Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Spain Part Three: Stepping Into History

The next day, we woke up, checked out, and hit the road (after buying a stack of maps at a bookstore - anyone who tells you "oh, you can drive through Spain with one general highway map" is a fucking liar.) Our first stop was the Mountain of Montserrat, not in the Caribbean but a little to the west of Barcelona. Montserrat is home to a mountaintop monastery - I looked for the ninja master who would teach me skills, but he was absent - and has been a pilgrimage destination for residents for more than a thousand years. And looking at the pictures, it's not hard to see why. The countryside is amazing, the views are spectacular, and the monks make a mean homemade cheese.

You can get to the top of the mountain in one of three ways: by a tour bus (we didn't have one), a train (the option we took), or something called a "funicular," which is basically like the Skyride at Cedar Point except at times you're dangling thousands of feet above the ground. I argue that "funicular" doesn't sound very fun at all. Now imagine that in a Lewis Black voice, and you have one of the recurring jokes from our trip. Ah, memories.

So once you're up there, it's a great spot to go hiking, which we did. There are all kinds of little shrines around the mountains for pilgrims to go to, so we chose the easiest and pooped out halfway through. We'd make pretty shitty pilgrims: we rode to the top of the mountain, and while we were wheezing (keep in mind, this was the top of a mountain and we're not exactly used to thin air here in Seattle) and resting, two old women passed us on their trip back from the shrine. It made us look bad.

We still didn't finish the walk.

But we did drive on to the city of Tarragona, originally inhabited by Iberians (the peninsula's "original" inhabitants kind of), and then a Roman capital. And then a medieval town, and then a site of a battle against Napoleon. A historical place, so to speak. The center of town is still very medieval and surrounded by Iberian then Roman then Medieval-era walls (basically the same wall rebuilt several times.) We ditched the car, got a hostel room, and walked around and enjoyed ourselves. Most of the town turned out for a Saturday dinner in the central square (no cars allowed), and it was certainly memorable just sitting and relaxing and taking it all in. And noisy, as we found out the party pretty much went until the wee hours of the morning.

Next day, up and at 'em to check out the ruins. Tarragona still has a fair amount of Roman ruins left (see the pictures) and is unique among cities I've visited: buildings literally "grow" out of the walls and ruins. At one point, the Roman wall ends at a house, and then continues beyond it. If we'd kept walking, we'd be in someone's backyard. It's hard to get that kind of history in the US, and it's one of my favorite things about Europe: simply being surrounded by something so ancient. To be able to touch a stone and know that it was placed by a builder thousands of years ago.

I've also been reading a lot of Roman history lately, and while it's one thing to read a book about a site, it's something totally different to stand there and see it for yourself. Simply visualizing how a town looked based on a book description isn't the same as looking at it for yourself; sure you can see it, but you can smell the stones and taste the dust on your teeth. I almost wanted to find the bathroom and break out the shit-sponge.


But it was time to head for the coast, for a restful evening in small-town Spain before heading to Granada - home of the mighty Alhambra. It can be wonder of the world! Until next time!

No comments: