Montserrat, a monastery high in the mountains
On one of our days in Spain, we went to Montserrat, a mountain (and monastery) about 45 minutes north of Barcelona. I'm not surprised this place was chosen for the site of religious worship; it was impossible to not feel somewhat moved and awe-struck by the gigantic rock formations and spectacular views.
What I loved about looking down into the valley was noticing the small buildings (that I imagine are also some part of the monastery) hidden in the mountains' crevices and shadows.
We didn't hike or bike up, but I did see a few cyclists pushing their way up the winding switchback roads - I would have LOVED to join them! I imagine this must be the local cyclists' equivalent of Mount Diablo (in California).
The main area of attraction lies in the middle of the mountain. As you walk along the road, lined by market stalls, artisans market gave samples of local cheese, honey, and fig cakes (yummmm), and then you reach this huge plaza, surrounded by monastery buildings - one of them is actually hotel you can stay in - and where you can access the basilica.
The basilica was somewhat chilling - very dark but lit by the natural sunlight (right above the altar, of course) and the brassy sheen of the gold trim details. I couldn't believe how intricate everything was - can you imagine how long it must have taken to finish this?
The main point of interest in the basilica was the Black Madonna (Virgin Mary) - we didn't wait in the long line to touch or see her, but the tradition is to kiss or touch the Virgin's hand while opening one hand to Jesus. Supposedly, the whole FC Barcelona soccer (futbol) team comes every season to pay respect and pray for a successful year!
Maybe one day I'll be back to wait in the line if I really really need some extra help in life! :)