Andorra – 6. El Tarter’s youth hostel and growing little town

I stayed in this place.   It’s on the main road up from the main city.

Actually I keep forgetting that this is a small country this is on one of small handful of main highways in the country.

There aren’t many youth hostels in this little country.   So little competition would mean not so good standards right?

Actually, this youth hostel is outstanding, with a nice shared kitchen, lounge, hot tub, friendly staff and has a 9.8 rating on Hostelworld.

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There is a hot tub and rooms are small-ish but are cosy and this town is a great place for outdoorsy folk who want to explore on a budget.

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There’s a little church on the opposite side of the car park of the youth hostel.   This looks very old, maybe 400+ years old, but the locals told me its shut and opens about twice a year for weddings maybe.

Wikipedia’s Spanish site says this town only had 672 residents in 2014.   There are now 800+ and a lot of new apartments for sale and some not quite finished.

The restaurants and shops here in the town were shut and I didn’t see them open the three days I was here.   Because this resort is based on tourism and I was here in September, and there is no snow, I’m wondering if there is other sources of employment here.

https://www.mountainhosteltarter.com/en/ 

This hostel I would thoroughly recommend for a solo traveller or couple or a group travelling to Andorra.  Getting to the rest of the country is simple by bus, and you can walk about 3km up a hill to one of the ski lifts.

There is some other ski lifts closer to El Tarter, but these were out of action.   It seemed like these had been partially dismantled and being serviced out of the season.

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Andorra – 5. What sort of mini country is this

and plateWell, Andorra is a principality.  This is a funny term.   It seems to refer to a country that still has a monarchy.    The only other nation that uses a principality term is another little country I visited which was Monaco (Between France and Italy this time)

Andorra doesn’t have a conventional monarchy.  The PM is Antoni Marti.  But there are two part time ‘princes’ one is Catholic Bishop Joan Enric Vives Sicília who lives in Barcelona, and the other is French premiere Emmauel Macron.   Confused?   I was.  I guess Andorra needs a local, and two leaders of ‘parent’ countries, with one knowing French and the other knowing Spanish and Catalan.

Some other bloggers told me they visited Andorra and thought it was boring.   Actually, I liked the small town of St Julia, the main capital city, Andorra la Ville, and the small village of El Tarter next to the mountains where I stayed.   Ok, so this bus station and surrounding town aren’t that exciting, and yes, it’s very touristy with shopping malls and cheap booze and cigarettes.     But I did plenty of walking around seeing what makes the place tick.

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I wanted to see Andorra’s own government buildings.    Here’s is what I think is the main government.    Here’s another perplexing question.   On the left and right, are three flagpoles only populated with one flag in the middle, the blue/yellow/red Andorra flag.   What are the empty ones for.

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Here is the police station.   I don’t know what the little sitting men are on the poles.  They aren’t Buddhas, I think they look more like the thinking Greek man statute.

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Opposite the government offices is this facility.  I’m not sure exactly what it is, there are snow ploughs and maybe its specifically for clearing up the roads in severe weather.

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There’s a decent sized football stadium!   You could maybe watch from up on these mountains instead.

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Only maybe 10-15 kilometers away, I’m being dropped by the bus driver to my youth hostel at a small town called El Tarter.   I actually miss the stop as a fall asleep, the driver tells me to stay put and he would drop me of shortly after.    I got to see these cows being herded across the main road.

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Next 6. El Tarter’s youth hotel and growing little town

Andorra – 4. Smoking is good for the economy

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One of Andorra’s biggest industries in the past is tobacco products.

St Julia had this tobacco museum in this yellow building.   I really wanted to go to this, but realised on the Sunday evening that it was shut Monday all day for some reason.  So was the car museum.

I actually hate smoking, but I am curious how things are manufactured and how many industries operate tiny countries.

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When was the last time you saw cigarettes being advertised, like in sport or on the street?   In the UK, I remember posters and TV adverts stopped in around 2001 I think as I used to walk past places where they used to be.    Here, it’s like nothing changed since yesteryear.

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massive discounts on cigarettes compared to UK with freebies thrown in.

There are still usual type health warnings on packets, but the grim pictures of diseased organs and cancerous tumors I have seen which are in the UK and the rest of Europe on packets, have not reached here yet.

Here cigarettes are 25-35 Euros for 200 of an established brand like Marlboros, or 18 Euros for local made Andorran brands.    Often these come with a freebie of a one or two singlular packs of 20 or a small bottle of liquor.

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Cigar shop

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Davidoff shop, this is a more premium brand of tobacco products and accessories, complete with old tooling in the window.   The company are based in Switzerland.

I think smoking is disappearing in the UK and other places with e-cigarettes appearing instead, this is a good thing, even if health implications are not quite understood and our governments will need to make up taxes some other way I guess.

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Andorra – 3. Sant Julià de Lòria

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My first real place I set my sights on was St Julia de Loria.

This is the closest town to the border.

Look around 360 degrees and you realise this lovely town is neatly in between the Pyrenees mountains.   Because I was here the last week of September, its neither summer or winter and no snow to be found, nor tourists seeking the slopes, hence I found myself surrounded only by locals.   You can see the tourist information office and Andorra’s own local banks.

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I found myself stuck in a party atmosphere, local families were out and about with a medieval festival.  This looks like an enlarged school or church fete, and everyone is dressed up and having fun.   There is locally produced food, kids jousting event and other games.

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This a stand with “Churros” which are elongated doughnuts which are served with Spanish style Hot Chocolate which looks like the viscosity of engine oil.   I had this before at a cafe in Asturias in northern Spain just before a close friend’s wedding in 2010.

If the X doesn’t look very Spanish, you are right.   Andorra’s main language is Catalan, which is spoken also in Barcelona.   It looks close enough to look like Spanish and a bit of French, but X is pronounced “ch” sound.   In fact, Malta which uses its own Semitic language (ie: like Hebrew and Arabic) also uses X as ch, so does Greek.

Of course, Spanish is used as a close second, and French and Portuguese are spoken a lot.    Some sources say, only 35% of people in Andorra were born there, I can see why many people would make a move to this mini country.

I got off here by mistake.   The bus stopped and the 5/6 other people got off rather at the main bus station at the capital city Andorra le Ville.     So I took another bus a little later.  More soon.

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Next: 4. Smoking is good for the economy

Andorra – 2. Motoring in a tiny country

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IMG_20180929_134542549Andorra has a fair few but not a huge amount of prestige cars, unlike Monaco.    Cars have these small US style licence plates and an usually and oval sticker with the letters ‘AND’.

There are in fact, a lot of motorbikes, and the capital Andorra La Ville has dealerships and repair shops.

This country is only 40kms to drive through taking about 45 minutes.

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This Opal dealership has an extra floor underneath with roof racks and other accessories for skis, bikes and sports equipment to carry on your car.

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The old first generation Fiat Panda with its unergonomic boxy looks has disappeared from most European cities, but here seems popular and used as a vehicle for government use here.   Some of these were supplied as an ultra simple 4×4 run around.

I’ve seen one of these before, but I can’t remember what it is called, its an off road buggy with very high suspension travel to go up steeper hills than most SUVs can go.

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I like the fact that many apartments and hotels here have their own Batcave style underground car park also.

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Meanwhile the long winding roads around the mountains in Andorra, look like they would be a lot of fun for a race or a motorsport event.

1. The mystery small Pyrenees mountain state, EU or not?

3. Sant Julià de Lòria

Andorra – 1. The mystery small Pyrenees mountain state, EU or not?

This week (end of September 2018) I had some time off work to use up and found the need to try out another one of these mysterious small countries which aren’t all that well known.

I tried to visit Andorra in October 2017 and gave up due to the fact that transport links are really hard unless you have a car.

So this time I took a flight to Barcelona and found a bus ride which goes there, which is pretty much the only way to do it.

Actually, Google has this quite wrong.   This takes 3 hours and was 59 Euros return which I bought online.

Note! there is only one toilet stop and no loo on the bus!

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Yes, this place has a border.   Just like I discovered Gibraltar has with Spain it seems.  I thought we were supposed to be in Europe?

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Everyone has told me that Andorra isn’t in the EU, so this sign was a bit of a suprise.

Nevertheless, there are flags up everywhere by all the hotels and sports resorts with French, Spanish and EU flags up.    I didn’t get to stop at this border crossing, as cars stopped and the bus was diverted into another lane, where stopping wasn’t needed.  I already had my passport details given at a kiosk at the bus company’s office in Barcelona.

I like small countries in Europe, they usually have tax breaks, race tracks, eccentric monarchy and often overlooked as places to see, so I had to figure out what kind of tiny country Andorra was like.

Next: 2. Motoring in a tiny country

Other tiny countries I have seen:- Malta, Iceland, Monaco, Gibraltar, Luxembourg, Andorra

Luxembourg 5. Faiths in Luxembourg

Luxembourg has some big spectacular Catholic church buildings.

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Stain glass windows are simply the best I have ever seen.   Most of Luxembourg os Catholic.

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Holocaust memorial in French, German and Hebrew.   There is a Synagogue, I’m not sure how active it is, or how many Jewish people are in Luxembourg.

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This the view from “Sant Esprit” (Holy Spirit in French)   I walked up and down this about 4 times expecting to see a church or a specific monument, only finding the signs pointing back to where I had just walked.

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I’m not sure how many evangelical churches are here.   I did spot this amongst a lot of political stickers on lamp posts.

I kept thinking of these words from Christ himself to religious rulers:-
Matthew 22 : 37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ c 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Luxembourg 1. Whats this mini nation like? – 2. EU building – 3. What sort of mini country is this – 4. Transport – 5. Faith

Other tiny countries I have seen:- Malta, Iceland, Monaco, Gibraltar, Luxembourg, Andorra

Luxembourg 4. Transport

The city centre is small enough to walk around for anyone reasonably fit.  The park which has a path that encircles the city with below views of the viaducts makes a great place to take a walk.

lux platesSome cars here have a prominently large EU flag on their number plates without a country identifying prefix.  I’ve seen this on Luxembourg vehicles in the UK, and only the separate L oval sticker reveals when this car is from.  Maybe Luxembourg is the least nationalistic nation in Europe?

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My flight to Luxembourg from London Stansted was the cheapest flight I’ve ever bought.   It was also one of the worst.   Not because Ryanair have many hidden costs on things like many other budget airlines, but that my flight home was canceled because of industrial action with their staff.  I had a nice hotel paid for, but I decided not take another flight the next day as I had already missed a day of work and made my own way home (which I took a long bus back to London via the Eurostar)  The staff in Luxembourg’s airport were actually really polite and helpful with me and the mostly very angry passengers.

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Like a lot of European capitals, the railway station is large and has connections to get all over parts of Europe.   I spent one day in Metz, France which was quite a simple journey but required a bus first to Bettembourg, a Luxembourgish town outside the capital city, due to railways works.

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Outside of the station was one of these French style urinals, although this one is less crude then some I have seen before.

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Luxembourg 1. Whats this mini nation like? – 2. EU building – 3. What sort of mini country is this – 4. Transport – 5. Faith

Luxembourg 3. What sort of mini country is this

Right, there isn’t any race tracks or casinos.   This place is quite expensive though, its hard to eat out for less then 15 Euros.     This country was independent in 1815, but history goes back to the 1400s.

Amsterdam has cheese, cycling, tulips, canals, windmills and euphemistically named ‘coffee shops’ which actually sell cannabis.  Brussels has waffles, chocolate, Tintin comics, lace and really good beer.   Luxembourg is like neither.

There is a sovereign head of state here, Henri, the Grand Duke who has reigned since 2000.    So I think this scores highly on my mini countries rating, when I visited Monaco in 2005 just before Prince Rainier passed away (yes Prince, they don’t have a King) and he was married Prince Grace, an American Actress although she sadly passed in a car accident.   Prince Ranier

Only 50.9% of the people are born there, most of the others are from other parts of Europe, 18% the largest group from Portugal.

Luxembourg has its own wine, but don’t make enough of it to export it

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There is a very French feel to this place.

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This was decent, clean and fun youth hostel I stayed at which is right underneath a huge railway viaduct here close to centre of Luxembourg.

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Like Belgium and and Netherlands, there are some nice canals here down the road from the hostel.   Like the Dutch, Luxembourgers are keen gardeners, so these small scraps of land next to the water are being used by locals to grow all kinds of fruit and vegetables.

Luxembourgish is spoken in addition to conventional French and German, which is a form of Quasi-German with slightly different looking spelling.   Some streets have the names with a mixture of French and German, ie: Avenue Du Fritz or or something like that.

Headquarters of Paypal Europe.
There is, like many small countries tax breaks here though, so big tech companies have a little office here.

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You can be forgiven in getting Luxembourg’s flag mixed up with the Netherlands, they look almost the same, the Dutch have a dark blue band, Lux is a little blue.  Both look like the French flag 90 degrees.

The best parts of this city are the views from the viaducts or even the parks with long paths that go underneath them.

Luxembourg 1. Whats this mini nation like? – 2. EU building – 3. What sort of mini country is this – 4. Transport – 5. Faith

Luxembourg 2. EU building

With two years after the Brexit referendum in the UK, people on all sides are still upset, a plan for a modern Britain hasn’t been done for the big date of 29 March 2019, many folks want another referendum, and people in the EU may think the British have gone daft for such a drastic move.   I think everyone is sick of all the moaning on social media, I’d rather up and go and see some places.

Part of my reason to visit all the mini countries in Europe like Gibraltar, (2015) Monaco, (2005), Iceland, (2005) Malta (2014) and Andorra (tried to get there in 2017 and failed) was to look at some of these nations that not everyone has heard of and see what makes them tick.  I plan to do Andorra again, and Liechtenstein next year.

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I got to go past this EU building.   It’s not exactly a big spectacular type of thing.  It looks like it should be an estate agents shop.

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I guess a small shop/office gives a kinder, more PR savvy image of the EU here.

Unlike maybe this one.  One of the EU headquarters in Strasbourg, which many people have pointed out it looks like paintings of the tower of Babel in the Bible.  I’ve not been to Strasbourg but I did get home via Brussels on a bus going past many big mirrored tower blocks that were part of the EU administration.

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Are people in Luxembourg happy with the EU?    This is a touchy subject which I decided not to ask.    I did see a lot of graffiti on the street behind which may be from bored youth or from Luxembourgers unhappy with the big blue establishment.   The rest of the city is clean and free from vandalism though.

Luxembourg is also home of Jean-Claude Juncker, current President of the European Commission.

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Here is the UK embassy in Luxembourg.   There were some men erecting new CCTV cameras inside.

Luxembourg 1. Whats this mini nation like? – 2. EU building – 3. What sort of mini country is this – 4. Transport – 5. Faith