For this trip, we had to rise early. We knew we had to be on time for our bus though we were in Spain, which is comparatively relaxed. Montserrat is a mountain, after all, and it's reasonably far from downtown. We knew timeliness was important. Unfortunately, we also needed to understand the transportation system. We almost did. We wandered astray a little, enough to make for some tension about whether we'd get to the bus before our deadline. We didn't make it, actually, but we were close enough, only a minute or two late. Another group trailed in behind us a few minutes after.
Assembled in our seats, we listened to the tour lecture. A few minutes into it, I started to nap. The drive to Montserrat took the driver about an hour. He had to steer us uphill over a lot of switchbacks. There's no escaping them short of owning a helicopter, not if you want to visit the monastery. But does anyone want to visit a monastery? I do, myself, but I think most folks don't because the tour included a wine tasting. On our agenda was a walk through a local vineyard, a meal, and a beverage sampling at the end.
But first, we had to observe the monastery grounds. They're nice, as our guide Gus pointed out.
Gus walked us around the place (but not through the actual monastery halls, to my disappointment) and his explanations of the area included the basilica. Gus was proving to be a fun guy; he grew up in Venezuela and came to Barcelona as a musician looking for a place to play. He started his own studio and played in gigs for other musicians around Barcelona. Plus, of course, he was our guide.
"There's a choir?" I asked about something Gus said.
"World famous," he reiterated. He implied I should know more than I did, really. Based on Gus's descriptions I was interested in hearing the choir sing. There was a scheduled performance in the chapel later that day. Moreover, Gus pointed out a museum on the grounds. It displayed Picasso paintings, Monet, Rembrandt, Dali, and more. What is a museum doing on the top of the mountain? I wondered. It made me curious.
When the walk through the monastery basilica was finished, Gus told us to do our own thing for a couple hours.
There were wine shops, cheese vendors, the museum, and a scheduled choir concert. I was fairly interested in all of them. First, though, I wanted to hike across the mountain.
It's a good thing Diane is patient with my pace. She stayed by my side as we traversed the southern path, which was mostly paved with bricks and cobblestones. The view was as inspiring as you might expect from a mountaintop. Lots of other visitors thought so, too. There were plenty of folks on the trail taking pictures. We didn't see anyone who looked like a bottom-to-top hiker, though. That is always possibility. There are paths to hike from the base of Montserrat to the peak, plus there are open-air lifts and other methods.
We hiked to the southeast cross and back. After our return downhill to the shops, we located Norm and Jenn. They had bought us tickets for the museum and choir. There wasn't a lot of time for the museum. But as prestigious as the art on the walls may be, the place wasn't so large that we couldn't see most of it before rushing back to the basilica. If you've ever witnessed sightseers speed-glancing at paintings, that was us.
You can't speed-listen to a concert, though. We had to hold still in the pews.
The choir was ordinary for a while, although with greater voices than most and traditional European church music. At times, the chords of their arrangements spread out and took on unusual, beautiful shapes. The quality of sound in the basilica was superb, of course.
"Should we buy cheese?" we asked one another as we headed for the bus depot at the foot of the town that surrounds the monastery. Our guide had encouraged us to do so, as it supported the local farmers, who were also the cheese producers.
"Let's look," someone said. We all nodded.
I told myself we would positively not buy any local cheese. We couldn't eat it all and we had no good way to carry it back home. So we got cheese. (We shipped it back on the airplane in a checked bag.)
The walking tour at the winery was limited. We didn't get to walk around the grounds. Apparently, we weren't trusted not to touch the grape vines. We did climb up to the top tower of what used to be the castle, though. (In Spain, you couldn't have walls around your house, no matter how rich you were, unless you got ennobled. One of the family did, in fact, get knighted during a war. So the household of potters and farmers was allowed to put walls around their estate and turn it into an official castle. He and the rest of the family had already been turning it into a winery at the time. They had wide fields of clay soils as the basis for their pots and the same slopes could be used to grow vines.)
We heard the family name for the estate only one or fourteen times, so I don't remember it. Apparently I didn't read any of the wine bottles, either. I'm sure they're moderately famous and very nice.
We did hear about the wine blight, though, and how that was America's fault. It was enlightening to hear the Spanish view of it. Even in that version, the evil American grape vines saved the European vines in the end by becoming the roots for all European grape crops. The splicing onto American vine roots to grow European grapes continues. Right now, there's no other way.
In the midst of the blight, the local black grape variety grown around Montserrat was lost. However, the vineyard owners discovered leftover roots and made a successful graft decades later to save the variety. Spanish black grapes are a wine staple again. We drank a few wines based on them. They didn't compare well to the vermut and sangria we'd been sampling all over Barcelona, though.
After we got back to Barcelona, we sampled more vermut.