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Travel | Morocco: Marrakech to Merzouga

In December, George and I packed our bags and hopped a plane to ... Africa! It was a whole new continent for both of us, the first Muslim country, and the first time George had traveled outside of the U.S. / Europe. More than any other trip we've taken, this one was uncomfortable and challenging. There were large cultural barriers, and we experienced for the first time what it's like to be a minority - incredibly visible, targeted, noticed.  It took some getting used to, but Morocco was an amazing country to experience. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.comMy overwhelming visual impression of Morocco is one of color. I typically take a lot of "street" style pictures and convert a lot of them into black and white. You'll find little of that in these posts. This is both because the locals are not cool with having their photo taken and because everything is so damn colorful. Each city seemed to have a signature color - red in Marrakech, blue in Chefchaouen, yellow in Fez and burnt clay in the desert. The towns in the countryside rise up from their terrain organically and it's easy to miss them in the landscape. Morocco is a singularly beautiful place. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And one more note before I jump in: go to Morocco. I am not trying to gloss over all the problems and awkwardness and hassle, but it's worth it. We came for two weeks and could have spent longer. Our trip took us Marrakech - Merzouga - Fez - Chefchaouen - Rabat - Casablanca. With more time, we could have gone north to Tangier and south to Agadir. That said, we were tired when this trip was over and reluctantly ready to go back home. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We've had a mildish winter here in Gothenburg, but it's been wintering since mid-September. That's a whole lot of cold weather to contend with. We left before the winter solstice, so the days were still on their way to shorter. Already, six weeks later, you can feel the change as more sunlight creeps into the early evening. But when we got off that plane to sunny skies and 20*C, it felt pretty damn good. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The airport and the airport shuttle were uneventful, but as soon as we stopped off the bus with our bags and headed into the medina (old town), we were assaulted both by sights (donkey carts!) and smells (snails!) but also a half-dozen young men who kept shouting at us about directions. We unfortunately had a bit of a tough time finding our riad, so we did eventually break down and pay someone to lead us there. This walking-around-being-pestered would be a constant during our trip. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Once we tucked our bags away and enjoyed a moment in our beautiful riad, we thought things might get better back on the street. We were mostly wrong. One really can't just walk around Marrakech and expect to wander and enjoy. It's loud and there are motorcycles driving past and every five seconds someone will yell "Square!" at you or offer to take you elsewhere. Coming from a place where one can walk about mostly unharrassed, it was a really big shock for us. We ducked into the Badhi Palace to escape the streets, but got kicked out just a few minutes later. © 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 Everyone - guidebooks, internet - talks about how great Jemaa El Fna (the main square) is at night. We decided to try it. But just a few minutes after arriving, we (being polite Westerners and all) got suckered into a small chat with a lady who grabbed my hand and started putting henna on it. Then they extorted us out of $40. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We went back to the hotel in a bit of a daze (and in considerable social discomfort) and regrouped. We needed to toughen up and not be the wimpy Westerners who are polite at all costs and avoid confrontation. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com One great thing about Marrakech was our lovely riad, the Riad Le Coq Fou. Don't bother googling - they don't have a website (a pattern I saw all over Morocco). All the hotels and things use booking.com - just go with it. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We saw this cat on a later day get into a legit knock-down-drag-out with another feline and got his little face all bloodied. Life is hard for the street cat. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The second day we hired a guide to walk us around. It was a more or less enjoyable experience, and the street hustlers definitely gave us more width when we were with a guide. Unfortunately, he did take us "shopping" a bunch and we sat through a number of awkward demonstrations before we said "yeah, we're not going to buy anything." On a related note: what do these people do with the rugs? They don't fit in luggage - do they ship them? Everywhere we went, people were trying to get us to buy carpets. We did, of course, eventually purchase a carpet, but a tiny one that could fit in our luggage. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Our guide also happened to be a celebrity guide. Among other names he dropped, he said he gave a tour to Ed Norton. "I don't believe you," I said, at which point he whipped out his cellphone and showed me a picture of him and Edward Norton. So, there you go. We got the celebrity tour guide. But we still had to go through the song-and-dance about buying (and not buying) rugs. One of the highlights of the tour was a trip to the Ben Youssef Medersa - a truly stunning 13th century religious school. We saw a whole bunch of medersas while we were there, but I think the first was the best. © 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 Leatherworking is a big deal in Morocco - mostly goat leather. Artisans leave their hides drying all over town, wherever they can get a square of sunlight. These small pieces were lined up next to the big mosque by us (Ben Youssef). © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The best thing the tour guide showed us were the communal facilities for the neighborhood. Morocco's medinas look about the same as I imagine they did 400 years ago. They are tight, cramped, busy, and everyone knows everyone else. People actually live in these historic cities - unlike parts of Europe where they are "preserved" and a show for tourists. Our guide told us every neighborhood has: a mosque, a hammam (bath house), a food market, and a bakery. Throughout our trip, we would see children walking down the street with either loaves of dough or loaves of bread. They were taking them to the communal bakery. You drop off your stuff and come back a few hours later to pick it up. We also saw the furnace operator for the hammam. They might not all be powered this way, but the one we saw was coal powered, just like way on back in the day. The furnace guy also accepted some change to heat up the community's tanjias - big clay pots filled with stews. He's the slow-cooker for the entire neighborhood. I find this community fascinating and it feels like something from the past - something Europe used to do but lost. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com It didn't feel safe to take pictures inside the souks (market streets), so you'll have to settle for this overview of an open square. It was exhausting walking around the streets (because you were being harassed constantly) so we spent a considerable portion of the afternoon in a cafe after our tour. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com On our last day in Marrakech (of 3), we walked across town to the Saadian Tombs, incredibly beautiful burial places for important kings of the past. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The Koutoubia Mosque is the symbol of Marrakech and visible from most everywhere in the city (once you get up high enough). © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We were thrilled to be getting out of Marrakech and into the countryside, but also nervous about the next step: a private four-day excursion into the desert. (We used Sahara 4x4 and they were great - happy to give more contact info). You may be thinking that it would be uncomfortable to drive around for four days with two complete strangers in a car. It was! But it was also great and the guys were more or less cool. And so we headed into the Atlas Mountains. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The Moroccan countryside is so beautiful - the little towns look like they were meant to be there. There is also an amazing diversity in such a small(ish) geographical area - we saw something like 15 distinct biomes. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Animals are much more integrated into Moroccans' day-to-day lives than I'm used to seeing. Many families had sheep or chickens and there are tons of donkeys in the medinas - used the way one would have a truck for deliveries in a place with wider streets. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The first day was mostly just driving and stopping at little places - an argan oil collective, mountain views ("Now we stop for a panoramic view," our guide Youssef would say something like 10 times a day) but then we came to the Aït Ben Haddou - a fortress in the the middle of the desert. It's so cool-looking they film a bunch of movies at it (like Gladiator). © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com If the photographers who read my blog notice my inability to keep the white balance consistent, you'll just have to deal. It was way red all over the place and the colors changed so much depending on the sun. © 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 took the opportunity to grab a photo of some souk-like action while there weren't people looking like they'd shout for us to give them money if I brought out my camera. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We continued on a bit further into the Dades Gorge... © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And finally arrived at our beautiful estate-like hotel for the night. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com This area reminded me a lot of the American southwest - red, red rocks and amazing geological features. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com In the morning, we got back in the car and hit some more panoramic views. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I love that this hotel felt the need to spray-paint "Hotel" on itself. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com More driving, then we were at yet another gorge: the Todra Gorge, and the oases that spill out of it. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com It was warmer than Sweden, but it still wasn't that warm. Most days were hanging around 12-15*C. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Our guide Youssef. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We basically lived in this car for four days. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Then we drove and drove and finally arrived in Merzouga, which is pretty damn close to Algeria. We had made it all the way across the country. And the reason? 95% to ride camels and sleep in the desert. It was fucking unbelievable, as you are about to see. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Youssef seemed to enjoy stealing my camera for a bit and took a ton of photos of us getting onto the camels. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Safely ensconced on these bizarre animals, we took off into the dunes. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com What follows are a thousand photos of Erg Chebbi, the westernmost part of the Sahara and the only "real" desert I've yet to set eyes on. The landscape was surreal and incredibly beautiful and very hard to white-balance. © 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© 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 When I was in Israel (a time before I had a "real" blog or was very much interested in photography so no link), I slept in "tents" in the desert. This was nothing like that. These were luxury tourist pods - complete with electricity and running water and a two-course meal and also a full-size bed on a frame. It was hardly "sleeping in a tent" but we did get to spend the night in the desert and sit around a campfire and look at the stars. © 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 woke up butt-early to scramble up the highest nearby dune and watch the sun rise. © 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 There were tourist pods scattered all over the landscape. They all looked about the same, so I don't think we were ever going to get a real "nomad" experience in this ride-camels-sleep-in-the-desert thing. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com This is George "sandboarding" down the dune. © 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2017 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And that is a wrap on the first part of our trip! I'm hoping to bust blog #2 out of the doors in the next couple days before I forget everything we saw and did. In the meantime, on the plane home I made a list of travel tips for Morocco. In case you're pondering a trip, here they are:
  • Get small change. You'll need it for the bathroom, tipping, giving to people on the street.

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Travels | Berlin & Dresden

My traveling continues on! I've been so lucky this year to be able to go to so many new and exciting places. I'm even planning a trip (finally) to Stockholm at the moment. People can stop looking at me funny when I admit I've never been to the only city they can name in Sweden. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Berlin and Dresden were both amazing cities and I'd gladly go back. Berlin in particular has so much going on. I was there for six days and I could have stayed double, triple that and still have been missing out. Berlin is also the only place I've ever stayed where the other people at the hostel seemed to be staying an appropriate amount of time. It might also have been the nature of the hostel I stayed at, a hippie commune of sorts. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Typically, I'd see my roommates change every single night in a constant churn of new tourists, hopping into Prague, Budapest, London for two nights, max, and partying deep into the night and sleeping all day. People in Berlin came to party but they also stayed long enough to see some freakin' stuff too. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I started the trip in Dresden because that seemed to make the most sense. A flight to Berlin is 50 minutes (you are so jealous!) but the damn train was 4 hours. I messed up - I should have taken the bus. Alas, you live and you learn. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The first day it rained and rained. I was supposed to go hiking (spoilers: I made it, see above) but had to flip things around. I read Rick Steves and saw the things. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com You know Dresden from Slaughterhouse Five (by the outstanding Kurt Vonnegut) and you probably know it was fire-bombed to the ground. But they built it back up like lots of other people have done and now you can wander around lots of reconstructed pretty bits. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Interesting note for ceramicists, this super-detailed and beautiful wall is made of tile, so it survived the fire-bombing, while everything else burned up. Yay for ceramics...? © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I couldn't tell if this was a piece of art or just a regular fire escape. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com It's important to be able to get your ciggies without delay. (To be fair, this machine was dead, but I saw lots of others around town that weren't attached to abandoned buildings.) © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com In case you need to squint, it says Edward-Snowden-Platz. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The next day, I hopped on a train to the Saxon Switzerland National Park to do some "hiking" (read: moderate walking in the woods + views). From the train: © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com This little fucking village on the Elbe was adorable and I had to take a ferry across the river. It was so calm and peaceful and beautiful. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And then it was straight uphill for about a half hour to the top of the "mountain" and this baller bridge that was constructed specifically for tourists to hike to. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com So nice I even asked a German lady to take my photo and she got it in focus! It's a German miracle. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com So what happened is I was very pleased with the views and the frosty beer I had at the snack bar up top (oh yeah, isn't it great when you get to the top of a "mountain" and realize you could have taken a bus?), but I wanted more walking and couldn't jive taking a train trip and everything just to do an hour of there-and-back sightseeing. So I took a random trail and just kept going when it went downhill. And then it went downhill more and more and more and all the way down the damn mountain. Luckily, I popped out 15 minutes and an extremely pleasant river stroll back to where I started. Thanks, tiny adorable German town! © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Later that day, I hopped a bus back to Berlin and arrived safe and sound at my hostel, where no one was giving two shits about the Germany game. So I watched it myself and went to bed early, because that's my way. The next day, another walking tour, another rainy day. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I put myself on a grueling rainy six-hour walking tour of Berlin, but it was a good introduction to the city. We also went inside this super weird old dance hall with legit behind-the-Wall atmosphere. And this banging ratty old couch. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We saw "Museum Island" where all the old museums and the Cathedral are. And there's the famous TV Tower at Alexanderplatz in the background. This was a very impressive statue and that's why I've included this crappy snapshot of it. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Checkpoint Charlie, which at this point is 100% tourist bullshit. There used to be a checkpoint here where people could move between East and West Berlin. By the way, I learned all about that and it was mad fascinating and you should learn about it too, if you are in Berlin or have a chance. I've learned so much about the War and the Communist era since coming to Sweden - it's fascinating! © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The almost unfortunately visually-appealing Monument to the Murdered Jews of the Holocaust. So many idiots were doing disrespectful and just absurd things at this holocaust memorial: taking goofy selfies, posing like fashion models. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I stumbled across this really cool little area in Friedrichshain called RAW. It's got mad graffiti everywhere. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com No idea what these ads are about but they were all over town with different characters. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The East Side Gallery (in the rain, again). © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Creepy but totally banal German word (it means "the") floating over the city (and a big stretch of the Wall near the Topography of Terror). © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com It's so weird to see where the Wall used to be. It just cuts through regular-looking neighborhoods and you can just imagine folks having to look at each other across the "death strip" - one side in capitalism and the other in communism. Now little bits of the wall just hang out in neighborhoods, like this one in front of an apartment building. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The flea market on Sundays at Kreuzberg is so damn cool. There were buskers everywhere and people drinking (totally legal in Germany to drink whatever you want wherever you want). I bought a big beer and watched a drum troupe and wandered around looking at all the crap. It was a super-chill vibe. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com One of the coolest things I did was tour the Reichstag's dome. It is really damn tall and the audio guide points out all kinds of interesting things on the horizon, plus some German history and a little explanation of how their government works. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The dome actually gathers sunlight through a complex mirror system and bounces it down into the main chamber so they have to spend less on lighting. Cool, right? © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The best I can do for you of the Brandenburg Gate, which was beset on all sides by Euro Cup paraphernalia (they broadcast on a huge screen behind the Gate. I tried to go but no backpacks allowed, womp womp.) © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Even better, though, you could sightsee from this bed. (wtf?) © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com One of the coolest things I did while in Berlin was a Street Art Tour. I did a similarly named thing in Krakow but this was actual graffiti stuff - explanations of what the different marks mean, how respect works between street artists, etc. We got to see some "bombs" from 20 years ago. And then we got to make a little piece to take home, which was fun. Highly recommend! My guide was from Brooklyn, which brought out some crazy California West-side pride from me. Chester, the badass tour guide: "Where are you from, Amber?" Amber: "Cali." Amber: "Oh jeez, I just said Cali to you." © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com This is from the German History Museum. I don't know who this guy is or anything, I just thought he looked awesome. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And finally, soccer outside at RAW. I thought I would be watching this game in a quiet courtyard but I discovered the whole area was jam-packed with revelers. Germany crushed Northern Ireland but they weren't even that good at it, so it wasn't a great game to watch. Still, it's always fun to see such things around people who give a damn. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And that's it! I thought Berlin was my last trip before the bootcamp but now it looks like I'm headed to Stockholm and - who are we kidding - I'll probably fit in a trip to somewhere closer in the free week I have before the bootcamp starts. That is also my way.

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Poland | Warsaw to Gdansk

Hej, it's me - your wedding photographer travel blogger! I'm getting better at blogging right away, since that's when I have all the memories and the motivation to process photos. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I got back Saturday from POLAND, an incredible country rich in nothing quite so much as history. I learned (and forgot) so many things about Poland, about Europe, about communism and its fall, about the War. My travels in Europe make me long for an intensive European history course. If only the history books weren't so damn boring. (Well, maybe actually visiting places is going to be more exciting than reading about it in any book). © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We booked this trip a month before we took it because I realized only then that I'd have a 3-day week followed by a 2-day week in my Swedish course. That says to me ditch the last two days and take a fatty trip somewhere. So I did. Ten days in Poland and I covered a huge chunk of the country. But it was too fast. Poland is big, y'all. I'd most like to have 3 more days but if not, you'd have to cut two small cities or one large one. I'd love to have even more time to see the East as well. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I flew in on Ryan Air and out on Wizz Air and though both airlines will nickel and dime you to your dying breath, it is freakin' awesome to fly between countries for nine dollars. Thank you budget airlines! © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I started the journey in Warsaw, which was completely devastated during the war. You've heard of the "Warsaw uprising" but you probably think it refers to a rebellion of Jews in the ghetto. There were actually two uprisings in Warsaw: one in the ghetto (it was in The Pianist) and another that the "regular" citizens undertook against the Nazis at the very end of the war. In retaliation, the Nazis simply leveled the city, taking it apart brick by brick (as opposed to other cities which were just bombed to shit). The city of Warsaw lost something like 60% of its population during the war. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Warsaw also had a massive Jewish population pre-War. I wandered through the Jewish cemetery and couldn't believe how large it was. I've taken my fair share of wanders through Jewish cemeteries in other cities and this place was enormous in comparison. The ghetto itself took up most of what one considers "downtown" Warsaw. There are maps all over town showing you that you are in what was ghetto - because most of it was, during the War. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com This isn't the (apartment) building we stayed in, though AirBnB, but it did look exactly like this, but with more satellite dishes and gray, not white. It was quite Soviet, quite ugly. This abandoned monstrosity is at an incredibly busy intersection nearby. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We were only in Warsaw two days - and only one for George. He joined me after a conference in Oxford and flew straight to Warsaw. Then we hopped an early train to Krakow. For this first picture, just check out the object near the bottom of the frame. It's made of metal. I have no idea what it is supposed to be, but we all know what it actually is. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Krakow was indeed much prettier than Warsaw, naturally. It was spared much bombing during the War because the Nazis just liked it a lot. This is a giant head in the main square. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Some pretty great stonework / plasterwork (I'm no architect) in front of a cafe. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Check it - I think Krakow and Gothenburg must be sister cities! © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Of course, we went to Auschwitz. It was a pretty moving experience, even though there were a zillion tourists there. Two things struck me most: the ignorance and hope Jewish families brought with them, and the immense and utter cruelty of their death. You know that they would separate folks coming out of rail cars into two groups - those "fit to work" and those not. Those determined not fit to work went immediately to the gas chambers. This was 90% of everyone. It's often baffling to me how six million people could allow themselves to be slaughtered - how could no one fight back? And Auschwitz really taught me the extent to which people believed they would not be killed, that there could be hope, that they could save their families. For instance, some Jews were actually sold train tickets to Auschwitz, on the premises that they would have a new life there and be able to start again. Almost no one who came there realized it was a death camp. That's why the words on the famous gate are so brutal: work will set you free. For literally everyone, with the exception of a handful who were "rescued" by the Soviets at the end of the war, Auschwitz was nothing more than a death camp. Those who were "lucky" enough to be selected to work only lasted two or three months before their bodies gave up and they succumbed to starvation. It's an unfathomably dark chapter in human history. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com There's so much that could be said about Auschwitz, about the Holocaust, about Judaism, about genocide. But let's keep it light on the blog, amiright? If you don't know about this stuff, you need to learn. Otherwise, you know and we'll move on to fun stuff - like the Wieliczka salt mine! This thing was so fucking rad: © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Yes, this is an underground cathedral. These photos are taken from something like 60 meters underground. The salt mine is just a giant mountain of salt and nothing else - just good old NaCl - so everything that can be structurally removed is removed, leaving massive chambers behind. The miners built amazing rooms out of these chambers - cathedrals, chapels, ballrooms, etc. It's a super cool place and people have been visiting it for hundreds of years (including Copernicus!). © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com In almost every city, I had the pleasure of taking a "free" walking tour with the FreeWalkingTour.com people - I highly recommend them! You don't always get an amazing guide, but the structure of the tour says you can ditch out early if you think the guide sucks. And no doubt you'd pay more if you had to book something. I went on a "street art" tour in Krakow, after George had to go back to Sweden to work (hehe). © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And then, as if I hadn't been busy before, I went onto the real whirlwind part of the trip. I was in Wroclaw for only a few hours on my way to Poznan. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com In Wroclaw, I had the amazing experience of eating at a Milk Bar, a holdover from Communist times when folks couldn't afford food. These cafeterias are subsidized by the government still, so they are ridiculously cheap. And actually the tastiest pierogi I had on the trip. Absolutely zero English was spoken and I had to get some college students to help me order. Also, the whole place was run by these old ladies in hair nets and little blue dresses and weird orthopedic sandals. It was awesome! © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I was honestly surprised how little English I found in Poland. Traveling around Europe, you of course run into plenty of folk who don't speak, but often in tourist areas - restaurants, train offices, museums, etc. - you'll find lots of folks speak lots of English. Not so in Poland. I did a whole lot of pointing. I also managed not to pick up hardly any Polish the whole time. "Hello" was too damn hard to say so I mostly gave up, though I seem to have come away alright with "thank you" and "good morning". © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Old Town Wroclaw. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I had the best donut of my life in this city. I was walking into town and saw a whole bunch of people standing in line, so I figured that's what I should be doing as well. I was delighted to find they were ordering doughnuts. It was warm. It was sweet. It was enormous. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I took another free walking tour in Wroclaw. And it's like half my pictures even though I was only there maybe six hours! © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The oldest street in town. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com OK this is so cool. On the oldest street, they have a monument to the animals we raise and kill for food. They had a contest about who would make the monument but in the end decided they'd give each piece of it to a different artist - including someone who had to sculpt POOP. It's goat poop. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Also in Wroclaw, they have a zillion little dwarves all over town. This grew from a political protest movement towards the end of Communism here and now is a silly example of Capitalism - boom, we ... won? In any case, they're adorable and they're everywhere. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I took a late train out of Wroclaw and moved to Poznan, where I also had just a few hours. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this view out of my hostel window for my one night. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Poland likes to put their town halls and a bunch of other buildings right in the middle of their main squares. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I stayed in the light green building, in the room with the open window on the left. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Right next door is this huge building that a bunch of squatters took over at some point in the recent future. The city managed to kick them out and it actually remains to be seen what will happen - they're supposed to get a bunch of money to open a social center. It's amusing and interesting that all this could play out literally catty-corner to the main square. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com This is some famous guy who is concerned about global warming. Seems wrong to erect a fountain if that's the case, but I'm no city planner. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Yet another train to Torun, a really lovely little place pretty close to Warsaw and Gdansk. I was wildly off in finding the bus station (thanks Google) but I did get to see some fun out-of-the-way stuff. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Torun wasn't bombed during the War, so many of the buildings are original. This one, for instance, is where Copernicus was born. Dude's family was straight loaded, y'all. Torun is also famous for gingerbread, which I ate lots of. I love when places are famous for cookies. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Everywhere I went, there were a thousand schoolchildren. Apparently in May Polish schoolchildren all do their fieldtrips, so literally every museum everywhere was filled to the brim. I was unable to do the gingerbread baking demonstration because it was taken up by a bunch of kids. Bummer! Here's a leaning tower thing: © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Street photography by-the-way: when you're attempting to take photos of people walking by, they will often think there's something remarkable about the setting you've put them in, and they'll look away from you. There's nothing you can do about it except wait for someone more oblivious, like a baby. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And finally, I had reached my last destination: Gdansk. Gdansk looks like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, really - lots of pretty, narrow, Mannerist houses on a canal. This city also took considerable damage during the War and has been, for the most part, reconstructed. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com World War II started very near Gdansk, at Westerplatte. It was the first place shots were fired. Gdansk is also where Communism began to fall, as it was the site of the first successful strike (successful in the sense of establishing trade unions) behind the Iron Curtain. Poland was the first country to achieve independence in June, 1989. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The gate where the strikes were held that established trade unions in Poland. They had another grueling nine years ahead of them before they could step out from under the Soviet boot. Poles are incredibly proud of their Solidarity movement - and it would seem rightfully so. © 2016 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And that, my friends, was my trip to Poland! I would definitely go back - I moved way too fast. My favorite city? Probably Torun. Though I really liked all of them. And considering how damn cheaply I can fly there, I'd say Gdansk is the city I'm most likely to visit again. Until next time! (On the travel agenda for the year: Oslo, Stockholm, Malmö, Marstrand and the West Coast, Edinburgh. Then, maybe / hopefully: Croatia, Northern Italy - Lake Como, the South of France, Spain, Thailand.)

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