“Welcome to the ass world”

We woke up at 5:30am, not happy in the least at the early wake-up for the second day in a row.  We got ready in slow motion, then slowly walked over to Plaza Catalonia to wait for our bus.  There was just one other couple there when we arrived, but others showed up slowly but surely.  Our guide showed up around 6:30.  Surprisingly, there was no bus, and even the guide seemed a little concerned that there was no bus yet, but it showed up right at 6:45.  The bus was bigger and tighter quarters than the day before.  The seat belts were particularly uncomfortable, as they were up too high on our necks.  The bus was also too warm, which made it difficult to get any sleep.

As we left town, we actually went west to circle north and eventually east.  There were a bunch of large cruise ships in the port.  There’s an area on the northeast side of the port that was essentially “built” for the 1992 Olympics with a beach made from imported sand (which has to be replenished regularly).  Instead of seeing Montserrat from the front like yesterday, we actually approached from a different road that came up the backside and then swung around to the front.  As we came up the east side it was quite foggy, and we wondered how much we’d actually be able to see.

It started raining right after we parked the bus.  Our guide was nice enough, but had a very mousy voice that was hard to hear.  We were the first bus at the site (which is why we picked this tour), and the walk from the parking lot to the main area was mostly covered, so we didn’t get too wet.  Our guide explained some items in one of the main squares, but we were all off taking pictures of the sunrise and Barcelona in the distance.  We next went to this courtyard just outside the Abbey, where our guide explained that if you stood in the middle and raised your arms, you theoretically would get the power of the universe – either that or it was a good story to get ridiculous pictures of tourists.

We went inside the Abbey to take a look at the “Black Madonna” that Montserrat is famous for.  It isn’t 100% clear where the statue came from, but the best guess is that it is a Romanesque statue from the 12th Century.  It is on display behind the church, and we walked through a hallway off the right edge of the church to get back there.  There was no one else there, so our group just walked right up to it.  It was in a small room with a lot of lights, some mosaics, and a tiny hole through which you could touch the black orb that is in the Madonna’s hand.  After going through the small room we waited in a small area for everyone to finish; only when we were all done we found out we couldn’t leave the normal way, so we had to backtrack and go through the room again.

When we got back outside the Abbey our group separated.  All but four of us had the more expensive tour that included a wine tasting and something else.  The two of us and two other folks had a cheaper tour with free time.  We had booked a long while ago but now remembered why we chose the cheaper option – we wanted the extra time to walk around the church and the grounds to get an idea of the whole area.  We could get wine when we got back to Barcelona.  After the rest of the group took off we went into the cathedral.  There were very few people there, just a couple adolescent boys trying to stay awake.  Justin’s wet sneakers squeaked every step he took, so that was awkward.  We walked past an area just outside the Abbey with a bunch of candles, and also walked by a baptismal chamber.

There was a funicular going up to the top of the mountain, but it was closed.  We were about to walk out to the cross of Sant Miguel, and just then it started to mist again.  Crystal went back indoors to shop, get breakfast, and drink some coffee.  Justin went to the St Miguel cross, getting rained on the entire time.  He had his rain jacket, but still he was getting soaked.  No one else was on the trail, but two other folks showed up right at the end.  The clouds prevented the normally spectacular view, but did give an eerie, mysterious feel to the place.  The clouds were constantly coming and going, and Justin waited for the skies to clear, only they didn’t.  He eventually went back when it got worse.

We met in the cafeteria where Justin grabbed a donut and a “leaded” diet coke.  We just attempted to dry off before meeting the rest of the group back in the parking lot.  Back at the parking lot it was now a complete zoo, with buses everywhere.  We needed instructions from our guide to locate our tiny bus around all the normal sized buses that now completely filled the lot.  With it being so cold and rainy outside, and with the heater on inside, the bus had foggy windows the whole way back.  Our guide kept wiping down the front windows so the bus driver could see, which we figured was worthwhile since we driving on windy mountain roads.

We got to the city just before noon.  We walked through rain to La Puntual, which had been the first place we went on the tapas tour our first day in Barcelona.  We got the Bravas potatoes (which were excellent again), some chicken wings, a cheese plate, and some ham and cheese croquettes (also excellent).  We mostly dried out at lunch, but then walked through more rain on our way back to the hotel.  At the hotel we walked into the restaurant next door (which had been full the night before), and tried to make reservations for tonight.  They told us we could come at 8, but we’d have to be out by 10, which seemed fine by us.  Back inside the room we used the hair dryer to dry our jackets, pants, socks, and shoes.  It took a long time, but we needed to head back out and we didn’t have extra jackets or shoes.  Whilst Justin used the hair dryer, Crystal finished reading her book. 

Just like that, it was almost 3pm and time for our afternoon tour to visit Camp Nou (again).  We had booked this tour before we had any idea we’d actually see a Futbol match there as well.  There is a museum and other things to see there, so it wasn’t really bad to be going back, but it was going to be a little anticlimactic.  We went downstairs to meet Aleix, our guide.  The tour operator was very detail oriented, and had actually sent us a picture of him so we’d recognize him.  Just before 3 he showed up.  He was pretty surprised to find out we’d attended the match on Wednesday.  We took a short walk to the nearby underground train station and then took a train, then connected to the Metro, coming out at a station near Camp Nou.

It was still raining, but only a little bit.  We walked by a dispensary, one of many we’d seen around town.  We asked Aleix and he said weed was legal, sort of.  It was technically illegal to smoke it, but it was legal to purchase plants, and no one said or did anything about personal use in the home.  Shortly after we started the walk we came in Gate 15 – where we had met Claudio the other night – we should have taken the Metro the other night.  If we had been even a bit familiar with the city and the Metro we probably would have.  Our first stop was in the museum, where there were old artifacts (old gloves, old uniforms, old photos), and many of (but not all of) the trophies.  One was from just last weekend – the La Liga 2019 trophy.  We also saw one of Messi’s “Golden Boot” trophies.

Aleix told us that Camp Nou means “New Stadium.”  From the museum we went into the VIP catering area, basically underneath the stadium.  We went from there into the press area, then into the visitor’s locker room.  As we left the locker room Aleix made a point to show us the door, which was dented, scratched, and punctured by cleat marks from plenty of angry players over the years.  From there we headed down the stairs onto the pitch.  Just before the stairs there was a small chapel, and inside there was a Black Madonna – a replica of the one we’d seen just a few hours prior at Montserrat.  Outside, Crystal got to try out the fancy seats she’d been craving to try out – very comfy.  The grass was immaculate, to the point even up this close it didn’t look like real grass.  We looked around for a bit, then headed up a bunch of stairs towards the press box, then to the press box itself.  From the press box, we were basically directly across from our seats [just above the left side of the “M” in this picture].

We then went back into the bowels of the stadium, near the museum area.  There was grass from old pitches for sale – FC Barcelona was monetizing everything.  Aleix said they make $1 Billion a year in revenue.  Aleix showed us some pictures of the old stadiums.  The original one had no seats, so people sat up on the wall between the street and the stadium.  Passers by would see a bunch of people sitting on the wall above them, and began to call the supporters “the asses” (“Cules”).  Aleix pulled out his cell phone and showed us a Google Search of Cules that popped up with the first hit being about FC Barcelona supporters.  He told us “welcome to the ass world.”

One of the last things we saw was a depiction and model of the “New” new stadium.  Aleix was not sure how they will be able to remodel the current stadium whilst the team is still playing in it.  The season is about 9 months long, so that leaves only 3 months to do any work at a time.  The team can’t play anywhere else for a year or two, as most of the 98,000 people at the matches are season ticket holders (and waited 10+ years to get their season tickets), and it’s not like there’s another stadium in the area that they can borrow that has anywhere close to 98,000 seats.  The very last stop we went to was the Megastore, with lots of gear, jerseys, shoes, and more.  We didn’t want anything from there – if anything, the grass samples would have been interesting, but there weren’t any of those at the Megastore.

It was raining harder when we left, and we got wet again headed back to the Metro station.  All of the trains and metros were very quiet and clean.  After coming up at the Arc de Triomf station we said our goodbyes.  For our “free day” tomorrow, Aleix recommended walking around the El Born neighborhood and the Gothic Quarter, and/or taking the Hop on Hop off bus around town.  Claudio from the ship was always recommending the buses in the various cities, and several of the other patrons seemed to always have good things to say, so back at the room we checked out the two Hop on Hop off options (basically the same itinerary), plus Crystal looked at reviews for the place we were supposed to go for dinner.  Justin also dried off the clothes again.  We loaded pictures onto the computer, and thankfully none of the electronics, wallets, or purses were too wet from today.

The best thing about dinner was that since it shared a lobby with the hotel, we didn’t need to go out in the water again.  We checked in, and they told us we could sit at the bar seating area against the outer window, looking out at the street.  There were a lot of dogs out getting walked, not thrilled about the rain.  The people didn’t seem super happy either.  Aleix had been bummed about the rain, as he said normally rain in Barcelona is just for an hour or two, not all day like today.  Dinner was tasty.  Crystal got a salad for her appetizer and Justin got a French onion soup.  We both got a nice pork shoulder for our mains.  We shared a free bottle of wine, as the hotel had some deal with the restaurant where we got free wine so long as we mentioned we were from the hotel or something like that.  Between the second early morning in a row, plus being wet most of the day, we weren’t up for walking around for any nightlife – we just went back to the room and had some more of the rum we’d purchased in Andorra, then called it a night.

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