“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”—St. Augustine
No history text or virtual tour can compare to cycling through Medieval hill towns in a land where BC structures and prehistoric cave paintings remain. Nor can a classroom feel like wind tangling my hair, smell like lavender abuzz with bees, or taste like fresh bread in an olive grove. Such was my escape to Emporda, Spain.
Each time I leave the classroom to travel–to breathe history, literature, life–I return a better teacher.
I”ll never forget finally touching the wall William the Conqueror built in 1066, commencing the Medieval age of castles, chivalry, and courtly love. Homer and Sophocles were beside me when I climbed a hill in Athens to the Parthenon and roamed the Coliseum in Rome. As a teen I’d studied about partygod Bacchus and Christian Paul. But blushing at pornographic paintings in Pompeii VS standing in an amphitheater in Ephesus where the latter preached faith over religion made what I know to be true feel even more real.
Last month while in Catalonian countryside, I saw a wall older than all but one of the ancient edifices I’ve experienced. Built only one century after Delphi’s Temple of Apollo, Ullastret was the first Iberian establishment raised in 6th century BC in Girona.
In the following centuries, as Romans, Visogoths, and Muslims invaded, more walls, castles and towers would be raised for protection from attack.
Sentries watched for pirates, but even when the coast was clear, in the wetlands below marshes bred malaria which claimed lives. Today, Costa Brava still isn’t tame though locals no longer fight to survive. It is a place of adventure and natural beauty. Here one can thrive and feel alive.
Rather than a trusty steed, I powered through stone villages and past poppy fields on a burricleta, an electric bicycle named for its burro-like benefit of providing horsepower to handle high altitudes.
We began our journey (see our route here) in Gualta.
First stop was a famous bridge, rutted from wagon wheels.
We pedaled our way through Fontclara, Sant Feliu de Boada, Peratallada, and other towns. Five hours later we parked for lunch in Pals.
Chef Jordi, of Hotel Mas Lazul met us in the grove after rising early to bake loaves for the tasting and for us to tote home. The master baker formerly worked alongside Santi Santamaria, chef of 3-star Michelin restaurant, Can Fabes. We sampled six types. My favorite was the dessert bread with pumpkin and raisin. He said children are given bread with wine and sugar as a treat. Each recipe takes 24 hours counting the rest and rise times. While he taught, our hosts made fresh aioli. The bread and spread…delicious.