Andorra – 9. Distilling ideas

I went to this unusual supermarket and tourist shop near my youth hostel in El Tarter.

IMG_20180930_094926576Ok, so lots of British people go to France and Spain to buy cheap alcohol.   But here in Andorra I was shocked how cheap booze can be.

Yes, those are three bottles in a set for 11.98.   Did I mention there are a lot of shop signs in Russian?   This reminded me of the Cappadocia in Turkey also did this as they were a favourite with Russian people.

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In my hostel, a young British man, myself and a Canadian woman in her 50s shared a reasonable quality bottle of Spanish wine that was 1 Euro and 79 cents whilst having dinner.   The cheapest bottle of wine I could find in a store in a town just outside of Calgary was $15.

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Local made chocolate is pretty good starting from 3 Euros.

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Ham, lots and lots of it.   I got a packet of the nice thinly sliced Iberian ham you often get at Christmas and some French bread which made a decent lunch whilst hiking the mountains.  A whole leg of pork is expensive to buy whole though.   Jamon / Jambon is ham in Spanish or French (not jam bun 🙂 )

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Distilling equipment.   Later I found this is possibly not for making your own beverages but more likely for making perfume, as the shop across the road shows.

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Andorra seems to blend in its own products as prestige from elsewhere.  Shops in the main city centre had Scotch Whisky and liquors from other places also.

Previous 8. An abundance of cosy mountain apartments 

Next 10. Overall & Europe’s biggest secret?

 

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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.

Previous 3. Sant Julià de Lòria 

Next 5. What sort of mini country is this

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.

Previous: 2. Motoring in a tiny country

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

Southern France / Pyrenesse trip – No Andorra for me

From travelling around places that interest me in the Bible in Israel and Turkey, and visiting China and Canada and Europe in recent years, I’ve not actually got so stuck travelling and had to give up, until now.

Here’s the problem:-

Getting to Ax le Thermes was not too hard, but my RyanAir flight to Toulouse was cancelled and I had to fly very early Thursday morning.  Then the trains in France had a strike, so I had a replacement bus service.   The trains don’t go to Andorra, so I go to Ax le Thermes, its a pretty town on the outskirts of the Pyrenesse, about 30km away.   I thought it would be simple to take a bus into Andorra itself.  Turns out these are only 3 times a week.    I was told by a lady behind a bar it would be 120 Euros to get a taxi.

andorra plateI even tried doing some hitchhiking.   Doing this made me feel a bit silly, as I don’t think I’d ever pick up a stranger either.  I saw quite a few cars driven by local Andorrans which have plates on their cars like this one.  After an hour of no one stopping, I headed back into the town for another beer.

Borders into countries often aren’t drawn up by government people with a sharp pencil and a ruler either, spot the tiny piece of Spain above the French border?

I would recommend travellers to Europe’s hard to reach mini country should start from Spain and go northwards and you might need a rental car.

So, a quick 60 Euros later and I had a hotel in Ax Le Thermes and headed my way back to Toulouse the day after.

Introduction – Newspaper danger – Occitane, little known district of France & wannabe new nation – No Andorra for me – Toulouse’s churches