May 25, 2019
A quick trip to Spain for some warmer weather was devised by the present Mrs Ives. How could she resist Northern Spain with Ryanair offering tickets from Newcastle at £28 each?
Maybe a clue as to whether the airline passengers were cultured and interested in the history of this town of 100,000 was clear when the amount of blue on the vast selection of tattoos was only matched by the paint on the carrier’s fuselage. Another clue came when I noted that the destination airport was called ‘Girona – Costa Brava’.
Newcastle Airport was awful. The toilets were a health hazard (why?) and there wasn’t a coffee shop open on Saturday night. You could join the well oiled Geordies at one of the bars and ask for a coffee but somehow you’d not be convinced about the quality unless it had a Bailey’s in it. The flight was noisy and badly managed. The safety briefing was inaudible (yet the later announcements on selling booze, food and duty free items were crystal clear). One mother with what appeared several children taken out of school (the following week) was peripatetic up and down to the aisle with the task of taking her flock to the toilet. This caused regular havoc with the trolley as it slowly edged up the plane dispensing refreshments but in effect blocking the aisle. Folk wandered around and squatted in the aisle to talk to friends. This was necessary as Ryanair make you pay extra to sit next to friends and relatives. If you don’t it is random seat allocation. A group of men shouted to each other on the plane as two twins, less than a year old and bewildered not to be in a bed at this late hour, bellowed their lungs out with blood curdling yells. Finally when landing the men sang ‘Wonderwall’ at volume 11?
To my joy it transpired that they were all going to the coast and the prices of the taxis they were haggling for seemed eye wateringly expensive. To be honest the Spaniards must know what the clientele are like and here is their opportunity to ease the misery of their stay by ripping them off.
We had booked a hotel about a mile (but walking distance) outside the city. Over our three days I walked 50,000 steps (I am now one inch shorter) as we visited the town during the day and again at night. The town has been fought over by the French and Spaniards over the centuries. At the moment the town is Spanish although the inhabitants see themselves as Catalonians. Flags abound as does signs of solidarity with the politicians who were charged for the 2017 insurrection of declaring independence and seven remain in exile. The locals speak Catalonian and you feel you are being controversial if you, say, thank you in Spanish rather than Catalonian. However, when handing across your money it seemed to ease their pain.
The city has Roman origins and no doubt became geographically important as it is the confluence of four rivers. In the 13th Century it was an important Jewish centre and part of the old town has a museum, shops and cemetery that still makes it important for visiting Jews. In the 15th Century they were exiled and it seems that regular sieges by the French was the main reality for the town after that. It boasts fortifications and a splendid walking route along the wall. The fortifications don’t wrap the city any more and on the other side of the wide River Ter is a modern yet attractive city.
The river had some large fish swimming in it which came as a surprise given the Spanish penchant for eating the species. Whilst it was a decent flow then it was half full. I imagine the Pyrenean snows melt and flow through here in Spring filling the whole river bed. The cathedral it beautiful built in a light stone and rose up magnificently over the surrounding narrow streets and walk ways. On the first day of our visit was a type of floral installation festival and being a Sunday the crowds were local and large. Unfortunately for them the weather was poor yet on the Monday and Tuesday the afternoons were hot but the evenings cooler.
We wandered around checking out the layout of the town and enjoying the cafe society ambience. Food and restaurants were excellent and plentiful with all the usual selections including lots of tapas. Prices in Northern Spain were very reasonable and I’d say everything seemed about 25% cheaper than the UK. This seemed even more impressive in a town that has tourists to prey on.
So after nearly three days of long hikes and some sightseeing we found our way back to the airport. Here in the boarding queue one bearded millennial was hobbling on crutches. He explained that he’s been in a bar on the Costa Brava when he was attacked and when on the floor he’d had his ankle jumped on – hence the small bandage and crutches. He was going to Durham A & E on his return. Frankly, given the passengers then this wasn’t a complete surprise but Anna charitably said that he didn’t look the type to start a fight.
As we took off the burly chap in the next seat was still speaking to his wife on his mobile… “Look Pet, I’m going to have to go, we’re taking off” and then as we soared into the sky one lady ignored the seat belt light still being on and wandered ‘up hill’ to find something from a locker. Later the lovely staff from Ryanair jolted Anna’s arm and she ended up with her drink (orange juice!) across her jeans. You be the judge about flying out of Newcastle!