Catalonia, Girona in the Footsteps of Patrice Chaplin

Girona Coloured Houses Catalonia Spain

The airport transport bus arrived shortly after midday and took about twenty minutes to negotiate the busy roads into the centre of Girona and drop us off at the railway station where the early afternoon temperature was nudging its way towards forty degrees centigrade.

Having been once before I thought I would remember my way around but I was completely mistaken and had to ask for directions several times before I was confident of the route towards the river and the centre of the city.

For several weeks my friend Dai Woosnam had been insisting that I read a favourite book of his called ‘Albany Park’ by the author Patrice Chaplin (Chaplin interestingly because she was married Charlie’s son, Michael) which is an autobiographical story of life in Girona in the late 1950s (actually it is much more than that but it seemed right to read it because I was visiting the city) so I started it before I travelled and finished it appropriately in the very city where the story is set.

Writing about a visit to the coast Patrice wrote: “We waded out at the edge of the sea to a fishing village and it was so lovely we promised to go back and stay. When I did go there, ten years later it was unrecognisable.  Only the name remained of what was once so exquisite” and she could probably just as easily been writing about Girona because here in the commercial part of the city the roads were busy, people were rushing and the shops were brash but as we approached the river Onyar and the characteristic Jewish quarter I like to think that we came across something timeless and also something that she would certainly be able to recall.

It is a very good book and just like Dai I recommend everyone to read it.

Catalonia Door Detail Girona

At the first bridge we stopped like everyone else to take pictures of the coloured houses with precarious balconies with rusty iron railings carelessly leaning out over the lazy river, shallow, fringed with reeds and with huge carp prowling the bottom searching for food and as I surveyed the scene I remembered this piece of pointless advice from a tourist guide that I had read: “…don’t attempt to jump in to the Onyar River from any of the bridges across it. In addition to being difficult to get back out of, the water simply isn’t deep enough for the height and you will sustain any number of grievous injuries upon landing.”

So resisting the temptation to dive in to cool down in we walked on into the narrow streets of the old town looking for some shade instead.

The old town is packed onto a hillside alongside the river, which is spanned by a series of  bridges that lead to the shopping area. We started along the pedestrianised shopping street of Carrer Argenteria then up the narrow, cobbled Carrer de la Força, which, it’s hard to believe was once part of the Via Augusta, the road that led across Spain from Rome, and from the tenth to the end of the fifteenth century was the main street of one of Europe’s most important Jewish quarters.

Climbing all the time we stopped frequently and took frequent and sometimes pointless diversions into side streets and blind alleys, up steep steps and along difficult cobbled passageways. We were grateful for the shade and I searched all the time for the Girona of Patrice Chaplin and in this labyrinth of lanes like a spider’s web I was almost certain that we were somewhere close.

Eventually and inevitably we arrived in the square in front of Santa Maria Cathedral whose Baroque façade conceals an austere Gothic interior that was built around a previous Romanesque church, of which the cloisters and a single tower remain.  We found the energy to climb the steps from the square to the Cathedral but once there Kim declined the opportunity to go inside and left me to visit the interior of the building alone and see the World’s widest Gothic nave and the second widest overall after St. Peter’s in Rome.

To a certain extent I understand Kim’s opinion that one Cathedral is very much like any other and I wouldn’t be able to argue with that point of view and cite Girona as an example that she is mistaken but I enjoyed the walk around the chapels and the cloister and the museum which took about thirty minutes before I was back in the searing heat of the afternoon sunshine and it was time for a short break and an Estrella so we walked back towards the river paying attention to restaurant menus as we went because we planned to eat later and then found a little bar with pavement tables in the shade and we stopped for a rest.

Girona Catalonia Spain Cathedral


25 responses to “Catalonia, Girona in the Footsteps of Patrice Chaplin

  1. I love your pictures, and especially the first one with all the coloured houses with balconies. I’m quite taken by all of the architecture.


  2. Lovely photos, I especially like the second one looking up the steps throught the arch


  3. My dear Andrew, you know I love you dearly.
    But going to Girona and not walking the AMAZING walls is a crime on a par with seeing the Great Wall of China and opting for McDonald’s instead.
    (Metaphorically speaking, you understand.)
    I personally found walking the ancient Roman walls of the city an even bigger buzz than walking the walls of Stroke City* or Chester.
    And as you know, Patrice Chaplin was enchanted by those Girona walls.
    Girona is my favourite town/city of the 70+ I have visited in Spain.
    Currently my top five are Girona, San Sebastian, La Coruna, Pamplona and Ronda …in that order.
    Mind you, I doff my hat to you when it comes to the number of Spanish towns visited. You can add at least a hundred to my totals.
    Hope you and Kim are in fine fettle.

    * Derry/Londonderry.

    Dai Woosnam,
    Grimsby UK


    • Thank you Dai. I did walk some of the walls, just not all of them! Sometimes you have to make compromises if you know what I mean.
      I like your list. I recently made two lists, one for cities and another for towns and villages. Girona made the city list and Ronda the towns. I was planning to turn it into a post one day.
      I didn’t know the story of Stroke City until I just looked it up – thanks.


  4. Pingback: Travels in Spain – Off the Beaten Track (1) | Have Bag, Will Travel

  5. Pingback: A to Z of Cathedrals – G is for Girona in Catalonia | Have Bag, Will Travel

  6. I remember it being extremely hot when we were there too, though it was in November. I have fond memories of the city and can quite clearly remember climbing those steps and looking down, but not the inside of the cathedral, sadly. After a while it’s only the most recent or the most magnificent that stay


  7. I bet those carp were a sight! The inhabitants of Girona are doing very well to have a river with big fish in it and reeds at the side. Pollution levels must be very low indeed.
    It must have been worth going into the cathedral because it’s very different from the ones we have such as Lincoln or York. Indeed, with the Baroque frontage, any northern European could be forgiven for not recognising it as a cathedral. The interior, though, is Gothic and it must be a very striking contrast.


  8. Dai’s advice was good and timely taken


  9. I’m visiting Girona in June


  10. Now then – despite being a lover of Catalunya and a very regular visitor (though not for a while now) I haven’t been to Girona. I wanted to, for a long time, but got so hooked on regular visits to Tarragona that I never got round to it. After reading this I’m regretting it again now – although as the Chaplin (and Petcher) experience tells us, so many places in that region have changed beyond recognition.


  11. Glad you avoided the dive, Andrew, although I am pretty sure that the carp would have enjoyed having you for dinner. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

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