Monday, 5 May 2014

Easter holiday in Barcelona and Montserrat

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Sagrada Familia
A pre-booked taxi took us to Gatwick Airport early in the morning. Our flight on Vueling Airlines was half an hour late. However, the pilots seemed to make up for the delay on the flight to Barcelona. We landed in blazing sunshine with hardly a cloud in the sky. The airport was clean and spacious. A taxi took us to our hotel, Acta Antibes, in the centre of the city. Seeing the palm trees and dry sundrenched surroundings, there was a distinctly Mediterranean feel to the place. We checked into our hotel and then went to a local restaurant for lunch. Later in the afternoon, when the sun’s rays were less intense, we walked up to the Sagrada FamiliaAntoni Gaudi’s most celebrated building.

There were plenty of tourists, including many youngsters, milling around the Sagrada Familia with its tall towering spires. The church was nothing like what I had seen before: a peculiar mix of Gothic, modernism and naturalistic features. There were three façades, each with a different biblical theme: the Nativity, the Passion, and the Glory (representing the road to God). Building work is still ongoing and is expected to be complete only by 2026. We also visited the Arc de la Triomf and Parc de la Ciutadella. Walking along the streets, with its wide tree lined pavements and central pedestrian walkways, there was a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere which we liked.

Thursday 17 April 2014

A view of the city with the Columbus Monument
We had breakfast in a local café managed by two friendly ladies. At 9am our tour guide, Marta, greeted us at the hotel reception. She was a middle aged woman with shoulder length frizzy brown hair, tanned complexion and slight American accent. She was delighted to hear my surname Ignatius, which is Ignacio (pronounced “Ignathio”) in Spanish. In the tour bus she explained that she was born in Barcelona and raised in America before settling in the city of her birth after university. Her father was Spanish while her mother came from Puerto Rica. Two American families joined us on our tour. Marta gave a good running commentary of the city and its history as we toured it, visiting the main attractions including the National Palace, Montjuic (“mountain of the Jews”), the Columbus Monument, Port Olympic (marina, shops, restaurants, galleries, etc), Park Guell, La Pedrara, Passeig de Gracia, Plaza Catalyunya and the Sagrada Familia.
Park Guell

It was interesting to note that Freemasons had a role in the planning of the city with its equidistant blocks. Gaudi’s financial patron, Eusebi Güell, was also a Freemason and there were clearly Masonic symbolism in Park Guell. The death of the dictator Franco and the Olympic Games in 1992 are the two main events, said our tour guide, that transformed Barcelona to the vibrant, modern, outward looking city it is today. After checking out of our hotel and eating lunch in a local restaurant, we took the train to Monistrol de Montserrat, about an hour’s journey from Barcelona. In the background of our hotel, Hostal Guilleumes, was the famous mountain of Montserrat.

Friday 18 April 2014

We were now in the heart of Catalonia, where people speak Catalan rather than Spanish. Like Scotland in the UK, Catalonia is a region which is peacefully and determinedly asking for independence. After breakfast we walked to the train station and took the rack railway all the way up to Montserrat. We were joined on the train by many young families and their children. The journey uphill, meandering along the side of the mountain, was quite exciting.

Montserrat is famous for its Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat, which hosts the famous Virgin of Montserrat - a black statue of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus. The views from atop the mountain were simply stunning. Being a public holiday, the place was overflowing with people, some of whom were international tourists like us. We waited patiently in the queue to see La Moreneta ("the little dark-skinned one") and eventually we got our opportunity. Over the centuries many saints, including St Ignatius of Loyola, and popes have visited the shrine. We joined the Good Friday Passion Service at 5pm in the basilica. Then after lighting a candle, praying for our intentions, and buying a book, we returned to Monistrol de Montserrat. What a way to spend Good Friday and Nithya’s birthday in this holy of places with stunning views!

Saturday 19 April 2014

After a filling breakfast, we checked of our hotel and made our way on foot to the train station. As we sat waiting for our train back to Barcelona, a young lady greeted us by saying “hola” (Spanish for “hello”). As a Londoner, I wasn’t expecting this. Spain is a very different country to Britain. Here people are less reserved and more family oriented. They work to live rather than live to work. Businesses are small to medium sized enterprises and work-life balance is important. The main meal is at lunch time, which is normally a three course meal, and that is accompanied by a siesta, after which people return to work and finish late.

Our hotel in Barcelona this time was Tres Torres Atiram, situated in a quiet residential area surrounded by posh apartments in the north east of the city, not far from Barcelona FC Stadium. I wanted to find the way to Maria Reina Church, close to the Monastery of Pedralbes, which offered an English mass on Sundays. As we walked along the salubrious surroundings we realised we were in an affluent area of the city. We found the church okay and then returned via a meandering route, stopping along the way at a restaurant to have some nice ice cream.

Sunday 20 April 2014

The hotel provided a good selection of continental style food for breakfast. We checked out and walked to Maria Reina Church for the 10.30am Easter Sunday mass. We had enjoyed nice sunny dry weather up to this point, but today the skies were overcast and rain threatened to be spoil sport. The church, situated on a slightly elevated level relative to the entrance gates, with verandas on both sides, reminded me of the tranquil grounds of Province College in Calicut.
Maria Reina Church

We thought we were going to be the only people at mass until the last fifteen minutes before it was due to start. The priest, who we met prior to the service, was an elderly Jesuit who had spent many years in Bombay but was born in Kilburn, London. After mass, we joined people for tea and cake. The majority of people were clearly Americans but there was also a family from Kerala, who we talked to.

Transportation and food costs are considerably cheaper in Spain than in UK. We took the train to Barcelona Airport and, after checking in, we enjoyed the final meal of our holiday in a tapas restaurant. It had been a most enjoyable Easter holiday and we had come to like Spain. The country, with its people, culture, and lifestyle had endeared us to it. I was keen to visit Spain again sometime in the future, and probably to a different part of the country.