I'm going to change format a little here. Instead of keeping with sequence, I'm going to give you a rundown of the three day-trips we took from Barcelona. Then I'll do a second post with all of the days in the city. Why, you might ask, would I do this? Well, how very nosy of you. Truth be told Barcelona is just so very different from any of the Italian cities that I would like to give all of the impressions and events in one post as well.
I set up our first day trip to be a really different experience from what we had been doing. Montserrat is a monastery that occupies a mountaintop about an hour away from Barcelona. Though there has been an establishment there since the 11th century, the current structures were rebuilt after fire in the 19th century. For this reason the site was a maybe for me, but I was assured that this is the center of Catalan spiritual culture, and that many make the trip to rub the orb of the black virgin to gain her blessing.
We got there with the assistance of a cable car. It really was surreal coming up the mountain through the fog, like something out of the movies. I should mention that many cities offer tourist packages or cards. Some can be real steals. For thirty-five Euros we got our transportation, a visit to the museum which contains a Caravaggio and El Greco, unlimited use of the funicular trains on the mountain, and a lunch in the cafe. It turned out to be a steal of a deal, and that lunch might have been the best cafeteria lunch I've ever had.
After so many days in cities, it really felt good to get out and hike the mountain. We took this from the top of the mountain. Anybody recognize who the image is an homage to?
Our second day trip was to Figueras to visit the Dali Museum, and then to a remote town called L'Escala. This was a really difficult one for us. We could look up the route, but the town was nothing more than a small stop on longer routes. We had no idea how it worked, had no one to ask, the place and bus line have virtually no web presence, and we couldn't even get a reliable map. Why would we go? Well, about one kilometer out of town there is a site called Empuries. Greek ruins on the beach. . .I'm there.
The Dali museum was everything you would think a Dali museum should be. It was really cool at times, but a total commercial grab to bring tourist dollars to his home town. There aren't many masterworks, but there is plenty of spectacle and even coin-operated sculptures designed by him. And. . .they got my money of course.
This one is from the Mae West room. You have to climb a ladder to look through a mirror, which distorts the items in the room to look like her face. There are more pictures on my flickr page. It was all a lot of fun, but the town itself really isn't much to see. We did witness some trauma, however. While waiting for the bus we saw a teenage boy give a girl a sucker punch to the nose. Blood was everywhere, and eventually the police and an ambulance came. It was a really sobering moment.
Then it was on to our bus. We had no idea what our spot even looked like, and were horrified to find that many of the stops were tiny signs on poles near the side of the road. We had trouble communicating to the driver. He understood that we were looking for the archeological site, and so he let us off at a nearly unmarked road in the middle of nowhere. Very nice of him to try, but now we had no idea where to pick up the next bus! Well, we figured we'd worry about that later, off to see ruins now.
They were excellent! The Roman ruins are being over restored, and I figure they will look totally different if I ever return. The Greek ruins are outstanding, and amongst the best preserved outside of Greece. The beach walk back into town was fantastic, and it turns out you can even buy bus tickets at the Tourist Information office, which just happens to be in front of the bus stop. It was a great adventure, and completely worth the calculated risk.
Our last day trip out of Barcelona was to Tarragona, a town going back to Roman times, and also on the beach.
As you can see, there is a lot of charm there. It's also a city doing its best to cash in on its ruins. They offer a very affordable city card, which gets you in to all of the historical sites. We really enjoyed several of them, but I think Tarragona is dangerously close to over-restoring some of their monuments. You do want to give visitors an idea of how things would have looked, but you don't want to misrepresent these ruins as better preserved than they are. As the town is now, it is totally worth the visit, but I worry that if I ever get to return I might not recognize it.
If I ever do go back I will rent a car. The are several monuments outside of the city limits. This aqueduct is in amazing condition! It is also 4 km outside of town. The bus will get you there, but there is no pick-up going the other way. Sarah and I decided to go further away from town on a later bus. We got off at a stop that did have a pick-up point going toward town. When it finally got there, it was the same bus we had ridden fifteen minutes earlier. We should have just ridden it until the end of the line and let it loop back. Don't worry, we've had plenty more mishaps with public transit to keep you entertained.