John had been sitting in the city of Toulouse, France, knowing that he had to make a decision about where to settle. But Madrid? Why Madrid? Cadiz had no calling for him since his brother Ruffus died. But why did John choose Madrid? It had to be his adventuresome spirit. Young men tend to think romantically about far places as well as beautiful women. So Madrid it would be.
John’s first leg would be from Toulouse to Perpignon. He would still be in France; however, he would be on the cusp of the Pyrenees Mountains. Perpignon would allow him to gather whatever information he may need to help him cross the mountains.
It was an eighty mile trek from Toulouse to Perpignon. Being excited about his next great adventure he made the trip in three days. John had overestimated his endurance. He required rest. He found some solitude on the banks of the river. There was thick brush near the bridge that would shield him from the sun and the prying eyes of the church. That is where he spent the fourth day. Many others were also there resting their tired feet and doing their best to get out of the November sun. The nights were cold but by nine in the morning the heat was well on its way.
It was there that he met a minstrel of sorts. They agreed to become traveling companions while they crossed the Pyrenees. A plan was made between them. They would enter Spain at Jonquera. The die was cast and they set their course forward.
Their path through the Pyrenees was only six miles from the Mediterranean Sea. John could smell the mountain shrubs and the salt air simultaneously. He had never experienced an aroma like this before. His senses were aroused and his romantic thoughts of wanderlust almost undid him. He considered staying there. His new companion, the minstrel, convinced him that they needed to keep moving.
There were no inns across the mountains and a person needed to be “established” in order to set roots in the villages. They met many local people along their way through the Pyrenees. It was not that the people were terse or rude. In fact they went out of their way to offer the two travelers shelter. The mountain people shared their black bread and onions with them.
After a twenty mile trek they finally reached Jonquera.
John Bessac’s romanticism once again took control as he viewed the castle in the mountains. It rested above Jonquera with a commanding presence. A Roman road, the Via Augusta , which ran from Cádiz to the Pyrénées , also captured John Bessac’s imagination. There, at Jonquera, it joined the Via Domitia at the Coll de Panissars. The people informed John that this was an alter built by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus; Pompey the Great. John Bessac was carried away with the history of La Jonquera.
Once John came to his senses he realized that it was a long eighty miles to Barcelona and another three hundred miles to his goal of Madrid. The next day he and his companion were once more on the pathway to their final destination.
Some of the trip was through the countryside of Gerona and Vidreres which reminded him of his home country. The trip was, at times, more enjoyable once he reached Blanes, Mataro and then Badalona. Along that route he could see the Mediterranean and it took his mind off of his feet.
The eighty mile walk from Jonquera along the coast to Barcelona was completed in four days.
John’s minstrel friend decided to stay in Barcelona. There were many people there and several venues in which he could ply his craft. John travelled alone for the remaining one hundred miles to Tortosa.
Another castle and more romantic notions held John’s attention as he spoke to the people of Tortosa.
John heard stories of Roman conquest and the start of this castle. The Arabs under the second caliphate of Abd ar-Rahman III added to it. John was mesmerized by the view of the castle above the Ebro River.
John still had another two hundred miles after leaving Tortosa. The trip gave him plenty of time to think. He had thoughts about eventually getting to Philadelphia to become an agent for a business. His brothers had recently become involved with establishing contacts in America.
Or possibly, if that did not work out, he would join the American army. John carefully weighed several different plans. His trip was not all planning. He had plenty of time to enjoy himself.
Once he slept in a cottage and another time in the open air under a wide spread chestnut tree.
He remembered one evening staying with a priest and three lay brothers. That evening he enjoyed roasted chestnuts followed up with a few servings of Alicant wine.
Most of the trip was on foot.
Once in a while, rain – – – sun – – – or fog, he would hitch a ride on a rickety mule-hauled cart.
He never knew if he would be sitting next to a keg of olive oil – – – or at other times sacks of figs. There were a few times when a cart was loaded with honey or bee’s wax. Then he would have to keep swatting at bees that were drawn to the load.
John arrived in Madrid without a coin in his pocket.