Dancing on the Hilltop

Dancing on the Hilltop

May 2018 – Music and Markets Barcelona Tour
Montserrat, Spain

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

Yesterday we explored along the sea, today we’re climbing high to Montserrat, home of Santa Maria de Montserrat, the spiritual heart of this region of Catalonia. By metro, train then cog rail we ascend to the bluest sky and clear air, where Benedictine monks, of which there are still 150 today, founded an abbey in the 10th century.  We find that it’s not just any Sunday, but a celebration – the abbey is absolutely PACKED for Mother’s Day.

Standing room only – but well worth it for the pure voices of the world-famous boy’s choir.
And then the party begins – folk ensembles from around the region, in beautiful traditional dress, line up for the dances in the expansive plaza outside the church. We had hoped for something special up here today, but no online search let us know what we could expect – it’s just a delight! 

Accompanied by a Catalan band, with that peculiar oboe-like woodwind, the shawm, the dancers twirl and sway in complicated patterns, their espadrilles softly padding through the steps. What a treat!
We descend in a different way from which we came up – soaring through the air in a little yellow bucket – you can see the next one up on the right. Much faster than the cog railway!
Each day unique, it’s been a wonderful week, polished off with a fine dinner.As usual, we enjoyed this Music and Markets Tour as much as our guests did!

Monserrat Magic

Monserrat Magic

Spring in Spain – – Sunday, May 13, 2012

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on a summer tour in Provence or our featured (and expanded!) 2012 Amsterdam/Belgium tour!

Today the trains are running to the base of Montserrat – hope that strike earlier this week accomplished something! We get off at the cog-railway stop, and zigzag up to the hilltop sanctuary, arriving in time for Mass.

Although we won’t get to meet with the director of the boys choir, since they’re now traveling in France, we WILL get to hear the younger boys, who aren’t touring, sing during the service.

The gilded interior is jam- packed this morning but we find a few spaces to squeeze into beside a family who explains to us that it’s a special Sunday, with many pilgrims from Barcelona and surrounds here for the day. The pure voices of the few boys “in town” delight us with a final number.

As we’re waiting for our 1:00 appointment with one of the Brothers, who will show us around the museum, we hear a jaunty tune and look outside – the Geants, giant folkloric dolls that we noticed standing by the door as we entered the church are dancing to a lively flute and drum band! A fellow watcher tells us that these are very special Geants, the oldest ones in Barcelona, and they are brought here one Sunday a year for a special celebration. Wow are we glad we’re here today instead of Thursday – a serendipitous treat!

On a plaza one level down another group has gathered to watch boys and girls sharing a traditional dance  – yet another treat today.

Have I mentioned that the theme of this trip has turned out to be more Music and Museums than Music and Markets? We visit museum number five today, a collection gathered and guarded through the years by the monks of Montserrat. Our guide is an enthusiastic art lover who studied medieval and renaissance art before taking his vows. A young assistant of the museum translates his interesting tales for us.

We swoop down, much more quickly than the railway up, and head back to Barcelona.

Ruth and I have been craving a particular Spanish treat, and head out on a churro hunt. There’s a particular street in the old town that is known for its chocolate shops, and we check out a few til we find just the right one… and have no trouble polishing off a mound of crispy sweet twists, dipped in thick, rich chocolate. Yes, we’re looking forward to a terrific dinner tonight, but we HAD to have our churros!

Stephen, who celebrates a birthday this week, has a delightful surprise from Hotel H10 Montcada – a chilled bottle of sparkly cava! He shares it with us before we walk to Pla for dinner.

Bar del Pla, not far from our hotel, was our last stop on the Tapas Tour, and the same owners have a lovely candlelit restaurant, Pla,  near Santa Maria del Pi in the Gothic Quarter. We ooh and aah through the menu, make our choices, and Sam announces a special event… a poem he’s written to celebrate our week together. Then he pulls out another surprise from the group – a gorgeous necklace I had admired yesterday at a Tarragona shop (check it out in the final photo). I wondered why they had to go back to that shop… now I know – how very sweet!

Lots of smiles and laughs later, we sample our first appetizer – paper thin zucchini topped with shavings of parmesan and toasted walnuts.

From beginning to end the meal is fabulous – add Pla to your don’t -miss list in Barcelona! Gotta have some foam, of course, here where the nouveau fluff started…

and this seared tuna on sweet potato purée is as delicious as it looks.

What a terrific group this has been – we’ve enjoyed every minute of our week together on our first Barcelona Discoveries tour!

Up in the Air Again!

Up in the Air Again!

Friday, November 24, 2011, part 2
Barcelona, Spain

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Next on the itinerary: New Year‘s Jazz in Italy

We return from Montserrat to Barcelona for a quick jaunt up another mountain, the museum- topped Montjuic. The funicular chugs up from Paral-lel, and a few steps away is the reason we’re in Barcelona, the Fundació Joan Miró. Our May tour, Barcelona Discoveries, is inspired by the exhibition, Joan Miró and The Ladder of Escape, currently here in Barcelona, which will debut in May at the National Gallery of Art in DC.
We’ll have the opportunity to leisurely peruse the exhibition in DC. Today we’re packing in the sights and experiences, all to include in a more relaxed manner in May. So we’re soon up in the air once again, swooping over the port on our way to Barceloneta, one of Barcelona’s beachside neighborhoods. Barcelona’s a highly popular cruise departure port, and why not, with the ease of access from ship to city and beach?

That’s Columbus over there, high on a pedestal gazing towards the New World (with the cucumber in the smoggy background).

The exhilarating tightrope across the water ends just steps from the beach.

And there’s where we came from – Montjuic. My least favorite part of the ride was when we approached and departed from the “pole in the middle of the clothesline”.
From here it’s a quick elevator ride down to earth,

and we’re on our way to a beachside lunch at Can Majo.

The food is terrific, the staff smiling and welcoming, the fresh sea air inspiring… one of our best Barcelona meals. A pan of Fideua, Barcelona’s answer to Paella, is delicious… and the relaxed atmosphere could keep us here all afternoon.

Eventually we force ourselves to leave, and enjoy a walk down the boardwalk – Gehry’s huge coppery PEIX
(fish), placed on the waterfront for the 1992 Olympics, stalwart ahead of us.

Through the Clouds to Montserrat

Through the Clouds to Montserrat

Friday, November 24, 2011
Barcelona, Spain

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Next on the itinerary: New Year‘s Jazz in Italy

The most popular day trip from Barcelona is the ascent of craggy Montserrat, topped with a vast monastery and dotted with hermit’s caves. First a short train ride from Plaça Espanya, as we watch the serrated pinnacles piercing the clouds ahead,

then the Cremallera de Montserrat, a cog railway that zigzags up, up, up through the clouds to the holy mount.

Shrouded in mystery and rife with millenias- old legends (Saint Peter brought an image of the Virgin here?) the jagged mount is the site of a Benedictine monastery tucked into the crags.

The pure voices of the Escolania boys choir, Europe’s oldest choral school, soar to the vaulted ceiling of the Renaissance- era basilica daily at 1 pm.

A pilgrimage site second only to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, Montserrat is laced with walking trains to caves, chapels, and photo-worthy vistas. Funiculars can take you even further up the pinnacles.

Our trip down, via the Aerie, goes much faster than the zig zag ascent, which took about twenty minutes.

We swoop down through the clouds

and in about five minutes we see our destination and gently swing into the station.

That’s where we were!