Thursday, December 6, 2012: Barcelona, Spain
Our Transatlantic itinerary provided us with the chance to return to one of our most favorite cities in the world… We’re back in Barcelona, Spain and today’s plan will take us an hour outside of Barcelona for the opportunity to visit the beautiful site of Montserrat. To get here, we would be taking a bus, walking, taking the Barcelona Metro, riding an FGC regional train, flying up the mountain in a gondola, and reaching the very top of St. Joana in a funicular cable car. With all of the required transport needed to enjoy the day, we found a great “combined ticket” that includes all of the required components at a discounted price! In this case we saved about 12 Euros a piece and only had to deal with one ticket (little to lose!)
We started our day a bit later than expected about 11am, as our ship was delayed by two hours entering the Barcelona Port. The ongoing inclement weather slowed down the ship’s progress and gave us several days and nights of tossing and turning as the ship sloshed around in the sea much like a dirty shirt in the washing machine. It was but a minor inconvenience and we find that we generally sleep better with the rocking of the ship, so we took it in stride.
A shuttle bus transported passengers the 3 miles to the base of Las Ramblas and dropped us off about two blocks from the Christopher Columbus monument. From here, we headed up Paral-lel and boarded the Metro at the first stop along the avenue. From here, we took the subway two stops to the Plaza de Espanya, a major transfer point for the regional trains and we purchased our Montserrat combined pass here from an automated kiosk.
From here, we had a bit of a wait for the train to Montserrat (it runs once an hour), but the time passed quickly. Once on board, we shared the train run up with a fairly large number of locals and visitors to the area. Today, December 6th was a holiday (Constitution Day) and a surprising number of families made the day trip to Montserrat with us today. The 60 minute train trip was quiet and efficient and soon we came into view of the beautiful Monastery and Basilica tucked into the folds of the jagged rock peaks that shot almost straight up out of the ground. As we arrived into the Aleri Montserrat train stop a portion of the crowd exited here. The remainder would exit the train one stop further up the line. In order to reach the top of the mountain, there are two primary ways to accomplish this. The first is via a gondola ride straight up the mountain, known as the Aleri. The other is via the Funicular train. Our combined transport ticket included our round trip tickets for the Aeri, but we had to decide which we wanted at the start and you can’t change your mind along the way.
As we arrived to the Aeri boarding area, we joined 33 of our newest (and closest) friends as we were packed like sardines into the bright yellow 8 foot by 8 foot octagon capsule for the nearly vertical ride up the mountain. The trip took less than 5 minutes from start to finish and we enjoyed some amazing views along the way. At the top of the mountain, we got our first up close and personal view of the Piazza, the Monastery, and the Basilica. We decided to try and avoid the crowds (which really weren’t a problem at all) and took the funicular up to the very top of the mountain. We hopped onto the St. Joan funicular and took it right to the top.
Along with the ever increasing amount of distance that could be seen from the top on this cloudless, blue sky day, we were surprised to see so many families and locals hiking here! We always wear good shoes and were prepared for the weather, so along with our water bottles, we set off on a short hike to explore the summit. A moderate 30 minute hike brought us to a small chapel and to the first of two Hermitages that were regularly used during the 16th century by the monks. From here, the another short 20 minute hike could take you all the way to the very top of the summit (with 360 degree views) and Darin made the short hike up to the top along with another English speaking traveler whose family stayed with Natalie at the lower point.
The hikes were quite beautiful and a great and unexpected addition to the day! I would welcome the chance to return to Montserrat just to see and explore more of the mountain as there are about a half dozen hikes that could take you anywhere from a moderate 30 minute hike to an intense 4 hour loop! There were even people who were rock climbing!
Once we were done up at the summit of Saint Joan, we headed back down to the base of the Monastery and we made our way into the Basilica to view this beautiful building and take the opportunity to see and touch the Black Madonna that was on site. Along the way, we ran into two of our tablemates, so we chatted for a few minutes as we made our way into the Piazza and into the massive building. They continued on their way and we said that we would catch up with them at dinner, so we took plenty of pictures here and viewed the many prayer boxes filled with pillar candles in a wide array of colors!
By the time we were done here, the sun had set, and the temperature began to drop quickly. We decided that it was time to make our way back down the mountain and boarded the Aeri for our return trip to the ground and headed to the train platform for the wait for our return train to the city. The trip home was just as efficient, though most of the Montserrat visitors and hikers took the hour long train ride to catch up on a much needed nap.
We arrived back to Barcelona around 7pm and stopped at a local market to pick up a most important souvenir of our visit — a couple of bottles of Fanta Lemon, a wonderfully bubbly flavor combination that we have only been able to find here. It is a small reminder of all the great memories we have shared here and look forward to experiencing in return trips that are just around the corner.