Over the years, I have had two failed attempts to visit Barcelona. Both times life got in the way my plans changed. While I knew that Barcelona was not in the cards for me, I didn’t want to leave Europe without at least seeing Spain. Before heading back to the states I decided to visit a friend from high school who was studying in Sevilla. I figured Sevilla might be no Barcelona but it would at least give me a glimpse into Spanish culture.
Well, as it turned out, Sevilla tops my list of favorite destinations. It’s the definition of stunning in my opinion and there are few places that hold a candle to the southern city. Anyway, my dream of visiting Barcelona did finally happen this past September when I attended TBEX. I was in Vienna for two weeks and decided to hop on over to Spain and spend a short but sweet day in Barcelona before heading to Girona where the actual conference was being held.
Once again I managed to underestimate yet another Spanish city. While Barcelona was beautiful and certainly difficult to uncover in one day, it was Girona that impressed me most. Although just a short and inexpensive train ride from Barcelona, Girona is one of many scenic towns located in Costa Brava. As soon as the train left the station, the business of Barcelona faded into something much more serene. I wasn’t sure what to expect upon arriving in Girona, as I really was only there for the conference and had done little research on local attractions.
The first thing that met my eyes were three Catalunya flags proudly waving in the warm, autumn wind. Catalunya’s extensive history could easily captivate me for hours and it actually did during my one night in Barcelona. Staying with local friends, I quickly became aware of how knowledgeable they are of their nation’s (although technically still part of Spain) past. Learning that about nine million people speak Catalan despite it being banned for years demonstrates the respect Catalonians have for their culture.
Having a working understanding of the complex history helped me better appreciate my new surroundings once I did arrive in Girona. During the next few days I found myself slipping away from the conference to wander through the city’s charming cobblestoned streets. The river flowing through the city center was my favorite spot to reflect. I never expected to feel so connected to a city I knew nothing about before arriving. Yet, here I was, ensnared in Girona’s softly whispered song.
On my last day in Girona I once again ducked out of the conference early. I only had a few hours left before catching my train back to Barcelona and then onward to Vienna and back home to New York. Brushing aside the many hours I would spend sitting on trains and planes, I stuffed my crumpled black and white map into my purse and headed to the nearest bridge. As I headed toward the la Catedral de Girona, I observed local life around me; freshly washed clothes hanging out to dry, children running through the old, romantic streets and colorful flowers clinging to iron balconies.
When I finally reached the cathedral and looked down, I could see that restaurants were beginning to show signs of life. Music began playing somewhere in the distance and the sun began to sink out of view. With the sun no longer there to light my way, I knew that the clock was ticking and within the hour I was back at the train station, packed and ready to return home.