Spain    Andorra   

In April 2017 I flew to Barcelona, Spain for 2 weeks with a plan to drive around the nearby Catalunya region and into the small Principality of Andorra. Arriving in Barcelona, I picked up my rental car and drove the 90 kilometres (55 miles) along the Mediterranean Sea coast to the town of Tarragona, Spain, where I was going to be spending my first several nights. It was a long day that included a connecting flight in Madrid. Not sure how many hours I was awake before arriving at my hotel, but any day with warm sun, ancient Roman ruins, and the blue Mediterranean Sea is a good day.

For so many reasons, it's always a good idea to plan your first several nights at the same location after a long international flight (including some unplanned reasons as you'll soon find out). I booked my first 3 nights in Tarragona, to see the area and to see this beautiful town. The next day I drove to Montserrat, Spain to see the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey. This is a popular trip from Barcelona and the drive through the park surrounding the abbey was incredible with lots of curves, switchbacks, and tremendous views. Not to be out done, the abbey itself is partially built on the face of a mountain side 1,236 metres (4,055 feet) above the valley floor.

Then it happened…

Atención urgente - That's urgent care in Spanish. Technically, this all happened the next day, after midnight. Don't panic. I woke up about 03:00 a.m. all hot, sweaty and with severe stomach pains. I was concerned about an appendix possibly, or even passing out from the pain. Long story short - the hotel arranged a taxi to the hospital which was about three blocks away from my hotel. They ran a whole bunch of tests to rule out a number of issues. They also gave me painkillers through IV treatment which helped a lot. Based on the test results and the IV painkillers helping, the Doctor said it looked like it was just something I ate. They discharged me from the Atención urgente about 09:00 a.m. and I walked back to my hotel, but not before getting my prescription filled and some light food and lots of water for the day. I stayed at the hotel most of that day, rested, and took the pain medication they gave me. I wandered out a bit later in the afternoon when I felt better and rested. The severe pain I previously had was gone but a lesser pain still would come and go. Oddly, I was thinking the day before that I didn't really need a third night in Tarragona. But I guess I did after all since I would have been checking out the morning that I became sick if I only stayed 2 nights. All part of the adventure...

Before I go on, I don't want to short change the beauty of Tarragona and all the things I saw and did there. Sure, I can confirm they have a nice hospital waiting room, medical care is great, pharmacies are conveniently located, and taxi service in the middle of the night gets you where you're going, but there is a lot more there. Tarragona has many beautiful and historic ancient ruins that remain from its time as the Roman colony of Tarraco. The Amfiteatre Romà (Roman Amphitheatre) is a 2nd-century arena facing the Mediterranean, the Necropolis contains Roman tombs, and traces of the Forum stand among the alleys of the walled medieval old town. A walkway along the ramparts, the Passeig Arqueològic, has sweeping views of the city. All of this was a short walk from my hotel located on the Rambla Nova (think Barcelona La Rambla or Paris Champs-Élysées), which terminates at the Balcó del Mediterrani (Balcony to the Mediterranean) with spectacular views over the Mediterranean and the city.

But, that was not the last of the drama on this trip. Ooh, I have your interest peaked now...

The next day I checked out of my hotel, bid adiós to Tarragona, and drove to Lleida, Spain, where I spent 2 nights. I stayed right in the heart of the city old town so I could see everything easily and remain within easy access of my hotel 'safe' zone, in case I got sick again (I also found out where their hospital was). Lleida is one of the oldest towns in Catalonia, founded in the 6th century. In the center of the town is a hill with the Kings Castle ruins and the St. Mary La Seu Vella (St. Mary of the Old See) Cathedral built around 1149, surrounded by a park. Great views of the entire city from there. Felt better now, didn't need any more pain pills after the first morning in Lleida or for the rest of the trip.

While traveling through the interior of Catalonia from Lleida to the small Principality of Andorra, I drove through some spectacular scenery in northeast Spain. Andorra is the 6th smallest country in Europe and surrounded by Spain and France in the beautiful Pyrenees Mountains. It's sort of a tax haven, consequently there is tons of shopping here. I consider April springtime, yet everyone there was walking around with heavy coats, hats, and scarves. In Andorra it was 15°C (60°F), and I thought it was wonderful out.

I had a couple nights in Andorra and stayed in the capital city of Andorra la Vella. I spent my days driving to the other small towns in Andorra. It's not a large country, so that is pretty easy. The highlight was really the drive and getting away from the towns. The scenery is really nice as you are driving through the Pyrenees Mountains. In the small town of Canillo, I went to the Museo de la Moto (Motorcycle Museum). Not very large, but they had a collection of motorcycles from the 1900's on, including several BMWs. They had an original 1977 R100RS, but I couldn't get next to it to see the serial number.

Being in the Pyrenees Mountains, Andorra has many ski towns. El Pas de la Casa is a rather large town at the French border. Located at 2,080 metres (6,820 feet), it is the highest ski area in Andorra. My 33 kilometre (20 mile) drive from Andorra la Vella to El Pas de la Casa took me from 1,033 metres (3,356 feet) to an elevation of 2,080 metres (6,820 feet). Along the way, as I climbed in elevation, there was a lot of snow accumulated. Fortunately, it didn't snow for any of my drive the couple days I was there.

With Andorra being so small, it was time to leave and return back to Spain. The drive out of Andorra had some incredibly twisty roads in northern Spain. This included going over several scenic Cols (mountain passes). The drive was like this: veer left, veer right, veer left, veer right. With an occasional veer left, left, veer right, right thrown in just for good measure. So, after all that, the highlight of the day was the medieval town of Besalú. Lots of cobblestone streets and alleyways to explore, along with a ton of stone buildings (well, they probably weighed more than a ton;). The approach to the city included a perfectly picturesque 12th-century Romanesque stone pedestrian bridge crossing the Riu Fluvià River to the city gate.

The 11th century Girona, Spain was a very nice town to walk around in because of the many cobblestone streets and walkways. This town actually has a Barri Vell (old neighborhood) surrounding an older town (kind of like a chocolate coating surrounding a chewy caramel center). Along the Riu Onyar River running through town, there are many beautiful pastel-coloured houses that reflect their colour along the water. The old town (or is it the older town?) have ramparts which allow you to walk around much of the old medieval wall that surrounds the city.

It was now time to return to the coastline. The coastline along the Mediterranean Sea in the northeast of Spain is referred to as the Costa Brava (Rough Coast), and stretches from the town of Blanes to the French border, approximately 200 kilometres (120 miles). This stretch of the coast has everything including beautiful sandy beaches to dramatic rugged cliffs. I had a spectacular hotel right on the sea in the town of Blanes (it's pronounced Blan-es). Blanes has one of the longest beaches on the Costa Brava and many of the amenities a tourist might need. Most of the activity is along the beach, and Blanes has a great boardwalk to make everything accessible. Nearby, the scenic medieval town of Tossa de Mar is similar, but includes a very cool Vila Vella (old town) perched high above the Mediterranean Sea with a 14th century castle. I wandered the many cobbled streets and had phenomenal views of the castle and the sea.

The last 4 days were going to be in Barcelona, this meant I didn't need the rental car. I was able to drop the rental car at the airport and take the 45-minute Metro ride to the Liceu Metro stop in the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) located in central Barcelona old city. I also bought a 3-day Metro pass to get around using their extensive Metro system. The Liceu Metro stop and my hotel were located on La Rambla, think of it as the Champs-Élysées of Barcelona. La Rambla is the place to be. Only 2 blocks away from my hotel happened to be my friend Nash's father's shop. I went there a couple times, unfortunately he was out because of a family emergency and I was unable to meet up with him.

One of the most famous landmarks in Barcelona is the Basílica de la Sagrada Família (Basilica of the Holy Family). Because of the crowds of tourists that go there and to save me some time, I arranged a tour and spent a morning at the Basilica. At 170 metres (558 feet) tall, this is probably the most visible landmark in Barcelona. The Basilica has been under construction since 1882 with an estimated completion in 2026 (I might wait until 2027 to return, just in case). Last time I was here in 2004 the inside was nowhere near finished, now it's pretty much all finished inside. However, there still needs work to be done both inside and out. The tour guide gave me a bunch of history, and we slipped right in without waiting in line. The tour included being able to walk to the top of one of the towers for great views of the city and a different perspective of the Basilica. It is designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, there are several buildings in Barcelona with his mark on them. I also saw the Gaudí designed Palau Güell mansion, the La Pedrera (Stone Quarry) apartment, and the can't be missed Casa Batlló referred to as the 'House of Bones'.

A nice quiet area of Barcelona is the slightly removed La Barceloneta neighborhood from the 1800s. It's a really nice neighborhood to wander the streets and get out to enjoy the buildings and atmosphere. It doesn't hurt that it also has a really nice beach. Contrasting this quiet neighborhood is the area around the equally, but differently, beautiful Plaça d'Espanya (Plaza de España), one of Barcelona's major squares. Lots of things to see here including the 47 metre (154 foot) tall Torres Venecianes (Venetian Towers), the Plaza de toros de las Arenas former bullring converted to a shopping mall, and the Font màgica (Magic Fountain) with nightly displays of colored lights and 3,620 jets of water projecting up to 52 meters (170 feet) high. Another highlight nearby is the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (National Art Museum of Catalonia) housing works of Catalan art.

A few Metro stops from the Barcelona central, and rising up 178 metres (584 feet) above the old town is the Montjuïc (Jewish Mountain). Complete with the 18th century Castell de Montjuïc (castle). When I arrived, I happened upon a castle tour that was just starting. Surprisingly, only nine people were on the tour. The end of the tour was a climb to the top of the central tower of the castle, which provided spectacular views (and great photo ops) of the entire city, the port, and the coastline. That was fortunate as they said the only way to get to the top of the tower was to take the tour. Very cool... In fact, when the guide unlocked the door at the base of the tower, there were a bunch of people that came running over that were turned away. A short distance away from the castle is the Estadi Olímpic (Olympic Stadium) and park. This was where the 1992 summer Olympics were held. I was able to get into the stadium and take some nice pictures there. Some of you might remember that year as the U.S.A. basketball Dream Team, which brought home the gold medal.

With the great Barcelona Metro and a lot of walking, there was lots to see. Too many to mention. Besides great architecture, there are monuments, squares, parks, and a great atmosphere all around. Barcelona is a great city and several days definitely are needed. But, like all things good, it was time to get ready to go home.

Or was it? Drama!

The day before my departure home, I got notice my flight home was to leave Barcelona at 02:30 p.m. instead of 11:15 a.m. However, the connecting flight time in Miami was unchanged. I was originally to arrive in Miami at 03:25 p.m. but now I would arrive at 06:40 p.m. So instead of having a 4-hour layover in Miami to catch my flight home, I now would have only a 50-minute layover to catch the flight home to arrive back home at the originally planned 09:59 p.m. time.

I just got word my flight leaving Barcelona has been delayed yet again. Instead of leaving at 11:15 a.m. as originally planned, it is now leaving at 03:30 p.m. This means an arrival time in Miami of 07:40 p.m., however, my flight leaves Miami for home at 07:30 p.m. Not going to make that connecting flight. Not sure what that means... I will check at the Barcelona airport at check-in to see if there's anything they can do to book me on a different flight home once I arrive in Miami. It might mean having to fly from Miami to yet another connecting flight to get home, or something like that. It might mean spending the night in Miami (hopefully at their cost). It might also mean instead of getting home at 10:00 p.m. from Miami I might end up getting in much later. All this could impact my ride after I arrive home.

I just called the airlines to find out about my connecting flight in Miami. Consequently, they have rebooked my entire flight. For the better! I am now leaving Barcelona at 03:00 p.m. with a connecting flight in London for a flight that will arrive home at 08:00 p.m. That sounds great! No more Miami connection. WOOHOO! The real good news is I got an upgrade on the long London to home flight to the section of the plane that has extra leg room. Double WOOHOO!! It pays to be a frequent flyer. I will mention, the connection in London was really close and I just barely got to the flight home on time.


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Tarragona, Spain - The Balcó del Mediterrani (balcony to the Mediterranean) provides great views.


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Tarragona, Spain - The 2nd century Roman amphitheatre is 109 metres (358 feet) by 86 metres (282 feet) to seat 14,000 people. Fortunately for me, it wasn't that crowded.


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Santes Creus, Spain - The highlight is the 12th century Monestir (Monastery) de Santes Creus.


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Montserrat, Spain - Monestir (Monastery) de Montserrat in a spectacular setting of Mont Serrat (Serrated Mountain).


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Tarragona, Spain - I think it was something I ate...


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Montblanc, Spain - Really nice, walled medieval city.


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Poblet, Spain - The Monestir (Monastery) de Poblet is actually enclosed by fortified walls, adding a touch of grandeur.


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Lleida, Spain - That building? Not a monastery. It is however, a cathedral, Catedral de Santa Maria de la Seu Vella (Cathedral of St. Mary of the Old See). Bet you didn't see that coming.


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Tremp, Spain - Some of the beautiful countryside in Catalonia. Sometimes you just have to stop.


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Besalú, Spain - Crossing the Riu Fluvià River on the Pont de Besalú (bridge) only is the tip of how incredibly beautiful this medieval town is.


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Girona, Spain - Brightly colored houses line the Riu Onyar River.


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Peratallada, Spain - This beautiful town is completely enclosed in the original medieval town walls. The town name means 'carved stone', and as you can see, the town really is made of stone.


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Tossa de Mar, Spain - Situated on the Costa Brava, the Vila Vella (old town) is high above, providing great views.


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Tossa de Mar, Spain - See? Didn't I tell you? Great views...


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Blanes, Spain - Blanes has one of the longest beaches on the Costa Brava. That's my hotel just on the left. BTW: it's pronounced 'blah-nes'.


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Barcelona, Spain - I've said it before, the Plaça d'Espanya is a great place to start your visit in Barcelona.


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Barcelona, Spain - The Sagrada Família, last time I saw it was in 2004, still not finished yet. Started in 1882, they say it will be done in 2026.


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Barcelona, Spain - Casa Batlló is a building designed by Antoni Gaudí, top to bottom, very unique, very gaudy.


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Barcelona, Spain - Montjuïc Castle, from 1640, has great views over Barcelona.


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Barcelona, Spain - The Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys stadium was the center of the 1992 summer Olympics.


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Barcelona, Spain - Built in 1929, The Poble Espanyol is an open-air museum in central Barcelona that represents all of Spain's best.


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Barcelona, Spain - A view of the Mediterranean Sea from the small village of Barceloneta. Most of the buildings here were built around 1800.


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Barcelona, Spain - Barcelona has its own Arc del Triomf, built for the 1888 World's Fair to welcome visitors. From the looks of the crowd, it seems to be still doing its job.


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Barcelona, Spain - La Rambla is the Champs-Élysées of Barcelona, lots of stuff to do. Centrally located, my hotel is just down the street on the right.


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Barcelona, Spain - Plaça de Catalunya is often referred to as the heart of the city.


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Barcelona, Spain - Officially called Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, most call it the Barcelona Cathedral. Catalonian locals refer to it as La Seu (The Seat).


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Barcelona, Spain - The 60 metre (197 foot) Monument a Colom (Columbus Monument) at the end of La Rambla, marks where Columbus landed returning from his venture to the Caribbean in 1493. It also marks the end of my Spanish journey, this time.


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El Pas de la Casa, Andorra - El Pas de la Casa (The Pass of the House) is a big ski resort town in the Pyrenees mountains. Look! I think I see France!


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Andorra - Driving through the country. Despite the snow, they have to clear all 3 of the country's roads if they want anyone to visit this little country. Yes, 3 roads. OK, maybe 4.


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Soldeu, Andorra - When a country has as many mountains as Andorra, you get quite a few ski towns. Makes it nice and quiet when the snow goes away.


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Canillo, Andorra - Oddly, but interestingly, they have the Museu de les Dues Rodes (Motorcycle Museum). Yes, it's all underground.


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Encamp, Andorra - Encamp, the 3rd largest city in Andorra with about 11,000 people, rests in the Valira d'Orient river valley.


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Andorra la Vella, Andorra - Caldea is a spa resort opened in 1994. With 18 floors and 6,000 square metres (64,500 square feet) it is Europe's largest spa. To top that off, at 80 metres (262 feet), it is Andorra's tallest building.


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Andorra la Vella, Andorra - Although Sant Pere Martir Church was built in 1956, they used a classic neo-romaticism style to fit in. The LED lighting brings it into the modern age.


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Andorra la Vella, Andorra - The Salvador Dali sculpture La Noblesse du Temps (The Nobility of Time), with the Puente de Paris (bridge) in the background crossing the Riu Valira River.


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Andorra la Vella, Andorra - Lots of shopping in Andorra.


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Andorra la Vella, Andorra - After all that shopping and working up an appetite, why not have some dried meat in a cone?