Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Paris and Northern Spain: Day 12

by Kathy 20. November 2010 14:38

Back to Paris and Northern Spain Index Page

<< Day 11: Bicycling Through Barcelona | Day 13: Barcelona—Tibidabo >>



When driving to Barcelona two days ago, we had been struck by the unusual sight of Montserrat—an isolated segment of pokey rocks rising dramatically out of the Spanish plains. Those limestone peaks harbor a sacred statue of a black Madonna and Child, called “La Moranata,” that has drawn countless pilgrims since the 12th century.

We would be traveling there today with about 20 members of our extended family.  Not on a holy pilgrimage, but as mere tourists—to visit the Benedictine monastery, hike some twisty trails, gaze at the views from high vantage spots, and hear the world-famous boys’ choir perform.

Getting to Montserrat from Barcelona was a three-step process that would take about 90 minutes: ride the subway to the train station, take the train to the base of Montserrat, and then soar up the mountain in an aerial tram.

Sebastian, waiting in the subway:

Our train deposited us here at the base of Montserrat:

The top of the mountain was enveloped in fog:

Genevieve, in front of the aerial tram station:

We waited about 15 minutes for the tram to arrive. Two of our nephews, Coen and Luke (cousins), entertained themselves with their water bottles:

Heading up!

Looking back down, with a view of a cable car that was identical to our own:

The name Montserrat means “serrated mountain.” Local legends tell of how angels carved these mountains with golden saws. Looking at the lines and lumps on the mountain faces, I could understand why those stories developed.

Continuing up toward the monastery:

At the top:

The monastery:

The monastery building has undergone many design changes since it was founded in 1025. It was completely rebuilt after being destroyed by Napoleon’s army in the early 1800’s, and has had subsequent renovations.

The entrance:

A large courtyard contained a stylized sculpture representing the monastery’s founder, abbot Oliba:

While the rest of the family wanted to check out the art museum and monastery grounds, Ben and I were craving a good hike.  At the Montserrat tourist information office, we obtained a hiking map that showed the various trails winding away from the monastery. We chose the trail to the Flats of Els Ocells (Catalan for "the birds"), which involved lots of climbing on steep, narrow paths--Genevieve and Sebastian's favorite type.

One last view of the monastery, as we began our hike:

The first part had many stairs, with a safety railing:

Here is Genevieve in a narrow gorge with a waterfall in the background:

The path squeezed between two rocky mounds:

Stopping briefly to rest:

Softly sculpted rocks rose above us

To our left was a deep chasm filled with clouds:

Gradually, the clouds dissipated, and we could see the fingers of rock sticking up on the other side:

Along the path were delicate flowers with petals that looked like crinkled paper:

After 40 minutes of rigorous hiking, we reached the Flats of Els Ocells:

The trail continued upward, but this was our turning around point. We needed to return to the monastery in time to catch the boys' choir performance.

On the way down, Genevieve and Sebastian founds some large ants:

And they also discovered some crannies to explore:

Back at the monastery:

In the distance, we could see some patches of deep blue sky:

The choir was performing in the Basilica (church). Here are Ben and the children in the church courtyard:

Another view of the Basilica façade:

Inside the Basilica:

The ceiling:

La Moranata (also called the Black Virgin) was located inside the Basilica on the second floor. A long line of people extended out the front door, waiting their turn to view the wooden statue and touch an orb held in the Madonna’s hand. (The rest of the statue was protected by a clear covering.) We could see La Moranata at the far end of the chapel, through a cut-out window area, and we watched a continual flow of people pause in front of the statue.

Here is a better photo of La Moranata from the Internet:

(Photo credit here.)

The Catholic story behind La Moranata says that the statue was carved by St. Luke around 50 A.D., brought to Spain, and hidden in a cave. In 880 A.D., some shepherds supposedly heard heavenly music and saw bright lights that led them to the statue in the cave. After the discovery, some chapels were built on Monserrat, along with the monastery.  Numerous miracles are attributed to the intervention of the Black Virgin.

Historians pretty much agree, however, that the actual statue in the Basilica was not created until the 12th century. The statue depicts Mary with the young Jesus seated on her lap. La Moranata's reputation for causing miracles spread far and wide, however, and millions and millions of people have since traveled here to see, and touch, the revered statue.

People also flock to the Basilica to hear the boys’ choir, known as Escolanía, which has been in existence since the 13th century. The choir currently consists of about 50 boys between the ages of 9 and 14, who attend boarding school at Montserrat.

One of my favorite travel writer/guides, Rick Steves, wrote this about the choir performance: “The boys sing for only ten minutes, the basilica is jam-packed, and you'll likely actually see almost nothing.” I was optimistic, however, that our experience would be different.

We were able to find some good seats near the rear of the chapel, with a clear view up to the choir area. We felt fortunate to get seats, as the aisles soon became crowded with people who arrived after us. Things were looking good until the choir entered and began singing. Then, the people in front of us stood up, which wouldn’t have been so bad except for all of the up-stretched hands holding video cameras over their heads, without any apparent concern for the fact that they were blocking the views of people standing behind them. Oh, the complexity of mankind. I could see the choir boys from any number of video screens on the cameras.  It was like being at a rock concert, except we couldn't even see the stage.  We eventually sat down and just listened to the music. Near the end, however, I popped up onto my seat and snapped this quick photo—just so I could see what the choir looked like by viewing the photo afterwards.

Here is a shot of the choir as the spectators were leaving:

I had thought that the choir performance would be a bit magical, even spiritual, but it was not to be. Rick Steves turned out to be right after all. We held onto Genevieve and Sebastian tightly as we joined the flow of people moving outside, getting jostled and elbowed by people in a rush.

Afterwards, the whole family had lunch at the Restaurant de Montserrat, which is the modern building in the photo below. Walking to the restaurant are Genevieve, Ben, and Sebastian (near the middle of the photo), with brother-in-law Alma (in the foreground) carrying his son Beckett, and walking with (nephew) Luke and (son) Coen.

You gotta’ love that sweet face!

Genevieve and Sebastian were tired, so we skipped dessert and slipped out of the restaurant early.

Riding the aerial tram down:

On the left, we could see what appeared to be a church, but it was actually a banquet facility called Vila Vallbona:

Genevieve and Sebastian, waiting for the train back to Barcelona:

On the train, Genevieve and Sebastian sat across from their cousins Charlie and Luke. (Look at the joy in those faces!)

Back at the hotel, we napped for an hour and then had a “picnic dinner” in our hotel room—fresh baguettes, chorizo, cheese, peaches, apricots and yogurt. Yum.

Then we set off to wander through the maze-like streets of the Gothic Quarter.

Before we immersed ourselves, however, we stopped at the candy shop for Sebastian.

He had passed up ice cream after dinner last night, opting instead to get a few pieces of candy on the way back to the hotel; but the shop had been closed, so we promised him some for tonight.

There is a reason for the expression “like a kid in a candy store”! Five minutes later, Sebastian emerged clutching a small bag and wearing a big grin.

Nearby, Genevieve and her cousin Kirtee found an interesting animal head:

This building was fascinating, with its bricked-up windows and balcony doors:

The underside of the balcony terraces even had decorative zig-zag tiles!

I tilted my camera down to the first floor and found my family, each in their own world. (I just love this photo.)

We crossed the wide Via Laietana, and left the Gothic Quarter behind. At the stop light, these two women zoomed up on a quad.

As another example of how Barcelonan architects aren’t afraid to go out on a creative limb, this modern brick building had tree designs in its curved façade:

Down the street was the magnificent Palau de la Música Catalana (“Palace of Catalan Music”), a true visual feast.

The Palace was covered with amazing artistic details—from the beautiful title mosaics to the figurative sculptures.

It opened in 1908 and was designed by the Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, whose work was supplemented by many artists who worked on the façade.

The next few blocks seemed to be mostly residential.

The street Sant Pere Mes Alt had quite a few art galleries at the street level, and we enjoyed viewing the artwork inside one gallery called “27.”

One of the side streets was really skinny.

I joked that people living in the upper floors could probably reach out and touch their neighbors across the street. Genevieve and Kirtee decided to test that theory out, on the ground:

The blue on one apartment building was quite eye-popping.

Another building had an older façade that had been preserved during the construction of a new building behind it. The lower part of the façade had been incorporated into the new building, but the top part was now just a decorative wall.

We wondered who lived in the middle of these bricked-up apartments, and what was their story?

And then . . . we found "it." THE best ice cream in Barcelona! At Quedem Gelato & Altro.

Gelato is an Italian form of ice cream, made with less cream (and thus less fat), and no whipped-in air, for a dense and delicious treat. The gelato at Quedem was hand-made at the shop, with loads of fresh and natural ingredients. No fluffy, pre-packaged tubs here! We hovered over the selections and spent some time trying tiny spoonfuls of different flavors. I’m sure that our chorus of “mmmm’s” could be heard down the street.

Here are Kirtee and Genevieve with their final choices:

Even though we continued our taste-testings throughout the remainder of our time in Barcelona, no other ice cream even came close. For those who want to savor the deliciousness of Quedem’s gelato, the shop is located at Plaza Sant Cugat (a couple of blocks from the Museo Picasso).

As we continued walking amidst the confusing web of streets, we came across the curved rooftop of the Santa Caterina market.

During the recent renovation of this market, a Roman necropolis had been uncovered, and the ruins are now contained in an on-site museum.

Here is an Internet photo of the market, showing its glorious multi-colored roof:

(Photo credit here.)

Back in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, the crown-shaped church tower in Plaza del Rei stood out against the twilight sky.

Nearby graffiti art:

Our entertainment tonight on La Rambla included an energetic and intense flamenco dance by this man:

Down the street, we joined the crowd cheering on these hip hop dancers:

This juxtaposition of traditional and modern dancing merely echoed what existed throughout the city. With its blend of old and new—historical and “way outside the box”—Barcelona seemed to proudly flaunt all aspects of itself.  If Barcelona were a rock band, we would be the new groupies.

Back to Home Page

Back to Paris and Northern Spain Index Page

<< Day 11: Bicycling Through Barcelona | Day 13: Barcelona—Tibidabo >>


Comments (2) -

11/21/2010 12:00:40 AM #


i had some fun flashbacks reading this.  i also have some great pictures of your kids and might - just might - get around to going through my europe pics and forwarding them.  i have a whole set of lizzy that are amazing (she's a soulful star-er)...most likely she'll be 5 by the time i get around to it.  loved the blue building and the pic of seb and gen hugging on the hike in the fog.  i might have to borrow a few pics to fill in the holes i have in my own always, thanks for the narrative and taking notes.  when my kids are older, i'll direct them here.  Smile  okay, lots of love, becky and the family.

becky United States | Reply

11/21/2010 9:30:15 PM #


Hi, Becky!  Yes, this was a good day (although I'm not sure if your choir experience was like mine).  Luke and Coen were so cute together too!  I'm sorry to have missed the art museum, as both you and Polly raved about the amazing collection there. Ahhh, choices, choices.  We did enjoy our hike, however.  Glad you liked the photo of Genevieve and Sebastian on the hike--it is one of my favorites (gets my mommy-heart fluttering when I see all that love).  Anyway, big hugs to the family! And I always appreciate your comments here.  Love, Kathy

Kathy United States | Reply

Add comment

  Country flag

  • Comment
  • Preview

Map of Our Journeys

(click the map to enlarge)
Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin