I travel for the experience, the memories and the change of scenery. Although I spend a considerable amount of money on travel, I rarely enjoy it at the time – it’s more about the satisfaction of having been somewhere. So when I found myself genuinely impressed by Montserrat and Barcelona, I knew it couldn’t last.
Andorra was scheduled as a day trip, because it is actually quite a long way from Barcelona – about four hours by coach each way. It is far more impressive in the journey than in the arrival, as the climb up through the Pyrenees takes you through the sort of scenic, rustic villages that you would think of, but hardly actually expect to find. The state itself uses the Euro and is jointly governed by the French head of state and the bishop of the nearest big congregation (on the Spanish side), but is resolutely outside the EU. This means borders, but also an independent tax policy, and that is very significant for goods normally subject to heavy, centrally mandated excise fees. People come to Andorra for booze and tobacco, but also other kinds of shopping.
The coach drops us off at a mall next to a highway, and we are told we have two hours for our retail needs. The mall may be impressive for a community of 70,000, but it is completely devoid of individuality or charm; think Võru Maksimarket. I buy a bottle of Crema de Catalunya and ponder the electronics selection, apparently a year or two behind the rest of Europe. Most of the others in the group take advantage of the lack of excise, returning with cartloads of cheap(er) booze. While it’s true that storing a crate of vodka in the cargo hold of a coach is probably the least troublesome way of shopping for ethanol on a holiday, I suspect that this is mostly due to a single specific factor: it makes Tallinners feel like all those reviled Finnish vodka-tourists.
Mercifully the trip does not conclude there, and the coach rumbles into downtown Andorra la Vella (as if it has any other sort of town). In a fit of glaring, stupefying incompetence of the tour guide that has been dragging along since Estonia, regaling us with occasional stunted passages of Wikipedia wisdom read out over the stereo, we are given less than an hour to wander through the streets of the tiny capital, during the specific period that half the shopping district shuts down for an extended lunch. I spend the time running around frantically, trying to find an open electronics store that has a Canon 450D in stock – since getting a 50D from the States is proving tricky, I was willing to settle for a good deal on a lesser body. I find a shop that is willing to sell it to me for 550 Euro, in kit form, which is some three thousand kroons cheaper than it retails for in Estonia; but the camera is physically in a branch that doesn’t open until half an hour after the coach leaves. As we depart, I am angry, and don’t bother to hide it. Still, Andorra is to be appreciated for its architecture, which is endearingly local. On return to the hotel, I go down to the seaside and fulfill my Catalan quota by consuming a paella and a sangria (or two).
Friday is a free day, and I’m feeling a bit too lazy to go back to Barcelona on my own, so instead I take in the area’s last great attraction, Marineland. Filled not with American soldiers (yes, I realize how awful a pun that is) but with dolphins, sea lions, and an assortment of the less trivial birds. The free shuttles from Calella and back leave some five hours at the destination, which is way too much since I’m not particularly interested in the attached water park. Still, dolphins are intrinsically awesome, as I’ve known since San Diego, and my patience is rewarded as I catch the later tropical bird show, and am called as one of the volunteers; an improbably large and polychromatic parrot-type creature is placed on my outstretched arm and I am told to give it a kiss on the beak. I go along with the act, and for my troubles the bird is made to perch on my head; before you ask, no, there are no photos, and if there were, I would not share them. Still, as something to have done at some point in your life, it’s fun.
Tomorrow afternoon we pile into the coach and begin the long five-day trek back home, via southern France and then Venice, the latter of which I am certainly looking forward to. Expect wifi to be sketchy.