Chapter Four: Montserrat & Montjuïc

IMG_2209Chapter Four: Montserrat & Montjuïc

Day Four – The Human Alarm Clock, The Train In Spain, Mountain Basilica, The Near Shutout, Like A Virgin, Going To The Chapel, Incense & Peppermints, Direcció Barthelona, Lunch At The Bullring, Cascading Fountains, A Nacional Treasure (Part Dos), Joan Of Art, Oh She’s A He, Tracy’s Favorite Piece Of Modern Art, Public Transportation, I Finally Need A Siesta and A Beautiful Restaurant Find

At 3 a.m. we were awakened by a deafening downpour, so I assumed that Montserrat would be a “no go” for the morning, but I had the alarm set early just in case.  Sure enough, I was wrong.   By 6 a.m. the skies had cleared. Montserrat was on.

P1010388I called Kim and Mary’s room at 6:30 to give them the good news. As Mary would later remark, “Who needs an alarm clock when you travel with Tom?”  I’m not sure that was a compliment.

Getting your train tickets to Montserrat is a piece of cake (or on this morning, a piece of pastry).   A taxi dropped us off at the Plaça d’Espanya train station. The very friendly and helpful people at the information booth told us how to purchase our Montserrat tickets. The booth opens at 8 a.m.

We ventured over to the machines, and since ticket machines and myself have not had the best of times together, we were fortunate that there were some guys in red coats who helped us retrieve our tickets. The train left at 8:36…sharp!

1 Mont TrainThe train ride is about an hour and it dropped us at the Aeri de Montserrat stop where it was time to take the cable car (the Sant Joan funicular was not running when we arrived) up to the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey.

P1010386The beautiful views kept my mind off the fact that we could plummet to our death at any moment.

1 MontWhen we exited the cable car, it was a short walk up to the Abbey.

1 Mont 3The courtyard we entered has incredible views of some crazy rock formations. It looked like the “Cars” ride at California Adventure.  Montserrat means, “Serrated Mountain.”

P1010389Truthfully, we enjoyed the exterior surroundings here as much as (or even more than) the Abbey and chapel.

P1010391It really is an impressive sight to see.

P1010392We were greeted by the sculpture representing St. Benedict created by Domènec Fita.

P1010432                                    1 Mont 1

Occasionally our tour guide (me) makes little mistakes. I thought it did not open until 10, but it had been open for a few hours before our arrival at 9:50 a.m.

P1010395It almost cost us a chance to see the big highlight here.

1 Mont 5                                   1 Mont 6

There was no rush, or so I thought.

1 Mont 7We casually took some photos inside the basilica while the scent of incense permeated the air.

P1010404I harkened back to Mary dubbing me the “human alarm clock,” but all I could think of with this incense smell was the Strawberry Alarm Clock.  All we were missing was the peppermint.

P1000169By sheer power of deduction (and looking up), we thought the incense smell emanated from some cool looking holders (I think they’re called censers) above us. Of course, they might have just been for show, and The Strawberry Alarm Clock was really going to play at an upcoming mass.

P1000174The Basilica was damaged during the French Wars (1808-1814), and reconstruction did not begin until the end of the 19th century.

At about 10:15 we spied a number of people queuing up to the side of the Abbey.  I was told that it was the line to go upstairs to see La Moreneta (the Black Virgin), and no one would be allowed in after 10:30 because mass was about to start. Tuscan Tom started sweating because it would not reopen until 12:15, and we had plans to be out of here by then.

We immediately rushed to get in line (I believe that old woman I pushed over has recovered by now…only a flesh wound), and the tour guide standing right behind us said it looked bleak, and we would most likely be shut-out. However, at 10:25, the door opened and we were among the last few people to be escorted inside.  Clean living baby!

P1000187Walking up the stairs, there she was…the Black Madonna.

1 Mont 8She is ensconced in a protective glass case, but if one so desires they can reach through a small hole to touch the “Orb Of The Earth.”  I was about to sing, “Like A Virgin, touched for the very first time,” but immediately realized the pilgrims lined up here would not think that very amusing.

P1000195After seeing the Black Madonna, we entered the beautiful Camarín de la Virgen (Chapel Of Our Lady).

P1010417We enjoyed this intimate space…

1 Mont 9…more than the large Basilica.

P1010416As we wandered about…

P1000194…the gorgeous stained-glass windows lining the chapel stood out.

P1010418                                               P1000196

The services, already underway, served as the Genesis for our Mass Exodus. P1010421Outside, there were seemingly hundreds of votive candles.  Kim and Mary lit one for some friends back home who had lost a child a few years back.

1 Mont 11Above the candles was a mosaic of the Black Madonna.

P1010420Mary (our concierge and team doctor) described something she was reading to our scribe, Tracy.  We all had nicknames.

P1010428Back outside, it was blue skies, nothing but blue skies did we see (ok, maybe a few clouds, too)…

1 Mont 2…and the photo taking ramped up even more.

P1010429If I were to return, I would skip the Abbey next time and hike around the area (I would have done that if we had one more day here).

P1010430Oh well, a good reason to come back to Barcelona.

1 Mont 12We paid a visit to the bronze statue of the founder of the monastery, Abbot Oliba.  We said a quick, “Hey Abbot” to him as we passed by.

P1000207The statue was created in 1992 by sculptor Manuel Cusachs.

P1000208The Abbot is holding plans depicting the early church at Montserrat in his left hand. With his right hand, he welcomes everyone who comes to Montserrat.  I asked Abbot, “Who’s on first?” but there was no answer.

P1010444We all voted to skip the Abbey museum.

P1000204                                     P1010431

Travel democracy in action.

1 Mont 14                                     1 Mont 13

It looked like they finally got the funicular working, too.

P1000213Flowers were blooming, but now it was time to depart.

1 Mont 10                                                    1 Mont 15

On the cable car ride down…

1 Mont 16…we caught a glimpse of one of the chapels…

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…which you can hike down to see.  “Next time,” I thought.

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I took one last zoom photo of Montserrat as we neared the bottom.

P1010454Back at the Aeri de Montserrat stop, nice Kim became evil Kim for the first time since our 2012 Dordogne Font de Gaume adventure.  There he handed me a pen and forced me to pretend (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) to write on a sign outside the cave…

FD7K05…and then Kim did some photo manipulating back home to make it seem like I was actually writing “SDSU” on a bison on the cave wall inside, which, if we actually did that, would be a capital offense…and rightfully so.

ImageWell, at the station he gave me a pen, and I pretended to write on the sign that said, “Direcció Barcelona.”

1 Mont 17When we returned home, Kim once again did his post photo magic, and it looked like I wrote, “Direcció Barthelona.”  Then we sent the photos to friends who were appalled with our bad behavior until we told them it was a fake. As stated previously, maturity is definitely not our strong suit.  Most disturbingly was witnessing how gray I’ve become in the past few years (I’m sure when Tracy reads this she’ll start singing, “You’re So Vain”).

1 Barth 18We took the train back to “Barthelona,” and headed in search of lunch…and what better place to have a meal than a converted bullring.  Hey, I wouldn’t steer you wrong, so you should have no beef with the following.

2 BullVirtually across the street from the Plaça d’Espanya train station is the Las Arenas Barcelona, a former bullfighting ring built in 1900.  In 2011, Catalonia (wisely in my opinion) banned bullfighting, but many of the arenas, like this one, began falling into disrepair long before the ban (it last hosted a bullfight in 1977).

In 2011, after being fully renovated, Las Arenas Barcelona opened back up as a shopping center with a multitude of stores and restaurants. The first week it was opened it attracted 300,000 visitors…no bull!

P1010458The exterior of the building is called neomudejár, which was a 19th century revival of Moorish architecture according to an article I read. In any case, the most important aspect of this facility was that it had food.

P1010462We dined at Lo Botiga Arenas on the top floor.

2 Bull 1There are many restaurants and food choices in this shopping mall/arena and our meals were good (including my very tasty gnocchi).

P1010460Afterward we walked around the top floor looking out at the great views…

P1010461 (2)…including one of our next destination.

P1010459The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (Catalonian National Museum Of Art…MNAC) is housed inside the Palau Nacional, which was constructed in 1929 as a centerpiece of the International Exposition. Its location is on Montjuïc Hill.

3 art 2They were going to destroy the building after the exposition, but thankfully in 1934 it became the home to the collection of Catalan art. We walked over there from the bullring.

P1000216Before you even look at the impressive structure, what first catches your eyes are the fabulous fountains.

3 artThese Magic Fountains also have light shows at night throughout the year. Yet another reason to return.

IMG_2209And who needs Niagra when you have these waterfalls?

3 art 1The cascading falls made for some nice photo ops (I see a Christmas card in our future).

P1010473Looking at those falls, I thought, “ Damn, I forgot to bring that barrel with me to go over them.”

IMG_2211The views back toward Barcelona from the top were spectacular…

P1010474…and when it was time to enter we pulled out our Articket BCN and into the museum we wandered.

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Our first stop was the Romanesque section. The museum is touted for having one of the world’s best collections of Romanesque and Gothic art, and I won’t quibble with that description.

3 art 4We wondered how they transported all these pieces to this location. It was quite impressive.

P1000223There is a famed fresco (among many) that was transported from the apse of the church of Sant Climent in Taüll, a small village in the north of Catalonia. “Christ in Majesty” (below) is a depiction of Christ that has Byzantine influences.

P1010478We marveled at many of the Romanesque wooden statues (Jesus on the Cross is from about 1,000 years ago).

P1010484Many of these pieces were rescued from chapels in the Pyrenees in the 1920s, when art thieves and just plain deterioration of these wooden masterpieces was taking its toll.

P1010487It was time to hit some paintings.

P1010490I really enjoyed “Public Exhibition Of A Painting,” a work by Joan Miró (above). We would learn a little more (well, I’d learn a lot more about) about Miró in about an hour.

P1000224I also enjoyed viewing an oil on canvas painting; “Reflected Shadows” by Lluís Masriera.

P1010493The interior dome was almost worth the price of admission by itself.

P1010494The view from the museum’s cafeteria picture window isn’t too shabby, either.

Soon, we were back outside and starting to walk the road on Montjuïc Hill to our next destination…the Fundació Joan Miró. We knew it was a contemporary Catalan art museum, so our expectations were not high (modern art, as we have stated, just does not do much…if anything… for any of us).

As we walked toward the museum I asked about Joan Miró. “Who is this woman?” I asked.

Although he doesn’t understand modern art, Kim does recognize an idiot when he hears one. “Tom, Joan Miró is a guy.” Obviously, all those CNN International reports on Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner were having an effect on me.

The Articket BCN got us in Fundació Joan Miro, and we whisked past a long line of students to see the “art.” I will have to admit that except for relatively few pieces, nothing in this museum interested me. I did like the little statue of a guy in a crown holding a globe while displaying the “Peace Sign.” Obviously, he was an Iron Butterfly fan.

P1010495My traveling companions were even less kind.

Tracy turned to me and exclaimed, “Finally…there’s the best piece of modern art I have ever seen.”

“Cool,” I replied. “What is it?”

Both Tracy and Kim responded simultaneously, “The Exit Sign (not its real sign).”

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The natives were restless. That would be the end of modern art for us until Madrid.

By now, we were dragging.  It had been a long day and Barcelona mass transportation would provide our passage back. First we hopped on the Funicular de Montjuïc, which was opened in 1928.

    Funicular                                               Funicular 2

We rode that bad boy down and connected to the metro that got us close enough to our hotel so we didn’t have a coronary walking to Hotel Colon.

A gelato at Mamma helped us make the short walk.

While the others rested, I searched TripAdvisor for a restaurant and booked 8 o’clock reservations at Restaurante Arcano (#53 of nearly 7,000 restaurants in Barcelona).   By the way, reports that you have to wait until 10 p.m. to eat in Spain are grossly exaggerated.

So it was back to El Born and Restaurante Arcano…Carrer dels Mercaders 10 (La ribera Born). It was less than 10 minutes from the hotel.

P1010496                                                   4 dinner

We sat in the back corner of this cave-like restaurant.  It had exposed brick walls and an vaulted ceiling (we’re suckers for this type of atmosphere).  The wait staff was also very personable, and the meal, for the most part, was fantastic…I believe our best meal in Barcelona (although tomorrow’s meal would also be very good).

The amuse bouche of Gazpacho with exploding sugar (that was Tracy’s description, and remember she WAS drinking) started off our evening in a great manner. Fortunately Kim doesn’t like tomatoes, so I got the extra one. He would get his revenge after the meal.

The best dishes here included my Melted Provolone Cheese & Tomatoes (my arteries hardened just while ordering)…

P1010499…Mary’s Salmon…

P1010504…and Kim’s generous portion of Lamb Chops.

4 dinner 1The complimentary after-dinner shot of Bailey’s was decidedly difficult to pass up, but I was still at in the no-drinking portion of our trip. Kim gladly took mine.

I would definitely recommend Restaurante Arcano as a good Barcelona dinner spot.   As we exited, Kim captured the restaurant/bar filled to the brim with patrons…truly a beautiful space.

4 dinner 2Tomorrow would be our last full day in Barcelona. I would begin and (almost) end the day with my buddy Gaudí. In between, we would take a scenic stroll through the city, visit another very cool market and revisit the Cathedral…along with its windy rooftop (I would also receive a Cathedral surprise later). Then we’d cap off our last night with a visit to a hopping Plaça restaurant.  I was starting to miss Barcelona already.

Next: Day Five & (partial) Day Six– Parc Place, Leapin’ Lizards, Sweeping Views, Gaudí’s Laid To Rest, A Valencia Stroll, Market Watch (part Dos), Sweet Interlude, Happening Plaça, Lunch At Yet Another Market, Cathedral View, Up On The Roof (Part, oh Hell, I’ve Lost Track), Cathedral Unseen, Taking A Gnder At Some Geese, Final Overture With Rossini, Not Quite The Cat’s Meow, I Want Candy, Cue The Next Queue and Adios Barcelona/Hola Granada!

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