Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Ave Maria VII: Barcelona & Montserrat
Breakfast at Tryp Apolo was not disappointing with a wide range of cold cuts, breads and cheeses. Met our local guide Gonzalos at the lobby. He was a funny and chatty fellow who had a decent Malay vocabulary. He took us on a walking tour of the old city walls, Columbus Monument, Maritime Museum and Ramblas de Mar, retracing our steps the night before. From the confines of the bus, we also spied Las Arenas, an old bullfighting ring turned shopping mall. Bullfights were banned in 2011, effectively ending 600 years of history.
The Black Madonna of Montserrat (patron saint of Catalonia) was our first appointment of the day. Traveled 60 KM out to the mountains where we took the Aeri cable car up to the Benedictine monastery in the mountains. According to Gonzalos, the cable car was built by the Germans. He joked that the Spanish let the Germans work hard while the Spaniards had la siesta (afternoon nap). For some reason, the mountains of Montserrat has a peculiar shape, like petrified mounds of mud (geologist speak: a strikingly pink conglomerate, a form of sedimentary rock). Actually it looks more beautiful than it sounds.
Took a quick look around at the public areas and the atrium of the basilica. No sight of the Benedictine monks. Security was provided by watchful personnel on Segways. Walked past rows and rows of votive candles before arriving at a magnificent chapel right behind the famous Virgin of Montserrat or the Black Madonna. From where we were sitting, a window above altar revealed the back of the Black Madonna to us. As pilgrims and visitors streamed past we could see them touching the orb in Her hands. Black isn't the original colour according to restorers. They attributed the change due to prolonged exposure to candle smoke or a chemical reaction caused by a varnish.
Our turn came once the private mass ended. Every visitor and pilgrim had only a few seconds (enough time for a tenth of a Hail Mary?) with the Black Madonna, framed in an ornate window. Below us, a mass was in progress with the accompaniment of the famous boys choir, the Escolania. A waste that we didn't have the time to take a better look around the basilica.
Bid the Black Madonna adieu and rushed to our buffet lunch at an underground cafeteria. Although it looked like a mess hall, the food quality was great. Loved the freshly-grilled salmon, sea bream, pork sausage and chicken. Other interesting stuff on their spread included grilled artichokes and gazpacho, a cold vegetable soup. Time wasn't on our side. No time for a second helping! Had to rush off to the next destination-- Sagrada Familia.
Compared to my last visit, there was some progress at the basilica (and I felt that there was heightened security). The tour guide said that the construction was going at a good pace and should be finished in time for Gaudi's 100th death anniversary in 2026. Wonder if they can really finish the remaining ten towers by then. Seems like a lot of work.
Our day tour ended outside of Casa Mila, where we had an hour to stroll around Passeig De Gràcia to admire how Burberry charges EUR3,600 for a handbag. Afterwards, dinner was at a Chinese restaurant where the owner spoke Cantonese. Adorning the walls of the restaurant was photos of veteran Hong Kong celebrities like Patrick Tze, Wu Fung and Sit Kar Yin. That night we had a drinking session at the hotel with two leftover bottles of wine from lunch.