Breakfast at the Hotel Sèquia Molinar also turned out to be rather good although it was a boisterous and noisy affair because several families were using it as a Saturday morning rendezvous and competing chatter and conversation took the volume way above acceptable European Health and Safety levels.
It turned out that this was a Saturday morning gathering of family and friends who intended to go off hiking into the mountains because apparently Catalans like sociable company and communal picnics in high places and will walk all morning to get to a favourite secluded spot. I began to worry that if they were meeting here to go off for a walk then our car would be blocked in and we would be stuck here for the day but the hotel staff assured me that this wasn’t the case and as soon as we were ready to go they would ask them to move their vehicles – and they did!
Together we have a plan to visit all of the countries of Europe and so far we have visited thirty out of fifty and today we thought that there may be an opportunity to add another because a look at the map seemed to suggest that Andorra was close enough for a day trip. Actually this rather pointless objective seems to be getting tougher because every time I check there seems to be a couple of new countries that I have never heard of and to be honest there are two or three that we probably wouldn’t especially visit anyway. At least if Catalonia or Scotland ever achieves their objective of independence then we can legitimately say that we have been to both of these.
And so we set off and once through the town of Ribes de Freser the problems started as the road crumpled like a piano accordion and soon we were swaying from side to side and climbing dramatically into the Pyrenees. I rather enjoy this sort of motoring but there were several hazards to negotiate which turned this into a roller-coaster white knuckle ride which required one hundred percent total concentration and attention.
Natural hazards of course because I didn’t want to fall off the side of the mountain or get a falling rock through the windscreen because I was almost certain that sort of damage was excluded from the vehicle insurance, but also other road users, cyclists who insisted on riding two or three abreast, thrill seeking motor bikers who were driving at full throttle in the middle of the road, more crazy local drivers taking massive overtaking risks whenever there was fifty metres or so of straight road and then a herd of cows who were rather reluctant to give way as they made slow progress stopping frequently to graze at the verges.
The first thirty kilometres took almost an hour and a half and we were barely half way to Andorra when we pulled into a car park with a panoramic view of the mountains and the valleys that seemed to go on forever and we had short debate and agreed that this whole journey was just too ambitious and that we were looking at probably four or five hours of the same so we turned the car around and went back the way that we had come. Andorra it seems will have to wait although a friend who visited at more or less the same time told me that in his opinion we hadn’t really missed very much so on that recommendation it might now have to wait a very long time before we cross it off the list.
It was rather tedious making the return journey through Ribes de Freser and then Campdevànol but it would have been a great deal worse if we had tried to carry on so we were both pleased with our decision as we drove through Ripoll without stopping and then picked up another mountain road through the Garrotxa Volacnic Zone and past the town of Olot. This road was thankfully straight and undemanding and just after lunch time we arrived at our next stopping point, the town of Besalú which was lazily baking away in the wilting heat of the afternoon sun.
We found the Hotel Three Arcs and the receptionist told me that we could ignore the traffic restriction notices that seemed to suggest that the place was pedestrianised and bring the car into the main square but I was nervous about this because it involved driving over one of those solid steel retractable bollards that rise up from the centre of the road.
I was worried in case it raised up without warning and the CCTV cameras would catch the moment and I would forever be shown on television repeats of the Spanish equivalent of ‘You’ve Been Framed’ or ‘America’s Funniest Videos’. I could sense that a local driver behind was getting impatient so I had to go and I revved the engine and popped the clutch, spun the wheels and dashed across as quickly as I could. Nothing happened – the bollard stayed down of course and people sitting at a bar probably wondered why I had set off as though I was an Italian driver at a set of red traffic lights.