As I mentioned in a previous entry in this journal, we arrived in Andorra from France on the N-22, arriving at customs and passport control for Andorra in the ski town of El Pas de la Casa. The skiers seemingly ended their run where the highway cut off the trail. The lift line ran right along the side of the road.
We passed through the guard gate at Andorra at a rolling ten miles per hour. I guess there was nothing suspicious about our Volkswagen.
We climbed even higher altitude along the side of the beautiful mountain slope. It was a sunny day, so most of the skiers were skiing only in sweaters and many were without ski gloves. As it was only the early afternoon, we could still see some late risers making their way to the slopes. Either the transportation facilities are terrible to the slopes at El Pas de Casa or these people were crazy because they were hauling their ski and poles on their backs with one hand with their ski boots in the other hand, all while trudging up a steep hill. I would have never made it to the slope at that rate and if I did I would have been too tired to ski anyway.
We continued down into a valley, following the signs to Les Escaldes and Andorra la Vella. We came upon Les Escaldes first, going down the main Avenue, called Avinguda de Charlemagne. It was, of course, full of duty free shops and had all the charm of a strip mall except for the stunningly gorgeous mountains on both sides of it. Les Escaldes is famous for its sulfur baths and luxurious spas, but we unfortunately had to keep moving.
Les Escaldes blends right into Andorra la Vella and you are lead by signs into the main shopping street, the Avinguda de Meritxell. It has similar bland duty free shops with pedestrian shoppers clogging the sidewalks and streets to find bargains. There is also an upsetting amount of American fast food chains throughout the street (not that I'm against fast food chains; I just don't want to see things that I see at home, especially when I'm in small principalities in the Pyrenees).
After some exasperating circling I finally found a suitable garage and parked the rental car. We walked around town looking for a palletable place to eat. We obviously went in the wrong place. The food was so terrible and the service so slow that I have tried to put the whole instance out of my memory. I can't remember what I ordered or what the restaurant was called. Toni and I usually have a knack of making great food and restaurant choices no matter where we are and this was a rare instance when we screwed up.
Otherwise we just walked around town, seeing the few sights, the Placa del Pobles, the Casa de la Vell, the Barri Antic, and the Avinguda de Meritxell, where we looked at digital cameras and luggage before just buying postcards, an Andorra book, and some chocolate. We also changed some francs into pesetas at a local bank where I had to sign about fifty forms in Catalan. We returned to the car to leave.
After some tricky moments trying to figure out how to use the automatic parking payment machine and accepting the help of a kind stranger, we left the garage to find the streets of Andorra la Vella completely jammed. It took us about a half of an hour to get out of the urban area and then about another ten minutes to get to the customs line at the Spanish border. Under EU law, you are only allowed (declaration free, that is) a certain amount of goods bought from outside. Apparently there is a big problem with the smuggling of cigarettes, so we had to wait quite a while. When it was our turn, I pulled into a space and the man asked if I had cigarettes and opened my trunk. I said no and he let us go.
We headed out of Andorra on the Spanish road N-145 South heading toward La Seu d'Urgell. From here we would enjoy the Spanish side of the Pyrenees on our way to Barcelona.
All in all, Andorra was a bit disappointing, but it was something I had to do. It would be a great destination for skiing, especially if you were staying in a spa-type hotel near the ski lodge.