Spring, archaeology and The Volta; amateur bike tourists meet pro cyclists

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March 29th 2019
Published: March 31st 2019
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The cycling mojo and general respiratory health had started to reappear for P2.

Pumped with all the health giving nutrition we found from the Mercadona fruit and vegetable section, we’d decided to do a day trip to Ullastret; that required at least 60km return, and getting up early, of note to P2, on a Sunday morning

But, it’s so easy to get out when it barely rains here, and the sun is up (although for any local Spanish / Catalán clocks, they tend to a general delay). So, the streets are wonderfully quiet!

Ullastret via the C66 on a Sunday morning, by passing Go and with no stops allowed, we put the hammer down to be there by opening time, 10am. Yet any traveling without photos was impossible, as a distinct view over Sant Joan de Mollett to the Pyrenees and towards El Baix Empordà / La Pera, free of the usual haze, demanded a stop. Colour! Light! Nice.

We rolled into the attraction of Pobló ibérico before 10.30, and had a lovely cultural exchange with the Catalán ticket booth man. A few campervans were parked up, but otherwise, it was just us. Reliably, our internet ‘busy times’ research rung true.

He handed us our audio guides. Handsets set to Spanish and English each, we headed up a dusty path, and listened to a loud commentary, received like usual, on-demand. The expert guide definitely knew their onions.

The Iberian history goes back at least 2500 years, and here, towers were constructed (6th century BC) before the walls (4th century BC). Within it, there were divisions between social classes living quarters, wells, storage areas and granaries, a stock area, and life carried on pretty well as life then could.

Working the land was the key reason they left each day, but the land was vastly different to the parched and patchwork farmed views we had there. Surrounded by a lake, the common rise of villages atop hills made perfect sense - to survey your surroundings and be protected from flooding. That’s significant nowadays too; after I’ve been walking past a flood height marker in our street many times, I now know it occurred in the very recent past.

After seeing some mind blowing old tools, and learning of practices and Iberian life in the adjacent museum, we’d hit medio día (12). Only half a day had gone and there were no tourists stepping into P2s photos; happy days.

Spontaneously, I persuaded him that we go to Pals. Only 10km more was needed!

That one medieval village we’d missed on our Peratallada trip via Els Ángels several weeks prior.

Pals. We’d friended it before but never visited. A Sunday was always going to be a little busier when it’s rated on Trip Advisor, but dodging folks wasn’t that bad for P2s photo ambitions.

Anywhere as old as this looks good, especially on a blue sky day.

The return to Girona was via a back road circuit to Ullastret town via medieval Peratallada, and on to Parlarva for caffeinated refreshment. Foixà and Sant Llorenc de Arenes are an alternate route in from there to Flaçà, our main highway on/ off point; it might need another 40m of climbing and 2km of distance, but the cyclists seen frequenting here speaks for itself

So lucky we were in hindsight, as the road since became closed for upgrade a few days later. ‘Carretera en mal estat’ is an often seen sign.

Monday was upon us, our 4 day clothes washing cycle was done, the weekenders had shipped out, and the old town silence returned that we’ve come to love. Sat down for a cuppa that afternoon, on a different chair, P2s, I felt what he tells of; “the chair that launches 1000 indecisions everyday”. The burden!

But, we’d actually been ticking off the list at pace. Cassà de la Selva and east of Girona was in part the venue for the Volta Cataluña, a local race equivalent (and probably training event) for the bigger brother, the Tour de France. Down to the intersections, to the minute, a website laid out when we’d expect the pros to breeze past at around 40kph. There were hills in both days we’d be able to see, but technically, it was ‘flat’.

First up was south west of Cassà. We camped out with a roadside picnic, a farmers sprinkler on full throttle which with some 70kph gusts was moistening our lunch. Well timed, they switched off as the entourage of policemen on motorbikes came to put a skinny piece of plastic across our perfect spot and some guys pulled up in their 4WDs. However, a consolation was the dandelions on the roadside waving in the breeze as the mob whizzed past.

Of the three who’d broken away to be at the front, one rider further back in the peloton won that particular 180km leg ending at Sant Feliu de Guixols.

If that wasn’t enough, they’d go on to ride similarly the next day up into the Pyrenees, with a total climb that day of around 4000m. It occurred to us after Cassà that we’d get another bite of the cycle race cherry by heading over the next day to Cruïlles-Monells. Let’s go! With a little persuasion, we did.

The hill to Cruïlles-Monells is a favourite. Never over trafficked, plenty of bird song, and always gorgeous views. Plus, we’d discovered mid week this gem of a medieval town over the hill, just 2km from the race action. Once the riders blew through Monells on another massive day, we went on to Pubol - La Pera, dual medieval towns near Madremanya I’d usually breeze through. The cats ruled, the few older folk were sat outside, and life was as usual very quiet.

Steadily we rode home, and made critical discoveries about P2s bike and it’s bothersome rattles, especially that I’d had hunches about tyre brand differences. It rolled slower, and a brief ‘swapsie’ meant we actually could ride together, P2 coasting along in my draft. Poetry in motion, it felt good to travel as a unit and not as frustratingly detached riders. Problem solved; we swap bikes.

A late soak at Aqua Banys was absolute gold after all that, and allowed us time to absorb the incredible artefacts we’d seen at the Girona archeological museum beforehand. The whole region is incredibly rich in Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and into the metal ages heritage, and the museum presents hard evidence of it, right in front of you.

If you ever worry of the minutiae of life, it’s very grounding to get some ancient historical perspective.

I struck out the next day further, whilst the weather allowed. Up to the east of Banyoles, then further east to Sant Mori, Torroella de Fluvia and Sant Miguel
de Fluvia, and all within reach of an 80km round trip on the slicker bike. On another day, the Garrotxa valley west of Banyoles called, and had formed part of the second Volta Cataluña cycle race day. But I’m sure that they didn’t have time to stop for photos or coffee in quaint Mieres!

With our tourist sights seriously banked up in the last week, we discovered generous discounts were available to others after going to what P2 had spotted. A cinema museum! The helpful receptionist got us sorted for 50% Girona-wide discounts based on what we’d seen, so thereon in, its led to us visiting the history museum, art museum (again for P2), and a few more museum attractions planned in the future in Cataluña, all the way to Barcelona next month. There’s as many museum discounts as the copious rubbish and recycling bins I.e. plenty!

The last weekend has arrived far too quickly. Feeling keen to fit in a few more key sights, we made two trips equating to 160km for Saturday and Sunday. I’d call weekends the best days for cycling any major roads, at this time of year.

Besalu was my solo getaway last time in P2s recovering state, and so I persuaded him it was worth the effort. Since we did the bike swap, it has made travel much smoother, and as a first, we’ve been consistently moving within talking/ shouting distance (for better or worse, “glass alert!”). Those tyres mattered, and P2 was grateful I’d taken ‘one for the team’. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Besalu has an interesting history, which over the years included severe earthquakes of early 1400s resulting in rebuilding a town on top of the old one in the northern flanks of the castle walls, and recently in 1814, the exit of the French (with orders made to blow up the town walls). It’s postcard perfect and full of medieval era buildings, including the old hospital and some very crooked old homes or stone ruins.

Returning by the hills we now knew is never as bad as not knowing. And with time to have a bike-bag picnic aside a quieter Lake Banyoles, a panadería and coffee completed the day.

Probably the last big push was a spontaneous decision the night before to bike to medieval Calonge near the Costa Brava, 40km away. The usual Cassà de la Selva route was taken from Girona, although it got hairier in the traffic stakes after then, as unsettling as P2s stomach was.

Fortunately, spirits lifted as we left the C road, taking some quiet country lanes to join the G road that would take us up and over. Just as we get that beautiful cadence and pace up together, two or more gun cyclists, often older than us, speed past on a 7-8% gradient hill, an elastic band pulling them to the top. Respect!

Surprisingly, we visited a 11th or slightly later century church at Romanya de la Selva, then a kilometre later was the clincher, a big dolmen (burial tomb using large rocks). The latter is a national treasure, and at 4000 or more years old (depends on what you read), to look into an ancient tomb is incredibly grounding.

Calonge, 10km down the steep hill, tested our cantilever brakes well. And fortunately, everyone had shipped out. Absolutely nobody was there, bar a few dogs, a child on a scooter, and a Catalán man with his Moroccan friend that we had a humorous exchange with. “New Zealand! It’s so cold there!”.

We need not push aside the crowds for another bike picnic. Something tells me that summer would heave, as this village is near the seaside, the well advertised Costa Brava, and with plenty of ritzy looking accommodation in and around Sant Antoni de Calonge.

Over the hills and home was easy after such climbing graft (1400 metres according to our calculations). My adventurous suggestion of an unplanned gravel road from Pedrinyà didn’t quite enchant P2, but when tail wind and a panadería in Celrà collided, it was a beautiful collusion.

7 weeks in Girona is nearing. It’s the longest we’ve been in one place in a whole year, hence it’s one of the reasons for this stay. We will leave behind a high proportion of hairdressers, especially in Cassà de la Selva, a low proportion of public conveniences, our two second hand bikes, and the habit of our twice weekly recycling and rubbish drops over the river. And, we’ve gained knowledge of this Catalán community that’s richer than just reading media. That’s gold.

Onwards from the 3rd, to Spain, Chapter two.

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