We woke to a bright and sunny day in beautiful Barcelona. Our tour was set to start at 9 am sharp, and we needed to meet the tour group at the old Post Office, so we easily grabbed a taxi right out front of the hotel. After a bit of a wait, we met our mini-bus and our tour guide, Christian. We can’t say enough good things about Barcelona Day Tours and our wonderful guide. The photo to the left shows the Columbus Column, pointing out to sea. He left Barcelona in 1492… and sailed the ocean blue…. and discovered…. Puerto Rico! Anyway, we boarded the bus and headed through the city and then up towards the monastery, Montserrat.
Please remember that you can click on any of the photos to enlarge them!
Before leaving Barcelona, we drove up onto a hill where we could look over the entire city.
David snapped a picture of us, high on the hill…
And then it was off to Montserrat. As I recall, Montserrat is an important area for Catalonians for three reasons. 1. Religion 2. Recreation 3. Mushroom hunting. Okay, number 3 may not be totally correct, but our guide did say that he used to come up here with his family in search of the elusive and apparently delicious wild mushroom – or was it “magic” mushroom? :) Looking back into my diary, it was an hour and a half drive from the city, high up into the mountains outside of Barcelona.
Montserrat is named for the serrated mountain tops that are visible in this photo. We were also told by our guide that in honor of this special place, “many girls are named Montserrat here in Catalonia”. I didn’t think it sounded very feminine, and sort of doubted him, but just last night we were watching a program on the Biography channel about Freddie Mercury. You may or may not remember Freddie towards the end of his life, singing a song he wrote with an opera singer named “Montserrat”. The song was titled, “BARCELONA”.
Here we are, looking all happy and enjoying our surroundings. This was before my near-death-experience which truly changed the course of this trip. Shortly after this happy photo was taken, our guide gathered the 14 of us up and we began the hike up to the cathedral. It was warm, and before long the scarf that appears in this photo was stuffed into my purse. We passed many stalls of locals, selling handcrafted cheeses, honey, and other foods. And then, suddenly the stairs loomed in front of me. Hey, I’m not a wimp. I live with pain every day of my life… but I was a bit vain and didn’t bring my cane along on this first tour. There were about 40 stairs, quite steep…. and by the time I got to the top, I was so out of breath, my heart was pounding, and I was sweating like crazy. I remember thinking, “this could be the big one”. I had no chest pain or any thing like that, but I sure felt horrible. After we climbed those nasty stairs, it was more uphill walking until we finally reached the cathedral. I love old churches, but I was feeling so weak and weird and sweaty that I couldn’t enjoy this one as much as I wanted to. I sat in one of the pews for a while and prayed for strength to go on! It really was a beautiful place.
I thought I might be croaking when I snapped this shot of the entrance to the cathedral. Then we entered and were treated to this glorious sight. As I said before, I was soon joining some of these folks having a rest and a prayer.
We learned that many people come to Montserrat to give thanks to the “Black Madonna” for something she has done for them. The line up was VERY long to file past the Black Madonna. Next is a photo I took showing the Black Madonna holding the Baby Jesus. You can see what appears to be a father and his small child going past the statue. They (like every one else), touched the Madonna and thanked her for an answer to a prayer. We were told that the line ups are longer on the weekends, and we were there on a Saturday.
For more information on the Black Madonna of Montserrat, you can click here. I was still feeling weak, sweaty, and just plain yucky as we left the church and made our way back down the stairs and past the open air stalls where people were selling food. We bought bread at the bakery (yep, Montserrat has it’s own bakery!) and two types of cheese from the vendors. After a good hearty drink of lemonade and some bread and cheese, I finally began to feel like I was going to live. I honestly don’t know what happened to me. Was it the heat? The stairs? Whatever it was, I never felt this way again – thankfully. I now wish we had tried the national dessert of Catalonia – a type of cheese (sort of like cottage cheese we were told) covered in local honey. Next time, I guess :)
Next stop was Parc Guell, a place originally designed as a housing district, but now is a park. The creator was the famous Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi. Our guide suggested he would lead us on a 45 minute walk through the park. I suggested to my husband that I’d be skipping that walk! We did enter the park, and sat in the shade of an umbrella while sipping a cool drink. I was just starting to feel human again and didn’t want to be out in that hot sun, so most of Parc Guell remains a mystery to me. We did learn a lot about Gaudi, who is truly Barcelona’s most famous citizen. He certainly left his “mark” all over the city… and his style – which is VERY
odd unique — was one I grew to greatly admire. Here’s David, getting us a drink at Parc Guell.
Onward to the most famous site in all of Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia. The Basilica of the Sacred Family, designed by Antoni Gaudi. We’d heard and read quite a bit about this place, but to be honest, from all the photos I’d seen, I thought it was a really strange, strange piece of architecture. The church from a distance —-
Looks just like a brown, spiky mass of mud. Not to be sacrilegious, but it sort of resembles a giant wasp or mud dauber nest. And then. And then you get closer and it begins to take shape, begins to make sense.
The closer you get, the more amazing this building becomes.
It’s NOT just a mass of brown mud. There are amazing sculptures everywhere, all depicting a part of the life of Jesus Christ. Gaudi was a devoted Catholic and began this Basilica in 1883. At the time of his demise in 1926, it was only one quarter of the way done. The goal is to have it completed by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. I could go on and on about this place – there is SO much to look at on the outside. Our tour did not include a visit to the inside of the church, that would have to wait until another day! We concluded our day-long tour, said goodbye to our fabulous guide Christian, and returned again exhausted to the hotel.
That evening we went to a small, sort of out of the way restaurant not far from the hotel called “336″. Here’s a photo I took of the English menu.
The “menu of the day” turned out to be a great deal! We got CAVA, bottled water, half a bottle of wine each, bread, an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert, all for around 20 Euro. Not bad for a Saturday night in Barcelona! Again I failed to snap a photo of the food, but we all had the Cod. It was delicious. The chef himself actually came out of the kitchen to ask us if it was prepared to our liking. Very pleasant fellow!
We sat outside and enjoyed the wine, the food, but most of all, the company.
That’s my CAVA, front and center above. It’s a lot like champagne. After dinner it was back to the hotel for another good rest in that amazingly comfortable bed. The next day we would say goodbye to David, and have our own little adventure.