Barcelona, Catalonia

Published on 6 October 2022 at 21:35

Today is my 65th birthday! We had a full day beginning with a bus trip to the Benedictine Monastery of Montserrat. The name Montserrat means “serrated mountain,” after the unique rock formations.

The monastery complex is also home to a music school for boys aged 9-14, which began in the 1400's and still operates today. The oldest boys' choir on record (possibly older than the one in Vienna!) still sings at this monastery. Unfortunately, they weren't performing today, but our tour guide Toni told us all about the school, and we saw some of the students out playing basketball on their break. 

Toni also told us the legend of the monastery's famous Black Madonna statue, which they say was found in a cave and can heal people who pray while holding her hand. The Basilica of Santa Maria de Montserrat is now home to the statue. We were able to see her from a distance, and we saw several people in line for their chance to be close and pray for her special healing power. After seeing the inside of the basilica, Toni took us down a prayer path full of candles and showed us where people had tucked scraps of paper with written prayers into the crags of the mountain itself.

Basilica on the left, music school on the right

Toni, our tour guide

Basilica of Santa Maria de Montserrat

Jesus and his Disciples

Black Madonna 

Jesus by Josep Maria Subirachs (his eyes follow you across the room)

On the outside of the monastery Toni pointed out a sculpture of San Jordi (Saint George), the patron Saint of Catalonia. The sculpture was done by Josep Maria Subirachs, and Toni told us that we'll see more of his work at the Sagrada Familia! Saint George is so important in Catalonia that instead of celebrating Valentine's Day, on April 23rd Catalan people celebrate St. George’s Day. Ladies get roses as a gift, and men get books, as that day is also International Literacy Day. Subirachs' sculpture of San Jordi has a special effect that Toni says the sculptor is quite famous for: if you watch his face, it looks like he is turning his head to follow you no matter where you stand.

Saint George by Josep Maria Subirachs

There's a small but wonderful museum at the monastery, which is where Courtney and I spent the bulk of our free time after the guided tour. We got to see works by Picasso, Monet, and several Spanish artists, including Salvador Dalí. I'm not very familiar with his work, but Courtney is excited to visit his museum in a couple of days.

Before we left the mountain we walked along the farmer’s market where they gave free cheese samples at every stand. Everything was fresh and delicious! We tried all types of sheep's cheese, goat cheese, cheese with herbs... Our favorite was definitely the truffle cheese, but Courtney decided to buy our second favorite, a cow's milk cheese with pepper, which we think will be a bigger hit when we share with family back home.

We got back on a bus with Toni and our tour continued to a small organic vineyard for a wine tasting and tapas at a castle winery. Oller del Mas was established in 964, and currently the 36th generation of the same owning family still lives in the castle! We tried one white wine and two of their "vinos tintos," which is what Spaniards call red wine, due to the process "tinting" the wine with a darker color. 

Toni told us about the organic practices used to grow the vines, like planting a rose bush as a warning system for problems with the plants. We were allowed to walk through the lower level of the castle. We splurged for a glass each of the most expensive wine, an award winning "orange" wine, sold in a clay bottle as a nod to the family's origin as potters. 

Rose bush amongst the grapevines 

When we finally got back to Barcelona, we had a moment to rest and grab some fresh bread and mini sausage croissants from the shop on the corner of the street our hotel is on. We've been eyeing the pastries in their windows since we got here!

We finished the birthday festivities with another evening at the opera, this time a comedy called Don Pasquale, which I tried to follow, but… we were in Barcelona, watching an Italian opera, with subtitles in Catalan! It was a little complicated, and what I couldn’t pick up on, Courtney explained at intermission. Once I had a better handle on the plot, it was much funnier!