A personal story about a trip to Andorra and back
by Dino D - 4 years, 11 months ago
I never spent my Easter holidays far from home, like this year when I moved indefinitely to Valencia, Spain. And since, apparently, in the world of travelers every holiday is a new opportunity to „hit the road“, my friend Rami and I decided to grab onto this one and visit one of the world's smallest countries – Andorra.
Against all odds, we've bravely decided to try hitchhiking in Spain – according to the Internet and some personal contacts, we've found out how the art form of free rides is close to impossible to perform with success: even though many Spaniards do own a car, when they travel, they do it with their families. And if that wasn't enough, much like in France, Spain has a really well-developed car-sharing culture through some popular websites. The latter is quite a cheap option that gives you as much comfort as you can get while keeping it all on a low price.
Rami and I successfully combined both of those options – both ways. Some would say we were born under a lucky star. The couple of friends that picked us up from a remote parking place on a highway (yes, we had to climb over a fence to get there), were just in Valencia to buy a car! They came there with a bus and left with a pretty nice and comfortable piece of vehicle. The funny part was a selfie one of them uploaded on its Facebook with a title: “we bought a car and got a Czech girl and a Croatian guy for free”. They proved to be good companions and left us close to Barcelona where we easily took a train to Barcelona. There we met with our old friend who selflessly offered us a place to spend the night. We continued the other day using the most popular car-sharing website and got a perfect ride at a perfect time with a young game developer who was not only a joy to be with, but proved to be exceptional with his English skills. That finally allowed me to talk, since my Spanish is slightly over the soap-opera level, which means I can easily create drama, but I am not sure how to introduce myself. Suffice to say, we took the same way back (car-sharing with the game developer to Barcelona and hitchhiking to Valencia) – arriving there against even our best speculations.
We were in Andorra 3 hours after we left Barcelona: having no problems or stops at the border, we were soon breathing the fresh mountain air of Pyrenees. Andorra is not in EU, but apparently has a euro currency and pretty “liberal” border police. It is a country with two head of states/princes: one being the Bishop of Urgell and the other one – French president. And alongside that, many people living there are actually immigrants, who came here searching for work.
Our hosts picked us up, gave us a map and a free access to their bikes (and cupboards with food), along with a nicely decorated, rainbow cake because “at all times they have to have a cake in the fridge”. Rami and I decided to walk around Sispony, which was the city we were located in, before our hosts took us out to a karaoke bar. Obviously I was to make a joke about the size of its bar, but one of our host just confirmed it with a serious face emphasizing the world “small”. Entering the place, I have to say I have seen bigger toilets in Croatia than this bar’s interior but the party was pretty great; making me feel I’m in some local disco of a small town in Dalmatia. The drinks were over-expensive though, with a fixed price of 5€ for everything.
The day after, Rami and I went on a long biking trip around a small piece of Andorra. Did you know that there is an around-the-country walking route for which you need around 6 days to complete and when you do, you get a certificate from the Ministry of Tourism, along with a small prize? Or that the taxes in Andorra are only 4% (Spain has around 20%) making everything you want – fairly cheaper (mainly cosmetics, alcohol and tobacco). If you ever needed some more motivation. The country nurtures the love towards (extreme) sports, the main activities being tourism and hospitality, so you will encounter plenty of tourist-friendly places and faces. But, what surprised me the most was the level of tolerance towards bikers – riding a bike the whole day, we’ve received not a single one car honk. Which is, basically, a complete opposite of what you can find in Zagreb.
On our list were cities La Massana, Ordino, L’Aldosa, Anyos and Andorra la Vella (the capital city), deciding against visiting Lake Engolasters and a near mountain peak for practical reasons. The cities in Andorra are almost the same – they nurture the same building style, with pretty small “city centers” and plenty of streets. Even though we almost never let the bikes out of our sights, we were told Andorra is a pretty safe place, too. If you ever decide to visit Andorra, try not to make the mistake we made assuming that everything is so close to each other purely by looking at google maps; don’t forget to add the change of altitude into the equation and continuous “ups and downs”. Physical effort aside, everything looked more than perfect; the panorama was breathtaking and we didn’t even see the best parts. Everything except the capital city that seemed to be crawling with tourists on its two main shopping streets. The image of perfection we’ve created until then was almost crushed by the cruel reality of the civilization that exploited and ruined the nature around. I might be exaggerating, but one do not expect to see traces of the Western world, that far in the mountains, where even dears run freely.
The third day was mostly raining, limiting our options, so we had decided to check out the shops and stores. We ended up buying one wallet for Rami. Nothing more. The prices weren’t that cheap for us – including the low taxes, but that may be because we both are used to cheap shops in any countries while Andorran shops are “brands” that offer their products for 10€ lesser price. If you are looking for some gadgets and cameras, Andorra has more of those shops (that sell tobacco, as well) than there are streets in the city. Anyways, we ended up our day, taking the bus back to Sispony, since climbing up would take us around 5h, and the bus ride is 15min long (watch out for the “google maps” trap!). We made dinner, played some games with our hosts and took a long sleep before finally heading back to our “ordinary” life in Spain.