Monday, July 1: Sometimes all my travels go smoothly, just as planned and right on time. Today isn’t one of those days. For one, I get a very late start on my day. I sit on the lovely patio and eat a leisurely breakfast, drink several cups of coffee, work on my blogs, answer emails and chat with a little boy who’s here with his family from McLean, Virginia, who decides to sit with me. I finally get out the door around 11 a.m. and am on my way to explore.
I’ve decided to go to Montserrat (Serrated Mountain), 50 km northwest of Barcelona. I’m not doing a tour, so I have to figure out the logistics on my own. That’s a very risky business.
I ask the receptionist at the hotel what to do and she mentions, or at least this is what I hear, that I need to take the metro to Sants Station. I head to Plaça de Catalunya, the center of everything in Barcelona, and I see a sign for Tourist Information. There I buy an all-inclusive ticket to and from Montserrat for 26.60 euros. That includes, though I don’t notice at the time, the metro ticket, the train ticket, the cable car ticket and two funicular tickets. It also includes very specific instructions about metro stops, times of trains, really everything I need to know. But. Do I read the instructions? I’m never one to read instructions and this is where I get into serious trouble!
I proceed to the metro station where I clumsily try to figure out how to buy a ticket for metro. It’s not too complicated; I buy it for 2 euros and hop on metro, where I zip straight to Sants Station, by passing the Espanya stop. I get out, walk for what seems like miles to get out to the train station, and look in vain for the train to Montserrat. Finally, I ask Information and she tells me I should have gotten off metro at Espanya station, which I already passed. So, I stupidly buy another metro ticket to go back several stops to a place I already passed for another 2 euros. At Espanya, I go outside to a big square and look for a train station, but I can’t find one. Finally a policeman on the street points out a small nondescript elevator with an R5 sign that I should take to go to Montserrat. Nowhere do I see any signs for Montserrat!
I then hop on the train to Montserrat, which runs approximately every half hour. It’s about an hour ride. During the ride, I listen to Brett Dennen on my iPod Nano, “Surprise, Surprise:”
Open up your eyes
It’s happening all around you
If it hasn’t found you
Well You know it’s just a matter of time
What do you think the world owes you
It’s not the way it’s supposed to go
Well you know It’s just a matter of time
I finally look at all the instructions and what my ticket included, and see, much to my chagrin, that it included the metro ticket (for which I paid 4 euros!) and instructions about getting off at Espanya station. Ouch.
Now that I have read the instructions I see there are two stops for Montserrat. The first, Montserrat Aeri, is the stop to take the cable car up to Montserrat. Since my ticket includes the cable car, that’s my stop. The next stop on the train is Monistrol Montserrat, which is for the rack railway ride up. I pay close attention, frustrated with myself for wasting so much time already. When the train approaches the Montserrat Aeri station, I stand by the door, ready to spring out. The train stops. The door doesn’t open. I wait. Then the train continues on to the next stop.
I look around for someone who speaks English. A young lady tells me I should have pushed the button on the door to open it at the station. I didn’t even see a button! I take the train to the next stop, where I get out. But apparently, my cable car ticket is not interchangeable with the rack railway ticket. I have to wait 4o minutes at the Monistrol Montserrat station to catch the train back in the other direction to the Montserrat Aeri station. Luckily, I’m not the only foolish person who has made this mistake. Another group of Americans (I guess because we’re not European, we don’t know these things) was also waiting for the door to open and missed getting off. We’re in this mess together. We’re out in the middle of nowhere, and all we can do is wait.
Finally, at 2:41, the train arrives. Did I really waste 3 1/2 hours to get this far?? We take the train back and all stand perched by the door ready to break it down if the door doesn’t open. We actually have to push the button several times for it to open and believe me, we’re all sharing a bit of panic at that moment!
Finally, we take the steep cable car up to the Monastery where we can see the unusual rock formations that give Montserrat its name of “Serrated Mountain.” The 1236 meter-high mountain of bizarre rock pillars is shaped by wind, rain, and frost from a mixture of limestone, pebbles and sand that once lay under the sea.
Benedictine Monestir de Monstserrat was founded in 1025 to commemorate a vision of the Virgin on the mountain. Wrecked by Napoleon’s troops in 1811, then abandoned as a result of anticlerical legislation in the 1830s, it was rebuilt from 1858. Today about 80 monks live in a community here. Pilgrims come to venerate La Moreneta (The Black Virgin), a 12th century Romanesque wooden sculpture of Mary with the infant Jesus, which has been Catalonia’s patron since 1881. (Lonely Planet Spain)
The 16th century basilica is the monastery’s church. The basilica’s facade, with carvings of Christ and 12 apostles, dates from 1901.
I eat a Spanish ham sandwich before I take the funicular up to Saint Joan’s. It’s so funny to me how I’ve hardly eaten ham at all in two years since pork is haram, sinful, in Oman and in all Muslim countries. Here in Spain, practically every dish contains some form of ham or sausage. I wonder if this is a reaction to their years of Muslim rule.
I take the funicular up to Saint Joan’s but I don’t walk all the way up to the chapel. I just walk on a web of pathways along the top of the mountain to enjoy great views. While walking, I meet two nice ladies from California, Kathy and (I think) Mary Ann. We chat for quite a bit. They’ve been a week in Barcelona and will be going on a cruise all next week.
At about 5:30, I take the cable car back down the mountain. I don’t want to take any chances trying to catch the last cable car down at 6:30. Not after the day I’ve had so far!
When I arrive back in Barcelona, I take the metro to the Arc de Triomphe station where I can see, guess what? The Arc de Triomphe.
A friend of mine on Facebook highly recommended that I try out a cafe called Bubo near the Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral. I find the cafe, order una cerveza and a couple of tapas: Cocas (puff pastry) with tomato, onion, Havarti cheese, dates and ceps (mushrooms) and goat cheese croquettes with tomato jam. After sitting there awhile, I also order a Spanish omelette with a single cherry tomato.
While enjoying the whole cafe vibe at Bubo, I get into a fun conversation with Ben, Pam and Reid from a small town near Chattanooga, Tennessee. They have been on a trip that included Morocco prior to coming here. They tell me how they went on an overnight trip with Bedouins on camels, and they gave names to the camels. I am so happy to have met these really friendly folks. Pam works for the Rotary Club and Ben is a builder.
Across from the cafe is the Santa Maria de Mar Cathedral; I went inside here during my first day in Barcelona.
As I walk back to my hotel, I stop at a gelato shop and order caramel cinnamon gelato on a sugar cone. Yum. What a perfect top-off to a convoluted day.