Thursday, July 19, 2007

Spain trip - Montserrat, cava tasting, and good looking waiters

On Monday of our trip, I had booked a tour with a local private touring company to go to nearby Montserrat and see the monastery and then finish the day with a tour of a local winery known for making cava (cava is a sparkling wine, very similar to champagne). This tour was a whole day affair since there was a bit of travel time involved (at least an hour or so to Montserrat).
Our guide picked us up about 9:30 or so and headed off to two other hotels to pick up a few more people. Off we went to Montserrat though we stopped along the way for some photo ops. Along the highway up the mountain, there is a very good lookout point to see the mountains. They are formed of limestone so over the centuries have eroded down into some very interesting and unusual rock formations.
The we continued on to Montserrat for our tour. We were dropped off at the road into town so our guide could go park the van. This area is quite the tourist destination so there is a fair amount of things to see and do. There is a cable car to take down the mountain and an incline for the same purpose. There is a building there with a full service restaurant, a cafeteria restaurant and some nice lookout spots to see over the mountain. As we walked up the road into town, there are numerous local farmers there selling their wares. Most commonly found items were assorted cheeses and honeys. So we stopped several times along the way to try samples, all of which were quite good. Though L was not a fan of the goat cheese. I thought it quite good and very creamy, but she preferred traditional "cow" cheese.
Once our tour guide was back from parking the van, she led us into town, giving us the history of this monastery.
Long story short, centuries ago, a man had found a small cave in which he decided to place a black Virgin Mary statue. There are various legends behind why she was black and if she was when placed there. (I kept being reminded by a series of books I read in the past year, all about a group of women sworn to worship and protect the Black Madonna. Though the story behind the Black Madonna was quite different from the Christian story behind the Black Virgin.)
We learned all about how many years later someone found the cave with the statue and suddenly Montserrat became a pilgrimage site for early Christians and still is to this day. We also learned all about the history of the Catalonian people and how many of them do not consider themselves Spaniards at all and are working towards trying to request independence for the area to become the country of Catalonia. There is also a lot of history behind the religion of the people there and how several centuries ago all residents of the area who were not Christian were forced out of the country or put to death.
All of this we were told as we walked up to the monastery. This is still a very active monastery, with many monks living there and many more who pilgrimage there, stay for a time then return to where they came from. We walked past all the living quarters of the monks on our way into the church. The line to go in and see the Black Virgin (who is not the original statue but still represents it and people come from all over the world to touch the statue and ask for Her blessing.) was outrageously long and L and I opted not to wait to see the stature up close. We just went in to the church to see it and and view the statue from a distance. Outside the church there is a large courtyard with a circle in the center. This is an optional site for pilgrims to stop and say prayers and ask for the Black Virgin's blessing. I stopped here as the line was much shorter and entered the circle to send up a few prayers of my own.
After our visit to the monastery and village were complete, we all climbed back in the van to head over to the winery. I dozed off in the van but woke up in time for the winery tour. We went to Freixenet, the biggest and best known cava maker of the region. We went inside, watched a few short movies about the history of the family and the company and saw clips of numerous ad campaigns with a wide variety of popular actors/singers/etc fro the states who advertised the brand.
Then we took a walking tour of the old part of the winery seeing all the racks of wine at various stages of the fermentation and development process. This was quite interesting to see and there were lots of displays of old equipment no longer used. After the tour of the old part, we hopped a train and took a ride through the modern part of the winery. The contrast between the two areas was quite fascinating to see. We got history and current times all in one. And yes, both portions are still in use today, old and modern.
After our tour checking out all these huge racks and casks of cava, we ended in a gathering room where we all got to have a glass of the most popular type of cava sold here. I never realized how MANY different ways one beverage can be adjusted to give it varying flavors and all. Quite fascinating really. After we sampled the cava, of course we all had to go buy some before leaving! I bought three bottles myself, one bottle of the Royal Reserve cava and two bottles of one variation of their most popular kind of cava.
Then we all climbed back in the van and headed back to Barcelona. We got dropped off at our hotel long enough to leave our purchases in the room. Then we hopped on the tourist bus once again and headed down to Port Olympic again for dinner. We were quite early for dinner so all the restaurants were almost empty. As we walked along the sidewalk, we were stopped at several different restaurants in the hopes they could convince us to eat there. This is where the good looking waiter part of the story comes into play.
As we walked along, we got stopped at one restaurant where the waiter (or rather I guess he was more of a host than a waiter) stopped us and would not let us go until he convinced us to eat at their restaurant. As he tried to talk us into stopping there to eat, he flirted shamelessly with both L and I. This made me a little uncomfortable but it was kinda nice too since he was quite good looking and we were enjoying the fawning attention.
We were still itching to try paella and this place was actually willing to make single serving size orders of paella for us so we could each have a different one. Normally, they refuse to do that, but I think this place just wanted business so badly since it was a dead time of day they would agree to almost anything to convince us to eat there. So L and I finally gave in (the single serving size paella is what clinched it for us) and decided to stop there for dinner. Then for the rest of the night, the host/waiter/whatever proceeded to lavish all kinds of excessive attention on the both of us. Some of these Spanish men sure no how to make a woman feel good about herself! Of course we had to play along so we returned the favor and flirted shamelessly right back.
L ordered lobster paella and I ordered seafood paella after ensuring there was no lobster or crab meat in it. For some reason neither of those seem to like me very much even though they sure taste good. We also ordered an appetizer of mussels as l loves them and I'd never had them so decided to try something new. They were wonderful! I inhaled them as fast as I could and the two of us polished off the entire thing (which was quite a large serving - a full dinner for someone actually). I also had my first of many sangrias on this trip that night. I drank that with almost every meal! I love sangria and no where is it better than in Spain!
After we finished our HUGE dinners (let me say a single serving of paella is far more than enough for any one person for dinner!) we hopped a cab back to the hotel.
Here we decided because of all the wine we bought that we'd repack our bags so we could leave our large suitcases in Barcelona at the hotel we'd be staying in when we came back to the city at the end of our trip before going home. So we spent a couple hours reorganizing everything and resorting our clothes so as to leave as much as we could there. Then we went to bed since Tuesday we were heading to Madrid.
Next post... on the way to Madrid and our first day there...


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