Many years ago, when I was working on Forza 3, we decided to make a “crown jewel” track for our game to use as a showcase of beauty, racing, and just general awesomeness. Since this track would be our visual showcase, we wanted it to be a fictional track so we could control how it looked, yet since everything in Forza is grounded in reality, we wanted it to be based on a real location. Spain was selected as the location, and more specifically: Montserrat. A crew of artists were sent forth to capture gigabytes of imagery to use as reference material to ensure it looked like the real place.
I already had the travel bug gnawing at me back then, but sadly I wasn’t required for the trip. Instead it was my job to stay in the office, herd cats, juggle spreadsheets, and do all that producery stuff.
Now I find myself in Barcelona, a mere 1-hour train ride away from Montserrat. I really have no choice, do I?
With my new-found pals (as usual, not real names) Mimic the Canadian and Ranger the Aussie, we hopped on the metro with only the slightest of clues how to get there or what to expect. The only things I really knew about Montserrat were:
1.) it’s beautiful.
2.) there’s a church built on the side of a mountain.
3.) it’s “rull purty” (bit of a repeat, but come on now: pretty)
We took the wrong metro once, almost got off on the wrong train stop once, and finally got off on the train stop that offered a cable-ride to the top and… nothing else.
I had expected to walk around the “town” of Montserrat before going up to the church. Turns our you couldn’t get there without walking on some dodgy-looking freeway that was obviously not conducive to pedestrians. So, there we were; nothing for it but to try the cable car up. As the crowd boarded I attempted my best “act like you belong” to just get in, but we ended up having to pay to ride up.
However, the conversation was a bit odd:
Me: “cuanto questa para tres billetos?”
her: “garbledyfloggle moug routyo blablabladdyo”
Me: Er… hables engles?
her: Yes, sure, it’s 6.50 on way to the top.
Me: how about for round trip?
her: you don’t need it, the train ticket you have will get you back down.
Me: err, so, I have a ticket that will take me back but not take me there?
Regardless we soon were on our way up.
Turns out they built, not just a church, but a whole working town at the top of the mountain. It’s got shops. It’s got restaurants. It’s got a fully functioning hotel.
The church, however, was really quite impressive.
However, you can get through all this in pretty short order. So what else to do after that? Well, turns out they have all kinds of walks you can do out to various scenic areas or religiously important spots. We quickly took assessment of our preparadness (Mimic in jeans and multiple layers, myself in shorts, Ranger in shorts and sandals) and wisely selected the longest route: an estimated 3-hour trip to a view point. Off we went.
The first thing we were surprised by was the stairs. So many, many stairs.
We should have realized there would be SOME ascension needed, but we really had no idea how much. Sweat soon flowed freely. Mimic removed any layers that were non-essential. Ranger soldiered on in flip-flops bravely.
As we went up, dark clouds moved in, threatening rain. Which was a less-than cheery thought for us as we were over an hour in and really had no shelter. The weather cared not, though. It moved in quickly and we ascended into it.
Eventually, we arrived at the top, alternatingly sweating, shivering, and massaging our poor, surprised quadriceps. The view, even with clouds, was pretty stunning.
Just as we were about the set off on down the mountain, the weather took pity on us.
All the way back we had stunning visuals along the way. Simply gorgeous.
Montserrat remains one of the most stunning natural places I’ve ever been. If you ever make it to this region, this is a must-see place. Don’t question. Do it.
Also, left a little message for visitors at the top. Rock on, Turn 10.