Thursday, March 31, 2011

Road Tripping in Spain: Montserrat and Peníscola

Hi Bloggy Friends,

Trying to figure out the car thing
On our last morning in Barcelona we took a train to Estació Sants to pick up our rental car: a very European Citroën Picasso. I thought the bells and whistles of vehicle operation would be similar to what it is in the U.S., but I was a wrong. Sure, you still have to push the gas and keep your hands at 10 and 2, but instead of “D” for “Drive” there’s an “A” for I have no idea what; to start the car you have to have the gearshift in neutral and press the gas; and to park you have to push a “P” button in the middle of the dashboard. It took us a minute to get all of that figured out, but the real challenge was still before us. Driving within the city limits was a mess. We missed turns, got caught in detours and were told by our GPS to turn the wrong way down a one-way street. Thankfully, though, we did make it out in once piece — unless you count my poor shattered nerves. Once we got on the interstate, though, the experience was no different than being in the States.

La Moreneta
Our first stop was Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery built on the side of a monstrous serrated mountain — hence the name. There we toured a glitzy chapel and touched the orb of the Black Virgin (La Moreneta), a wooden statue believed to have been carved by St. Peter and later discovered in a nearby cave by shepherd children. It was a beautiful day and the views from the smooth-sided mountain were spectacular and a little frightening, considering we were 2,400 feet in the air. This place is definitely not for those afraid of heights. The only way to get to the top is to drive on a shockingly narrow series of switchbacks or catch a ride on a funicular. We chose the former.

On the beach in Peníscola
From Montserrat we drove two hours down the Mediterranean coast to a seaside resort town called Peníscola (pronounced pay-niece-co-lah), where we parked and crashed for two nights in a room at Hotel Marina. The main attraction in Peníscola is a giant fortress built by Pope Benedict XIII (aka Papa Luna) in the fourteenth century. Surrounding the stone structure is a shore town full of restaurants, cafes, bars and rental properties run by the few locals that live in the area. This is definitely a town that exists on tourism dollars — full of hotels and shops geared for travelers. Apparently we just missed the wave of vacationers, though, because many businesses were closed or busy preparing for the imminent wave of tourists coming for Easter. On the downside, this meant that it was harder to find good restaurants. But on the upside we practically had the whole town to ourselves, which may sound snoozy to some but we thoroughly enjoyed the break from lines and crowds.

We spent our time site-seeing the palace and learning about the history of the craggy peninsula on which it sits. We had dinner in the few restaurants that were open and spent leisurely time strolling and lying on the empty beach. Peníscola is unlike any other European experience I’ve had — being a small, little-known beach town. The weather was sunny and oh-so-clear, so the views of the blue ocean stretching before us were out of this world. It was a pit stop well worth it.

Have a great night.

Love, Josh

1 comment:

Bill Fogle said...


Your photos are so lovely, especially these of Penis Cola. I can't help but notice the saturated colors of your trip photos against the conservative, slate-like new design of the blog itself. Sorry, I notice these things.

Your trip seems perfect. Before you left I had done a *tiny* bit of looking on Google Earth, and I did check out Peniscola. I'd be more drawn to that than Barcelona (not that the city isn't fabulous, I'm sure). But, I dunno, when I get away, I want some "nature," boy. I don't want to see a bunch of buildings and parking lots and crowded restaurants (oh, like IO *wouldn't* hop on the next flight to London).

I'm sorry I haven't commented more, but our hard drive died!!! Today is the first day with the computer again (and yes, I lost everything).

I love the photo of you on the beach running toward the camera. That's what is peeping out at me as I type in this teeny little box.

Love you both!