OUR NEXT port was Barcelona. We have been to Barcelona multiple times and spent several days there prior to boarding cruise ships and a couple different occasions. Needless to say, we love Barcelona! But having spent some time there seeing its many attractions, on our last visit, we had taken a trip out of the city and up into the mountains, to the Abbey of Montserrat. That was in 2019, and at the time we were there in the fall, there was widespread demonstration by Catalonian separatists, in the region. Barcelona is in the center of the region, as well as the 5th largest city in the European Union. The history is fascinating, and perhaps to an extent tragic. Today, the Catalonian region has some limited autonomy (perhaps a bit like a large state in the U.S.), But is ultimately unified under the rule of the now democratic and unified Spanish Government. There is not complete agreement and at various times during history, the Catalonians have urged (and even declared) its independence from Spain. Fortunately, the well-attended demonstrations and protests have remained peaceful, if not occasionally disruptive. This was one of those times. There was a march into the city (some from hundreds of miles away), which took place on the day we were in Port in 2019 (it was an overnight stop). As things escalated, it became apparent that Barcelona – and in particular, the old city near the port area – was going to become a logjam. Our tour guide was concerned about getting us back to the ship as it was due to sail away that afternoon and so, cut our tour short. Unfortunately, that not only shortened up our time in Montserrat, but eliminated a visit to a local vineyard and winery. We were disappointed, but he turned out to be correct in his concerns. We returned to the ship in the early afternoon and sat on the back (my favorite spot where the cigar smokers convene 🙂 ) and watched as the crowds visibly thickened and the city became gridlocked. As acquaintances joined us from time to time during the afternoon, we heard near-horror stories about crowds and getting back. One friend “walked” a mile back to the port after their cab-driver advised that he couldn’t get any closer in the gridlock. I say “walked” because she had a knee injury and was using one of the little knee scooters. She was upbeat and jovial about the whole thing. But we were glad to be watching it from the ship rather than down in the thick of things.
ANYWAY; LONG story. The upshot is that my wife and I had decided before we even left for this trip that we would be returning to Montserrat to “finish” the tour. At the same time, we strongly encouraged the other 4 – none of whom had been to Barcelona – to book things in Barcelona. So much to see there, including the many architectural works of Antoni Gaudi, Park Guell (the Gaudi designed and inspired “utopian” neighborhood), the old medieval city with its centuries-old buildings and history, and of course, one of the world’s most famous churches, the unfinished La Segrada Familia. We had seen most of this, in a couple of instances more than once. The Montserrat side trip was just that for us, a side trip. But one we felt was unfinished business. But we couldn’t in good conscience not urge anyone not familiar with Barcelona not to see as much of the city as possible. It is – for us – a special and magical city.
SO. MONTSERRAT. Our tour was different than the last one, which had been a small group with a private guide. This time we took a tour that left from the main bus terminal in Barcelona. We got off the ship and took a taxi to the terminal, where we found the tour company offices and waited until they opened. We got confirmation of our reservations and directions to our bus. They had an interesting (and new to us) approach. There were 4 different groups, each with a slightly different itinerary. They loaded all 4 groups on the same bus, with all 4 group leaders. We were all starting at Montserrat, so that made some sense. Then, as we went our separate ways from there, they somehow coordinated different busses. All we know is it worked for us. The day started out a bit foggy as we arrived at the Mountaintop Abbey. I tried to use that to my advantage, shooting down into the valley. The fog caused layers and a monochromatic effect, and I knew I would be processing these in B&W once I got home and cued things up on my desktop. But in the end, I think I like the second image, a hybrid of B&W and color, better.
EVENTUALLY, BEFORE we left the Abbey, the fog and cloud cover broke, and we got blue sky. I have always gotten excited when able to catch the “edge” of weather conditions. This time was no exception, as I made what I think was one of the best “landscape” type images of the trip, showing the namesake mountain up behind the abbey, poking through the cloud cover. When our 2019 visit was cut short, one of the things I had wanted to do – hadn’t had time, was to ride the funicular up to the top. I had planned to do so this time, but after some discussion with our guide, I realized that there were two things mitigating against it. First, we didn’t expect the fog to break (and I am not sure it ever really did up there while we were there). Second, I didn’t realize before that there isn’t really a view down into the abbey or the valley from up there. Rather, it is just into the center of the range. Maybe cool. Probably not worth the time under the circumstances. We did, however, do the final thing we had run out time for. There is a really nice little art museum there with many images by some of the Masters, as well as some other very talented painters of the time. We also visited the church where I was able to make some images of the church interior. They sure do them right over in Europe.
MONTSERRAT, PERHAPS intuitively, translates to English as “serrated mountain.” It is not hard to see how it got its name. The only mountain peaks I have ever seen that come close to matching it are our own Grand Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park. The Montserrat Range, however, seems to go on and on for some length. It is really quite spectacular. When we left the Abbey, we traveled to a Montserrat vineyard and winery, where we tasted a few of their locally grown and made wines, along with a traditional plate of Tapas. It wasn’t really like the tapas that we have experienced either in Barcelona bars, or here in the U.S. It was more like what we might refer to as a charcuterie plate. But it was savory and tasty and basically my absolute favorite appetizer (it was kind of a motif of the whole trip – savory meats and cheese). Oh, and the wines were very nice too.
THE WINERY was – unfortunately – on the other side of Monserrat Range from the sun, which rendered my shot of the mountain range as a hazy silhouette. The image here was taken with my Samsung S21 smartphone and was really more intended as a “record” shot to post real-time on Facebook, than a “keeper” image. But I “worked” it a bit in Photoshop and at least it is and illustration of what could be, here. I would have loved to have been here for sunrise, where the range would have been – I believe – beautifully lit. Who knows? Maybe there will be another visit.
WE HEADED back to the Barcelona Bus Station, where we were fortunate to meet up with a couple women who were also on our ship and share a cab back to the port. Glad to have re-visited this, it may have been our most relaxing excursion of the cruise. And even better, the next day was an at sea day, which meant not having to walk and basically not having any planned activities. Bodies and minds were ready for R&R. I headed back to the aft cigar area to watch the sun set. I didn’t make any photos, this time, but I certainly reminisced about the overnight stay in 2019, and my nighttime version of the same cruise port image that I opened here with. Have I mentioned how much I love Barcelona?
[Tomorrow we leave for yet another trip across the Atlantic. This time, bound for Amsterdam/Rotterdam, where we cruise with our good friends Bruce and Joyce, to Iceland, Ireland and England. No posts for the next couple weeks, but I am certain plenty of new material for the upcoming months! See you soon]