Away From Barcelona: Montserrat

Well damnn, what a day! Decided to take a break from the city and go to Montserrat, a local sacred mountain that is home to a famous monastery. Took a train from Barcelona, then the rack train up the mountain, straight to the monastery. We were a bit unfortunate, yet again: both the cable car and funiculars were shut down for February.

We wandered around the church, later sitting down to hear the local famous boy choir that performed three songs accompanied by the strange organ with pipes sticking out of it at a straight angle. The church itself is beautiful, standing out with its hanging lamps, each of unique design and style. It was a very peaceful place, and I wished we came earlier, with no tourists that kept chatting, snapping pictures and putting their feet where others kneel. But I mean, that would be hypocritical of me to say that, for I am a tourist all the same, though I tried to watch my feet.. After the songs were over, we hurried to join the line to the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Montserrat, a little wooden statuette that was discovered by shepherds in a nearby cave centuries ago. It was interesting to hear the story, because from what I remember there’s one just like that in Mallorca – I visited the year I graduated high school five years ago, and we went on a tour to that other monastery, also in the mountains and also with their own statuette and mystical discovery story. It’s also a place of great energy and great queues. We’re lucky to be visiting here in winter, after all.

The statue all went black in the course of the years; although it still seems strange to me that only the skin of the figures looks black. It’s all under glass, just like Mallorca, with only a tiny part sticking out. Behind the figure there’s the prettiest little chapel, a little treasure for my taste, with marvelous stained-glass windows that fill the room with warm light. I would’ve stayed there much longer – it was empty and quiet, with tourists wandering in but leaving quickly, but mom is such a typical tourist. She walks in – she sees it – she’s out. I’m always surprised at how little time she manages to spend in art galleries in comparison with me. She’s always running forward whereas I like to take my time and stop for a while and take things in. But we all have our own sightseeing styles.
We went to the art museum afterwards – there’s one next to the church, and it holds a wonderful collection of art, although our bad luck struck again, for the most prominent works at the time were moved to some fortress for a temporary exhibition, including all Monets, Dalis, and Picassos. Eh! The entrance is not free, unlike the church and the cave church. By the way, there’s also a huge supermarket on the way from the rack train where they sell lots of Catalan delicacies and souvenirs. I got some olive oil dark chocolate! Yum! There’s a farmer’s market as well, where all the merchants were able to offer us to try their cheese (each one “the best in the area”) in Russian.
Then we faced a dilemma: I really wanted to hike. The hike to the top of the mountain was to take approximately 2,5 hours, and of course I couldn’t do this to my mom. I could go down with her to see the Sancta Cova, a cave where the statue was discovered, and back, but then it would be too late to hike. Well, after all I chose not to be an asshole and not make her go back to Barcelona on her own. We started our walk down to the cave, when suddenly I saw a sign for a hiking route down to the city, saying “1,5 hours”. I took a note in my mind.
We reached the cove via a scenic route, with sculptural compositions from Christ’s life along the way – very exquisite pieces of art, and obviously well-cared for. The church built around the cave was empty, and we didn’t spend long there. On the way back I pointed at the hiking trail and half-jokingly offered to give it a try. To my surprise, mom was down – and we started our way. I knew we had to go fast as it was to get dark soon.
The path was steeper than I thought, very much like most of that trail to Lion’s Head in Cape Town. Mom coped nobly, jumping down these rocks. The views were breathtaking, the air fresh and moist, and we got color in our cheeks. The trail was of the kind when you have to move quickly for the sake of balance, and I had to activate my maximum attention mode – although it’s been  4 months since my unlucky sprain, my right ankle still isn’t fully functional. But we made it – me with my ankle and mom with her bad hip (and recent foot surgery). We almost yelled “hallelujah” when we made it to the highway, but then realized we still had to get to the train station, and all we saw was that exact highway. Half an hour and one wrong turn later we reached the top of the hill where the train station was located, and thankfully we walked out of the building on time to see that our train stopped farther – these Catalan trains open and close their doors in a matter of seconds. Stop – doors open – count to five – doors closed. If you didn’t make it, well, you wait for the next train. Same with the metro.
If you’re doubting whether Montserrat is worth spending a day and some money on, I’d say – go, you won’t regret it. Bring some snacks (I’d suggest sangria, ham, cheese and bread), come early and hike to the top to enjoy the view (but not in February, otherwise you’ll have to walk all the way down as well because the funicular is closed). From Barcelona, take the local train from Placa d’Espanya – make sure to get a return ticket, it’ll save you money. The ride takes about an hour. If you decide to go by the rack train rather than the cable car – the first being cheaper – you’ll need to get off at the second Montserrat stop, not the Montserrat Aeri. That’s it!
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