Barcelona: Virgin of Montserrat

Day #5. This was supposed to be a slow day and about time too. We had walked a lot the past few days.

We went and travel afield out of Barcelona. We were going to Monserrat to see the Virgin of Monserrat.

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We had to take the regional train, R5, to Monserrat from the Plaza de Espana.

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Breakfast was in one of the restaurants on the feeder roads to the Plaza de Espana. The name of the restaurant is Bar Andrurina, not that the name meant much to us. It was just a normal restaurant. We sat outside over the issue of smoke. Moreover, it is better sitting outside — people watching.

Drinks was cafe con leche (again) and fresh orange juice. I had the egg with tomato sandwich while Suanne ordered the pork coin sandwich. There was not much flavour to the pork, Suanne said, and added that it tasted more like a tomato sandwich. Breakfast was โ‚ฌ12.30.

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There was a counter down at the subway station that helps tourists on planning the day at Monserrat. Apparently we could make all the arrangements at the train station itself. It was not only the train tickets but also the gondola ride, entrances and even meals.

We went with the works mainly because we did not know what to expect. The package is โ‚ฌ37 per person which works out to be around $57 Canadian. This includes the train from Barcelona to Montserrat, cable car, rack railway, audio visuals, museum and a meal.

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The train took about an hour to get to Monserrat. We enjoyed the extended ride and slept part of the way there. We were still recovering from jet lag too, you see.

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Even though we had never been here before, we knew the moment we were near Monserrat. The scenery changed and what we saw was the unmistakable jagged cliffs of Montserrat. Right up at the top, nestled between the ridges, was the famed monastery of Catalonia.

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Most tourists will get to the top of Montserrat via the bright yellow cable cars. At peak time, the lines to go up is very long. There appears to be only two cars alternating between the two stations. We were early and so we just needed to wait for the next car.

We were squished into the small car like sardines. If you were not one of the few lucky ones to get to stand by a window, it is a very uncomfortable ride. We ended up in the middle where we could not see anything at all.

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We thought this will be like some medieval castle. It was like a little town with modern buildings. Monserrat was first mentioned in history books as early as the 9th century. According to stories, Montserrat is suspected to be the location of the Holy Grail — interesting.

We saw lots of cars. It was only then we realized that there is a way up here by road. It sure did not look like there is a road from where we took the cable car.

We went first to the audio visual room. We were the only one there! But it was comfy with air conditioning and all. It was too comfy that we fell asleep. Woke up when the lights came on. We stayed to watch the video the next round.

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The day was hot and humid. One would have thought that it would be cooler at the top of the mountain. It was not.

So we decided to duck into the museum next knowing that it will be air conditioned. There were strictly no pictures here … not even at the foyer! The museum surprisingly had a good collection of paintings including Picasso and Dali. There were also early church items on display too.

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The Inner Courtyard is the oldest surviving part of Montserrat.

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We then did what many people come to Montserrat to see — the Virgin of Montserrat. We took a look at the line and thought … OK, let’s just wait in line. Everyone around us was speaking Spanish (or Catalan, whatever) that it did not occur to us to ask the most fundamental of questions. How long is the line?

From where we stood, it seems like it’s less than 50 meters to the entrance. We were so wrong!

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The line went on and on and on. We did not realize the time because the line moved from one area to another and there was something to see along the way. By the time we realize how long it will take to get to the Virgin, we had already waited for one hour. We were told … “Oh, you are close. Only one hour more”.

One more hour?!?

So we queued for TWO hours in all. We really had no choice. There is nothing much more to see in Montserrat and it was really hot outside. Moreover, we had already waited for one hour. So, what is one more hour right?

If we knew earlier we would not have queued to see the Virgin. At the end of the line, this is what we saw …

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The Virgin of Montserrat is really a small wooden statue of Mary, maybe two feet tall or so. It was held behind a glass panel with only the ball extending out of it. We did not expect to see it black in color but I guess it’s because of its age.

The Virgin of Montserrat is the object of pilgrimage and is believed to have been carved personally by St Luke in Jerusalem in the early days of the church. The entire basilica and the monastery is built around this statue.

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The reason why the line took so long is because some of the pilgrims prayed here. Although the prayers were brief, some does take a minute or two here. People will rub the globe on the Virgin’s right hand. Am not sure what it will bring to people who do so. Suanne rubbed it … so did it.

We took only like 10 seconds here. Sigh … two hours in line for 10 seconds with the Virgin.

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The sanctuary of the Basilica is beautifully adorned with paintings and is one of the most beautiful we had seen. We just took pictures from where the Virgin is overlooking the sanctuary. We did not go down to the sanctuary because we were already hungry.

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The self-service restaurant is located in a building near the outer part of the monastery. It had a great view of the valley below and we got ourselves a great table by the corner of restaurant.

Check out the Photosynth of the picture I took of the valley.

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While there are air conditioning here, it was still warm. Otherwise it is comfortable.

The choices of food were good, mostly Spanish/Catalan specialties. There were so many choices, it was hard to decide. I think we selected more than what we are allowed because when we went past the cashier, she took a while to decide whether to charge us for the additional food we had. She did not. The sign at the head of the line was confusing anyway and moreover, we did not mind if we had to pay extra because we wanted to try them.

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The seafood paella was great. It was certainly much better than the one we had earlier. He he he … I asked that the server scrape the burnt rice at the bottom for me. It took a while for her to understand what I was saying as she does not understand English.

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The Pork with Mushrooms are equally delicious. The meat was tender and moist and the plate was a chockful of diferent types of wild mushrooms. Spaniards has a number of popular dishes with mushrooms. I read that mushrooms are big in Spanish cuisine.

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The chicken and fries were Suanne’s choice. I was not quite sure what she was thinking of getting this. This looked so American although frankly, we really liked the chicken. Comfort food!

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The Lagsagna was creamy. I know, I know … this is not Spanish.

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The Catalan Creme was smoother than the one we had a couple of days ago. This one tasted and has a texture more like Creme Brule.

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The other dessert we had was the Baked Apple and Strawberries. It has a strong nutmeg taste to it.

Montserrat was pretty much what we did the entire of Day #5. We were dead tired and decided that we need the rest of the day to rest.

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  1. You may be interested to know that Black Madonnas are not that unusual as portrayals of the Virgin Mary. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Madonna for an overview. One author, China Galland, wrote a book entitled “Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna”, which connects the Black Madonna to the green and black Taras of Buddhism.

    I’ve been enjoying your account of your trip to Spain. It sounds like the Montserrat tour package was good value, at least for the meal portion. So often, meals that come as part of a package deal are pretty wretched.

  2. Hey Ben

    The part about you lining up for two hours cracked me up. The food looks delicious though. I am surprised it wasn’t another tourist trap place with really bad food. Especially food that comes in a package as I have not had good food yet that comes with a tour package. From the sounds of it though it is a place worth visiting but I don’t think I will line up for two hours to see the virgin if I do go there. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Really love reading about your trip.

  3. Funny experience, 10 seconds with a virgin, classic stuff. Nice food pics, too.

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