Off to Europe: Conclusion

Again, apologies for the massive delay, but over the past few days I’ve been vacationing, working, and traveling, with absolutely no time to write. Finally back in the States now, and I want to put down a few words about the end of vacation.

Montsegur, which we visited on Friday, was the second most impressive site we saw on vacation (read on for the most impressive one :)). To get to the place, you drive up a long winding road through a quiet forest, while the castle towers over you, perched right on top of a mountain. We approached slowly, craning our heads more and more as we got closer, but found out that the road ended merely a third of the way up the mountain. There was the tiny village of Montsegur, and our lovely hotel, with a lovely homestyle French restaurant in the basement, and a very nice woman called Heidi who welcomed us. We then took another short drive up the mountain to the site parking lot, which was still only about halfway up, and hiked the rest of the way. The road quickly became a path, and soon we were hiking / climbing up the mountainside, making use of occasional time-worn steps.

Montsegur itself is a ruin, but there is enough to tell that a sizeable castle *and* a settlement around its walls were both standing here in the thirteenth century. I have to emphasize that these houses are literally standing on top of a (small) mountain, with sheer drops right outside their (former) front doors! There used to be a curtain wall around the entire settlement, and some semblance of roads cut into the rock, but still walking around the settlement in good weather probably involved a bit of mountain climbing. And the weather is not always good – we got plenty of strong wind while on top of the mountain. Walking around in a rainstorm would be very dangerous (I hesitate to say suicidal, *somehow* these people survived).

After Montsegur, we went to Rennes-le-Chateau, which is famous for being featured in the Da Vinci Code and in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which is an earlier, much better account of the mystery surrounding the Holy Grail in the south of France. The place *is* plenty strange, so much so that it felt fake, somehow, and I spent the visit trying to figure out plausible theories for why an oddball French priest might decide to fill his parish church with odd religious symbolism and turn his house into a giant, modernist-style villa complete with observation tower. My more prosaic take on the situation is that politics were involved somehow, though of course I would never rule out Cthulhu 🙂

Our last, and most impressive, visit was to Montserrat, a monastery in Spain we drove by on our way back to Barcelona. We had an extra day before the plane, and decided to check it out. It’s on top of an even taller mountain than Montsegur, which ends in bizarre, finger-like peaks rising up from the rock everywhere. The name of the place, Montserrat, means something like “serrated mountain,” and it’s accurate – the peaks look unnaturally thin and sharp from below, though once you get to them (there is a little train that goes up), they appear round and extremely smooth. Apparently, they used to be on the bottom of the Mediterranean, and were pushed all the way up here by tectonic forces millions of years ago. Geology is cool 🙂

Montserrat itself is pretty touristy, and not all that cool from an art / architecture perspective, but we took the train up, and wandered around the round, smooth peaks, and found chapels built into the rock at this impossible height. I still don’t know How, or Why, people would choose to live here, even if they Really Really liked God, but I came away impressed.

With that, it was time to head back to Barcelona and thence to Philly. The flight back was pretty smooth, and here I am, back in the states, far away from crazy mountain-top churches. I expect to go back to these diaries, and fill them with pictures and videos I took on the trip, though I do not know when. Thank you for reading along, gentle readers!


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