Josh suggested Montserrat, a mountain about 50km from Barcelona. It's unique in that it looks nothing at all like the mountains that are close by - made up of unique looking rock formations. It's one of those places I keep meaning to visit but just hadn't gotten around to doing. And I wasn't really sure how to get there so it felt a bit daunting to me. Urs and Caryn had wanted to visit it while they were here too and we didn't get to it.
And like everything else I've done since I've lived here, just doing it once made all the difference in the world and then made me wonder, in hindsight, why I hadn't done this before. Though admittedly, Montserrat was not at all what I had expected.
First we took the FGC (our commuter rail) about an hour away to Monistrol de Montserrat. I didn't want to drive since it's a mountain and where in the world do I go to park?? What if I parked on the wrong side from the funicular that would take us up to the top? In my mind it was easier to take the train. In Placa Espanya, there were signs everywhere that said where to go for the train to Montserrat. And we were able to purchase our tickets for the special Cremallera train that would take us up to the famous monastery.
The train was uneventful - completely full and standing room only (which included Meghan and I having to stand for the hour ride). The good news is, like a herd of cows, we just had to follow the crowd and knew exactly what to do. And right next to where we disembarked the train, there was another, smaller train, the Cremallera - this would take us about 3/4 of the way up Montserrat.
Yeah, if I'd known what it was like taking this train up a steep mountain, perched precariously on the edge, I might have reconsidered this journey. There were times as we were going up that you couldn't see any ground below us which meant there was no land between the track and a drop that went thousands of feet below us. Not a good time going up (and even worse going down!!!).
But we made it. The only problem is that we didn't have enough time to take the funicular all the way to the top. In the (lack of) planning of this spontaneous trip, I didn't realize just how long the journey would take us and I had to make it back to pick up the kids at school at 5. Which meant that we needed to be on the 2:15 cremallera back down to the main train tracks. So we had just about 2 hours to do our exploring.
View as we got off the Cremellera (train)
Roads are more modern than I expected
We heard kids screaming from down below and weren't sure what was going on. There was some kind of a field trip or something... and these kids were doing the Hokey Pokey in Catalan! So cute!
The views here do nothing to show just how high up we are on the mountain, only that the top is behind these buildings (and still a good ways up!).
You see that whitish line in the middle of the picture? That's the funicular heading to the top at an almost vertical ascent!
View from where the Abbey is... yeah we're pretty high up!
In the end, the 2 hours was just about enough. It didn't give us a ton of time to do much trail walking but enough to give us a feel for what was up on this unique mountain. But it did give us time to get to the chance to check out the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey that is on the mountain. This is where the mountain was not at all as I expected. When I was told there was a monastery on the mountain, I pictured something incredibly rustic, not at all touristy, and being one with nature. This is not what I got at all. The abbey, which was actually founded more than 1000 years ago, gave the appearance of a much more modern facility full of tourism and pilgrims from all over the world. The Abbey itself was beautiful and was not as modern in appearance (though nor did it look 1000 years old, not even close).
I also need to question how it is that a monastery was founded 1000 years ago 3/4 of the way up a very challenging mountain - how did they get the tools they needed to take on such a daunting task? It always amazes me how people managed with what they had and got the job done, even 1000 years ago.
So anyways, the area surrounding the Abbey was very modern and not at all what I would have expected given the history behind it. However, it was still cool how it was nestled into essentially a crevice on the mountain. We went into the Abbey and it was stunningly beautiful. We were going to stick around for the boys' choir but after waiting about 10 minutes we heard that it wasn't going to start for at least another 20. And since we didn't have much time to begin with, we decided to move along.
I believe this is the sarcophogus of Juan de Aragon - the Aragons were the rulers of Catalunya for many years...
Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey
People kept standing in the middle and holding their arms in the air as if to God... not being religious, I'm not 100% sure why they were doing this in this particular spot, but everyone was doing it (and taking photos of people doing it).
Inside the Abbey
Since there was a line out the door to get to this area, I'm assuming this is where the famous Virgin of Montserrat is located...
Beyond a quick lunch, we only really had time to explore the area immediately surrounding the Abbey and a small portion of one of the trails. The trail we did was a paved one but I know that there are much more advanced trails and we saw many hikers who were actually in hiking gear (our flip flops by comparison, probably not such a great choice should we have chosen to do an actual hike). But the trail we did for about 15 minutes (before we had to turn back to make our train on time) was beautiful and the views, gorgeous.
View from our walk
Meghan on our walk
Beautiful stone benches
Top right corner you can see the cross that I'm assuming people walk out to...
The train ride back down to the main station was fear inducing. They must have some really good brakes on this train because with the relatively steep incline, we should have been travelling at significantly higher speeds going downhill. Thankfully, we did not. All I could think of was a runaway train that missed a corner and sent us falling to our deaths on the valley floor. But admittedly I won't be making any more trips up there via train - if I go again, it will be by car for sure!!!