Girona: An Armchair Guide

Posted on March 12th, 2008 by Valerie

A couple of weeks ago I was in Girona to promote our book In The Garlic. I really like Girona. It’s quieter and more laid back and less built up than Barcelona. But it’s still – I hesitate to use this done-to-death word – vibrant.

I was there for, amongst other things, a meeting of the Girona Grapevine, an English-speaking group that get together every week for coffee in the centre of Girona. After the meeting we had lunch at the Boira restaurant. This looks onto ‘the colourist fluvial facade’ which is ‘the emblem of Girona.’ You know, that picture postcard image of Girona you always see, with the back facades of the buildings reflected in the waters of the Onyar. (Now the Onyar is pretty low. The drought is biting. A painful sight.)

It’s ages since I visited and explored all the wonders that Girona offers, and it’s definitely time to do them all again. But right now I have what I suppose are called ‘health issues’ and for the moment, I can’t do much walking. So this will have to be an armchair tour. Hence the ‘colourist fluvial facade’.

Let me explain.

On the first day, after the train journey from Barcelona, a meeting at the La Llibreteria bookshop and a Japanese lunch, we went back to my friend’s flat on the other side of the Onyar, on the edge of the city. Her living room overlooks the river and from it you can see (parched and dusty) hills and woods.

“There’s always something going on down there,” she said, producing cups of tea. “You see all sorts.” That day dust-covered men in plastic helmets were drilling on the opposite bank. The noise was tremendous. My friend thought they were drilling for water. And then, she said, there was the pig.


“Yes. Most afternoons a man comes down to the river and walks a pig on a lead. The first time I saw it I went to clean my glasses. But it’s definitely a pig.”

“So all life is down here by the Onyar. I can blog about that.”

My friend went to her Catalan class. The sun went down. No pig. The men in helmets hit pay dirt – as it were – and suddenly muddy water gushed out of their hole into the river. The water stopped, the men turned off their machine and went away. I put my feet up and studied the tourist map. This only made me want to go out and explore the place even more, but my foot was painful. So vicarious visiting it had to be, in the shape of an oldish Girona City Guide published by Triangle Postals.

As translated guide books go, this one was pretty good. I could go on at length – well, ad nauseam, and then some – about bad translations. In fact I have been going on about bad translations for 25 years, and now, with the internet, it’s even worse. But this guide book made sense, albeit rather quaintly. ‘There is no need to worry about getting lost in the stone labyrinth as Girona has been called,’ it promised, ‘because it is homely labyrinth that never betrays.’ So that’s okay then. On the other hand, ‘The large vaulting of the Cathedral gives a feeling of dizziness.’

But first, a bit of history. ‘In the 2nd half of the 3rd century it was invaded by Franks and Germans resulting in the movement of the walls.’ I can guess what this means but the image that sprang to mind was of the walls themselves growing stick-person legs and wandering around, dazed and confused.

And then, just like our Rambla here in Bcn, ‘The Rambla is the display case of Girona society.’ This is so interesting. In contrast to walls growing legs and moving around, we have the citizen specimens of Girona, fat and thin, old and young, in suits and in jeans, frozen in time and space or maybe even pinned to cards like insects.

But ‘progress,’ warbles the guide book: ‘has often brought with it the disappearance of some or other picturesque corner of the old quarter. It is what politicians call ‘fluffing up’.

I beg your pardon?

The guide is really superb at incongruous word choices. The caption to the de rigueur pic of the buildings on the Onyar says: ‘The river-facing facade is a harmonious hotchpotch of buildings.’

And this made me laugh out loud: ‘A rogue streak of lightning chopped off the bell tower of Sant Feliu.’

Then there are the legends. Other cities have dragons, eagles or lions. Girona has flies. Sant Narcís (Saint Narcissus) is patron of the city. His miracle happened in September 1286, when Girona was beseiged by the French. Even though the city surrendered without a fight, the French behaved abominably: robbing, insulting and oppressing the Gironans, sacking churches and so on. The last straw was when they profaned the body of Sant Narcís and broke one of his arms. Whereupon giant flies issued from his body and stung the French soldiers and their horses, who expired, twitching and writhing and, I daresay, foaming at the mouth.

Sant Narcís, by the way, also protects against flooding and inflammation of the ear.

2 Responses to “Girona: An Armchair Guide”

  1. Claire Elizabeth Terry Says:

    Hilarious! Thank you for making me laugh out loud, Valerie! Will definitely recommend ‘In the Garlic’ to as many other ex-pats as possible!

    All the best,


  2. Mireia Says:

    Dear Valerie,

    Today I was reading “La Vanguardia” and I saw an article about your book. I laugh a lot when you explained the mistakes you made between cajon, cojon and cojin…. hilarious! jajaja. Then I entered this website and I’m really surprised because you writed about Girona… I have been living in Girona for almost 8 years (actually, I’m from Mexico) and I must say that it’s one of the most beautiful cities I have been, I’m so proud that you liked it too!

    Best wishes from Girona!

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