Back in November 2013 I was looking at the vacation time that I had accumulated at work and that I only had till the end of Jun 2014 to use it all. I realized that I had never been on a REAL vacation as an adult. I had a list of so many places that I had always wanted to visit and that me doing my family tree there had been many more places added to that list. One of these places was Spain, I wanted to visit all of Spain but due to time and money restrictions I had to narrow it down to Barcelona. As much as I wanted to tour more of Spain I am glad that for this trip I narrowed it down because Barcelona has so much to see and do on its own.
I highly recommend making your way out to Montserrat. It is super easy to get to by train and you can sit and see some of the country side.
From Plaça España train station in Barcelona follow the signs for the R5 train. The train will take you to the foot of the mountain and from there you can decide to either take the Cable Car up or the Rack Railway. We took the railway which was a really pretty and relaxing ride. Montserrat is an amazingly beautiful place to visit. There happened to be a big dance event in the main plaza the day we went but even without that there are plenty of things to do. Take the funicular up the steep mountain side to the top to find hiking trails and even more breath taking panoramic views.
Tibidabo Mountain is the tallest peak within the limits of Barcelona and therefor offers amazing 360 degree views. From the skyline of this beautiful city stretching down to the Mediterranean Sea to inland towards Montserrat and the peaks of Montseny.
The top of Tibidabo is a feast of contrasts that can be enjoyed for many hours. It is crowned by the cathedral del Sagrat Cor that was constructed between 1902 and 1960 in a mixture of modernista and neogothic styles. Admission is free but for 2 Euros you can take the elevator to the first viewing platform. But don't stop there, as long as you're not afraid of heights, if you continue climbing the stairs up to the bronze statue of Jesus on the very top you will be gifted with an unforgettable view of Barcelona and beyond. Below the architecturally stunning church is Tibidabo Amusement Park, built in 1889.
The way we preferred to get there was by taking the metro brown line L7 from Placa Catalunya to Avenida Tibidabo. From there you can change to either the historic Tramvia Blau to Placa Dr Andreu from where the Tibidabo funicular leaves or take the city bus to the same place.
So from climbing to the heights, games in the park, to even just sitting with a glass of wine and some nibbles while enjoying the view; there is plenty to do for all.
When I first started planning my trip to Barcelona I cross referenced my family tree with the history of the city and region. In doing so I came across Poblet Monastery and found that many of our ancestors are actually buried there, 9 to be exact. Poblet is a Cistercian monastery founded in 1151 and is located at the foot of the Prades Mountains. James I of Aragon made Poblet one of the two royal pantheons of the Kings of the Crown of Aragon. Peter IV at the moment of his crowning made it a condition under solemn oath that all the Aragonese king be buried there. This was so until Ferdinand II of Aragon broke the oath after his kingdom was merged with the kingdom of Castile and was buried in Granada.
Unlike the previous destinations this next gem is not as easy to get to, but well worth it, Monasterio de Santa María de Poblet. There are three ways to get there:
- By train to Camp de Tarragona then a bus to Monasterio de Poblet then a 4 min walk to the Monastery.
- By train to Espluga and then take a 5 min (2.6 miles) taxi ride to the Monastery.
- The fastest and most direct way is to drive.
We chose to drive and rented a car for 2 days. You will need to get a permit to drive there which you can get online I believe through the DMV and costs about $50 and lasts a year. Renting a car was pretty easy, we just took the bus to the airport where the bus stop near the rental companies. Renting a car gave us some advantages, like stopping when and where we wanted and for how long. Driving there not only gets you there faster (roughly 1-1/2 hour) but takes you through some beautiful scenery.
One upside to the difficulty in getting there, and going in the off season, is that there were very few people on the tour with us. You start through the big doors to the left that takes you to the gothic style cloisters that surround the main courtyard. The architecture of the monastery is absolutely amazing and worth taking your time and taking in the beauty. From there you go inside the church near the alter where the royal sarcophagi are located. This area is separated from the rest of the church by a wrought iron fence. The tour continues up stairs to a huge room with soaring vaulted ceilings. The room is split in two by a high wooden wall that shields the monks’ dormitory.
From there we’re out on the roof. Yup, on the roof of the cloisters where you can look over the main courtyard. After passing through several more rooms, including the old wine making rooms, and down some more stairs with a really interesting wrought iron railing you end up back outside where you can then go into the main part of the church on your own.
There is a lovely visitor center with a friendly staff that I strongly recommend checking out. Also, be sure to buy some “wine diapers” to take with you because you will definitely want to pick up some of their wine. The wine we got was (insert picture) . I’m not much of a wine person but this was really good. Also, the "wine diapers" are a good investment even if you don't get any wine, if your like us and collect water from the places you visit these help protect your clothes while traveling.
On the way back to Barcelona we took a side trip to the beach at Vandellòs l'Hospitalet de l'Infant, which is where I got the picture of my Jack and Sally in the sand. The drive from there along the coast back to Barcelona somewhat reminded me of the Pacific Coast Highway in California.
More to come...