Monday, July 16, 2012

More exploring in Andorra


We woke up this morning to the very loud clanging of cow bells and mooing right beneath our window. Looking out the window we saw a herd of cattle crossing the hotel lawn. There must have been about a hundred of the beige cows native to the area, with the odd pure white calf. At one point someone from the hotel moved them on but more kept coming. They decided to hang out right by the ski lift.

We decided to explore some of Andorra today. Andorra is the sixth smallest nation in Europe, bordered by France and Spain, but not part of the European union.The official language is Catalan with Spanish and French spoken everywhere. It is the only country in the world with two heads of state, the Bishop of Urgell and the French president, who are co-princes. It means the French president, Francois Hollande is in fact a monarch in Andorra.

We drove through some spectacular mountain scenery to the Col d'Ordino, a peak that has has been traversed at times by the Tour de France and the Vueleta a Espangna cycling races. From this point we looked across at a number of mountain peaks ranging as high as three thousand metres. We watched some French boy scouts ready themselves before taking off on an overnight excursion loaded up with huge back packs. They set off in single file with a flag bearer in the middle of the pack.

On the descent we stopped at the town of Ordino. Like many places we passed, the buildings were all constructed with local stone, which meant that the older buildings and newer buildings were all quite similar in appearance. There is a lot of new building in Andorra for the ski industry but none of it is tacky in appearance. Many of these stone buildings had lovely wooden flower boxes with an abundance of red, pink or orange geraniums. Everything looked just perfect.

After a lovely bowl of gazpacho we continued our drive. There are not lot of crops growing except for tobacco, of which we saw quite a bit on the way up to the Arcalis ski resort. We passed one non functioning ski lift but a little further up the mountain found another that was working. People were walking down a path that looked fairly easy. We assumed it was the path down from the second lift but we were later proved to be totally wrong in our assumption. In our ignorance we opted to ride the lift up the mountain. The trip was wonderful as we moved higher and higher passing a glacial lake and some bits of winter snow that still had not melted. Finally, at the top, above the tree line we climbed a path to look out over the magnificent rocky peaks of the Spanish Pyrenees.

It was at this point that the fun began. We were unsure of the path down but Seamus clarified that we followed the path the skiers would take but there was a catch to this. Without the snow the start of the path was scree made up of small stones that slid underfoot. We started down very carefully. Surely this could not continue. This ski trail was full of sharp, steep switchbacks. There was some respite when we came across larger stones to walk on or patches of grass. Many times we went around the switchback only to find more of the small stones. Not only that we seemed to be going farther and farther away from the car park. Finally, two more switchbacks, one rocky then grass. Needless to say, on the last rocky part of the trail I took a tumble. Picking myself up, I made it to the car. I must say I can't see any joy in hiking on such a treacherous trail, where you don't even watch the scenery as you are too busy watching your next step.

We stopped in Andorra de Vella at the huge spa Caldea but since going in the thermal waters would take over three hours, we decided to return to the hotel and go in our little spa. Back in our room we could hear the cows again. Many were sitting on the hotel lawn, while a French family was playing a game with sticks and a man was working out right next to one group of cows with his personal trainer. It was quite funny to watch.

It was off to dinner in the hotel but not before conveying to one of the servers that rap music with the repetition of motherfucker was not great dinner music. He didn't really get the inappropriate word until finally, in French, I conveyed that it was a bad word. What a day!

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