The colors whizzing by outside the train were very vivid, and the air seemed unusually crisp and clear. We were on the way to Montserrat, a mountain covered with strangely shaped rock pillars about 20 miles northwest of Barcelona. A thousand-year-old Benedictine monastery called the Monestir de Montserrat is tucked in among these odd rock formations.

We got off at the Montserrat Aeri station. After the humid and sticky weather in Barcelona, the cool breeze that greeted us was refreshing. We took the bright yellow Aeri up to the monastery. This was a hair raising ride; the cable car was slightly rickety and quite wobbly—eep!

Our first stop up was lunch at the cafeteria, which had windows looking out over the scenery. The condiment dispenser contains ketchup, maionesa (mayonnaise), mostassa (mustard) and, all i oli (aioli). Much more civilized than American fast food joints! We had a perfectly reasonable ham sandwich and a cheese & salami plate, but I was most impressed by the musica plate. This consisted of hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, figs, and plump raisins (with seeds), arranged around a small cruet of sweet sherry. Yum! We weren’t sure if we were meant to drink the sherry or pour it over the fruit and nuts. We decided to sip it, which seemed to work just fine.

After lunch we headed up to the basilica to hear the boys’ choir sing. The church was very beautiful, and I sketched several potential quilt patterns from the stone floors and wall ornamentation. The music was just lovely, and very moving. I am always struck by how much I connect with religious spaces, music and art even though I am not at all religious.

Once the concert ended, we wandered around the Plaça de Santa Maria. Dan took photos and I tried to befriend some of the feral cats. I didn’t have too much luck with the kitties, not too surprising, considering I had no food to offer as a bribe. After exploring the basilica and plaça, we decided to ride the funicular a little further up the mountain.

This contraption appeared to work like a San Francisco cable car, but at about a 60 degree angle. By this, I mean that the car itself was angled to fit against the slope. It was odd, and almost more unnerving than the Aeri on the way up.

The scenery at the top was beautiful, with rock formations that looked a little bit like the ones at Pinnacles National Monument here in California. We hiked a little way up the trail, and saw a couple of the hermitages built by monks over the years. It was easy to see why someone wishing to be a hermit would find this setting appealing. I’m sure it was quite remote and hard to reach before the two cable cars were built.

On the trail, we encountered a large bumblebee with a white backside, visiting some flowers at the side of the trail. Apparently, it thought we were invading its space, because it kept buzzing us, pretty gutsy for a tiny little bee. Dan dubbed it the “white-arsed bumblebee of Montserrat.”

Our two rides back down the mountain were less hair-raising than the ones up, and the train ride back to Barcelona was pleasant. Before going back to the hotel, we decided to go up to the main Renfe (national train service) station to see about tickets for Figueres and Madrid, and managed to book first class seats for our trip to Madrid. It was getting toward dinnertime, so we returned to the hotel to make some plans.