on October 13, 2010
Our plan for the day was to take an excursion outside the city to the Montserrat Basilica. It is located halfway up the Montserrat Mountain. People make pilgrimages there to see the Black Virgin (La Moreneta). I had wanted to sign up for a half-day bus tour to the site but the concierge at our hotel informed us that the bus tours do not begin until June. We were visiting in April. As an alternative, we were told we could take the metro to Placa d'Espanya (a place we knew well from hauling our suitcases through there the previous day) and then take the R5 train to the last stop.There are several ticket packages available for visiting Montserrat by train. Realizing that the train was about to leave, the man at the ticket booth chose one for us and told us to hurry. It was approximately a 90-minute train ride to Montserrat from Barcelona. As I looked at the map of stops posted inside the train, I became confused. I know the concierge at our hotel told us to take the train to the last stop; however, the map indicated Montserrat was actually the fourth to the last stop. My wife and I got off at the stop labeled "Montserrat", as did pretty much the rest of the people in our car. There are cable cars that take you up the mountain. When I showed our ticket to board the cable car, we were told we were at the wrong stop and that we needed to go to the next stop and take a train. This confused me because the next stop was called "Monistrol".At any rate, we had to wait 45 minutes for a train to take us to Monistrol (which I later found out the full name is "Monistrol de Montserrat"). Despite the map showing two additional stops beyond this one, it was indeed the last stop of the train - just as the concierge had said. The Cremallera tram takes visitors up to the shrine. It makes a stop at a station about 1/3 of the way up and then continues to the basilica.It turns out, there is a complex of buildings in addition to the basilica. There is a museum, eateries, and a monastery. My wife and I headed directly to the church. The interior was dark with many religious statues and art. An organist was playing while visitors quietly walked around or prayed. There were several beautiful side chapels where people also went to meditate and pray. We went to stand in line to see the Black Virgin. It is located on a loft above the altar.The Black Virgin is a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus in her lap. It was made in the 12th century and was protected by the Benedictine monks of Montserrat during Spain's turbulent times. The statue is encased in glass but her right hand contains a sphere and is extended through an opening in the glass. As people approached the statue, they would touch the sphere and then make the sign of the cross. My wife snapped some pictures of the statue. It was not until we picked up a brochure later that we found out we were not supposed to take pictures of the Black Virgin. Oops!There was a lot of activity that day at the church. We noticed a wedding had just finished before our visit. A boys choir from Newark, New Jersey performed two numbers while we were exploring the sanctuary. As we were leaving, I paused to watch an Italian film crew. They appeared to be making a travel documentary.I became curious about a funicular that going even higher up the mountain. We bought tickets for this very steep Saint Joan funicular and rode to the top. There are several trails at the summit. Walking these trails turned out to be our favorite activity during our stay in Spain. There were some awesome views of the countryside and the Mediterranean Sea in the distance. There were also some steep drop-offs but the path was wide enough that I could walk at a distance from the edge so as not to invoke my fear of heights.It was approaching closing time and we definitely did not want to get left at the top of this mountain no matter how beautiful it is. We took the Saint Joan funicular down to the Montserrat complex and then boarded the tram to take us to the R5 train. We encountered some confusion with the tram schedule to get to the R5 station. My wife and I joked that if we were on the reality show, The Amazing Race, we would have surely been eliminated by now.We eventually took the R5 train back to Barcelona. What I had intended to be a 5-hour excursion to Montserrat and back had turned into a 10-hour event. But, I am so glad we took the trip. It was the highlight of our time in Spain.
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