(In all fairness, one of these wasn’t a country, more of a principality, but let’s be honest, “The one in which we saw two countries and a principality in one day” doesn’t have the same ring to it. But it holds promise as the title of a TV pilot starring Charlie Sheen.)
We left our hostel early, to make it to our tour operator’s office just off of Laietana. This was the only organized thing that we did on our trip and was totally worth it, as the time allotted for each place was perfect and the guide was hilarious!
Our first stop was the medieval town of Baga, where the Catalan movement is supposed to have started. We learnt more about the local history (going back into the first century AD) as well as the more recent push for independence. There was a lovely stream running near the church, and as it was still early morning, the air had a slight chill which was a welcome respite from the heat in Barcelona.
Our next stop was the Mont Louis, in France, which has one of the fortresses of Vauban. He was a brilliant military engineer, with the fortress that we were at having the distinction of never failing. It’s currently being used by the French army. With coffee and pastry in hand, we set about exploring the old ruins and taking in the view of the Pyrenees.
Soon it was time to make our way to the final destination- the blink-and-you’d-miss-it principality of Andorra. As we drove in, we weren’t stopped yo show our passports which was a shame because having a Andorra stamp on it would have been sick (right next to the fake one from east and west Germany). Our tour guide Nicholas talked to us about the history of Andorra (joint principality with Spain and France), quirky facts (was the last country to suspend its state of war against Germany after World War II) and what makes Andorra so wealthy (has one of the highest per capita income in Europe through its “interesting” banking rules).
The city itself is beautiful, a mere 11.2 km from Spain, surrounded by mountains and amazing vistas. We did a little shopping due to the lack of sales taxes (after all, when in Rome…) but mostly lingered over lunch and talked. Once we came back to Barcelona, Anj and I came back to our hostel, grabbed our stuff and moved into a hotel closer to all the action, as my cousin Arun was joining us in Barcelona for the weekend and we needed a bigger room.
Maybe it was the non-stop travel and lack of a long, deep sleep, but I was close to my breaking point when the hotel did not look as advertised (they never do but the difference was basically lying), had a horrible check-in guy (which was the first and last time we saw him; all the other people at the reception were extremely kind and helpful) and had to move rooms twice because of various issues.
And on top of all of this, my cousin’s flight got delayed by an hour and half, instead of coming in at 11:30pm. My sister agreed to stay up to let him in, so as to let me go to bed. As I thanked her for this kindness, she said, “Well, it wouldn’t work if we were both grumps.” Wise words, Anj! Whether it’s in a family or a work team environment, someone needs to be the cheerful one, to pull the others out of their funk and move the group forward. I’m filing this under “Life lessons learnt on the Great Europe Summer Adventure of 2013”.