Travel Tips: how to beat baggage restrictions

When we learned that a certain airline flies directly to Nuremberg, John and I decided that a 3.5 hour bus ride at 1:10 am to London Stansted would be worth the cheap price. And it turned out to be fine, actually– I took a few 2-hour naps throughout the day and found myself having energy for shopping once I landed (fine, I like shopping sometimes).

Then I remembered that our return trip luggage is always much heavier. Specific souvenirs: chocolate. Good chocolate. And clothes, bath products, pasta, lotion, etc. John and I simultaneously decided to pay for a pricey checked bag, and happily continued along our consumerist voyage (it’s justified: German things are better).

As we weighed our suitcase on the last night, I realized I’d have to leave behind my Oma’s nice blanket and Opa’s knife collection (well, a small part of it). But I couldn’t cut out anything else. Yes, I needed those little cans of nuts and biscuits and kilogram of magnesium-infused Dead Sea salt!

Even paying the higher baggage fee, we were still stuck. So, instead of being reasonable, we…got creative.

How to beat a certain budget airline that rhymes with Dyin’ Bear*
*name has been changed to prevent my name from showing up on the “No Fly” list.

1. Wear at least 2 shirts, preferably your heaviest ones. Tie 2 sweaters around your waist, fashionably, and wear your heaviest pants–sorry, trousers–and raincoat. And hat, scarf, etc. Sneakers, of course.

2. Contemplate wearing your 2nd pair of sneakers on your hands, with the explanation: “Where my people come from, we wear shoes on our hands.” Decide you can’t do it with a straight face.

3. Stuff your backpack full of mugs, jeans, books, dried fruit, an entire spice rack (metal with glass jars). Act as if your 15+ kg bag is definitely under the 10 kg carry-on limit. Turn sideways when the staff walks by with their cardboard “your bag must fit in here, and absolutely no purses, laptops, small dogs, assorted electronic devices on the side” container.

4. Realize your purse won’t fit under your raincoat (I blame the schweine braten dinner) and admit defeat for faking pregnancy.

5. Give purse to John, whose raincoat is like a black hole with endless pockets. He almost looks convincing as a tourist who’s heading back home with a much, much bigger beer belly. (Irony: we drank no beer).

The ticket-taking lady glances at John’s ticket and raises an eyebrow as he walks by, but it’s too late– we’ve won! We take our seats next to a middle-aged salesman (I snuck a peek at his iPad; it was filled with “Sales Process” charts and notes on how to “close”). John unzips his jacket.

“Take that, Dyin’ Bear!* I’m not actually fat!”

The 3.5 hour bus ride back to Headington was worth the laughs, hair products, and Kinder Riegel packages.

Number 5

As I should have predicted, my “things to do in Germany” list turned out not to be that important. I accomplished most of the list without thinking, but have neglected the meat-eating part so as not to offend my vegetarian Oma too much. I’ll try to catch up on that tonight, when I meet my friends in the Stadt for some German food.

Apparently there are pictures of us in the bath tub together– now, we’ve all grown up and are starting to form our own families. It still feel surreal to me. I’m sure this feeling– growing up– is not uncommon, but I’ve been working on number 5 on the list (diving into old photos) and that’s why it’s on my mind more so than usual.

Last night, I found the goldmine: an entire bookshelf of photo albums in Oma’s room. The familiar and unfamiliar faces from the 60s-70s made me wish I lived back then, if only for the hairstyles and dresses. However, I was more absorbed by the album my mom made, that captured the years ’99-2000. I’m always thinking about the past and the evolving versions of myself, trying to figure out how I got from there to here.

Maybe we all do this to some extent, as a form of self-preservation– as the researchers and writers of our autobiographies, even if we never put pen to paper.

Those photos brought back some powerful memories. In one, I’m sitting hypnotized in front of a bulky Windows monitor, looking at a Prodigy Internet site. I wish I could make out the information on the screen. My AIM buddy list, showing all of buffy1547’s friends and some non-friends, is minimized in the bottom left corner. In the snapshot above this one, a conversation is captured on the screen. One name in dark blue, the other in red. The red correspondent is writing in acqua-blue Lucida Handwriting.

Instant Messenger was such a vital, drama-enabling tool of being a teen in the late 90s and into the next millennium. I got teased about my short pants (before they made “tall” jeans) and crush on the popular boy, because clearly, I was out of his league.

I also got dumped by my first boyfriend online. It happened right before my family and I went out to see a play. I’m sure I didn’t pay attention to whatever was happening on stage, because I was replaying that Instant Messenger conversation over and over, wishing I never signed online. Although, it would’ve happened sooner or later.

Of course, I forgive him now (mostly. You have to admit, that’s a cowardly move).

In another photo, it’s my dad’s 39th birthday and my mom wrote about how I’d get up for school an hour and a half early for my “beauty ritual.” I wish I could go back and tell 13-year-old Clea (confession: I had to pause for 2 minutes and count on my fingers) to sleep in and focus less on conforming to whatever the standard of beauty was at the time (answer: Britney Spears. In another photo, Emily is showing off a “B.S.” figurine out of homemade playdough).

I probably wouldn’t have listened to my older and wiser self, though. She still doesn’t know much about fitting in, after all. (She’s much happier, but ’99 Clea won’t believe that).

When I finally shut the album and went to wash my face, I looked in the mirror and was a little surprised. I was half-expecting to see my blue-rimmed eyes staring back, shaded by overly tweezed eyebrows, furrowed in a slight frown.

Then I wondered what my 2027 self will look like. Will she be expecting to see ’99 or ’13 Clea? Facebook albums have replaced photo albums, and I haven’t been keeping inventory as carefully as my mother.

Will my 41-year-old self wish that she could tell my 2013 self to do x, y, z differently, even though it won’t make a difference, and maybe that’s not a bad thing? I guess only time, and photographs, will tell.

Back to Winter




I really don’t want to become one of those people who constantly complains about English weather, but here I am. In the past week, Mummy Nature decided to take a few steps backwards and give us some hail, thunder, rain, and wind. Sometimes a combination of all of the above. Mostly just wind, and a little rain.

It’s not the wetness or coldness that bothers me, really. It’s that we were promised spring, and all of its companions: barbecues, sandals, skirts, sunglasses. I was even getting ready to switch from hot drinks to iced. And now it’s been yanked away from me, and I feel justified in whining about it.

But just a little bit. Because at 1:10 AM on Saturday morning, I’m boarding a bus from Headington (is Starbucks open at 1 AM?) to Stanstead, then killing a few hours (maybe finishing my freelance work, at the last minute as always?), then taking a delightfully short flight to Nuremberg. 10 days in Germany, 10 days without partner programme phone calls, 10 days without vacuuming cat hair and doing dishes and drinking too much coffee (just kidding, I’ll still do that last one). Again, I don’t mind dishes, cat hair, sales calls, but we all need a break once in a while.

So I should probably think of 10 things to do in my 10 days. Here’s a rough draft:

1. Stock up on household products/tea tree oil at DM.

2. Bratwurst, brezen, Milka schokolade, lachs, pfannkuchen, semmelknoedel, all-you-can-eat sushi in the basement of a department store (Woehrl), schnitzel, gelbwurst. Sorry vegetarian friends!

3. Find the neighborhood stray, Blackie.

4. Get a haircut at Kaufland, the grocery store. Yep.

5. Stare at old family photographs, marveling that at one time, I was little. And so was my mom. My mom was a baby at one point. Why does this seem so bizarre to me– that our parents had lives before us?

6. Coffee Fellows

7. Schloss Neu Schwhatever-it’s-called.

8. Childhood friends!

9. Spend time with family (okay, before you yell at my, this list is not organized by priority).

10. Run with John along the Alter Kanal (for that matter, also: not run with John, be next to John and sigh with first-crush-like bliss that I’m going to marry my best friend in a few months, etc.)

Bank Holiday Weekend

We have these days designated as Bank Holidays (click to read more– I have a feeling some lovely family member readers are still new to hyperlinks, so I wanted to point out my amazing linking-to-Wikipedia skills just in case it’s missed).

Basically, banks are closed and it’s a public holiday, but you aren’t guaranteed to have off from work. And in fact, many major shops remain open, which makes sense. I mean, what do people do in their spare time? How do they spend a free day? Shopping, of course!

Well, maybe some people like doing that. I’d rather do absolutely nothing, aside from maybe going outside and eating good food. So that’s what I did. I actually ran into a former Drew classmate from my study abroad London experience; she works on a boat and happened to be in Oxfordshire. We caught up and talked about the expat thing, and her life just sounded awesome to me. She’s traveled to so many places, and it seems like things are just working out for her, despite her inability to find the job she prepared for in college. Sound familiar?

I don’t want to brag or turn this into an “if I can dump my career goals and move abroad, you can, too!” pep talk. Because I do realize I’m lucky, and the stars have just aligned a certain way, or whatever stroke of luck happened that saved me from an ordinary life. There have been many times where I’ve wanted to be anyone else, anywhere else, but now I sort of realize that it all led to what I have now, and what I am now. I’m not saying I have a perfect life, by any means, but I will say that I really appreciate what I have and who I am these days. Even if there are (lots of) things to nitpick and distract me from realizing that.

I think part of the secret– and I probably mentioned this before– to avoiding an ordinary life is to throw all sensible plans out the window. Seriously. Nothing ever turns out the way I plan for, so I stopped planning and began doing instead.

Getting out of the office

“Train to London Paddington, Next Call: Reading.”

Yes, I’m on my way to Reading. I wonder how it compares to the one in PA. But I won’t stop there long enough to find out, as it’s my transfer point to Maidenhead. I woke up an hour earlier than usual today, surprised that the sun was up already and that I actually felt awake, to venture out to our client’s office for some webinar recording. If all goes well, the videos, narrated by my “soothing” voice (well, that was a co-worker’s compliment– I’d describe it more as a manly, monotonous lisp) will be broadcast on the big scary internet. There’s even an app for the site, and I cringe to think of being watched on a phone or tablet.

Well, half-cringe. The other half of me is flattered to take on the task and happy to get out of a typical day in the office. Not that I mind the cubicle lifestyle too much, but it’s great to get a change of pace once in a while. I’m looking out the window at the rolling green countryside: sheep, houses, trees, a bright blue sky. It never stops feeling like I’m dreaming here, really. Except when it rains. And even then…

Switching gears (something I’m still having trouble with on my front derailleur– it might be time to cough up some money for a proper tune-up), the other day I made the mistake of looking at my wedding planning checklist and immediately got overwhelmed. Lists, and big projects, are like that: one task after another, and it all seems to scream at you to get it done. Logically, I know that I have no problem completing a project at a natural yet efficient pace, under the deadline, wondering why I ever worried in the first place. But I have a hard time remembering that when facing something new..

A wedding is pretty new. I decided from the beginning I’d abandon pointless place cards and seating arrangements, “favors” that are never as favorable as intended (Hershey’s Kisses with the couple’s name? Sorry, you just wasted 5 hours putting a sticker on what covers a mediocre piece of chocolate and will inevitably be thrown away), bachelorette/bridal shower plans, matching outfits, etc. And yet, the list looms.

Have I decided where to get folding chairs for the ceremony yet? Exactly how much food do people eat at an appetizer/dessert reception, and how did I decide it’d be a cinch to self-cater a picnic style reception? When will I find shoes and a dress?

Then I get a hold of myself, and remember (like my friend Erika says) that’s it’s more of a “wedding theme party.” No one is going to remember or care about the little details. And like all projects, this will be doable if I stick to a schedule, and don’t peek ahead at what needs to happen 2-3 months from now.

So, aside from some minor wedding stuff, this weekend I’m making it my mission to finally put some more pictures online to entice our friends and family to move here. After all, I can only say “Oxford is awesome, and I never want to leave” so many times before it becomes annoying. Photographs say all of that, and more, in a much classier, more convincing way.