Updated: February 18th, 2018
A lot of what has become known as “the Day of Debacles” 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. You know – when 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.
Day 4 in (and outside) 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.
On Day Four we boarded a train bound for a day trip to Montserrat, the most beautiful day-trip from Barcelona. Montserrat is a Catholic monastery and religious pilgrimage site about an hour outside Barcelona via a sticky, un-air-conditioned train. Not to mention 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. 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.
DAY TRIP TO MONTSERRAT
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 far away the range looks like a giant saw.
The term ‘Montserrat’ 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.
TAKE A DAY TRIP 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 figurines 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 too. 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, so I passed. There are also a few via ferrate in the area so I know what I’m doing next time! Who’s with me?!
- Really great views #greenismycolor
DAY TRIP TO MONTSERRAT | THE HISTORY
The problem with Montserrat is that it’s so old no one really knows all the stuff from the beginning. The majority opinion is that monks came to the mountain to build the abbey sometime 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. To put this into perspective, here are some other notable events that took place in the 9th century:
- The first settlers to the Hawaiian Islands arrived
- 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?
DAY TRIP TO MONTSERRAT | THE BLACK MADONNA
Black Madonnas are a thing in themselves, just like the number zero. They are seen as miraculous, hence all the pilgrims. Visitors, myself included, wait in long lines that wind through the basilica for the chance to touch the statue’s orb, said to represent the ‘cosmos’, for just a few seconds. 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 Saved By the Bell. Anything goes. Black Madonna don’t judge. But you only have about as much time as “When I wake up in the mor-” Move along…
I asked for a miracle that never occurred so I have my doubts. Maybe I should have covered my knees?
The entirety of Montserrat was built around this statue. No one knows her origins but there’s no shortage of 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 what I’ve learned about 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’ll 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’ll continue down the Ave Maria pathway to light a candle if you choose, or if not, just take pictures of it.
DAY TRIP TO MONTSERRAT | HOW TO GET THERE
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 – I get lost a lot. We were given directions many times that led us literally in circles by the folks 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 my travel companion.
Were I to take another day trip to Montserrat, especially if I were fever-stricken, I’d definitely consider doing so on a tour. Tours include guides who know things and would probably remind you to wear pants, transportation so you don’t have to take the hot train (if you can find it), and plenty of free time. Here are some tours I found on Viator you should check out:
- Half-Day Guided Montserrat Tour | 4 hours, guide + driver, free time!
- Private Montserrat Tour | 5 hours, private driver, hotel pickup and dropoff!
- Private Day-Trip from Barcelona, Magical Montserrat | Slum it on the train but take your private guide with you! 5 hours, gorgeous views.
At the main train station you’ll not only purchase your tickets to the Montserrat area, but also your tickets up the mountain. You have two options for this: 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 an 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, that’s not true…
DAY 4 IN BARCELONA | THE DAY OF DEBACLES
The rest of this article deals not with the holy site of Montserrat, but of the holy Hell that was Day Four in Barcelona. Because sometimes I like to use myself as a cautionary travel tale, here’s what happened on “the Day of Debacles”:
⇢ THE RAILWAY WORKERS’ STRIKE DEBACLE
The railway workers’ strike didn’t affect us at first; we planned on taking the gondola regardless. It wasn’t until about 2:00 PM that they began to demonstrate. Standing on the roof of the mountaintop funicular station, next to the monastery mind you, they 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 line up on the sidewalk under a canopy to sell 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 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 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” (his words, not mine) 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 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 male 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, actually). It was painfully obvious him having to explain that to me was far more embarrassing for him that it was for me, the shameless traveler. It was then that my friend 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… (that actually does 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. 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 disgustingly strong 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 a 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 guy had his hand in her purse.
He didn’t get anything from her except a stern “talking to” and some looks that could’ve derailed 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 stuff. Either they didn’t speak English or just NO ONE CARES AS MUCH AS I DO but they just giggled and moved on. Fools! 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.
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-hell 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. Below 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 only.” 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 jerk tourists waiting to be taken advantage of. Fever Reminder.
The churros were disgusting. Cold and soggy inside and obviously frozen + nuked. The chocolate was awful 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.
The churros were like $20 a piece and the chocolate was an extra $9. Such a scam. To make matters worse. We didn’t have enough money. Fever reminder. 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, for lack of a better term, asking customers for cigarettes and money. 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 street walkers 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 hoodlums. 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 water 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. That would not be the last time I got food poisoning on an airplane from eating the “pasta”. Just say no to the pasta! But scream it loudly and flair your hands like an Italian so they know you mean it.
Other than the weird and fever-induced debacles of the 4th day, our day trip to Montserrat 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. 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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