Friday, March 18, 2011

Continuing the catching up!

It seems that I am terrible at this whole blogging thing! BUT seeing as I have a weekend at home -- alone -- I guess I can try to get caught up :)

Let's see... two months ago...
02/05 Saturday

Today was a day hard on the feet but amazing to the eyes and camera lens as shown above in the picture of the Parc Güell with all of Barcelona in the background.

Gab and I woke up and went downstairs to have breakfast - and to quickly get away from the smell of death that guy brought in at 4AM. All they had was corn flakes, bread, milk and butter / jam. Gab basically ate an entire loaf of bread, because as she said, "Might as well stock up now so we have to buy less later!" Haha, goof. We ran upstairs, got all of our things and washed ourselves / dressed in the downstairs, public bathroom. We left the hostel finally around 9:30 and walked in the opposite direction of the port -- a part of Barcelona we hadn't seen yesterday. We were going to see Casa Batlló first: which is on Passeig de Grácia. It's part of the "Manzana de la Discordia" which is composed of buildings from different architects, and each one with its own distinguished style. It's a house built in 1877 by Josep Batlló and then restored by Antoni Gaudí around 1904 - 1906. He created it to look like things from under the sea (and other things from nature)-- the flow of the walls and stairways, the colors of the tiles, the shapes of the doors and door handles... the rooftop was shaped like a dragon's back and tail... everything. Gaudí was definitely an interesting man... he was creative and original.
The site I linked to the words "Casa Batlló" a few sentences back gives great history about Gaudí, the Batlló family and of course, the house itself. It describes what Gaudí was imagining / inspired by when he designed each part of the house: the walls, the windows, the colors, the double attics, the backyard, the chimneys.... all!
He did so much work and had so much influence all throughout Barcelona, it was crazy! He designed things in La Sagrada Familia and after becoming close friends with Eusebi Güell, helped him design the famous Parc Güell at the top of the city (with the huge lizard monument). I learned that he died on June 10, 1926 from being hit by a tram on June 7 whilst on his way to work on La Sagrada Familia. Therefore, his work at the Sagrada was never completely finished.
Back to the story at hand -- Gab and I walked around the Casa Batlló with little audio tour guides held to our ears for over 2 hours. The way that EVERYTHING was formed in that house was unbelievable! One of the interesting parts, or so I thought, was the mushroom shaped fireplace with two benches: one larger bench for the daughter of the house and her boyfriend, and one smaller bench for the nanny of the house to sit while the daughter was on her "date". The girls could never be alone without supervision.
It was SO different than anywhere I've ever been before! It's still used as a museum today (obviously) and on every floor (there are 7 floors) there are two apartments that are still rented out. The attic was unbelievable (picture to the right)! It was so long and white and spacious! And in one room on the roof, called the water room, there was a piece of art with a ball rolling in water that made the sounds of water drops echoing... like you were in a cave with water dripping all around or something.
Did you know the furniture in the house was even designed by him as well? I'm telling you... that house was out of this world!

From there we took the metro to the stop nearest Parc Güell. Decided before we hiked up to the top of the park, that we should get a little food because by this time it was already around 1 or 2... we had spend close to 4 hours in the Casa Batlló!! The park was just as equally beautiful and stunning as the house had been. Some of Gaudí's work is in the park (including the really long bench throughout the open area and the tiled dragon at the entrance of the park), but he ultimately did not design the park. The park was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful housing site, the idea of Count Eusebi Güell. They call it "parcC" instead of parK because it is located in the middle of Barcelona where the people speak Catalan -- a different version of Spanish. When Eusebi Güell discovered it, it already included a large country house called Larrard House and was next to a neighborhood of upper class houses called La Salut (The Health). The intention was to exploit the fresh air (well away from smoky factories) and beautiful views from the site, with sixty triangular lots being provided for luxury houses. Count Eusebi Güell added to the prestige of the development by moving in 1906 to live in Larrard House. Ultimately, only two houses were built, neither designed by Gaudí. One was intended to b,e a show house but on being completed in 1904 was put up for sale, and as no buyers came forward, Gaudí, at Güell's suggestion, bought it with his savings and moved in with his family and his father in 1906 (and lived here until 1926). It contains original works by Gaudí and several of his collaborators. It is now the Gaudí Museum (Casa Museu Gaudí) since 1963. In 1969 it was declared a historical artistic monument of national interest. ((ANNNDDD majority of that information was taken from the Internet so that you all could learn a little bit of history :) The pictures are mine, however.))
The picture I have at the beginning of the blog is of the bench that Gaudí built throughout the park. It's made from tiles that he saved from other designs he'd done around the city... so it's just a collaboration of different pieces of tiles.
The walk up to the park was straight up a hill -- we were helped out however by escalators in the middle of the streets :) quite nice. I'm surprised America doesn't have these everywhere... in the midst of escalatoring up the streets as well as walking up a little bit Gab and I looked over and saw the funniest thing hanging from a window banister: a large naked doll with mangled hair. hahahaha whatt? why would that even be out there? So weird. Also on the way up Gab discovered cactus and now it's one of her favorite plants. She thought that it was an aloe plant till I had to break one of the limbs to show her it wasn't. These cactus plants were so large that people had taken to carving their initials in the limbs. When we reached the top of the Park, there was a breathtaking view of all of Barcelona below us.

Gab and I saw people of all sorts: guitar players (picture below to the left), bubble blowers, kids running through the masses, observers, lovers, tourists with fanny packs, artists, families, animals, poor, rich, every kind of person. It was a great place to just sit, hang out and watch people live their lives; therefore, that's what Gab and I did... sat, took pictures, ate, observed for a little over an hour. It was very tranquil and relaxing for the most part. The view of Barcelona below the park and the trees and forests all around it just added to the tranquility. From where we were sitting (in the central terrace on the Gaudí bench), below were the two buildings I've already posted a picture of, the mosaic dragon on the steps, the hall of columns with the tiled mosaics on the ceiling (made of Doric columns which supported the entire central terrace), and the real entrance to the park which Gab and I made our exit. :) We ventured down there and found that the columns in the column hall had columns too big for both of us to even hug! The dragon was insanely crowded and impossible to take a good picture with, but it all looked really cool. We were taking a picture in front of the park entrance (picture below) when we found Karelli Cabral -- one of the girls in our program in Alicante. She and her mom were there touring as well! We decided to hit the tracks of the metro and get to the Temple Sagrada Família since it was already about 4:30 and the Sagrada Família closed at 6PM.

Gab and I got to the Sagrada, paid to get in, and then were in awe by everything! How big it was from the outside, the structures carved above and around the front two doors, the designs on the inside... everything. The architecture was amazing... big columns leading up to a ceiling that looked to me like a spider web (image below on right). This is actually one of the buildings most linked to the image of Barcelona. It's still under construction, as Gaudí planned for it, following the tradition of the Gothic cathedrals built over various decades. When Gaudí died in 1926, only one quarter of the Sagrada was finished (even though the groundbreaking was in 1882) and it's expected to be finished in 2026!! WHOA!! 100 years after Gaudí passed away. Characteristic of Gaudí's naturalistic style, the sculptures are ornately arranged and decorated with scenes and images from nature, each a symbol in their own manner. For instance, the three porticoes are separated by two large columns, and at the base of each lies a turtle or a tortoise (one to represent the land and the other the sea; each are symbols of time as something set in stone and unchangeable). In contrast to the figures of turtles and their symbolism, two chameleons can be found at either side of the facade, and are symbolic of change. We met some people from America here. I sat down and just started talking to one of the ladies for a while since Gab was reading every piece of information in the church.
I took a really cool picture that I absolutely love: in front of the church there's a statue of Jesus being whipped in the middle of the town strapped to the pole. I took a picture of the front doors which are covered in 3d words of the word "Jesus" with the statue in the background.

We are nearing the end of our day because from here everything started to close and, since it's winter time, it started to get dark as well.
I really wanted to see Palau de la Música Catalana... well this was one of the fails for today. Gab and I found where we thought it was on the map and then headed over. When we got there we realized that we were at the completely wrong place! On the way we did get to see two cool things: a very colorful bullet shaped building -- its purpose? NO IDEA. but it looked really awesome...

side note: just found information on the bullet: it's called the Agbar Tower and it is the ultimate expression of the modern soul of Barcelona. The characteristic bullet-like shape of the building symbolizes the progressive spirit and optimism about the future which permeates the Catalonian capital. It's 38 stories and was opened by the King of Spain in June of 2005 and cost over 130 million euro. WHOA.

and then we saw a group of skaters trying to skate on these colorful blocks located behind the bullet building. Gab got a good picture of the guys in the air... but they ended up being pretty bad at skating.

When we left finally, got back to the hostel, we changed rooms and got put into a room with a bunch of French people (3 guys and 2 girls) who were in Barcelona for a "good-bye" trip for one of their friends who had gotten a job and was moving away. Gab and I were not sure if this room was better than the last or not because as soon as we walked in they offered us hits on the chain smoke they were having at the moment. We put our things in a locker and left to get dinner. The place we ate was probably a really good hole-in-the-wall restaurant if you like seafood, but I'm not a huge fan, so I wasn't as adamant about the seafood paella we got as Gab was... she ate all of my seafood and hers! hahaha.. she's Italian.. what do you expect? What we got, though, sufficed and we went to the candy / cookie shop next door. They always hand out free samples :) Then... home shortly afterwards... both deciding that it had been too long of a day to go back out for the night.

When we got back to the room, the roommates (picture to the left) talked to us a bit and kept offering us this and that... We denied and both laid on our own beds to do facebook / skype... whatever we do on computers and iPods these days. Meanwhile, they kept drinking and smoking until they left -- goodness knows when because Gab and I fell asleep talking and in our clothes around midnight. Funny story: One of the guys offered us some little sweet thing like a Little Debby cake... so we said yes to those even though we'd been denying everything else they had offered that night. haha... when we fell asleep (none of our stuff in lockers or anything... bad move I know, but ended up being okay), I woke up at 3:45 with the entire box on my pillow.. um thanks dude. hahahahaaha
but -- after that waking up, there wasn't really any laughing. It was a night I'll never forget and that freaked both me and Gab out for a while.
Somehow my body wakes up whenever it instinctively knows something abnormal is about to happen... I've been that way my entire life and this time, I didn't know what to do when I woke up. About 5 minutes passed where I was lying in the bed wondering where the people had gone.. the lights were off and everything was silent. I was debating getting up and putting on my pajamas when I heard voices and running coming up the stairs... so I stayed in bed wondering what was going to happen. Then I heard a loud POP like a gun going off in the hallway right outside of the door... all of a sudden smoke started seeping in from the crack below the door and then someone started fondling the door handle and lock. I pulled my covers up to my nose and just watched wondering what in the world was going on. Four guys -- one more than had left the room -- came in and started lighting up something at the sink. They left the door open to the hallway and all of the smoke from whatever they had just blown up started pouring into the room and then I felt it: It felt like pepper spray was all over me; I couldn't keep my eyes open even though I was straining to, I couldn't breathe and I didn't want to move... I wanted to reach for Gab but I didn't want the guys to know I was awake... I didn't know what to do. At that moment I was scared -- I wished I had a knife or something. I couldn't tell you how long it was before they all decided to either leave or get in bed. I think two went back out and two sat near the window in the corner and smoked some more. I was just lying there struggling to breathe normally and trying to fall back asleep. Eventually I did fall asleep and I woke back up at 7:30AM ready to get out of there. The girls hadn't come back at all during the night because they still were gone when Gab and I went downstairs for our final breakfast of corn flakes and bread... but the guys were there: 3 asleep in their beds and 1 still hanging onto the last drag of whatever he was smoking... staring out of the open window.

02/06 Sunday

After such an eventful 2 nights at the Sun and Moon hostel, Gab and I were ready to pack up and get out of that place for good. I think we both decided that mixed rooms were not the best way to go anymore... no matter how much cheaper they are! We went by the sample cookie shop on the way out and I got a few truffles to take home with us on the train. THEY WERE SO GOOD! mmmmm.... The train station wasn't as hard to find this time since we realized that we couldn't really walk to it from where we were :) We took a picture on Las Ramblas and then were off to the metro, to get to the train station and then home. We met up with Abby and Grace in the train station after freaking out thinking that I had a different train time but were actually only reading the ticket incorrectly. hahaha ohh my. Once we were downstairs beside the tracks, we four met this guy named Paulo who was coming to Alicante from Princeton to give a speech about international business or something of the sort. He was pretty nice and it was cool meeting an American in the train station. We all hopped on the train and for once I didn't fall asleep on one of the rides.
We got home and when we got off of the train... and it definitely was the scariest night plus one of the most FAIL nights of this trip / my life / the lives of the girls that live across the hall. In a nut shell, they thought that Paulo had been following us to our apartment and was part of a "kidnapping" scheme and were totally freaked out. When they got back to their apartment they told their roommates, Chelsea and Alina, who in turn freaked out and were extra paranoid. Chelsea, later that night, decided that she heard someone trying to get into the front door and called the police -- when the police came she didn't let them in the front door after they knocked because she was afraid to open her room door in case there was a kidnapper somewhere near... therefore the police scaled the building, came in through her window, she screamed and freaked out her roommates, they all locked themselves in Graces room and no one told us what was happening. From our apartment all of a sudden the phone for the downstairs door starts buzzing like crazy... we hear people yelling, men shouting from outside then all of a sudden feet pounding up the stairs in the apartment building and fists banging on our door. All i can think is, "Taken" -- the movie that came out not too long ago. I was shaking.. my roommates were yelling for me to come to their room but I had already locked my door and felt secure with my parents on skype and my door to my room locked. Caitlin (whose room is at the front of the apartment) came running down the hall yelling that there were 4 men in black suits at the door trying to get in and she wasn't letting them in. She ran into the room with MaryAnn and Krista and then they decided to come running into mine so we could all be together. Mom and Dad were on Skype telling us to call the police --- meanwhile MaryAnn has already called our landlord to tell him what was going on and to ask for the number to the police, and then she rang the police just to find out that it was actually the police that were at our door. WHAT?! So, the four shaking, scared out of our pants roommates walked together to the front door, turned the lock, and opened it to find about 10 police women and men standing in the hallway with four little white faces of the hallmates in their doorway just as shaken as we were. MaryAnn talked with the police because she was the most fluent in spanish and then we found out that they had actually kicked down Grace's door because the girls refused to let them in the bedroom. We called Lúis who sat us all down to talk at 1:30AM for an hour or so... the hallmates left to stay at a hotel because they were still freaked out while we stayed at our apartment for the night still a little shaken from all of the noise but more conscious that it was just a scare and that we had nothing to worry about. Despite it just being a scare, I honestly had never been so scared in my life or more sure that I was about to die.

WOW what a weekend, eh ??

Signing off for now... xo

Thursday, March 10, 2011

HE is watching!

I have a confession, my friends.... I used my grandma's account on Facebook to check and see any final messages on my wall after Emily changed my password. You want to know something really cool and really strange at the same time? I realized I'm being watched! No, I don't have some creep (trepa - in Spanish) watching my Facebook or me :) God was watching to see if I'd be truthful to my last post about Lent!!

As soon as I logged on to grandma's Facebook, a message was sent to my phone that merely said: "Lent"

It popped up on the screen and my heart leaped - I knew He was sending me a message saying - Hey you said you'd do this for me, what gives?


Talk about a spiritual moment for the day and a majoorrr eye opener! HE is watching what we're doing, y'all. He knows what's in our hearts and He wants US to follow through with our promises as He follows through with His promises to us.

Needless to say - I won't be touching ANYONE'S facebooks trying to be sneaky again ;) because even though you all wouldn't know, the main man would.

In Awe!!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's not about what you give up...

but it's about what makes you feel like you're wandering in the desert.

Lent, for those who don't know, is the time when Jesus is remembered for walking in the desert in preparation for his work for God. He fasted and prayed for 40 days in order to prepare himself fully. He only relied on God and what God had to say and whenever He was faced with temptation, He would reply, "It is written."

So what is the one thing in your life that you devote more time to than God? What, if you gave it up, would teach you a great deal of self-discipline? For me - that's Facebook. I loveee getting on Facebook and seeing what others are up to - what's going on at home and getting captured in pictures and writings from all of my friends. That's not what I should be doing - I should be spending more of my time getting captured in the writings and pictures of God. For the next 40 days I'm going to be absent from Facebook - challenge? YES!

So - since I'm abroad and you can't reach me on my normal cell phone number... here are a few ways to get in touch with me / send me information / say HI if you'd like to and don't know how to contact me other than via facebook:

snail mail:
Anna Lauren Meeks / USAC
Edificio Germán Bernácer
Universidad de Alicante
03690, San Vicente del Raspeigh
Alicante, Spain

Spain number: +34674650935
Skype: annalaurenmeeks
Whatsapp: +34674650935

I also think that giving up the time Facebook consumes... I'll have more time to blog and therefore can finally CATCH UP! No there won't be as many pictures as facebook would allow, but you can deal with a few less, right?

Have a great ash Wednesday, y'all! And remember the true meaning for lent...

On a journey