Beautiful, Interesting and Ooo Shiny! Images From Various Places


Auschwitz: Never Forgotten

Location: Poland
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 100 • f 11 • 1/125 sec

Some have said that these train tracks mark the site where more families were torn apart than anywhere else in history. These are the tracks leading into Auschwitz, one of the largest Nazi concentration camps in Poland. I took this shot from the top of the guard tower, where I could observe most of the camp. Here, the trains would enter the camp and the passengers would be stripped of their luggage and “sorted” into two areas of the camp: those who went one direction went to hard labor, the others went to the gas chambers. Many people got their last glimpses of their mothers, sisters, and children here.

Our tour had lasted for two hours, and most of us were emotionally exhausted by the time we’d reached the end. The stories were endless. People that had been living normal lives, suddenly uprooted and sent to a camp where death followed them at every turn. It was a side of humanity that many would love to forget existed, yet only our remembrance of it can keep it from happening again. We asked our tour guide how she could keep doing this day in and day out (she had been there for six years). She replied that her job had great meaning – in educating the next generation, she could take part in never letting the world forget what hate and racism could do.

This is just one photo of hundreds I took at the site, and over the weeks and months ahead, I’d like to occasionally post one and tell another story from the camp. It’s a tough subject, but one that I feel needs to be discussed.

What is your opinion on concentration camps to begin with? Is it a good idea to keep them in the public eye?

Giant Games & Weird Art

Location: Austria
Camera Info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7 • 1/210 sec

Are you up for a game of chess? What about if the pieces are as big as you? I was intrigued by this giant chessboard during a walking tour of Salzburg. There was already a game in progress, but how fun would it have been to join in!

Salzburg’s giant chess board is in the heart of the Kapitelplatz, near the Dom Cathedral. The Kapitelplatz is the part of Salzburg’s Old Town, and is a square featuring art displays, music and cultural activities. While giant chess boards are not unique (there is even a site pinpointing them all around the world), the other two main attractions in the site are creative.

One is a fountain/pond with a statue of Neptune on it. Back in the 1700’s, it used to be the Kapitelschwemme, or horse bath. On the other side, right next to the chessboard, is a 30-foot statue of a man on top of a golden orb. This piece of art, known as Sphaera, was made by artist Stephan Balkenhol in 2007. Since the artist’s other works around Europe feature the same man on top of various objects, the locals nicknamed this statue “Mann auf Mozartkugel” (Man on Mozartkugel). Mozartkugeln are the best chocolate candy balls in the city, just as an FYI. 😉

You can find all sorts of fun things in town squares!

Have you ever seen (or played) a giant board game of any kind?

The Hidden Gates

Location: Poland
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 100 • f 3.5 • 1/250 sec

The city gate. Go back in time, and this was the one way to get past the fortress-like walls. It was the way to avoid the deep moat that protected the city. It was the gate where visitors and merchants and dignitaries alike first set foot in Warsaw. But after WWII, it was underground.

During the Warsaw Polish Uprising in 1944, the Nazis razed most of the city. After the War, the people slowly began to rebuild Warsaw on top of the ruins. The new city began to grow and thrive again, though they did not forget their history. Rebuilding was a long process, and many ruins remained for decades. Finally, in the 1980’s, some ruins were cleared out to reveal these gates, hidden next to the old Ghetto wall beside the city’s moat.

The are obviously no longer used as the city gates, considering they are at a level well below where the current city is built. But they are preserved here as a reminder of the city’s rich history, and all the people of Warsaw endured.

What’s your favorite historical discovery in the past few decades? Why?

Welcome to Poland!

Location: Poland
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200  f 2.8  1/1600 sec
(Note: This panoramic was created by digitally stitching 9 photos together)

Hey folks! I’m back from my last great adventure with more tales of shock & awe and of course, more photos! My travels took me to Poland to do a series of concerts in several cities, so we got to see a lot of the country. This week’s photo was taken in Warsaw, the capital city.

The Republic of Poland is the sixth largest country in Europe (about the size of New Mexico in the US), and has a population of about 38 million. It is a country rich in history, but the Polish people themselves are more known for their practical jokes (and yes, we had a few played on us!). It is a highly-educated place, with 90% of residents having at least completed a secondary education, and 17 have won Nobel Prizes. Yet, Poland has the highest unemployment level in the EU (12.6% in 2006).

Most Poles are Catholic (around 90%), and I enjoyed getting to see cathedrals everywhere and statues of saints and Pope John Paul II (the only Polish pope). The culture also seemed very focused on the arts. I guess this is why our group could start singing in the town square and we would fit right in. 🙂 We enjoyed their food, mostly based around pork, chicken, and vegetables. They also had great roads compared to most countries I’ve been in outside the West. Now the drivers, that’s another story. 😉

Do you enjoy short country overviews like this? I can cover some of the other countries on this blog as well. Let me know in the comments!

Big Ben: London’s Big Deal

Location: England
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/2500 sec

If you look at the skyline of London, probably one of the most recognizable pieces of architecture is Big Ben. The name actually refers to the bell only (the rest is officially called the Clock Tower), but more people know it by its nickname than anything else. There are two main theories on how it got it’s name: The bell has the name “Ben” inscribed on it after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw the installation. Also, the English Boxing Heavyweight Champion at the time was Benjamin Caunt, and anything that was the largest or strongest in its class was referred to as “Big Ben.”

The tower is quite a sight in person, rising 316 feet (96.3 m; ~ 16 stories) on top of a concrete raft. The four clock faces themselves are 23 feet (7 m) in diameter and hold 312 pieces of glass each (though some are removed for servicing the dials). Yet it gets its name from the bell, a 16-ton monstrosity that was cast in 1856. This is actually the second version of the bell. The first one cracked in transport, and was melted down and re-cast. The current bell also cracked after being in use for two months, but it was repaired, rotated a bit, and given a smaller hammer. Even today it has a funny-sounding ring caused by the crack.

Tours are available to go inside the Tower, but only if you are a UK citizen. Even then, you have to book it with your Member of Parliament way ahead of time. The rest of us just get to watch from the outside. That’s still cool, though. The light on the top of the tower indicates when Parliament is is session, the chimes play “The Cambridge Chimes”, the tower leans enough to be seen by the naked eye, and sometimes we can see some dudes risking their lives trying to clean the clock face (there’s even a game for that!). There are lots of other fun details about the clock I could talk about, but why don’t you see for yourself?

This is my second clock feature in two months. So tell me, which would you prefer to see? Is there another clock somewhere you think is even cooler?