Towards the beginning of May, Alyssa, Will, and I planned a spontaneous road trip to the northeastern region of Spain, towards the Pyrenees Mountains. We were following our friends who had committed to doing the Oxfam Trailwalker. Trailwalker is an annual fundraising event bringing charity and awareness to the fight against against poverty. A team of four participants have 32 to hours to walk 100 kilometers (about 62 miles). The trail was from the small city of Olot to Girona/Costa Brava, with maximum altitude of the trail going up to 583 meters (click here for a map). If they don’t make it to the finish line in 32 hours, they are disqualified. If one team member doesn’t make it, the whole team is disqualified. Intense!! Each team needs 2 members as “support crew” to follow them in a vehicle with food, first aid, and other supplies, meeting them at each checkpoint along the way. Our friends Elizabeth and Nicky already volunteered to be support members, but Alyssa, Will, and I decided to tag along, though in a separate car with more flexibility to our trip.
This was our first time renting and driving a car through Spain! We reserved a Toyota, but to our pleasant surprise, was greeted with a midnight blue BMW. Alyssa bought tons of snacks for the trip, and we were set to go. The beginning was rough; we got lost and were going in circles and took double the time to get out of the city. But after that we were on our way.
We decided our first stop would be for lunch in Guadalajara, Spain, about 2 hours outside of the city. We decided to stop here because as I researched lunch spots for our trip to Olot, I came upon this misleading TripAdvisor site that mentioned a P.F. Changs in the Guadalajara area! Over the first 3 hours of preparing for the trip I convinced everyone and pumped them up for some great American-Chinese fusion cuisine at P.F. Chang’s. As you can guess, we were highly disappointed when we got to Guadalajara and realized that the actual P.F. Chang’s in Gualajara is referring to the city in Mexico (fail). I felt so bad but it was actually pretty hilarious that we were desperate enough for some nostalgic American goodness to the point that we believed that there was actually a solo P.F. Chang’s in a small town in the middle of Spain. (Side note: I am still waiting for the P.F. Chang jokes to end.)
We got to Olot by night time, and checked into an amazing hotel. It was too bad that we were only spending one short night there. We met up with everyone, chatted about the journey ahead, and went to bed right away for a super early start to the next day. We left the hotel by 9am the next morning and cheered our team on as they began the Trailwalker. From there we explored the small, picturesque town of Olot.
We were greeted with pure blue skies, fluffy white clouds, overlapping mountains, and green, green grass. Every curve of road revealed a beautiful valley, a yellow field of flowers, and houses in the distance built on the side of the mountains.
Since Olot is surrounded by dormant volcanoes, we decided to hike up to the top of one. The trouble is, maps were vague and people’s directions were even more so. Here’s an example of directions that a waiter drew on the back of of a restaurant receipt for me:
See what I mean?
Instead of driving in circles, we made the wise decision to go on and drive to the city with the next checkpoint, in Girona. The views on the way to Girona were so breathtaking. I was born and raised in Illinois, otherwise known as the Prairie State–no mountains! Growing up, my mother and I used to imagine that the dark clouds in the distance were silhouettes of mountains. So now I always find them so fascinating, especially when driving through them. These mountains were so lush and full of life, we even pulled the car over to take in the scene when we came across a view that looked like the back of a postcard.
After some mishaps with trying to figure out how to fill gas and navigating through the endless amount of roundabouts, we were finally in Girona! I had always wanted to visit but wasn’t sure what to expect. The city was so charming, clean, picturesque, artsy… Rather than pinpointing sights and searching out monuments, we improvised our way through the city. We walked along the river, and came across outdoor artisan craft stands selling jewelry and other miscellaneous trinkets, specialty gelato shops, and a great view of the Eiffel Bridge, built by Gustave Eiffel who later went on to design the Eiffel Tower.
Later we enjoyed a delicious lunch out on the patio of a restaurant while a bachelor party entertained us with the crazy mishaps that the groom-to-be was forced into (aka collecting as many coins from passerby while in a pink speedo, blond wig, and beer goggles).
Liz and Nicky had to leave right after lunch to meet the Trailwalkers at their checkpoint just outside of Girona, but Alyssa, Will, and I decided to stay and explore more of the city.
To be continued…