It might seem strange to want to visit a country that has no naval access, no airport, or no train station. A country smaller than the city of Chicago and with less than a hundred thousand inhabitants, total. A country that didn’t get electricity until 1929.
It seems strange until you get there.
Andorra is a tiny, mountain locked community where you’d be hard pressed to find a seat with a bad view. The Pyrenees encase this tiny state like the petals of a tulip. The food is inviting, the people even more so and the scenery could compete with Alpine villages.
Andorra is also a place of conundrums. In a country with the second highest life expectancy in the world, you would not expect tobacco to be their top export, much less cigarette dispensers as abundant as trash receptacles. You do not expect a spa, a place to spoil your body, to be designed and dressed to the nines like a metallic, new age cathedral. You also would not expect an elevator built into the side of a mountain simply to allow easier pedestrian street access.
This is a place, not just for avid snow bunnies, not just for spa-goers, but for travelers. Real travelers.
People who want to go to a place with community pride seeping onto the streets. People who want to be able to wander in a local shop and have a slice of chorizo and garlic waiting for them or watch a local demonstrate how to make syrup from pine cones.
People who are looking for something different.
I begin my day usually with the sound of clinking dishes, pouring water and hearing-impaired television seeping in through my window. I wake up, get dressed and head to class. I take the train because, sadly, I have yet to master the art of telepathic bus riding, as the stops saunter by unannounced. Not a bad tradeoff, though, as I’ve never waited more than three minutes for a train, something every Chicagoan would deem a miracle. A coffee, however, might cost you as much as four whole minutes to perfect.
A half hour and a sixty cent café amb llet later, I am in Economics class. It took eighteen months to get here but I am here. In Barcelona. Finally.
Let me tell you about Spain…The women are golden and curly haired, the men are dark and handsome. Moped riders are almost evenly split between genders, suit-cladden and otherwise, and it seems an almost unwritten law that every home deserves a balcony. Every morning, the streets are sprayed with water to clean the previous day’s debris at just about the same time the Spaniards return from a night out. These people love to socialize and I am finding it more and more alluring to take the afternoon nap in an effort to keep up with them.
It isn’t out of the ordinary to see some light love making on the beach, nor walk home from Mercadona with a two foot long fuet sausage gently poking out of your bag. It isn’t out of the ordinary to stop what you’re doing at any time for a coffee break, or to hear lions groaning during all hours of class in Ciutadella…another comical reminder that you are not in Kansas anymore. It is strange to be in a hurry here. The Spanish stride is one of observance and existentialism, to put it delicately. Pedestrians of all ages and size stroll the avignudas and carrers gingerly and without a sense of time – tolerable on a Sunday, infuriating on a Monday.
Like most other European cities, alcohol is cheaper than water and a bakery is always within 100 yards. My diet of pan y vino is treating me well so far, but I fear I will need a real salad soon. Does Protein Bar deliver? Dinner before ten simple isn’t Spanish, but my American stomach doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. Snacking is vital.
After a whole day of classes and studying in the Dipòsit de les Aigües, a renovated labrynth of arches designed by Josep Fontserè and calculated by Antoni Gaudi, I head home. Students, couples and tourists accompany me on the commute and I begin to feel like I fit in. Even if its just a little.
Tomorrow is another day. And in Spain that means more tapas, more wine, and more animals roaring to the drone of economic theory.