Montserrat, Spain

We did a relaxed day trip from Madrid to this historic “community” in the weirdly shaped, rounded topped mountains. The entire place is a park, and no one lives there anymore (I think) except for a few resident priests. The peaks and scenery were pretty amazing. We arrived in a thick shroud of fog. This was probably really good since we later saw the amazing yet very precarious cliffs we’d been driving along (rarely with guardrails!) to get there. It certainly made difficult figuring out where we were and where the parking was. After lucking out and finding a stall for parking, we walked through the clouds up the hill a little ways, where others seemed to be walking. None us really knew what we were looking for, but Claudette had read us the short paragraph description from a guide book and it had sounded worthwhile. While it seemed moist in the air, the clouds that we were immersed in never really rained on us until a few hours later when they had lifted. While walking we saw a building (barely) off to the left side of the road we were walking on. Then, just before the building a parking lot with a few dozen tour buses all lined up. We went briefly inside the building to see what was what. It turned out to be a three story food services building, built into the side of the hill a bit. It was also perched at the top of a deep ravine with a (presumably) spectacular view through the huge floor to ceiling windows. We had just eaten a roadside “picnic snack” that resembled lunch (lotsa great cheese, but no meat) and so resolved to eat supper here after checking the rest of the place out. We still had no idea what we were going to see other than the fact that there was supposed to be a nice church up here somewhere to see. The many large tour coaches and this huge three level restaurant reassured us that there must certainly be something very significant to see though.

Grandma Vi later commented how absolutely cool and memorable this experience was for her being unable to see a dozen meters in front of us. Apparently she had never been “in” the clouds before, and this was a very novel experience. In retrospect, I suppose that my first time walking in the clouds on a hike was pretty special as well. Grandpa Ray or Claudette didn’t comment and so we walked on, ever upwards. The uphill side of the road (and sidewalk) had become a looming retaining wall without my noticing. Suddenly there was another large restaurant opening onto the sidewalk, but this time built into the uphill side, instead of overlooking the lush green valley below. This place was merely utilitarian since it didn’t offer three teirs of seating adjacent to large panel windows. Based on this, I was presuming the that the prices would be slightly less as well. Shortly after we walked past that cafeteria, there were stairs going up into the retaining wall, up into the hill. The mist was also starting to clear, and looking up we could catch glimpses of the mountain walls and rounded spires (is that a semi-oxymoron?) a short distance away. At the top of the 6m vertical stairs, there was a courtyard, and by the time we reached it the mists were really starting to clear up to about 30m elevation from us. Suddenly sprang out a beautiful shear cliff face all along one plane running parallel to the road below that was cut into the hillside. The church entrance was off to one side while the opposite had a road heading down to a gated wall entrance before a switchback u-turn to meet up with the road we had taken the stairs from. All the stonework was old and beautiful.

We headed off to the church courtyard entrance. This was through a large multi-arched building, which we later saw was a “C” shape facing the other way, and surrounding the church entrance courtyard. As the mist “lifted”, the rain naturally started. It was still a really nice site. Unfortunately, someone here had chosen a logo for the church with four rounded towers, one longer than the other three. This is unfortunate because it looks exactly like someone giving “the finger”! Of course Grandma Vi readily posed beside the sign with hers extended as well. I’m surprised she hasn’t heard all sorts of exclamations of shock and horror from her co-workers. Perhaps they hadn’t seen that shot yet, but they’ll be scrambling to look for it now!

The Church itself was quite nice and tall and majestic. Inside was really beautiful though with the ceiling covered in stunning paintings from masters of the brush. This church set in amongst the oddly shaped mini mountains was a pretty cool sight overall. We couldn’t see the museum there since it was mid afternoon and we were running out of time to go up the mountain. There had once been several dozen monks all throughout the hills here that lived in solitude. Apparently they only came down from their huts once a year or so. They didn’t even visit each other (supposedly?) at only one or two km apart from each other. Their was also a smaller stone chapel at the top of one of these hills a few km away. There were two trams that take tourists up and down from the main park area. There is also a gondola from the base of the valley below which brings people up from the town to the park. We took the “up” tram to the top of a hill. It was similar to the Hong Kong tram, but was still a new experience for Grandpa Ray & Grandma Vi. Sadly, half way up the cloud cover encased everything again and we didn’t get much of a view down. we knew this before buying the tickets though, and just enjoyed the displays up there and a bit of a walk around. By the time we got down the museum was closed, and the restaurants only had unappetizing scraps left. So we piled in to the Citroen mini van and headed back West to our room for the night.

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