Our next stop was Valencia, and I could not have been more excited about this town. I just think Valencia is such a beautiful name. The architecture in Valencia is stunning. In Valencia, they have two common items at restaurants – paella valenciana and agua de valencia. Paella valenciana is similar to the paella that Natalie and I tried in Cartagena but the meat is chicken and rabbit. I’m not a ‘rabbit’ person, but Tony dug right in. And agua de valencia is an alcohol drink made of vodka, wine, and orange juice. It was quite tasty but not something I craved to have more than once.
The streets in Valencia are winding and narrow. It was difficult to find our AirBNB with backpacks and cobblestone, but we found it buried in old town and it was so cute. It was a loft where Julie and Natalie stayed on the upper level and Tony and I stayed on the lower level. We were in Valencia for two nights, and on the second day, Tony’s sister, Lucy, met us. She moved to Czechia about a year ago and we haven’t been able to see her since then. It was so delightful to have her join us.
Cultures are something that fascinate me. They ignite a spark in my brain and stimulate me in a way that nothing else can. Lucy was flying in to Valencia and we were messaging her to be sure she was able to get an Uber to meet us. Suddenly she stopped responding and we started to worry. Thirty minutes after her last message she casually walks up to the restaurant we were at, bags in tote, and greets us. Tony and I ask her, “Why weren’t you responding to our messages? We were worried.” She says, so casually, “Oh, I was just so excited to be a ‘warmer’ culture. The taxi driver was so nice to me, he wanted to chat, and he knew my language! The people in Czechia are cold and don’t want to talk with me.” Lucy is from Costa Rica, like Tony, and the culture is much like Spain – friendly, welcoming, and embracing. There are so many ways to live life…so many ways.
We also met a friend of Julie’s in Valencia. Jerome was from France and he and Julie had met in India on a month-long trip about two years prior. They had not seen each other since, and it was evident as soon as you saw them together that there is a special friendship there. There was a lot to catch up on and the conversation was vast, but so, so enjoyable. At one point, I sat at the end of the table and looked at the group of people in front of me – Tony and Lucy from Costa Rica, Lucy living in Czechia, Tony living in the US, Jerome from France, having met Julie in India, and by happenstance having a trip planned to Valencia at the same time we were there. I couldn’t help but think of the cultures molding and melting together at that table, and wanting so bad for the entire world to be able to experience the joy that can come from that. Oh, and we laughed, a lot – the thing I cherish most about being with others.
Our next stop was Barcelona. Almost all of us had been to Barcelona before, myself included, so this was especially strange for me. I rarely visit the same place twice. It was, though, a good stopping point on our road trip. And I’m glad I went back.
Before we arrived in Barcelona though, we stopped at two wineries on the way. I learned that Cava is similar to Champagne, just the Spaniard version. Both of the wineries were quaint and stunning. But, what winery isn’t?!
While in Barcelona, we were able to visit the inside of the Sagrada Familia. Thirteen years prior, I was only able to see the outside as the inside was under renovation. I can say with complete certainty that this is my most favorite cathedral (of those that I’ve seen).
We were also able to get turron, another common Spaniard food. Turron is a very sweet, almost chewy-like candy that is common in Spain. When I visited Morocco, I learned much about it and know that it originated there and not so much in Spain. None the less, the Spaniards have a really nice version of it and we were able to get enough to add to our Bueno collection in the car, and a few extras for our loved ones at home.
Our time in Barcelona was short, but mostly because we wanted to visit Andorra! Andorra is a tiny little country nestled in the mountains between Spain and France. It has all land borders and no water borders. Before we stopped there, though, we went off route a few miles to see Monsterrat. Monsterrat is a religious building at the top of a stone mountain, like most mountains in Spain. We took a funicular up to the top, and when we arrived, man was it cold!
There were street vendors with honey and cheese, both of which were so tasty, but I couldn’t bear the cold air. It was so cold there was snow on the ground and taking my mask off was just brutal. I found an indoor area and settled in with Tony while the others hiked further up the mountain. I just couldn’t do it.
Once we all settled back in the car and warmed up, we started again our journey towards Andorra. I’ll be really honest here – I fell asleep in the backseat for an hour. I was worn out (and the beds in Spain were not comfortable). There’s something so comforting about riding in a car and hearing the voices of your loved ones as they chatter. It was the best hour of sleep I’ve had in a long time.
When I woke, we were about 30 minutes from Andorra. We were taking very winding roads and going through tunnels. Snow covered the mountain peaks all around us. It was lovely. We crossed over the border into this country that has a population of 76,000. I couldn’t have been more surprised. In all honesty, we visited Andorra to check it off my list of ‘visiting all countries.’ We had just a few hours here, but I could have stayed a few days.
It was settled in a valley, mountains on both sides. It smelled like a wood stove fire, although unfortunately I think it might have been from recent wildfires. We saw a number of restaurants that we wanted to visit. We parked the car and ventured on our way. Once we got out of the car, we realized just how high up in the mountains we were. It was COLD! We found a really cute little pub and hustled in. They were closed until 7 pm. It was only 4 pm. Shoot!
The wind was brutal and there were indications that snow was coming with small droplets hitting our face hard and cold. Tony and I told the girls to bunker down in a shop and we would message when we found a restaurant. We walked, turned a few corners, and found a little pub, with no one else at the restaurant. We showed our vaccine cards and grabbed and table. And guess what? They had mulled wine! We had been searching for mulled wine all over Spain, but apparently it was too cold and sangria was much more popular. Up in the mountains of Andorra, though, it was the perfect way to warm our souls.
The drive back was dark but we laughed so hard, over and over. It could have been the wine, it could have been the warm car, or it could have just been all of us together enjoying life. It is my most fond memory of the entire trip.
Andorra is a place that deserves more than a day. Hindsight is always 20/20, but we should have spent two or three nights. In case you ever make it to Andorra…