Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

What’s in Your Backpack?

Last week, Lifehacker asked “What’s in your backpack?”

Well, I finally got time to dump it out and take a photo. Here’s what I carry around when I go to work at a coffee shop or elsewhere:
What's in my backpack?

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\m/ I Own a Mere 69 Things (100 Things Challenge) #100TC

So, Lena read this article today about consumerism and ways of keeping your level of home owned crap down to a minimum. Since we moved out of the country 6 months ago and moved back last month, we’ve gone through 2 massive get-rid-of-everything-non-essential purges. Now that we are in a state of living out of two suitcases and two backpacks, I figured this would be a great time to join the 100 Things Challenge and begin tracking our crap.

Here’s my list of personal belongings:


  1. Laptop (macbook pro)
  2. – External hard drives (x6 – 320GB Laptop Drives)
  3. – Laptop Mouse
  4. Phone (samsung vibrant) + charger
  5. – Spare Phone Battery
  6. Wallet (+ contents)
  7. Passport Wallet (+ contents)
  8. Glasses (Prescription)
  9. Juggling balls (4 Jester Footbags)
  10. Backpack (SwissGear IBEX Notbook Pack)
  11. Suitcase
  12. Headphones (BeyerDynamic DT 770 Pro)
  13. Shoes
  14. Socks (7)
  15. Underwear (7)
  16. Pants (Jeans)
  17. Belt
  18. T-Shirt (Jolly Roger)
  19. Wedding ring
  20. Coat
  21. Toothbrush (Sonicare FlexCare)
  22. Razor (Electric)

    Extra Clothes

  23. Hat
  24. Pants (Jeans) + Belt (attached)
  25. Pants (Jeans)
  26. T-Shirt (Grey)
  27. T-Shirt (Black)
  28. T-Shirt (Grey Striped)
  29. T-Shirt (Jolly Roger)
  30. Shirt – Long Sleeve
  31. Shirt – Long Sleeve
  32. Shirt – Long Sleeve
  33. Shirt – Fancy Striped Button-Up
  34. Light Autumn Coat


  35. Pen Tablet (Wacom Intuos4 Medium)
  36. Sakura Pen Set (6)
  37. Staedtler Pen Set (Mars Pigment Liner Set of 4)
  38. Sketchbook (Moleskine – Large)
  39. Drawing Pad (Strathmore)
  40. Pencil Set – Tombow (8)
  41. Eraser (Kneaded x2)
  42. Pencil Sharpener


  43. Accordion
  44. Chromatic Harmonica (Velvet Voice 48 Hering Professional)

    Expendable Items

  45. Mechanical Pencil
  46. Red Pen
  47. Black Pen
  48. To-Go Ware 3 Tier Steel Lunchbox
  49. LunchBots Uno Stainless Steel Lunch Container
  50. Utility knife
  51. Headphones (for phone)
  52. Business card holder (with cards)
  53. First aid kit
  54. Deck of cards (minature)
  55. Paracord (for knot tying practice)
  56. Blipplace (toy–self assembled microcontroller electronic gadget)
  57. Unassembled Blipplace
  58. USB adapter (Belkin mini 4-port)
  59. USB adapter (Buffalo Squid 4-port)
  60. USB Extension Cable
  61. Cat-5 Cable (short emergency cable)
  62. Macbook Remote

    In Storage (@ Family’s House)

  63. Hand Drum (from honeymoon in Thailand)
  64. Unicycle
  65. Books
  66. Contact Juggling Ball
  67. SmartNav 3
  68. Sketchbook (Moleskine – Small)

    Temporary (getting rid of)

  69. Old iPhone
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Photo and Video Post From Germany

Since Lena has a bit more time to write blogs than I do, here’s her latest with photos and videos galore:

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Eisenach and Wartburg Castle

We just got back from a weekend trip to Eisenach, where we stayed in the small with Sebastian’s parents (Sebastian is our good friend and neighbor in Magdeburg). in a neighboring village called Schnellmannshausen. This is a village with maybe 100 houses, certainly several sheep, a beautiful stream, rolling hills and some lovely German folk.

Along with visiting the Wartburg castle, which was a tiring but fun adventure, one of the more interesting events during our stay was just sitting at the dinning table, talking with Sebastian’s parents about Germany’s history–specifically East Germany. See, they lived in east Germany their entire lives. Until 1989, they lived under the rule of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). Sebastian’s grandparents, who live downstairs in the same house, remember life before WWII and the aftermath split of the country.

This just blows my mind.

When I see an old person in Seattle, I think, oh, nice, you must have seen a lot in your life. But in Germany, when I see an old person on the tram–or meet in a friend’s house, I’m totally at a loss. They lived through Nazi Germany, and, most likely in Magdeburg and in other parts of eastern Germany, probably lived in the DDR.

Fred and Rita, Sebastian’s parents, took us near the east/west Germany border, a short drive (just over the hill) from their house in Schnellmannshausen. They pointed out the area that the Stasi patrolled and explained the areas where you could, at the time of the DDR, encounter land mines and auto-firing border protection weaponry. Prisoners in their own land. They showed us the papers that allowed them to travel in and out of their town (within the rest of East Germany), which was specially guarded and identification enforced because of it’s location. Rita even had a receipt for an automobile request she made, which had a 20 year waiting list in the DDR. They explained all about the corruption and problems with the socialist experiment and how it broke down. Fred was even offered to become part of the Stasi, which he obviously declined.

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The Best Thing I Packed

Of all the things I brought with me, which is a very small list, the best thing, by far, is my towel.

Why is this? Because I love my towel: The REI MultiTowel:

It dries fast, absorbs well, but best of all, it’s super light. Without question, I will be taking this towel with me on all my intergalactic…er transcontinental adventures.

As a side note:
In my search for photos and other links relating to my particular favorite towel, I stumbled upon this quite detailed article by Chuck Smith, comparing the REI MultiTowel with the ShamWow:

Now I’m curious enough to go looking for a ShamWow…

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Life in Magdeburg

We’ve now been living here for a solid 2 weeks and I can verify with certainty that there are receptacles for people to scoop their dog droppings. Must just be the snow as one commenter suggested.

We are starting to feel more at home here. Tomorrow morning, we will be signing a lease for a flat that is in the same apartment complex as Brendan and Stina (our friends who are currently putting us up). It’s also right underneath our new friends Robert and Sebastian, native Germans who have been entertaining us with board games and humoring our bad German. Last night, they brought over Munchkin, which is an awesome game–but much more difficult when all the cards are auf Deutsch.

The snow is beginning to melt and we have found lots of places that are easily accessible by either walking or taking a quick tram ride.

One of the things we’ve noticed is that people just leave things on the sidewalk when the don’t want them. Our friends have furnished and populated their apartment almost entirely with found objects. Just yesterday we found a space heater, entryway rug, large fan, toaster oven and a vacuum cleaner (which we didn’t take). Every time we go for a walk, we stumble upon another pile of stuff. Today, we passed by a couch, bed and some other objects that were too wet from the snow.

Wish I had time to write more… still getting settled with work… well, back to it.

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German Oddities: Part 2

*NOTE: these are complete generalizations that I’ve gathered from only a few days in Magdeburg and may not be an accurate sample of Germany as a whole*

There are no Scoop-the-Poop Laws

As evidenced by my walk to the tram stop every day, the city apparently doesn’t care about dogs crapping on the sidewalks. Although the sidewalks are covered in snow (and ice) at the moment, you have to be extra careful not to step in the (probably) more slippery substances that are so carefully placed every few feet.

Shuffling Cards

Tonight, I learned that most Germans are not adept at shuffling cards in the Riffle bridge format ( This is quite common in the US–but maybe it’s more common to play card games there…

Pushing Buttons

If you want something to happen, you have to push a button. The trams (streetcars) have doors that will not open for you unless you push a green button on their middle. The trains work the same way (most of them).

Ready Made, Chilled Cheeseburgers

You can buy ready made cheeseburgers in the meat section of the grocery store… bun and all.

Sit When You Pee

In nearly every restroom I’ve seen, there is a sign insisting that you sit while peeing.


In the two apartments I’ve visited, both have keys in all the doors.


You can drink just about anywhere. People drink on the train, walking down the street… pretty much anywhere.

Zwei Bier, bitte!

Other Photos From Our Trip

Want to buy a rock?

Here’s an example of 4 different trash receptacles on a train:


I am now uploading all of my trip photos to Facebook–but you have to be my friend to see them :)

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German Oddities

We’ve now lived in Germany for a few days and I have noticed a few things that I find odd. Here they are for your amusement:

Peanut Butter is not that common

We have been spending time playing board games and getting advice from one of our neighbors, a 20-something college student here. Until last night, when we made rolls and had them with various spreads (including peanut butter), he had never in his life tried peanut butter.

“It’s not common here.” He said.

Looking at the bottle, as our housemates pointed out, sure enough, it was “American Peanut Butter.”


Garbage and Recycling Separation is on a Whole New Order of Specificity

Everywhere you go (even on the train) there are at least 4 different bins to put your garbage, organic compost, recycling and recycling of many various types. It’s nice to see that they care so much, but I haven’t gotten used to it yet in our kitchen.

We have a place for compost, another for newspaper and other papers, another for glass bottles, another for wet garbage that cannot be composted, another for dry garbage that cannot be recycled or composted, and if we wanted to comply fully, we could start more buckets for things like corks that you might get from a wine bottle (which have to be taken to a special place).

It’s Helpful to Always have a Euro… and Bags

The grocery store has a neat system for shopping carts. You have to unlock it by depositing a 1 Euro coin into the key slot. When you return your cart, you get your Euro back. Now I keep a special Euro with my keys in my pocket :)

The grocery store also charges for bags. Everyone brings reusable bags with them shopping. What we tried to pass as a law in Seattle is just common practice here.

Apartments Don’t Come with Anything

We viewed an apartment today and noticed it has no ceiling light in the bedroom. It has the wires for it, and a light switch but no fixture. Apparently, it is up to the renter to supply these things. In fact, the apartment we were viewing was particularly unusual for an available rental in Germany because it had cabinets, a refrigerator, an oven, a kitchen sink, etc. Normally, apartments come with no appliances at all. When you move, you take everything, including the kitchen sink.

Electric Bills are Guesstimated then Fixed

When you rent an apartment, you pay for your rent plus a utilities rate based on your square meters. When your lease is finished (not every month), they calculate your real usage and either pay you back the overage or send you a bill for the unpaid amount used. I’m sure you can see issues that could arise from this.

I’m sure there are many other differences that I either haven’t noticed yet or have already become accustomed to. I’ll keep you updated with what I encounter.

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Move to Germany Part 2: “Ich habe mein Gepäck vergessen! (I forgot my luggage!)”

A Brief Digression About the Plane Ride and Sleep

The plane ride to Frankfurt was, as we expected, one of the more grueling experiences of our lives. I fondly remember getting on a plane and falling asleep, easily switching to whatever time zone I was about to join. I can sleep anywhere, anytime, but only if my little girl isn’t acting like a spider monkey, running around a plane, trying to make friends with everyone and entering tantrum phase when she gets too tired to cope with being stuck on a plane.

We have a fabulous system with our daughter that usually lets her feel in control while still allowing us to prevent her from doing what we don’t want. The system is simple, which is why it usually works. When Ilya wants to do something that she can’t do for some reason–for example, run around the plane during inopportune times–we tell her, “you have a choice: daddy can hold you or you can lay in the bassinet (Lufthansa provided a mounted bed for her in front of one of the front row seats, which was awesome).” This worked about the first dozen times. Just as at home, she would weigh the options, decide which was better and cuddle up to daddy. Eventually, though, she realized that she could make up a 3rd option, bending over backward over backward and moaning or squirming out of grasp and running as fast as she could down the aisle to meet up with her new friend Sophie (an 8 month old girl).

This flight was 10 hours. It went from 2pm Seattle time to 12am Seattle time. Ilya *should* have slept a 2-3 hour nap in the first part of the flight, plus a good 4 hours at the end of the flight. Or at least, that’s the schedule she kept at home. Not this time.

She slept in the bassinet for about 20 minutes while I watched Harry Potter in German. Then she woke up… and stayed awake until 5 minutes before the plane landed in Frankfurt.

Needless to say, her sleep schedule got flipped. Now she’s napping instead of sleeping a full night and sleeping through the day instead. Ach!

But anyway, I’m rambling instead of getting to the story that relates to the title of this post:

The Luggage Incident…

So, there we are, at the end of our plane ride. The pass through immigration was a snap. Stamp, stamp, stamp. Willkommen in Deutschland!

We trekked down to the baggage claim, which was a bit of a walk from where we got off, but easy enough to find.

Here we found our luggage:

And then we decided to resume our original plan to take only 1 suitcase. So, we took those two smaller bags and crammed their contents back into the giant green suitcase. After a bit of stomping, we got it to zip closed again.

We then found some very helpful people who directed us to the U-Bahn (train), which is conveniently located immediately under the airport. Each ticket from the airport to Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof (the central train station) was €3,50. Seems reasonable. The train got us to the station in about 10 minutes. We guesstimated our arrival since we couldn’t make out a single syllable of the announcer, who garbled the stop names through what sounded like a tin can saved over from the war.

As soon as we stepped off the train and sorted who was carrying what luggage, I set Ilya’s backpack on top of the giant green suitcase, noticed something odd, looked up at the ceiling and smacked my head in a grand cartoon gesture. Then I looked at my wife who was dumbfounded.

“We left the pack’n’play at the airport, in the luggage carousel”

Deep breath. The Pack’n’Play is Ilya’s mobile bed. We NEED the Pack’n’Play. It wasn’t something we could leave behind.

“Let’s just go to the hotel, I’ll put Ilya down to sleep and you can take the train back and get it.” Lena chimed in.

“Yeah, yeah… ok.”

So we went to search for our hotel. Let me pause here to recommend our hotel. We are staying at Hotel Excelsior, which was the single easiest hotel to get to in Frankfurt am Main. We stepped out of the south entrance at the train station and there it was, literally, right across the street. Along with the usual free wi-fi, continental breakfast (very tasty breakfast with smoked salmon, veritable brötchen, etc), the hotel room comes with a free minibar. It’s nothing miraculous. The contents consist of 2 sparkling mineral waters, 1 non-bubbly mineral water, 2 beers, 2 orange juice bottles and 2 bottles of coke. This is such a brilliant little addition. Considering the cost of this service (they maybe spend €6-8 to fill it), it’s a great investment in our happiness. The rooms are decent for the price–and the location is unbeatable. Our room, a double was €133 for 2 nights. Not cheap but nowhere near expensive.

Once in the hotel (which had a very tricky key system), I set off for the Airport to fetch the missing luggage.

Across the street, in the Hauptbahnhof, I awaited upstairs this time (we had entered on a lower level on a slightly ugly red train). The train arrived and I stepped in. Immediately, I nearly stepped back off, aghast at how freaking beautiful the inside of the train was. I don’t want to take up the space rambling about all the little touches. It was just luxurious. And it was the same ticket price as the cheap looking train that we took from the airport. Well, well. I sat back and watched the scenery go by.

This time, I knew exactly where to get off the train. The announcer spoke in both German and English, clearly and pleasantly.

Now came the fun part. How do I get back into the baggage claim area? I walked up to the first helpful looking person I could find and started in, “Entschuldigen Sie bitte… Ich habe mein Gepäck vergessen…ah… Sprechen Sie Englisch?” I chickened out. With the stress and chaos of the trip, I couldn’t muster up the German to explain everything and it occurred to me that everyone’s English here is better than my German. Indeed, everyone did speak english, but after this person sent me to one end of the airport (very helpfully, I might add), I tried again, “Entschuldigen Sie bitte, Ich habe mein Gepäck vergessen.” We had a brief conversation in German, in which, I learned where to go next. Again, I met someone and had a similar conversation. I found someone who directed me to someone else, who directed me to another place, which ended up requiring me to talk to another person and so on. Everyone was extremely helpful and polite. Everyone except the guy who actually worked at the Information Booth! I asked people who had absolutely no reason to even talk to me and who gave me fabulous directions and advice. But this guy at the information booth actually gave me misinformation–and with a bit of an attitude. So strange. He acted like there was no way I could get my luggage back. After much back and forth, I ended up with this from him:

>>We can’t just let anyone in there. You have to talk to Lufthansa.<< I walked away, found someone who worked for Lufthansa, who politely directly me to walk around and down, straight into the baggage claim area. But, short story long, I ran all around the airport several times, trying to get into the correct baggage claim area. I even spent a good 15 minutes circling the wrong baggage claim area trying to figure out how to get to the right carousel. However, I eventually found the storage room, showed my passport, matched my name to the foldable baby bed and proudly walked back down to the train station. Apparently, by this time, I had gained some outward appearance of self-confidence, having now conversed with a dozen or so Germans in their native tongue, as another foreigner (me thinks Polish or Czech) came up to me and asked (in German) if the next train was going to the Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof. After stuttering a bit, totally taken aback that he would choose me to answer his query, I was actually able to explain to him that yes, it is, here is where it says so on the timetable and I will be boarding that train as well. Delighted, he went back to his companion and we boarded separate cars. Most of the trip back, I imagined a conversation we could have had, had I moved down the way and joined them in their car. I realized that I could explain my whole ordeal, with fairly decent gestures and imagery all in German, which would have been wonderful practice. So, rather than regretting, I practiced in my head. The train was once again one of the old looking ones, run down and manned by a garbled fishmonger--but it was a pleasant ride, nonetheless. With one foot standing on my little girl's folded bed, holding down my captured bounty, I sat proud, staring off into the German landscape, muttering to myself like a loon.

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Move to Germany Part 1: Packing

So we moved to Germany. This all started when our friends, Brendan and Stina decided to settle down in Magdeburg after traveling around as buskers. Actually, it started a few years ago when Lena and I made a pact that we would someday live abroad for a year. We had tentatively toyed with the idea of Singapore or Taiwan but hadn’t writ anything in stone. Then along came news from our friends that rent is cheap in Magdeburg, life is good and the EU is a travel mecca (as if we didn’t already know the last part). So we thought about it for a minute (in itemized format):

  • I work as a telecommuting web developer (so I can work from anywhere in the world that has a decent net connection)
  • My wife isn’t tied down with a job (aside from taking care of our daughter, which, although is certainly a form of being tied down, it’s a mobile form)
  • Our daughter, Ilya, is only 1.5 years old (or was when we made the decision) so she isn’t in pre-school yet.

So, all the stars being in alignment, we purchased plane tickets.

Yesterday, we flew 10 hours (non-stop) from Seattle to Frankfurt. We found much amusement during our fretting about selling off our belongings and renting out our house when our friends and family would constantly remind us that “once you get on the plane you can just relax.” Of course, none of these people are experienced in the art of flying 10 hours with a toddler. It was, as we expected, more exhausting than the whole lead up to moving.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We spent the last several months selling off nearly everything we own. Every week, I would look around the house and gasp, “I can’t believe we still have so much stuff!”
Even on the last day, as we packed up a stack of things to store at Lena’s mother’s house, I couldn’t believe how much we still had. I remember moving up to Seattle 10 years ago with two boxes and a mattress. Now, with a family and two houses, I’ve acquired enough stuff to crush the life out of me 10 times over.

But we paired down, sold things, drove to Good Will about 25 times, stored a few things at parent’s houses and eventually got it down to:

  • 1 Pack ‘n’ Play (Ilya’s portable bed)
  • 1 Stroller
  • 2 large suitcases (very large)
  • 3 backpacks (one for each of us)

Fifteen minutes before driving to Seatac airport, I looked at my wife, she looked at me and we both agreed. We have too much stuff. Maybe we can get rid of one of these large suitcases!

We were ruthless. Nothing was spared critical scrutiny. And we did it. One large suitcase, jammed pack.

Now, this seemed great. We had less baggage, less stuff and more mobility. At least, it seemed that way… until we got to the airport.

As we loaded up the large suitcase on the Lufthansa check-in weigh station, the attendant looked at us with concerned eyes, “Is there any way you can get this down below 32KG?”

It was 38 Kilos.

“Uh, maybe…” (that’s like 13 lbs. to shave off).

He gestured to the other end of the airport. “You could buy another piece of luggage. It’s a $160 charge if you can’t get it down to size.”

So, I ran. I ran to the whole other end of Seatac to a Hudson News, which sold these little travel bags. I bought one and ran back.

We ripped apart the suitcase, finding all the heaviest items that would fit. Score. I think we got it. Now the large suitcase was 28KG!

Back at the check-in desk, a new attendant gave us another sad look. “Any way you can you get it down below 23KG?”

“What? I thought it was 32…”

“Between 23-32KG there is a $160 charge for oversize. You have to get it below 23KG per bag.”



I ran back and bought another little bag. Again we ripped apart the suitcase, moving all the heaviest items over to the small bag. And, once again, we got it down.

22.8! w00t. Now our awesome ideal of traveling with 1 large suitcase instead of 2 has become traveling with 1 large suitcase + 2 small travel bags. Sigh.

Now to board the plane…

Tune in later…

…for the next installment: “Ich habe mein Gepäck vergessen! (I forgot my luggage!)”.

Follow Updates

To follow Adam and his family on their exploits, see these wonderful services:

I will be posting at least 1 photo a day here (also automagically posts to twitter): (for easy RSS subscription, visit my lifestream blog:

Twitter (get’s dailybooth, plus many additional posts):

My tweets get posted to my facebook wall, so you can also find me here:

Ilya’s photos will get posted here, along with my misc. sleep deprived ramblings:

Any great music I discover here, I will post on (also gets posted to twitter):

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