We met up again with our guide, Alex, for our second tour with Spanish Trails. The day’s adventure included driving to Figueres to visit the Dali Theatre-Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of surrealist artist Salvador Dali’s works, followed by a walking tour in the medieval city of Girona. I’d previously been to the Dali Museum back in 1990. I couldn’t remember all the details, but they came flooding back to me once I entered. I also realized that I had some of the pieces confused with a Dali exhibit I saw that same summer in Rome. The unique thing about the museum in Figueres – the city that Dali was born in – is that the museum is built around the remains of the Municipal Theater, which was destroyed in a fire during the Spanish Civil War, and everything in it was conceived of, designed, and curated by Dali himself, making this his largest artistic project. It all began in the early 1960s when Dali was asked by the mayor of Figueres to donate a piece of art to the town’s museum. Dali replied he would donate an entire museum of his work:
I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.
Where, if not in my own town, should the most extravagant and solid of my work endure, where if not here? The Municipal Theatre, or what remained of it, struck me as very appropriate, and for three reasons: first, because I am an eminently theatrical painter; second, because the theatre stands right opposite the church where I was baptized; and third, because it was precisely in the hall of the vestibule of the theatre where I hosted my first exhibition.
Towards the end of Dali’s life when he was in very poor mental and physical health, he lived in the museum building, unbeknownst to visitors. I like the idea of how he might have silently moved about the building using a series of secret, voyeuristic opportunities to spy on his visitors. At least, it’s easy to imagine the museum being a perfect set up for this with its visual trickery and coin-operated machines. It takes a lot of mental energy to absorb the museum and its collection, as every detail is laced with meaning and there is a constant, stark reminder of the madness of Dali. His talent is obvious, but so are his obsessions and his demons.
After working our way through the museum, we had the opportunity to visit Dali-Jewels, a permanent exhibition of jewelry designed by Dali between 1941 and 1970. The museum was an unexpected surprise, housing not only brilliant pieces of jewelry but also Dali’s meticulous drawings of the designs. With all of its sparkling delights on display, the museum itself feels like a jewelry box, and is definitely worth a visit.
After our time in Figueres, we drove to Girona where we first stopped for another three-course lunch to replenish our energy for the next part of our day. This restaurant felt a little bit more like it was on the tourist circuit, but it was a nice break before beginning our walking tour of this medieval city. Girona actually dates back to the first century B.C., when the Romans built a fortress known as Forca Vella –some of which is still standing today. The walls were extended during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the medieval quarter is full of narrow, winding streets with inviting plazas and beautiful architecture with modern interventions.
Girona has been on my radar for a while because El Celler de Can Roca – a three-star Michelin restaurant in Girona – was bestowed the title of best restaurant in the world in both 2013 and 2015. Today, it is booked a full year out. I know because I tried to get a reservation. Ironically, at the very start of our walking tour, we passed by Rocambolesc, a gelateria owned by the celebrated Roca brothers. Alex, having discovered our interest in fine dining, went on to tell us about the world’s best ice cream without the opportunity to actually go in and try it. That was a disappointment, and something we really should have insisted upon despite the fact that we weren’t hungry. You just don’t point out the world’s best ice cream and then keep walking. But I suppose it’s just another reason we need to go back to Girona and spend more time there.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the old town section across the River Onyar, walking among Roman ruins and medieval architecture, through the Jewish quarter, and ending at the Cathedral of Girona in the heart of the Forca Vella. Throughout the afternoon, Alex would bring up scenes on her phone from season six of Game of Thrones, which was filmed in town to represent the city of Braavos. Our time felt rushed because there really is so much to see and do, but it whetted our appetites to spend some quality there in the future.