travel by train, Sivan wasn’t listening and Tali and I wanted to travel by car. We did a quick search for available transport options and found regular train tickets for 8,40 euros (about an hour and a half ride), fast train tickets (called AVE) for 37,20 Euro (which shorten travel time by half) and direct bus return tickets for 21 euros, although their limited schedule didn’t match ours. Renting a car would’ve been ideal but at 120 euros plus fuel (40 euros), fees and parking, it got a bit expensive. In the end, we opted for the AVE fast trail since purchasing return tickets entitled a good discount, so we decided to save ourselves possible headaches and travel comfortably.
The following morning we left the hotel and got to Barcelona Sants train station around 9am; bought our tickets (you can also buy them online at RENFE.COM) and hopped on the train. The landscapes out the window were beautiful and so typically Catalonian: beaches on the one side and mountains on the other. I tried to take pictures but unfortunately the train speed was just too fast.
Having reached Girona’s central station, it took us just a few minutes to get to the tourist office at Rambla Libertad 1, where we were advised to begin our tour of the city in the ‘Call’, which in Catalan means the Jewish quarter. We walked to the city’s oldest quarter and got purposely lost in its narrow winding streets. I’d never seen such wealth of detail in such narrow spaces, and the mix of cultural styles was evidence to long history which has accumulated within Girona’s every corner.
Once we managed to locate our position in the map, Sivan led us to own second sight to see the impressive 12th century Arab baths down Ferran street, which stand next to another marvel – the city’s 11th century Romanesque Cathedral whose cloister is perfectly preserved. The Arab bath’s medieval architects were inspired by Roman ruins were once commonly spread throughout Catalonia. Besides the beauty of the building itself, its state of preservation is remarkable, as if it had been frozen in time. There was no need to book the entry tickets in advance, which were 2 euros (1 euro for children and students) and the site is open to the public every day of the year between 10am-2pm, though in summer it stays open until 7pm.
Our third stop was a visit to the Jewish History Museum of Girona. It turns out that the museum, which opened in 1992, was built on the foundations of what was once the Jewish center of the medieval city, a complex which included a synagogue, a Mikveh and even a butchery. Walking through the exhibitions really enhanced my comprehension of the quarter and its importance in history (did you know the Ramban and one of the most brilliant philosophical thoughts of Judaism – the Kabbalah were born in these streets?) Moreover, the museum is located in the best preserved area of the Call, at 8 Força street, and is open to the public every day except for Mondays at a price of 4 euros per person (6 euros for audio-guided visits).
Another important reason to visit the museum is, without doubt, to see the recently discovered 15th century mikveh in its extraordinary conservation state which has been compared to that of world famous mikvehs of Besalu, Sicily and Montpellier. The mikveh is located inside the museum premises and its visit is included in the Museum entry ticket.
It was past 1pm when we left the museum and the crowing of our stomachs was beginning to distract us. We left the museum in search of a meal, but decided to go through the streets of Hernandez and Força (once the main streets of the Call), through the appropriately called ‘Mezuzahs route’, in order to check whether the stories we’d heard in the museum were true. Did Jews really live down those streets? …Indeed! Door lintel by door lintel we saw the slots which once held mezuzah parchments. The route, I must admit, was deeply moving.
At this stage our hunger had reached its peak, and it just so happened that we were in a city which holds a world record for the highest number of Michelin star restaurants per square foot. What did we do? We looked at the prices. Girona has a huge selection of restaurants of all types and price ranges and, since we were already in the heart of the Jewish quarter, we opted for a restaurant specialized in kosher Sephardic cuisine – the restaurant Draps. The restaurant is famous for its delicious large portions which are designed to be shared among several diners and whose gastronomic inspiration comes from all over the Mediterranean. Our feast included appetizers, main courses, wine, dessert and coffee, all at a price of 30 euros per head. I highly recommend you to try out the special menu called ‘Sefarad’. The restaurant is located very close to the museum, at Cort Real 2.
While we ate the rain had started to pour, which is typical of October. But just as the rain came, it is also went away, so don’t let it alarm you. After the meal we wanted to take a break and be impressed by the landscapes surrounding the city (the city is surrounded by two rivers, which is why the Romans called it ‘Girona’ – the surrounded). It was the perfect moment for a walk atop the city’s fortified walls. The walls surrounding the city were built during the 15th century over 2,000 year old Roman ruins. Restored over the last century, the wall has been made into an elevated walkway called ‘Passeig de la Muralla’ (don’t even try to pronounce it) which allows visitors and locals alike to experience the city and its surrounding landscape from above.
We decided to go around the entire city (about an hour and a half walk, including several stops for group photos). Watching the sunset over the city was relaxing and very romantic (for couples of course, those coming alone may feel a bit nostalgic). Nor far in the distance you could see the majestic mountain of Montjuic, which in Catalan means, literally, ‘mountain of the Jews’. During medieval times, Jewish cemeteries across Catalonia were located one kilometer into the mountains surrounding its cities and towns. We were told several ancient legends regarding these mountains featuring demons, curses and hidden treasures… not scary enough thought, as no one came running into my arms.
Finally, an hour and a half before returning to Barcelona, we found ourselves, where else, at the shopping district. However, besides a few nice local shops it did not compare to what goes on in Barcelona, especially regarding prices.
It was already 19:00 and we boarded the train towards Barcelona. The screens read our train’s final destination was Madrid Atocha, which tempted us to stay on the train. Maybe next time we’ll get off there, if my boss and my bank allow for it.