European Tour 2009: What Worked

The tour included business and theater in London (humid, grey), a wedding in Switzerland (formal), a couple of sweltering days in Milan, holiday with family in Venice, a little down time in Zurich, a lot of time in flight, a couple days on trains, and short trips on trams and boats. That’s a lot of different climates and even more transitions from flats to hotels and back and forth between countries.

Across all that, there were a few things that stood out as being incredibly handy to have and made the trip’s insane logistics so much easier to manage.

The Best Bag Ever (especially on the road): Marghera Convertible

I, like most of you, have spent an undisclosed portion of my adult life seeking the perfect bag. Luckily for both of us, I’ve found it. Aside from its excellent green-ness which works for day and night, the features I love the most are its ability to switch from a handled bag to a shoulder bag (it folds over) and to contain my laptop without betraying its presence.

To be fair, that laptop is a Mac Air (which, incidentally, I love like my unconceived children), so its weight doesn’t put a strain on the bag’s leather shoulder strap and its unusually slim form allows it to slide horizontally into a bag like this that wouldn’t accommodate either its Apple bretheren or any other standard size laptops. Don’t look at this as a draback though: this is your opportunity to justify both a new computer and a new bag.

When not housing your ‘puter, the capacity is generous enough to hold small purchases in addition to the usual wallet, iPhone, keys and assorted cousins. Two flat outside pockets are exactly the size of your airline ticket and one small one inside will hold your passport.

Where to get it: Sundance Catalog. Currently on sale for $250.

iPhone

R talked me into an iPhone the day before we left the country, mainly so I could make international calls and send text messages in Europe without buying a just-for-international phone with a different phone number everybody then has to remember. I was ambivalent. Did I really want to get worked up about something so many people are already worked up about? Wouldn’t it be more fair to the coolness marketplace to get worked up about something more obscure? And wouldn’t I look cooler if I did that second one instead?

Also, I liked my little Blackberry Pearl and the consistency of Verizon. Why move to something bigger with AT&T’s terrible coverage?

Because it’s pocket-sized awesomeness, that’s why.

Really, though, the main thing was having a phone and text messaging which meant we could split up for the afternoon and still coordinate keys, dinner, and so on. I don’t know what we’d have done without it.

Where to get it: Apple.

iPhone App: Hi Converter

It converts things. Correction: it converts EVERYTHING. Do you want to know how many hectares are in a bunder? How many ngarns are in a square angstrom? Did you know there was such a thing as a square light year? The area converter can help. When you’re done there, the distance converter will turn your miles into gnat’s eyes (.00000007761). You can do electric current and digital image resolution conversions in your spare time.

Aside from its clear entertainment value, it will also convert your euros into dollars based on today’s exchange rate, your size at Bloomingdale’s into your size at Harrod’s, and 40 Celsius into a more comprehensibly crispy 104 Fahrenheit.

Where to get it: App Store.

iPhone App: Collins Italian-English Dictionary

Since I speak German and a chunk of Spanish and can get by in French, I’ve been arrogantly cruising around Europe for quite a while without having to feel like a complete tourist. Those days came to a jarring end at the Italian border. Enter the iPhone (again).

Of all the dictionaries I tried, the $25 Collins was the best. It covers a lot of ground: direct translations, peripheral usage, colloquialisms and common (or, in the best cases, not at all common) phrases.

$25 is a lot for an app and I know no one wants to pay more than 99 cents, but the frustration of looking up a word and finding no results repeatedly on other apps gets old fast. You spent $1200 to get to Italy, you can spare another $25 to pull up with, “L’ho gettato nel water,” to explain the whereabouts of your passport/hairbrush/traveler’s checks. (Translates to, “I threw it in the toilet,” by the way.)

Where to get it: App Store

Hideo Wakamatsu 20″ Viewer Trolley

The day after we got back from Barcelona in June, I biked over to the Hideo Wakamatsu store to check out superlight international carry-on sized luggage. I biked home with a silver 6.5 lb., 20″ Viewer Trolley hanging from my handlebars.

Why the post-trip rush? Because you have to seize the moment when your shoulder still hurts from schlepping a non-rolling bag and your ego still smarts from looking like a hands-full-of-stuff schmuck, and solve your problem.

My problem is that we have a bunch of stuff – some of it heavy – that I won’t check. R’s 35mm camera, my jewelry, things I’ll want on the plane (sweater, megaphone, another sweater, snacks) and essential clothing (an extra T-shirt and undies, plus whatever we would die without if they lost our luggage, like a swimsuit if we’re going to be beach or my dress for the wedding we’re attending). That pile of stuff always ends up being more than I want to carry in a shoulder bag, but I don’t want to drag around an actual suitcase with all the rest of my non-essential stuff too. (Besides, most American 22″ roll-on suitcases are too heavy, once packed, to meet international flight restrictions.) What to do? Until last month, I chose “suffer” rather than add another suitcase to the mix.

That was the wrong choice. The Viewer kicks ass. It’s super light for getting in and out of bins, and its four wheels allow you to roll it next to you with your computer bag on top. It’s like walking a very quiet, rectangular pet. Your hands are free, your shoulder is relaxed, and you look like the seasoned traveler you actually are.

Quick warning: the lovely matte finish on the bag will mark, so brace yourself for that before you check it (if you ever decide you need to, that is). I haven’t checked it yet myself, so I’ve no idea how well it holds up to airline abuse, but it’s done beautifully inside planes, trams, and trains.

Where to get it: Currently out of stock at the eponymous shop but available – albeit inaccurately described as having two wheels and not four – at Flight 001.

Business Class

Traveling in business class (or above) is the way to go. I know there is no one (except possibly this jerk) who is in favor of the turn that air travel has taken in the last ten years. These days, the coach cabin on a long-haul flight looks more and more like the back of a Central American chicken truck. Between the the addition of bad things (longer lines and delays, ineffective security, fees for everything) and the elimination of good things (space, food, customer service), there’s pretty much nothing positive to say about flying except that you will get where you’re going not dead (mostly).

R travels for work, which rots but has a significant up side: he accumulates crazy numbers of miles and little stacks of upgrade certificates. We use the former to get me where he’s already going and the latter to get us there, occasionally, in business class. I don’t need warmed nuts and real china, but the quiet and the space bring the airborne experience back from the brink of catatonia into the land of, “I might not maim someone first thing when I get off the plane.”

Where to get it: Get a job where you a.) travel a lot (our way), b.) make a lot of money or c.) can commit a lot of untraceable financial fraud.

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Categories: News, Nuisance, Miscellany, Switzerland, Venice, Wishlist

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