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Monsterrat c Generalitat de CatalunyaMontserrat, a mountain monastery
by Elizabeth Willoughby

Driving up towards the barrier gates at the Montserrat Monastery near Barcelona, Spain, there is a large billboard outlining several important pieces of information in Spanish, however my two friends and I do not speak (or read) Spanish. We do, however, grasp that something will cost €5.

Pooling our travel experiences, we decide the sign is telling us that we can either park down below for free and walk up the long, steep hill to the monastery or pay €5 and drive up. We choose to drive, so I approach one of the gates as my friends dig into their purses to retrieve the required cash.

I roll down my window and eye the payment machine. It is immediately clear to me that the slot is not designed to take cash, neither bills nor coins. I slip a credit card out of my own purse and confirm that that is also not what is required. Perplexed, we look at each other wondering, "What the heck?" Seconds pass and no solution comes to us. Does it require a special prepaid "tourist sites" card? Are Spanish credit cards a different size? It can't be!

I suggest we take a step back to see what other vehicles are doing to get in with seemingly relative ease. It is unanimously agree. Unfortunately, there is now a car is behind us, so I crank my wheels, duck my head in embarrassment and, with my right wheels driving over the island of the adjacent barrier gate, back out of line around the car until we are well out of the way.

Feeling utterly humiliated, we gawk through the windshield to see how the next visitor gets in. It's an ingenious system they have here. The driver reaches out, presses a button and the machine pushes out a ticket to be paid later at a booth up the hill. (It is very difficult to overstate the shock at the realization of our stupidity.) We sit silently, mouths agape, stunned. Humbled by this moment, our second attempt is successful.

A fact or two:

Just under 50 kilometres (only 30 miles) from Barcelona, this mountain monastery has been a pilgrimage site for hundreds of years, and is the most important one in Catalonia. The line up to rub the black Madonna’s orb behind the basilica’s alter is a long one – it’s the most revered symbol in the province. Out in front of the monastery are stands selling sheep and goat cheeses, jams and honey.

There's nothing like a great adventure travel story — one that's fun, thrilling and full of the unknown. If that's what you want, check out my WorldGuide Tales from the Road pages. This blog is about the stories a travel writer can't sell. The misadventures. The plans gone awry, luck run amuck. Sometimes with my partner, HB, sometimes with friends, and sometimes I manage to mess things up without any help at all. These are the stories that make your friends laugh and call you a knucklehead. These are the stories you really remember.

Article ©Elizabeth Willoughby 2015

This article was originally published at WorldGuide.eu

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