Bixessari, Andorra to Tarascon-sur-Ariège, France

Travel is full of adventure and today we had an adventure that thank goodness ended well. I’ll get to the adventure in a bit.

This morning we drove down from the mountain where we stayed last night into the center of Andorra.

Hotel Parador de Canolich

We visited the Museum of Electricity. It’s a fascinating museum because it tells the story of how Andorra went from a backwater of about 800 people in 1930 to a major hydroelectric producer and a population of almost 80,000 people today.

Andorra Museum of Electricity

Our next few days we plan to spend in France. To eat in a restaurant or stay in a hotel in France You must have a vaccination passport with a QR code issued by the government verifying that you have been vaccinated. All four of us applied for the document at the beginning of September but Duke is the only person who has received his.

Our first stop in France was at the guest house in Tarascon-sur-Ariège where we planned to stay. We couldn’t check in until five. Our host verified the five o’clock check in time and the fact that we would need the QR code to check in. He also pointed out how the French are letting Americans into France but the Americans are not letting the French into the U.S.

So we went in search of covid tests, because a proof of a negative test will allow you to get the necessary QR code that will be good for 72 hours. By now it was about 12:30. We had paid for a 4:15 tour of the Niaux Cave.

We visited every pharmacy in Tarascon-sur-Ariège and the hospital. It turned out that the only place to get a covid test was at the pharmacy in the center of town and the sign on their door said they were closed from 12-2 and would start giving covid tests at 5. At this point I was about ready to give up. But we showed up at the pharmacy when they opened after lunch at 2. They were very nice and said that although they don’t usually give covid test until 5 they would give us tests immediately. So to make a long story short after 30 more minutes and $25 each we have our 72 hour QR code. And we still had time to get to our cave tour. One good side benefit is I now remember how to say I need a covid test for the QR code in French (J’ai Besoin d’un test covid por le code QR).

Covid Test

The Niaux Cave is one of the only places where you are still allowed access to see prehistoric paintings. In order to preserve the paintings the cave isn’t lit. We carried flashlights. The hike total inside the cave is 1.5 miles and the ground is very uneven and at times slippery. Tours were only available in French. We knew that was the case so we read up a bit about the paintings ahead of time. It was pretty cool to see the bison and horses painted between 17 and 14 thousand years ago. No pictures were allowed inside the cave and they did check our brand new QR code’s.

With our flashlights ready to tour Niaux Cave.
Sign describing the paintings
The entrance to the cave

We were pretty worn out by the time we checked into our guest house. He too checked our QR code’s when he checked us in.

Our room at Chambres d’Hôtes Domaine Fournié

It rained hard while we were eating dinner in Tarascon-sur-Ariège. They checked our QR code’s before they seated us.

Dinner

We did manage to get in some cards before bed.

Cards

La Seu d’Urgell to Bixessari, Andorra

This morning we had the breakfast buffet in our Parador. It is included in our room rate. We have had a lot of Parador breakfasts over the last few years so it was interesting to see how they have changed because of covid. The first difference was that each person had their own set of tongs to use at the buffet.

Personal tongs to use at the breakfast buffet.

The other big difference was that there were no communal serving dishes, no pitchers of orange juice or bowls of fruit. Everything was packaged individually.

Breakfast buffet at our Parador.

Monday is the weekly market in La Seu d’Urgell so after breakfast we walked through the market.

Mushrooms in the market.

La Seu d’Urgell Parador is built around the cloister of the ancient church of Saint Domènec which was originally built in the 14th century. We were able to tour the church and the nearby Cathedral of Santa Maria which was constructed in the 12th century.

Cathedral of Santa Maria
Cloisters adjoining the cathedral of Santa Maria.

The parador gave us a map of hiking trails in the mountains nearby. We chose a hike that was described as relatively easy. To get to where the trail started we drove up the steep side of a nearby valley on a narrow switchbacking road to the tiny village of Ansovell. From there we hiked about a mile further uphill to the Santuari de Bascalt. The scenery was gorgeous. The cow bells serenaded us much of the way. And the old church or sanctuary was interesting.

Our starting point – the village of Ansovell
The trail
The cows
Santuari de Bascalt

After our hike we stopped for a picnic on our way back down to the main road.

Picnic is in the Pyrenees

It was a short drive from Ansovell to the Hotel Parador de Canolich in Andorra where we are staying tonight. Duke and I have stayed here twice before. The proprietors remember us which is fun. It started to rain as we were arriving and rained for most of the rest of the afternoon and evening. We played cards and then had another great dinner.

Hotel Parador de Canolich
Melon wrapped in jamon
Squid

Barcelona to La Seu d’Urgell

This morning we started our day as we did yesterday with coffee at the cafeteria at the top of the Corté Inglés department store.

Coffee at the Corté Inglés

Corté Inglés doesn’t have much of a selection so our next stop was a nearby cafe where we had breakfast.

Breakfast

Next we went back to our hotel, checked out and took a cab to the Sant train station where we rented a car. Driving out of Barcelona was fairly easy. We headed north and started looking for a grocery store. When we found one, we all went in to shop for some water and snacks. I think foreign grocery stores are always interesting. The meat department had a big pork section, a much smaller beef section and several other meats including rabbit.

Rabbit at the grocery store
Hams

Our final destination was a Parador in La Seu d’Urgell, not far from the border with Andorra. The further north we went the more mountainous the terrain became.

The Parador in La Seu d’Urgell

Duke and I have stayed at more than half the Paradors in Spain. As a result we get a special treat when we arrive.

Parador welcome back.

A bit later we went down to the bar, had our welcome drinks, and played five hundred.

Cards

La Seu d’Urgell is where the Olympic kayaking and canoeing events were held for the 1992 olympics. We walked through the old town down to the Olympic park.

Olympic kayaking course
Old town La Seu d’Urgell

We ate dinner at the Parador.

Tomato salad
Green beans and ham
Beef fillet with liver pâté
Hake (fish) with broiled vegetables

Barcelona Day 2

We both woke up early this morning due I suppose to jet lag. We were at the doors of the Corté Inglés department store on Plaza Catalan at 9am when they opened. The cafeteria on the top floor has great food and a stupendous view.

Breakfast # 1 on top of the Corté Inglés
Cafeteria on top of the Corté Inglés on Plaza Catalan

We hadn’t walked around the old gothic quarter yet on this trip so we explored the narrowing winding streets for a bit and then had breakfast number 2. I love croissants. This time we had something called fartós. They were kind of like croissant sticks, so good! And the chocolate croissant was just as heavenly.

Chocolate croissant and Fartos.
Fartós

This afternoon we went out to the airport and met Brian and JoAnn who will be traveling with us for the next two weeks. We are staying at the Avenida Palace Hotel here in Barcelona for one more night.

Checkin at the Avenida Palace hotel.
Our Hotel

After Brian and JoAnn got settled we walked around in the Gothic Quarter some more. The facade of the Barcelona Cathedral is pretty amazing.

Barcelona Cathedral

We ate dinner at a place called el Concepto. The service was exceptionally good and the food was too.

Salad to start
Jo Ann and Duke had fish.
My desert

My desert was a chocolate torte with whipped cream. I’m not sure what the red things were on top but they were very good.

We were all pretty exhausted by the time we made it back to the hotel. Monday our plan is to rent a car and leave Barcelona.

Barcelona

Today is our first full day in Barcelona. We slept in a bit and then went out to find coffee and croissants.

Breakfast

Rick Steve’s does some wonderful, free audio tours. Today we decided to do his tour of the Barcelona Eixample district. The Eixample is an expansion area that was added to Barcelona in the mid 1800s. Eixample is the Catalan word for expansion. the neighborhood is very upscale. It includes many of Barcelona’s Modernista buildings. The first one we stopped at was La Pedrera (also known as Casa Milà) it was built around 1906 by Antoni Gaudi. We toured the building with our friends Ray and Linda on another trip to Barcelona.

I

La Pedrera

Further along we stopped at a block with three modernista buildings in a row. It’s called the Block of Discord. The first building is another Gaudy building, Casa Battló.

Casa Battlló

I love the detail in the carvings and balconies

Carving on Casa Batlló
Detail of Casa Batlló

The building next door, Casa Amatller , was the work of another Modernista architect, Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

Casa Amatiler and Casa Batlló
Casa Amatller

Today is Catalonia Day. There are no big events because of covid but we did see lots of flags and T-shirts.

Another pretty stop on our walking tour was the Navarro Flower Shop. According to our tour it is open 24/7.

For dinner we ate at a restaurant on Las Ramblas, the pedestrian promenade that goes from Plaza Catalonia near our hotel down to the coast. The restaurant, Louro, is up some stairs and towards the back of a building. The approach is not propitious but the restaurant, the service and the food were excellent.

We started with scallops.

For our main course Duke had octopus and I had turbot.

Turbot

For desert we had the house special cake.

The food and sangria were all excellent. The walk back to our hotel along the Ramblas was a perfect ending to a great day.

We are in Spain!!

Duke and I are at the start of a two month European adventure. Wednesday we drove from Reno to my daughter’s house in Walnut Creek. Thursday afternoon Allison drove us to Bart and we headed to San Francisco airport. We had a very comfortable flight from San Francisco to Barcelona on Level Airlines.

The plane that took us to Barcelona.
On our flight to Barcelona

Entry into Spain was easy. After they checked out passport we went through a check where we had to show our QR codes. A couple days before we left we had to go on a Spanish website and provide our vaccine details and flight information. It was reviewed and we were sent a QR code which proved we were good to enter Spain

We are staying at a very nice hotel a couple of blocks from the Plaza Catalana. After checking in we went up to the rooftop terrace. They have a wonderful view.

La Sagrada Familia from the roof of our hotel.
Duke on the roof of our hotel

Although jet lag is definitely closing in, We were determined to stay up until at least 10. we went for a short walk. It is interesting to see that everyone here wears a mask inside. When people aren’t wearing their masks they have them pushed up on their upper arm. Given that we have only been in Spain about 6 hours this is a small sample size, but there don’t seem to be many Americans here.

This sign we saw outside a pharmacy advertises covid tests for €8.50 and 50 masks for €10.

We had great steaks for dinner at Patagonia restaurant. They started us off with three breads and three sauces. Yum!

Bread to start.

Our steaks and wine were great too and the bill was about $90.

Dinner

Road Trip Day 18 – Cheyenne, Wyoming to Midway, Utah

This morning we visited the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne. The Capitol was built in 1888. Between 2015 and 2019 the building went through a major renovation. Part of the renovation was restoring the historic finishes. We got to see the result. Although the capitol is a relatively small building I thought it was beautiful.

The Wyoming Capitol Building
Interior of the Wyoming State Capitol

One kind of interesting detail is that when they scraped the layers of paint off the safes in the lowest level They uncovered old paintings.

Safe in Capitol basement.

Wyoming Territory gave women the right to vote in 1869. According to the guide they were the first government in the world to do so. The Supreme Court chamber is where this right was written into the state constitution.

Historic Supreme Court Chamber / Territorial House Chamber.

Wyoming was also the first state to have a women governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross. She was elected in 1924.

As we headed west from Cheyenne the smoke from California kept getting worse and worse.

Smoke at an interstate rest stop in north eastern Utah.

Tonight we are staying with Duke’s brother at his place in Midway, Utah.

Road Trip day 16 – Correctionville, Iowa to Grand Island, Nebraska

Today we visited the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln. It was completed in 1932. As you can see in the pictures it is a very different Capitol. The interior decorations were beautiful.

The Nebraska State Capitol

We also took the elevator to the nineteenth floor and enjoyed the view from the tower.

Garth Brooks is playing tonight at the Nebraska stadium so we couldn’t stay in Lincoln. We are staying a couple of hours west of Lincoln in Grand Island.