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Montserrat visited

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Montserrat, Barcelona, Spain

We debarked from our cruise ship eagerly, glad to be back on dry land and to see what Barcelona was all about. We met Mary there; she had flown in from her home in Germany to spend a few days with us before we all flew on to our next stop.

Barcelona is the best example we’ve seen of an Olympic city that got it right. Outdoor statuary, foot bridges, green parks – they’ve maintained most of the more interesting Olympic legacies.

The day after the end of our transatlantic cruise we went from ocean level to 2,400 feet after a 30-mile bus ride through the valley below. For miles we could see our destination, leaping toward the sky, an effect somewhat like we get when approaching our Rockies from east to west.

I know that I tend to describe new experiences in superlatives, but sometimes they really are the “most profound,” “the most beautiful,” “the most surprising.” Or else I have to fall back on “Words fail me.”

The Montserrat Mountains or, loosely translated, “serrated mount” in the Catalonian region of Spain, are part of that “words fail me” category. I couldn’t have told you where Catalonia was a couple of months ago, and now I’m an expert on them? No, of course I’m not an expert. They will simply remain foremost among sights we’ve seen all over the western world.

The Montserrat mountains are a gigantic belt of (limestone?) peaks exposed over millions of years of erosion by wind and weather. At a glance, they look like comic human figures, somehow crafted by human hands. In some areas, would-be sculptors have coaxed the monoliths into human configurations, both comic and serious.

No wonder some believe they are the works of man. Like I said, words fail me.

Our bus climbed to the bus- and car-park, pretty much the hub of Montserrat tourism and culture. There are other vantage points from which the visitor might choose a path vetted for difficulty. Other viewpoints may be reached by funiculars and cable cars crisscrossing the mountain’s face.

The crowning glory of Montserrat is the chapel that serves as a place of worship for the Benedictine monastery there since 1025. Today the monastery houses only about 30 monks, plus a music school – thought to be the oldest in Europe – for about 50 young boys. The choir sings publicly at 1 p.m. daily (except for Saturday) for 10 minutes in the basilica and is easily missed.

While there have been huts built in the area by monks since A.D. 900, the present church and monastery, named for Santa Maria de Montserrat, were built and rebuilt in the late 1850s. Weather and war have left their mark. Tourists have taken Montserrat to their hearts. Among early recorded visitors were Columbus and Cervantes.

The predominant color of the mountains is a pinkish blush, but light gray also shares in the display. A few of the cliffs support scruffy-looking vegetation and the overwhelming color is a dusty rose. And wildflowers brave the crowded pathways seeking their own place in the sun.

We saw people of all descriptions and the mood was almost one of gaiety. I was walking with the aid of my cane and the crowd made allowances for me. We had stood in one of the lines forming in the large gathering porch in hopes of getting seats near the front of the sanctuary, until someone said a new line was opening on the other side of the entry.

I grew tired and told Dave to come back and get me if he thought there would be room. I sat at the base of a column next to steps which allowed me to get closer to the floor before I “let go” and dropped into a spot from which I’d never be able to arise unassisted.

It didn’t matter at first, and I amused myself by watching a handsome young father entertaining his son while they waited. The baby was running around the next pillar and ducking under his dad’s leg, at which point the daddy swooped him into the air, with screams and giggles every time, over and over again. Assessing his language as either Italian or Spanish, I conveyed my pleasure in the little scene more with gestures than spoken words..

When Dave came into view across the crowded courtyard I started to get up, not very gracefully, and in only seconds I felt strong arms lifting me to my feet. By the time I could turn around to thank my benefactors, they were already gone.

Words fail me, again. 


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