Cyclist.ie is delighted to be part of a European Commission funded Erasmus+ project that involves seven partner organisations from Spain, Portugal, Poland and Ireland. Five of these are schools (two from Spain and one each from Portugal, Poland and Ireland), while the other two are bicycle advocacy groups – Biciclistas de Corella (based in Navarre in the North of Spain) and Cyclist.ie.
Following a call out to our members back in January, we gathered together a Cyclist.ie delegation of four to take part in the inaugural project meeting in Corella. The delegation comprised Emily from Leitrim Cycling Festival, Reg from Galway Cycling Campaign, Hugh from Dublin Cycling Campaign and Damien (National Cycling Coordinator with Cyclist.ie and An Taisce) – all up for an adventure in the North of Spain!
In this article, our four Cyclist.ie ambassadors offer some reflections on the trip with each of the crew focusing on one of the action packed days.
Hugh’s reflections – on Friday (19 May)
Our day started in the local school, IES Alhama, the host partner of the trip. The school is named after the Alhama river which flows through the town. We had a series of presentations from representatives of each of the seven partners. It was great to see the creative talents of the various groups, particularly the pupils presenting in a foreign language. This was a lovely ice-breaker, giving us all an introduction to the other partners. Not too serious, and setting the tone for the following few days.
Next up, we cycled to the town-hall, where the Mayor welcomed us and presented us all with the town’s bandana. Viva!
Now that we were suitably dressed, off we went for a cycle tour around the old narrow streets of Corella – perfect for bikes, and any cars on the route gave us plenty of time and space.
There were guides organised to show us around some of the old churches, beautifully adorned in gold. Reg even got the keys to the castle, although they kept a close eye until he gave them back!
Once the tours were done, we were back on the road – there would be no rest on this trip! We had a bit of a bike-malfunction en route, but luckily we had plenty of experts on hand who were well used to such challenges. Well done Damien for coming to the rescue!
Our next stop was to Erasmus Park, an area that was derelict ten years ago. The community came together and created a lake, and planted numerous trees – as also did participants on some of the subsequent Erasmus+ trips (including one of the trips that Cyclist.ie / An Taisce took part in back in early 2019 – see here). Wildlife returned and it is now a haven for biodiversity.
There is a nursing home closeby, and the residents are brought out by the local Cycling Without Age pilots. Interestingly, they have a different name for the trishaws – they call them “Yayaclettas”, which translates as “Grannybikes” – as emblazoned on the side of Biciclistas de Corella’s support van! This is a much friendlier name and instantly understood.
Emily’s reflections – on Saturday (20 May)
Our itinerary on Saturday had us up and out early to get on a bus to Zaragoza – a city about an hour’s drive from Corella.
We arrived outside the city’s famous palace called the Aljafería where we were treated to a guided tour. The palace was home to the Muslims and then to the Christian Kings of the Kingdom of Aragon and is now where the parliament of the Region of Aragon is housed. It is an extremely beautiful and well preserved building.
After that we were taken to La Ciclería which is an inspiring bike workshop/cafe where you can bring your bikes and either use the workshop space and tools to repair your own bike or get it repaired by the in-house mechanics. While you’re there you can enjoy a coffee and cake. We were also treated to a speedy bike tour of the city which took us along the city’s river.
As Reg comments further below, I had no expectations of the trip and I had a fantastic time. The ease of cycling around Corella and Zaragoza was wonderful. The food that we were offered was delicious and the kindness which the local people showed us was heartwarming. Even though Corella looked like a small town it was brimming with culture and history.
Damien’s reflections – on Sunday (21 May)
It was lovely being back in Corella after spending time with the gang from Biciclistas de Corella and IES Alhama back in 2019. It feels like a very long time ago with a pandemic sitting between the two visits. On the other hand, it felt like just a few months since I spent time with Tono, Cristina and Chiefly and co, such was their hospitality, friendship and general sense of mischief!
Sunday was the hottest day of the trip and we headed off early on our 10-km Bike ride to Alfaro. The route taken was mainly on bone-try trails. We learned that the lack of rainfall in 2023 has been a real cause of concern to locals and is putting pressure on the irrigation systems needed for their allotments and wider food growing.
Alfaro is well known for it storks, and especially the concentration of them nesting on the roof of the church. Directly across the road from the church is the stork interpretation centre where we learned that some of nests weigh close to 500kg. This puts serious pressure on the historic buildings.
After cycling back to Corella and enjoying some fine outdoor dining and fresh produce, we had more little adventures later that evening visiting a cherry orchard and a vine-yard.
Reg’s reflections – on Monday (22 May)
We were treated to a great intergenerational experience first thing Monday morning when we were met at Corella school by Santiago. He is 91 years young and he led us on the bicycle tour around the edge of the town to bring us to one of his two extremely well tended allotments. It was a lovely sight to see the students also on their bicycles following him. At the allotment he gave us a guided tour and we were able to pick some strawberries.
After this, we made our way to Villa Maria, the house and garden of local woman Maria, where we had spent some time earlier in the trip. Emily and Reg planted some pear trees.
We then completed an operation to repair a broken limb on an almond tree.
Reg works for the national Ambulance Service in Ireland, but this was his first time repairing a tree limb. This turned out to be a bigger job than we thought, but together with the students we came up with a plan which was supervised by our Spanish host Maria. We had to utilise the materials on site – some bed sheets torn into strips being the main components but we also needed some long poles and lots of man and woman power to raise the branch to its original position. A local was passing and he remarked on how professional it looked. We also learned that almond trees produce a lot of sap.
The day was finished off with a trip to a local social enterprise who employ people with varying abilities.
I had no idea what to expect before I departed for the trip, but I really enjoyed my Erasmus+ experience. As an adult when you holiday or do trips it is difficult to meet locals and to get involved in the local community. However, from the first day to the final day of this trip, it was all about the local communities and engaging with them while doing different activities.
All four of the Cyclist.ie delegation really enjoyed the exchange and wish to pay a special thanks to our fabulous hosts for putting together such a diverse programme and making us so welcome. We look forward to meeting them in Waterford in June!
Note that more photos on the trip can be seen on the Facebook page of Biciclistas de Corella – https://www.facebook.com/BiciclistasdeCorella