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Monday, August 18, 2014

Part 3: Adventures in Barcelona, Provence and Carcassonne - Summer 2014

Back in the mid-nineties I was on a Mediterranean cruise, and Montserrat and her Black Madonna was one of the tour offerings.  My friends opted for La Rambla and shopping, but I always knew someday I'd visit her.  She is known as La Moreneta (Little Dark Skinned One) and is the patroness of Catalonia.  These days she is encased in glass high over the altar and there is mass at 11 every day.

I climbed into the funicular with my group of people.  I'm sure we were all saying a quick prayer to the Virgin, but it was truly glorious because we ascended up and over the hills, the church bells rang , calling us to church just like it had for hundreds of years.  They were loud and clear, and echoed through the hills, and was really quite moving.  Plus you're slowly floating across on a cable.  There are two cable cars, and it's relatively quite quick, and the air was cool and clean,  not at all like the overwhelming humidity of Barcelona. 

I was always under the assumption that you could only up to the monastery or take the cable car, so was kind of shocked to see a large group of cyclists, and although you come in through this 'tourist area', it's not really quite a monastery like I had imagined.  You're let off at street level and there is only one street with a lovely view of the valley, a café, on the opposite side the church, monastery and museum . 

The courtyard of the church is rather small, and there was a line queued up at one side, I believe to see the Black Madonna herself.  Since I could, and had heard the church bells, I knew mass had started, I went into the church.  It was a lot larger and filled to the back where I stood.  It was solemn and lovely, complete a large group of clergy and their own boys choir.  Everything reverberated and the Black Madonna watched from high above the altar encased in glass. 

Outside the church there is a small room where you can purchase a few things like notecards and holy cards, run on the honor system of you leaving the money as there is no attendant.  Camera, though.

There is also an art museum with a Picasso and a lovely gift shop, but mainly the gift shop is for the museum.  (You'll find a few Gaudi items in there as well, but the nicest selection of Gaudi is outside the Sagrada Familia.)

Other than that, it's pretty sparse with a few vendors on the street,  near the entrance to get back on the funicular. If you walk to where the street meets the mountains, there are some lovely statues and I saw folks with hiking gear, heading into the hills from there.

I also noticed the road going down, and later learned it's where the village is, so it's not quite as isolated as I thought, and also makes sense that there would be a village outside of the monastery's walls.  Even though there was a road, I did not see any cars. 

After my brief visit, the sky started getting dark, and I was determined to get back down as soon as possible.  We were about halfway across the valley when it started raining, light at first, but by the time I got to the rural train stop (outside with a small covered area) it was pouring. 

I have no idea how long I waited but it was a good while before the train going the right direction showed up, and I somehow had a great idea to get off to change trains to skip going into town before going to the airport.  That was a really dumb idea, and it was weirdly surreal, as I got off at the stop, took the elevator up which landed me smack in the middle of a cement square in the between apartment buildings in a rough part of town.  I could not see anything train related.  So I went back down into the subway.  Of course, I didn't have the right amount of change, and since this was a stop, there were no attendants, just a guy sweeping.  I don't speak Spanish, but they really don't speak Spanish either but Catalan, so I just said 'aeropuerto' which, in some language, means airport.  He pointed back to the elevator and then motioned in a direction across the cement courtyard.  Anyway, as I was walking that way, a train went by across street, and I followed the fence until I got in, only the get on the wrong train...which completely skipped the airport exit, and I had to do the lost tourist maneuver of getting off at the next stop, crossing over, waiting for the next train, that actually said airport on its front window.  Mind you, this was a train

That worked, and then I was let off into a giant terminal, El Prat de Llobregat, of course, one that you had to use your ticket to get out of.  Remember that!  You never know when you're going to need that ticket, but it seems like it's more of a train thing, than a metro one.  Although I have seen the metro police quizzing people about tickets.  I did find out that you can buy one metro ticket that is good for 10 trips, and that is a real time saver to get to town, and I even helped a kid out whose friends had gotten in, but his ticket wouldn't work.  When I left, I still had trips on it, and handed it to someone in the train/metro station on my last trip. 

So, I finally got back to the airport, and back to my hotel.  There was a convenience store/gas station around the corner from my hotel where I picked up some bottles of water. 

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