So. Friday then.
We hit the road to Andorra mid-morning Friday after all the usual filling and emptying malarkey in bright sunshine. And that’s all it takes to lift the mood – an open road, a full tank and a bit of sunshine. We’re simple folks really.
Driving into the Pyrenees proper we were surprised by the amount of traffic but I suppose we were on the one and only road to Andorra and every man and his bike seemed to be on it for our first hour. You know those nature documentaries where you see a big shark surrounded by remora fish hitching a ride and feeding from the big guy’s parasites? That’s how it felt going up the steep inclines and round the tight hairpins, except for shark read whale (sorry Vince!), and for remoras read motorcycles. Now don’t get me wrong; I’ve been a biker since I was 17 and love the things, but we saw some overtakes which had us closing our eyes and praying for the riders. By George they were taking chances. My biker crowd let their hair down occasionally – those of us left with any – but wow, some of them were making the classic mistake of following their mates rather than making their own decisions. No wonder we get a bad name.
Strangely as the morning wore on we saw fewer and fewer bikes and had the road a bit more to ourselves. Arriving in Pas de la Casa, the first town in Andorra, we managed to get a finger-wagging from a nice Gendarme and told to sling our hook rather than park outside the Police Station! Luckily there was a huge car park up the road where we dumped Vince for a duty-free shopping frenzy. And by that I mean I went for a coffee while Gill had a duty-free shopping frenzy.
The Andorra prices for perfume and make-up were better than the UK but without being bargain-basement. Still worth stocking up with Christmas booty though. The real bargain was the fuel – I’ll have 60 of your finest litres of diesel at €0.88 per litre my man. That’s just over 70p! The only dampener on the whole cheap fuel experience was a slight Vince rear overhang/petrol pump interface. It’ll polish out. Probably.
From Pas de la Casa, the capital of Andorra (I think) we set off for Andorra la Vella – the largest town in the country. I didn’t like Andorra la Vella very much last time I was here with the bikers. It’s a long narrow city, necessarily so as it’s in a narrow valley, but it seems to go on for ever with roundabout after roundabout, petrol station after petrol station and traffic cutting us up at every opportunity. We were so confused at one point whilst negotiating sharp bends and parked cars, that we went right past the aire we were supposed to be staying in. There was no way I was going to attempt a U-turn so we said stuff it and kept going following the signs for Spain! Our guide books were a bit short on ideas of where to stay so we pulled in at a supermarket and consulted Mr Google. He found us a gem of an aire, free of charge in the centre of La Seu d’Urgell.
La Seu d’Urgell turned out to be a Cathedral town with a medieval quarter where the streets were tiny and narrow but had arcades on either side so as you walked along checking out the tiny shops you were under cover and the sudden rain showers only soaked the road. We explored the old town but adjourned to the clean wide boulevards of the new town for Sangria and a beer and just sat people watching for a bit. We were only a few miles over the border but the buildings, the people, the atmosphere and even the weather (hot, hot, hot) were altogether different from our experiences over the last few weeks. We loved it!
Topping off our evening was the view from Vince’s front window. As we sat enjoying our evening meal we were treated to a spectacular thunderstorm over the mountains which went on for what seemed like hours. There were still flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder when we went to bed.
Today was all about the mountains. We had a lot of miles to cover to get to Bagnères-de-Luchon, all through the Pyrenees. The roads were simply unbelievable – endless hairpins, big drops and scary downhill sections where Vince’s brakes were working overtime. We saw waterfalls, peaks, landslides, snow, and Gill was particularly keen on the muscly thighs of the many mountain cyclists we passed. And some who passed Vince annoyingly.
We found our aire in Bagnères-de-Luchon without too much trouble, and after setting up headed into town for something to eat. We looked at a number of menus outside a number of restaurants. We picked one which was in a handy location – outside seating but under cover as it was a bit drizzly, and as we walked over to our table we were greeted by an English voice complaining about the riff-raff allowed into French restaurants these days. It was our new best friends from weeks ago, Graeme and Sally! As the wine flowed we spent ooh, several minutes working out the chances of meeting like that and came up with 9 million to one and a half lagers and two more armagnacs please Mr Barman.