Have you ever seen the movie “Night at the Museum” or “Mannequin”? Did you read the recent news-story of the man who lived at Ikea for a few weeks while he was displaced? Have you ever wanted to sleep overnight at a store or a Broadway theatre; perhaps living out your own odd Phantom of the Opera experience?
I have had those same thoughts and even came close trying to enact my own night at the shopping center when I went to visit the country of Andorra. Andorra, you ask? Yes, I went to visit the small nation of Andorra, and why not? Actually, we may refer to it as the Principality of Andorra –which is nestled at top of the Pyrenees peaks.
Yes, Andorra is the 6th smallest country in Europe (for American reference, it is a fifth of the size of Rhode Island-so, that is small). It has a population estimated to be 85,082 (even our least populous state of Wyoming has way more than that); yet Andorra has over 10 million tourists visit annually. Wow. Talk about not being able to avoid a tourist. Us, New Yorkers thought we had it rough at mid-day? That ain’t nothing compared to the tourist/native ratio in Andorra. Why are there so many tourists there? Skiing. Duty-free shopping. Low taxes. Skiing. Duty-free shopping. Low taxes. Got it? Now, why did I mention Ikea and Night at the Museum in conjunction with Andorra. See, Andorra has over 2000 shops – more than one for every 40 inhabitants. And, they are huge!
The country is just one big shopping mall that you can ski across, or eat and drink your way through, if you should be so inclined.
While living in Spain, I made a short visit to Andorra so that I could extend my Spain visa for a year. I did not know anything about Andorra at the time. We were dropped off and told to enjoy ourselves. I entered what I call supermarkets but they could have ostensibly have been upscale Costcos or BJs for that matter. See, Andorra makes its income from being a gateway to Europe for skiing and cheap alcohol, cigarettes (and Europeans love those cigarettes), perfume (again, Europeans love, love perfume as showers are short in nature), and electronics. High cost items tend to be cheaper there than anywhere else because of the low tax.
Here are some other peculiarities to Andorra. Its agricultural production is limited—only 2% of the land is arable—and most food has to be imported. Yet, the people of Andorra have the 4th highest human life expectancy in the world — 82 years. They must be eating well somehow! Or perhaps it is all the skiing and shopping. The capital city of Andorra la Vella is perched at an altitude of 3,300 feet. Because of its geography and small population its one university functions mostly in a virtual world. In 1993, the first written Constitution of Andorra established the independence of the principality. The country does not have its own airport. If you want to go there, I recommend visiting Barcelona first and then bussing it over to Andorra for a day or two-day trip. A few years back, Andorra was noted as being one of the happiest places on earth. This happiness is partly due to its great healthy habits and also due to the fact that it has not been at war in over 700 years.
Oh, yes, they also have a lot of cheese. And anyone who knows me, knows cheese is my weakness and happy point. Goat and sheep cheeses predominate in these high altitude regions, the terrain being too rough to support large herds of cows. Which is way cool with me. You also get a lot of ham here-especially the Jamon Serrano. There is a shopping complex called Pyrenees (quite literal of them), that showcases all sorts of great local food specialties. There are also tons of red wines, but I am much more of a white wine person. But, to each his or her own. So, I stick with cheese and ham. Could that be the secret to their longevity and good health, hmm? Did I mention they have a lot of chicken dishes? I am not too sure why that is.
All this to say, that you can just sleep overnight in a supermarket of this little known land of Andorra and run amok with cheese, wine, electronics and you will probably only bump into another tourist quite drunk out of their mind. Happy Andorran Trails!