Day 2: World’s Largest Duty Free: Andorra

We woke up at about 6:30 am and made our way back to Sants train station, where we picked up the rental car we’d arranged for our day trip into Andorra.  After figuring out how to get to the car, which was perched on top of the train station, we proceeded to get out our mappy and plan the best strategy for getting out-of-town in one piece.  All this was done from our vantage point on top of the roof of Sants train station.  It did seem to be a bit daunting.  Streets shot off this way and that, some were one way, some weren’t, some were pedestrian only but had traffic, no one stopped at lights, and everyone was in a hurricane-is-a’comin-type hurry.  We picked a route, knowing full well we may have to go to Plan B if the first route didn’t work out, and headed off.  By the way, we didn’t have a Plan B.  After driving around the parking garage a few times trying to find the ramp that would get us down off the roof, we finally made it to the exit.  Score one for us.  Then we cautiously made our way out into traffic.  It kind of felt like we were the ball in a pinball machine that had just been launched.  We had to shoot out into the messy fray of things and hope for the best.  Somehow it worked and, in spite of ourselves, after a few tours on and off random freeway ramps, we found the correct road to Montserrat and arrived there by 8:45ish.  Peh – who needs a GPS?

Morning view of Montserrat

We parked the car and started to suss things out.  Our first stop was the TI, where we were told we were the first visitors of the day.  Yippee!!  Sadly, you don’t win anything – Jim asked.  Montserrat itself is very cool, a tranquil place on the side of a…  “mountain.”  The monastery-church is old and ornate, with a statue of a black Virgin Mary that is thought to have been carved by St. Luke.  She also is popular with newlyweds, who come to seek Her blessing by rubbing the wooden orb She holds with one hand while holding up their other hand (palm up) to show that they accept Jesus.  So that is what we did.  Much to my chagrin, Jim took a picture with flash.  Aaah, you can take the man out of Jerusalem…  I just hope that doesn’t count against us.  We exited the church by walking down a path that had a bunch of lit candles, so we lit one because I was secretly hoping we could atone our sins for taking the picture of the Virgin Mary.

The best bits of Andorra

After Montserrat, we got back into our whip and headed to Andorra, an unusually small country-principality.  The ride was nice, with glimpses of the Pyrenees here and there.  The customs-passport control people couldn’t care less about people going INTO Andorra, so we were in in a flash (around noonish).  We followed the main (and only) road into the country, and wound up in the big city of Andorra la Vella.  After a bit of rigmarole in finding parking, we secured the car in an underground lot and checked things out.  Andorra is like the international terminal at any airport – full of foreigners and Duty Free stores.  Our first order of business was to eat, so we did at the Mama Maria Pizzeria, and had a great pizza lunch.  One of our waiters spoke only French, the other only Spanish.  And neither were all that interested in being a waiter.  After lunch, we wandered the town a bit more, taking in the smell of 1000 perfumes in one place at the Perfumerias, stopped at a large department store, had a horrible tasting donut (blasphemy!), then got back into the car.  We were getting tuckered out, and Jim had a ways to drive back.  Getting out of Andorra was a little trickier, because they stop and search every car at the border of Spain for trunkloads of electronic equipment.  It’s a little like the person who stands at the exit of Costco checking your receipt.  Turns out Andorra is a popular spot for citizens of neighboring countries to buy the latest and greatest technology, all duty free.  As we hadn’t loaded up on plasma-screen TVs, we were out in a matter of minutes.

The ride back took a few hours, with no major incidents or detours due to my map reading skills, and, amazingly enough, we made it back to the Sants train station in one piece.  It was actually surprisingly easy, even though I had been dreading it all day.  We hopped the Metro back to our hotel stop, stopped for a few cervezas at a bar in our neighborhood (the Eixample), then stopped at the Supermercado across from our hotel for some salami, cheese, baguette, chipsies, cookies, and drinks.  We ate a picnic dinner in the hotel room and then were off to bed.  We were beat.

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