Monistrol de Montserrat, Spain
Approximately half way between Manresa and Barcelona, nestled high up in the rocky cliffs lies Montserrat Monastery (Monistrol de Montserrat). About 4,000-ft in elevation, this monastery is a sight to behold. It draws tourists and locals alike by the thousands, and is one of Spain's most important pilgrimage sites. Couples come here to seek and touch the medieval statue of La Moreneta (the Black Virgin), the patron saint of Catalonia.
We arrived here via taxi from Cardona, and the trip up the windy mountain road gave us a peek of some amazing views of the surrounding area. As soon as we stepped out from the car though, we realized how COLD this place is. With the wind chill, I would guess it was about 20 degrees! The weather didn't deter us from visiting the few sites here though. (Actually we wanted to be inside the tourist sites to keep warm.)
Montserrat has a basilica, a surprisingly good small museum, and some hotel rooms, shops, and restaurants. For as small of a place as it is, we found plenty of stuff to occupy us. The 50-member Escolanía (boys choir) is world renowned, but unfortunately they were on vacation when we visited. The museum contains an ecclectic collection of paintings by famous artists such as Picasso, El Greco, Dalí, Monet, and Degas. The basilica seems disproportionately large compared to the size of Montserrat. There was a long line of people braving the cold to see the statue of the Black Virgin. (Unfortunately, we couldn't take pictures inside the basilica.) Most visitors arrive here via the funicular (cable car) from the train station at the base of the mountain, an exciting journey in itself. The same cable car can take you to the top of the mountain in the summer, and there's a cave called Santa Cova (Holy Grotto) where the statue of the Black Virgin was discovered.
This is a view from Plaça de Monestir, the main (and only) square in Montserrat, toward the top of the rocky cliffs. One small aside about the Catalán language. It is quite different from the Castillian Spanish spoken elsewhere in Spain. We can recognize most words, but they would be spelled differently. (For example, they would have "plaça" instead of "plaza", and "adeu" instead of "adios".) Took a little getting used to at first.
Inside the Museu de Montserrat, we snuck a picture of June next to a painting named after her. The painting is called Junio, and I forget who the painter is.
Here's another interesting story about this trip. No one in Spain knew how to pronounce June's name, so she eventually just introduced herself as Junio (HOOnio). Meanwhile, ever since our dinner at El Patio Sevillano, Scott was known as Señor Escot Dijmon.
This is a picture of funicular station in Montserrat. Notice the steep cliffs on which it was constructed and the gorgeous trees in the background. Man! I wouldn't have liked to build this thing.
We rode the funicular down to the train station on our way back to Barcelona. This is a picture from the cable car looking back up at the Monastery. Amazing! Unfortunately, we missed the train by 5 minutes, and were forced to wait in an icebox of a train station for about an hour! Man, did I mention this place was cold? It was actually warmer outside than inside the train station! Poor Michelle ended up catching a cold on our visit to Cardona and Montserrat that would haunt her for the rest of our time in Barcelona.
Since I couldn't capture the majestic view of Montserrat without being able to fly, I thought I'd include a birds-eye view of the place. How did they even construct this thing?