Sunday, October 15, 2006

First turns of the season.

This weekend was the first weekend that I’ve had both days off of work. I knew I wanted to get away for longer than a couple of hours, so I arranged to use a car all day Saturday. On Thursday I checked the forecast and it looked good – I was going to Andorra.

Looking west into the Pyrenees, the road to the capital below.

I left early Saturday morning and drove down the coast toward Perpignan, where I’d turn west. The drive was beautiful – the snow-capped mountains loomed ahead, the fall colors were beginning to show, and the roads were narrow and winding. I began to gain a lot of elevation and passed ski resort after ski resort, each growing more expansive than the last. I’ve gotta say, the Pyrenees far exceeded my expectations. I’d always thought of them as being kind of an “Appalachians” to the “Rockies” that are the Alps. I was wrong. The Pyrenees are tall (many 11,000’ + peaks), the valleys are deep, and life begins above treeline.

Pas de la Casa, Andorra.

Andorra is situated high in the east-central Pyrenees. It's a small country - only about 181 square miles (for reference, Denver County is 154 square miles). The pass elevation on the north side of the country is 7900’. The border town, Pas de la Casa, is what you’d expect in a country known as a “tax haven” - tons of shopping, huge hotels, ski resort base area, massive gas stations, and lots of tourists. Diesel was €0.79/L - €0.45/L less than in France, and I was able to buy a liter of Jack Daniels for only $18.10.

I love Andorra.

I drove south toward the capital, Andorra la Vella (in the process losing 3300’ in 15 miles), and began to realize what it’s like to live/spend time in a country where 80% of the GDP is from tourism, only 1/3 of the citizens are Andorran in nationality, and income tax doesn’t exist. Think about the natural scenery, nicest homes, and skiing in Aspen. Mix in the best shopping (without tax), high-rise hotels, and condos in New York City, concentrate it in a town of 22,000 people, and charge obscene amounts of money for parking. Now you’re in Andorra la Vella.

Border-town ski resort at 8500'.

As I drove around trying not to hit tourists and trying to find somewhere to put the car, I inadvertently entered a long tunnel leaving the capital leading toward another small town, and ended up driving for about 15 minutes the wrong way. After turning around and finding my way back into the city, I decided I’d wasted enough time and headed north again, toward France, toward the ski resorts, and away from the madness. I ate lunch outside under beautiful blue skies, surrounded by ski lifts and snow. I recommend Andorra.

Church in early morning light.

The trip back to Quarante went well. After the requisite border check re-entering France (keep in mind, I’m an American driving a car registered to someone living in Switzerland, leaving Andorra and entering France), I stopped to take a lot of pictures and to enjoy the universality of being in the mountains. The whole trip took about 11 hours, I stopped only for pictures and lunch, and I only drove 300 miles. Nothing happens as fast in Europe.

(More pics below)

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