I decided since I was going to be so close to Austria while visiting Liechtenstein, I would use the opportunity to visit Vienna. It would be a quick trip, just and day and would require a full day of travel from Buchs in Switzerland, but I considered it a fact-finding mission for a future trip.
The train left from Buchs and traveled through Liechtenstein and then to Austria. As we got into the mountains of Austria it was snowing and the route for the next hour or so turned into a live action Xmas card. Living most of my life in the American South, snow is always a novelty. It is even more appreciated when I don’t have to drive or work in it.
The train slowed a bit in the mountains, I’m not sure if the snow had anything to do with it, but we arrived in Innsbruck a few minutes late. It has been my experience that European trains run on time. I wasn’t really thinking about transferring between trains in Innsbruck when I booked this trip. The window of transfer was very small. By the time I got off of my train and found the car I was supposed to be in, I was surprised to find that the door wouldn’t open. I soon realized the reason was that it was leaving without me.
In most parts of America missing a train will mean waiting another 12-24 hours for the next one. Since I was in Europe, there was another leaving for Vienna in about an hour. I got booked on that one and grabbed lunch at the station while I waited for my new train.
The next train arrived on time and the journey to Vienna continued without any delays. I arrived early in the evening and made my way to the hotel. I checked in, walked to the neighborhood store for supplies, and plotted how to attack my full day in Vienna.
The Austrian Federal Railways trains were fairly modern, clean, and comfortable. All of this was good since I spent about 8 hours that day on them. In hindsight, I probably should have not spent so much time on the rails for such a short trip, but this was all brand new for me. The trip from Buchs to Innsbruck through the mountains was scenic enough to make it worth it. I only wished I had gotten better photos from the train.
When I was putting this trip together, I looked over several maps and saw that I was going to be a few hours away from Andorra. I would like to, by the time I have died, visit all the countries of the world. I will travel just about anywhere just to go check it out. If I win the lottery, so long suckers, I’m off to do this. Since I have yet to win the lottery, I have to take whatever I can get when it comes to travel.
I went back and forth on whether I should go to Andorra or use the day to see more of Barcelona, but in the end, I had to go to Andorra because it was still there. Why is it still there? Good question! My theory is this: most microstates are there because an army says, “Oh no, there is no way I’m marching over one more mountain. You don’t pay me enough for that.” or some navy says, “Why should go to that other island? What are we gonna find, more great beaches and coconuts? We got that here! You don’t pay me enough for that.”
That is probably an over simplification. I know more about Andorra than your average American, but that’s not saying much. Most Americans do not even know it exists. Before the Internet, the only way you would know about Andorra was to have a large map of Europe and scan it closely, or to read an almanac and scan the lists of the world’s smallest countries. Anyone want to guess what kind of kid I was? I was both kinds.
I was willing to give up a day in Barcelona, one of the great cities of the world, to take a bus ride to Andorra la Vella to see what it was all about. It is an odd place politically; it is a co-principality, its co-princes being the President of France and the Catholic Bishop of Urgell in Spain. It is a relic of Medieval Europe located in the Pyrenees Mountains. I did a little internet research but only found out that it was a tax haven, good for duty free shopping, and had snow skiing. These are three things I have almost no interest in. I’d like to be rich enough to peruse the world for tax havens, but I am not there yet.
I was able to book bus tickets to Andorra la Vella (the capital) direct from Barcelona via http://www.andorradirectbus.es/en (Directbus Andorra) for about 50 € round trip. They had an easy to use site and it was in English too. You print out a receipt and bring it to the offices at Barcelona Sants Station (actually across the street but easy to get to via metro or train) and get a boarding pass to get on the bus.
I got lucky when I planned this day trip for Friday, as I found out when I arrived in Barcelona that it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is a big national holiday. Lots of things in town would be closed and almost everyone would be off work. This explained the large numbers well dressed, but slightly ruffled, and still drunk, young people on the metro at 6am. I arrived at Sants Station in plenty of time to head outside to the bus terminal.
The bus to Andorra was packed with people, which I figured was due to the holiday. It was comfortable and had Wi-Fi and a bathroom you accessed by going down some stairs near the middle exit. Either that, or it had a cellar. I didn’t explore. I was content to watch the scenery roll by. It was a very scenic trip through the Catalan countryside that hit a few small villages on its way to Urgell and was on target to be in Andorra la Vella on time until we hit traffic outside of Urgell. We were never sure what the issue was, but in the mountains roads tend to be of the “only” variety as in the only road into and out of a place. If there is only one road from Urgell to Andorra la Vella, you have to just wait it out. By the time we got moving again and got through passport control, we ended up arriving about an hour late.
So what did I find in Andorra la Vella? The city is in a valley straddling a stream and surrounded by mountains. The bus station was actually on top of the stream. It makes sense since most non-stream areas had structures on them. There were lots of places to buy things. Mostly high dollar items, but I was able to find a very small shop and buy some postcards and souvenirs for people back home.
I wandered around the shopping district for a while and grabbed some lunch at a Spanish place before heading back to take the bus back to Barcelona. The trip back was much less fun since it was in the dark to take in the scenery.
In the end, I was able to do what I wanted which was to visit Andorra and get some souvenirs. I’d like to go back and explore more in the future, but would like to do a better job planning the next trip. If you are ever in Barcelona and are looking for a day trip, it is an easy one to make and the scenery on the ride alone is well worth it.
Upon my return to the US, the customs guy asked me where I had been on my trip. I told him Spain and Andorra. “Where’s Andorra?”, he asked. I gave him the elevator pitch for Andorra. He did not seem moved, but did allow me to move on.