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Girona: When the City Comes out to Play at Night

by Silke Elzner

Beautiful Girona – more than just a day trip destination from Barcelona. There really was no reason why the city should be in the shadow of its much better-known neighbour. There is more to Girona than just a river, an old town, and some history. It was indeed a destination in its own right.

There were flair and vibrancy in the streets. Colour and flavour. A playground for a wiggling mass of people who squeeze through ancient narrow streets, losing themselves in the maze of stairs and archways, courtyards and arcades. The clinking of glasses, waves of joyous laughter and occasional children’s screams, echoing from the medieval walls of the old town, making us feel alive and in the moment.

Rainbow Houses on the River

River panorama Onyar River in Girona

A friend once stated, quite rightly so, that every good city had a river. A river offered a more in-depth, more intimate view of the city, cutting through the urban jungle with a resoluteness that couldn’t be overcome even by the most cunning town developer. What would London be without the river Thames, Paris without the Seine?

In Girona, the river Onyar provided such a setting that allowed deeper insights into the fabric of the city. The colour of the houses along the Onyar was not by chance. Architects had carefully selected the palette that house owners could choose from, creating this most attractive first impression that made us choose Girona over Barcelona.

We had the choice on our road trip through Spain: Stop in Barcelona like millions of other people each year, or try nearby Girona instead. A quick image search of the city name revealed a colourful river panorama, and so our minds were set. We wanted to see the lesser known place, experience the flair of a city on the river, be enchanted by the riverside houses and everything else that Girona might have to offer.

The Narrow Streets of the Jewish Quarter

The narrow streets of Gerona's Jewish Quarter

The views from the bridge were just one part of Girona. A link between the more modern part of the town and the ancient quarters closer to the cathedral. We crossed the river and entered a whole new world. Cobblestone roads would soon close in on us, becoming narrower with each step, until the four-, five-story-houses would almost touch one another. At times it was a squeeze, not just for the cars that dared to venture this deep into the centre of the old town, but also for the evening strollers.

There were particular features that were characteristic for Girona. The parallel roads, for example, winding up and down like slithering snakes, at times so narrow that you could almost touch houses to both sides with outstretched arms. They were connected via walkways that passed through the houses, arched footpaths that beckoned you to try a detour, to explore the guts of the ancient core, deeper and deeper until you were sucked into a maze of alleys and tunnels and steep stairs.

The stairs – they sometimes started next to a road, took a turn, followed the backside of a house, opening up a new path. On and on they went, taking you up to places where no car would ever go, past century-old houses, destination unknown. We followed the stairs and were rewarded with unforgettable views and a look at the imposing Cathedral of Girona which was silently towering over the city like a lioness over her playful cubs.

A Vibrant Town Centre at Night

Girona at night

From the steps of the Cathedral, we descended to the old town again where the crowds were strolling hand in hand through the streets, finding respite in the cooler evening air on a hot summer’s day. Almost every seat was taken now, the tables filling every square. Aimlessly, we wandered through the archways and alleys, happening on secret courtyards filled with people, dining, snacking, drinking.

The atmosphere was full of cheer and bonhomie, it seemed that every citizen of Girona was out and about, enjoying the flavours, sights and sounds of a city that was preparing for the night. No cars could be heard, just the myriad of voices, all mixed up to a buzzing bee stock of human activity. Adults and children, families and friends, Catalans and visitors from overseas, all coming together to soak up the lively atmosphere of this charming town.

This was a city made for people. A place where you could come out to play, meet neighbours and make new friends. What a difference to Australia where we had just come from, where city centres were made for cars and not for people.

In the end, we joined the crowds, conquered a free table, ordered local delicacies, and became one with the city. The lure of metropolitan Barcelona was long forgotten, we now knew where we belonged.

More photos as you scroll down!

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The narrow streets of GironaA walkway connecting roadsStairs leading to the cathedral squareArched walkwayViews of the cathedral square in GironaCathedral GironaDetail of the old townColourful arch decorationA church doorSteps and an alleywayMore stepsHidden corners of GironaConnections between houses