Saturday, August 30, 2014

Something Old, Something New, and Something Else near Soldeu: Adorable Andorra

Believe it or not, Andorra is the tax free shopping mall of Spain and France. No joke!
Parliament members in traditional Andorran dress in the ancient parliament.

One thing is for sure. Unless you are a "naturist," dirty laundry just happens. After all the hiking and literally pounds of sweating we have done into our hiking clothes, it seemed prudent to have a go at the lavanderia/bugaderia. We walked up the hill a-ways and spent the first two hours of our day making sure other people weren't put off by our magnifiSCENT.

Then we were off to the center of the capital city, Andorra de Vall (literally,the valley of Andorra--which is a country composed predominantly of two valleys). We had read at least one guide book that said, "Skip the capital. It's a mall." And I have to agree that this is pretty true. Many stores which seem to predominate in high end clothers, watches, electronics and perfume. But there are some charming areas, particularly the old city. We made a beeline there...once we figured out where the heck we were! For future sojourners, no there are no traditional street signs. But if you look about 1/2 way or 1/3 way up a building, now and again you may spot a small gray plaque. Provided your vision is good enough, you might know what street you are on! Otherwise, there are any number of tourist offices marked with a big blue letter I--presumably for information, but maybe they are just trying to attract narcissists? 
The highlight of the ancient city is the Casa de la Vall Andorra. This was a nobleman's home and family chapel in the 1500s but by 1700, there was a paucity of heirs, so the government of Andorra purchased the home and have met there in Parliament and the Supreme Court until 2011. 

External view of the old Parliament. I am sure they also had coca cola in 1508!

The parliamentary chamber. There are 7 parishes and some deputies of various regions. This was once a bedroom.What you don't see here is that there is a little chapel built onto this room and until the 1970s, all sessions started with a mass. The mass is no longer conducted but the altar is still there.
There is an old kitchen in the house too. The Parliament members in time past had to come there and stay several days and had to stable horses and such.
The old kitchen. THe cooking takes place right in the middle of the floor.
We also visited the Judicial chambers but no photo sorry to say. The room was small but there were areas for onlookers as well. The country of Andorra has holding cells still present in the old Parliament which can house a prisoner for up to 8 months, although most of the prison area is used as a passageway to the new Parliament. They didn't let us tour that area. :)  Also, the country of Andorra has capacity to house 100 prisoners only. Currently, about 40 people are in prison in Andorra. When I asked what the crimes were, I was told "nothing serious or violent." I think most of it is white collar and DUI .

We did walk a bit in the city but unless you are a major shopper, you might not find it interesting.

Many stores. Lots of perfume...they must not have known we spent the morning washing.
Here's about the only thing I was tempted to buy:
We did have a nice pizza though!
Pizza Reina. Like the South, everything here has some sort of bacon or ham on it.

Two things we would have liked to have seen but ran out of time: The tobacco museum (the former major cash crop now defunct...they grow it but they burn it up?) and the Museum of Modern Art. They also have a ferris wheel similar to the London Eye.

We returned to Soldeu by bus. Our dinner was in an old stable in the city and was very delicious and charming.
The Popaire Family has lived here for centuries

They converted the winter stable of the home to a restaurant.

The cook actually uses this old steel grate to make many of the dishes.

This was the farewell party for the group of hikers. So many wonderful people to spend our week with in the picturesque country of Andorra. In Spanish: Andorra adoramos!

Paul's Ponderings:   This was a somewhat mundane, but relaxing, day.   A chunk of it was laundry, with the only excitement there being related to figuring out how to run the machines :-)   Beyond that, we went to Andorra La Vella, which is the capital of this small country, via bus.   We rediscovered that everyone closes up shop between about 1 pm and 4 pm to eat lunch and relax!   Basically the city is a big mall, which, if you want buy an Iphone or a watch is great, but if you want to relax and shop for local relics, forget it.   It's a bit gaudy and over-touristed.

That said, we visited L'Antiquari, the ancient part of town, and the Casa de la Vall, which was built in the 1500s and was the seat of the government until recently.   As Andorra is a bit of an odd fish from a government view, the former parliament chamber has pictures of Francois Hollande (president of France) and the Bishop of Urgell.  Andorra is a small place, which apparently was among the last countries in Europe to give women the right to vote....less than half a century ago.   There was an old kitchen dating back centuries that still hosts an annual dinner for married men from the original Andorran parish and no one else. Quite feudal in a way.   We also saw the "supreme court" space, at least until recently.  The whole government, save for the president, who still has an office in the building, has moved to newer digs nearby.   After that, it was back to the spa for a relaxing massage and a quick dip in the pool, plus a relaxing glass of Cava (watch out France, it's as good as champagne), then a group dinner at a rustic place near the hotel -- great beef stew for me and more great red wine.   This is quite a scenic and unique part of Europe and well worth a visit for those inclined....not too hard to get here from France or Spain.   But, you might want to *not* stay in the capital....outside that, the towns are a bit more relaxed and less touristed, at least in summer months.  In winter, it looks like a huge ski area, so things are no doubt different.

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