FORTY-FIFTH MOVEMENT: ANDORRA
Andorra la Vella, Andorra
Giovanni and I woke up around 06:40 on the train. I got ready and looked out the window to view the Pyrenees as we neared L’Hospitalet-près-l’Andorre (a small town in France near the Andorran border). The train arrived at L’Hospitalet-près-l’Andorre at 07:22 and Giovanni and I disembarked the train with our bags. We then walked outside of the small station and to a bus that was waiting there. We paid for our bus tickets and loaded our bags and our bodies on to the bus (the Barcelona man was also on the bus, but he was getting off at the first stop in Andorra). The bus departed at 07:30 and we drove on to Andorra, reaching the border at 07:45.
After crossing the Andorran border, we continued on to Pas de la Casa, reaching it at 07:50; our Barcelona friend got off the bus at this stop and Giovanni and I continued on until we reached Andorra la Vella (the capital of the Principality of Andorra). We reached the capital around 08:50, exited the bus with our bags (we were the last ones to be dropped off), and then walked to the hotel we had booked with (first in the wrong direction, then in the right direction). We reached the hotel at 09:00 and checked in. The receptionist at the hotel had just finished taking pain medication for his burnt foot and was noticeably out of it; he seemed surprised that guests should show up at the hotel and it didn’t help that he understood very little English; all in all, it ended up taking about fifteen minutes for us to check in. Luckily, the room was cleaned and available, so Giovanni and I were able to go upstairs, put our bags in the room, and get ready to see the city of Andorra la Vella. Once ready, we exited the hotel and walked toward the center of town. Since we were both hungry, we first stopped at a café and each had a cup of cappuccino that was then followed by a beer and a hamburger. After our hearty breakfast, we continued on toward the Plaҫa Consell General (the Town Square). Near the square, we hiked up a small trail on a rocky outcrop that gave us nice views of the city and valley (also, nice views of a local sunbather). We then walked to the square and inside the Casa de la Vall, which was the headquarters of the General Council of Andorra; it was built in 1580 AD as a manor and tower defense by the Busquets family and in 1702 AD it was acquired by the Consell de la Terra. Once inside the Casa de la Vall, we met a young woman who spoke English very well and she informed us that we could only visit by guided tour (which was free) and that the next English-speaking tour would commence at noon. This gave Giovanni and I about twenty minutes of free time, so we walked to the nearby Church of Sant Esteve and entered inside. The Church of Sant Esteve is dedicated to Saint Stephen (the protomartyr, as can be seen on a mural over the entrance) and was originally built in the twelfth-century AD in the Romanesque-style (although it had obviously been heavily renovated and remodeled over the years). After our quick tour of the church, Giovanni and I returned to the Casa de la Vall and asked to use the restroom (the beer had gotten to us); however, we were informed that there wasn’t one in the building (unlikely story) and were directed to use one in the parking garage nearby. So, we walked to the parking garage, took the lift down, and discovered that we had to have a parking ticket to use the restroom; so, we took the lift back up and used the restroom in a restaurant instead. We then returned to the Casa de la Vall and began our tour at 12:05 along with a Hungarian woman and a Swiss couple (although the Swiss woman was originally from New York). The young woman who spoke English very well was our guide and she took us through the Casa de le Vall, showing us the first floor (the main floor of the family home) where an old cooking room, the Council Chamber, a chapel dedicated to St. Ermengol, and the “closet of the seven keys” is located; the “closet of the seven keys” once stored important historical documents such as the Manual Digest and Politar Andorrà, but was now empty (since this building had not been used by government since 2006 AD – they moved in to the new Parliament building next door); the seven locks on the cabinet are for each of the seven parishes of Andorra and could thus only be opened when they were all present. After touring the first floor, we returned to the ground floor (which was once used as stables when this building used to act as a manor) and visited the administration of justice court room. Our tour was then concluded and we thanked our guide. Then, we all walked out to the square and we talked for a short while with the Swiss couple and Hungarian woman before going our separate ways. Giovanni and I then walked further east through the town, along the Gran Valira River, to the Pont de Paris Bridge. We then turned north and climbed up to where the Church of Sant Andreu is located; this was a small, somewhat run-down church that was built in the twelfth-century AD in the Romanesque style; its doors were closed, but we were able to peek inside through a small hole that someone had created. We then walked further uphill to a trail (the Rec del Solà) that follows a small irrigation stream. At this point, we had to use the restroom again, but, once again, Andorra doesn’t make such things easy; so, we ended up finding a semi-private spot to relieve ourselves. We then continued on the trail, heading west, passing by many nice homes and gardens. We both agreed that this small wealth country would be an ideal place to retire. Also, all along the trail, we had great views of the valley and the capital city. We then reached the end of the trail and descended back down to the city. At this point, we were both hungry again (that breakfast had opened up our stomachs and as a consequence, more food was in demand), so we ended up eating at a restaurant near the hotel (we didn’t realize how near until much later). For lunch, I had water, a beer, fried potatoes, a fried egg, two seasoned chunks of a tomato, a fried sausage, and a fried hamburger patty (no buns, just meat). After our meal, I guess we ended up tipping well enough to earn a free shot of liquor from the restaurant’s proprietor and he even took a picture with us on his tablet device. Giovanni and I then walked west through town, all the way to the Church of Santa Coloma (technically in the town of Santa Coloma d’Andorra, not Andorra la Vella which was two kilometers away – I didn’t realize we had walked out of the capital). At this point, Giovanni’s feet were barking awfully loud and he decided to walk back to the hotel room and rest. I continued on, walking west along the Gran Valira River, to the Bridge of la Margineda (a Romanesque bridge that dates to the Late Middle Ages (thirteenth- to the fifteenth-centuries AD) and is still standing; also, it is located in the small town of La Margineda – about four kilometers away from Andorra la Vella). I walked across the bridge, took some photos from both sides (trying to find the best place to take pictures – the sun was not in an ideal location for me), and then started walking back toward Andorra la Vella. I tried to hike on trails as much as I could, but I eventually had to give up and follow the roads. On the way back, I stopped at a convenience store and bought some much needed sports drinks and water to rehydrate on. I then made it back to the hotel room (around 19:00) and met up with Giovanni. Once back in the hotel room, I had to take a shower to get the sweat and grime off of me. We then decided to buy bus tickets for Barcelona (the plan: leave for Barcelona in the morning and then take a train to Pamplona to make it there by the evening); so, we exited the hotel, walked to the local bus station, checked out two companies (in separate buildings) and decided to go with the first one (purchasing tickets for the 08:15 bus to Barcelona). We then walked through the Central Park (which was ruined with too much construction – they should’ve left it more natural) before making our way to a supermarket, where I bought some beer and snacks to consume (neither of us were hungry enough for a full dinner). We then returned to the hotel room (which was pretty hot without an air conditioner; also, there was almost no space to move around in and the two separate beds were pressed up together to make one – don’t worry, we separated them as much as we could). I then drank my beer and ate tortilla chips with salsa, as well as cheese and salami (this was more than enough food for me since I was still pretty full from our late lunch), all whilst watching BBC news on the television. Eventually, around 01:00, we both went to sleep, ready to cross the border in to Spain the following morning.