Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Country #104: Touring Lucky in Andorra.

T-Mobile recently up'ed their roaming game. Already my favorite for providing free 2G data and text messages in over 140 countries, they declared that all summer long, their users could access high speed data all over Europe. For someone with a very close relationship to Google maps, this was huge. As with most corporate absolutes, the announcement was then followed by an asterisk which led to a disclaimer that said "** Except Andorra. Apologies to the proud people of Andorra!"

Why the tiny 180 square mile country was singled out, while its French and Spanish neighbors were free to roam willy nilly is a mystery to me. I learned about this slight on my 2.5 hr road trip from Barcelona to Andorra la Vielle. I was using the BlaBlaCar app (think carpooling meets uber for long distance trips) and my driver, Marco, was a Spaniard who worked in a resort in Andorra but returned home every other week to see his girlfriend.

He gave me advice on what to do during this day trip, that honestly speaking, I was doing only because officially- and despite all reason- Andorra is its own country.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Girona: A girl has no guide

My first Game of Thrones fan tour led me to King's Landing and Qarth- or as nit-picking cartographers would call it "Dubrovnik". A new month meant a new destination and this time I made plans to go to Braavos. For those that do not have either (a)an HBO Go subscription or (b) way too much time on their hands, (SPOILERS APLENTY COMING UP) this was the place where that little badass Arya went to train with a cult of weirdo assassins. You might remember that most of her time was spent running through crowded markets while being chased by a crabby blonde chick with a stick. Either that or selling oysters.

I wanted to go to those markets. Turns out that all of those scenes were filmed in the Catalan city of Girona.  To get there, one could easily do a day trip from Barcelona (less than 1 hr by train) but the wee medieval town really does merit at least an overnight.  This is particularly true if you are hoping to transport yourself to Braavos (with a little bit of King's Landing thrown in). If that is your plan, you are going to need some time.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Brussels does Japan: The re-flowering

Two years ago, after a lot of planning combined with a dash of luck, I finally had a chance to see the Brussels' biennial flower carpet.  This is when the city of Brussels takes what is, in my opinion, the prettiest square in all of Europe and dolls it up with a couple million begonias.

Every two years, there is a different design.  In 2014, the theme had been a celebration of the Turkish rug. With its jewel tones and symmetrical pattern, the flower carpet was glorious.  The hotel I'd stayed in was both funky and fresh. The weather had been (mostly) good. Overall, it had been a great trip which I remembered fondly and mentioned every time someone brought up Brussels in conversation.

That is exactly what I did when a coworker told me she was thinking of going to Belgium.  Realizing that it was an even numbered year, I pulled out my phone to check for her when the carpet would be displayed.  It was that very weekend!  She was off the weekend after- too late for a carpet that is only on around for four days -but in a twist worthy of one of the crappier M Night Shyamalan films, I did have the next couple of days off.