After over a month of traveling in Spain, France, and England, I am shamefully behind in blogging my adventures, of which I have had many. Couchsurfing ((Couchsurfing.org, as I’m sure most of you know, is a website/philosophy that helps travelers find like-minded locals to stay with, or locals to host travelers passing through their city. It’s a fantastic way to experience a new place, because you get to see it through the eyes of someone who lives there instead of a tour guide or hotel concierge. Best of all, you develop meaningful relationships with people from all over the world- friends in every city! It is, of course, also good for traveling on a budget. How else do you think I afford my fancy librarian jet-setting lifestyle?)) through Spain and France, I made new friends along the way and had some great experiences. I left Tangier by plane on June 23, with my faithful (and unbelievably patient)
sidekick travel partner, Erin. Just after touching down in Girona, ((A beautiful city just north of Barcelona, full of architecture and history.)) we were whisked away by our hosts, Miguel and Cristina, to a party in honor of St John’s Eve.
I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Catalonia. Most of the attendees were natives of Girona, and–although many spoke English or French–nearly all spoke Catalan with each other. Men fed the bonfire while their wives chattered away happily with us. We smiled, nodded, ate delicious food, and sipped wine until the cacophony of unfamiliar languages began to make sense. Neighbors began to set off fireworks, which flashed above rooftops and fences, dusting the night sky. Cristina’s father plugged in an amp and microphone, and Miguel played his guitar while a statuesque Cuban woman recited erotic poetry and we nibbled cake. I focused on the sounds and rhythm of her words, and watched the listeners’ faces. Someone passed me her latest publication, and I flipped through pages of unfamiliar Spanish phrases, about hips and candlelight and pursuit. When she was done, three friends and several glasses of champagne persuaded me to sing into a microphone for the first (non-karaoke) time in my life. I was embarrassed, thrilled, terrified, and intoxicated with music and firelight. We left as the fire sputtered over spent coals, drifting all the way home and to bed.
The next day, we crisscrossed Girona’s old town, climbing steps, exploring secret passages, looking through windows, smelling plants, and watching locals. We tiptoed into the Cathedral of Saint Mary (Santa Maria de Girona), marveling at the beautiful arches, ((It has the widest Gothic nave–the open area in the center of a church leading up to the altar–in the world, and second widest of any sort of nave, right behind St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.)) stained glass windows, and peaceful cloister occupied by a happy flock of pigeons. ((Local legend has it that the architect threw himself off the top of the cathedral when it was nearing completion, though I can’t find any online sources to back this up.)) We wandered through a garden and spotted a grotesque gargoyle, mouth distorted in a scream of rage. Apparently, a bruixa, or witch, lived in Girona several hundred years ago and was fond of throwing stones at churchgoers and yelling obscenities. As a punishment, she was turned to stone and remains on the side of the cathedral to this day. ((You can find more information about Catalan witch mythology here.))
We walked the length of the towering city wall, which was once an essential defense against invaders from the surrounding countryside, just in time for sunset over the cathedral, then crossed a colorful bridge at twilight and watched the stars come out from a friend’s rooftop. After riverside tapas for dinner, our hosts challenged us to kiss the lion statue near the city gates. But not just any kiss; a kiss on its feline behind! The city’s website says it all:
There is a popular legend: If you go to Girona you have to kiss the lioness’ bottom. It is an easy way to express a wish to come back to the town, or stay there forever or to become a citizen. It goes without saying that someone is not considered a good Girona inhabitant if they haven’t completed the ritual. The final argument: this is the only place in the world where you can kiss a lioness’ bottom without getting into trouble.
Well, we were so enamored with Girona that we decided not to take any chances. One at a time, we clambered up and planted a triumphant kiss on the lioness’ rear end. ((Even Cristina, who–despite living there her whole life–had never completed this ritual.)) As we walked home, and toward the next leg of our trip, the lioness seemed to wink at me coyly and whisper, “See you next time!”
P.S. Check out Miguel’s website here. He’s a great musician who freelances composing music for films!