As I disembark from the Carnival cruise ship in Catalonia’s capitol, my eyes are momentarily dazzled by the brilliant May sunshine sparkling off dark blue water in the Old Port. Then, my vision clears to reveal a majestic urban landscape dominated by ornate stone buildings and punctuated by palm trees.
With this brief glimpse of Barcelona, I am whisked off on a tour bus up the mountainside, along hairpin turns, in search of remote Montserrat Monastery. The Benedictine house of Santa Maria de Montserrat perches on a 1,200 metre high mountain approximately 45 kilometres northwest of Barcelona. Alighting from the bus, I find myself gazing out over a silent, empty valley with few signs of life. Craggy, weathered cliffs and rolling plains surround and isolate me from the modern world. The city is nowhere to be seen, hidden behind another mountain.
However, my sense of solitude quickly evaporates when I turn and pass through the monastery’s gate to join hundreds of other travellers who have come to pray or take photographs. I dutifully follow a stream of pilgrims into the lavishly carved and gilded place of worship, and try in vain to spot the tiny wooden figure of the Black Madonna that presides over religious services. Outside the monastery once more, I wander among the market stalls of local vendors, sampling their firm, salty cheeses, golden honey and ripe figs.Barrelling back down the mountain, the tour bus deposits me at the compact, modern Room Mate Pau hotel just off the Placa Catalunya in downtown Barcelona. This central location will enable me to explore the vibrant, festive city over the next three days. I eagerly anticipate wandering along cobble-stoned streets and grand boulevards, admiring the unique architecture, and savouring Catalonian cuisine. What could be better than being in sunny Barcelona?I eagerly anticipate wandering along cobble-stoned streets and grand boulevards, admiring the unique architecture, and savouring Catalonian cuisine. What could be better than being in sunny Barcelona?