Monday, December 18, 2017

Island in the Sky - Andorra la Vella, Andorra

When people ask me which country I have been to is my favorite, I find the question hard to answer with just one.  However, Andorra always will find itself in the top five.  After spending nearly one month in Spain, I imagined Andorra to be similar to her neighbor to the south.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this place is like no other!  From the towering walls that form the boundaries of this ancient principality to extraordinary streets with works of art, Andorra stole my heart. 

In my planning of World Tour 2015, I thought two nights in world's 16th smallest country would be enough to check the 700 year old principality off my list.  I quickly realized that would not be enough time so I decided to double my stay within the first few hours of exploring this fascinating place tucked away in the Pyrenees Mountains .  Once the bus pulled into the station, I retrieved my bicycle and cart out from the compartments below and set off to see the highest capital city of Europe - Andorra la Vella.  As I spun around the cobblestone streets, I saw the beacon to travelers worldwide - the "i" for information and some local insight!  After parking my bike out front, I stepped into the information center to grab the ever-so handy maps, guides, and of course local wisdom!  I gave my morning greetings in Spanish to the lovely lady behind the information desk followed and she responded happily in Catalan.  I shyly smiled and then asked in English what information she could send me with for my stay in her country.
She started to fill my hands with anything and everything that she could and then asked me if I was excited about the race.  With my eyebrow raised and an apparent look of confusion, she exclaimed "La Vuelta! You must see La Vuelta!"  She then excitedly burst from her desk over to the little information area dedicated to the race while telling me all about this incredible race.  She then asked where I was staying and then asked for me to wait a few minutes while she made a few phone calls.  She came back and unfolded one of my maps and marked out two spots that her friends and family suggested to be great spots to watch the racers make their way about the winding roads of Andorra.  After all this, she sent me off to explore the streets of the capitol with the must-sees with a true Catalan farewell of a hearty hug, a brimming smile, and a lasting impression.  Ready to explore, I took to the narrow streets of the old city with my route roughly chartered to get my first taste of this magical place.  
Now, after bicycling for more than a month everyday, I thought I would not feel the effects of a little tour around a little city with a 'little' grade to it's streets... I was in for a hard lesson to be learned!  One of the first points my local from the tourism office recommend was the Church of Sant Esteve (pictured above).  She said the views are incredible, the history is intriguing, and once there, everything else will be downhill!  Quite right, but the ride up there was most definitely a workout!   The streets leading up to this viewpoint curved up narrowly between beautiful homes and municipal buildings were not only for wheeled traffic, but also foot traffic.  Different from all other places I have been, these 'sidewalks' were stairs.  Hopefully that gives insight of how steep these streets truly are!  Once I came down from the historic heights of the old city, I followed the gentle pathways along the river La Valira lined with modern structures and art.  The there were two pieces that captured my attention were La Noblesse du Temps by the famous Salvador Dalí (left) and the architectural icon of Andorra today, the Caldea (right).  
By the time I reached the Caldea, my stomach was telling me that lunch was in order.  Heeding that call, I found a small cafe with a table situated to take in the views around me but most importantly the crystal wonder that glimmered under the beautiful day that I had been blessed with upon my arrival to Andorra.  As I sat down at my small table with a savory cup of coffee and the soothing sound the river tumbling by, I thought to myself that Andorra is a place for everyone.  The roots of this country trace back before Christ, feeding the call to history buffs.  Upon those timeworn cobblestone streets are contemporary works of art to captivate the art enthusiasts from around the globe.  The natural wonders invite adventure seekers from the streets of city life into the beauty of the mountain peaks and valleys.  Last but not least, the best of European culinary arts!  Needless to say, the phrase "great things come in small packages" is a perfect way to describe Andorra and all that this unique country has to offer her visitors from near and far at any time of the year!

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