Going To Europe? Here’s What To Do!

I’ve watched enough Rick Steves on PBS to know when I need help with international travel. We just spent the holidays in Germany and we learned a few things. Perhaps you’ll see some details here that can help you on your next trip, especially if there are holidays involved.


Crowds pack Römerberg for the Frankfurt Christmas Market

Shoulder-to-shoulder with locals and tourists at the Frankfurt Christmas Market, we started our trip by drinking enough Glühwein to float a ship of sailors down the Main River. In contrast, we later felt that the whole of Aßmannshausen’s Hotel Krone was ours alone. Several songs (and at least one book) have been written about the Krone, so it was a treat to sleep there — even though it is haunted.

To be clear, I now live in the US, but I grew up in Germany. On our recent trip, my wife (Jennifer) endured my getting one last photo of “this view” or “that castle,” even though I’d already snapped forty-two other indistinguishably similar shots. In the end, as long as we trekked to the Cuckoo Clock Store in Wiesbaden, souvenirs would be acquired and marital bliss would be preserved.


Cuckoo Clock Store in Wiesbaden

So, listen — if you are going to Europe, you will need to know a few things, and here are some of them:

Know Your Roles. I generally do the overall planning, provide language skills, and execute on the travel plan. Jen collected this year’s awards for Best Packer of Suitcases in the World and Best Navigator of Germany. These skills are invaluable in a travel companion, for without a capable navigator the best laid plans fall flat. We shall discuss packing shortly.

Boots. If your feet are happy, your body’s chances of being happy are increased. Warm boots. Strong boots. Comfortable boots. You need them. I have these. Jen has these. Gauge your boot purchases based on the peaks and depths of your itinerary. If you will be around snow and slush, consider traction. During a snowstorm at Hohenzollern Castle, we saw a guy in slick streetshoes and a suede jacket, clearly reconsidering his wardrobe choices. Know that you will be doing some walking, and remember to pack your gloves and boots.

Gastronomy. Our trip was Germany-centric, hence the specificity to food here. Pace yourself to ingest the maximum amount of schnitzel, sausage, beer, and good German bread in the smallest duration of time. This usually means eating a hearty breakfast of bread, cheese, cold cuts, yoghurt, eggs, fruit, and your choice of unusual juices or common hot beverages. Your early meal should tide you over until dinner, when you will (of course) order your favorite style of schnitzel. Tailor this point to your target country’s cuisine.

Snacks. Pack snacks for the road. This prevents hanger. Hanger is a concept experienced by many, and which has been known to cause relationship friction. It can be defined as “anger exacerbated by hunger.” Woe unto you if your travel companion gets hangry.

Holiday Meals. Many restaurants will be closed on holidays, but hotel restaurants will typically be open for business. Secure your holiday restaurant reservations well in advance. You probably don’t want to find yourself hangrily glaring at Bratwurst and Bienenstich through a grocery store window with a brick in your hand.

Flights. In order to reduce risk and bookend your trip with positive notes, fly direct whenever possible. But unless you’re flying from a major airport – and this is true for any trip – you may not have direct flights. This means you will experience layovers between flights. Plan for these layovers. Consider whether an airline club membership would be worth your while. (NOTE: If you’re fortunate enough to be flying Business Class on an international flight, many clubs allow you free entry during your trip.) Also, understand that it’s a bonus if your flights depart and arrive on time. Be prepared for your flights to run late, but be sure you’re on time to the airport on the off-chance your flights are on time. Understand that you need to be at the airport at least two hours prior to your flight’s planned departure time.

Transportation. Well in advance of your trip, decide on your modes of transport (car, train, boat, or a combination thereof) while in-country. Comparing the US versus Europe, the US has extremely favorable gas prices. In Europe, plan on the equivalent of $8.00 a gallon for gasoline, depending on the strength of the US Dollar versus the Euro at the time of your trip. If you rent a car, understand the Rules of the Road; e.g., on the autobahn, know that it is illegal to pass on the right. Slower vehicles must stay on the right. For obvious reasons, you should become familiar with international road signs.

Google Maps. Yes, you will need paper maps, but Google Maps will save you untold amounts of time and aggravation on meandering entrance and exit ramps. Google Maps has legitimately saved 117 marriages in the third quarter of 2013 alone. This is a scientific fact.

Wireless and Other Electronic Devices. Change your call plan and data plan to international plans prior to embarking on your trip. Estimate your usage on the cautious side, and remember to turn on data roaming only when you’re using it. Use Wi-Fi whenever possible, as this typically will not impact your data usage. To keep your electronic devices juiced up, a battery pack is a must-have. I use the Jackery Giant 10400mAh. It holds a charge for a long time, so you can keep from draining your devices while you’re in the car figuring out how to navigate those long and winding European roads.

Don't be like Mr. Mom

Don’t be like Mr. Mom

110 vs. 220. You probably know that Europe operates on 220-volt electricity. In the US, we typically do not use 220 – most of our hair dryers and electric razors are 110 volts. You will need a voltage converter kit with adapter plugs to ratchet the 220 down to your 110-volt devices. Get a kit that allows you to choose your wattage since your PC and your phone will probably require different wattage settings. When in doubt, select the lower wattage on the converter, otherwise you risk frying your hair-straightener. I use the Seven Star World Traveler Converter Kit.

Luggage and Bags. You will almost certainly need extra space in your case(s), so take an empty or half-empty case along with you – you won’t regret it. Double-bag your dirty laundry, as it tends to ripen over time. And on the off-chance you don’t need the extra suitcase room, use the case to segregate your dirty laundry from the rest of your belongings. This way, those souvenir Christmas ornaments and nutcrackers won’t have melted in the luggage compartment of the Boeing 767 on your flight home. Or wherever it is you’re going next.

Lotion. Central-European air is not terribly dry, but it can be quite cold at high altitudes. Lotion is a necessity, and even though your hotels will probably stock lotion, they may not stock the brand you prefer. It’s safer to bring your own. Use a three-ounce container for a carry-on bag, or pack a larger container in your checked luggage. Secure the top with strong tape, and pack the bottle in a plastic bag. Trust me on this one.

Lip Balm. You may not be prone to chapped lips. Still, invest in some lip balm. Somehow a lengthy plane trip causes chapped lips. This is another scientific fact.

Wear Black. Because it’s Europe. And because black is slimming.

Be Comfortable. Because you’re traveling. But bring along one semi-formal outfit. You won’t mind seeing yourself in “real” clothes at least once.

And finally – have a plan, but be spontaneous. Because it makes you a nice travel companion. Enjoy your time in Europe, and I personally wish you a gute Fahrt.


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” title=”CBS News can’t tell HERBERT Hoover from J. EDGAR Hoover?”>CBS News can’t tell HERBERT Hoover from J. EDGAR Hoover?

Face the Nation devoted almost the entire 10/27/2013 show to the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Posting a letter written by J. Edgar Hoover to the Warren Commission, they coupled it with a graphic of 31st US President HERBERT Hoover — outstandingly bad reporting –

We Are The Nocturnal

We are The Nocturnal. It’s who we are. The wheels in our heads turn at night. Whether it’s fast or slow or somewhere in-between, they turn and churn. And they don’t stop. Sometimes seems like they never will. If that sounds like a negative, my apologies.

These days I don’t bemoan my laying awake nights. I used to.

insomnia-1 2013_05_13Thirty years ago I’d slip out (from under the covers) and drive to a coffee shop at 3AM and write on napkins. Don’t really need that milieu now, as I’ve come to like my own brew and milieu. But I still write at night. Yes it’s changed, and no it hasn’t changed. White coffee is an adequate companion.

I used to fret about it – if it can be said that I ever fretted about a thing. Point is not to torture ourselves by laying awake in bed. DO something, right. If you’re going to be awake, might as well do something. Doesn’t have to be productive.

If we lay in bed during these hours, there is almost nothing worse. But why continue to foist that misery upon ourselves. We can’t pry ourselves to sleep – that mindset seems to be at cross-purposes with sleep. Maybe it’s a bit like saying “try really hard to relax.” We only sleep when our minds are emptied. So, how do you do that without exerting energy?

I know I’m not depressed. Maybe I’m just persuading myself here. But hear me out.

If I were depressed I’d be in bed all day and all night. I mean, wouldn’t I? It’s a comfort, then, being up half the night – it’s not a distraction. You can sort through issues at night, as long as you’re not trying to rectify or sanctify or reconcile or whatever you call it when you’re trying to make something appear more noble than it really is. In answer to your question, yes I tend to do that. Don’t we all? Am I doing that now?

Should we be concerned that we’re “not like everyone else” – like everyone who has these perceived regular schedules that we should all submit or conform to. Or maybe we should realize that our insomnia is more common than most people knew before.

So, sure, I’m feeding my brain with data at night, but some of that data is social. I keep up with my celeb friends whom I imagine are real friends (most of them are not friends or celebs). I like thinkers. Funny people are thinkers. I like funny people, and I keep up with them.

You know, as far as fitting in, it’s not like most of us ever fit in anywhere. Do we all want to? Fit in, I mean. Would that be boring if it were all part of some homogenated or homogenized pack of lemmings? Again, the negative creeps in. I’m working on it. Like Chris Rea, I’m working on it.

Of course, you must realize that things somehow changed. At least they did for me. A few years ago I began to embrace my open-eyed nights. Not sure exactly if it was one thing or several inputs that changed my thinking.

Part of me wants to report that I now make the most of my nights, that I’m highly productive in these off-hours. Truth be told, I am probably marginally more efficient, but I also need this time as down-time for me. For just me. Throw my brain into Park – Neutral, even. There are many gears – we don’t always need to be in Drive. Maybe the other gears serve as a sleep substitute in some small way.

I understand that, maybe – possibly – we want to force ourselves into that schedule of “awake at day” and “asleep at night,” but is that really fair – for whatever our reasons – to us, we who are not committed (no other word) to that mundane routine?

The news. Maybe you follow the news – and I know people who don’t follow it at all, thinking that “if it’s important, it will bubble up to me” – the darkest hours are amenable to this keeping up with the news. You can go overboard with that. I am not saying you shouldn’t.

flying ghostsSo you see things in the dark? Me too. Ever since I was a kid. Images in the closet. On the walls. In the windows. We look for structure, we look for the known. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, you sometimes feel a presence when the lights are off. That’s fine. It’s totally imagined, right. Some people think there is no spirit world or afterlife, and these senses tend to make the forehead itch. Perhaps we have to be all right with that.

Back to the emptying process. Part of emptying the mind is this: not needing to be right. I have been surprised at how much time this frees up. But of course I’m no expert. Either about emptying the mind or about being right.

That internal struggle many of us are intimate with – that is fuel for us, so am I saying we give up that fuel?  I know that I cannot do this entirely. If I were to let that go, I’d have nothing to write about. Or very little. If this seems contradictory, I’m apparently comfortable with that.

In fact, I’d be shocked if at least half my life didn’t turn out to be one big contradiction of terms. I would somehow be okay with that – I’d have to be. I’m human, and my feet are made of very soft clay.

Night thoughts can be mundane. There is no requirement that they be earth-shattering or philosophically original. They can be obsessive. In fact, it’s almost mandatory that they be obsessive. If they weren’t, we’d probably all be sleeping, then, wouldn’t we. (Maybe read that last sentence again, this time with some form of British accent. Makes it flow, somehow.)

Nighttime can be opportune for time-travel. Use this space wisely. No one wants a bad report card, so behave yourself.

I’m up early for a flight to New York. Actually I never went to sleep. For better or worse, these are some of the issues of one Time-Traveling Mapmaker. Somehow I realize that you relate. Perhaps these are the words that put us back to sleep.

John Wilkes Booth’s Signed Confession!

© 2013 Mick Circeo

25th April, 1865 – from Prison

I’ve had Dreams of killing my father. Of cutting his head off and stuffing it in a Box and throwing it over a high Cliff. The White Cliffs of Dover perhaps. Or burying it deep in the Ground. Fantasies, that is all they are. Harmless Thoughts. Of course I would not deign to actJohn Wilkes Booth upon these Ruminations. Sic semper tyrannis – yes I did say that –  there have been Reports that I did not, but I inscribe it here and now, so that all doubt shall be remov’d; “Thus always to Tyrants.” I shouted it that night at a quarter past ten, almost laughed it, the very Moment before I placed the Barrel of my Shooter behind the Ear of the Tyrant and struck a Blow for every thinking Man in the Nonce.

Killing a Man, striking him down, must occur for the right Reasons, of course. It would have to be for the right Reasons. So what is it, that would or should or could be considered Just Cause to kill a Man? Mayhaps he threatens the Welfare of a Nation, the Common Weal, as it were. What if his Actions were so bold and so lecherous as to change the future Course of a great Country for the worse? Endanger its Citizenry. Destroy the Marketplace and our ability to function at the Top of the Bill on the World’s Stage. What if one Man – or a small handful of Men – put a Country at such risk?

Are we to stand idly by and watch the destruction of a Land that we, that I, have grown to love more than any living Man? I should think not. For I should be adjudged by History to be worse a Man than such Men, if they properly be called Men, were I to bear witness to these Acts of Waste now occurring, and yet do nothing. And that is why I killed the TyrantAbraham Lincoln.

Had Grant been in the Box with the Tyrant that Night, pursuant to the original Plan, I should have done him in as well. I will admit that it required a full hour’s worth of Whiskey to put Booth Classicme up to the Task. Of that I am not ashamed in the least.

I know that I am but youthful, but then I look at George Armstrong Custer and what he has now achieved in his Youth. As a practical Matter, we are both the same in age. People often say we look like Brothers, were I not already to have a Brother who could readily be called my Twin. That’s not accidental for Custer, so I am told. It is by Design. They say that he wants to look like me, with the Mustache and the Hair, believing that it will bring him good Fortune with the fairer Sex. Perhaps that is true, as I have seen him in the company of many a young Maiden. Without these newfound accoutrements of coiffeur and sartorial splendor, however, Custer is quite plain a Fellow indeed.

CusterHistory will acquit me, even if the Courts do not, for I acted bravely, struck boldly, and retreated south to gather my Troops. My Army. My Southern Supporters who are with me in this Fight and the continued Rebellion. This Fight to preserve That which has made our Country great. The preservation of the Races. That which has allowed and enabled us to achieve the Reaches and Riches that no Nation has been able to attain in such a brief Lifespan.

Truly I have been ordained by God to lead the Children of the Revolution back from the Precipice of Defeat by the thinly veiled Freedom imposed by one Abraham Lincoln. May he never rest in peace. Figurative imprisonment by literal Emancipation, hence bringing low both Races – this is what the Tyrant has foisted upon our beloved Homeland.

And I shall not let That be done, nor could I have done so by inaction. What happens when such a Tyrant stands up in Society and proclaims himself God over the Races? He is struck down, and with permanency. 

I did not hesitate. Would that my Colleagues had possessed the Courage and the Determination and the Bravado to have carried through with the selfsame Success I enjoyed that blessed Night. Alas they did not, and have paid the high Price for their Failures. But as I sit here in my Jail Cell, behind these cold Stone Walls and Iron Bars, awaiting the News of the men who decide my Fate, I say now that I do not regret a single Moment of it. When Tyrants act treasonously, they fall. And Lincoln fell. I remain proud to say that it was by my Hand.

If the Jury convict me, future President Davis has promised to pardon me and restore me to my true and apt Place in Government. No more will I be a Player on a Stage illuminated by Footlights, but I shall be acting in real Life, impacting real Persons. Yet I trust I shall be exonerated, no longer subject to endure the Shouts and Taunts of “Kill the Murderer!” And then the South will rise again, as Davis has promised. When I accept my Appointment as Secretary of War in the Davis Administration, I shall exact my Revenge upon Grant in further fulfillment my foreordained Destiny. That will be mine and mine alone.

I should think that it is a Relief for our Nation, and not a Burden, to have a true Leader occupy the White House. One pure of Mind and Spirit. Not a Warmonger or a political Animal. I must but rest now, though my Battle Wounds roust my Sleep’s Peace.

J. Wilkes Booth

Coffee around the world

How Do You Say Coffee?

I met a woman today who immediately asked me where I’m “from,” she said, “because you have no accent.”

To have no discernible accent  – I strive for that because accents can be distracting. They are both distracting and charming, yes – I must admit that. But I get hung up on them, and that’s a problem when it comes to speech comprehension.

Perhaps it isn’t one’s accent, in and of itself — perhaps it’s particular words that hang me up. I begin analyzing the pronunciation of one or two or three words, and then I’m not listening to the speaker anymore.

Take “coffee” for example. Forget that inviting, exciting, musky aroma for the moment. How do you say it? Do you say kwoff-ee or kaf-fee or cough-ee or kohr-fee or any number of other pronunciations?

What about “house”? Hoose? Hoce? Haas?

Courtesy Getty Images

Wait. I was just about to extol the great diversity of American accents and dialects by borrowing a French phrase (“Long live the differences”). It took me two seconds to realize, however, that we are certainly not alone when it comes to variety of speech. Regional accents are common in or on most continents, countries, regions, and languages. From Europe to Asia, and Africa to the Middle East, accents in native languages abound. Okay, Canada doesn’t count.

Here’s something odd. My Boston cousins have distinctly different accents, despite being raised under the same roof. Ask Cousin Al his heritage and you might hear “Buorstin Tayin” escape his salty lips (Boston Italian. The “r” is only hinted at, not actually said.). Cousin Rose would tell you she’s from “Southie,” yet she sounds like a Nebraskan.

Shooting a friendly rack of billiards with a Mainer (a guy from Maine) in 1976, I heard this: “I know yoah prahlm.”

I cocked my head. “What. What’s my problem?”

“It’s yoah kyooh.”

“What,” I said again, inspecting the ferrule like a jeweler looking for a flaw.

“It’s wairpt.”

“Ah-ha.” I set the cue on the table and rolled it over the green felt. “My cue is warped.”

That was more than 35 years ago – another time and definitely another place. But today, now, are we experiencing a leveling of our dialects? Are we slowly losing our lovely accents and our pockets of wonderful American personality? Could we soon become the Unlisted States of America?

Are the television and movie media creating some neutered and homogenized accent that Bill Gates calls “American English“? General American? Is this a global evolution or phenomenon across all languages?

So listen, in the short time I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve gotten badly worked up. I probably need to lighten my anxiety. Call me warped, but maybe I should leave these pressing language issues to the experts while I grab an Americano back at the coffeehouse.

Are coffeehouses not the best?

Paris is Always a Good Idea


The Tower shining under the night clouds.

“Paris [and Edinburgh are] always a good idea.” That’s a misquote. Audrey Hepburn really said “Paris is always a good idea.” And I don’t disagree. Not at all. We were going to see both cities.

My wife Jen is an avid reader of novels set in Scotland, so much so that we planned our recent vacation there. As luck would have it, our air travel included a bonus overnight stop in Paris (the one in France), so we took full advantage. Okay half.

Now, Jen loves to walk in the rain. Slowly. Always has. Me too. It’s not just something we say – we relish that nice ambulatory soak.

Notre Dame was majestic. And closed. Sad face.

If you know me, you may know that I like maps, and I like planning. This was Jen’s first time in the City of Lights, so – what could I show her? As I thought about that, I realized that is probably wasn’t about my “showing her” anything, really. Yes I’ve been to Paris quite a lot – but I’m hardly an expert tour guide, and the last time I was there was during the first Clinton Administration. We needed to hit the hot spots, and we didn’t have much time.What a luxury to be forced to choose which Paris sights to see with the person you love more than anyone else.

Eek! Gargoyles at Notre Dame — I’m a-skeert!

After dropping our bags at the DeGaulle Airport Sheraton, we freshened up and hit the public transport. On the night bus to the train station, excitement mounted in our heads and hearts. I don’t care how many times you’ve been to Paris – Paris is always a good idea.

Our plan included a round robin to the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and the Champs-Élysées. Could we do all of this and get back to the hotel, wake up, and catch our morning flight to Edinburgh? I won’t keep you in suspense – it was breezy, but we managed to get it all done.

Yes, a bonus night in Paris is just that. But, as we exited the Metro at our first stop and ascended to the street, a light rain began to fall. Paris is always a good idea.

Traffic around the Arch of Triumph can be predictably unpredictable.