Trip to Spain - Barcelona and Girona, Catalonia

During the Christmas holidays in December 2018, we had a 2 weeks vacation during which I visit Spain, starting off my trip in Barcelona, and travelling all the way to the southern coast of Spain in Malaga. In total I visited 8 cities:

  1. Barcelona, Catalonia
  2. Girona, Catalonia
  3. Valencia
  4. Cartagena, Murcia
  5. Almería, Andalusia
  6. Granada, Andalusia
  7. Nerja, Andalusia
  8. Malaga, Andalusia

To keep a better record of all the cities I visited, I will cover my trip in multiple blog posts. This post will cover the first two cities I visited, Barcelona and Girona.

Geneva to Barcelona

Previously having only taken long-haul flights, this was my first trip with a domestic airline. I booked my flight with EasyJet, an airline which is very popular throughout Europe, and provides very economical fares, sometimes even lower than a train ticket.

I flew from Geneva at 9 AM and landed at the Barcelona airport around 10:15 AM. The first thing I noticed after leaving the airport was the difference in the environment between Switzerland and Spain. There were lots of palm trees everywhere, and the climate was also quite mild, compared to Geneva, where it was around zero degrees during the night.

1. Barcelona, Catalonia

Located in the Catalonia region, Barcelona is the second-most populated municipality in Spain. The language spoken in this region is called Catalan, which sounds similar to Spanish (to outsiders), but is actually closer to French and Italian.

Barcelona is one of the most densely populated cities in Europe, with an average population density of 15,926 inhabitants per square kilometre with Eixample being the most populated district. After leaving the airport, I took a shuttle to the city center, and the first thing I did was to rent a bicycle. As the city has well constructed bike lanes, it makes for an excellent opportunity to explore the city.

Since I was carrying a heavy backpack, I first decided to drop off my luggage at the Airbnb I had booked. However, on they way I saw numerous architectural marvels alongside the densely populated streets, that I had to stop every few minutes to admire them.

I passed by the famous La Sagrada Familia church and saw a huge crowd trying to get inside.

I finally reach my Airbnb, which was a small flat located about 20 minutes from the city centre with the bike. This district was quite uphill compared to the rest of the city, which was mostly flat.

After getting rid of my luggage I returned to the city and again went o the La Sagrada Familia church. This neighborhood was extremely crowded, and mostly composed of tourists. This church is still under construction from 1882. The steeples and most of the church’s structure are to be completed by 2026, the centennial of Gaudí’s death; decorative elements should be complete by 2030 or 2032. The visitor entrance fees of 15–20 euros finance the annual construction budget of 25 million euros.

Since this was Christmas time, there were numerous shops just outside the cathedral selling wooden decorations, figurines, Christmas trees, candies and other food items.

I then went to the Ciutadella Park, which includes the city zoo and a beautiful water fountain designed by Josep Fontserè.

There was a well-maintained garden just beside the water fountain.

Another popular attraction in the city is the Arc de Triomf. There’s a long road which leads to this place and is also quite crowded.

While wandering around the city, I went to a school which was hosting a small exhibition, and presumably students had made some food and decoration items.

Around night time I noticed the biggest difference between Geneva and Barcelona - the Christmas lights! Almost every city I visited in Spain had its own variety of decorations, and it made for a very enjoyable experience.

The next morning I visited the Park Güell, which is located on Carmel Hill. This park is the reflection of Antoni Gaudí’s artistic plenitude, which belongs to his naturalist phase. The park is around 45 acres in area, and contains many buildings.

Since the park is situated on a hill, it provides a very good viewpoint to the city.

While roaming around the city, I managed to find a completely deserted spot, which is quite rare in such a densely populated region.

I also went to an old city corner which had a very antique feeling.

Barcelona touches the Balearic Sea on its eastern part and has a very big port. Almost everywhere in Spain the beaches are very well preserved and contain biking lanes and running sport. Since I went there during the winter, the beach was almost deserted.

After visiting the major attractions in Barcelona, I bought a train ticket from SNCF to the city of Girona.

Girona, Catalonia

Girona is located in the northeastern part of Catalonia and is known for its medieval architecture and the Roman remains of a fortress. It is a popular day trip from Barcelona as it only takes around 40 minutes to get there with the train.

I reached the city around 5 PM and it was already getting dark, so I decided to first visit the Girona Cathedral which was also featured in the Game of Thrones series. On the way to the cathedral I passed by the central market which had numerous flower shops. This city had a distinct aroma and combined with the fact that it had rained there in the morning, it made for a calming environment.

I also went to an old city corner which had a very antique feeling.

It was about a 20 minutes walk from the Girona train station to the cathedral. There were narrow alleyways which led up to the church.

The cathedral itself was enormous and a staircase led up to the doors, where the shooting of the series took place.

Afterwards, I walked in the outskirts of the city before catching a train back to Barcelona around 7:15 PM.

I found another Christmas market on my way back.

Sion and Vex

Sion is famous for the Tourbillon Castle and Valère Basilica which are located on a hilltop in the city center. I went there on a sunny Saturday morning on the SBB train which passed through Laussane, Montreux, and Martigny. The journey takes about an hour and 45 minutes and goes around Lake Geneva.

Upon arriving I went straight to the Tourbillon Castle. After asking around how to reach the hilltop I found that the castle was closed (and would reopen later during the day) so I instead went to Valère Basilica, which was located on the opposite side of the hill.

The church was going through renovation work, and some parts were closed for tourists. It provided spectacular views of the city and the mountains.

Since the city is surrounded by mountains, there are numerous tourist attractions on the outskirts of the city. I decided to go to the Bisse Savièse Torrent-Neuf which is located in the commune of Savièse. It is located about 9 KMs away from Sion, however, it has an elevation of 1236 meters (with Sion having an elevation of only 520 meters).

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I brought my folding bicycle with me but it proved to be futile against the steep elevation gain, so I had to drag it uphill which took around 2 hours (but the views were very pleasant). On my way to the bisse I passed through some villages and found a variety of cows with bells tied around their neck and a few rabbits.

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Torrent-Neuf is a suspension bridge which was built during the mid-15th century for creating water channels to the city. The site is now restored and remains a popular tourist attraction.

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I came back to the city before evening. From there I was to go to Vex, where I would be spending the night. This village is also located on a hilltop (on the opposite side of Savièse). Although its elevation is less (943 meters) compared to Savièse, it is about 7 KMs away from Sion, so the gain is much steeper. Again, it proved to be faster to walk rather than bike uphill. There was only one road which went to the village, but I found a small street which allowed me to cut through one turn. I reach to the hilltop during late evening, and went straight to the AirBnB I had booked. The room was very comforting after the long journey.

On the next morning, I went out to explore the village. The house tenants were taking their skis for waxing to prepare for the upcoming season. I first went to a Boulangerie and bought some croissants. There were numerous small farms in the village, and being on a hilltop it overlooked Sion and other surrounding places.

I found on Google Maps that there was a waterfall nearby, but I could not find it. I also found a castle, but there was no visible entrance.

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The ride back to Sion was very fun, as can be imagined because of the abrupt elevation drop. To go down from the mountain took me no more than 15 minutes, which had taken me around 2 hours when going up. From there I caught my train back to Geneva.

Bern, Fribourg, and Murten

Bern, the capital city of Switzerland, is situated in the about 120 KMs to the west of Zürich, the largest city of Switzerland. The majority of the population speaks Bernese German.

The Aare river stretches along the entire city due to which there are many bridges. The city is built on an uneven ground. An elevation difference of several meters exists between the city center and its outskirts.

According to a local legend, the city is named after “bear”, as it was the first animal hunted by the city founder. The city center contains many museums, street art, and souvenir shops.

Fribourg is situated about 30 KMs to the west of Bern. It has a population of around 38,000 with mostly French speaking inhabitants. The University of Fribourg enrolls 10,000 students and contains five faculties which are based around socials sciences, humanities, and economics.

About 10 KMs from Fribourg there is a village called Barberêche.

The farm was called “Ferme du Petit-Vivy” and contained tipis and and a barn house for guests.

The host provided a nice homemade Swiss breakfast in the morning.

At an hours bike ride from the farm lies the city of Murten, which is part of the canton of Fribourg.

The lake Murten is famous for sailing, wind surfing, and other water sports.

Les Ateliers de Marinette vintage shop in Lyon

Les Ateliers de Marinette is a vintage shop located in the city of Lyon. The road besides the shop leads to the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière and overlooks the Saône river.

Vintage items include posters, light bulbs, bottles, matchboxes, buttons, jars, etc. Some of the items date back to the early 1900’s.

Among other items, the shops also sells vintage polaroid cameras and films.

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, Jardin botanique, and the city of Lyon

Located in the east-central part of France, Lyon is the country’s third largest city. It is known for its architectural landmarks and is titled the Capital of Lights because of the light festival “Fête des Lumières” that is held each year in December.

One prominent landmark of the city is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. It is located on top of the Fourvière hill and overlooks the entire city.

There are narrow alleyways that lead of the church.

Just 500 meters from the church there is an ancient Roman theater, known as Théâtre Gallo Romain.

This theater was built around the 2nd century and can seat around 10,000 people.

Lyon has a comprehensive bike rental system called Vélo’v. The docking stations can be seen every few blocks.

The Lyon Botanical Garden (or “Jardin botanique de Lyon”) is another prominent landmark of the city.

Established in 1857, this is France’s largest municipal botanical garden.

The city of Lyon is very lively and there are numerous events organized throughout the year.

This month, the “Run in Lyon” marathon was held, which aimed to donate money to a medical cause.