07 March 2007


Getting to Montserrat was a challenging travel exercise. We left Monday afternoon, and on Monday morning we had to be out of the hostel and take our luggage with us. So, we did this crazy shuffle of going from the hostel to the big train station, then to Sagrada Família, back to the big train station to pick up our bags from the locker, and then to the commuter rail station to take the train to Montserrat, all via metro.
While getting our tickets, we were helped by a rather zealous train station employee, and while I wanted to use the ticket machine myself, he was helpful in communicating to us that the Cremallera de Montserrat was not an option for us (as I later found out, during the winter it is maintenanced and therefore only open weekends). I insisted, he insisted, and then won. It would have been preferrable to me to have my feet anchored on a rack-rail, instead of a cable car, but alas, it was not to be.

Here's Mum and I being silly on the train to Montserrat.
I think the picture on her picture is probably sillier.

The train ride itself was rather uneventful. I felt really consipicuous because we were the only tourists on the train going the direction we were (to the suburbs) on a Monday afternoon. Usually people go to Montserrat for the day, and the tourists were going in the reverse direction we were both to and fro.

Here's the Aeri station from the top. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you will see the bottom station at the middle of the far, far left. The Aeri also crosses the Llobregat River.
The guy who operated the Aeri was a scream. We talked a bit on the way down, and he had been doing it for I think 40 years, if I understood him correctly, which I may not have.
He had such an interesting look, and such an unusual job.
Cocktail party: "Yah, I ride up and down a wire 40 times a day, 11 months out of the year."

This is the entire route of the funicular we took to go up the cliff even higher.
Basically, the monastery complex is on a little shelf halfway up a cliff. There is also a road and the aforementioned rack rail to get from the river level to the monastery level.
We took the funicular even higher up.
If I went back, I would take the funicular up and then walk down,
it would have been a very pleasurable and not very difficult walk.
On the way down, we were in the car with the operator (different guy), a cleaning woman (to clean the toilets at the top station), and a tourist from Andalucia. In the less than 5 minutes that the ride took, they discussed:
wild asparagus (in season right now and something that evidently they go nuts over), the relative dangers of the funicular, and how bad the euro is for the economy (the plight of southern Europe, it would seem). Basically, all the polite topics possible for genteel Europeans.

This is the view from the top of the Sant Joan funicular.
The serrated cliffs (hence, Montserrat) were amazing.

It's times like this I love traveling with my mum, because I get the impression she's mostly fearless. At the same time, my (or what I see to be) weaknesses show -- see the post about the stairs at Sagrada Família, or above regarding my trepidation about the cable car.
These are things I can do but would prefer not to.
Meanwhile, my mum was hanging out the window of the cable car and can stand and peer over the edge of a cliff, knowing it freaks me out. In this picture, she smiles impishly knowing that.

You can see this chapel in the background of the previous picture. I have a picture of the inside, but it was really nothing special, so I decided not to post it. The amazing thing is that the chapel was built here anyway, and there were chapels and hermitiges even higher up, which we could have gone to, but I was nudgy because we had already crossed a barrier and it was windy and so I felt waifish.

Here's the basilica and monastery complex. Our hotel was to the left, but you can't see it in this picture. I liked the whole thing, because while it's very ancient, the buildings are not afraid to be modern -- most of the complex has been redone in the earlier 20th century by the same Catalan architects active in Barcelona.

In the portico of the Basilica.

In case you didn't get it the first time, Roma caput mundi, even in Spain.

The flame of the Catalan language. The bible was translated from the original languages into Català by the Benedictines at Montserrat, and their publishing house was one of the ways that Català was retained as a literary and spoken language during the years of Franco's repression. In that way, religion and politics mixed for the nationalist cause and Montserrat was a wonderful thorn in Franco's falanged fascist side, because the site is one of immense popular devotion and a symbol of Catalan nationalism.

The real highlight of Montserrat is the Escolania, the boy's choir that is the oldest in Europe. I don't have any pictures because they didn't want them to be taken during services. We heard them three times, twice during vespers and once for the Salve Regina. While the Salve Regina was very good, the basilica was packed with tourists and it made for a much less pleasurable listening and meditational experience. Meanwhile, by vespers at 6, most tourists have gone (at least in the winter) and so there are under 20 visitors in the basilica while the monks have vespers and the Escolania comes in towards the end. Quite exceptional.

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