….. solar panel….. Reflecting on a few things and some news from home, this is what we decided. If you don’t look for the sunshine in life you are only going to feel flat 🙂
After our surreal experiences at the outdoor sculpture park, when we arrived in Girona we felt like we needed a drink! Parking up at an aire/car park on the edge of the town we wandered the 20 minutes or so into one of the main squares, Plaza de la Independencia, lined with restaurants and bars. We settled ourselves in for a while, primarily due to the size of the bottle of beer Nick had. It took “grande” to another level, a wine bottle sized level. Navigating him home to the aire, a grande chellengio!
For a relatively small place, Girona has a remarkable number of 1) pastry/bakeries and 2) churches/cathedrals so walking with Xuixos (fried pasty filled with cream, donut style) in hand we wandered the narrow streets seeking out incredible buildings and flies. Flies you may ask… they are symbolic of the city. It is said that when the French were invading, as they regularly did given it’s strategic location on rivers, they made the mistake of ransacking St Narcissus tomb only to be chased away by a swarm of stinging flies, leaving the city in peace. Thus Girona has kept St Narcissus and his flies as a cherished symbol and annually hold a festival in their honour. Amusing that a fly outdoes Saint George in terms of motif’s around the place, given George is the Patron Saint of Catalonia!
Girona’s old town is relatively small, perhaps to do with it having undergone 25 sieges and has been captured 7 times… there’s only so much a building can take. The Old Town however is carefully preserved, the income from Game of Thrones no doubt helping fund maintenance of the cobbled alleyways and decorative narrow streets. Sitting on the River Onyar, the colourful waterside houses and ornate bridges are a lovely place to stop and take in the surroundings. Picking out a few highlights the first is The Arab Baths. Built in Romanesque style in the early 1100’s we thought we were back home in Bath for the similarities… Much smaller, these are a beautiful representation, the entrance room or apodyterium (changing) has an outstanding cupola with animal and flora motifs. Naturally the following rooms go from very cold to hot and aren’t as stunning but do demonstrate well, the water heating systems. The rooftop view is fantastic, seeing the facility from above.
Nearby is the Catedral de Girona, an imposing and ornate exterior is small preparation for what’s inside. It is home to the widest Gothic nave in the world (and only second to St Peters Basilica for any church) A handy model array shows the evolution of the building from it’s C11th origins. Numerous stained glass windows bathe the interior with shards of colourful light, softening the hard edges of the stonework. An unusual boxed in organ, sits abruptly at the rear. One of the windows is designed by Sean Scully, unveiled in 2012. I know which one I prefer to look at!
Heading for a coffee and some outdoors, we walked the walls of the city, enabling super views across rooftops and spires, a backdrop of snowy mountains and springtime birdsong. From there the Sagat Cor Girona beckoned us. A modern day building in comparison, less spectacular than the Catedral but still immense. The third key one to visit is Basilica San Feliu which was sadly closed but we came across the Church of Santa Susanna de Mercadal. A tiny but simple structure in comparison but really calming with beautiful paintings rather than all the carvings and gold in the grander places.
We ended a pretty full day of exploring, in a bar with drinks and tapas (for a change!) Girona is such an eclectic mix of architecture through its churches, buildings and squares, the cobbled streets and narrow stepped alleyways highly symbolic of life through the ages. There’s a calm buzz and a low key vibrancy about the place.
Change of scene, we headed to Amposta at the Ebro Delta Natural Park. A birdlife haven and a protected area due to its abundance of migratory birds as well as all rounders. There’s a fabulous 26km cycle route around the whole area with several hides, a variety of habitats and the L’Encassinyada and La Tancada lagoons. There are paddy fields, reed beds, marshes and farmland so a plethora of birds enjoy whatever suits them. We felt like we stopped every 20 yards, scrambling to google to try and identify birds we didn’t recognise (Mark, we need you!) New ones were Glossy Ibis and Black Winged Stilt!! As the sun went down we started to see clouds of small birds flashing white then dark as they danced in the sky, mesmerising. It’s no surprise nature featured so heavily during the covid times, its therapy for the soul just being out, eyes wide open, mind shifting on creatures large and small, plants and trees and the beauty of the world. Anyhow, we really love it, and no we are not twitchers, for a start off we don’t have curtains….
Morella is in the north of the Castellon province and is a majestic walled, hill top town. Fought over several times due to its prominent position, it’s said to have origins back to Greeks and Romans, there’s an aqueduct dating to 1318. Most of its economic reliance these days seems to be tourism, not that we saw any as we entered through two imposing gate towers and roamed the narrow streets, it was incredibly quiet. Tucked away we found the Morella Giants, who are used at most celebrations and processions. Symbolising the union of the Muslims and Christians culture, religion and customs since the C13th Morella is proud of the coexistence.
The Church of Santa Maria de Morella is one of the most splendid we have seen, and we’ve seen a lot! Let alone the magnificent exterior, on entering, there’s a low vaulted ceiling within the main space with a glorious spiral staircase up to the choir area. The craftsmanship is so detailed (zoom in on the pics!) and the lines of the organ pipes are beautiful , black in gilt finery. The pictures surpass any description.
Towering above the town is Castell de Morella, a good way to work off lunch. One of the most important in the Valencia regions history it is built on and around the rock itself. It’s suggested it goes back to Roman times and lets face it, they did good castles, but most of it is C14th. It’s majestic and imposing with influences from Arabs and Christians, it was fortified and transformed by differing civilisations. The climb to the very top is worth it for the 360 views across the plains filled with blossom. The only negative of Morella is that it still has a functioning bull ring, fights in August. We won’t be heading back for that anytime soon.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this one, sorry its a tad long. We are currently a week behind writing! We decided to hide indoors and write that evening, due to some super trendy and fit Dutch who are opposite us. We followed them out on bikes today, they are leaner, fitter and she even wears lipstick! Who’d have thought it!