Sunday, January 10, 2010

Andorra Trip Report (BooDoo 2009)

 
 

This weekend I've been delighted to carve out the time required to complete the remaining trip reports for 2009. I find it valuable to chronicle our excursions with the written word and pictures to give them the respect of permanency. I hope also that my record of events have been useful to you either as a guide in planning your itineraries for the destinations I've referenced, a general encouragement to step out in adventurous faith and see the world , or at the very least as entertaining fodder to pass the time consumed by reading the entries.

 
 

I've mentioned flyertalk.com in previous trip reports. This is an online community of mileage runners like myself (folks with a hobby of calculating the lowest cents per mile [CPM] route on their chosen airline carrier and flying for the reward of attaining elite status). Infuse extroverts with a liberal dose of thrifty ingenuity and a penchant for flying around the world and you get a group that loves to attend parties on the other side of the world on a regular basis. We call them "do"s. In October over Halloween weekend once such party was held in Andorra (the tiny country between Spain and France) in the city called Andorra La Vella.

 
 

I hadn't made up my mind to attend this party until early summer 2009 when Iberia published a mistake fare ($230 round trip total after taxes) to Barcelona from DC. Of course I took that as a sign that I was meant to participate. I passed the details onto NoVA travelers and sought a partner for my jet setting party itinerary. I was fortunate to have someone as sweet as Louise step up to join me.

 
 

We flew out from DC on a Thursday, changed planes in Madrid and arrived into Barcelona just as the sun rose and lit up the sky.

 
 

We took the regional bus (stops right at the airport) all the way to Andorra La Vella that afternoon, passing over the Spanish countryside along the way. I was surprised as to how much this region of Spain resembles New Mexico. In fact when we changed planes in Madrid the view also reminded me very much of the southwestern landscape.

 
 

Once in Andorra we checked into our home away from home for the weekend: Andorra Park Hotel.

 
 

Louise and I familiarized ourselves with the small town using a local map and then plotted our walking route to the restaurant chosen for the first night's dinner party at 8pm: Panama Café. The party organizers had promised an abundant array of authentic Catalan cuisine and they did not disappoint. Whereas the Italians have bruschetta their Spanish counterparts enjoy pa amb tomàquet (toasted bread rubbed with garlic and red ripe juicy tomato then drizzled with olive oil). Fantastic on its own, topped with smoked meats (such as Jamon Iberico Guijuelo- the finest ham thinly sliced) and cheeses or tuna ventresca (tuna with roasted red peppers), it is elevated to the divine. I have been trying to recreate tuna ventresca since returning from Andorra and have yet to be successful. I don't think it's possible to get the specific preparation of tuna required for the recipe. While we ate and drank we mingled with the crowd (more than 50 but less than 100 I believe) of attendees who had come from all over the world for the event. It was nice to see some familiar faces such as Bob and Franny (older couple from NYC that I'd met at a happy hour event in DC earlier in the year) and also to meet so many new people that would soon turn into friends. Louise seemed to have a great time as well and I think her interest in mileage running was peaked with the event. It was such a fantastic feeling to be part of this vibrant group and my only regret of the evening is that I left my camera in the hotel room and have no pictures to document my memories of the celebration.

 
 

We left the excitement of the party behind before it really began to wind down and headed back to our hotel for a good night's rest to ensure we'd have the energy for the next day's busy schedule. We had signed up for the Pyrenees hiking and lunch event and were looking forward to it.

 
 

Our second day in Andorra began with a fantastic spread of Catalan cooking laid out before us in the breakfast room. I really wanted an egg white omelet but my Spanish is poor as I confessed to you in previous reports and in addition Catalan (the language of Andorra) is not quite the same as Spanish anyway. I made do with the various meats and cheese and breads and was quite satisfied.

 
 

We gathered with the group to pop into a large van for our trip up into the Pyrenees mountains (for which the famous dog breed have been named). The winding road up the hills took us past beautiful mountain scenes and we snapped many pictures along the way.

 
 

While others in the group broke off for a mountain bike tour or archery games, the first order of business for Louise and I once we arrived at the top of the mountain was a nature hike through the Pyrenees wilderness. Our guide spoke Catalan and French and the assistant guide spoke Catalan and English (somewhat). Since more of the group spoke French than anything else, by request he gave the tour directly in French as well as Catalan (which would then be translated by the asst guide into broken English). The man was obsessed with animal scat. He stopped at intervals that boarded on the ridiculous to point out the droppings of this mountain animal or that one. He also taught us how to spot the differences between edible and poisonous mushrooms growing in the area, showed us where Franco guided his army and setup his bunkers, and taught us about the various trees growing on the Pyrenees mountainside. Overall an excellent hike.

 
 

 
 

 After our hike we thanked our guide and reassembled with the rest of the Boo Do participants that had chosen to come on the Pyrenees excursion. There was some wine drinking at the café and Louise went down the snow tubing trail (that is converted to a summer tubing trail the rest of the year) in lieu of the alpine coaster that we were supposed to ride were it not out of order. The highlight of this short rest period for me was spotting a Pyrenees dog. A Pyrenees playing in the Pyrenees! How perfect is that?

 
 

 Lunch was halfway down the mountain in the Naturlandia restaurant. It was a simple meal of rolled pork with vegetables and a wine I actually found pleasing (I don't normally prefer wine). For reference, the wine was Castillo Irache Tempranillo. I especially enjoy how the Andorrans serve their red wine cold.

 
 

Once we finished lunch it was back in the van for the trip down the mountain to the valley that is Andorra La Vella.

 
 

The rest of the afternoon Louise and I toured Andorra La Vella on foot, shopping, laughing and getting to know each other better. The town is a shopping mecca for Europe as there is no tax and everything is usually priced at least 50% lower than can be found elsewhere. Meanwhile for Americans suffering under the dollar's weakness in comparison to the Euro, the fantastic bargains only served to bring the price down after conversion to the range of pricing normally found in the States.

 
 

Our dinner party with the BooDo crowd on Saturday night was billed as the big event so Louise and I primped and prepped and did our best to look presentable. The event was held at a bar and restaurant called Buda Espai Andorra. It was also described as serving classic Catalan cuisine. Appetizers along with sangria were rolled out promptly as the event began in the bar at 10pm. Normally I'd having trouble waiting until 10pm to eat dinner but given the time difference between Andorra and the USA it seemed just about right to my stomach. The bar was pretty cool in that it had a glass floor with a manmade river underneath, but the sangria was too dry.

 
 

 After a few rounds of drinks and conversation the group moved to the dining room for dinner around 11pm. This was advertised to be another unforgettable dining experience and that it was. Our first serving consisted of more Pà amb tomàquet with a variety of cured meats and cheese, chicken croquettes, Gambes a l'allet (typical Catalan casserole of prawns, garlic and more garlic), Crostini de xistorra amb formatge de cabra (xistorra is the best sausage in the world, on toast with goat cheese), Tartaleta de sobrassada amb mel (kind of like sausage, with honey) and a garden salad. All that food and it was only the first course!

 
 

We met some of the most fascinating people sitting around us. A man from California who runs a private jet company (and best of all he invited us for dinner in Cali this spring along with our husbands/friends), a teacher from Germany, two brothers from Bulgaria who ate more than any two men I've ever seen, and many other interesting personalities. By the time the second course was rolled out near 12:30am we were well into the wine and the celebratory spirit of the party. The second serving included Parillada Catalana de carn amb guarniciò, bou, churrasco, botifarra, botifarra negra, xai, conill (a mixed grill of Catalan meats including beef steak, pork ribs, sausage, blood sausage, lamb, and rabbit) along with bread. So many different kinds of meat! I realized we had been eating meat and cheese for breakfast lunch and dinner for two days straight. Low carb can be great for maintaining weight but my palate was starting to yearn for some pasta or vegetables.

 
 

The dessert course was a lovely pudding made from rice if I remember correctly . By the time we finished the treat it had to be approaching 2am. Yet the party continued with everyone as bright and bushy eyed as when we'd walked in hours before.

 
 

We had a bit more wine, a bit more conversation and then Louise and I headed back to our hotel. We pinched ourselves on the way home and reveled in the invitation from the jet company owner to come out to California on his jet for dinner. We giggled over how our friends at home had probably attended the standard Halloween parties with cheesy decorations and silly party games while we ate Catalan cuisine and received private jet invitations. I admit this now not out of a sense of boasting but to give you insight into our absolutely giddy state of mind that night. We felt as if we were on top of the world. I'm not sure whether it was the wine or the excitement of the whole situation, but we were definitely flying on a personal high.

 
 

Day three of our trip began just as the day before - with breakfast at the hotel. This time my friend Andrew (a native Argentinean and therefore fluent in Spanish) translated my omlet order for me. The main event for this day was a relaxing visit to the Caldea spa downtown. The place is spectacular and not like any spa you've ever seen before. We are talking a multi-story adult water playground with themed pools such as Roman ruins, smaller hot tubs above the main thermo pool shaped as if they were soup bowls, a lazy river and special treatment rooms. We had all afternoon at the spa plus a signature massage and it was just what we needed to wrap up the BooDo experience. Could have done without the couples having sex in the pools however. ...

 
 

Louise and I left the spa in the early evening (reluctantly!) and headed for the bus station to catch our ride back to Barcelona where we planned to sightsee for the evening as our last hurrah on the trip. The ride was uneventful aside from the sunset that painted the sky with delicate strokes of purple and orange.

 
 

 Getting off the bus a little after 10pm, we meandered our way to our hotel, checked in, and then set off for dinner and sightseeing along the famed Las Ramblas. (Think of it as the Champs Elysees of Barcelona). It was a lot to take in over such a quick stroll especially since we were pressed for time wanting to return to the hotel and get some sleep. We walked to the end of Las Ramblas where it meets the Port of Barcelona and then turned and backtracked our way to the hotel . It's definitely on my to-do list to return to Barcelona to spend a weekend focused on the sights of the city.

 
 

The next morning we took a cab to the airport and made the return journey home to the States and our ordinary lives.

 
 

BooDo is held every two years at differing locations within a couple hours of Barcelona and I know I will sign up as soon as the details are announced. If you're interested in being my guest, just drop me an email. I'm also reviewing the other flyertalk Dos scheduled for 2010 to see if any can match the spectacle that was BooDo 2009.

  

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