Everyone knows that studying abroad is extremely expensive, but a lot of times those program fees go towards some great experiences. This past Saturday, our group had the opportunity to go on a day trip to two medieval towns in Catalunya: We visited Girona and Besalú and everything was included (in our program costs).
Girona was a little over an hour’s drive from Barcelona and greenery and mountains led the way. To reach the town, we crossed a bridge that overlooked its “skyline,” which consisted of buildings that were every color of the rainbow. Once we made it into Girona, we walked on some of the most uneven cobblestones I’ve ever experienced (Tip: don’t wear boots) and stumbled upon the Cathedral of Girona. The enormous Romanesque,
Baroque and Gothic-style cathedral was built in the Middle Ages and features more than a dozen altars dedicated to various Saints. The splendor of the volume of gold throughout the church was amazing. The cathedral also houses the Tapestry of Creation, an 11th century panel of needlework depicting the creation story. There was a large collection of other religious artifacts in the cathedral’s museum as well. After clambering back down the nearly 100 steps rising up to the church (and almost getting left behind with my roommate because we wanted to peruse the gift shop some more), we went to the Jewish history museum to learn about the challenges the Jewish population in Girona faced. We ended our tour of the town with an incredible three-course meal. I had cannelloni, duck AND chocolate cake.
After several hours of walking and a couple bottles of wine, almost everyone fell asleep on the bus ride to Besalú. Our professor yelled “Good afternoon!” to wake us up about 30 minutes later, and the bus was silent as we gazed out the window. I promise I’m not exaggerating when I say that Besalú looks like something straight out of fairy tales. A river running under an 11th century bridge resembles a moat, and an iron gate is raised at the bridge’s halfway point. The Catalan independence flag flapped in the wind, and the city
itself seemed to be built directly into the mountains that surrounded it that day. Every photo I took looked exactly like the postcards we later saw within the town’s walls because the rose-colored light from the setting sun enhanced Besalú’s dreamlike state (as it that were possible). Once we crossed the entrance bridge, we were given a tour through the town’s historic Jewish quarter. We had toured the remnants of a Mikveh – traditional Jewish purifying baths primarily for women – in Girona, but Besalú has one that is almost completely intact. It was constructed in the 12th century but was not discovered until 1964. Being able to see another piece of religious history so well preserved was really interesting. I was also interested to learn that the Jews and Christians in Besalú got along well, trading and lending each other money, until the Jews were exiled in 1492. We had about 30 minutes after our tour of the Jewish quarter to explore, but it was not nearly enough time. I almost feel an obligation to go back some day to (try to) talk to some of the locals and get to know this tiny medieval town.
Needless to say I’m very excited for our next day trip to Montserrat.