Andorra to Avignon, Railing the Riviera & the Alps V.2

Arches in Avignon, France

A Day Trip to Andorra

It was a long, albeit relaxing, day and actually included stops in three countries—Spain, France, and Andorra. Tomorrow, we’d travel back into France again to tour around Avignon. Our first stop was in a medieval town in the mountains of Spain called Baga.

They actually had a marathon scheduled that morning, so there was music blaring and runners all over the place. We cheered them off and were left to grab coffee and wander the town on our own. Gorgeous mountain scenery, a beautiful church, and old alleyways scattered the town. It was a cool, relaxing, brisk morning mountain walk with coffee in hand.

Acrophobia Attack

This being said, I have an extraordinarily ridiculous admission regarding these little mountain towns—ever since Jeff and my excursion to the Altiplano in the Atacama last September, I have developed an uncontrollable and intense fear of high elevations.

For context—we stayed in San Pedro de Atacama at 7,500 feet for 48 hours before ascending into the Altiplano for an excursion. I felt a touch loopy and ditzy in San Pedro; Jeff even almost passed out at one point during acclimatization. And, yes, we did have a couple alcoholic beverages. I was waking up gasping for oxygen in the middle of the nights, which is typical.

The Altiplano features high-altitude lagoons at 13,500+ feet, something I was incredibly interested in seeing. I did a ton of research on altitude sickness and learned that it really doesn’t matter how healthy you are or aren’t, altitude sickness can strike anyone at any time. The only way to counter the effects is to descend immediately, and it can even sometimes be fatal.

Well, I was completely fine until around 11,500 feet. And, then, my lips started going numb, my hands got cold and clammy and sweaty, and I started hyperventilating. We went for a short hike out to a lagoon and I almost passed out right at the water’s edge. All I could think about the entire time was getting back to 11,000 feet and, literally, how I couldn’t breathe and the closest hospital was hours and hours away.

The Science of High Altitudes

The actual science is this: At 7,500 feet, you’re processing only 75% of the total oxygen that you’re breathing at sea level (i.e., Washington, DC). At 13,500 feet, you’re only processing approximately 50% of the total oxygen you’re taking in at sea level. The struggle is real. I was glad I went, glad I experienced it, glad I survived (as dramatic as that sounds), but ever since then, I’ve had this fear of higher altitudes.

It struck for the first time when we went on a weekend trip to Denver in April. Jeff wanted to take a day trip to the Rockies. I researched the altitude and almost had a panic attack right then and there because I hadn’t even been in Denver for 24 hours. Denver’s altitude is not that high, but the Rockies is upwards of 11,000 feet.

We went to Colorado Springs, instead of the Rockies (which is actually a higher elevation than Denver), and I spent a good portion of the afternoon in panic mode. I did the same today, knowing I was going into the Pyrenees and, eventually this trip, the Alps.

Andorra is also not that high in elevation whatsoever, so all of this is completely ridiculous. I’m the girl who goes swimming with sharks on my honeymoon, taunts tarantulas in the Nevada desert, and laughs at scorpions falling out of Jeff’s pants in Capri.

I’m not the girl that cries at going into the mountains. And I’ve gone into high altitudes a thousand times without a thought in my head—Montana, the Canadian Rockies, Alaska, the list goes on. I dunno. I’ve become a total chickenshit in my old age, I guess. One freak-out and I’m scarred for life. …I love the mountains, too. One of my favorite landscapes.

View from Aix Les Thermes, France

On To Andorra

After Baga, we headed towards the tiny French town of Ax-les-Thermes. This little mountain town supposedly holds the healing powers of thermal waters. You can dip your feet into a town fountain and it will heal whatever ails your body. (Fear of altitude?)

It was a nice enough town, but Jeff and I have been to a zillion small European mountain towns, so we thought we’d have a drink, some lunch, and chill. After, we headed off to Andorra.

Andorra is a relatively new country and it actually has two princes—one Spanish and one French; they take turns ruling each year. Right now, the Andorran prince is none other than the French President Macron. It’s famous for a couple things, namely being tax-free (Cigarettes for 1–1.5 Euro! Liquor. Clothing. Chocolate.).

And for being a haven for large amounts of “mysterious” money. Either way, tiny country. Small towns. Skiing and shopping only. We made three stops in Andorra. Sadly, I can’t remember the names of the towns, but I do remember that we stopped in the capital, Andorra la Vella. Eh.

We also stopped on a town that reminded me of the “Sound of Music.” Surely, more where that came from when we visit Liechtenstein. Lots of mountains, rolling hills, quaint homes. Peaceful.

Mountains in Andorra

An Evening In Barcelona

We took a different route back to Barcelona, and stopped at a roadside cafe for Cava, which is basically Spanish champagne. Good. Very good. Dry. My fav. Got dropped off in town and walked a short distance back to the hotel where we had some small apps and a couple of drinks.

The festival we’d seen the prior couple of days was still going on and, sure enough, more fireworks were going off towards the end of the night, causing a few people here and there to run off in a start. We ate and drank and watched as the police paced around the plaza with fingers ready on the safeties of their service weapons.

Jeff said he was nervous they had their fingers on the safeties; I said I was nervous when they took them off. It’s all how you perceive it, I guess.

News From The United States

To add to this relaxed, but strange atmosphere abroad, was the obvious stateside news we learned about today—the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia during an alt-right protest.

Do people look at us and think this is who we are? How do we best represent true American values while traveling? What must the international community think? These questions distress me.

The world is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people, who’ve been so inviting to us in our travels. And I’d hate for others to think of us as anything other than open and welcoming in return. The America in the news is not who I am.


Off To Avignon, France

To say that I was completely exhausted this morning doesn’t even begin to explain it. I stayed up until almost one blogging, reading the news, and trolling Facebook reactions to Charlottesville. I attempted to wake up at six so I could relax with my coffee as I normally would, but I just couldn’t will myself out of bed that early.

So, I got up at seven and rushed around, which I generally hate doing. Showered, packed, had breakfast, and taxied to the train station. While waiting for our taxi, Jeff looked at me and asked, “What would we even do with another day in Barcelona, anyway?” I shrugged and said, “Lay out on the beach with only my legs visible,” to which he chuckled. Even that’s not really an option because I’m not a big fan of sand.

Why Avignon?

Today, Jeff and I are headed to Avignon via Nimes. It’ll be the longest train ride of our trip, but it’s really still not that bad. Three and a half hours, plus a half hour for the second leg.

I don’t expect Avignon to be a huge city with an overwhelming amount of things to do, rather a nice, historical little town in southern France that we can stroll around in and have some down time for an afternoon.

We researched several towns in southern France to stop off in—Nice, Cannes, Toulouse, Marseille, Saint Tropez, Nimes, Aix-en-Province. Avignon was the final choice. The right size, the right amount of distance between stops, the right amount of interest for us, etc.

Arches in Avignon, France

Navigating The Barcelona Train Station

After navigating Barcelona Sants, the central Barcelona train station, we decided that we’re finally train station masters (knock on wood). I credit Jeff for this one since he had it figured out before I even had my bearings. I literally couldn’t even read the board he was pointing to because I’m blind as a bat. Even with corrective lenses.

One thing we weren’t counting on (and, actually, I haven’t ever encountered this at a train station before) were security screenings. The lines were long and we were a little concerned we hadn’t left ourselves enough time. Everything turned out fine, though.

My husband later congratulated me for “throwin’ ‘bows at the lady with the baby” in line. Sounds terrible, right?

I Didn’t Actually “Throw Any Bows”

To clarify—there are no lines for security in the Barcelona train station. It’s basically a free-for-all. And a woman with a stroller was completely blocking the security entrance while she was packing and/or re-packing everything she owned. This is where I make several attempts to politely move around her before blatantly stepping over her and all her stuff, while making sure to be careful of her child.

After this, she kept ramming her stroller around either side of me trying to edge to the front of the crowd, while her family took photos of her and her baby from the outskirts of the crowd. I don’t have time for your family photos. No ma’am. I am a single person with a book bag clearing security, and you are a person with a baby and all that that entails.

My heart goes out to you and all because I can’t imagine that’s easy, but I can clear security in two seconds. You will 100% take ten minutes plus. And I have a train to catch in five. I think you should let me pass while you get your whole situation sorted out, no? Si.

The Way To Avignon

The train ride was pretty straightforward. I slept and blogged. Half our car was filled with unsupervised teenagers being obnoxious, overexcitable, and oversexed. They listened to music without headphones and sang together.

The boys desperately tried to be fun and/or cool for the girls and the girls giggled coyly and just whispered amongst themselves. Seemed innocent enough, but after three and a half hours of it, I was ready to murder someone. Couldn’t get off the train fast enough.

For all the times I’ve been to France, I’ve yet to visit southern France and I found it really interesting that the train traveled what’s basically an isthmus up the coast to Nimes. The landscape got super sandy with wispy grass and little inlets began to appear on either side of us with small sailboats dotting the water.

Who knew France had trailer parks, too? Not I. I don’t recall having seen trailer parks in France before, but they’re there. Made a quick transfer in Nimes for another half hour to Avignon. Pas de problem.

An Afternoon In Avignon

Once in Avignon, we walked from the train station to our hotel, which pretty much ended up being the length of the entire town. It’s a charming town with a little square and a double-decker carousel in the middle. Cafes line the square and periodically mist customers under canopies. It’s literally upwards of ninety degrees Fahrenheit in Avignon, so every time it misted, I was in heaven.

Was excited to use my French, as bad as it may have been, to get some stamps for some postcards for my baby niece and little nephew. Proud to say the shop owner actually understood me and I even had a back and forth conversation with them. Usually, I can remember some initial language, but once someone replies, it’s all downhill from there. Guess today was my lucky day.

Window in Avignon, France

Sightseeing In Avignon

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and went to check a few sites off our list. Saw the Papal Palace and a couple of churches. Seven successive popes actually stayed at this palace at one point in history.

Saw the Pont D’Avignon, which is actually kind of stupid because, for one, it’s a bridge that goes nowhere (it’s literally half a bridge), but secondly, they charge you to get on the bridge that goes nowhere. People were up there, though, so it’s a thing, but I’m not paying for it. I’ll stay down here and look at it, thank you very much.

Jeff and I had fun wandering the little cobblestones alleyways. We took some tough stretches of stairs that were a little hard on El Jefe’s knees and my… everything. After that, we decided it was time to reward ourselves with gelato. …As though anyone actually needs a reason for gelato. Gelato is a human right.

Palais des Papes in Avignon

Lavender & Donkey Milk

Stopped at some shops on the way back to the hotel, where everything was lavender-this and lavender-that, of course. I don’t hate lavender one little bit, so I was having a fine time, but we did come across something a touch strange.

I’ll have to Google this or consult with with one of my French friends for clarification, but this soap shop was advertising donkey milk. Yep, you read correctly: donkey milk.

I stopped and smelled a thousand soaps and aromatherapy oils at this shop. When I asked Jeff if he’d been to the back of the store yet, he flatly replied, “Yes, but I’ve yet to find this mythical donkey milk. I have to find it.” It was right behind him. And, I guess it’s just soap made of donkey’s milk. And soap made of donkey’s milk in the shape of donkeys. Maybe it’s extra moisturizing? Or anti-aging? Who knows.

Anyhow, tomorrow we’ll be heading to Monte Carlo in Monaco via Nice. Neither Jeff nor I have been to Monaco, so this will be another newbie for the both of us as well.

I’m a little excited for our hotel. It’s right on the water, so it should be kind of fabulous. We usually get pretty lucky on our trips and get nice upgraded hotel views and that, but not so much yet this trip. Maybe because it’s peak season and we’re usually not traveling in peak season. Either way—tomorrow, on the water. Until then, friends!

Basilique Saint Pierre in Avignon, France

Avignon to Monaco

Wow. Is it only Tuesday? Awesome. I feel like I’m halfway through a vacation already… but I’m not! Woot woot. I actually expected today to be kind of calm and relaxed (which it was), but it was a touch more exciting than I gave it credit for.

Nothing particularly exciting about the morning. We got breakfast in Avignon and, as we were checking out, Jeff pointed to an animal statue on the concierge desk and said, “chat.” (“Cat” in French.)

I looked at him blankly and replied in English, “it’s not a cat, it’s a fox.” To which the two hostesses behind the desk laughed out loud. “Renard,” one of the hostesses said. (“Fox” in French.”) Needless to say, the moment provided much amusement for all parties involved.

The Train Ride to Monaco

Jeff and I strolled through Avignon to to train station. The only train station I know that literally has two baby castle turrets at the entrance of it. Stopped off at Temple Saint Martial, where we found a gorgeous garden and even a “Jordan-sized” door, as Jeff put it on Facebook.

I mean, I think this says it all—this temple was meant to be my home. I was meant to just set up camp in Avignon forever. But I already paid for tickets to Monaco, so… off I go.

I caught some z’s on the train. Jeff likes to say I have “carcolepsy” on our road trips, which also translates to “planecolepsy” and “traincolepsy.” I mean, I guess he’s right—I hop on a mode of transportation and I’m instantly a goner. Medication-free, too. It’s completely legit. It comes in handy for overnight, international flights. So, yeah… I slept for a couple hours again.

When I woke up, I noticed a distinct change in landscape. Avignon is lots of white rocks and sand, with wispy shrubs and trees. When I woke up in Cannes, it was steep, red rock, all shrubs; the wispiness was gone, and it was a little more severe of a landscape. Still beautiful, but severe.

And just different. We hopped off at Nice for our connection to Monte Carlo. Little did we know our train to Monte Carlo would be completely packed and the doors would start closing on the train before even half the crowd had even boarded. People just held the doors open and continued to push their way on. When in Rome…

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