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2017: the year I actually started fitting in to Sweden

(ok not gonna lie - this post is basically impossible to read. My blog has finally died. Try it here on Medium: https://medium.com/@heyamberwilkie/2017-the-year-i-actually-started-fitting-in-to-sweden-2c6bb7b74079) When 2016 ended, we celebrated by lighting dumpster fires. Of course, 2017 was always going to be worse - that's when these people we elected actually attempt to "govern". That said, it certainly feels different. 2016 ended with a slug to the chest. In 2017 we feel prepared, vigilant, awake. For me personally, 2017 was a bit of a growing-up year. I have those sometimes. They can be fun-ish but you also have to have a bit of a come-to-Jesus talk with yourself. At one point, at work (I'll get there), I was chatting with a colleague who was feeling down. They couldn't quite put their finger on what was wrong. "What is the point of any of this?" I suggested as the major problem for this person. "Um yeah," they said. Bingo - growing up. So let's talk about work!  

I got a job

If you'll recall, in 2016 I enrolled in a three-month programming bootcamp. It's the only one I've taken, so I can't compare it to anything else. It worked for me, and I saw plenty of people fail. When the camp ended, the director hired me to coach and I did that for maybe a month before I knew I had to get the hell out. Actually leaving took me from more or less the beginning of this year until April. I wrote a long, long post about it (and that's a link to my "tech" blog where I post everything that is not 100% personal). I landed at Studentvikarie, a growing start-up that connects substitute teachers with the schools that need them. I work on everything except for the app - the platform our support staff uses to administrate the various parts of the business, the school site where school administrators can book and manage their temporary jobs, and the teacher site where the substitutes can view and accept jobs. For those who care, we use a React front-end and a Rails back-end. To be frank, I like this job as much as I can imagine liking any job. My current boss is the only manager I've ever had that I get along with. I thought maybe I was broken, but it seems that there's at least a sliver of management under which I can thrive. But still that "what is the point of any of this?" crops up. I don't have an answer. You just do the work (which is great fun almost always) and hope the rest of it shakes out.

I traveled

I forgot to post a 2016-in-summary last year. My happy-anniversary-to-George post had to suffice. Yeah, I forgot that one this year too. Actually we forgot to even take a damn selfie on our eight year anniversary so I'm hoping to remember to do that on Christmas. Likely I forgot to do the year-in-review because I was in Morocco having a blast and being challenged. Post one. Post two. I also blogged Lisbon, but then I basically quit with the blogging thing. Maybe it's over or maybe it's just over for me, but actually writing up a blog post was such a drag I wasn't getting around to it for months. Now I Instagram things. If you want to see my travel photos, that's where you should head. I'm @heyamberwilkie Alright, so for those counting, we've got Morocco and Lisbon. This year I've also traveled to: Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, Northern and regular ol' Ireland, Norway (for two days on the -in-a-Nutshell tour), Greece (Athens), Switzerland (Lausanne & a little Geneva), and London. Up on the 2018 docket is at least Kiruna in February and I'm headed back to the USA for the first time in more than two years in April. It's finally time to see David's new house. I intend to eat all the things and also buy cheap shit at Target and generally scratch whatever this uncomfortable itch is that has me feeling like something is just a little bit off. I also realize it may be that I'm not 100% comfortable anywhere anymore and that would be ok too.

I danced and I yoga-ed

Sweden has a somewhat amazing constellation of community classes and study circles. Until this Fall I hadn't felt strong enough in my Swedish to sign up for anything. But starting in September I was taking Modern Dance every Monday. It's physically demanding and I get the impression that I'm fucking terrible at it, but the teacher is encouraging and my classmates are nice enough. I'll probably keep going. I've had a home yoga practice for years now. I try to get up and do 20 minutes every morning, though I certainly can't claim that ambition always plays out. It's much harder to drag myself out of bed in the winter when it's so damn dark. There are free yoga sessions every week here in town and I've been twice in a row now. I know after going the first time it is going to be much easier to show up. I'm also taking an intensive meditation/yoga course starting Tuesday to give myself something to do during "the boring week" and also to start the year with my head in a good space. I'll also put in this "health" section that I have "a massage guy" now and it's really great. He hurts the shit out of my every time I go, but I have way less pain in my neck and shoulders. And I get to use my health plan money (from work) to help offset the costs. Win win win.

My marriage is still killing it

George and I are still rocking the wedding bands, though neither of us actually wear a wedding band anymore. Sweden will do that to you. We're getting older, but we still love each other and whatnot. I think, after living in Sweden for two years, I feel more independent than perhaps I did in DC. Maybe because I was very dependent on him for the first half of 2016 - he was working and I was not. And now that I've come out of that space, I feel more like my own person, capable of taking care of whatever comes my way. Fortunately we aren't threatened by each others' independence, so this is mostly a good development, as far as I'm concerned. I frequently travel alone, spend much of my weekend leisure activities alone (walks through the woods are a favorite past time) and generally try to take care of my own entertainment. It doesn't always work but we're getting there. My annual post of a bunch of photos of us together Ait Benhaddou, Morocco (mostly abandoned city made entirely of clay and now used as a movie set and tourist attraction) During our camel ride out to the desert camp. Totally counts. At Little Skellig (you'll recognize this island from the new Star Wars movie). Some little town on Ireland's west coast. I don't know why we're so happy. Probably because we just ate some massive meal. On the fjord tour in Norway

I read

Thanks to Goodreads, I can just rattle off the books I read in 2017. I put a star on books I particularly enjoyed.
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Mark Manson*

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Travel | Lisbon

This trip to Lisbon was supposed to be a trip to visit David and eat all the things in DC, but he was hosting other folks. I planned a week off between jobs, but then found myself in need of a new travel plan. In Europe, this is never a problem. You pop your dates into Momondo and see where you can fly for reasonably cheap. Portugal, they said. And so it was. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The first thing you do after somewhere from Sweden is breathe a sweet sigh of relief that it is warm here. That's exactly what I did on my first morning. I woke up early and walked down by the ocean, which was not blowing ice air in my face. It was the day after the French elections and the Portuguese people were feeling lucky at least some parts of Europe were not choosing the path of populism, bigotry and fear. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com It did seem a bit wrong to arrive in Lisbon and immediately jet for Sintra, but that's exactly what I did. The weather people were predicting lots of rain for the rest of the week. Forty minutes later, I was in the tiny resort town famous for its royal palace up on the mountain. The Pena Palace is a pretty crazy place - colorful, remote, and surrounded by the most delightful gardens.     © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com View of the Moorish castle from the Pena Palace. I did visit it, but by that point I was so exhausted from walking up and down all these hills I did a bit of an in-and-out situation. It was a cool ruin that the king and such renovated. People of the past liked hanging out in ruins as well.     © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Honestly, I would skip the actual ticket for the palace. You see the inside, and they are some small royal apartments that look like a lot of other royal apartments. With the entrance to the gardens, you get to do all the really great stuff with the castle - walk around the walls, just go around and see the views and stuff. The inside is missable, unless you are into taking pictures of people juxtaposed with butts. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com These were so baller royal gardens. Normally you have some manicured hedges and things to walk around, or just a big old forest that is also nice. But these had all these lovely little spots to stop and look at things - like this 16th century well built by monks and fed by water from a mine. There were benches where the queen used to sit and little groves and meditation caves. They were the best royal gardens I've seen and I've managed to see a whole bunch of royal gardens. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I hit up the aforementioned Moorish Ruins and then bolted back to town to hop on the Chill Out Lisbon tour, which promised to be a tour about non-touristy stuff but was basically just your normal walking tour, but long (four hours!) We saw Barrio Alto, a bit of the Baixa and the Alfama, the oldest district in the city. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Lisbon is a bit of a weird place. It seems pretty active and prosperous and vibrant, but there are lots of abandoned buildings and things that are weirdly run-down. There were broken windows on what was essentially a back-side of the national palace. That's... weird. I honestly didn't learn much about modern Lisbon but in 1755, there was a huge earthquake and tsunami and 80% of the city was destroyed. Areas was up on the hills (Lisbon is very hilly) like Barrio Alto and Alfama were spared a lot of the damage of their lower neighbors, but that probably just means the buildings are much harder to maintain now. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com This was one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com After the Chill Out tour, I was starting to feel pretty crummy. I woke up the next day determined not to be sick and pressed on through some wanderings around town. I did come back to the hostel and take a long nap in the afternoon, before setting off again in the evening. By the time I got back, I realized I was in for some serious down-time. The following day, I barely left the hostel - just to get some lunch and then later for a little stroll. I spent most of the day hauled up in the TV room of the hostel watching movies and feeling miserable. Nothing like being sick on vacation, in a public place, with no kitchen and no private bathroom. I was also supposed to travel to Porto that day for two nights, but I canceled it. What's the point of being sick in a new, more foreign place? So I never made it to Porto. Fortunately, I felt much better the next morning! © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Lisbon is hilly as fuck. My legs hurt so damn much when I was sick - that achey feeling when you are really ill but exacerbated by serious normal-soreness from walking up and down hills all day. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com They kept this church as a partial ruin to remind everybody about the earthquake. It was a pretty big deal in Lisbon's history. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Lunch in Bélem - grilled sardines. I heard they were not quite in season, but who cares? I'm a tourist. Bélem also is home to the famous Pasteles de Nata, which are amazing little custard tarts. In Bélem, they crank out something like 20k/day, so they are hot out of the oven when you eat them and so, so tasty. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Bélem is also home to the Jerónimos Monastery, a pretty seriously awesome-looking courtyard thing. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I went home and forced another nap because I was hanging around 75%. And then managed to get it up enough to go on a Fado night with other folks from the hostel. It was nice enough, but, as normally happens when I attempt to experience the "local music", I was pretty bored. Fado is lovely but old-school. My hostel, Travelers' Hostel, had a really interesting mix of folks. A fair amount of party people, as is common with all hostels, but a number of folks my age and even some legit older folks. It's always nice to find a hostel that is catering to all types and not just the free-shots-bar-crawl crowd. The next day, I went to the Oceanarium. I've been on a bit of an octopus kick lately after reading Soul of an Octopus. I like to travel alone expressly for this reason: I can go do something stupid like visit the aquarium. It's what I felt like doing, and so I did it. There were fishes. It was lovely. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I had heard all about hipster-haven Lx Factory but it was all sit-down restaurants and I just wasn't feeling it. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com That evening I had the most amazing dinner. 20170512_190624 I declare crab to be the perfect solo fancy dinner choice. First, it's super-delicious. Which is great for times when you are dining with others as well. But crab also takes forever to eat. One can enjoy the ambiance, while having something to focus your attention on. I happened to be sitting in front of the crab tank and the little guys watched me eat my meal. I actually saw this bugger get scooped out of the tank, which I admit did give me the teeniest, tiniest pause. But then this meal arrived and I just dived in. Eating this made me deliriously happy (plus two glasses of wine). © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com A little extra strolling the morning before my flight, and that was that! I really enjoyed Portugal and I'm sure I'll be back, hopefully with fewer viruses brewing in me.

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Travel | Morocco: Merzouga to Casablanca

We left off in the desert, so that's where we'll have to start the second half of my photos from Morocco. George and I got up before dawn, climbed to the top of the dune and watched the sun rise with a menagerie of folks from all over the world. Then we hopped on our camels and marched back to civilization. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We had two more days with Youssef and Omar, who drove us all the way around the dunes (they are only 26km long). We visited a kohl mine, an abandoned mining town, a village populated by "black Africans" and also had tea with a nomad family. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Not gonna lie, the tea thing was really weird. We rolled up to this homestead with just a big family tent and a cooking fire. And then we ... went in and the lady made us some tea and we had a little chat. Omar said our host was his cousin and they all chatted in Berber for a while and George and I tried not to act like we were rich white westerners. It was uncomfortable for us but also fascinating to see how a nomad family lives. We were able to ask questions (translated by Youssef). For instance, the family moves every three months or so. It takes several hours by donkey to get to town to buy food and necessities. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com One of the coolest things we saw was this abandoned mining town. Back in the day, there were around 200 kohl miners at this site, but operations at the mine have slowed way down and now just a handful of workers are needed. These buildings, made from the surrounding materials, are slowly fading back into earth. Youssef's grandfather worked in the mine and his great-grandmother is buried at the small cemetery nearby. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com One of hundreds of "panoramic views" we saw along the drive. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We had an early day and we spent most of it just relaxing. George was in his sick phase during this time, so he enjoyed the ability to sleep and hang out in bed. I spent most of the night attempting to download the Sense8 Christmas special, which never did finish loading. Eventually we gave up. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The road to Fes was mostly uneventful, except for a quick stop in the mountains to meet these monkeys! They were incredibly polite for "tourist" monkeys. They would just hang out til you handed them a peanut or an orange. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And then we were in Fes! After the relative peace of the countryside and leaving the safety of our guides, we weren't quite sure what to expect in Fes. We steeled ourselves for Marrakech #2 (and we had been told that Fes is even worse than Marrakech) but actually, we loved Fes. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com That is probably 80% thanks to our amazing Airbnb hosts, Mohammed and Micaela. They own a little shop in the henna souk, which we visited several times. First to say hi and later to pick up provisions for the hammam. Each time Mohammed tried to load us up with soaps and incense and other goodies. They also invited us to have dinner in their home with an Italian couple. He was doing an anthropology research project on the "sounds of Morocco", which is pretty cool. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Morocco feels really traditional in many ways. Here's a street vendor. There are street vendors for tons of things: produce, candy, drinks, dairy, snails, everything. Some had carts and others would move things around on donkey. It was orange season, so there were oranges everywhere. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com High above the rooftops of Fes. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The "blue gate", the other side of which is blue. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I feel like I've run out of things to say about these beautiful zellij decorations at the old Muslim schools. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com One of Fes' most famous attractions are the tanneries. We managed not to make it to the most famous (Chouara) but we did go up to one of the leather stores' balconies to see the smaller set nearer our riad. These pits contain nasty things like pigeon droppings and chemical stuff, and workers stand in them all day, working the leather with their legs. When the leathers are done being treated, they are hung from the rafters you see to the right and lower left where they dry in the sun. The next day, they'll get a new treatment. It takes 2-3 months for a single piece of leather to be ready to be made into something. The fact is if you want to see the tanneries, you have to go into a leather shop and ask to go upstairs. Then when you come back down, you are basically required to buy a piece of leather. We dropped some serious coin in this leather shop, but George is happy with his things, so it's all good. It was really neat to be able to see the production. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com This is the henna souk where our host had his little shop. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com One of our most enjoyable days was a cooking class we took at the Clock Cafe. It was a full day of talking about food, eating, shopping and generally making merry. Our instructor was one of the most cheerful people I've ever met. First, we hit up the market to buy some provisions. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com George volunteered to kill the chicken, but it was all just a trick - in the end, he just handed the thing back over. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Most of the time, I was too shy and afraid to bring my big camera out to photograph in the souks (though I saw plenty of people walking around with those things just swinging from their necks, so probably no big deal). But as part of a big group of folks, it felt fine. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We cooked and ate and laughed all day, then I met up with a lovely Finnish girl who was willing to go to the hammam with me. It was a very interesting experience. First, we did everything wrong and the ladies had to keep correcting us. The wrong bowls, bringing too many products, then too much product, wearing a top, splashing around. Eventually, we managed to more or less bathe. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We were in Fes for five days, which is lots but not long enough to feel like you've seen everything. One day, we headed over to Meknes and Volubilis, which is skippable. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I did, however, enjoy this mosaic of a dead bird and another that's about to get it. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And that was Fes! We hopped on a four hour bus ride through the mountains and wound up in Chefchaouen, the "blue city." © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com As you can see, it's one of the most atmospheric and beautiful places I've been. For reasons that are under significant dispute, the town has been painting its walls blue for quite a long time. Up until something like 100 years ago, there had never been any Christians in town - they were not allowed to visit. Somewhat recently this law was removed and now there are significant numbers of tourists. Still, it felt much more calm in this town and we could mostly just walk around and not feel harassed. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We had a day and a half in Chefchaoen (even though it looks like more because I am posting so many photos). We walked up to the Spanish Mosque in the morning. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com There were lots of cats everywhere but the ones in this town actually looked pretty healthy. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I wanted to see Rabat, but our plans only allowed for a stopover on the way between Chefchaouen and Casablanca. But it really worked out because Rabat gave us a solid six hours of entertainment. First, we saw the ocean. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And then the Hassan Mosque, with its lovely, giant ruins and also the crypt of ... some guy who died not that long ago. And when I say crypt, I really mean an explosion of gold and zellij and decoration. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Chellah, ruins in the middle of a lush garden. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com A short train ride later and we were in Casablanca for our last day. Our adorable host was this little old French woman who spoke only a few words of English. I pulled out my years-ago Duolingo French and we managed a complete conversation... sort of. In any case, we ended up having an enormous apartment all to ourselves, which was just great. And we also saw the Hassan II Mosque, which is the main thing to do in Casablanca. It is the largest in Morocco but only the 13th largest in the world. And I can tell you: it is really freakin' big. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com George attempting to go walk out to the water, but the rocks were too slippery. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And that is a wrap on Morocco! I had a bunch of tips in my previous blog post about ways to enjoy yourself in Morocco, so check out the end of that guy if you're looking for some advice. Otherwise, clearly, you should make plans to go. It was challenging, rewarding, reasonably tasty, and an undeniable feast for the eyes.

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