It began with an absolutely horrible day traveling and ended learning some really great things about a region I knew next to nothing about.
Joantxo Llantada, the marketing maestro who set up the Formula 1 Blog Trip, arranged for me to travel around Spain for the next month by contacting various regional tourist boards. The start of my Spain trip was going to be in Catalonia. On Wednesday I set out from Valencia and took the 7am flight to Barcelona where I would rent a car and then drive up to Andorra.
After taking a side trip to the Poblet Monastery south of Barcelona (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) my rental car broke down. The transmission, or to be more accurate the clutch, just stopped working and I could no longer shift gears. The car was just off the exit of a highway roundabout where larger trucks were coming in at full speed.The car also chose to die in the early afternoon when most businesses in Spain are closed, so I ended up having to walk about 3-4km to the police station in the town of El Vendrell, where I could find no one who spoke English.
Thankfully, my broken Spanish managed to get the job done and I called Avis and they sent a new car out to me and picked up the old car. Total time wasted on everything was about 5 hours. Read my previous post about dealing with the unexpected while traveling if the idea of having a car break down on a highway in a country where you don’t speak the language frightens you.
Once I got back on the road I drove up to my 100th country, the Principality of Andorra. It is actually a lovely little place. I went hiking in the Madriu Valley, visited some of the old iron mining and forging operations and also got to witness a session of the Andorran parliament.After Andorra I had a quick stop in the town of Sort, which is the canoeing and kayaking capital of Spain, before heading on to the Val d’Aran, which is the Vail or Aspen of Spain. The most interesting thing I learned there was the existence of a language called Aranese. The Val d’Aran is part of Catalonia, but it is to Catalonia what Catalonia is to the rest of Spain. The valley opens to the north, so they have traditionally had more exposure to France and hence the language which is a type of Occitan language spoken in France.
From the Val d’Aran I headed to the Val d’Boi where I visited several of the Romanesque Churches of the area (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) and spent a bit of time in Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park. It is a small park, but very beautiful with many glacial lakes high up in the mountains.
Today I’m back in the car where I head to La Seu d’Urgell by way of Peramola and then tomorrow I should be driving to Girona where I was about 2 months ago. On Thursday or Friday I should be flying down to Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
What I’ve been readingThe period of time in American history from the end of the Jefferson administration to the beginning of the Civil War is one which is often overlooked. Daniel Howe does a great job detailing how important his period was and how much it shaped America.
Topics include: why John Tyler might have been the worst VP pick in US history, Polk and the Mexican War, Monroe’s vision to conquer space (not outer space), rise of religious movements like the Mormons, the rise and fall of the Whig party, the rise of partisanship under Jackson and Van Buren, and much more.
After visiting Istanbul last month, I had a desire to learn more about the Byzantine Empire, of which we are taught very little in the west. Lars Brownworth’s book is a great overview of the rise and fall of the Eastern Roman Empire. Most people think the Roman Empire fell with the sack of Rome in 410AD, but in reality it continued for another 1,000 years until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks. In fact, it wasn’t until the 19th Century when the inhabitants of modern Greece began referring to themselves as Greeks rather than Romans. At no point during the Byzantine Empire did anyone ever refer to them as Byzantines. I think one of my next books will be on the Ottoman Empire, of which we are taught even less.