May 18th, 2006

Orange Vespa Huskyteer

Pyrenees Day 5: Andorra and other allegories

We left Bagnères and rode up into the mountains. And up. And up some more. And I really should have put the lining back in my jacket before setting off, and put my sweatshirt on.

I rectified all this at a comfort-and-photo break, and was able to stop shivering and enjoy myself from then on. The descent was twisty and technical, and I loved every moment of it. In the next town we were caught up by our breakaway group of four who had gone in search of bike bits for an ailing Daytona, then it was on to Andorra for lunch and tax-free shopping.

I knew very little about Andorra before the trip, bar that it's a tiny country between France and Spain with very favourable prices on tobacco and electrical goods. We did a play called Andorra for German A level, but this told me nothing about the country because it was actually an allegory for Nazi Germany (as was everything else we studied except Faust).

If you're in the same situation, let me enlighten you: Andorra is a complete shithole.

Imagine your nearest industrial estate/retail park: squat, ugly buildings, gridlocked traffic and pointless mini-roundabouts. Now imagine your retail park is the size of a small country and takes an hour to drive through. That's Andorra.

As we did our best to leave we each in turn got stuck behind a small lorry which emitted a cloud of black smoke every four seconds, it started to piddle with rain, and someone pointed out that my headlight bulb had blown.

As soon as we crossed the border into France, we were back on sweeping, sparsely-travelled mountain roads among breathtaking scenery. There was a heavy rainstorm with impressive lightning flashes - which I spent cowering under my umbrella in a layby - after which the sun came out and it was a glorious golden late afternoon. We went through little villages whose inhabitants waved and smiled at us, and saw lovely goats with twisty horns. We rode beside the beautiful and rhyming Gorge of Saint George (I'm blagging all the geographical detail off of cybersofa, by the way).

But Andorra had put me in a really foul bloody mood for the rest of the day, and I arrived at Carcasonne's Hotel Ibis ready and willing to bite heads off at the mildest provocation.

Luckily changing a bulb is one of the few bike-related tasks I can actually perform myself without too much difficulty, and thanks to European driving regulations I even had a spare with me. It's time-consuming but not fiddly, involving six screws and a plastic panel. Twenty minutes in the evening sunshine, on my own, sorting it out, with nothing but a Swiss Army knife sufficed to make me all pleased with myself again. By the time someone came out to see how I was doing I had fixed it, and I could say Look! I have fixed it! and bound cheerfully in to dinner and subsequent drinking.

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