Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Girona: A girl has no guide

My first Game of Thrones fan tour led me to King's Landing and Qarth- or as nit-picking cartographers would call it "Dubrovnik". A new month meant a new destination and this time I made plans to go to Braavos. For those that do not have either (a)an HBO Go subscription or (b) way too much time on their hands, (SPOILERS APLENTY COMING UP) this was the place where that little badass Arya went to train with a cult of weirdo assassins. You might remember that most of her time was spent running through crowded markets while being chased by a crabby blonde chick with a stick. Either that or selling oysters.

I wanted to go to those markets. Turns out that all of those scenes were filmed in the Catalan city of Girona.  To get there, one could easily do a day trip from Barcelona (less than 1 hr by train) but the wee medieval town really does merit at least an overnight.  This is particularly true if you are hoping to transport yourself to Braavos (with a little bit of King's Landing thrown in). If that is your plan, you are going to need some time.
Unlike Dubrovnik, with its steady parade of Jon Snows leading GoT tours, Girona has not yet caught on to the fact that they could easily monetize this thing. When I arrived at the hostel and asked about possible tours, the owner looked at me as if I was trying instead to book passage to Mars.  He handed me a map and marked areas where filming had taken place and rattled off what La Arya had done in each spot. 
The Stone Bridge: the direct link between my hostel and the old town

Once I crossed the bridge and entered the old town, I found that my map and its liberal display of circles with no labels attached was not particularly helpful. Did that circle indicate the spot where La Arya was begging for change or is that the taberna that I'm supposed to go for good vegetarian food?

Throughout the summer, I saw versions of this sign throughout many cities in Europe and always thought so much better of those displaying it.
Every street and alleyway looked like it could  have been used in the series. With no informational signs or souvenir vendors to tip me off to the exact spots, this was going to be a challenge.

I went to the tourism office but had the misfortune of getting the lone person in all of Spain, nay all of Europe, who has not watched GoT.  She knew nothing about the series but did point me towards an exhibition across from the cathedral that focuses on Girona's long history as a film set.

Most of the collection dealt with Spanish films, telenovelas and medieval period pieces that had been filmed in Girona.

The day the script pages tried to escape....
They did acknowledge their biggest coup with a room dedicated to GoT, with costume replicas, still photos and one lovelorn-looking White Walker, This was cool but for the fact that none of the things displayed had anything to do with Braavos/ Girona.  The Night's Watch cloak and the White Walkers belong on The Wall or beyond it- all scenes that have been filmed in either Northern Ireland or Iceland.  I suspect the lady I talked to at the tourist information office might have had a hand in setting up the exhibition.

The girls working at the museum were much more Thrones-savvy and they answered my questions and gave me a different map that marked the locations for all the productions ever filmed in Girona, including GoT. It did not explain what scenes were shot where but it was a start.

Next door was the 12th century Arab Baths turned Capuchin convent, which in addition to being architecturally interesting on its own, was part of La Arya's chase scene.  I know this for a fact because, absent a guide holding up still photos like I had in Dubrovnik, I was on my own to figure out what exactly had taken place at each site. As a result, I spent a lot of time sitting in each place pulling up YouTube videos trying to both make sure I was in the right place and to see what it looked like on screen.

For example, these stairs look harmless enough but add a bunch of citrus and the aforementioned stick chick and bad things happen. (For the entire chase scene, including the Arab Baths, click here)

An otherwise unremarkable corner turned out to be the the spot where Arya was blind and panhandling only instead of coins, she receives- you guessed it- a stick upside the head from the Mistress of the Lifeless Hair.

With the help of a good data connection- thank you T-Mobile!- I was able to see the Plaza de Jurats as the place where Arya watches a crude play mocking her father's death.

While others were admiring the Girona Cathedral and its 1607 era staircase, I was watching Jaime Lannister ride a horse up those same steps. We had left Braavos altogether and were now in King's Landing at the Sept of Baelor. If the shows geography is to be believed, those steps eventually lead to the streets of Dubrovnik, as demonstrated in Cersei's walk of shame.

Or you could go further afield to Oldtown, where Sam and Gilly arrive so he can attend classes at the Citadel and become a Maester.  The Benedictine monastery Sant Pere de Galligants (and a shitload of CGI) stand in for the citadel and the coolest library ever.

In searching out all these GoT sites, I not only kept getting waylaided by viewing countless YouTube videos but also by the city itself.  It truly is a beautiful place. The most photographed spot (second possibly to the Cathedral) are the houses along the River Onyar.

On Carrer Calderers, there is a column with what they refer to as a lioness clinging to it for dear life. It accounted for one of the many markings on my original map.   I recalled that the guy from the hostel telling me that upon finding the lioness, I should make sure to kiss its ass. Like literally, not in a "have you lost weight? kind of way.  This would bring me luck.

Not one to tempt fate, I climbed the steps, made a wish and planted lips firmly on feline fanny. Then I sat at a nearby cafe, ordered a beer and waited to watch others do the same.  And waited. And waited...

No one else stopped to pucker up.  It is quite possible that I'd been punk'd, Girona style. I now even doubt that it is even a lioness.  But I'll tell you this, if I ever go back I'm passing this one forward. I refuse to go down in history as that only sucker that kissed  (dubious) lioness ass.

I guess I should be grateful that no one told me it was good luck to suck a sandal'ed toe.

The best restaurant in the world (according to Restaurant Magazine) can be found in Girona .  It is called El cellar de Can Roca, has a one year waiting list and charges 195 euro for a prix fixe dinner.  I was not going to El Cellar. But I could go to their side project, Rocambolesc.  This ice cream shop consistently has a long line, but no waiting list.  It was within my budget.  And they have a popsicle modeled after Jaime Lanister's faux hand!!!  The Kingslayer pop is made of blood orange and mango and drips a sinister- but delicious- red color as you eat it.

It was beginning to get late so I concluded the day by doing a walk along the Passeig de la Muralla, the city's 14th century walls. As the sun was slowly beginning to set,  I enjoyed a bird's eye view of both the city skyline and the Pyrenees.  In the distance, I could see Braavos, King's Landing and Oldtown, all parts of the Seven Kingdoms scavenger hunt I'd embarked on.  

I'm sure it is only a matter of time before they introduce their own GoT tours and have a couple Mothers of Dragons leading camera-toting groups around the city.   It will certainly be easier but they will be missing out on the thrill of stumbling across the exact video that captures the spot where you are standing. And even worse, they might get tipped off about those pranksters causing people to kiss lioness ass.

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