One downside of Catalunya’s pro-market socialistic bent… weak process and lines. Barcelonans seem accepting of both. Checking our Avis car out this morning felt like one of those doctor’s office visits… where you have to fill out the personal health and information forms to provide them with the information you already provided them with? 90 minutes to check out a car I’d reserved online… ugh.
Eventually we got our Golf and got away. With Max navigating it was a quick, pleasant drive along sleek paved ribbons through tunnels and tolls into the Catalan Pyrenees. These mountains squeeze the sky, wring rain and threaten my plan to hike around Pedraforca. So we adapt, and to buy time we stop into our next flat in the village of Guardiola de Berguedà, drop bags, grab food, and hope for sun.
This little Pyrenees prelude wasn’t in my master plan. I could book get back-to-back home exchanges in Barcelona and Costa Brava because it’s a 3-day weekend here, and places are all booked up… so I snuck in this side trip to see Catalunya’s Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park and a day trip to the principality of Andorra. We were delighted to find our AirBnB flat to be beautiful, hospital-clean and cleverly designed… impressive!
The drive to Pedraforca is beautiful but twisty, and I’m told I suffer from racecar driver syndrome – they can’t stomach my driving. Sue takes the wheel and we white knuckle it past cliffs and canyons to the mountain’s forested shoulder. Mist obscures the Pedraforca peaks but the views below are fine so we stop at Mirador Gresolet for a tailgate picnic and to enjoy the vistas. There we seek hikers setting off up stairs which I know from my research must lead to our trail and to the first stop – Refugi Lluís Estasen – which I selected for ease of access and – in the event I’ve asked too much of my family – trail bail. I have and we do… the route is wet and treacherous from rain so with much encouragement I egg my family up to the Refuge, we explore just a little then find the gentler, longer trail back to our car.
During the return hike we played a game – trying to determine if we’d visited at least one country starting with each letter of the alphabet. We can’t think of any countries we’ve visited that start with W or X… because there aren’t any. So after Andorra tomorrow we’ll have visited 20 of the 24 possibilities, including Bhutan, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Laos, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom, Vietnam, Zimbabwe. To fill out the list we’d have to visit Oman, Qatar, Russia or Romania or Rwanda… no deal killer there. But there is one letter we probably won’t ever check off our list… can you guess which one and why?
We return to find little Guardiola de Berguedà sleeping, so elect to drive a few minutes up the road to Baga, not exactly bustling Barcelona but a party town by Berguedà standards. Baga is a local capital that’s been controlled in turn by those zany Visigoths, the Moors, and Barcelona hero Wilfred the Hairy… and Hugo of Bagà is purportedly the founder of the Knights Templar it’s colorful history left us a handsome the medieval town. We stroll past kids playing soccer and shop for groceries… we love the quiet small mountain towns most. Back in Guardiola de Berguedà we drop the boys off for much deserved downtime and wander through rain showers and thunder rolls until we find cute little El Reco de l’Avi, buried in a vault under a local hotel. Our ceramic pitcher of local red ensures the chicken and cannoli are delicious.
A is for Andorra
With full tummies and drier weather it’s time to hike, so we drive across town towards the trail and find a hillside garage. I nose the Golf onto a carriage in a car elevator, exit the car, and it’s lifted up, rotated then parked into one of many cells. Our hike involves a stiff climb up to the Solà irrigation canal, which provides a paved, level hike above town with fine vistas. The rain holds off and we enjoy an hour and a half of strolling before returning to the car park. There the beehive garage program pulls the car, rotates it so it’s nose-out, lowers the car to us and off we go. The car park attendant is enthusiastic about the technology and lets us watch his monitoring screen as the program slowly returns the car to us… good fun and interesting for the boys. To speed the trip home we listen to a podcast of wait wait, don’t tell me. Don’t know Peter Sagal? Tom sez check it out.
Next up is Costa Brava, but we get to tick of Catalunya’s second city – Girona – along the way. The outskirts are pretty gritty, and the first target parking lot we approach looks sketchy. But with Max’s help we find the pleasant lot on the edge of the old town nestled between the Parc and the Riu Onyar. Nearby they’re setting up a stage for what I expect might be the Sea Otter Europe award ceremonies – we missed the event by a day. I really would have liked to participate and to see the trials riders (Danny MacAskill is my hero).
Girona’s medieval core is pretty and attracts its share of tourists. We enjoy a midday stroll, but it’s hot and hilly, and the town seems like a larger, less charming version of the Pyrenees villages we just enjoyed. So after a walk among the gardens and ancient Roman and Carolingian walls, we load up and roll east to the sea.