Travel diary: Winter in Andorra, Spain, and London

Somehow we’ve found ourselves in winter, despite our best efforts to avoid it, so we’re making sure to do it right — we started the week in mountainous Andorra and finished it in rainy London.

Monday 29/10: Since it was so cold outside and so warm inside, we spent most of the day at home, working. At around 3pm, we finally headed out, and made our way to Andorra’s tiny, but picturesque, old town.

Andorra old town.

There was a small exhibition honouring the country’s 57 Olympians, so we dropped in to visit that before hunting out the path our couchsurfing host Anna had told us about. It was a pleasant, flat walk, once we got to it, but getting there was the hard part — it seemed to be halfway up the mountain.

Linda and Anna.

The path, and some stairs back down again, took us into the main part of town, where we took some photos and did some shopping before heading home. Anna had to head out to teach a class in the evening, but we had a couple of hours together before bed. We spent them eating and comparing our favourite bands — yay for Spotify!

Tuesday 30/10: We didn’t realise that two companies run buses to Barcelona, and thought that the only suitable bus for us left at 3pm. We were wrong, but by the time we realised it was too late to change our plans. Anyway, another morning at home getting work done was certainly welcome. I did head out in the late morning, to try to buy bus tickets and to pick up some lunch, but otherwise we had quite a boring start to the day.

The first part of the bus trip was stunningly beautiful — Andorra really is a lovely country. The three hours on the bus passed quickly; I listened to podcasts and stared out the window, and Craig played a game on his phone. It was dark by the time we arrived in Barcelona, but we knew where we were going and got there without any problems.

Sagrada Familia.

We were staying with Ruben, who was our couchsurfing host the last time we were in the city. He’d moved house and didn’t really have the space to host anymore, but he had gone on a mission to get an air bed and blankets so that we could stay with him — it was really sweet! After a quick trip to the supermarket, I made caipirinhas and Ruben cooked a tasty dinner of pimientos de Padrón followed by spaghetti with blue cheese sauce. Yum.

Wednesday 31/10: Ruben disappeared for half an hour and came back with a spectacular breakfast of croissants, toast, sausage and ham. After eating, we headed to a nearby market, which was mostly deserted because of the rain. A metro ride and a walk later, we arrived at another market, La Boqueria, which was full of people and — more importantly — covered. We didn’t spend long there; it was time for a coffee. Ruben took us to his favourite cafe, where we had a drink and chatted for awhile, but too soon he had to go to work.

We also needed to work; Women on the Road was going to be launched the next day and there was a fair amount to get done for everything to be ready. So we ended up spending most of our day right there in the cafe.

Thursday 1/11: We needed another work day, so we headed back to the bar near home that we’d spent the evening in the night before, and got down to it. However, we did do a little sightseeing in the afternoon — we walked to the Sagrada Familia, past the plaza de toros and down to the marina.

Sagrada Familia windows

While at the marina, we were approached by an Argentinian guy who’s doing an art project called 100 World Kisses; he’s collecting photos of people kissing in various parts of the city and wanted to take a photo of us making out. We didn’t have a problem with that!

Ruben was home in the evening and the weather was a lot better than it had been, so we had a barbecue out on the terrace.

Friday 2/11: The problem with using a Eurail pass in Spain is that almost all of the trains require a (quite expensive) seat reservation. However, I had managed to find one direct regional train between Barcelona and Zaragoza, which left at 9.03, and in the interest of saving money, we caught that. Since we left Ruben’s a little late, getting to the station was a bit of a stress, but we arrived right on time with five minutes to spare.

The journey was beautiful and uneventful, but we misread the Zaragoza map and ended up taking a roundabout route to our couchsurfing host’s house. Ah well. On the way there we stopped for a menu del día lunch in a Chinese restaurant, and got four courses plus wine and coffee for €8 each — amazing.

Pilar

Pilar basilica and Roman bridge.

Our host, Blanca, welcomed us in and then took us for a walk around Zaragoza — it’s full of awesome buildings and great street art. We went into the Pilar basilica and saw the tiny Virgin statue that the church is named for, as well as the pillar she stands on — apparently it is normally covered up. We also saw Roman ruins and a Roman bridge as well as a lot of mudéjar architecture and a wide variety of towers.

Back home, we had a light dinner and then sat around playing games on Craig’s phone for a couple of hours before bed.

Saturday 3/11: After working for an hour or so, we headed out to do some errands like top up our phones and send some post. Of course, being Spain this turned into an exercise in frustration (although it must be said that the woman who sold us phone credit was friendly and competent — we were stunned). Luckily lunch, in an Ecuadorean restaurant, was delicious.

Aljaferia.

We wanted to visit Zaragoza’s castle, the Aljaferia, but it was closed for siesta, so we went home for an hour or so and headed back when it opened for the afternoon. It was incredible, with a mix of architectural styles and many many fantastic ceilings. And it was well priced — just €5 each, or €1 for students.

After a brief stop in a bar for a glass of wine, we went home to pack and say goodbye to Blanca, then headed to the airport. Luckily we found took the direct route to the train station this time!

I’m not sure why, but we had the toughest security check I’ve experienced in some time — we even had to take off our shoes. As always, we avoided the crush of people trying to get onto the plane and were among the last to board — and there were no seats left! Well, the first three rows were empty, but they were blocked off. I eventually took the one last seat left and Craig and a few others were allowed to sit in the second row. All the overhead cabins were packed full, so I had to put my bag under the seat in front — and it really didn’t fit. Par for the course for Ryanair, I suppose — what can you expect for €25?

Inside the Aljaferia

After standing in the EU passport line in London Stansted airport for 20 minutes, the border guard told us we’d have to go to the other line since I have a New Zealand passport and required a stamp for entry — and he didn’t have one. I was seriously annoyed because we had to go to the back of the other queue and wait for another 45 minutes — and we’d been told by other border guards that we could use the EU passport line. What a waste of an hour of our lives.

I think this is why I dislike going to the UK so much — first, just getting past border control is an ordeal, and when you’re through you’re not even anywhere near the city. We caught a Terravision bus to Liverpool St, and then found shared a night bus with a hundred drunk people to our hostel, where they couldn’t find us in the system. Eventually, though, we made it to our room and finally got to sleep at around 3am.

Sunday 4/11: Breakfast ends at 9am, so we headed downstairs at 8.30 and tucked into juice and tasty croissants. Unfortunately so many people were using the internet that we couldn’t get on, and the one coffee machine they had running had a line of about 15 people behind it. This hostel is comfortable and pleasant, but failing on coffee and wifi wasn’t a good start.

After doing a bit of work, we walked down the road to the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, where Craig got a haircut in Spanish and I bought us travelcards so that we could get around. Unfortunately, I had to walk back to the hostel to get passport-sized photos for the photocard that has to accompany the type of travelcard we wanted, and later I realised that the tickets I’d bought didn’t cover zone 3, which is where the event center we’re going to is located. Luckily the ticket agent was happy to change them for us.

We both also bought new trousers, since none of our clothes are suitable for a business conference, and then we headed across town to check out the event centre (ExCel) and print off our passes. We didn’t stay long, but our brief visit was enough for us to start to get our heads around the event, which is absolutely enormous.

It was already getting dark when we left ExCel, despite being only 4.45pm — it’s definitely winter! So we took a twilight stroll along Southbank, which is one of our favourite places in the city, there’s always something on! This time there was a tea and coffee festival, and we managed to catch the last half of the last presentation of the event… about tea, unfortunately, rather than coffee, but still very interesting.

London night scene.

This travel diary is part of our IndieRail series: IndieRail is brought to you by ACPRail.com, providers of a wide range of rail passes and train tickets including Eurail, BritRail, Rail Australia, Japan Rail and more. Great pricing, friendly service. We’re glad to be working with them. Local day trips are provided by Urban Adventures. We’re sharing stories as they happen thanks to Droam: mobile data without boundaries. Check out our next destination…

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