Three things that I really don’t do enough:
- Take some proper time away from work (read: longer than an extended weekend)
- Spend time with my girlfriends
- Visit my family
I think the last time I took a full week off work was Christmas, and before that it was last June. Sure, we’ve done a lot of wonderful trips in the meantime, taking advantage of bank holidays and the good ol’ staycation principle, but come mid-June I was really starting to feel it. I felt like I was on a treadmill, with the Monday-Friday grind followed by 2 days of trying to cram everything, followed by another Monday-Friday grind. My weeks were blurring into one, and my energy for squeezing every little bit of opportunity from the days was fading. I needed a holiday.
For this holiday to come together, we had a few lucky coincidences. One of my closest friends from home had just finished her final tax exams and so was in the mood to celebrate. It was right before the school summer holidays so prices were low. My family were planning a trip down to Cambridge to visit my brother, sister-in-law and the kids, and flying from London is a lot cheaper than from Amsterdam or up north. Therefore, the moment was right to seize the day and book a little getaway with one of my nearest and dearest.
Location picking was a tough one. Portugal? She’d already been. France? Too crowded. Italy? Absolutely, but where?? Eventually we narrowed it down to a getaway to Girona, a medieval town about an hour outside of Barcelona. Cheap, cheerful and perfect for switching off. Say no more; where do I book?
So the plan was set. I would spend a few days in Cambridge of good clean fun with my family and the little ones, before jetting off for wine and girly chats with my friend. Sounds pretty perfect, right? Well, it was. Almost.
Cambridge was wonderful – hot, but wonderful – but turns out July is a pretty dumb time to go to the South of Spain, and that 40 degree heat is not exactly conducive to cultural exploration. Who’d have thought it? Not that it really mattered – we were mostly there for the catch up and the wine – and the cheap wine and food (hello, 8 EUR bottles of Prosecco) certainly eased our disappointment at not being able to hike dawn til dusk. Of course, Girona is truly beautiful so it doesn’t really matter what you do with your days, it’s enough to just look – it’s just off the beaten track in terms of tourist overcrowding and is filled to the brim with magical corners and plazas perfect for grabbing a pinxo or two in the shadow of majestic architecture. And don’t just take my word for it – Girona has been the backdrop for many scenes of Game of Thrones, so I’m definitely not alone in admiring the town for its medieval charms. It would’ve been great to be able to explore that little bit further, but Girona is so close to Barcelona and other major cities that it’s not difficult for me to go back for a day and tick off some things on my list.
Of course, cultural exploits were also not helped by the fact that I forgot to take my steroid cream (I have very severe eczema) to Girona. Steroid withdrawal combined with intense heat led to a rather extreme reaction whereby my face swelled to twice its normal size and came out in one uniform blister. Unsightly, not to mention uncomfortable. So much so that by the last day I opted out of exploring Girona any further and opted instead to sit at the airport for hours, slathering my faces in the richest creams you can buy from duty-free every 20 minutes. Fun fun. My mood was not helped by the fact that when I got home, B took one look at my face and said, “wow, it’s like I’m having an affair.” Gee. What a charmer. Safe to say I’ve now learned my lesson: never forget your medication!
Medical issues aside, what we lacked in cultural appreciation we certainly made up for with food. Girona is pretty small, so by day 3 in the town you really have a feel for the cool areas for an aperitif and a bite to eat, and we had some pretty great meals. My favourite find was the Pa amb tomàquet – a Catalan favourite, freshly baked bread rubbed with garlic, oil and tomato – which cost around 2 EUR in most places. Absolute heaven. For dinner, I think the best meal came on our last night where we tried Probocador for a Catalan feast. Heads up – the menu is completely in Catalan and Google translate is not your friend. I apparently ordered “Paella of mountain rocks with señorado farmer’s teeth and lactonesa canela of bacon”. Confused? I feel you. Luckily I can confirm that there were no teeth – farmer’s or otherwise – in my paella, and instead I was treated to a delicious paella with chorizo and vegetables. To this day, I can still taste it – the sign of a great meal. For an after dinner snack, you can’t do much better than Rocambolesc Gelateria. Honorable mention also to El Blanc for a delicious mushroom risotto and for the being the location of the grand moment when we learnt that football wasn’t coming home after all.
Overall, I loved my little two-part break. Sure, my little English self wishes that it had been a) not July, and b) not in the middle of the hottest heatwave in a century, but hey I always miss the sun when it’s gone so I guess I just got to top up for the winter months ahead (right now the idea of thermals and wooly jumpers sounds insane). And hey, if I’m going to suffer terrible skin reactions and minor sunstroke, there are much much worse places than Girona to do it in. Silver linings, right?