22 August 2010

Adventures in Andorra with the Mysterious Italian Bikers

Although I have spread my wings and left the Italians' nest after a week, we have kept in contact, emailing back and forth, making several shopping trips for the new apartment, and now, a trip to Andorra in the sidecar of their motorcycle!

I donned a magenta helmet and climbed into the sidecar, Luigi revved the engine and cranked up Duke Ellington, and Cetina lithely mounted behind him, dressed in a miniskirt and black boots. We set off through the streets of Toulouse, passers-by staring at us. I must admit I enjoyed the attention. To be part of their world, even for one trip, was like being in a film. I laughed out loud at the sheer craziness of the situation. One week prior, I was friendless and windowless in Toulouse, crying my eyes out... Look at me know! Not only do I have a visa and a new apartment, I'm riding in the sidecar of a motorcycle, careening through the Pyrénées mountains with two mysterious Italian authors!

Setting off from Toulouse, we were very soon in the mountains, a breathtaking sight to behold, even without snow in the heat of summer. We paused for a quick paella in a tiny French village in the mountains, and were soon in the tiny nation of Andorra.

Landlocked between France and Spain, Andorra is the 6th smallest country in Europe, known for being a tourist attraction and a tax haven. The reason behind our trip, I came to learn, was that Luigi wanted to restock on duty-free cigarettes. Catalan is the official language, although French and Spanish are widely understood.

I must admit that I was disappointed by the tawdriness of the cities of Pas de la Casa and Andorra la Vella (the capital.) The appearance of the shops and architecture was very cheap, and dare I say, UGLY. Framed by the majestic Pyrénées, these cities seemed ridiculously out of place. However, if you can spend as little time as possible in the cities, and immerse yourself in the savage natural beauty, Andorra is a paradise of jagged rock formations, green hills, and an abundance of precariously perched grazing sheep and goats wearing bells around their necks. This is easily some of the most dramatic scenery I have ever seen in my life.

The complicity of Cetina and Luigi is admirable. They have no need to communicate with words. They clearly are accustomed to spending hours and days at a time on the road, and of course conversation is impossible with the roar of the motor. And yet, observing them, they are in constant contact. A touch of a gloved hand, a pointed finger, a nod, a gesture indicating a desire to full over... they function seamlessly. Dressed head to toe in black, speaking French in rolling Italian accents, they truly belong in a movie. The sturdiness of Luigi is complemented by the delicate frame of Cetina, whose long curly hair is untamable even under a helmet... there is an artistic quality that I recognize in these two, and one of these days I will have to paint a watercolor portrait of them.

After a long day of hunting for duty free cigarettes, motorcycle accessories, and fuel, we shared a lovely meal (and several sangrias between Cetina and I) in Andorra la Vella before heading back to Toulouse. While most bikers have a reputation for being speed demons, Luigi drove steadily, handling hairpin turns with grace. A gentle rain began to fall, but I felt secure enough to drift off to sleep, despite the blaring blues CD and roaring motor.

It's amazing the difference a few short days and a few amazing new friends can make for one's morale. I am feeling more confident about my new life in Toulouse.

Cetina and Luigi serve a much higher purpose than simply renting me a room for a week. Whether they realize it or not, they have saved me from my own self-doubts and despair. What may have been just a cigarette run for them has been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.


  1. I work in Ax-les-Thermes and I think I saw you three on the road up to Andorra.
    Nothing interesting indeed in Pas de la Casa unless you're looking for good sales on spirits, tobacco, motorcycle accessories and clothes, etc...
    July has been rainy and with the sun back, we've been having LOTS of tourists jamming our narrow streets.
    Come early in the morning, and you'll be able to visit hot springs and medieval roman country churches.

    Thanks for your great posts.



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