Before our trip, Jerie had written down the countries she would like to visit. One of those was Andorra. Like Liechtenstein, you can only get there by bus or car. There was one tour that went to Andorra, it included the Northern part of Spain, the Southern tip of France, and Andorra. We left our room in Barcelona and walked to the Placa de Catalunya. Across the street from our tour office was Palau de la Musica. It is a concert hall on the UNESCO World Heritage list. We understand that if we come back to Barcelona, we need to take a tour as the interior is gorgeous. We met our tour guide Joseph and we off on our Tri-country tour.
We took a brief tour through Barcelona, and learned about the “green pickle” building that we saw the day before. It was the “new” city hall, but has since been remodeled into a hotel. As we drove north to France, we learned some facts about Spain… in Catalonia which is the region surrounding Barcelona, it has 1/5 of Spain’s population and 1/4 of Spain’s income. We drove past and could see in the distance Montserrat, which is a monastery constructed on an unusal rock formation. It looks like Big Thunder Mountain in Disney World. Need to put on list for another trip to Barcelona.
We notice there were red poppies growing in all the fields.
Our first stop was the town of Baga. It looks much the way, it looked 400 years ago.
Baga was founded in the 13th century. The area was originally conquered by the Moors over 11 years. It then took 500 years to claim it back. To get it back, there was an exchange of 1000 gold coins, 100 virgin women, and 1000 pregnant cows.
It had a variety of beautiful gardens and orchards. We enjoyed a very rich, very intense dark hot chocolate at a local cafe. Spanish chocolate is intense!!
Back on the bus, we headed toward France. The scenery was nice as we went up and over a small mountain pass.
We crossed into France and went to Mont Louis.
It was a citadel built in 1644. For protection, Louis the 14th wanted a citadel or fort built on every border of France There were 10 built, this was the largest.
We stopped at another cafe, where we were served warm croissants, the best we have had on this trip.
We learned that the Pyrenees (Spain) have 12 ski resorts. The average lift ticket is 30-50 Euros, so inexpensive tickets, but very expensive accommodations.
Next stop was Andorra. Joseph, stopped at the customs office and got all of our passports stamped.
There are only 2 entrances into the country, one through Spain and the other through France. 80,000 citizens, but 60,000 do not have passports. Passports and citizenship are only obtained if you were born in Andorra and both of your parents were born there…or if you have lived in Andorra for 10 continuous years. Very protective of citizenship. A business must be 33% owned by an Andorran citizen. The citizen then gets 33% of the profit from the business each year, just for his signature. No money is exchanged, just an interest in the company. So most Andorran citizens do not work, but are very rich. At one time it was a very poor country, ruled by bishops. In 1980, ski resorts opened. Once tourism was established, it changed to a democracy and women were given the right to vote. The banks soon followed, and allowed investments, with no taxes. Most wealth is now obtained from banking and business “signatures”. Citizens pay no income tax but one of the wealthiest countries. It is known for money laundering…according to our tour guide. They must import everything as only 5% of the land is farms, there are no natural resources and the country is only 180 square miles. Shopping is now the main tourist attraction, as the country has no sales tax. Due to the high income, we saw only very high-end vehicles, mostly Maserati, Ferrari, and Lamborghini.
Joseph suggested a restaurant, but we found a Greek place that was awesome and yes the workers were Greek. After lunch we headed out to explore, but all the shops closed at 2:00pm and then it started to rain, poring rain!
The only place open was the grocery store. So we wandered in there. Lots of large bottles of alcohol and HUGE candy. It also had just about anything else you could think of.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see much of the town of la Vella due to the weather, but the information on the country was fascinating. On the way back to Barcelona, it rained most of the way, so Joseph put on some music and we just relaxed…what a novel thing to do. Back in Barcelona, our piano player serenaded us for one last night. We packed our bags, as tomorrow morning, our Trek of Europe was coming to an end. We had ended with a great tour, and had visited a total of 10 countires, but we were now catching a cruise ship to explore the Mediterranean. Many more places to see and information to learn.