This time around, we did not remain in Barcelona. Instead, we headed for Girona, planning to stop at some costal and medieval towns en route. The first stop was the secluded beach Castell, on Costa Brava. It is mind boggling that this amazing bay propped by a sandy beach and picturesque rocky cliffs was allowed to stay so pristine. With the exception of several random houses scattered on the hills, the bay, the beach, and the woods hugging the bay was nature unspoiled. We were lucky to have a local guide take us to this spot untouched by civilization. We would have never found it ourselves. I highly doubt it was mentioned in any guidebooks.
The second stop was another beachfront paradise – a small town on another secluded beach built by Cuban émigrés at the turn of the 20th century. This town was another unspoiled gem – white houses Cuban style perched on a hill, beachfront restaurants, crystal-clear water with rocky path jutting out into the sea. We settled in one of the waterfront cafes and drank cortados.
The next towns were medieval villages of Pals, Calella de Palafrugel, La Pera, and Pobol; the last one is where Dali and Gala made their home toward the end of Salvator’s life, and their residence is preserved as a museum. All towns had their own charm with Calella de Parafugel being my favorite. This village possessed that illusive “je ne sais quoi” that most Italian and many French towns have, the quality I had failed to find in any other country until now. That little touch of exquisite taste expressed in an appropriately placed flower pot, a special door, a certain window, an archway, the right radius of a winding street, a lovely square – those little touches, the devil that is in the details, were all here.
The last stop on our little journey was Girona, a medium-sized medieval town frozen in time. The entrance to the old town lay across a river lined with multi-colored houses. Call me crazy, but something in the turn of the river, the bridges, and the coloring reminded me of Florence. It was as if Florence were crossed with La Boca and then the existing paint was corrected by an artist.
Inside the town walls, we found a bustling town outfitted in medieval garb. Same as Pobol, Girona too possessed that elusive quality that up until now evaded me in Spain. That understated refined taste, the quiet elegance… well, …perhaps because this area is not really Spain but Catalonia, with much French influence and its own Catalan language. Why, Catalonians still consider themselves a separate country appropriated by Spain. I must say, there is something to their claim. It looks and feels different from the Spain we had seen: no Moorish influence whatsoever, less gloomy, more joie de vie.
And of course, I can’t go without mentioning the Jews. Yes, they lived here too, for centuries, in the variation of a ghetto called the Call. The compact houses of the Call were connected by gates that, supposedly, were not used to have the Jews locked in, like in Venice, but the Call was the place to which the Jews were confined still. Their documented harassment started in 1391 and culminated in 1492 with the expulsion or forced conversion of the entire Jewish population. When the Jews were gone, the Call was walled up, and no one lived there for a long while, as if the place was contaminated!
There is a Jewish Museum in the Call – a shrine to the exotic extinct tribe. There were some shocking displays presented there, such as a sample of jewelry worn by Jewesses (must have been different from the jewelry worn by Gentiles?!), a description of a Jewish family for the uninitiated (huh? What? A mom, a dad, and the kids. Very peculiar!), and other such exhibits to familiarize the so inclined with this vanished alien culture. Being a living specimen of the depicted clan, I got an eerie and sick feeling to my stomach.
After the museum, we took a nice stroll around the tiny old town ending up in one of the squares by the river. There, I found something that cemented my connection to Girona – a mouth-watering display of pastries in the window of a first-rate pastry shop.