a convoluted day at montserrat & dinner at bubo with some tennessee natives

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
Surprise surprise
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.

first view of Montserrat from the train
first view of Montserrat from the train

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.

view of Montserrat from the train station
view of Montserrat from the train station
the wrong train station
the wrong train station

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!

It's 2:26 already!!
It’s 2:26 already!!

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.

the cable car at Montserrat
the cable car at Montserrat
up, up and away
up, up and away
view from the cable car
view from the cable car
heading up
heading up
and up
and up
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat

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.

basilica
basilica
the square at the basilica
the square at the basilica
inside the basilica
inside the basilica
inside the basilica
inside the basilica
ceiling decor
ceiling decor
corner arches
corner arches
bordering the square of the monastery
bordering the square of the monastery
the monastery
the monastery
statues in a niche
statues in a niche

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.

Spanish ham sandwich
Spanish ham sandwich
the founder of the monastery
the founder of the monastery
founder of the monastery
founder of the monastery
along the path
along the path
another statue in a niche
another statue in a niche
wrought iron gates
wrought iron gates
the monastery at Montserrat
the monastery at Montserrat

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.

Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
me at Montserrat
me at Montserrat
me at Montserrat
me at Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat

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!

Montserrat
Montserrat

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.

arc de triomphe in barcelona
arc de triomphe in barcelona

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.

tapas
tapas

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.

Ben, Reid and Pam from Tennessee at Bubo
Ben, Reid and Pam from Tennessee at Bubo
Bubo
Bubo

Across from the cafe is the Santa Maria de Mar Cathedral;  I went inside here during my first day in Barcelona.

Santa Maria del Mar
Santa Maria del Mar

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.

gelato
gelato
gelato
gelato
sign for gelato
sign for gelato
Montserrat
Gelato 🙂

my itinerary for spain: here’s what i’ve got so far…

Tuesday, June 11:  I’ve planned my time in Spain, but, so far, I haven’t even begun to think of Portugal.  I know I better start thinking about it soon because I have to fly out of Lisbon on July 25.

Here’s my itinerary so far.

June 28-July 3: Barcelona, Spain, including Montserrat.  I’m staying at BCN Fashion House: (bcn fashion house)

I decided to skip Madrid altogether.

July 3-6:  Toledo, Spain.  I’ll be staying at La Posada de Manolo. Last summer when I was traveling in Greece, I met an inspiring South African lady, Marie-Claire.  She had come to Greece after traveling all over Europe, but especially in Spain and Portugal.  She highly recommended I stay more than one day in Toledo.  Since I have a small group tour lined up in Andalucia from July 6-12, I booked 3 days/4 nights in Toledo.

July 6-12:  I will head straight from Toledo to Malaga Airport, where I will meet Tour Andalucia: Tour Andalucia: Villa Tour

The small group tour includes the following:

  1. Meet at Malaga Airport and subject to arrival time, spend a few hours in Mijas, a lovely mountain village overlooking the Mediterranean, then travel and check in to the Villa.
  2. Breakfast and travel to Seville. Visit the Santa Maria Park to see the amazing Plaza Espana, the site of the American Exhibition of 1929. Walk from the park past some of Seville’s most historic buildings to the Barrio Santa Cruz. Wander through the narrow lanes of the Barrio and take a delicious tapas lunch ‘Seville style’ in one of the lovely small Plazas. In the afternoon visit the largest Cathedral in the world followed by the fabulous Alcazar, one of the oldest Royal Palaces in Europe. An elegant City, Seville was once one of the wealthiest in Europe.
  3. Breakfast and travel to Ronda. One the way, we stop at the historic site of Teba Castle, scene of a famous battle with the Moors. In Ronda we walk you into the town and leave you by the magnificent bridge over the gorge to explore and sightsee on your own. Maybe take a ride around the old town in horse-drawn carriages and wonder at the sheer magnificence of the town perched along the cliff top of the Tajo gorge. Wander through the elegant narrow streets of the old town and visit some of the magnificent houses and the museum of Ronda. Visit the famous Ronda bullring home of the Matador and the oldest in Spain, now a museum.
  4. Breakfast and travel to Malaga. On the way we visit the spectacular El Torcal National Park. Set high in the mountains there is a 45 minute walk through the amazing limestone formations. Arriving in Malaga at lunch hour we go to one of the great value seafood Chiringuitos by the sea. Sample fantastic sardines barbequed on an olive wood fire next to the Mediterranean. We take you into the centre of Malaga near the Cathedral and leave you to explore the town, maybe visiting the magnificent Cathedral, the large Moorish Alcazaba and Roman Theatre. And don’t forget the Picasso Museum since Picasso was born locally and his parents’ house is now the Picasso Foundation and open for visits.
  5. Breakfast and travel to Cordoba. We walk through the old City Walls and into the pretty Barrio San Basilio and see one of the typical patios that Cordoba is famous for. The Royal Stables shows us some of the famous Andalucian horses in a lovely set of buildings. Onto the Christian Alcazar, nowhere near as grand as Seville, but designed in the Mudajar style, a fusion of Moorish and Christian Gothic and the scene of famous historic events including the planning of the voyage of Columbus. The 1,000 year old Arab baths built for the Caliphs remind us of a society long gone and we wander through the Juderia visiting the old Jewish Market & the Synagogue. A great tapas lunch in the Bodega Mesquita followed by the highlight of the day, the spectacular Mesquita, the greatest Mosque in the Western World and the only one with a Cathedral right in the centre of it. The famous Puente Romano bridge awaits demonstrating why Cordoba was the capital of the Roman empire in the Iberian Peninsula.
  6. Breakfast and travel to Granada. Normally the highlight of our tour, we walk into the Bib Rambla, part of the old Silk Market and now the Flower Market of Granada. Here we suggest you sample some of the best Chocolate and Churros in Andalucia. Walking through the square we pass the Bishops Palace and walk into the Alcaiceria, the well-preserved old silk market. The Royal Chapel, commissioned as the burial site for the famous ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Ferdinand and Isabella, is now a museum and worth a visit. The beautiful Cathedral is one of the lightest inside that you will see. Have a light lunch and then we drive up to the Alhambra to spend a few hours wandering the gardens and buildings before entering the amazing Nasrid Palaces. After the visit we drive around the City and up to the top of the atmospheric Albaycin where we have dinner at Jardines de Zoraya who host an excellent Flamenco performance with local talented young musicians and dancers. A five-minute ‘after dinner’ walk takes us to the viewing point at San Nichols where we see the beauty of the Alhambra lit up at night set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
  7. Breakfast and, subject to departure flight times, we visit the historic City of Antequera, home of the impressive 5,000 year old Dolmens and the first Alcazaba to fall in the reconquest of the kingdom of Granada. Return to Malaga Airport.

July 12-14: After my tour, I’ve been invited to spend two nights with Marianne, and her husband, of  East of Málaga …. and more!.  She lives in the countryside (el campo), in a beautiful area east of Málaga, known as La Axarquía.  I’m really excited to meet a fellow blogger who now makes her home in the south of Spain.

July 14-25:  Heading to Portugal.  I think I will try to rent a car in Malaga and just take off toward Portugal, ending up my last four nights around Lisbon.  While in Lisbon, I want to go to Obidos and Sintra, both highly recommended by my friend and fellow traveler, Marie-Claire.  I also want to explore the Alfama in Lisbon.  No specific plans for Portugal yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something before I leave Oman. 🙂