figueres and montserrat

I made two day trips from Barcelona: one to the small Spanish town of Figueres near the French border and one to a mountainous place west of Barcelona called Montserrat. My reason for visiting Figueres was its star attraction, the unusual Musee Dali (the Salvador Dali Museum). This is one of the more memorable art museums I have visited. While few of the artist's well-known works are here, the museum is a worthwhile stop for his lesser-known paintings and sculptures. It also has the distinction of being designed by Dali himself. Figueres was Dali's home town, and has a lonely but picturesque castle. The hike around this castle, which was the last bastion of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, was 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) and had impressive views of the Franco-Spanish natural boundary, the Pyranees Mountains.

The unusual atrium of the Musee Dali.

Montserrat is a monastery built in the mountains west of Barcelona and is famous throughout the world. The monks built their dwelling in a secluded area, thinking that being at the top of a tall cliff would keep them safe from outside influences. This didn't stop Napoleon's troops from looting the monks' valuables. It did, however, prevent me from taking the monks' traditional route up the mountain; they would have walked, whereas I took a cable car. I was joined by a guy from my hostel who also wanted to see the place, partly for the cultural experience but mostly to hike up one of the peaks, San Jeroni. At the monastery we had a great view of the train route we had taken from Barcelona, but it was the peaks of the mountains that struck us the most. They are oddly shaped, bulbous stone formations that looked like they have been sculpted by giants.

A cable car inches toward the mountain, where its climb becomes vertical.
After the cable car ride I rest on a precipitous ledge where the views beggar description. Note the odd shapes of the mountains behind me.
It took us quite a long time to reach the top, and we passed some interesting monastic dwellings on the way. I would not personally have lived in them, and I suspect that the monks only liked them for the spectacular views.
At the top we found the most impressive view of a large area that I have personally seen. I could see the horizon over a full 360 degrees, and the land below was like that viewed from an airplane. It as clear that the peak we were on was quite vertical, as there were no obstructions to the view.