Saturday, November 24, 2007

Montserrat: a surreal experience

Before the trip to Barcelona, I have been researching low-keyed places to go outside the city. I know for sure that the busyness of Barcelona will dauntingly suffocate me, and it did. Don’t get me wrong, Barcelona is a wonderful city. The testimony that millions of visitors visit yearly makes Barcelona one of the most sought-after cities to holiday in the world.

Even on a low-season November, the throngs of crowds in La Rambla are inevitable and Gaudi would have risen up from his grave seeing the hordes climb up his unfinished minster masterpiece. Unfortunately, the action was too much for me to bear. I got cranky. I need my space. Inertia!

Our yellow cable car, Montserrat-Aeri that will bring us to the mountains.

This is the Benedictine monastery in Montserrat about +-700 meters above sea level. On the ground floor are shops and above it is a big square and the basilica.

There were a couple of options, Girona to the north being one of the strongest contenders in my poll of choices where the city of Dali, Figueres is nearby located. Tarragona and the valley of Nuria were runner-ups. The other option I was heavily leaning on is Montserrat, the mountains of the monks situated just less than an hour train ride from Barcelona.

I have seen fotos of the rock formations in Montserrat earlier on and fell directly in love with the place. Of course being 40 minutes away by train from the city – you take the train in Avenida Carillet station (this is the train going to Manresa), and a 5 minute cable ride called Aeri from Montserrat station to the Montserrat Benedictine monastery, this opportunity proved to be a real steal compared to the rest.

My German colleague who is a good friend of mine came with me together with his Dutch boyfriend. I did not mind going alone really but having 2 huge bodyguards with me I certainly won’t turn down! ;-)

Tickets can be bought at the Tourism office near Catalunya metro and La Rambla. It’s best to take the €32 combi ticket: train + aeri/cable car + funicular + museum + audio + lunch. Another option, instead of the aeri/cable car, is the funicular, which we didn’t take as we were drawn to the aerial experience and its views.

For €19 you can get a ticket without the lunch but €13 is nothing after a tiring hike up in the mountains and seeing the prices of food in the restaurants. The self service lunch package in the €32 ticket entitles you to 2 large plates + 1 dessert + drink, which definitely costs more than €13, unless you are penny pinching.

Lovely weather, cold yet sunny with blue skies! At my back in the second foto is the sculpture called - ‘Pathway to understanding’.

This is the inner courtyard of the church and as you can see everyone is standing, like in a trance, admiring at the great frieze artwork above the main entrance to the basilica.

In Montserrat lie the Benedictine abbey and the most famous relic of Catalunya, the Black Madonna. Entering the church’s inner square and sanctuary made me stop on my heels and ask the million euro question – how on earth were the monks able to build a church as magnificent as this on top of the jagged mountains? Trust me, up to this moment I am still searching for answers.

They also say that in Arthurian mythology this is where the Holy Grail is located - hmm, I would like to check this out further...

There are about +-30 Benedictine monks that live today in this abbey. These monks pledged the vow of chastity, obedience, and poverty. With the exquisite nature surrounding the place, I cannot see the point of poverty at all. As well as, these monks are already rich. The multitudes of pilgrims and tourists from all over the world that come and spend their monies here make their bank accounts swell like fat pigs.

This monastery is also world famous for its boy’s choir, Escolania that performs Gregorian chants at 1 o’clock sharp daily with exceptions in July and during holiday periods. We didn’t realize it was half past 1PM as we were mesmerized with the spectacular mountainous views outside. Who is there to be blamed? But too late now to check out the singing boys.

The basilica sells colorful sets of candles for the pilgrims to light on. On the second foto shows the magnificent interior of the church, which prompts me to ask, again - how did the monks manage to construct this monstrous and meticulously detailed designed church? Life must have been so complicated in the past.

The awe-inspiring view of the Benedictine monastery (now we know why the monks built the monastery here) from a couple of hundred meters above. We just want to go up, and up!

The Black Madonna on the other hand didn’t entice me a bit. The queue to get to her was too long, that it brought momentary flashbacks of my childhood days in Cebu - devoted patrons of the black holy child, the Santo Nino, lining up patiently along the candle lighted corridors of the Basilica del Santo Nino. As a kid, I was not really sure if I liked going to church but I was always eyeing the pink sugar spin candy in the church’s courtyard.

So I guess, one can surmise that I went to Montserrat because of its breathtaking display of nature. My most unforgettable experience in fact, which my German colleague couldn’t agree more, and he kept thanking me for inviting him along, was the hike through the serrated rock formations. It was glorious!

In its entirety, I was in AWE. I stood there admiring the dramatic work of nature. Just to stand between the amazing ancient rocks was already the perfect cherry topping for this weekend getaway.

The whole experience was kind of surreal. I was surrounded by massive rock formations 1,200+ meters above sea level. Below, I could see the valley; the houses looked like ants and the river that flows beneath looked like a tear drop that broke its course. The realization that the world is so big and we are so small always trembles me.

Me, my disheveled hair, and the rock formations near Sant Jeroni, the highest peak of Montserrat.

Temperatures in the mountains dropped to a 3C but the weather was so pretty, clear blue skies enveloped us and the sun was shining mightily, I got a tan! Hiking for hours surely got me a tan.

I read somewhere that these rocks even have names. Some of them were oddly shaped though while a few reminds me of a sexually stimulating object? On the first foto, you can see a previously (and abandoned) abode of these reclusive monks hanging by the cliffs.

When I arrived in Amsterdam Schiphol airport, Dutchman was waiting outside and he thought there was something different about me. At home he finally concluded – What have you been doing? You got a tan!

So I told him about my fantastic experience hiking in the jagged mountain cliffs of Montserrat with the perfect sunny weather. It was the best thing that ever happened to this (Barcelona) trip!

Dutchman frowned and said, “Oh... not for me!” - lol

To see my fotos, go here: Montserrat, Spain

Montserrat - so nearby to the city, yet when you arrive there, you are literally whisked away into a different world that is so, so far away.

Travel Period: November 2007
Destination: Montserrat (Barcelona - Catalonia), Spain

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