© 2009 Stefan Gruenwedel

Barcelona Day 2

We weren’t so sure how long the good weather was going to hold out, so we decided to do something totally outdoorsy today while it there was some guarantee of sunshine. It was also midweek and we figured a place like the Abbey at Montserrat might be visited more heavily on a weekend.

Gothic cloisters set against the rock

View of Gothic cloisters set against the rock

Considering the various modes of transport required to get there, we felt that purchasing the Tot Montserrat ticket was a great deal for 36,95€. Purchased at the tourist office at Plaça de Catalunya, it includes the Metro ride to the Plaça d’Espanya train station, round-trip travel to Montserrat mountain via commuter train, and finally a steep “rack railway” ride up to the monastery (elevation 4,055 feet). It also includes lunch in the cafeteria, a visit to the museum (which we didn’t have time for), an orientation audiovisual show, and (perhaps best) a ride on the almost-vertical (62-degree incline) St. Joan funicular to the tippy-top, where there was a fantastic view of the whole complex, and the valley below—as well as various hiking trail heads.

We were worried for awhile en route because dark clouds suddenly descended and rain pelted the train’s windows. We saw ourselves having a miserable time at the summit. Even though the sun came back out, the dramatic clouds remained with us throughout the day. (As we learned later, the rain didn’t spare Barcelona.)

Dramatic clouds at Montserrat

Dramatic clouds at Montserrat

Large 16th-century basilica to explore with its impressive golden interior and self-guided tour of various rooms that lead eventually to...

Large 16th-century basilica to explore with its impressive golden interior and self-guided tour of various rooms that lead eventually to...

...the Black Virgin (patron saint of Catalonia)

...the Black Virgin (patron saint of Catalonia)

While there, we attempted to shoot a successful “dramatic tourist shot” for the Just Back From series in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday Travel section. (Bet they’ll ignore it, just as they ignored our photo entry from Macao.)

Dramatic tourist shot at Montserrat monastery

“Dramatic tourist shot” at Montserrat monastery

At the summit there was a nature exhibit at the terminus of the funicular. Several trails departed, including one to a shuttered chapel and—even further up—ruins of older structures where hermits apparently lived until Napoleon’s troops hunted them down “like wild goats,” per our guidebook.

Funicular ride up to a summit overlooking the monastery

Funicular ride up to a summit overlooking the monastery

St. Joan’s chapel, built in 1893, and the site of a restaurant in the 1970s!

St. Joan’s chapel, built in 1893, and the site of a restaurant in the 1970s!

Site of the old hermitages

Site of the old hermitages; apparently there was an orchard in the vicinity, way back when

The view of the valley from here was fantastic; it’s definitely worth the detour from the main tourist attraction below. The vista wouldn’t have looked out of place in California—something I’ve thought about before on our trip here. I bet much of the California landscape looked familiar to the Spanish settlers who arrived three centuries ago.

Back at the monastery, as we waited for the rack railway to take us back down to the town in the valley, we visited the gift shop and marveled at the all the “artesan” chocolates, honey, infused liquors, etc. for sale. Seems the monks have lots of time on their hands to concoct all manner of treats.

The chocolate bars were particularly thick and heavy. Unfortunately, the consistency of the chocolate (which we opened only after our vacation ended) was not the best. We are used to smooth, dark chocolate; this stuff was tough and chalky, like all the other chocolates we bought in Barcelona. Seems to be their style—but not ours.

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