30 Mar 2013


Are you ready to rock? I said, are you ready to rock? I can't hear you. I said. Are! You! Ready! To! Rock!!!!!
Let's Rock!

Well, all right!

Because today the BigBarcelonaBlog is putting its pedal to the metal, heading down the highway to hell and moving on up to Montserrat.

The biggest weirdest lump of knobbly shaped rock in the whole of Catalunya.

It looks as if...

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  We've got to get there first. Which means I am going to have to own to indulging in a bit of unnecessarily fancy writing a moment ago. Unnecessarily fancy writing, BigBarcelonaBlog? Really? I know - it's hard to believe, isn't it?

Nevertheless it is true. There was no pedal put to any kind of metal. No highway and no hell (unless you count the busker doing a shocking version of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game). Instead we went by train. Which is much more comfortable and convenient but, it must be conceded, somewhat less Rock. The train for Montserrat goes from Plaza Espanya which is ironic (in an Alannis Morisette black fly in your Chardonnay kinda way) as my last blog entry told everybody never to go there.

When you get to Plaza Espanya (try and get there before ten thirtyI'll explain why later) the place where you depart for Montserrat and ticket vending machines are well signposted but when you actually arrive at the platform things get a bit confusing. Monserrat does have a bewildering array of transport options to negotiate. In no particular order we have train, cable car, two funiculars and a rack and pinion railway. Now I have to be clear: this blog is not the kind of virtual publication that samples all your options and sets them out in front of you and invites you to pick one. No. This blog does one thing and if you want to do anything else it's at your own risk. Actually if you do what the BigBarcelonaBlog suggests you're doing it at your own risk too. Risk Rocks! 
For those about to rock...

Anyway you will notice standing near the ticket machines some men in the same red shirts. They are there to help, even if their sullen demeanours do not immediately suggest itessentially they are ticket sellers without a booth (a kind of combination of ticket selling and hot-desking which I think explains the sullenness. In the end a ticket seller without a kiosk is like a doctor without a stethoscope or, as Alannis would doubtless remind us, a free ride when youve already paid.) Approach the hutless hombres and give them your sweetest smile. Ask for help purchasing a return ticket to Montserrat using the cable car and the funiculars. It should cost you about 26 Euros at the time of writing. They will sort out all the button pressing on the machineyou just have to do the paying. They take cards and everything.

After that you can go and get on the train. They go every half an hour or so and the journey takes an hour so bring a book or someone to talk to because the bit of Catalunya that the train meanders through is pretty dismal and doesn't get scenic until right at the end.

But when it does get scenic, it does so abruptly and with no messing about. Your first sight of Monsterrat will stay with you forever. It is just so inexplicable. You see landscape changes gradually. Sea, becomes sand becomes flatlands, becomes hills, becomes mountains. Landscape gives you clues about what to expect next. But not here.  For plonked right in the middle of a featureless  plateau is something that appears to have dropped their from another planet - a mass of sheer uncompromising rock rising almost perpendicularly to form a series of irregular rounded peaks. By all laws of geology it simply shouldn't be here.

But it is. So, to steal from Edmund Hilary, because it's there we have to go up it. Having got off at Aeri Monserrat station (there are about three stations with Montserrat in the name so take care to disembark at the right one) it's a short walk through an underpass to the cable car station. You shouldn't have to wait long as the jaunty yellow cars depart every five minutes.
We will rock you

It arrives halfway up the mountain at the site of the Santa Maria monastery. The monksdecision to build a monastery here could demonstrate a determination to find solitude at all costs in order ot facilitate easier communing with their deity; or that they feared being persecuted; or that they just really didn't like Brother Josep whose job it was to nip out for the milk in the morning. All their plans have been confounded. There really isn't much solitude, nobody is persecuting them and there's now a shop so these days Brother Josep's successor gets a lie in.
Rock on!

The unimpressive monastery is chiefly famous for an old and apparently important statue of the Virgin Mary (la Moreneta) which you can join a queue in order to touch. The BigBarcelonaBlog finds stroking statues overrated as a pastime (there was never a badge for it in cubs) and so resolved to give it a miss in favour of extending the number of different forms of transport he has used today.

Cast your mind back to your encounter with the red-shirted men. You bought a ticket for train, cable car and funicular. You've only used two so far. The funicular remains. And the funicular is what carries you up the next bit of the great Montserrat rock. Make sure you take the funicular de Sant Joan (the funicular de Santa Cova descends and theres nothing rock about descending). It takes you right into the heart of the mountain and rewards you with both a wide panorama of the surrounding plains and a splendid close up view of the weird rock formationsone particularly round one known as the Bishop's belly which suggests all was not harmonious when it came to relations between the monks and the local diocese. But this is no time to ponder on ancient ecclesiastical disputes. It's time to walk.   

That was why I recommend you get to Plaza Espanya before half ten. Because now you have time to enjoy doing the best thing Montserrat has to offer (with apologies to you statue stroking fans out there). You won't have this opportunity if you get there much later as the last cable car descends at seven. The walk I recommend takes about two to two and a half hours there and back and leads to the summit of the whole Montserrat rock formation at Sant Jeroni. It proceeds along a well paved path which rises gradually rather than steeply until right at the end by which time you're committed. You don't need any special gear (it's easily done in trainers) other than a bottle of water, a sandwich and a waterproof if the weather forecast is iffy. You won't even get too exposed to the sun as surprisingly what seems from a distance to be barren rock is on closer inspection well wooded and offers shade for much of the time. Nevertheless if the sun is beating down you probably should smother your exposed bits in factor something or other.
Remember sunscreen - you don't want to be a rock lobster!

Wandering through the bizarre landscape you will find it hard to believe that less than two hours ago you were in the hub of a city. Which is what makes Montserrat the ideal one day excursion from Barcelona. For so little effort you get such a rewarding change.When you reach the summit youll feel like youre on top of the world. So I'll ask you one more time...

Are! You! Ready! To! Rock! 

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