Go to Girona, they said. It’s beautiful, they said. It’s where they filmed Game of Thrones they said. It won’t take you long to get there, they said.
And I nodded in agreement, resolving to visit this illustrious city at the first opportunity. I had just turned 18 and was on my first adult adventure, working as an au pair close to Barcelona. In a stroke of luck, I ended up with a precious couple of days where I was free of my charges so I decided to take up everyone’s recommendation. For the past couple of months, I had been hopping on planes to the Balearic Islands; zipping around on buses; and winding my way through Gaudi’s city on its metro system. I was relishing the independence of post-school life and having so far navigated my way around with success, I felt increasingly confident in my public transport skills. I’d glanced over the route in a naively blasé fashion before setting off at midday and was soon settled on my connecting train.
After 30 minutes, I looked up and was somewhat disconcerted to still see the shimmering blue of the coast as the train trundled on. Surely, we should have started to go inland by now, I thought to myself, as Girona, unlike Barcelona, is not on the coast. Scrabbling around with my poor Spanish I soon discovered that whilst I would eventually end up in Girona, I had taken the ‘scenic’ route a.k.a the sluggish train which takes 2 hours, as opposed to the 30-minute high speed train. Snaking through the lush Catalonian countryside, I cursed my incompetence, feeling that by the time I arrived and found my bearings, it would be virtually time to go home.
Looking around the empty train (empty for obvious reasons), I spotted a kind face and asked if she was also going to Girona. She said that she was, and we soon struck up a conversation. Belu was in her twenties, Argentinian, an evangelical Christian and living in Girona; she was sponsored to work on a study about tourism in the city. I have rarely been met with such amazing kindness as that which Belu showed me that day. She took me to the separate high-speed station in Girona and waited for me to buy a return ticket, guided me around the city and to the magnificent gothic cathedral. After what felt like hours of conversation, with someone whom I felt I had known for years, we hugged goodbye and Belu said that I was welcome to stay with her if I ever returned to Girona. Thanks to Belu, I had enough time to tour around the cathedral and get a flavour of the city. Even though I wished for more time, it felt serendipitous that my own ineptitude had caused me to cross paths with such an incredible, unusual individual.