Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Andorra? Isn't That Where They Make the Sweaters?

I first heard about Andorra from my friends Steve and Joyce Grizzle. We were talking about retirement and how it would be fun to live in Europe, and they told us that it was fairly easy to get residency in Andorra and that it was relatively inexpensive. Then, this past November ... I think it was very late on a Tuesday evening ... RandoGirl and I came to the realization that maybe we needed to look into residency in another country after we retire. Such phrases as "exit strategy" and "country going to shit" featured in this discussion.

So we explored further and discovered that it actually is possible to get residency in Andorra -- maybe not easy, but possible. We also found that there are many professional cyclists living there now, and that it is eclipsing Girona, Spain (made popular by a famous Texan who, in retrospect, never won any bike races) as THE place to live and train. When I dug further and found a hotel in the city of Encamp whose website touted their bicycling amenities, and then discovered you could book a room there for a week quite cheaply, we had our summer cycling vacation.

As we had done with the Tuscany tour two years earlier, we contacted a bunch of cycling friends to see who else might want to come along. Surprisingly, many of the folks from that trip still wanted to hang out with me (nah, it was probably RandoGirl), and we soon had 10 folks converging from middle Tennessee for the first few days of July.

Unlike the Tuscany trip, we kept the details of this vacation pretty loose, with everybody making their own arrangements. Whereas we had engaged BikesPlus! for Tuscany, in Andorra we would all just be staying at the same hotel and riding (more or less) a set of routes that I put together based on website research. Five of us brought our own bikes, two couples rented tandems, and one solo rider rented her bike.

RandoGirl and I left the states on June 29, flying to Toronto for a long layover, and then on from there to Barcelona. We were pretty bleary when we got off the plane at what was Friday morning for them, but managed to retrieve our luggage and bike boxes, load them into the rental car, find our way out of the city, and eventually get to Andorra.

Crossing the Andorran border was kind of surreal. RandoGirl rolled down the window as we pulled up to the guard. He looked at us blankly. She said, "Are we free to just go in?" He kind of shrugged and smiled a bit, saying, "Sure."

So we drove on.

Since RandoGirl did not have cartridges for the tire inflator in her bike bag, we stopped briefly in a bike shop in the capital, Andorra la Vella. I ran in to try to get cartridges, but the clerk spoke only Catalan and I was unable to communicate what I needed (it later turned out that the store had cartridges -- I should have just looked further). They had a nice jersey, so I went ahead and got my souvenir trip momento ... although it turned out that Andorrans must be really tiny, because the XL did not fit me but was perfect on RandoGirl.

From there, we went to our home for the week -- the Hotel Univers in Encamp. The owners -- Anna and Juame -- got us into a lovely room with a balcony looking over the river. We unpacked and took a nap, and then unloaded the bikes and assembled them. After another nap, we went down the street to a restaurant that RandoGirl had found online -- Borda Vella -- where we had a great dinner. As we walked back to the hotel about 10 pm local time, we felt full and happy, synced up with our new time zone, and ready to ride the next day.

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