Day 4 in Barcelona was… weird. So much weird. I mean, it was actually very beautiful, at first. But just as I fell down the stairs and got covered in stinky liquor, so did our day. It was all downhill from there, and as you can see it was a very steep fall… into a black hole of hookers and crackheads. This is 100% literal.
A lot of it had to do with the fact that I was full-blown SICK at this point. I had a fever, an intolerable sore throat, a borrowed bra (no shame), and I felt like a sloth… wearing ankle weights… walking through a mud puddle. Y’all know – the fever struggle is real. But I was not going to let this stop me from getting up that mountain! Montserrat had become my Everest!
Now, had I known how the rest of the day was going to go, I probably would’ve just stayed up there and lived out the rest of my days. The rest of my illness at least. The monks would have taken me in, right? Accepted me as one of their own? It’s too bad brown just isn’t my color.
On Day Four we boarded a train bound for the monastery of Montserrat, a religious pilgrimage site about an hour outside Barcelona via a sticky, un-air-conditioned train. All of the other passengers had just completed the Color Run and had created a dusty rainbow colored cloud in the air and all over the seats I sat on anyway. I chose green. Green is my color.
Now, I subscribe to one religion and one religion only: Cheese. “Cheese is patient. Cheese is kind. It does not boast. Cheese always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” And that, readers, came straight from the Bible. Gorgonzola 13:4-8. Regardless of this fact, I’m still drawn to exploring religious sites on my travels. (Actual religious sites. Not dairy farms.) They tend to be the oldest, most elaborate and beautiful places with the best stories to tell and the creepiest art*. I’m curious on a purely intellectual level. Plus, this one has cheeeeese.
*I CAN’T STOP LAUGHING because that link is to a page called “Ugly Renaissance Babies.”
WHAT IS IT?
Technically, “Montserrat” refers to the area of “serrated mountains” about 30 miles northwest of Barcelona. Here’s an example:
See how weird? From a long distance away the range looks like a giant saw.
The term is also used to refer to Santa Maria de Montserrat, the Benedictine abbey found clinging to the side of the Montserrat mountains. The site is popular because of its unusual and enchanting location, that whole religious pilgrimage thing, and its statue of the black Virgin Mary. Yup, that’s a thing.
GO TO MONTSERRAT FOR:
- The monastery
- The basilica – which we only saw through windows and iron bars because of how inappropriately we were dressed. Sorry, Jesus. It’s Spain in June and I’ve got a raging fever. My knees and shoulders need all the air. One would think you’d be a little more forgiving seeing as how you grew up in the Middle East. Cheese doesn’t care what I wear.
- The Black Madonna – Though she’s located in the rear of the basilica, we were still able to get in to see her. I guess she’s just slightly less judge-y about my short shorts… for a virgin.
- An art and archaeology museum
- A handful of gift shops – with everything from Jesus figures and little Black Madonnas to booze. Can you guess which one I purchased?
- An outdoor market – ahem, CHEESE
- Walking and hiking trails – Sure, my Everest has walking trails. We like to keep it real here. But as much as I love hiking (and walking for that matter), there wasn’t a chance in Hell I wouldn’t pass out from feverish exhaustion and go tumbling down the mountainside. I passed. There are also a few via ferratas in the area so I know what I’m doing next time! Who’s with me?!
- Really great views #greenismycolor
The problem with Montserrat is that it’s so old no one really knows all that stuff from the beginning. The majority opinion is that monks came to the mountain to build the abbey some time in the 9th century. The abbey grew in size over time and churches were built throughout the next few centuries and that Black Virgin Mary began to draw religious pilgrims from all over the world to Montserrat. In keeping with tradition, here are some other notable events that took place in the 9th century:
- The first settlers to the Hawaiian Islands arrive
- Algebra was invented in Syria – DAMN YOU!
- A bunch of stuff about the Vikings
- and man, there just wasn’t a whole hell of a lot else going on
Actually, I just read another one. The 9th century was when the number 0 became a thing. Zero. This monastery is so old it existed before THE NUMBER ZERO WAS A THING. Whose bright idea was that one?
THE BLACK MADONNA
AKA The Virgin of Montserrat
AKA La Moreneta (the little black lady) ⇠That’s my favorite.
So this “Black Madonna” I keep mentioning… it’s a statue. Of the Virgin Mary. Only she’s black. Again, nobody really knows why but they suspect it’s just that she darkened over time. I don’t buy that, but insert Rachel Dolezal joke here.
Black Madonnas are a thing, just like the number zero. For whatever reason, they are seen as miraculous, hence all the pilgrims. Visitors, myself included, wait in long lines winding through the basilica for just a few seconds to touch the statue’s orb. I know this sounds like something out of an X-Files episode but just hear me out. She and her black Baby Jesus sit on a throne holding an orb said to represent the ‘cosmos’ (huh?). The orb is the only thing touchable as the rest of the statue is encased in glass. Touch the orb, say a prayer… or whatever it is you’d like to do. Maybe you want to sing her the theme song to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Anything goes. Black Madonna don’t judge. But you only have about as much time as “Now this is a story all ab-” Move along…
I asked for a miracle that never occurred so I have my doubts. Maybe I should have covered my knees.
UPDATE: In keeping with the theme of this post, Amanda has alerted me to the fact that I left out the part where I got assaulted by a baby while in line to see the Black Madonna. This baby was being a real jerk. Screaming and crying in the otherwise silent church, punching me in the back of the head, and violently pulling my hair – so hard that my neck snapped and I almost fell backwards. Y’all don’t know what restraint is until you’ve see me getting assaulted by a baby in a church and doing nothing about it. Miracles.
The entirety of Montserrat was built around this statue. No one knows her origins but there is much mystery and legend surrounding her story. They say she was moved to this site in the year 718 to avoid danger posed by invaders. I don’t know who these invaders were but based on recent 9th century history, I’m guessing… the Vikings? The monks were unable to move her when they began building their monastery so they just built the thing around her instead. Why couldn’t they move her? Is she incredibly heavy? Did all the monks have fevers? I have so many questions!
After your visit with the Black Madonna, you will head into the chapel dedicated to her, that’s directly behind her. I find this incredibly awesome. This entire (huge) chapel was all built around THE BACK OF A STATUE. I think that’s pretty powerful.
I first read about Black Madonnas in the book The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd in which the Black Madonna plays a major role. Also, the woman’s name is MONK. That can’t be a coincidence. Who names their (female) kid Monk? I need to do some recon. I bought this book because I’m really into 1960s American South and also, bees. I highly recommend it. There’s a movie too, but read the book. The book is always better.
After you exit the church you will continue down the Ave Maria pathway to light a candle if you choose, or if not, just take pictures of it.
GETTING TO MONTSERRAT
From downtown Barcelona you can get to Montserrat easily by train in about an hour. BUT… I really shouldn’t be the one giving you these directions – we get lost a lot. We were given directions many times that led us literally in circles by the bitches that work at the train station. First of all, get to the right train station. THAT’S THE KEY!
This page has great instructions (if you’re at the right train station to begin with).
Obviously they make the train to Montserrat pretty hard to miss. There’s an entire area of the train station dedicated to Montserrat with information booths and brochures and its own ticket window. It’s clearly making a mockery of those who couldn’t find it to save their lives. I feel the need to insert a FEVER reminder here. ⇠ I have no excuses for Amanda.
At this main station you will not only purchase your tickets to the Montserrat area, but also your tickets up the mountain. You have two options: funicular or the railway.
GETTING UP THE MOUNTAIN
- Funicular: Small gondola, the quickest option, the best views, and of course, way more fun. Even if old abuela is violently pushing you into a corner the way old European grandmas do. The joke’s on her anyway because fever reminder.
- Railcar: I can’t help you here. The railway workers were on strike while we were there so we didn’t have a choice. Trains are so 9th century anyway. Actually, no that’s not true…
THE RAILWAY WORKERS’ STRIKE DEBACLE
The railway workers’ strike didn’t really affect us at first. We were going to take the gondola regardless. It wasn’t until about 2:00 PM that they began to demonstrate. They stood on the roof of the funicular station at the top of the mountain, next to the monastery, and blew their airhorns nonstop. Just a continuous WWWWEEEEERRRRRRRRRRR ⇠ OK I literally just googled “how to spell the sound of a blow horn.” There are pages devoted to the topic. Most of them assert the answer is “ah-ooh-ga.” But this is not a 1950’s cartoon so that’s out.
Regardless, the horn blowing went on for hours. In this idyllic, sacred place. So that was a little peaceful-moment-ruining. As peaceful as you can get with fever reminder.
THE OUTDOOR MARKET DEBACLE
The farmer’s market at Montserrat was a welcome and pleasant surprise. Mostly because, you guessed it, CHEESE. Vendors are lined up on the sidewalk under a canopy selling cured meats, cheeses, honeys, nuts, dreams, medicinal cures. And, if you just so happen to be looking for the happiest man in Spain, look no further than tent numero uno. He’s a bit older and doesn’t speak English. He smiles a lot and his cheese is the bee’s knees so….. Mr. Right? I’m already taken but ladies, you are welcome.
His stand was our favorite. His happiness was contagious, even in the fucked up state of lethargy in which I found myself. He gave us samples of all his cheeses and we agreed to return after our day at the monastery to make all the purchases.
We returned a few hours later ready to take home a block of manchego and a roll of “Oh My God Goat Cheese” at his insistence, all packed for traveling.* This time, though, the happy man was visibly flustered and his face red. He was trying to tell me something and appeared quite distraught. Using some rather hilarious hand gestures he, in the most polite way possible, let me know my boob was showing. I was so sick at this point I could have been missing an arm or an eyeball and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Let me be clear, it wasn’t my boob boob. Under my tank top I wore a lacy bandeau. My top simply got hooked in the middle as it does, ‘tween boob. As a clueless dude he must’ve thought I was flashing everyone my slutty lingerie and was going to be mortified when he told me. Instead I’m like, “Ehhh there’s my boob again. Just more proof that I have no idea how to wear clothes and shouldn’t be allowed in holy places.”
I rolled my eyes, covered my boob, and thanked him (comforted him, let’s be real). It was painfully obvious him having to explain that to me was far more embarrassing for him that it was for me, the shameless American traveler. It was then that Amanda insisted he and I take a photo together. But not until he put on his very weird hat that look like one of those New Year’s Eve party favors you blow into… (and that actually go “ah-ooh-ga!”)
*The majority of my suitcase home was packed with food.
*For the record, I also left with a jar of honey that a woman told me was specifically for curing throat ailments. Now, this woman knew nothing of the world’s worst sore throat from which I was suffering at that very moment. Hello? Can we say DIVINE INTERVENTION?
THE GIFT SHOP DEBACLE
Montserrat has some pretty decent gift shops – if liquor or Jesus toys are your thing. The liquors sold are made in the area and I bought a bottle of Anis liqueur for my husband who totally digs the stuff. Me? I can’t be anywhere near it. GAG. Which makes what happened next even worse.
I purchased the bottle on our last stop at the gift shop before catching the funicular back down the mountain. On our way down to the station, I slipped and fell down the stairs you see above, shattering the bottle of this disgusting smelling liquor. I don’t need to remind you that I was barely conscious at this point and obviously putting one foot in front of the other was a trying endeavor. Ok, I guess I just did.
I reeked of liquorice. I didn’t want it to be a total loss so I had Amanda get in line for the funicular while I CLIMBED BACK UP THE MOUNTAIN in sweltering summer heat to get another bottle. Don’t even get me started on the judgement of the cashier. “Another bottle?” Yes, another bottle woman! My husband, of course, felt awful when I told him this story. The things we do for love, amirite?! Worth every inch closer I got to being admitted to the hospital.
BACK IN BARCELONA
THE TRAIN STATION DEBACLE
At some point later in the day (we can’t agree on when this happened – in my sickened state I could have sworn is was on planet Jupiter in the year -45) Amanda and I were again in the train station. Walking through the turnstile, Amanda felt something weird behind her (not good weird though) and turned around. A dude had his hand in her purse.
He didn’t get anything from her except a stern “talking to” and some looks that could derail a freight train. Ten minutes later he showed up on our side of the turnstile trying to rob more people. He obviously thought we had gotten on the train and was shocked as shit to see us standing there eye-murdering him. I saw him following a couple of girls with shopping bags so I ran over to them to tell them the thief was about to steal their shit. Either they didn’t speak English or just NO ONE CARES AS MUCH AS I DO but they just giggled and moved on. Bitches! You need to care!
Amanda saw what I did and took it into her own hands to run around the station alerting everyone to the fact that we had a thief in our midst. She was waving and pointing and yelling, “THIEF! THIEF!” I am laughing so hard writing this. Now THAT was a 1950s cartoon. His eyes bulged out of his head, ah-ooh-ga! and he promptly left the station. Good job, girl! Though the people in the station didn’t seem to get it you sure saved them a huge pain in the ass. Tourists the world over thank you.
This story first appeared in 11 Things I Don’t Want in Europe – Period. You should read the other 10.
Dinner was NOT a debacle! Miracles do occur!
Actually, our dinner on Day Four was one for the books. Best food ever.
Because we didn’t quite learn our lesson the first time (does anybody ever, really?), we returned to Taller de Tapas for dinner, the restaurant of baby wipe fame from Day Two. HOWEVER, we chose the phenomenal Gothic Quarter location over the weird-as-shit La Rambla location that thinks your desert should be served on the same thing you wipe a baby’s ass with. It’s a long story, just read it.
We had a little of everything: cod fritters, the freshest, most heavenly calamari I’ve ever had, some bread with squished tomatoes spread on it (seriously what is this?), patatas bravas (our go-to), and a bucket of mussels that seemed to never end. This is my, “If I eat one more mussel, I’m going to puke” face. Amanda really knows how to capture the essence that is Ashley.
THE CHURRO DEBACLE
In what universe does an order of churros cost $100? PLANET BARCELONA. OK, it wasn’t exactly $100 but the reaction to our bill was the same as if it was.
After dinner, we realized we forgot to get some churros while in Spain – derr. Good job ladies. The first places we tried refused us saying it was “breakfast.” Well, in America we eat breakfast all day, so there. Unfortunately it was up to La Rambla to deliver and they did. We ordered some churros. Would you like chocolate? Yes, sure – that’s what you’re supposed to do right?
We were served TWO orders instead of the one we intended to share. Rookie mistake, I know. Completely our fault for not specifying that we aren’t asshole tourists waiting to be taken advantage of. Fever Reminder.
The churros were fucking gross. Cold and soggy inside and obviously frozen + nuked. The chocolate was disgusting and as hot as the blazing sun = inedible. All of it. We each had one half churro and decided it was time for our day of debacles to come to an end. I don’t remember what the actual check was but we were shocked. SHOCKED. It was like, “Ah-ooh-ga!”
The churros were like $20 a piece and the chocolate was an extra $9. WTF. Such a scam. To make matters worse. We didn’t have enough money. We sat there for about 45 minutes, not deciding how to pay, but IF. We needed cash for the cab to the airport and didn’t want to go to the ATM, again. Much to our disappointment, we paid. Fever reminder. It takes energy to be a criminal and that was energy I just didn’t have.
We are STILL pissed about this by the way. Amanda sent me a picture recently after she’d eaten dinner at a Mexican restaurant and they GAVE HER FREE CHURROS. One small step for man, one giant leap for Amanda.
I don’t have any more pictures of churros or hookers so I’ll just fill the rest of this post with pretty pictures from Montserrat to diffuse the tension on the lower half of this blog post.
THE HOOKERS & CRACKHEADS DEBACLE
During the “will we pay or won’t we” part of the night, we noticed a lot of weirdos asking customers for cigarettes and money. Weird, but ya know, it’s whatev. It wasn’t until we started walking that we noticed the entirety of La Rambla looked like an episode of the Walking Dead. Drugged out hookers and homeless people and crackheads slowly dragging their lifeless bodies towards us to… rob us? Proposition us for sex? Jam needles into the spaces between our toes? I was freaked out and after being followed down the alley to our hotel, we turned and booked it back to La Rambla in hopes of finding a cab.
Wellllll….. guess what? No cabs! Great job, Barcelona. Way to nail it. As it turns out, all of the people and all of the cabs were at the victory parade for Barcelona’s futbol team who won that big championship something-or-other I mentioned in Day Three. We obviously knew nothing of this parade or WE WOULD HAVE BEEN THERE TOO!
We found two cops and thought we were in luck. Wah-wahhhh, nope. They wanted nothing to do with helping us. Telling us our hotel was only a five-minute walk through that dark alley full of all those prostitutes and rapists. I asked one to take me to the hotel on his motorcycle. He got on and drove away, laughing at us all the while. Now, being laughed at and ignored by police officers in Europe is nothing new to me but fever reminder.
So I did what anyone else in my situation would do. I brandished a liter-sized glass bottle as we ran full speed down the alley to our hotel, waving the bottle in the air the whole time. I am so street.
THE AIRPLANE FOOD POISONING DEBACLE
Yeah, I don’t need to go into details here. You get it. I ate the “pasta” and spent the next six hours back to America in the fetal position in the airplane bathroom.
Other than the weird and fever-induced debacles of the 4th day, our trip was a smashing success. We saw art, architecture, and my favorite, mountains! We ate some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life and laughed our asses off. Seriously almost a year later my abs are still sore. We stayed at a super funky hotel with horse lamps and bear penises and experienced flamenco and Gaudí.
Despite all the Day Four debacles, when I think back on that day I remember the gorgeous area of Montserrat, the almost palpable spirituality visiting the Black Madonna provokes, some of the best food around, how OMG the OMG Goat Cheese was, and all related hilarity. Being sick when you’re abroad sucks, but really it gives you some great stories to tell.
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