Mother Nature Outdoes Herself in Montserrat

Published: June 6th 2011
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I have dreamt of going to Montserrat for years now. This was definitely quite high on my list of things to do in my lifetime. After the Cinque Terre debacle, I was a little scared that it would not live up to my expectations. It did and more!

I took the R5 train to the Montserrat-Aeri station, which is about an hour away from Barcelona. About halfway in the journey, this big group of kids got on. The decibel level definitely went up a notch. This is a train that makes many many stops and it was funny because every time we would start up again the kids, in unison, would let out this "whoa". It is also always entertaining to see how excited they truly are for simple things like riding a train. I can only imagine what they were like when they actually reached Montserrat!

There are two ways to go up the mountain. The first is referred to as "rack rail" which is essentially a train ... mmm interesting. The other is a cable car. More my speed! When I arrived, the station was actually closed and was only set to open about 10 minutes later. It gave me time to just sit and soak in the already amazing view (and indulge in a cafe cortado). I also noticed that the conductor seemed to do a "practice" run with the cable car before letting us in. It was also relatively quiet in the cable car despite the fact that there was about 20 of us. Those are some serious heights we were reaching! There was also this odd murmur or sense of easiness when we arrived at one of the "poles" and the car jostled a little bit.

The first stop would be the Basilica. As with any churches, the inside is ornate and this one was quite dark. It is also relatively small. You also have a view of the procession of people visiting the star attraction of the basilica.

After having gone around a little bit, I made my way to the line to go see La Morenata (Black Virgin). This is a statue of Mary with the infant Jesus which dates from the 12th Century. She holds a sphere of the universe in her right hand. Jesus holds a pineapple which apparently is a symbol of life and fecundity. The line is long but moves swiftly. The statue is behing a plastic shield but the sphere of the universe is left out and you are allowed to rub it. There is a security guard right there to make sure that the crowd keeps flowing swiftly.

As you walk out of the basilica, you walk through the Path of Ave Maria. It is a path lined with votive candles. The holders are integrated into these shallow grottos. It gives quite an atmosphere and it is quite beautiful.

The next stop would be the museum. It is a relatively small museum but they have an impressive collection. There are paintings by Renoir, Chagall, Monet, Picasso, Dali to name a few. The discovery for me was a Barcelona-born painter called Ramon Casas. There is also a section dedicated to the iconography of the Santa Maria of Montserrat. It is essentially a series of paintings and sculptures that depict the statue of Mary that I had just seen in the basilica. It was interesting to see the different interpretations. There was also a section called the Icons of the Oriental Church. These were primarily pieces painted on wood. The background is often gold and there are religious depictions painted in bright colour. The detail is incredible. I've seen quite a few of these along this whole trip but I do have to say that this particular selection were simply gorgeous. There are of course many many Madonna and Child.

There was also a temporary exhibit and that just floored me. I have said it before that I am not that knowledgeable about art. What I do know is what I like and what I don't like. There are definitely things that I can either relate to or that touch me in some way. This particular exhibit was just ... it left me speechless. I sat on the little bench in the room and stared. The artist is Jaime Sunico and the exhibit was called Monks. This was a series of only 21 paintings. You first enter one large room which is painted in a dark blue and the only thing at the very end of this room is one canvas and it is a painting of a monk's hands. You then walk into the adjoining room. It too is dark blue and dimly lit. Around the room are 20 portraits of monks from France, Spain and Egypt. It is just them from the waist up. Some are smiling, some are somber. Some are young, some are old. The ones from Egypt are distinct because they have beards and their cloak has some ornamentation. The eyes were vivid that you felt like they were looking right through you. I know that it may sound odd but it was just a stunning exhibit. The ambience in the room was surreal.

I then hopped on the funicular Sant Joan which brings you up a further 250 meters. From there I hiked through some of the paths. It affords incredible views. You can also little churches and former hermitages that are unfortunately in a sad state of affairs. It was just an amazing way to spend the day. There are some hiking paths that take over an hour. I wish that I would have had the time to fit them in. But by the time I did the couple of paths, it was already late afternoon. So back down on the funicular I went. I poked around a couple of the small shops before heading back down on the cable car to go catch my train.

I already consider myself very lucky to having had the experience of this day ... but boy would I ever love to come back to hit some of those other trails!!

So tomorrow ... Valencia. The goal is to eat paella (it was invented there!) and a Valencia orange. All about the food!!

Additional photos below
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Everybody would stand on that circle and do that pose. Not quite sure what the tradition was.

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