It’s hard for me to believe, but this December will mark 10 years since my last trip to Europe. Ten years since I walked along La Rambla and wandered through the Barri Gòtic in Barcelona with Eulalia. Ten years since I reflected before the miroir d’eau in front of the Place de la Bourse and walked among the Sauternes vineyards around Bordeaux with Liam. And 10 years since I ate really bland fried chicken at a KFC in Andorra la Vella.
Yeah, that’s right, you foodie hipster scum. I traveled 5,789 miles to order fried chicken at a KFC, and I didn’t even take a goddamn picture.
So how did I end up at a KFC in tiny country that most people didn’t know existed? One, morbid curiosity. And two … well, just one. I kept hearing how McDonald’s and other fast food joints tailor their recipes and menus to appeal to local tastes, so I figured “Why not?” Well, judging from the lack of a spices, I’d say local tastes in Andorra run more toward the bland side, at least among their fried chicken preferences.
The answer to the meta question of why I was in Andorra in the first place is a bit more interesting than the fried chicken. While planning my trip, I was trying to find a way from Barcelona to Bordeaux, from northeastern Spain to southwestern France. If I remember correctly, there were no direct flights (no idea if there are now) and no trains (no idea if there are now). What was remaining for me was taking a shuttle van from Barcelona to Andorra la Vella, and then take another shuttle from there to Toulouse in France, and then a train, finally, to Bordeaux. (From there I had to huff it by foot from the station to the bar where Liam was working, but that’s another story.) Considering I probably won’t ever have the chance to visit this tiny bit of a country ever again, I decided to spend a night there and check out this capital city of Andorra.
The country is nestled in the Pyrenees mountains, sandwiched between Spain and France. Andorra is a country of 77,000 people (49% of which are ethnic Andorrans–not Andorians, you Star Trek nerds) and is the only country in the world where Catalan is the sole official language. It has a very unique governance structure–it is a parliamentary co-principality, where there are two co-princes: one is the President of France and the other is Catholic Bishop of Urgell (based in Catalonia). Yeah, that’s right–Emmanuel Macron is a friggin’ prince in Andorra.
Tourism is the main industry of Andorra. As a person can imagine, skiing during the winter is a major attraction. As a tax haven, banking and insurance contributes substantially to the economy, accounting for some 19% of GDP. Also being a duty-free country, shopping is a huge economic driver as well. I have never seen so many car dealerships condensed into one small area. (Keep in mind though that car dealerships in Europe are much smaller than in the US. There’s essentially just one test car for each model–you test drive it, order the spec that you want, and receive it in a couple of weeks.)
I arrived in Andorra la Vella in the early afternoon. The air was chilly and the sky was clear, save the few random cotton ball clouds. I checked into the hotel, dropped off my luggage, and went about exploring the city by foot. Hotels, restaurants, and stores of all types line the busy main streets, like the mountains that define the borders of the city. The city is a mix of old and new, modern structures side-by-side with old brick buildings, built on cobblestone sidewalks
It was this fateful day that the familiar scent of KFC fried chicken wafted by me, causing me to stop mid-step, crane my neck, and sniff the air. I made up for the disappointing experience with an excellent dinner that night, so I did try the local fare.
I left the next day in the mid-afternoon. It was starting to snow by time I got to the shuttle, and was coming down hard as the van made its way through the mountains. Soon enough, we entered the Occitanie region of France and I was on my way to Toulouse.
PS: I am sad to report that the KFC I was at closed down in 2014. But the city did receive a donation of a sculpture by Salvador Dalí in 2010 (I think) called the Nobility of Time. Dalí, KFC … meh, it’s a wash.