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! 

25 Mar 2013

Plaza Espanya


Doubtless you sometimes wonder if the BigBarcelonaBlog gets tired of all the relentless positivity. Finding new words to conjure up the audacity of Barcelona's architectural majesty, searching for original phrases to bring to life the city's unique character and discovering some previously unknown method for crowing about their all-conquering football team. This does indeed occasionally prove a challenge. Especially as I was not renowned for my sunny-natured disposition before I embarked on this virtual homage and therefore my well of celebratory words is not a deep one. I lack theawesomeswith which the average young American can greet anything from the discovery of the Higgs Bosun to the chance observation that their hair looks nice today.

But do not fear for me. For whenever I sense my luminous and radiant well running dry and I worry that next time the bowled over bucket will come up dry I can do one thinggo to Plaza Espanya. Why? I hear you virtually cry. Is it because Plaza Espanya is so beautiful and inspiring that simply by passing an few snatched moments there your well of brilliant words is filled to the brim anew?


Plaza Espanya is where my waterhole of worship gets a well-earned breather. Because Plaza Catalunya is where Barcelona does ugly.

And obviously this being Barcelona and having the  traditional Catalan's pride in their work when they try to do ugly they are not going to mess about with half-measures. They absolutely nail it. And I come from Merseyside proud home to an almost unbeatable combination of brutally intrusive flyovers and crumbling tower blocks that practically scream hopelessness. So when I praise ugly you can rest assured I know what I'm talking about.

Where to begin. Well, I'll begin where you will. The bus from the airport. If you haven't already read my blog on this you may click here. Or if I haven't got round to linking it you can roll your eyes at the endless burdens life imposes on you and then find it yourself.  Oh, come on! It's two clicks.

The first stop on the Aerobus is in Plaza Espanya (because its not like anybody would come here voluntarily so they've got to try and trap you). You should not get off here (unless you are actually staying nearby in which case you've already made a horrendous error and it is now highly debatable whether your trip can even be savedyep Plaza Espanya really is that ugly.) As I was saying, you probably shouldn't get off here but someone nearly always does. I leave it to your own conscience as to whether you opt to stop them or not.

But in the hypothetical scenario where you were foolish enough to get off what would you see. In no particular order of repulsiveness and bad taste you would get the following:

One : Sweeping doric columns. There is a city in Europe that has got the doric column pretty much all sewn up. It's called Rome. Not only are they impressive they are also authentically...er...Roman.  But if that's not enough for you then Athens has a fair stab at them too (e.g. The Parthenon). What on earth would possess a city like Barcelona which is a city that has Art Nouveau/Deco and Modernism pretty much sewn up to plant in its second most important square not one but two buildings comprised of faux Roman columns is utterly beyond me.

Doric columns. Already silly. Made sillier by adding glass

Two: Two ludicrously silly modern pointy towers. It wasn't until I saw these particular monstrosities that I realised towers need more than just height. They need age. They need weather. They need cracks. They need moss and lichen, They need history. And history is precisely what these preposterous protruberances lack. They look like they were built yesterday. And not only do they look like they were built yesterday they look like they were built yesterday by a guy who spends the other 364 years of the day building soulless commuter homes for Wimpy or Barrett in nondescript dormitory towns in the South of England.


Three : The most hideous fountain I have ever seen. I love fountains. But this one spurts out of another piece of scandalously inappropriate sub-par imitation classical kitsch. And it's right in the middle so you can't miss it.

Four : The New Plaza de Toros. And a clear demonstration that Barcelona's commitment to the repulsive here is ongoing. You see they had a chance to do something different. With Catalunya outlawing bullfighting (Hurray!) there was the opportunity to redevelop this now redundant building into something imaginitve, something intriguing, something that could spark an architectural renaissance in its surroundings. What did they do instead? They turned it into a mall. And not just any mall. A mall so soulless it should be named after Dr. Faustus. They even attached a lift to it so you can go up and stand on top of the mall and look out at all the wonderful places in Barcelona where you should actually be spending your time. Even Mephistopheles only dragged Dr. Faustus down into hellhe didn't make him watch a video of heaven while he was doing it. 

Ludicrous fake Moorish exterior. Even worse inside.

Five : Traffic. There is more traffic here than anywhere else in Barcelona. Which means that not only do we not have traffic's inherent foulness but it also takes ages to get round the godforsaken place because you are constantly waiting for pedestrian crossings to go greenthere are spots where you can take a chance crossing the road in Barcelona but Plaza Espanya is emphatically not one of them. Seriously if you came for a mini-break it could take you the majority of your stay just to do a full circuit. So don't even start.

But I can sense you feel that I have lost control and have given myself over to simply ranting. So in fairness I should point out there is one good thing in Plaza Catalunya...

A metro.

Get on it and don't look back.

So why write bother to write about it?

Well partly to warn you. Partly to show I am not simply an all-singing, all-dancing, all pom-pom waving cheerleader for Barcelona. Partly because my river of critical words is dangerously close to breaching its banks and if I don't use some of them up now I'll soon start randomly swearing at strangers. Oh and finally because I've got a theory about that rarely seen beast: the Catalan sense of humour. It goes like this. Barcelona has two main squares, Catalunya and Espanya. They have chosen to turn only one into a monument to all that is ugly, unpleasant and unharmonious to the eye. Look at those two names again and try to think of a reason why...

Just saying...