…actually I never left, but from the inactivity on this blog over the last three months, you might think I’d disappeared from the earth!
Between day trips, weekend travels, and house guests, June and July have sped by. Tomorrow it will be a half-year since we landed in Europe. Only a two and a half years are left: 1/6 of our time here has slipped by!
The sun that was so elusive from February to May came out at last mid-June, and has been (more or less) smiling on us for the past three months. I got my first taste of fine summer weather in Barcelona, where I met up with two college friends for a week of adventure.
We had all recently crossed the threshold of post-college adult life, and were each in our own way struggling with the changes involved in that transition. The vacation came at a good time for us, and we enjoyed reconnecting, catching up on a year of life beneath the clear blue Spanish skies. Accidentally, our first meal together was in one of Gaudí’s modernisma houses (now a restaurant).
We stayed in a hostel – my first time doing so – and it was quite an adventure. Sleeping six to a room turned out to be not such a good idea for a light sleeper like myself, but getting to talk in Spanish to Ana, our roommate from Argentina, made it worth the interrupted sleep. At the end of the second day, Ana brought back a bag of tourist goodies she had collected in las Ramblas – the famous street market in Barcelona. She was endlessly amused by a small paper and string minion that you could attach to your car speakers, and let the bass note vibration dance the string legs. “El Minion baila cuando la música de su coche es fuerte y hace vibraciones …el baila con la música!”
The first two days we spent wandering the ancient streets of Barcelona. We toured the beautiful Sagrada Familia cathedral – the last cathedral currently under construction. The play of light underneath the organic white columns was simultaneously surrealistically heavenly and wholly rich and earthly. As my friend Angel reminded me, Gaudí intended the cathedral to signify both God’s general revelation (creation) and his specific revelation (His word). Gaudí’s desire to glorify God was evident in every curve of column and pane of glass. When asked if he was concerned about how long it was going to take to build the basilica de la Sagrada Familia, he replied: “My client is not in a hurry.”
We took day trips out into the surrounding countryside, and these were really incredible experiences. Our first trip was to the famed mystic monastery built high on the hill of Montserrat. The mountain (literally meaning “serrated mountain”) is a mineral deposit worn away into fantastic fluted spires that soar into the sky like a thousand pillars, some with odd-looking dents in them that look like faces. Standing in the middle of a plain and surrounded by mountains of a different nature, Montserrat certainly looks like the mystic and holy place it has been considered for centuries.
The monastery there is home to the famed Black Madonna of Montserrat. Believed originally to have been carved by St. Luke and found in a cave by shepherd boys, it was probably left there by Portuguese refugees fleeing the Muslim hordes. The monastery was peaceful and beautiful in its solitude among the inhospitable hills. I climbed up to the overlook of St. Phillip’s cross and got a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape. I also journeyed down to where a chapel had been built in front of the cave where the Black Madonna had been found. Inside the chapel all was quiet except for the low sputtering of dozens of candles set out in front of the crucifix, and the scratching sound of a woman journaling with bowed head in front of the altar. It was a holy place, whatever you believe of the story of the Black Madonna, and I stood for a moment of awe inside the dark chapel before re-entering the bright sunshine of the Catalan hills.
We ended that day with a tour of a modernisma-style cava vineyard and winery, where a delightful older gentleman toured us around the myriads of tunnels deep under the scorched earth in a small, black train. We ended up befriending a teacher from Canada who was a year or two older than us, and on vacation during her break (she worked in England). The four of us had delicious tapas together in one of the many wonderful restaurants in the bustling downtown.
The next day we took a bus up into the Pyrenees, and had coffee in Spain, lunch in France, and dinner in the tiny country of Andorra. The ride itself was breathtaking – mostly through the twisting roads and winding valleys of the Pyrenees.
As I flew back to Germany, nearly a week after leaving it, I was looking forward to the order and cleanliness so natural to German life. Even so, I was sad to leave behind the beautiful seaside city, the sunshine, and my friends. It was a week of reconnecting, sharing old memories, and making new ones… a week I will always remember!