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Weekend in the Pyrenees

by Katarina Hedstrom

When most people think of Spain they think of fútbol, bull fighting, and sangria. After my trip to the Pyrenees, I’m convinced that people should start adding mountains to that list. Surprisingly enough, Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe, behind Switzerland. Even just thirty minutes outside of Barcelona you can find yourself some amazing views in the mountains. Two weekends ago, AIFS took us to the Pyrenees, the mountain range in between Spain and France, and the country that 99% didn’t know existed until the trip – Andorra.

We left early Friday morning and we were treated to a gorgeous drive through the mountains. When I was younger one of our great family vacations included driving through the Italian Alps during the fall and this reminded me a lot of that trip, except this time I wasn’t smashed in between siblings (one of them being in a car seat). We finally got to see colorful leaves and smell fresh air so just two hours in I was having the time of my life. The first stop was at Jardins de Artigas which are gardens that were created by Gaudí as a gift to a wealthy family. It was a very pretty garden and there was a gorgeous river that ran through it with the clearest and bluest water I’ve ever seen in a river. The only downside was that the tour was in Spanish meaning that the only words I really understood were Gaudí and vale (a Spaniard’s favorite word for okay, yes, and pretty much anything else you want it to be).

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After, we got back on to the bus to go to a small town, Castellar de N’Hug, for our lunch stop. It was an adorable little town that if it were not for the five other tourists and two pugs, I would have thought no one lived there. All the streets and buildings were made of stone, and for some reason it reminded me of the town in which Belle from Beauty and the Beast lived. There were three restaurants, two bars, and one hostel. Other than that it appeared as if it was just house after house. After, we took a walk down a hiking trail. Once again it was nice to see colorful fall leaves since the leaves in Barcelona are green one minute and the next they’re all crinkly and dead and being swept away by the city cleaners.

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Next stop was the hotel in Bagá, which was another small town tucked in the mountains, but this time their residents ventured out a little more of their homes.

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imagesSaturday started with a lovely wakeup call at 7:15am. That wake up “call” was actually someone knocking on your door until you answered – something a non-morning person like me hated. It was cold in the morning (40 degrees) and it was something a part of me loved (the true Minnesotan) and another hated (the part that’s gotten too used to Barcelona weather). After another breathtaking bus trip through the mountains, we were finally in Andorra. This country is basically a real life Genovia, for all your Princess Diaries fans, minus Mia Thermopolis’ hair. We were in Andorra la Vella, the capital, for the day. We met a guide right when we got there who took us around town and gave us a brief history. Some quick facts about Andorra:

– 70,000 people live there yet only 3,000 people are registered as Andorran citizens

– It’s constitution is only 19 years old; it was established in 1993.

– There are no factories of any kind meaning that their biggest, and pretty much only, source of income is tourism.

– It’s official language is Catalan but because of it’s location most residents also speak French and Spanish

We toured their old government building, Casa de la Vall, and it was as if we had stepped back in time 100 years; yet only 20 years ago the government was calling the shots there. It was also was home to their previously only courtroom. Later on, we got the chance to go up the mountain a little more to see an artificial lake that they had built for creating energy. After, it was shopping because Andorra has much lower/non existent taxes in comparison to other European countries.

Casa de la Vall

Casa de la Vall

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Lago Engloasters

The next day we got to go on a three hour hike in the national park by our hotel; Parc Natural del Cadí-Moixeró. We saw amazing views, cows, and a Monastery. It was a very relaxing and much needed walk through nature. It was a great weekend getaway out of the city, and also a really fun opportunity to get to really know the people in my program.

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