March 14, Capmany --> Girona

We drove from our pine shaded campsite into the ancient city of Girona passing through a large agricultural area. Major highways, on either side of our route, had influenced local land use. We saw abandoned and semi-developed lands, small commercial operations on the urban fringes, the ruins of old farm houses, roofs collapsed, windows and doors long gone, abandoned restaurants and garages covered in graffiti, and ill-kept fields. The abandoned stone farmhouses had sheltered generations of families and the view of decaying villas and small towns on the surrounding hills, while  picturesque, gave an and air of sadness and loss. Heavy traffic crawled along the fringes of Girona and parking lots were full and overfull with parking vultures waiting for a place. We finally found a vacant spot and parked only to discover that it was 1 hour maximum. We sat a while to get our bearings and finally decided to head further out of town and walk back in. On our way we lucked onto a free (in both senses of the word) parking spot on the street and I managed to squeeze Brunhilde in. Having convinced ourselves that we were indeed legally parked, we had an early lunch in the van and crossed the Pont d'en Gómez pedestrian bridge to the old city. After a short walk and frequent queries of "Perdone, ¿dónde está la oficina de turismo" we were rewarded with a tourist map of the city and set off to explore. The old town rises east from the Onyar River and from the Oficina de Turismo we strolled back along the Rambla de la Libertat; passing benches of people lounging and gossiping in the radiant warmth of the sun; through the arched arcade; past street side tables where people sat with beer or coffee, jackets on in the shade, shirt sleeves if in the sun. A lone busker at the entrance to a covered passageway, sat on the cold cobblestones, back against the wall, playing his guitar softly. The near millennia old Jewish Quarter, now dominated by the Girona Cathedral of Saint Mary, was a warren of narrow cobblestone streets, arched passageways, and stone buildings. In places the sunlight warmed the stone walls and cobbled streets. People who had succumbed to the temptation were resting their backs against the wooden doors of stone arched entrances, sitting on steps polished smooth by numberless feet. The fully shaded alleys begged exploration but were too cold to linger, rather they encouraged brief passage, absorbing the ambiance and mystery before the next patch of sunshine. Still others sunlight on one side and shaded on the other presented two worlds, the shade side deserted, the sunny side with people going about their business, sight seeing, or gossiping. Despite sometimes severe restrictions, Jews fared much better under the Moors than under the Christians in Europe. Under Moorish rule, the Jewish community had flourished for nearly 500 years and Girona had been an important centre of Jewish culture and learning until the final Reconquista in 1492. Under the Catholic Monarchs  Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon they were forced to convert or be expelled from Spain. As I wandered through the maze of stone, I tried to imagine what these streets would have looked, felt, and smelled like at the zenith of the Jewish community. I could imagine people in Moorish garb, distinguished from the Moors by the yellow patch they were required to wear, but what were the narrow streets and lanes like. Were they clogged with street vendors and stalls, the smell of food and spices in the air, a din of shoppers and vendors haggling over price on market days and then deserted like now on non-market days; or were they quiet, a mix of homes and shops, perhaps discrete shops and offices at street level with residences above; or were they purely residential? Where were the slums, the wealthy neighborhoods? Were the streets clean or cluttered with market debris and animal dung? Not for the first time, I thought how wonderful it would be to be a fly on wall history. The cathedral dominates the hill and from its entrance plaza we looked down the grand stairway to a small plaza of intricately patterned cobblestones, in the corner the outdoor tables of a small street side resaurant.  From the cathedral we walked the ramparts of 14th century city walls, built on the foundations of the 1st century Roman walls. The city has long since grown beyond and engulfed the original Roman city walls.  From the old walls we looked down on ancient streets and intimate public gardens built amid the ruins of a life passed, and across tiled roofs to grandiose churches and towers built to the glory of God and/or his clergy by a once all powerful but now increasingly less relevant and less influential church. On a street below the cathedral, a stooped and wizened nun in full habit half emerged from the wooden gate of her cloister and peered about, seemingly curious about but afraid of the world beyond her walls; on the stone steps around the university students sat in the sun, studying, pre- paring for the world beyond their university. It was siesta time. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed, even most of those catering to tourists were closed. The streets were nearly empty, it felt almost as though we were walking through a ghost town, abandoned a millennia ago, but unchanged. It is still inhabited though, through the closed shop windows we could see the evidence of a vibrant present from the latest fashions and electronics, to travel services, to groceraterias and pharmacies, to tapas bars. The nearly empty streets made it easier to conjure the past, to contemplate the pageant of history that led to present day Girona but even so, we were missing something. By mid-afternoon, the air was warm enough to sit in the shade; we found a street with open restaurant/bars and took a table on the street. Amid the pleasant hum of conversation around us we enjoyed the ambience of the street, a glass of wine, aeioli potatoes, and spring rolls and watched the people passing. They say that Spain goes quiet between 1:00 and 4:00 and comes alive again in the evening. Unfortunately our old bones do not relish a night on the town after a full day of walking and exploration, so we left discovery of the living town for another time and began the long drive back to camp. I do have to wonder though, where were all the people who had filled virtually every parking place in the city?
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
by David E. Moon
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Slideshow Slideshow By-passed and abandoned La Rambla de la Libertat Busker The old Jewish Quarter View from entrance plaza Girona Cathedral Hitting the books Covered walkway old Jewish Quarter

March 14, Capmany --> Girona

We drove from our pine shaded campsite into the ancient city of Girona passing through a large agricultural area. Major highways, on either side of our route, had influenced local land use. We saw abandoned and semi- developed lands, small commercial operations on the urban fringes, the ruins of old farm houses, roofs collapsed, windows and doors long gone, abandoned restaurants and garages covered in graffiti, and ill-kept fields. The abandoned stone farmhouses had sheltered generations of families and the view of decaying villas and small towns on the surrounding hills, while  picturesque, gave an and air of sadness and loss. Heavy traffic crawled along the fringes of Girona and parking lots were full and overfull with parking vultures waiting for a place. We finally found a vacant spot and parked only to discover that it was 1 hour maximum. We sat a while to get our bearings and finally decided to head further out of town and walk back in. On our way we lucked onto a free (in both senses of the word) parking spot on the street and I managed to squeeze Brunhilde in. Having convinced ourselves that we were indeed legally parked, we had an early lunch in the van and crossed the Pont d'en Gómez pedestrian bridge to the old city. After a short walk and frequent queries of "Perdone, ¿dónde está la oficina de turismo" we were rewarded with a tourist map of the city and set off to explore. The old town rises east from the Onyar River and from the Oficina de Turismo we strolled back along the Rambla de la Libertat; passing benches of people lounging and gossiping in the radiant warmth of the sun; through the arched arcade; past street side tables where people sat with beer or coffee, jackets on in the shade, shirt sleeves if in the sun. A lone busker at the entrance to a covered passageway, sat on the cold cobblestones, back against the wall, playing his guitar softly. The near millennia old Jewish Quarter, now dominated by the Girona Cathedral of Saint Mary, was a warren of narrow cobblestone streets, arched passageways, and stone buildings. In places the sunlight warmed the stone walls and cobbled streets. People who had succumbed to the temptation were resting their backs against the wooden doors of stone arched entrances, sitting on steps polished smooth by numberless feet. The fully shaded alleys begged exploration but were too cold to linger, rather they encouraged brief passage, absorbing the ambiance and mystery before the next patch of sunshine. Still others sunlight on one side and shaded on the other presented two worlds, the shade side deserted, the sunny side with people going about their business, sight seeing, or gossiping. Despite sometimes severe restrictions, Jews fared much better under the Moors than under the Christians in Europe. Under Moorish rule, the Jewish community had flourished for nearly 500 years and Girona had been an important centre of Jewish culture and learning until the final Reconquista in 1492. Under the Catholic Monarchs  Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon they were forced to convert or be expelled from Spain. As I wandered through the maze of stone, I tried to imagine what these streets would have looked, felt, and smelled like at the zenith of the Jewish community. I could imagine people in Moorish garb, distinguished from the Moors by the yellow patch they were required to wear, but what were the narrow streets and lanes like. Were they clogged with street vendors and stalls, the smell of food and spices in the air, a din of shoppers and vendors haggling over price on market days and then deserted like now on non-market days; or were they quiet, a mix of homes and shops, perhaps discrete shops and offices at street level with residences above; or were they purely residential? Where were the slums, the wealthy neighborhoods? Were the streets clean or cluttered with market debris and animal dung? Not for the first time, I thought how wonderful it would be to be a fly on wall history. The cathedral dominates the hill and from its entrance plaza we looked down the grand stairway to a small plaza of intricately patterned cobblestones, in the corner the outdoor tables of a small street side resaurant.  From the cathedral we walked the ramparts of 14th century city walls, built on the foundations of the 1st century Roman walls. The city has long since grown beyond and engulfed the original Roman city walls.  From the old walls we looked down on ancient streets and intimate public gardens built amid the ruins of a life passed, and across tiled roofs to grandiose churches and towers built to the glory of God and/or his clergy by a once all powerful but now increasingly less relevant and less influential church. On a street below the cathedral, a stooped and wizened nun in full habit half emerged from the wooden gate of her cloister and peered about, seemingly curious about but afraid of the world beyond her walls; on the stone steps around the university stu- dents sat in the sun, studying, preparing for the world beyond their university. It was siesta time. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed, even most of those catering to tourists were closed. The streets were nearly empty, it felt almost as though we were walking through a ghost town, abandoned a millennia ago, but unchanged. It is still inhabited though, through the closed shop windows we could see the evidence of a vibrant present from the latest fashions and electronics, to travel services, to groceraterias and pharmacies, to tapas bars. The nearly empty streets made it easier to conjure the past, to contemplate the pageant of history that led to present day Girona but even so, we were missing something. By mid-afternoon, the air was warm enough to sit in the shade; we found a street with open restaurant/bars and took a table on the street. Amid the pleasant hum of conversation around us we enjoyed the ambience of the street, a glass of wine, aeioli potatoes, and spring rolls and watched the people passing. They say that Spain goes quiet between 1:00 and 4:00 and comes alive again in the evening. Unfortunately our old bones do not relish a night on the town after a full day of walking and exploration, so we left discovery of the living town for another time and began the long drive back to camp. I do have to wonder though, where were all the people who had filled virtually every parking place in the city?
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
by David E. Moon
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Slideshow Slideshow Route Map Route Map By-passed and abandoned La Rambla de la Libertat Busker The old Jewish Quarter View from entrance plaza Girona Cathedral Hitting the books Covered walkway old Jewish Quarter