Ryanair’s flight to Girona placed me miles away from my desired destination – the Eastern Pyrenees, but not as far as to make my trip too arduous and the spots I longed to visit unreachable.
The small arrival terminal at Girona airport and the facilities it formerly offered have expanded by quite a few degrees since I last visited three years ago. Direct bus transport from the airport to nearby towns on the Costa Brava coastline is now available, although the frequency varies with the season and with the popularity of the destination. Transport to towns west and north of Girona is not yet regularly available, except perhaps in the high season. On the other hand, buses to Barcelona depart half-hourly on a regular basis.
Whatever your itinerary, except if you are heading for Barcelona, the best option is to take the frequent airport bus to Girona centre (2.60 Euro one-way) from where transport service to all destinations is excellent. The airport bus reaches the main bus terminus in Girona in 30 minutes. The big building you see behind the covered waiting platforms houses the train station and the bus station. Besides the usual information screens, each station is provided with an information desk where one can get more personal and ask the officer in charge for advice or a required timetable.
First on my itinerary was the small town of Figueres, accessible by frequent trains from Girona in about 30 minutes. North of Girona and midway between Girona and the French border, Figueres has few attractions but one big attraction has given stature to the city and succeeded in pulling in crowds of visitors. Staying overnight in Figueres is not a bad idea, particularly if you want to make sure to get access to Dali’s theatre-museum with ease. Bear in mind that Dali’s attraction in Figueres is the second most visited site in Spain, after Madrid’s Prado.
Two hours before closing time, the queues in front of the museum’s main entrance on Placa de Gala i Salvador Dali were so long that I decided to be back again the following day before the doors are unlocked for visitors at 9:30am. Finding a hotel in the centre of Figueres not far from the town’s main attraction was easy, far easier than I imagined. Obviously, most visitors come here on a day trip from Barcelona and do not stay overnight. As a matter of fact, Figueres becomes quiet, noiseless and almost deserted after the museum closes down for the night. This gives the opportunity to those who stay to wander on their own at leisure along the medieval quarter or linger on La Rambla as the locals do.
Several restaurants, particularly in the neighbourhood of Placa de Catalunya remain open till late. Most of these specialize in Catalan or Mediterranean fare, including on their menu a list of enticing seafood dishes or daring dishes as absurd (but surprisingly tasty) as Dali’s works of art. Imagine eating out of a plate with legs of unequal length or out of a bowl set within a motorcycle tyre.
Early after breakfast next morning, I walked back to Dali’s theatre-museum. The atmosphere in the vicinity of the museum was still serene and quiet, giving me time to go around and see the external features of this huge complex at leisure. All souvenir shops were still closed but I could peep into their window displays and get acquainted with a diverse range of queer ceramic knickknacks, obviously poor-quality replicas of what I expected to see inside the museum.
Painted dark red and studded with golden loaf-like poppers, one side of the museum’s external structure comprises a towering enclosing wall crowned with a row of egg-shaped forms and elongated statuesque figures. Bizarre modernism it certainly is, but all these peculiarities are somehow brought together so gracefully that visitors stand to look with awe at such marvels of architecture. The metal cage-like dome one sees from the main road is another out-of-the-ordinary structure that appears more remarkable when illuminated from inside.
Purchasing an entry ticket in the absence of queues is a straightforward affair. Costing 12 Euro, it allows access to Dali’s theatre-museum and the Dali Jewels exhibition. Once inside the museum, make your way towards the semicircular courtyard where the highlights are the 1978 Al Capone Cadillac and a fishing boat aptly balanced on columns of used car tyres. On the first-floor corridor, the highlight is the huge surrealist oil painting of Dali’s wife, her nude rear facing the audience. Move away 20 metres and the portrait of Abraham Lincoln comes into view instead.
Visiting the Mae West room is a trip into the absurd, an exciting unreal world of fictitious faces that often verge on the ridiculous. On no account should one miss the Palace of the Wind Gallery, an exposition of colourful surrealist paintings and monochrome bas-reliefs that are a delight to explore. One painting in this gallery that stands out for its magnificent composition and its shades of bluish hues is the ‘Galatea de las Esferas’ an artistic piece depicting several moving spheres that seem to bounce out of the picture. The museum’s central patio is a combination of green climbers and huge paintings. The walls are dotted with rows of statuesque figures thrown in amidst the greenery.
Included in the price of the entry ticket is the Dali Jewels exhibition. Housed in a separate building that adjoins the Dali theatre-museum, it comprises a collection of 37 jewels, designed by Dali himself and made by jewellery specialists in New York. In addition to the jewels, one can view a display of the designs, each design being itself a work of art renowned for its originality and uniqueness.
Visitors I met in Figueres confirmed after seeing the museum that Salvador Dali’s acute sense of the absurd is not sheer madness as some might think. It is the result of a vivid imagination that goes beyond our real world; it is a unique attempt at demonstrating through colour and shapes the depth of our emotions and how these change from spells of sorrow to moments of cheerfulness.
Figueres is definitely synonymous with dear Salvador and his mistress Gala who joined the surrealist movement later. If you have a couple of hours to spare however, it is advisable to visit one or more other attractions as well. Near Dali’s museum, the huge Gothic building you see on Placa de Sant Pere is the parish church. Dedicated to St Peter, it is a huge Gothic edifice whose main architectural features are typical of churches in the south of France. Built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and extended twice over the years, it is almost devoid of decorations. Worth a visit for its sheer size and its well-preserved interior, the church opens for the public on weekdays from 9:00 to 13:00 and from 16:00 to 20:00h. The small recessed stained-glass windows that line the choir and the rose window above the main entrance are artistic and beautiful but are not enough to illuminate the huge interior. Consequently, the church is dark and gloomy.
The redeeming factor is the decorated tympanum above the main doorway on Carrer de Sant Pere. Depicting the bust of St Peter mending a fishing net, it is a colourful painting that is worth examining for its wonderful harmonizing hues.
Collections of toys that have vanished from the scene decades ago have been put together in the Museu de Joguets on the northern side of La Rambla. Kids are amazed by what they see; adults may feel nostalgic when they become aware that some toys similar to the exhibits were their playthings forty years ago. The museum is vast and visitors can only give a passing glance at most of the exhibits. Items with a rich historical past however require time for inspection. These include a collection of early nineteenth-century Spanish dolls and miniature replicas of trains, formerly used in the region. An adult visitor using a viewfinder he picked from the exhibits was fully engaged looking at magnified images of photo slides. An accompanying kid, bored to tears was heard saying: "Where’s the playstation?"