Historic. Vibrant. Medieval. Food. Cycling.
This is Girona, Spain and a place I call home.
Girona is an ancient city more than two thousand years old in Catalonia, Spain. It is just an hour long train ride north of Barcelona. In Girona you won’t see in any Spanish flags, only the red and yellow striped Catalan flags displayed on every balcony and street corner. Catalans are fiercely proud of their heritage and do not consider themselves a part of Spain. Catalonia has a thriving economy and is regularly voted one of the best places to live in Europe.
Catalonia’s cobblestone streets, impressive cathedrals, medieval buildings and breathtaking architecture makes you feel as if you have stepped back into the Middle Ages. This amazing city will serve as a backdrop for season 6 of my favorite show, “Game of Thrones.” Rumor has it, filming will take place in the city center and in some of the castles along the Costa Brava, situated along the roadside of one of my absolute favorite rides.
Beauty aside, the real draw to Girona for many is the cycling. I have ridden all over the world, but most places can’t compare to the variety Catalonia has to offer. I ride my bike 2-4 hours a day, six days a week and I never tire of it. You can ride off in any direction and get to an awesome climb. Combine this with the light traffic and nice weather and it’s one of the world’s top cycling destinations and why so many of the World Tour cyclists call Girona home.
It isn’t just the cycling that attracts people to this city, the ‘La Rambla’ in the city center is full of gourmet restaurants, trendy boutiques and amazing Café Bars, everywhere you turn. What separates Girona from other European locales is the variety of food options, where every taste and craving can be satisfied. The city specializes in cured meat, modern tapas and good wine. But, there’s even a couple vegetarian and raw restaurants for plant lovers like me. But, my favorite thing is the rows upon rows of fresh, organic and inexpensive produce found at all the local markets. I wish quality produce was this accessible to people in America.
However, adjusting to the laid back lifestyle of Catalans required a complete 180 from my impatient, instant gratification, Western one. There are no posted store hours in the windows here, with most businesses shuttering closed a few hours every afternoon for a ‘siesta’. Additionally, the person manning the storefront, may or may not be able to help you. A need for a new scooter battery, required 4 trips till the right person was on-site and the store was open. You also have far fewer product choices, so I have gotten away from my ‘must-haves’ in life. It’s not like in America where a person can lose a month of their life choosing between 100 different types of toothpaste at Walgreens. To be honest, I actually prefer it that way. Instead of spending time buying stuff you don’t need from Target, you’re experiencing life with friends and family. Most of my shopping comes from certain specialty stores. I prefer my food fresh so I go grocery shopping every other day just like the locals. I enjoy going to the farmers market and to the fruit stand to practice my Catalan and gain inspiration for my meals. I have been taking Catalan language lessons and the shop employees are all very excited when I use the phrases I’ve learned in class. But, for many young people in Spain, going to America is a dream.
Last year, I visited Girona three times but didn’t fully experience it in my book. Since I knew this time around I was in it for the long haul, I decided to not only appreciate the Catalan culture but embrace it 100%. I’ve always been terribly impulsive, easily bored by monotony, with a great need for adventure. I love traveling to new places, having to navigate the city on my own, learning about the culture and speaking another language. But, it is one thing to travel to a foreign country for a week or two but something entirely different when you have to assimilate live day-to-day life there. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to learn and grow in a such a culturally vibrant place as Girona, Spain. It really is a dream come true for me.
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