Sunday, June 28, 2015


Poland!  We took an epic bus trip to Krakow with a stop in Bolesławiec for polish pottery, and I could not wait for this trip!  I'm not exactly sure when "epic" became a thing, it must have started sometime time?  But I'm not exactly sure when my time started or ended or if it's even started yet.  I mean, I'm not that old.  But maybe my time has ended, because I really have no idea when "epic" became a thing.  But it seems like the best word to describe the world's longest bus ride to Poland that started 7 hours after it was supposed to.  

The bus was supposed to leave at midnight on Friday with a morning arrival in Bolesławiec and a early evening arrival in Krakow.  This meant that the majority of our time on the bus would have been at night, and all of the daytime driving would have been broken up with pottery shopping, lunch, and then arriving in Krakow in time for a night out on the main square.  Even though my body doesn't sleep when I'm on a bus, my brain would have forced a shut down purely based on it being after midnight, plus, I was going to take Tylenol PM to help matters out.  So leaving at midnight seemed like the perfect time to leave, right!?

That's not what happened.

The bus we were supposed to take broke down on it's way to Kaiserslautern and a new bus wasn't going to arrive until 6 hours later.  We were given the option of cancelling, but we had cancelled this same exact trip last year when Eric's work stuff got in the way, with a short amount of time left in Germany we couldn't cancel knowing that this might be our last opportunity to see Poland.  So, we opted to go home, sleep in our beds for a few hours, come back and board a new bus at 6 a.m, knowing that we were losing out on a lot of time in Poland.  
Then, a lady on the trip with us missed the bus and we had to wait another 45 minutes for her to get there!  The bus pulled out of Kaiserslautern 7 hours after it was supposed to!  Do you know what happens in Germany at 7:00 in the morning?  The world's worst traffic happens!  With 80 million people living in an area half the size of Texas, the world's worst traffic happens every few kilometer's the entire way to Poland!  

I'll just skip all of the details of the crankiness that was inside my little area of that bus, it really wasn't pretty, but whatever, we made it to Bolesławiec!  

It was difficult to get pictures of the pottery straight-on because the shops are small, and there are a lot of people in those small shops full of breakables shopping.  There just wasn't room for me to back up and get wide angle shots of the pottery.  
Bolesławiec {I couldn't even imagine how to pronounce this, but the German tour guide who accompanied us on our trip pronounced it "bowl-eh-suave-itz,"  I have no clue if the German-English pronunciation is the same as the Polish pronunciation} is a small village just a 1/2 hour or so over the German/Poland border and is known for its pottery shops that line the streets.  But since we arrived 7 hours after we were supposed to we didn't have a lot of time to shop, which was so disappointing!  We managed to leave with some Christmas gifts, but not much else.  Girls trip, anyone?

We arrived in Krakow after midnight (making a total of 17 hours on & off, but mostly on, that damn bus) and checked into a four-star, awesomely modern, hotel just outside the main square and steps away from a huge mall, and then melted into actual beds. 

A few short hours of sleep later we got up early to explore Krakow!  Krakow is the second largest, and one of the oldest, cities in Poland, and is known for the deadliest concentration camp in  history, Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Krakow became even more well-known in the 70's when Karol Wojtyła, the archbishop of Krakow, became Pope John Paul II.  It's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site!  

This Polish man let me take his picture! 

This is a medieval Polish door stopper, you perverts.

The Hard Rock Cafe 

We spent the morning exploring the Main Square, Wawel Royal Castle, St. Mary's Cathedral, and toured Krakow University- the second oldest university in Europe!

It rained off & on the entire weekend we were there which makes my pictures confusing- some are with blue skies, some are dark & grey- but I swear that's just how the weather works here and these pictures are in order with the timeline of our day. While touring the castle grounds and the cathedral it was pouring rain. First problem: no photography was allowed in either of those places. Second problem: I couldn't take pictures even if it had been allowed because I assume that large amounts of water on a expensive camera isn't good for the camera.

If you haven't been to Krakow and my pictures don't make you want to go then please ignore everything in this post and just GO! Krakow is incredibly beautiful! And so much fun! And cheap!

Next, we went to the Jewish Ghetto but it was raining so I didn't get any pictures, except that I did hop out of the bus when we got to the chairs.  These cast iron chairs memorialize the 500,000 Jewish people forced into the ghetto's at the start of World War II and I wanted a picture of them.  They were built in 2005 and can be used by locals waiting for the trams- symbolizing that anyone can be a victim.  Go HERE for a better description.  If I heard the tour guide right then these chairs are in the center of where the liquidation happened.

The rain had started to let up by this point so a group of us decided to walk to Oskar Schindler's Factory.  Have you seen 'Schindler's List'?  Oskar Schindler is a remarkable man who saved 1,100 Jewish people from going to Auschwitz.  He spent all of his money bribing German officials to keep his workers from being taken to Auschwitz, dying penniless in 1974.  Honestly, this man was absolutely remarkable and I can't do him justice with my terrible writing, you can start by watching 'Schindler's List' to get an idea of the lengths he went to to save so many people.  I'd rather you do that then me try fail at explaining his story.  He truly is incredible!

We had hopped off the bus without reservations for the factory so it wasn't a guarantee that we'd even be able to get in.  In the rain and without reservations is usually a risk I'd never take, but I had to see Oskar Schindler's Factory, so it was a now or never kind of thing.  We lucked out, though!  We stood in a very short line, got our tickets, and walked right in!

I had expected the factory to be a tribute to Oskar and his workers, but it was more like a history of Krakow & the Jewish ghetto, and the progression of World War II, which wasn't a bad thing, just not what I expected or hoped to see.  There was one room dedicated to Oskar Schindler and there were pictures of his workers and an exhibit displaying the pans his factory made, but nothing of the actual factory.  It wasn't disappointing, I'm really glad we went, but it just wasn't what I thought it'd be.

We had packed a lot into our morning but still had time for a traditional Polish lunch in a wine cellar before heading to the Wieliczka Salt Mines.  Isabelle declined a romantic lunch and instead had McDonald's in the hotel room with wifi.  It was nice to get an hour alone eating really great food in a romantic setting with my main man!  Eric knew that the Polish vodka that came with our lunch would help relax my mind about going under ground just a little while later.  I am severely claustrophobic but did not want to miss out on seeing the mines, plus, this was going to be a really great opportunity to use my new speedlite!  An extra shot of vodka hit the spot and I was ready to go!

We got to the mines later in the afternoon and descended some 1,000 feet below ground to the first & second levels of the salt mines (there were 7 more levels below us) and I tried really hard to not get dizzy walking down all of the millions of stairs it takes to get 1,000 feet below the part of earth that has the most amount of oxygen for my lungs, but okay, whatever, that's fine, the salt mines are supposed to be a really cool thing to see, so maybe I panic a little, no biggie! 

There are over 200km (124 miles) of passageways on 9 levels!  

443 feet below the earth.

Everything was made of salt.  Everything!  The floors looked like marble, the walls looked like bricks, but it was all salt!  All of the sculptures are made of salt and were sculpted by the miners hundreds of years ago.  Most of the stairs were carved from the rock salt, but obviously, the reinforcement beams and other stairs were made of wood that they had to bring down into the mines, but everything else was made of salt.  Very cool!  The tour guide said that we could lick the walls if we wanted to, buuuut with millions of tourists every year for hundreds of years who have taken the tour guides up on their offers.... yeeeeah, no.

The tour was seriously awesome!  The ceilings were so high that I never once felt suffocated, there were areas where the ceilings went so high that you couldn't even see the top!  We walked over top of an underground lake that the guide said was so full of salt that it would be impossible to drown because you can't sink.  Other areas were filled with sculptures and carvings, and displays of how miners mined salt throughout the ages.  We loved the tour and were having a blast, but Eric's favorite part was when we came to the underground cathedral.  They hold weddings and services there on a regular basis!  It was incredibly beautiful, the salt almost made it shimmer!

Chandeliers made of salt (except for the light bulbs, obviously)!

So here's the thing with me, a speedlite, and my camera.... it's the most frustrating combination ever!  This tour was going to be a really great opportunity to practice using a flash.  

But It turns out that I suck at using a speedlite. 

I have had almost zero opportunities to test out my speedlite, and I know that I need a lot of practice.  But what happens is that I get too frustrated and just rip the thing off my camera and quit taking pictures, so I end up getting no practice.  But these are a few examples of why I get so flippin' frustrated.  Three things kept happening.... 

Either the flash would shoot and work... just okay....

Or it would shoot and just barely light the thing I'm trying to take a picture of....

Or it would be too bright....

I tilted the lite in every angle it would tilt, I set the ISO as low as it would go, to as high as it would and every single place in between, I set the meters to every setting it has to try to get the right amount of lighting, but no matter what I tried, it rarely worked the way I wanted it to.

Like this......

I know that the exposure can be fixed in post-processing, but I guess I figured that a speedlite would lessen the amount of post-processing a picture needs.  Maybe I have unrealistic expectations?  My guess is that I need a ton more practice and I'm a little over my head right now.  But it's things like this that absolutely destroy my picture-taking confidence.


Deep breaths!  We made it back to the part of the earth that has the most amount of oxygen for my lungs!  And I made it through the entire tour without hyperventilating or passing out!  High five?!.... No?  Okay, well, I was really happy to be back up on the right side of the earth.

By the time we left the Salt Mines our brains began to putter out.... we had had a long two days with only about four hours of sleep, by the time we made it back to our hotel we felt quite accomplished and very ready for bed!

The next morning we had the entire morning to explore Krakow before spending the afternoon at Auschwitz, which ended up being a nice balance for our hearts.  Most everyone knows about the Holocaust and the horrors that were forced upon innocent people at concentration camps, but it is a completely different experience to see it in real life.  Eric, Isabelle, and I have been to three concentration camps, a documentation center, and a number of Jewish memorials, and even after seeing & experiencing all of those places we will never truly understand the pure horror those people endured.  It goes beyond comprehension.  This is why I find those ridiculous meme's floating around the internet comparing our President/state of our country with Hitler absolutely appalling!  There is no comparison to the Holocaust!  Germany has gone to great lengths to learn from their history- their horrible, embarrassing history- and to have ridiculous meme's made out of it shows a complete lack of empathy and a whole lotta other characteristics.  The Holocaust is something humankind will never see again.  Period. 

Everything the victims had was stolen from them when entering the camp- they were told that they were coming to this camp to live, that they should bring their belongings with them because they were to start a new life here- this was a sadistic psychological tool used against them so that they were a little more willing to do as they were told (not that they had any choice in the matter anyway).  They truly believed they had a chance at a life, but instead were murdered moments after walking through the gate and their belongings stolen.  Walking among their things takes your breath away- in a haunting terrible way.  The victims would put their names and birth dates on their suitcases to ensure that they'd get their things returned to them and there wouldn't be any question as to whose was whose.  The suitcase belonging to little Petr Eisle shows that he was just 2 years old when he was murdered.

Execution Line 

An Innocent bystander. 

 The gas chambers.

Inside the gas chambers.  The openings in the ceiling are where they dropped Zyklon B to poison the victims. 

Millions of people died in this exact spot where I was standing.  No less humbling, but I did not have an experience like I did in Dachau.  It felt very peaceful and empty. 

The crematorium.

Next we went to the Birkenau side of Auschwitz which is where the majority of the exterminations happened.  If people went to Birkenau they had zero chance of surviving.  They were brought to the camps from all over Europe on these tiny rail cars and immediately sent to the gas chambers.  Our tour guide told us that they would cram so many people into one rail car and the conditions were so horrendous that people rarely survived the journey.  She told us about one "shipment" on July 31, 1944, that of the 3,000 people in that shipment, only 2 survived.  2.

We ended our trip to Poland on a sobering note but wouldn't have changed anything.  I wish I lived in a world where bad things didn't happen, babies didn't die, and everyone could love & support each other no matter our sexual orientation, but Auschwitz was a reminder that that's not the kind of world we live in.  It's an important reminder, and I was thankful for the opportunity to show my daughter another example of how essential compassion is, and to be able to pay our respects to the millions of lives lost during the Holocaust.  

Our weekend in Poland was seriously worth the epic bus ride, though, I might complain and get cranky, but it was worth going to such a fun and beautiful country!  Except for wanting to get Polish pottery we had never really thought about exploring Krakow, and really, it was just me that wanted the pottery, Eric couldn't have cared less about pottery that we'd probably never use.  But just like Bucharest, if we had never visited Krakow we would have missed out a large piece of our life's puzzle, but would never have known where to find it.  

I'll take an epic bus ride to anywhere if it means finding those puzzle pieces!

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