Monday morning and we are headed off to Montserrat for the day. It is located 62 kms north west of Barcelona. We arranged to join a tour for this day as just thought it would be easier, which it was! We took the metro to the north Barcelona bus station where we met our group.
About 40 people on the bus, but when we reached Montserrat, we were broken up into smaller groups….ours was a group of 18 and our guide was Marcel, a young Barcelonian. Montserrat – the serrated mountain – rises up dramatically from the valley floor. It definitely is a unique rock formation and has a mountaintop monastery. This place is special to the Catalan people as it is the centre of the Catalonian province. It is said that Catalonians must trek here at least once in the life. Marcel told us that when he was eighteen, he and a group of friends decided to take the trek out of the blue one night and they left late evening and arrived at Montserrat early the next morning. He then called his mother to come and pick them up….they could not see making the trek back as all of them had very sore feet. Looked at google maps and it says it would take about twelve hours to make this walk. Oh to be young….and foolish!
It is said that the first hermit monks built huts at Montserrat around 900 AD. By 1025 a monastery was founded and the slogan for the monks was ‘ Prayer and Work’. Legend has it that some young shepherd children saw lights and heard music coming from a cave on the mountainside. Once inside they found the Black Virgin statue (La Moreneta – the little dark skinned one). This made the monastery a pilgrim magnet. In 1811 Napoleon’s troops destroyed the monastery but the monks hid the Black Virgin statue. In 1830 the Spanish royalty dissolved monasteries and convents. In 1850 the monks returned with the statue. The revival of the Montserrat monastery coincided with the rejuvenation of Catalan pride…then along came Franco. To him, Montserrat represented Catalan rebelliousness. But after his reign was over, all things Catalan were important. Some rebuilding of the site took place in the 1990’s after a forest fire and some rain damage.
Once we reached the base of the mountain, we took a rack (cog) railway up to the monastery which is 731 meters above the valley floor. This is a Benedictine monastery which is still functioning and it also has a boy’s choir and school. The boys are allowed to be at the school till age 14. After that they need to go elsewhere for their schooling , as their voices change.
Upon arrival we stop to take a few pictures, then our guide takes us to a viewpoint to get a better idea of the setting of the monastery and to view Montserrat, the mountain.
Marcel tells us the history of Montserrat, then takes us to the Basilica which is a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance as parts that were destroyed during wars were rebuilt in different styles. The Black Virgin statue is in the church, but high above the altar and from our viewpoint looked golden not black. We did not pay extra or wait in line for hours to see the Black Virgin. Marcel told me that the tickets to see the statue are sold out two weeks in advance. It is said that one makes the pilgrim to see the Virgin and when leaving, lights a candle to hope that their prayers come true.
While at Montserrat we did some liqueur tastings. They were way too sweet for both Robin and I. I can remember all the liqueurs we use to drink after dinner parties; no wonder we had headaches the next day! I then visited the local cheese and honey vendors who are set up near the boy’s school. The vendor I chose to visit must have been related to the « soup Nazi » from Seinfeld. Here I thought to myself …why don’t I go see what kind of cheese that little old lady is selling….the other vendors were busy. I proceed to say ‘ Buenos Dias’. The response I get….and without a smile…is…you taste? Si Senora I say She says…you taste…YOU BUY! Ok, I tasted all the cheese she was selling to get my money’s worth, then I asked her to cut one of the pieces in half and I would buy it! By the way, all the cheeses were very tasty. Wish I would have taken her picture; but she probably would have charged me for that.
I always like to read more about places we have visited and I looked up the official web site for the Monastery. There is a section there ‘How to Become a Monk’. No real additional information there…if one wanted to become a monk, you would need to send an email. Just FYI in case any of my male friends are interested!
I always get a kick out of some of the stories that guides have to share when on these group tours; makes things interesting. Marcel talked about the ancient Royalty and commented that if one looked at their pictures, you would notice that their noses got bigger and their faces more distorted and eventually were not able to produce any heirs, as they were marrying their cousins! He then goes on to say that Catalan people are good at making money and they like political power; but unfortunately, they are also good at losing both! He tells us that the National Day of the Catalan people is the day they lost the war…how funny is that. When telling us the history of Spain and the Catalan people, he did speak of Franco and the oppression that people suffered during his reign. He said the best day was the day Franco died. He went on to say that ‘Cava – their sparkling wine used for celebrations’ was sold out for 2 weeks after Franco died. He says his Grandmother says she still has a hangover from those days!
He says the Spanish are good at making olive oil and wine. We certainly can attest to that; all the wine we have tasted, even that bought at the supermarket have been very good. He says the national sport here is ‘Siesta’…we have also had a few of those!
I had read that the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 created more awareness of this beautiful city and Marcel reiterated that. He said that Barcelona used to get one million visitors a year and now they get 18 million. I will have to correct Marcel if I see him again……the official tourism site tells me that Barcelona received at least 20 million tourists in 2019…yikers that is a lot of people!
We leave Montserrat by bus and head off to go to a winery for tapas and wine tasting. On the way, we pass a Benedictine convent and Marcel asks us what we see. Someone on the bus says they see a swimming pool and sure enough we see it, not a bad convent if one had to choose. Marcel says that he thinks the nuns wear ‘Nun – kinis’ to go swimming or maybe ‘No – kinis’. Ok……this guy definitely deserves a tip!
The wine tasting took place at the Oller del Mas winery. Our tasting was accompanied by some tapas. As in some of the restaurants where we have had tapas in Barcelona, the tapas are served with bread and one puts a tomato sauce on the bread to accompany the tapas. Very good.
During the wine tasting our group started chatting more as really had not had much opportunity during the tour in Montserrat. An english couple on one side of us had just finished a seven day cruise in the Mediterranean and on the other side a very young couple from Chicago. The english gentleman commented that amazing that after just a few sips of wines, everyone started chatting! The Chicago couple were only in Barcelona for five days then heading back home. We all toasted the English queen as today was her funeral. Many Commonwealth people on our tour…a couple from Australia, a few English couples and ourselves from Canada.
A DAY OF ROAMING AROUND BARCELONA
After a full day yesterday, started our day off by doing some much needed laundry. We always rent apartments that have a washer available. Put our laundry outside….not sure why I don’t do this at home; smells so much better.
We take the metro to the Barri Gotic neighbourhood to roam around and discover a little more of various areas of Barcelona. Our first stop is the Catedral de Barcelona, a 14th century Gothic style cathedral with a neo-Gothic facade. I kind of laugh at guide books. Mine tells me that this cathedral is unexciting and doesn’t even make the list of the top twenty cathedrals in Europe and yet devotes some eight pages to the description inside and outside. Nonetheless we did visit and took some time for contemplation/prayer.
In my research of Santa Eulalia, I find out that she was a thirteen year old daughter of a prominent Barcelones family and was martyred for her faith by the Romans in AD 304. It says that she was tortured and then crucified on an X shaped cross. Today all the pews in the church have an X.
We then continue our walk and come across The City Hall in Placa de Sant Jaume. It is in this square where all major events are held during holidays. This is also the square where the Catalan people celebrated the return to self rule after the death of Franco.
Within Barri Gotic is the Jewish quarter, but no synagogue here as it was destroyed in 1391, although it is said that some ancient remains exist. The remainder of the city’s Jews were expelled in 1492. This area has very narrow alleyways – pedestrian only walkways. Shops abound and I bought a pair of espadrille sandals and Robin bought a nice linen shirt.
Stopped for lunch at a bar where we could sit and watch the comings and goings of the street….good people watching. Quite funny, the young couple we met from Chicago on our tour to Montserrat, walked by so we chatted for a few minutes: small world. Every bar serves tapas, but I opted for mussels and Robin had a Bacalhau omelet. Got hooked on Bacalhau when we first went to Portugal several years ago. Had to laugh; they were playing country and western music in this bar. The waitress asked us if we had been to the Familia Sagrada yet. We said we had seen it on a previous trip and probably wouldn’t go back. Besides it still wasn’t finished….she said she didn’t think that it would be finished in her lifetime!
Bars also serve « pinchos » in addition to Tapas. Pinchos are small portions of food served on a small piece of bread with a toothpick through them to keep them together; while tapas are usually smaller portions of a main dish. We first came across Pinxtos (spelt this way in the north of Spain – Basque region) when we visited San Sebastian and Bilbao a few years ago. When you get pinchos you keep the toothpicks on your plate and you are charged by how many toothpicks are on your plate.
Keep meandering the streets and enjoy the architecture take in what is going on around us.
The Carrer del Bisbe Bridge reminds me of the Bridge of Sigh’s in Venice. This bridge was built in 1920 by a Catalan architect. Such lovely architecture in Europe.
Finally decide to head back home and catch the closest metro. We are mainly eating out at lunch time, but cooking our own dinners. Some prepared meals, but some cooking from scratch.
Robin and I were commenting on how inexpensive some items seem to be versus back home. When we were at the concert the other night, we each had a glass of wine after the performance which cost the equivalent of about $9 Cdn for both. At home, when we go to the opera or theatre, we usually end up spending about $25 for 2 glasses of wine. Also the cost of a latte and tea are way lower…about $3 for a latte here vs. $7 at home. Also fortunate that oat milk (avena) is readily available here. Also talked about the metro in general. For the most part, the stations and trains are clean and we feel very safe. Mask are mandatory here in Barcelona on trains and taxis. Don’t think this is monitored as probably 70% of people do not wear masks. We continue to wear our in stores, on the metro and wherever there are crowds. Dogs are also allowed on metro and they all seem well behaved. The dogs of favour seem to be whippets and dachshunds. Nice bottle of wine from Toni (property manager) when we got back to our apartment, nice touch!
BRAVA COSTA AND FIGUERES DAY TRIP
Up early this morning, Wednesday the 21st, as we are on a full day trip to the Costa Brava and the city of Figueres. We take the metro to our meeting place along the Passeig de Gracia, which is said to be like the Champs Élysées in Paris. Beautiful buildings along the major boulevard which is lined by trees. Gaudi’s Block of Discord and La Pedrera are located along this boulevard.
I booked this day trip to the Costa Brava as it was a small group; which is something both Robin and I prefer. Our group was made up of a young American couple from Portland, Oregon and a young lady from San Mateo. Our guide and driver was Giuilo, one of the owners of this small touring company.
Our first stop was the small fishing village and holiday resort of Calella de Palafrugell which was about 100 kms from Barcelona along the Costa Brava. It was pretty quiet here. Giulio told us that this town and two other small towns nearby, serve as holiday destinations for families and once the children are back in school, these towns basically close down, even the grocery store. One would have to use a vehicle to go to the closest town with services. We stopped for coffee and a small bite to eat and walked around the town on our own. A beautiful little town with some great beaches!
On to our next stop, which is the ancient village of Peratallada about 30 minutes inland. The name means carved stone and once you see how the town is built it is understandable. Peratallada is known for its beautiful old stone buildings, cobbled streets and passageways. Its proximity to the beaches and its numerous restaurants and small shops make it a popular destination. In researching the town I found out that the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was partly filmed on location here. Spent about one and half hours here including a lunch and an impromptu siesta on a stone bench!
On to our final stop of the day…Figueres, which was about one hour away and just minutes from the French border. Figueres is the birth and death place of the artist, Salvador Dali. The main attraction is the Dali Theater-Museum which is a work of art in itself. Dali had a large part in the designing the museum and he lived in one of the towers before his death. In addition to the art work, the museum also contains Dali’s tomb. Even the exterior of the building is a work of art. It is painted a dark pink/red and is studded with golden loaves of bread and the top of the building has huge eggs on it and a geodesic dome. The museum is called the largest Surrealist object in the world and yes, we can see that makes sense.
The museum has two parts – the theater-mausoleum where most of the art is displayed and the Dali Jewel’s. We didn’t even know that Dali had designed jewellery; but I guess not surprising when one sees how prolific and varied mediums he worked with. Quite a few people here and some of the galleries were a bit crowded. As Figueres is near the border, a lot of French groups visiting. When one first enters the gallery, you walk into a large courtyard which is overwhelming. So much to look at and take in.
It is written that Dali produced some of the most thought provoking and trailblazing art of the 20th century. He was born in 1904 and died in 1989. Our guide said that many people asked Dali if he took drugs for his inspiration and Dali denied the rumours. Guilio told us that he heard that Dali went to bed with a spoon in his hand and this helped him « surf » between that period of sleep and being just barely aware. He said this is where he got most of his inspiration. Haven’t heard that before but I commented that perhaps he drank Absinthe, which was a drink of choice of many artists of the day. For those of you who aren’t familiar with absinthe, it has often been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug and hallucinogen. Not sure that Dali used it, but really…..when you look at some of his work you have to wonder how on earth could he even think of doing this.
The following picture is a depiction of Mae West. When you walk into the room you see a soft couch, 2 portraits, something that looks like the front of a car with two lights. Then one climbs some stairs and you look down at this installation through some blond hair and voila….what you see is Dali’s tribute to Mae West.
Yes, we left the gallery and walked a bit through the town and had a cold glass of beer/wine. Met our group and drove back to Barcelona, which took about one hour and forty five minutes and some traffic issues getting near Barcelona. Back to our apartment close to 8 pm. A long day, but very rewarding. Please overlook my typos and any errors….all mine!