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Days 6 & 7: Andorra

We had noticed when passing through the bus station that adjoined Toulouse's Gare Matabiau that there was a minibus service offering trips to Andorra and for not much money either. All you had to do was be there when the driver was and hand over some money. Piece of cake and that's what we'd decided to do.

That nearly didn't pan out for us, since several other people had the same idea. Fortunately, we were at the front of the queue and we weren't going to let the loudmouths at the back push in, no matter how hard a time they gave the driver. He was a perfectly nice chap and, conscious that he wasn't a native French-speaker, I asked him in Spanish which language he would prefer. Spanish was indeed easier for him, so that's what we used.

It didn't take long to leave Toulouse behind and hit the open road, heading in the direction of the fabulous Pyrennees. The views grew more majestic the higher we got, speeding along those winding roads. We saw forests, lakes and even isolated towns:


Andorra has next to no roads. I think there are three main ones in the entire principality. That was mostly the story of its capital too, Andorra la Vella, which was two main roads sitting in a valley with huge forested mountains on either side:


We knew we were in a downsized country when we saw what passed for the bus station!


Since we'd been travelling since 10:00 and only arrived at 16:00 we were delighted to see a tiny little McDonald's next to the tiny little bus station. McDonald's is its own international language really, with fingers to show quantity and hand gestures to indicate size helping refine the request for a "Big Mac", "Menu" or "Cheeseburger". Still, I was impressed that I was able to order Clare's food in Spanish, since her orders involve having to request "no sauces, nothing that could be considered salad, no onion, no gherkins, just the bread, the meat and the cheese". They got the order right so I couldn't have done too badly.

It didn't take too long afterwards for us to have completed the short walk to the centre of town. As I said earlier, it's two main streets really. Now the job began of finding a hotel. Right on cue, the heavens opened and we were nearly swept away in a deluge. The river that flows through the town became choppy like the high seas:


We'd come from Toulouse having left our suitcases in the hotel room there and with only shorts and t-shirts with us here, so we were quickly soaked to the skin and desperate to find cover. We tried a couple of hotels (a Novotel and an Ibis, I think), which both had free rooms but were so frightfully overpriced that we couldn't bring ourselves to accept them. I'm a man who slept on the streets of New York once rather than pay $200 for a hotel room and little in my mindset had changed in the intervening years! Fortunately, we espied the tourist information office and realised that we could get in just before it closed:


The young fellow working in there was a particularly helpful chap and effortlessly switched to fluent French once it became clear that my Spanish (which I don't think I'd ever tried prior to that day) wasn't particularly versed. He did his professional duty of pointing out the sponsoring hotels but once he'd seen that I was serious about not paying extortionate prices circled an area of the map and advised we head up there, whilst he made a call to the owner. Magic; we had a perfectly nice apartment with a view of the mountains for next to nothing.

We read for a bit and then napped, before deciding to go for a walk along the two main streets. We found a perfectly pleasant restaurant and enjoyed our dinner. Clare might have enjoyed a bit too much of the wine, mind, because even though I walked her to the door of our apartment block she wasn't sure where we had to go!

I woke up with the daylight and experienced the visceral delight of watching the sun rise above the mountains. Try as I might I just couldn't capture it properly with a camera and that's why you can't see it here. It was so special that I toyed with the idea of waking Clare up but decided against it, knowing that it would take her a while to actually awaken and so she'd have no memory of what she'd seen. Fortunately for me, I've still got it in my head.

Energised and inspired, I decided to go for a run. I've no idea where that idea came from; I probably hadn't run in the latter half of my life at that point. Somehow I didn't get tired and I thoroughly enjoyed running between those two main streets whilst the sun caught up with me. I was one of only a handful of people active at the time; Andorra's a very sleepy place and there's little sign of life until the late morning.

When I returned Clare woke up and we decided to start the day with a walk in the direction of the bus station, where we found a small diner and had breakfast. We checked the timetable for our trip back to Toulouse and confirmed that we had plenty of time, so we did some sightseeing, accidentally reaching one end of the town. We popped into a few gift shops to buy souvenirs for Clare's family and I was really surprised when a lady started talking to me in Spanish as though we were old friends. I would never have expected to be able to interpret a family story in that language, but there I was relaying to Clare that when this lady was a girl there used to be white flowers decorating one particular side of the mountain every spring, but that these hadn't been seen for decades. My goodness, this had been an inspiring day so far with that stellar sunrise, refreshing run and now corroboration that I'm not too bad at languages at all, my self-taught Spanish having clearly sunk in to provide me with enough passive knowledge to be able to follow a native speaker chatting to me at speed.

It doesn't take long to trawl through Andorra la Vella so we decided to revisit the spot where we saw the river gushing the previous day. Even then it was still moving at pace:


Our journey home was with another driver and this one was crazy. He did everything far too quickly, cutting up other drivers and hurtling into bends with reckless abandon. It was no surprise that we eventually crashed although by a curious twist of fate this happened only metres from the bus station in Toulouse and - amazingly - it was the other driver's fault! This other fellow had had enough of waiting in a rush-hour traffic jam and suddenly pulled out into the bus lane with no indication and without having checked his mirror. If he had he would've seen our minibus hurtling in the lane at such speed that it would never have been able to stop even with five minutes' notice! We bid the driver farewell there and then and walked the short distance to our hotel. I wonder how he got home?

Edited by Tim

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