Spring Break in Barcelona, part III


Steve Reed, Cottey's director of public information, traveled in Barcelona, Spain, with Cottey students, faculty and staff over spring break. He reported back with a series of articles written as letters home to his mother. This is the third of five letters.

Buenos dias, Mama!
It is a beautiful morning in Barcelona, and today our entire group is going to visit the monastery at Montserrat. It's about 25 miles from Barcelona, but the twisty mountain roads the last few miles make it close to an hour-long bus ride. Fortunately we had an informative and entertaining tour guide named Angel (Angel is a man, and you pronounce his name Ahn-hel) who made the bus ride seem shorter.

A view from Montserrat towards Barcelona.

Montserrat literally means "serrated mountain" and looking at it from a distance you can definitely see the saw tooth shape of this elongated peak. This location has been the site of a Benedictine monastery since the 11th Century, although the current facilities aren't that old.

Departing the bus, we were greeted with crisp, cool mountain air. Along with the sunshine, we could not have asked for a more beautiful morning. 

Our tour guides led us to the basilica. Montserrat is known for its Black Madonna called the Moreneta (more-a-net-a). It dates from the 12th or 13th Century when it was found in a cave by the monks. It is most likely a relic stashed away by early Christians for safekeeping when the Moors and other groups were raiding the area. There are limited hours when visitors may take the steps up to where the Madonna is on display. Unfortunately for us, the doors closed just as we were walking up to enter.
The Moreneta is inside the arch above the altar.

However, we were still able to enter the sanctuary and we could see the Madonna above the altar, although at a distance. There is so much other art to explore that the students and I had plenty of things to look at and photograph. The stained glass is beautiful, but my favorite item is an altarpiece by Josep Subirachs, the same artist who designed the passion entrance at La Sagrada Familia. It is a simple work titled Christ Resuscitated and is a large smooth piece of wood that features only the face, hands and feet of the crucified Christ marked by nails along with the spear wound in his side.

Our Cottey group outside the monastery.
After exploring the sanctuary and lighting a candle, I joined students Abby and Sara in the gift shop. We each picked out an item or two; I purchased a picture book so I could have a nice image of the Black Madonna, and then went to the snack area. We chatted about Montserrat. Both students mentioned how lovely this particular area is and they were glad they got to visit it. We agreed it would be nice to come back someday and hike the trails around the monastery.

Once we returned to Barcelona, Tammy, Priscilla, Tiffany and I went in search of lunch. We hadn't yet had tapas, so off we went to find some. They are pretty easy to find. This area of Barcelona is touristy and restaurants specialize in full tapas menus. A full menu is much different than what I experienced in Madrid several years ago. Then, we had to go from one tapas bar to another to get a variety. One bar might specialize in marinated olives; the next might specialize in cheeses, and so on. 
Tapas: Patatas bravas, cheese bread, and a lone croquette.

Tapas developed years ago when patrons would ask the bartender for something to cover (tapar) their glass to keep the flies out. It started as a piece of bread, but developed into the tasty delicacies we know today as tapas.

The four of us ordered a variety of tapas to share. We had patatas bravas-roasted potatoes with aoli sauce, chicken croquettes, and bread with cheese.  Unanimously, we liked the croquettes best.

After lunch Tiffany went off to shop, but Priscilla and Tammy wanted to go to the beach, so we walked to the Mediterranean Sea. Priscilla and Tammy wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon sitting in the sand and watching the ocean, but I wanted to take some photos of the Gothic Quarter. I bid them adios, and wandered about taking pictures of old doors, stone crests, and window boxes. I can't wait to show you the photos, Mama.
The beautiful Mediterranean beach

That night, eight of us met up for dinner at a Peruvian restaurant. Tammy had a family friend in Barcelona whose cousin owned the restaurant. Dr. Jorge Dioses, a Cottey math professor, is from Peru and he was very excited to share the cuisine of his home country with us.

He first ordered pitchers of chicha morada, a purple, non-alcoholic drink made from purple corn. It tasted similar to a mulled wine. It was sweet and had hints of cinnamon, and there were small cubes of quince floating on top. It was really good!

Next we had appetizers. We had ceviche de pescado (pronounced suh-bee-chey duh pes-cah-doh), which is cubes of marinated raw fish. I was told that if I liked sushi, I would like ceviche. Turns out I liked it a lot, and so did everyone else. Yum-o!
Ceviche de pescado

I don't recall the name of main dish, but it was stir-fried rice with beef. It also was delicious and very filling. None of us really wanted dessert, but Jorge insisted we try a pudding called suspiro de lucumas (pronounced suh-spee-roh duh loo-cah-mas). It was a very creamy, smooth dessert, the flavor of which reminded me of pumpkin pie.

By this time, it was 10 o'clock and definitely time to return to the hotel. It's always a bit surprising to me how long our dinners last in European cities. No one is in a hurry to rush you out the door, and you always have to ask for la cuenta, the check.

It has been another busy day in Barcelona, Mama. I have had so much fun exploring with friends. I hope my letters to you are giving you a taste of what our Cottey week is like, but I know they cannot compare to actually being here.

Hasta maƱana,

Your loving son,

Steve

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