After my terrific Sagrada Familia visit (please see the previous post), I was eager to head to Montserrat. It’s about 90 minutes outside of Barcelona by way of the train. I did some quick route research and saw that from my metro stop to where I needed to go would require several transfers. Although my luggage is ‘light’ in comparison to what one might expect for a month-long journey, I was willing to pay the ten euro for a taxi.
Barcelona doesn’t have Uber or Lyft but they do have ‘myTaxi’ so I download it, register, and am off to Plaza Espanaya for my train. The driver drops me off right by an elevator. Sweet. I take it down and see folks streaming left to the escalator, so fall in line. Hello again, street. Whoops. I take the elevator once more and this time turn right to enter the station.
The next elevator I encounter is out of order so I start fiddling with my bag to convert it from a ‘roller’ into a duffel. Suddenly, I hear a woman screaming at the bottom of the stairs. I look at the escalator and there’s a stroller on its side with a woman grabbing at it, frantically. A worker is struggling to hit the emergency stop and the escalator is still moving. I notice a big, red emergency button, so I drop my bag and run over to slam it.
Remember I mentioned the out of service elevator? Because of that, the woman had used the escalator. However, she had a plastic bag hanging from the foot of the stroller which got sucked into the escalator and pulled the whole cart forward. Once it quit moving, the woman was able to reach in and unstrap what looked like a brand new baby. I would be shocked if he was more than 2 months old. I’m sure that moment will live in her memory forever. Gah. Being a parent must be harrowing. But, with mom and baby okay, I had a train to catch. (Em-pa-thy.)
I had arrived plenty early for the 12:36pm train which meant I was late if I wanted to try and catch the 11:36am train. A ticket agent helped me make the right selection but then my credit card doesn’t go through. He tells me to hurry, the train leaves in three minutes. I use a different card. It also doesn’t go through but now I learn it’s because I don’t have a pin for my chip. He says I need to use cash. (Two minutes.) I put in a 50 euro note and he says, “Your change will be in coins.” Great. I grab my coins like a casino winner of old and race through the turnstile, down another set of stairs, and to the train. My second foot is crossing the threshold as the train horn sounds. Made it.
From Barcelona, the train takes you to a transfer station for the ‘Cremallera’ which is a ‘rack’ train that takes you to Montserrat. At this transfer station, you can also to take the ‘aeri’ cable car to Montserrat. While I don’t have a fear of heights, I do not enjoy the sensation of swinging through the air on a string. Montserrat translates to ‘saw mountain’ and the landscape lives up to its name. “Saw mountain cable car.” No, thank you.
Anyway, Montserrat is home to a Benedictine Abbey that houses a shrine to the Virgin of Montserrat, the patron saint of Catalonia. It’s frequented by daytrippers but I am spending the night which should allow me more time to explore the abbey, attend evening mass, and hike. I am the only person with luggage and, in my head, it makes me feel somehow more committed. (The reality is that I’m only here because Norwegian Air had a cheap flight from London to Barcelona and I’d seen some Facebook posts recently about a magnificent church atop a mountain. But, yes, super committed.) The Cremallera made its way up to 4,055 feet. My ears were popping from the altitude and my eyes were popping from the views.
My original plan had been to arrive early to Plaza Espanaya (for the 12:36pm train, remember) and enjoy a leisurely lunch before the ride to Montserrat. Since I had made the impromptu decision to nix that plan and instead rush to the earliest train, I arrived at Montserrat with a healthy appetite. Normally, I’d grab a simple sandwich for lunch but my hunger made me prioritize proximity and my hotel had a fancy-looking restaurant. I’m glad for my choice because it was a cool little spot (with delicious vegetarian paella). You can see in the photo that the restaurant looks like a cave. The stone ceiling is from the old stables. I thought to myself about how those poor horses had to climb to the top of the mountain. When I hiked the Grand Canyon, I saw mules on the pathway carrying supplies, including things like M&Ms and beer. I wonder what 16th-century-indulgences the horses of Montserrat carried.
I’d fed my belly so now it was time to feed my soul. I sat in the quiet, dark abbey and marveled at the lanterns, paintings, and the piece de resistance: the shrine. It is situated on a level above the altar which gives the appearance of Mary looking down over the altar and congregation. It also means the tourists are ushered through the side of the church, ostensibly protecting the church itself from chatter. Even still, there was the “shhhh” from the security guard whenever people started talking loudly. I always laugh at how the “shhhh” is equally distracting.
Although it’s chilly on the mountain, I decide I’m made of tough stuff and take the funicular of Saint Joan to an even higher point. According to Wikipedia, it is the steepest funicular in Spain and I’m not surprised. (Once my vlogger aspirations are fulfilled you’ll be able to check out the video. Until then, I suspect the photos may be a pretty good indicator.) Rather than going roundtrip on the funicular, I opt to hike 30 minutes back down to the abbey. At the start of the trail, I notice a sign saying that something is closed and to use the red trail instead. I have no idea if my trail is closed or if my trail is the red trail. But, I see a couple other folks walking the same direction so I press onward (after a classic Josie pic in front of the sign).
The trail offers incredible views and the steep grade makes me glad to be heading down rather than up. The 30-minute journey is lengthened thanks to plentiful rocky spots for rest and reflection. I can understand why the monks are so meditative, their backyard is heaven. After the hike, I’m anxious to attend the rosary and vespers in the abbey. However, as the clock is nearing 7pm, I am consumed by the exhaustion of jetlag and a 14,000-step day. I stay for the rosary then head back to my hotel. I get the chance to talk with my Mom and Dad (shout out to T-Mobile WiFi calling), drink a glass of wine, heat my leftover paella on the radiator (shout out to creative thinking?) and sleep hard.
The next morning I wake up at 1030am. The previous day I had woken at 6:45am. I’ve clearly not yet acclimated to my new time zone. I visit the Abbey and am astounded at the amount of activity. All those day-tripping-tourists are creating lines everywhere. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have seen it more intimately the previous day. I attend mass and then head out on a different trail than yesterday. The path is lined with artwork dedicated to the various Mary apparitions like the Virgin of Montserrat. Again, there are plentiful spots to sit and pray. It’s a true spiritual walk. The time comes to conclude my stay in Montserrat so I gather my luggage and return to the Cremallera.
As we descend the mountain, I’m still in a reflective mood.
I recognize travel is not for everyone. Folks sometimes compliment me and say, “Josie, your pictures and stories make me feel like I was there.” It’s actually my favorite compliment to receive, which I greedily accept because it means I’m serving my blog’s purpose — enabling non-travelers to see the world. However, in support of my other blog goal, to inspire people to go wander, I must admit that this blog smells like cake. (Go with me.) This particular blog/cake called Montserrat smells glorious. Enjoy the pictures and my stories; inhale deeply. But, to watch the train snake down the mountain and marvel at the majesty of human ingenuity juxtaposed with the grandeur of God’s topography? That is to taste the Montserrat cake. And, trust me, its smell is nothing compared to its flavor.
1 thought on “Montserrat shouldn’t exist, and yet, it does.”
Josie, thank you for sharing this trip – pictures are awesome and more!
I am speechless!!
You are one Brave Cookie and a Believer, finding the God in everything and
everywhere. Wonderful to see and read!