Our group arrived in Barcelona around eight o’clock in the evening. The first group took an earlier flight and was already there by lunch.
Our driver, Pedro Luis, welcomed us and led the way to the parking lot. When we boarded the bus, Chiqui (our pilgrim-ate who is Filipino-Spanish), in fluent Spanish, asked Pedro how far our hotel was. He said it was just near and we will be there in thirty minutes. That thirty minutes became almost two hours! It turned out there were actually three Novotels in Barcelona, and believe it or not, Pedro brought us to all three, the last being the right one.
Very, very tired, the four of us went straight to the rooms without our luggage. Less than twenty minutes after we settled, the room boy delivered our things.
We only had two sites to visit in Barcelona – Montserrat (and the Black Madonna) and Sagrada Familia.
After breakfast in the morning (which included frozen rice!!!), we set off to climb the Montserrat mountain by bus. Our guide told us about Catalona and Barcelona (the capital of Catalona) during the one hour ride. Riding up the 4,000 foot mountain, I noticed that there was also a cable car to take the pilgrims to Montserrat mountain. A lot of private vehicles were on their way up and according to our guide, this was a usual occurrence as locals also go up frequently. There were also a number of bikers on their way up.
It was so green and peaceful on the way up. Halfway to the Montserrat, we passed by a monastery…which had a swimming pool by the way (we saw it on our way down).
The parking lot was so full as we reached the summit. Pedro Luis dropped us at the entrance after saying he will wait for us at the bus parking lot by 1pm which was almost three hours away.
Our guide told us that he will first show us around Montserrat and give us a background of the place before we can go our separate ways. As we walked to the direction of the Basilica of the Black Madonna, our guide (I already forgot his name!) stopped by the statue of St. John (Sant Joan) and told those who wanted to find their partners in life to ask for the saint’s intercession. He relayed that in Barcelona, they do not celebrate Valentine’s day on February 14 but in April 15 – the feast day of St. John. I prayed to the saint and requested him to help my sister and my friends find theirs ^_^ (you know who you are).
It was so serene up there (and very cold too!). The clouds actually hovered so near to us and we were so close to the sky. A thought even entered my mind, “is there a short ladder to heaven here?”. It was literally “touch the sky” for me. Up there and looking below, around, above, it was truly, truly a “what a beautiful world” feeling!
The structures up the mountain were comparable to the ones in Italy — especially inside the Basilica. Our guide shed light on some of the artworks there and left us to ourselves. Most of us proceeded to hear mass in the Basilica.
The basilica was so full of pilgrims and we were lucky to have found seats in the last pews. Some of our companions stood for the whole hour. The mass was in Spanish but it did not matter. One thing I observed was that there were no kneelers attached to the pews. In fact, the faithful did not kneel during the appropriate time for kneeling and instead remained standing.
Up front, high in the altar was the original statue of the Black Madonna(otherwise known as Our Lady of Montserrat) and the Child . It’s a very old image, made in the earliest centuries. It’s said that the Black Madonna was carved by St. Luke and brought to Spain. Some say that due to the passage of time, it’s color turned to black. They also say that back in the old days, a great fire consumed the basilica but the Black Madonna was spared, although it blackened. St. Ignatius of Loyola made a pilgrimage here too.
After the mass, we roamed around the vast and beautiful Montserrat mountain. There were a lot of souvenir shops and restaurants up there. The locals were also selling their own products and we tried their homemade cheese and fig pie (from the fig tree).
By one o’clock, we went back to the bus to get our lunch and spotted a shady place to eat.
Lunch done, we headed down on our way to the world famous Sagrada Familia. We did not go straight to the said church but toured Barcelona along the way. We got off the bus several times to check out some sites in the center of Barcelona. It looked like Rome to me, warmer though both the weather and the people.
When we reached the Sagrada Familia, whoaaaaa! I had to pinch myself that I was in front of it! I only saw it on TV and I’m finally T-H-E-R-E. Gaudi designed the church in the 5th century. Before I got there, I thought the Sagrada Familia was a functioning church. I knew it was unfinished but I thought masses were actually held there. I thought wrong. It was totally unfinished inside. When we got in, the interior of the church was still constructed. It is said it will finally be finished on 2030. We kidded that we’d be back in time to hear mass there.
We did not stay long in Sagrada Familia because there was nothing else to see there. Our guide then dropped us at La Rambla to hang out (read: shop).
There were a lot of tourists in the area and the four of us raided the shops. Still the same, the items for sale were for winter apparel so we ended up shop hopping until our feet could not walk anymore. Then, we settled in the park and people watched until our bus picked us up.
We arrived at Novotel around seven in time for dinner. I loved the buffet dinner and thank God, the rice was hot this time.
I tried the free internet in the lobby of the hotel after eating dinner. My gosh, the internet speed was like lightning. I have not even finished clicking a 10 minute video and it completed downloading already.
Before sleeping, we were reminded that the Daylight Saving Time would commence the following day and we were advised to turn back our watches one hour. It was because the following day was officially the first day of winter.
Glad that I will be sleeping an hour more, I happily went to bed that night. Next on the itinerary is France ^_^.