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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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June & July: Stray Frames | Personal

Ok I'm a slacker on Stray Frames and, frankly, a slacker on personal photos for these two months. I even went all the way over to Europe and barely cracked the camera. What can I say? I've got a husband to take the cellphone snapshots and also a husband I'd have to drag around to wait patiently on me to get the street stuff I want (I generally leave the postcard-photos to the masters and those that have the luxury of time). © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Two other photo-related things I did in June: a nekkid photoshoot for me (ostensibly for George but who are we kidding) and a "couple shoot" with the both of us. Sarah Williams from This Rad Love did both and I couldn't love them more. (There's literally no other photo from this shoot that doesn't have some of my ladybits showing. Rawr.) random-x100-july2015-1-2 George and I brainstormed for weeks about things that we enjoying doing together that could be "documented." At the end of the day, most of it was eating-related. We literally had lunch at Founding Farmers and Sarah took pictures. She hung out with us for an ungodly amount of time, bless her heart. random-x100-july2015-2-2 That's all I've got from June, man. David, Carrie, George and I rolled over to West Virginia to hang with good friends in their sprawling, mansion-like home. Amazing food and good times were had by all. Other than that, lots of weddings and things. I wish I could say I nipped that June no-personal-photos thing in the bud but it's not true. I have only a handful to show. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I found myself in Louisville in July with a couple days to kill. I'd never seen the city before. It's got some fun spots but really it's quite sleepy for a major city. Not much going on downtown and such. I thought about this one for a while before I made my choice. Before I die... nothing? I feel pretty good about life. I don't particularly feel the need to check anything else off a list. But if there's one ambition I have, it's to taste more things. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Also in July, Aziz hosted a scavenger photo-hunt from the Leica Store. We were given a list of 12 or 14 things to photograph around the city. Some of these weren't actually part of the hunt - I just took them during the six (!) hours he gave us. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I did not win the scavenger hunt, but I did meet Mike who was carrying around this sombrero on his bike. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com The July DC photowalk was held at Fort Reno. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I photoed one last wedding in July, and that night scooted off to meet my husband in Vienna... where I immediately fell ill and spent a day in bed. I did my best to spend my last half-day doing stuff, so we toured the opera house. My phone took this panorama - yay technology! random-x100-july2015-1© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com It was just a couple days in Vienna, then we headed on to Prague. The city is really beautiful because it didn't get bombed much in the wars (unlike basically every other European capital). Here are a couple more panoramas from my phone, from the Clock Tower. random-x100-july2015-2random-x100-july2015-3 I liked Prague quite a bit, but it's nowhere near my contender for "best city," as many friends assured me it would be. It lacks a feel of authenticity in much of the city center - the same way Rome does. They both have an artificiality to them, as though everything is done for your (the tourist's) benefit. I much prefer a bustling place like NYC or Amsterdam that makes things easy for tourists, but also has its own thing going on such that tourists are not the primary thought. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com All that said, Prague was a very atmospheric locale to spend five days. I particularly enjoyed the architecture, if not George's compositional skills. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And then! We went to a church decorated all over with bones!! This is the Sedlac Bone Church about 45 minutes from Prague. The priests used the bones of plague victims to remind parishioners about mortality and fleeting-ness of this world and also something about how we're all equal in the eyes of G-d. It was mad awesome. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com We also toured Terezin, a very strange concentration camp that the Nazis used for propaganda. This was a more pleasant place than almost anywhere else in the Third Reich but nearly everyone that came to the camp was later sent on to their deaths. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com A Cubist coffee shop back in Prague. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Tourists waiting for the famous Astronomical Clock to chime. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I thought this spider helped illustrate what an awesome view we had from our hotel room. I splurged in Prague because it was cheap ($100/night!) and because the rest of the trip our accommodations were covered by George's work. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com And with that eight-legged dude, I leave you. We had one more destination on this year's European gallivanting, but that is a story for another day.

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May: Stray Frames | Personal

People are always saying that time speeds up as you get older. I'm not sure I believe it 100%, but I can believe that all the things I do monthly (write these posts, for instance) do seem to come far more often than would be predicted by the word "monthly". We're living a busy life. It's exciting, but it moves quickly. April came and went, then May. Now it's June. We'll blink and another wedding season will have come and gone. In the meantime, we press on and take things as one-day-at-a-time as possible. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com May was a bit of a rough month for me. I sprained my ankle halfway through and I've had to rest it since. Even though it was a minor sprain (as self-diagnosed by me and the internet), it's still swollen more than two weeks later. If you know anything about me, you know I walk a lot. It's my main form of entertainment and my default activity to get out of the house and do something. (It's a working from home thing, see. If I didn't get out and deliberately walk, I'd just sit inside my house all day at the computer.) So far, thirty one is the year of my body breaking on down all over the place. I'm kind of hoping to get quickly to 32 so I can maybe avoid this pitfall year of sprains, strains and other maladies. Early in the month, I headed north for a Baltimore Fun Day. PostSecret's Frank Warren was giving a presentation at the American Visionary Art Museum. I'd never seen him talk and it was free, so I rolled on up. I spent some time walking around the city but it was more of a pound-the-pavement day than a photo day. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com This next presenter is my own lovely husband George. He gave a big talk at DC Nerd Nite last month and it seemed to be a hit. He's an accomplished dude. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Later on, a whole mess of WWII-era planes made a flyover on the Mall, so I gathered with the fine folks at Exposed DC to photo it on up. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Mid-month, a friend of mine got hitched in Canada, so I went up to the Great White North to photo his nuptials. On the way out of there, I hit up Niagara Falls, which was well worth the two-hour detour and rush rush rush through the carnival atmosphere. I didn't photo the Horseshoe Falls, which you can see to the right in the photo below (it just looks like a big cloud) but when the boat pushes into the half-circle of massive, rushing water, you feel this sense of awe that's really indescribable. I loved it. I would do it again. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com I spent another couple days in Toronto banging around. I had my camera and all, but maybe I was sort of photo'ed out from the wedding. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Ankle sprain day. I needed to entertain myself, as George had been out of town for a good week and a half at this point. I took the metro in to see an art festival way on up in NW, totally inaccessible to metro (except for crazy walkers like me). I got out at Shaw, walked a huge loop and then came back through to Brookland. I rewarded myself with a glass of wine and a long sit at Brookland Pint, but when I went to stand up, my leg had fallen asleep and just collapsed under me. When I got to my feet, I realized I had a busted ankle. Womp womp. I spent the rest of my month sitting on the couch and complaining. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Rolling Thunder motorcycle riders gather in the Pentagon parking lot. I didn't expect to be photographing bikers, but it was a nice detour on my way into the city. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Creeptastic dolls in Shaw. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Finally, the fifth #DCPhotowalks photowalk took place at AwesomeCon. I was still hobbling around, so I didn't go hard at this one, but it was great fun seeing all the elaborate costumes. © 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com© 2015 Amber Wilkie Photography | www.amberwilkie.com Until next time!

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