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

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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 1. Whats this mini nation like?

Taking a break from Israel, the Middle East, and China, as part of my obsession of the littlest countries of Europe, I decided to take two days off work and spend a long weekend in Luxembourg.

Tiny countries often have some nice perks.    Monaco, Bahrain, and San Marino have race tracks, some like Macau and Monaco are big on gambling and glitziest nations for the uber-rich to hang out.  Many have eccentric monarchies and tax breaks and opportunities (Gibraltar) to buy cheap fags and booze.

Dead centre in the middle of Europe, Luxembourg is often described as being part of the BeNeLux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) so my thinking without research would be that this little country would be Flemish/Dutch type of culture.  Actually, I was completely wrong, this nation is a lot more like France.

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Luxembourg’s most immediately stood out character is the hilly terrain and these stunning railway viaducts.

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Holland and Belgium and much of northern France has most of the residents cycling, the steep roads in this city are a bit too much for all but the most extreme bikers I think!

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

Working and travelling in Lisbon, Portugal

I got a chance to spend 3 days in Lisbon.   I was working there installing 30 new computers for a big company.   This was my first time working abroad to carry out a project in a tight deadline, I did get one evening to see places.

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The tower of Belem is an interesting fort structure in the sea.

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This is a weird place.   Its a stadium for bull fighting.   This cruel and outdated sport is probably not popular here, but I didn’t realise the Portugese did it, I thought it was just  a Spanish thing.   It looks like an Islamic building, which it is and it isn’t.   Its design was influenced by Muslim architecture.

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DSCF0216I chatted to some staff there at my work place and to some taxi drivers.    They are eager to ask what I think of Brexit.    I would say to many non-Brits this is a little bit of a taboo subject as its got so many f my people upset and uncertain about the future.

I really like Portugal, but salaries are very low, and young professionals are leaving.  A taxi driver told me he works 6 days a week and long hours for 1000 Euros a month.    Looking at this, I was shocked to see that salaries are half of Spain.   Portugese are often mistaken for Spanish and this gets them annoyed.   I did managed to tell a waiter ‘Gracias’ instead of ‘Obrigardo’ when I finished my breakfast and he took my plate, a few seconds later I realised my error.

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Ask for a beer (ie: a non specific size) in Portugal and you will get a 200ml class.  I got a paella type (it was called something else) fish dish, which came with bread and this nice soft cheese.  Most popular local beer is called Super Bock.   Ask for a beer in Sweden and you get 400ml.   Ask for a beer in Austria and you will get 500ml.    That’s where I went next.   Portugese custards are really a must also!