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Church in the Capital of Andorra with the Mountains Behind

Church in the Capital of Andorra with the Mountains Behind

Papa Pee-Pee’s parents have finally got fed up with their child’s constant calling out to them every morning at around 6.00 a.m. They too are fed up with being disturbed from their sleep by the constant cry ‘Papa! Pee-Pee! Mama! Pee-Pee! … so they have bought him a tin whistle to keep him amused!? Now all we get is ‘Peep! Peep! Peep! Peep! … the same four notes being played over and over and over again! We have had enough! We get up, shower, grab a quick bite of breakfast, jump in our car and drive off to Andorra for the day!

We have never been to the Principat d’Andorra before, and since it is only 50 kilometres from our campsite it is too good an opportunity to miss. The weather is clear and sunny and hot so a nice drive over the Pyrénées in our nice air-conditioned car is very welcome. It also enables us to add another country to our growing list of countries visited. This small independent state in the heart of the Pyrénées remains curiously apart from its neighbours, France and Spain. ‘Visitors,’ our Guide Book tells us, ‘love its rugged scenery and picturesque villages’. Andorra only became a fully independent state in 1993, with Catalan as the official language. It has a treaty of cooperation with France and Spain and is a member of the United Nations. Andorrans are fiercely independent, and a representative government and 11 centuries of peace, have given them little incentive to alter the country’s administration. Andorrans, who number around 77,000, do not pay any direct taxes or engage in military service. Postal services are free, and most land is communally owned. They also have a football team that plays in the European and World Cup. They usually lose every game by quite a hefty score. If I was Andorran I think I might even get into their national team even though I will be 70 this year and have dodgy knees?!

To get to Andorra we have to drive through the French Pyrénées. Julia has the route all worked out. We will drive over the Pyrénées to the Andorran capital, Andorra la Vella, and return through the tunnel stopping for coffee en route at Ax-les-Thermes before we cross the border. Of course, when we get to Ax-les-Themes it just happens to be the Saturday market … so two coffees, two watches and a dress for Julia, later we manage to continue our journey to Andorra. It may only be 50 kilometres as the crow flies, but with the road winding up and through the numerous sharp turns and twists of the Pyrénées it is probably nearer 100 kilometres. The scenery is stunning, however, and the views quite amazing. This is big skiing territory and there is obviously heavy snow in the winter. The winding roads have 12 foot poles with red tops every 20 yards or so to indicate where the roads are when there is particularly deep snow.

The border crossing into Andorra is unmanned and we simply drive straight through and almost immediately arrive at Pas de la Casa – the most amazing collection of tax free shops and petrol stations just the other side of the French Pyrénées. We decide to fill up with petrol since our petrol tank is less than a quarter full. It is ‘cash only’ and Julia is worried because we only have 50€ in cash with us and it usually costs more than that to fill the tank completely. As it turns out we fill up for around 38€ … result! Andorra has obviously changed a lot since our Guide Book was last revised just a few years ago. There is a lot of new building and little sign of the ‘picturesque villages’. Commercialism is clearly taking over and Andorra la Vella is very expensive and obviously attempting to re-model itself on the lines of Monaco. There is not much to the historic old town and it more Spanish than French. After a nice picnic lunch and a wander round we decide to head back home. The journey home is hilarious. Jane, our SatNav, can’t cope with the mountains and repeatedly commands us to turn right or left (into oblivion on these narrow twisty roads through the mountains) or ‘make a U turn’ when we are on a completely straight road?! We are glad when we get to the tunnel, pay our 6€ toll, and drive through the rest of the Pyrénées and back into France again, via the still unmanned border crossing.

We arrive back at our campsite from our fascinating day in Andorra in the early evening. It is very peaceful around our pitch. It is still very sunny and hot and people are either at the swimming pool or resting quietly in the shade of the trees. There is no sign of Papa Pee-Pee and no sound of Peep! Peep! Peep! Peep! We can’t see the tin whistle lying around either, and hope that it has been mislaid or broken or even stolen! We pour ourselves a drink and sit in the shade ourselves. We are just dozing off nicely when suddenly we hear ‘Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!. Papa Pee-Pee has indeed mislaid his tin whistle somewhere … so his parents have let him sit in their car so he can play with the horn! ‘Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! On and on it goes … endlessly! We give up and go and join the hurried exodus of all the other nearby campers. We are off to the swimming pool … there is a Rhythm and Blues Band performing this evening … they must be more tuneful than Papa Pee-Pee … surely!?

Jim Binney

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