Thursday, 12 May 2016

Montserrat madness

Montserrat is a Benedictine monastery up on a mountain an hour from town that at times today seemed less like a monastery and more like an amusement park. But I get ahead of myself.

The Montserrat Monastery has been around several hundred years ever since in the 800's a young boy saw a light and heard music whilst mountain climbing. I'd give you more background data than that, but Wikipedia doesn't have much and, when it comes to religious stuff, I'm not your guy. Suffice to say that some monks built a church and sanctuary on the side of a mountain near it's top, and it's been there a while.

While in St. Sadurnia yesterday, we heard that one of the two ways to get up to the monastery was closed and it was busy. Not knowing what we were up against, this wasn't useful info. What was useful was that every guidebook we had read said don't miss the 1:00 PM performance of the Boys Choir.

With trains running to the place running but once an hour, we hopped on the 10:30 train from Place D'Espanya (a more confusing station doesn't exist) for the ~1 hr journey to the base of the mountain., figuring a 11:35 arrival would give us lots of time to make the concert.
The monastery's just below the peak on the right
The train disgorged us -- and about 200 other people -- to the loading area of the cable car that led to the monastery.
The monastery from the train station
It was here that the fact that there was only one way up there sank in. The cable car up...
The cars 
See that yellow speck? 
Passing every 10 minutes and hold 18-25 people -- a capacity of at most 150 people per hour. Since the cable car was (supposedly) the only way up, we had about a 90 min wait to take the 5 min ride up. The next train arrived before we got on the cable car, disgorging another 200 people for another hour-plus-long wait. 

The "only" other way up (see below) is via a rack railway -- which was shut down yesterday and today, though neither the website nor the ticket booths for the trains in Barcelona said that was the case. Excellent that the FGC rail guys (operators of the train and rack railway) keep you informed like that.

Once aboard the cable car, the ride up was quick.
A church down the valley 
Heading up
Bye bye, next train crowd. You, too, have a 90 min wait. 
Not even half way 
Passing the other car
We got to the top of the cable car at 1:15 pm. With still a ways to climb and walk to get to the Basilica where they perform, we were too late to hear the choir. Excellent.

Realizing this, we sauntered our way around -- among a hoard of ~600 school kids with matching t-shirts who were screaming and yelling and running around. Excellent.

How did ~600 school kids get here? Well, apparently, you can drive up on a bus, which no guidebook ever mentioned.
A very tall tree 
The Basillica's courtyard 
Apostles overlooking the courtyard 
Kids carefully cropped out 
Looking back
The Basillica behind the facade 
I got two photos off inside before my travelling companion noted that there were no photograph signs up. I then spent the next 20 minutes trying to not be in other people's photos inside the church, and watching dozens of flashes going off -- though I didn't take any other photos personally.
The interior
Some 50 monks still live here, though we never saw any (and good for them to hide, I say). There are all sorts of strange marine based motifs here, including various fish and sea critters on the floor outside the Basillica...
Octopus and swordfish and dolphins and...
...and a clam shrine.
There are 2 funiculars up there. One goes up to the actual summit of the mountain, where there is a National Park and miles and miles of trails to hike...
The funicular 
The passing zone
While everyone else enjoyed ice cream, I went for a walk onto the paths the monks use for sanctuary (there were shrines every few hundred feet)...
Looking back at the monastery, the little monsters in blue still there 
Men singing at one shrine 
The path goes ever onwards 
Three cross shrines 
Two cross shrines
...and almost got lost following a path that was right out of Lord Of The Rings.
Who wouldn't want to go up there? 
Or up here? 
Or up there? 
Or there? 
Or along here?
And along these paths, there were stellar views...
The valley 
One of the paths lead to that cross 
Lower paths 
People on the lower paths 
The cave where the light hit that the boy saw in the 800's has a chapel 
More paths
...and cats.
There are cats everywhere
Alas, it was time to get in line, wait another hour...
That's 45 min of people visible descend the cable car.
The car departs 
Another arrives
Then it was time to wait -- with more cats -- 45 min for the train to arrive.
This dude found me interesting
We were pretty disappointed with Montserrat. Perhaps it was the obnoxious waits to get up there and get back (which allegedly goes away if the rack railway is running), a total of 2 hrs 15 min of waiting for the cable car plus train waits. Perhaps it was missing the choir sing. Perhaps it was that there really isn't anything to do up there. Perhaps it's the fact that the Basilica is pretty but not that interesting. Perhaps it was the hordes of screaming kids. Perhaps it was the fact that ALL THE GUIDEBOOKS LIE and there are FOUR ways (not 2) to get up and down:

  1. The cable car
  2. The rack railway
  3. The Sagales local transit bus from Monestral (why does no one mention this? It connects directly with the FGC trains and doesn't cost much -- certainly not the €10 that the rack railway or the cable car does).
  4. A bus on a guided tour
Maybe, had we taken the funicular to the topmost-top and gone for a walk (the mobility of my travelling companions restricts that), it would have been worth it. But we were all pretty "meh" about the place, and thought that if there were MORE tourists there, it would be hell.

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