Andorra: Sky High Sinking

Posted by in Culture, Travel

Pre-nightmare Pyranees and my train ticket to Doomsville!

THE FIRST MISTAKE…

Toulouse is one of those places I just couldn’t get a pulse on. No hostels, only hotels and after another lousy Cafe Creme (which wasn’t really that but again was brown stuff in a cup with a dash of frothy milk) it’s one of those rare times I decide to keep travelling. If there is a time to see Andorra this is it!

My first mistake is playing it tight and getting a train instead of the bus which would have taken me to the capital Andorra La Vella instead of Andorra L’hostpitalet. The train is a bumpy ride is it takes the mountain (unseen in the night and I can only imagine what the journey is like in daylight).

Arriving only to see the last Taxi dissolve into the night!

HEADING FOR A GREAT DISASTER

Its midway delay ensures that on arrival the last bus has already left, the station lights are off and there is only one taxi which has been commandeered by a family. Sometimes doing things on the spur of the moment is great, in this case it’s a sobering disaster! My second in under a year, this must make me a real traveller.

I am left with a guy in a red coat speaking French while smoking a cigarette but wait.. this French has an English accent. His own misfortune ensures we end up saving each other, sharing a taxi to the piste (not my intended destination but the best one can do in such circumstances). First however is the inexorable wait for the taxi.

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Hugh (not his real name) hails from Manchester works for Airbus and speaks considerable French. Better still he knows the lay of the land from previous visits. While chatting, I make out the shape of a mountain behind him, hiding in plain sight I realise now just how tricky it would have been on board the Titanic that fateful night, not seeing the iceberg until you’re on top of it or its on top of you!

The local hotel has a sign in the window saying FIRMÉ and its scrooge like owner will not even allow us shelter in the vestibule to wait for said taxi in freezing conditions. (I later find he is well known for such behaviour at the local tourist office). It makes me wonder why such an curmudgeon became a hotelier in the first place! Purely monetary is just greed.

Back to the task in hand, walking is not an option and that soon becomes evident when the taxi arrives with much needed heat to whisk us upward along winding roads of snow and ice further into the nocturnal mountains. I am on the cusp of country 49 but it comes at a hefty price. The lights of the unseen township light an elongated cloud that clings to a distant mountain, we had not yet reached the summit!

THE SINKING FEELING

At Pas de la Casa another thing that is crystal clear aside the freezing temperature is the hotels do not seem accustomed to the concept of allowing me to use their sofa or lounge for a nominal fee. This time there is nowhere to hide and I have to fork up more than I’d normally pay in a week. I think these hospitality cowboys are milking every vulnerability knowing it’s late, it’s cold and there’s no hostel. Since when does a 3 star hotel charge €90euros!?

Sky high sinking. The daylight made things a bit better.

Waiting to depart Pas de la Casa a man from Andorra Turisme comes to survey me. I tell him the previous nights events and that Andorra needs more hostels and that if not for Hugh I would have been stranded! He is nice enough but leaves without giving me one of his nice official Andorra tourism tote bags.

After an eternity the unique bus (in that it has three different bus numbers attached to its windscreen) to the capital Andorra la Vella appears. The highest capital in Europe is a much better experience if a little brief and feels a lot lower than la Casa.

Andorra and the cute Japanese tourist.

That’s because it is at only 1013m – it’s a steady descent from leaving the snow capped piste. After some time in the tourist office, I chat to a Japanese tourist who is assuringly cute in her Asian demeanour. She is heading the other way to France, Milan and home to Tokyo.

TROUBLE ME

Because of the expense of the previous night and getting to and from this quirky mountain country. (Technically a principality – but if Wales is good enough to be called a country then so is Andorra). I have no option but to try and recoup some lost money in sleeping rough at Barcelona Airport. In reality I would probably need a week at the airport to recoup the money spent.

With my ticket booked a thought troubles me, what if a plane ticket was needed to enter the terminal? My plan involves the play dumb approach and heading for the metro. In preparation I read all the reviews from Sleeping in Airports.

At the terminal there are police with guns walking around. I think the worse and duck into a toilet; partly out of panic and partly out of necessity. The reviews say Terminal 2 is better. Before long I’m on board the free shuttle bus to hunker down for the night in a freezing building with a few hungry mosquitoes for company.

GETTING TO ANDORRA

Andorra lay almost smack bang in the middle between Barcelona and Toulouse and as such these are the only two cities serviced (as far as I know anyway) and only by bus.

I’d advise against the train to L’hospitalet unless it’s daylight hours and you have more chance of a bus and especially if you are a skier making your way to the piste.

Otherwise pay the extra and get a bus to Andorra la Vella. There are a few operators from Toulouse including the swanky and most expensive Andbus by Novotel – these can only be booked online. Better to pay the driver on the service out of Toulouse.

Tip 2. There are currently NO hostels in Pas de la Casa so take lots of money.
There are some cheaper alternatives in la Vella which is good but these suffer from odd reception hours, so it’s pot luck if staff will be there should you be the type to drop in.

GETTING OUT OF ANDORRA

This can be equally tricky, again Andbus run the service down to Toulouse and the other way to Barcelona. I opted for Direct Bus straight to Barcelona Airport but it also stops at the extensive Sants bus and train interchange in the city.

*This service does not call at Girona in Spain. To do that change at Sants – either a train or bus will do it at varying costs. The only problem thereafter is finding somewhere to stay in Girona as like Andorra and the south of France it’s low on budget rooms at the time of writing.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

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PLAYLIST
History of Modern II (the first mistake..) – OMD
Great Disaster – It Bites
Night Vision – Suzanne Vega
The Sinking Feeling – The The
Trouble Me – 10,000 Maniacs
Over the Hillside – The Blue Nile

Photos: KH