Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lérida to Andorra

We arrived in Spain from Africa on May 27.  It is now July 4. Here is our journey (by bus, train and on foot) so far.....

The train trip from Madrid to Lleida was more like flying used to be. A screen in our coach gave the speed - and we reached 305 km/hour.  The ride was smooth - no clack-clacking rails.  The seats were spacious and comfortable.  The straight-as-an arrow track carried us through gorgeous countryside.  As much as we had heard about these trains, the experience of riding one was amazing, and we were grateful for it.  This is the station at Lérida.

Inside, everything sleek and new, and outside, a magnificent old train station a few blocks from our albergue.

In fact,  the word Lérida is not much in use;  maps, roadsigns, guidebooks use Lleida, which is the Catalan version of the city's name.  Like other local languages and dialects, Catalan was supressed during the dictatorship of "Generalissimo" Franco, and has surged back as a matter of pride since his death in 1975.  Most Spaniards in places like Catalonia and Galicia do speak Castilian, so it is not hard to navigate the town.  And interesting to learn a few phrases in these languages, too.

Here is the view from our room in the hotel overlooking the central plaza.

And a page from our daily journal.....

Lleida is  a beautiful ancient city, with yet another name --- Ilerda --- during the reign of Augustus.  It doesn't seem to be a place that attracts many tourists, which is itself an attraction.   There is an impressive castle complex at the top of the city (Lleida is built between the river, Rio Segre, and the hill).  An elevator is available to ride upwards from this square leading to a winding road at the entrance.

The romanesque cathedral, La Seu Vella, is impressive and completely unadorned. Everything that could be removed, viz stolen, disappeared long ago, and the building was used as a military garrison from the early 1700's.  John climbed the tower, 238 narrow winding steps all the way to the top, a challenge to his acrophobia, and well worth it.  Here is another page from Carol's journal.

And now from Lleida to Andorra through the spectacular Pyrennees Mountains.  The van driver recommended a hotel and dropped us at the front door.  As ever, a charming, simple and friendly place.  Along the way, we've been taking pictures from the window of our hostel/albergue/hotel so here is one that is in a class by itself, taken from our room in Andorra. 

Not to worry.  There was another window facing the street.

Andorra is an unusual country.  Independent since the 13thcentury, yet we met Europeans who had never even heard of it. Andorra is built along the highway that runs through the (incredibly steep) mountains.  Most of it is very new, very modern, very intensely urban.  A rapid mountain stream runs right through the middle of the cities of Escades-Engordany, where we stayed, and the adjacent capital, Andorra La Vella (adjacent for sure, you can't tell when you are walking from one to the other).  Modern:  here is the thermal spa center a few blocks from our hotel:

We took better pictures of this building, but, oh well....

The urban part of Andorra ends abruptly not far from the center of any town.  We wanted to do some walking --- we were still used to long walks from the Camino --- so we rode up to the town of Canillo, walked to the church of St. Michael's, Esglesia de Sant Miquel de Prats.  From the church, there is an 11 mile trail to another church,  Sant Miquel d'Engolasters.  The trail is steep and wooded, beautiful, yet never far from the highway, which is ocassionally visible from "on high".  The churches in Andorra are very old, very beautiful... and very small.  After all, even today, the country has a population of 80,000.  citizens.  There are a lot more people there in the ski season!

Here is another page from Carol's journal

The last stretch of the trail, a few kilometers, is developed as a sort of outdoor education site.  Along one side of the path are planted, and labeled, plants of the region.  Overall, it wasn't a difficult hike, albeit long, and here is where we ended up:

What we didn't know was how far it was down to the city.  We saw a bus stop, and hoped.  To our joy, a bus stopped a couple of minutes later and we rode down, for a couple of euros each, with a Japanese couple traveling for a few months.  

We were fortunate to see a small - Andorra is a small country - exhibit of the work of Joán Miró  at a bank in Escaldes.  There are so many small museums and exhibits, intimate, uncrowded, and inspiring.

All in all, Andorra was one of the most relaxing, easy-going places we've been.  Homes with beautiful flowers and tobacco growing in the most unusual places. The downside was the smoking inside, outside, just everywhere! 

We couldn't stay forever, so on to southern France, where we spent a night before traveling to our next destination, the Taize Community.  Here is the "view from our window" in Toulouse.

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