From Valencia, we traveled to the last city of the trip, Barcelona. On the way, we made a stop at Montserrat, a former monastery on top of a serrated mountain edge. Hence the name, Montserrat. I continued learning about the deficiencies in modern philosophy by reading After Virtue on the way up the mountain. The road up the mountain was vertiginous and winding, causing at least one person to feel sick. Looking back on it, I’m impressed with the skill of our bus driver. He navigated a whale of a tour bus up a mountain road while oncoming traffic flew by at 40 km/hr. A true professional.
We made it safely to the top, where we had a great view of the surrounding area. One of the chaperones remarked that the mountainside looked like it had been transplanted from Taiwan and stuck in Spain. I had to agree. It was quite windy up there, which was a welcome change from the stuffiness of the bus. After a group picture, Suzanna led us up to the entrance to the basilica. There was a famous relic stored in the church, and lots of hiking to do. There was even a small farmer’s market at the bottom of the hill that sold honey and cheese. My friend and his family were starving, and food was looking pretty good to me too, so we decided to have lunch first. There was a large cafeteria adjacent to the gift store, and it had a variety of food. I was a bit short on euros, so I went with a sausage sandwich and a slice of cheesecake. Unfortunately, it took forever to get through the cafeteria line and once we all had eaten our food, we only had about forty minutes to actually see the basilica and everything else.
The chaperone gave my friend and me twenty minutes to see the church, so we jogged back up the hill and made a quick tour around the church. There was a line going out the door for people who wanted to see the relic, so we decided to skip it. The church had a bunch of hanging lamps, and on the back wall of the church, perfectly centered, was the relic. We could see people climb up the stairs, and genuflect in front of it. It was a strange juxtaposition, the ornate church and the people dressed in shorts and t-shirts, reverently approaching a small object surrounded by a gold frame. There were also people sitting in the pews, some praying, others resting. It was a Sunday, so some of them may have been there for worship.
After leaving the church, we had just five minutes before we had to head back to the bus. My friend and I decided to use those five minutes to get as far as we could up the mountain. There were trails crisscrossing all the way up the mountain, but we only got about 100 feet up before we had to go back down. Still, it gave a nice view of the basilica and the rest of the old monastery.
We joined back up with the big group, and hopped back on the bus. Feeling a bit tired from my five minute sprint up and down the mountain, I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until we arrived in Barcelona. I learned from my seatmate that we were going to drive to the middle of town to pick up a tour guide who would show us some of the famous sights of the city. As we drove through town, Suzanna pointed out some Antoni Gaudi buildings. Gaudi lived in the city, which is saturated with his architecture. We would see possibly his most famous building, the Sagrada Familia, later that day.
But first, the tour guide. Famous for saying “Attention right/left side” and “Cameras out, please,” he took us past some Roman and medieval walls to the former Olympic park, where we had a view of the city and the Mediterranean. You could see the Sagrada Familia, the cruise boats, and the industrial dock from this one little rise. We drove by the outdoor Olympic diving pool, the gymnasium, and the soccer field. Finally, we drove by the Palau Nacional, which is at the end of a mall (like the National Mall, not Mall of America) lined with the buildings of the 1929 International Expo.
We disembarked a few blocks from the Sagrada Familia and walked the rest of the way there. The part which was completed during Gaudi’s lifetime, is honestly, the most impressive. The rock looks like it was “carved by aliens” (one of the other choir members). The aforementioned tour guide took us on a walk around the church so that we could see all the sides, which are divided between past (Christ’s birth), present (Christ’s crucifixion) and future (Christ’s return). Each side echoes the architectural styles of the times. The past is all stone, while the present and future employ metal and glass. The spires are topped with various fruits, and the detail in the alcoves is great. If you’re interested in what it looks like, look it up on the internet because I don’t have the space or the photography skills to adequately convey its appearance.
We said goodbye to the tour guide after the Sagrada Familia and finally made it to our hotel, which was a little less nice than the other ones, but still fine as far as I was concerned. Some other people, however, had bloodstains on their sheets, cockroaches in their showers, and broken light fixtures, which was not encouraging. Nevertheless, I unpacked and headed back downstairs for dinner. There was still a bit of time, and one of my friends explained the game of League of Legends to me while we watched an LCS North America match.
I feel like now is an appropriate time to digress into a bit more background. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, which takes its position as an autonomous region of Spain very seriously. It’s sort of like a more extreme version of Texas, as they have actually asked Madrid (Spain’s capital) for a secession referendum. Catalonia has its own language, Catalan, and its own flag. This was the first time we had seen or heard a widely-spoken dialect of Spanish. In truth, all the Spanish teachers at my high school are from Catalan, so most of the choir members who can speak Spanish speak it with a Catalan accent, but none of them speak the actual dialect.
Dinner was in the hotel buffet, and it was extremely American. Hamburgers, Pasta, French fries, pizza, and a pudding dessert. Suzanna had made plans for us to return to the Palau Nacional for the evening light and fountain show. To get there, we took the Metro! It was very much like every other urban underground rail system, but we had to open the car doors ourselves and it was about fifteen degrees hotter down there than on the surface. As we emerged at the proper stop, a busker was playing We Are The Champions. The choir spontaneously decided to help him out by singing the lyrics. Since we were in an enclosed space with tile walls, the sound bounced around, making us sound incredibly loud. For a second, I thought the music was being piped in from somewhere else.
It was a little bit of a walk down the mall before we could get to the fountains, which were already dancing in the light. I first took up a perch on one of the footbridges over the street below, and watched the water and the lights. After that, I followed one of my friends closer to the fountains. The two locations provided very different sensory experiences. From afar, the fountains looked like a bubbling cauldron, with the music barely audible. The audience played a much bigger role from back there, as I could watch both the performance and everyone else watching the performance. From up close, I could actually hear the music and feel the spray of the fountains. The display itself took more of my attention.
Anyways, after the show we went to this bullring that had been converted into a shopping center (yes, like Mall of America) by raising it completely off the ground and building a new floor below it. Even though it was around 10:30, the night was still quite warm and I enjoyed walking around the roof of the shopping center and looking at all the fancy restaurants. After coming inside, I took a glass elevator down to the bottom floor to buy a strawberry gelato, since we were getting close to the end of our trip and I still had a good amount of money left.
We took the metro back to our hotel with no mishaps, and wondering how the trip had gone by so fast, I fell asleep.