In other posts, I’ve referred to the way Tom Bihn bags often make my life better. I want to expand upon that point lest I sound like a mere company shill.
Tom Bihn bags and Sunday Afternoons hat
Today I’ll talk about how one “key” feature of this particular brand helps me stay organized and deal with the ongoing issues of a chronic medical condition. I’m talking about removable Key Straps that can be attached to O-rings integral to Tom Bihn bags and many other anchors on luggage or in hotel rooms.
Key Straps are the “key” feature
I carry a Cafe Bag ($70, size: Medium, color: Original/black Halcyon with Wasabi lining) almost every day, sometimes swapping it out for a Travel Cubelet ($40) or my Packing Cube Shoulder Bag (PCSB, $34) when I travel light. My Cafe Bag is generally fitted out with six separate Key Straps at once, each serving a unique function.
Key Straps ($5) come in 8-inch and 16-inch lengths, and are currently offered in seven colors. Many of mine are the older style, sewn from folded Dyneema/Halcyon nylon fabric. Newer Key Straps are made of webbing instead. Key Straps come in two varieties: with a snap hook on both ends, or a snap hook on one end with an O-ring on the other.
Additional Tom Bihn accessories that go virtually everywhere with me include:
Coach purple leather card wallet on Steel/grey TB Key Strap
Solar/yellow TB Key Strap left empty for… my keys!
Pocket Pouch† ($10) in Aubergine with Wasabi lining for lip balm attached with its own integrated clip
Eagle Creek pouch on Ultraviolet TB Key Strap
Aubergine Small Q-Kit† ($18) on Iberian/red TB Key Strap for medication
Wasabi Mini Q-Kit† ($15) on Wasabi TB Key Strap for electronic charging cables and earbuds
Clear pouch with red back for paper and longer objects I want to carry, often including a checkbook, a full length emery board (nail file), or a passport
I attach non-Bihn items by various methods. You can see the Key Strap snap hooks attached to a key ring on my card wallet and a fabric loop on my Eagle Creek purple pouch in my detail photos. The integrated O-rings and detachable Key Straps are tiny things that make a tremendous functional difference in my Tom Bihn satchel, but these accessories play very nicely with other brands.
By designing modular pockets, pouches, and parts for the end user to attach or not with separate Key Straps, every bag can be customized precisely for its specific purpose. This works really well for me.
QÔR is one of the many brands that has popped up in recent years seeking to combine modern performance fabrics with stylish silhouettes.
Want to commute by bike but need to meet a certain level of business appropriate attire upon arrival? QÔR could have what you’re looking for.
The same features that work for active commuting are key elements of a successful, compact travel wardrobe: fabrics that launder easily and dry quickly, resistwrinkles, and release odors.
Teen capsule wardrobe TOPS
Teen capsule wardrobe BOTTOMS
While QÔR makes pieces for both men and women, our household made the brand’s acquaintance with the purchase of men’s items for DH and DS1.
Travel capsule wardrobe for a teen boy
In a bid to create a compact, packable travel capsule wardrobe that could take my son almost anywhereI might drag himwith reasonable style, I picked out five† of QÔR’s pieces he could mix and match for our first order from the brand.
He’s a young teen just growing into men’s sizes. His more formal travel pieces will also serve as dress clothes for occasional use at home.
Three QÔR garments are his key travel pieces:
Navy jacket in Italian fleece
Merino hoodie (in grey)
Lightweight grey trousers in a quick dry, technical fabric
We combined these with long- and short-sleeved t-shirts (3 total), a pair of jeans, lightweight knit casual pants (1 pair) and shorts (1 pair), with a synthetic fiber, plaidbutton down shirt to complete* the wardrobe.
Most of the non-QÔR pieces in the capsule came from Coolibar, whose sun protective clothing represents the major part of our family’s summer/outdoor wardrobes.
The colors in the tartan dictated the color scheme for the rest of the wardrobe: navy and grey with touches of white and brighter blue. The t-shirts coordinated in navy, bright blue, and heather grey.
QÔR’s heavyweight navy jacket in a sweatshirt-like poly/cotton blend fleece is nice enough to pass inspection in situations where other men are wearing proper suits. Simultaneously, it is heavy enough to layer for warmth in chilly weather. There is a reasonably subtle, slightly asymmetrical zip closure behind the more traditional three button front to keep out drafts. It is comfortable enough that my son will grab it in lieu of a sweatshirt while lounging around our house.
Aside from the front zip closure, technical features include a zippered chest pocket and a reflective patch mostly hidden under the collar at the back of the neck. My use of flash photography is the reason it is so obvious in the first photo. There is a small, fairly subtle QÔR logo printed on one wrist.
Logo without flash
Logo reflecting flash
Chest pocket unzipped
Chest pocket zipped shut
Though the most expensive QÔR purchase I’ve made, the Italian Fleece Blazer ($158) is also the best value. It is versatile, meets my son’s needs perfectly, and he likes wearing it! If I weren’t afraid he’d outgrow it, I would buy a second right now to guard against its wearing out. A navy jacket certainly won’t ever go out of style.
Like many boys his age, my son prioritizes comfort over fashion. He likes to express himself with graphic tees, and he prefers certain colors over others, but, beyond that, he’d be happy with the same sweatpants and t-shirt combo every day.
Mom (a.k.a., I), on the other hand, expects a somewhat higher standard, especially when we travel together.
I don’t dress in a particularly formal way myself, but I have come to realize that being nicely put together makes city travel easier.
A very casual outfit must be changed to allow for some activities. Modesty restrictions at churches and temples require covering up tanks and shorts, for example, and the same garments are unthinkable for dining at nicer restaurants.
A young man wearing a navy jacket and grey slacks should be welcome every place he wishes to go.
Tank inspection at Vienna Military History Museum
The Italian Fleece Blazer is too thick to seriously consider hand washing during travel. That said, I rarely find a need to wash outer layers like this one whether at home or on the road. I have laundered this jacket once or twice using my home machine and laid it flat to dry. These photos reflect a frequently worn, occasionally washed garment.
One complaint my son has about his jacket is that a larger iPhone 6+ doesn’t fit its zippered chest pocket. He carries it in one of the two welt hand pockets, but it sticks out somewhat and I worry that it isn’t secure.
From my perspective, the jacket would benefit from an interior zip pocket large enough to secure a passport. If it had a rear vent, or, ideally, side vents, I suspect it would be just a bit more comfortable for travel, but my son never complained.
The hefty Italian fleece works for us because we live in New England. For our June trip to Iceland and Austria by way of Belgium and Germany, the blazer functioned best as an outer (heavyweight) layer.
Most of my son’s dress up occasions at home are likely to occur around the holidays when our weather is cool. Those living—or traveling—closer to the equator or looking for suits to wear primarily indoors should consider a lighter weight jacket for travel, but this one is great for Northern climes and cold-blooded types.
The Lightest Trouser
While less beloved than his fleece jacket, QÔR’sThe Lightest Trouser ($118, shown here in Steel Grey) lives up to the descriptive moniker. They pack up small and weigh very little. These pants are easy to travel with.
Make no mistake: my son would rather be wearing sweatpants. If he must wear “real pants,” however, he judges these very good. These trousers allow as much freedom of movement as knit sweats or joggers.
Lightest Trousers hold up to rounds of Mini Golf and Pit Put
Segway Tour training run in the Austrian Alps
Like many (most?) men’s brands, QÔR trouser sizing begins at a 30″ waist. My son is narrower than that, and still takes an XS size when available. In a tidy inverse of women’s vanity sizing, it turns out that men hate to be labeled “small”—or, God forbid, EXTRA small!—so options are frequently quite limited. He needs to belt these pants to keep them up, but they don’t look sloppy that way, even on the rare occasion when I insist he tuck in his shirt.
QÔR Lightest Trouser back details
Photos for this post show a young man who should be wearing a 28″/31″ in size 30″/32″ trousers that we hemmed by about an inch.
The polyester/spandex fabric blend is the best and the worst feature of the trousers. No other material would be so easy to travel with. That said, the synthetic does have a sheen to it and a difference in hand that no one would ever mistake for proper wool dress pants.
The week we received them, and before we packed them for Europe, I let my son do what he would if I weren’t around to nag him: he wore the same outfit, including these pants, every day for the better part of a week. He wore them sitting on the the floor to do his school work. He wore them to the gym with his dad. He no doubt wiped his hands on his trousers instead of a towel or napkin, etc.
After five days, I gave them an arms-length sniff test before washing them. No discernible odor. Anyone sniffing a teen any closer a) deserves whatever he gets, and b) is some kind of perv.
I held them up and stared intently: while not as crisp as a recently ironed suit trouser, there were no egregious wrinkles.
After washing in the morning with a load of delicates to simulate hand washing on the road, I hung The Lightest Trousers to dry for the length of a business day. They were ready to wear after dinner when I remembered to check on them—somewhere around eight hours later.
In practice, this held true during our travels, as well. These were the only pants he had with him that I would consider sink washing with total confidence that overnight would be sufficient time to dry. His knit bottoms were just too heavy to consider more than spot cleaning.
Blending in boarding a bus full of scientists in Klosterneuburg, Austria
My son never smelled stinky, his trousers didn’t seem inclined to stain, and they didn’t look sloppy when we dined in a fine European restaurant with my husband’s distinguished colleagues.
These trousers represent a best use case for when synthetic fabrics are a great solution.
Pullover Merino hoodie
Though not my son’s favorite piece to wear, the QÔR 17.5 Merino Pullover Hoodie ($98, shown in Aluminum Grey) in 195 GM, medium/light-mid- weight wool blended with 11% nylon for durability, was a key piece to make sure he was suitably attired for all the conditions we faced.
He brought the pullover with him when conditions didn’t seem to warrant a jacket because it was so compact and easily carried.
He layered it with all of his other pieces when the weather during our Iceland stopover felt more like winter than our expectations for mid-June.
He chose to layer a Frogg Toggs packable poncho on top to cope with the rain instead of bringing a waterproof jacket. He felt this combo was more comfortable, and the poncho weighed less than his existing rain coat, so I approved it for this particular summer trip.
Aside from the days in Iceland with significant rain that required the voluminous poncho, my son looked quite tidy, and pretty equivalent to local teens we saw on our travels. Even in European capitals, his attire compared well to other kids his age.
My son prefers zip front sweatshirts to pullovers. I seriously considered a similar weight alternative, the 190 Merino Full Zip Hoodie ($168), in Indigo Blue or one from another great brand, Icebreaker, to suit that preference.
For an expensive item, I did want to maximize his likely re-wearing of the garment by honoring his preferences. I want these pieces to be part of his everyday wardrobe; a young teen doesn’t need dedicated travel clothes he might outgrow before they’re worn out.
Two major and one minor point pushed me to choose what I thought was more practical over my son’s first choice. Packing bulk and washability were the deciding factors; appearance added weight to my choice.
A zip front and pockets would be bulkier and harder to wash with other delicates. Zippers tend to chew on other items in the wash!
The pullover style has a bit less fabric, fewer layers to delay dry time, and fewer parts that could fail. A zipper could also set off metal detectors during travel, though I suspect that’s unlikely. The extra zip layered beneath his Italian Fleece Blazer would also look a bit less sleek/tidy/nice compared to a pullover’s smooth front.
Finally, as for color, while I thought my son would look great in the lovely Indigo Blue color, grey was the more practical choice for maximum matching flexibility and avoiding stains. He likes brighter, more fun colors, but I was shopping and packing for versatility this time. We already had a second shade of vibrant blue featured in his button front and a t-shirt, so Indigo Blue might not work with every single garment we were packing.
The Pullover Hoodie packed down very small. My son could carry it inside his Tom Bihn Travel Cubelet ($40, Northwest Sky shown) along with his passport, wallet, and iPhone 6+. This compact, 5.7” x 7.3” x 3” bag could even be worn beneath his blazer for security where it counted.
Though packed full with the hoodie inside, all items could be removed and accessed without much difficulty or the inadvertent spilling of other items that occurs when it’s least convenient with a tightly packed bag. Most other hoodies—especially those with zippers—simply would not have passed this test.
Visible branding vs. the tourist who wants to blend in
QÔR branding is generally fairly subtle, though “active lifestyle” features like reflective strips might be visible or displayable with some pieces.
Logos on nice clothes annoy me. This is a pet peeve of mine with some performance brands, too proud of themselves to actually get my business. If I’m spending $50 and up for a merino wool t-shirt, I’d like to let the richness of the fabric speak for itself. I don’t need a corporate sponsor telling the world I buy cool clothes.
Logo without flash
If you can see a label on my clothes, odds are it’s the tag sticking up at my neckline. I’d prefer you let me know so I can tuck it away where it belongs!
QÔR makes quality pieces sold by top notch staff
QÔR quality has been consistently good. We have (okay, I have) washed, dried, packed, and (he has) worn and carried my son’s QÔR-centric wardrobe across America and to Europe over the better part of a year. The jacket and trousers are part of his regular, daily wardrobe. I have yet to notice any wear or tear, and have yet to find so much as a loose stitch to complain about.
Customer service made ordering from an untested brand easy and non-stressful. QÔR staffhavebeen truly exemplary, and they play a big part in making higher prices worth paying by my metrics.
I emailed back and forth, asking many questions about sizing and colors. One rep, Sue, grabbed product from the shelves and sent me cell phone photos of color combinations in response to my request for more information about how different blues and greys might work together.
I was offered free shipping to help make the remote fitting process easier. Policies seemed flexible, with a real dedication to making the shopping experience work for the customer.
Returns and exchanges are also easy. I did a few “back and forth” exchanges in search of correct sizes and preferred style and fit. I’ve come to trust that their guarantee is as straightforward as it seems:
“We’ll take it back if you don’t like it. Without question. At any time.”
Putting it all together makes a (capsule) wardrobe
A wisely chosen travel ensemble can take a tourist virtually anywhere. It needn’t be uncomfortable, either. I think this is as true for teens as it is for grown men and women.
Putting such an outfit together is a skill I’d like to teach my son while he still relies upon me to provide the bulk of his wardrobe.
If he takes up ballroom dancing or joins a performance group that wears tuxedos, he’ll have to sort out travel of that kind for himself. Odds don’t seem to point in that direction, however. His brother, on the other hand…
We packed for two weeks in Europe with no checked baggage, flying on a discount Economy ticket with Icelandair. My son’s entire wardrobe, plus a few items of mine, fit in a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45.
Teen boy capsule wardrobe packed in Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45
Vienna, Austria demonstrating the futility of rolling suitcases
Combine a few special pieces sewn from easy care, packable fabrics with travel-oriented features like zippered pockets with a kid’s everyday wardrobe. Dress things up a little, but not too much. Keep comfort in mind while assessing good looks. Everyone can be happy. This strategy can take you anywhere in the world.
Though there are lots of great capsule wardrobe posts online, the vast majority are for women, and, then, mostly for young women. While the pace of change in men’s clothing may be slower than it is for that of ladies, both genders enjoy—but also sometimes suffer from—greater choice in what to wear than most people did in the past. Choices give one more room to pack inefficiently, potentially leading to over-filled bags that somehow still fail to contain what’s really needed.
First class Deutsche Bahn compartment on scenic Rhine Valley route from Innsbruck to Köln
The benefits of thoughtful planning and careful packing apply equally to men and women, young and old. In fact, I’d argue that family groups with kids of any age in tow will gain far more from thinking ahead and curating clothing choices than carefree singles do. Just multiply every excess by four, as well as every opportunity for something unexpected to pop up.
Other sources for technical fiber, thoughtfully designed packable clothes
If you like the idea of business-ish styling made with modern performance fabrics for ease of care, bike commuting, or one bag travel, but QÔR doesn’t have exactly what you’re looking for, I can also recommend Ministry of Supply menswear based upon one positive personal experience, Icebreaker for merino, and some of Ex Officio‘s less sporty pieces.
A few related brands I’ve got my eye on but haven’t yet tried include merino dress shirt maker Wool & Prince, Outlier, and British travel clothing specialist Rohan.
Gratitude to the long suffering teen who made this post possible
This post wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of help from and even more patienceon the part of my long-suffering teen. He posed for photos with only minimal eye rolling and answered more than a few questions about comfort and fit in spite of his constant desire to get back to his own interests sooner rather than later.
Without a doubt, my boy is a blessing.
†The other two pieces from our first order were a pair of light grey casual pants and a bright blue, merino wool blend polo shirt. Either of these could work in the travel wardrobe as they fit with the color scheme, but were ultimately not first choices for one bag travel on this particular trip to Europe.
Navy knit pants are dressier looking than light grey ones. My son also prefers the feel of a blend with more natural fibers than synthetic, which the Coolibar version offers. Polo shirts aren’t my son’s first choice for daily wear, so he chose t-shirts to wear when his collared shirt wasn’t required by the day’s dress code.
*There were also undergarments, including a set of long johns/base layers that doubled as pajamas, but my son has no commentary he’d like to add to the internet on the subject of men’s underwear.
A swimsuit was also included. Though he prefers the popular, knee-length, baggy board shorts everyone else is wearing around here, a somewhat briefer version was cheap on Amazon and packed much smaller than his old pair without provoking the teen horror of a fitted Speedo brief…
My son’s preference for short ankle socks packed up small (3 pairs), plus we carried three more pairs of taller, grey socks for colder days and dressier occasions where his ankles needed to be covered.
Icelanders expect you to follow the letter of their law when going for a swim: wash, naked, with soap before entering a public pool or hot tub.
I’m shocked by how many Americans post comments about washing first not being required at home. Actually, at my local YMCA in New England, a sign clearly states that “soap showers are required” before entering the pool.
It’s just that, at American pools, nobody enforces the law.
We have laws against jaywalking, too, but you’d never know it in most cities based upon enforcement.
Also, our instructional posters are plain English language ones without the helpful “red zone” graphics employed in Iceland.
Cell phone or camera use isn’t allowed in locker rooms thank God! so I’ll point you to others’ mysteriously captured photos for illustrations. Follow the links to pool etiquette articles, below.
Picture the typical men’s room sign “guy” infographic, then add big red circles glowing around head, armpits, groin, hands, and feet. Those are the parts it is mandatory to wash with soap before entering an Icelandic public swimming pool or hot tub.
I’m reinventing the wheel here, but it bears repeating again! since every Icelander seems to know that Americans (and Brits) arrive unprepared for proper Icelandic pool protocol. I read about a dozen “how to use a public pool in Iceland” posts myself, and yet, here I am reiterating much of the same advice.
Those posts helped me, so I hope to offer the same to another reader. Good travelers respect the places that they visit by following the rules.
Access for visitors with mild physical impairments to Icelandic pools
Another, perhaps less common, thing I want to address is accessibility in Icelandic public pool locker rooms.
I did find one blogger who writes about access from the perspective of a wheelchair user, but he only seemed to visit the swanky Blue Lagoon spa. For over $40 per person, it darn well better be fully accessible!
I was looking for an affordable, family-oriented experience more akin to what average Icelanders might enjoy with their own kids.
Also, my needs are far less intensive than those of a pool user who requires a lift (hoist) to access the water. I have arthritis and chronic pain due to an autoimmune condition. My accessibility needs are variable, but often minimal, and most relate to twisting and pushing with the hands.
Sometimes, however, hip or knee joint stiffness makes it hard for me to reach my own feet. Heck, I couldn’t get my arms high enough overhead (shoulder stiffness) for the requisite TSA scan when I departed from Boston the night before I visited my first Icelandic pool.
Some days, aside from morning stiffness in my fingers, I bend like a healthy person; other days, not so much. This is a big part of what drew me to the famous geothermal hot pots of Iceland during even a brief stopover.
When my joints are stiff, I’m also more prone to balance issues and potentially falling. My limbs don’t always respond the way I’m expecting to the commands sent from my brain.
I had questions before my first visit to a public pool in Iceland to which I couldn’t find answers online. I’ll try to enlighten those of you with similar concerns according to my own experience as an English speaking tourist with about two weeks’ experience in that country.
Comfortable, sustainable knit fabrics including organic cotton
Great customer service
Most of these factors also make Angelrox garments moderately expensive. The prices are fair, but you’re not going to hit a big closeout sale and overhaul your entire wardrobe at a bargain price like you might at a retail giant importing its goods from low wage nations.
Angelrox is not fast fashion. Consider a purchase from them a way to shop your values and invest in a sustainable wardrobe.
Here’s a preview of the two specific pieces I’m comparing today, The Loop$38 (infinity scarf) and the Shawl$78 (wrap)
I make repeat buys of the silhouettes that I know and love. Between the Goddess dress $158, Glow gown $188, and Doublet$78, I’m dressed in Angelrox several times each week.
With most orders, I also splurge on at least one new accessory. I’m curious about many styles, and there’s always another color I’d like to see in person.You can only judge hue so well using pictures on the internet.
Accessories are the most affordable way to get my hands on the whole rainbow of Angelrox options. The least expensive choice, The Band$10, doesn’t suit my positively Medieval forehead, but I wear their fingerless gloves (Sleeves, Aria$22 or Opera$28) almost daily as a balm to my arthritic small joints.
Recently, I’ve added The Loopand the Shawlto my Angelrox collection. I ordered both in Violet, a bold magenta.
Here’s a rare case where my photograph shows the colors blending just as nicely as they do under natural light. If you like a vibrant, color-coordinated look involving shades of teal blue/green, consider these pieces by these brands.
Why Tom Bihn?
Some of the best lightweight (carry on) travel bags in America are made in Seattle by Tom Bihn. Quality and customer service are both outstanding. I use their products daily to keep my handbag organized and can say with sincerity that doing so makes my life easier and better.
Plenty of empty seats in early June
Though I’m often loathe to return items, preferring to think my purchases through beforehand, I’ve exercised their reasonable return policy to try pieces out at home and create the ideal combination for the way I want to carry my stuff. Sometimes, you just have to pack a suitcase to see if it works for you.
I’ve sent back bags because they don’t work for how I pack; I’ve never seen even a hint of a flaw in workmanship in a Bihn bag. They are meticulously sewn from high quality materials.
Afraid to commit to expensive bags on just my say so? Spend some time on the very active Tom Bihn forums first. You’ll hear from plenty of other obsessives fans who share generously their opinions and experiences. I lurked for months before placing my first order.
Tom Bihn bags are made in a good range of colors that tend to be available for reasonably long periods of time. I.e., you can come back a year later and buy a second bag in the same colorway. That said, not all colors are on offer for all styles. You might need to sign up for a waiting list to be notified when the bag you want is in production, especially if you are picky about color.
There’s also a healthy market for used bags in discontinued combinations on ebay, etc.
Angelrox is a woman owned small business in Maine where fashion is balanced by wearability (i.e., comfort!) Their signature cotton/bamboo knit can be a bit heavy (weighty) for ultralight carry on travel, but its softness, stretch, and tendency not to wrinkle keep it in contention for me.
Clothing plus accessories laid out
Opera Sleeves (espresso)
The Band (amber), Corset (espresso), Opera Sleeves (teal)
It’s rare that I so much as leave the house without at least one pair of their “sleeves” (fingerless gloves, available in Opera/long and Aria/short lengths), however, so at least a few of their accessories have gone with me on every recent trip.
For lovers of layered, joyfully artistic styles in a rainbow of mouth-watering colors, Angelrox is worth a look.
Their customer service is personal, warm, and responsive; expect to be called an “angel” and to see a hand written thank you note on your invoice if ordering by mail. Packaging is simple/minimal, but includes a graceful tissue wrap and raffia tie that I’d say elevates it to suitable for gifting.
While not every item is available in every color on the website, I’ve had great luck talking to customer service and finding out which pieces are in the production pipeline. I also got custom hemming for a long gown at no extra expense though it was no longer returnable after customization.
Nothing, not even living through the experience, will reconcile my mind to a summer capsule wardrobe for a February trip. That’s the reality of visiting the antipodes, however, and it was quite a treat to leave the wretched winter weather of New England for a respite in New Zealand, however brief.
Even 10 days is brief when you’ve flown 9,300 miles to get there!
I planned a wardrobe for this trip,* and then, after some reflection, cut it back further to roughly what’s shown in the first image. As I traveled with it, I realized that it was, in fact, a tiny bit larger than it needed to be. I wore all but one miniscule garment that I carried, though, and we weren’t burdened with an unmanageable amount of stuff.
Most important of all, I had what I needed to be comfortably dressed throughout the ten day trip. I’m a traveler with joint pain and an autoimmune condition who remains bound and determined to make it to more corners of the globe. Smart packing isn’t a hobby for me, it’s a necessity.
The week before we arrived, our primary destination, Christchurch, baked in 90º+ F temperatures, but we had a cooler trend and the remnants of a cyclone to deal with. What I packed would have worked for either week’s weather, so it was a solid wardrobe plan.
Whether or not you choose to carry enough to cover last week’s weather as well as the forecast temperatures is a personal choice. I’m more comfortable being over- than underprepared, especially when setting a modest pace with no special events that demand tight connections or a particularly quick turnaround between destinations. Continue reading →
It’s 54ºF, with winds gusting lustily and constant rain—the aftermath of cyclone Gita. So naturally I’m touring the Christchurch Botanic Gardens today.
I meant to endure the walk through Hagley park—a virtual ghost town compared to our first stroll here on the sunny afternoon of our arrival—before ducking into the adjacent Canterbury Museum and out of the rain. That’s what all the other tourists seem to be doing.
I pass only one other pedestrian as I cross the the park from west to east on my way from our lodging at the Roma on Riccarton Motel.
…and in the Christchurch Botanic Garden
In spite of the rain, or perhaps because of it, the patinaed garden gates beckon.
I’m grateful that I took to heart the most common piece of packing advice I heard for New Zealand: bring a rain coat in any season. My 20 year old REI Gore-Tex jacket continues to serve me very well.
The Armstrong Lawn opens out near the entrance to the museum. Dripping flowers and hopping birds catch my eye.
Statesman William Sefton Moorehouse appears unperturbed in spite of the foul weather
I wander over to snap a photo of the dolphin† fountain before being tempted along by a glimpse of the Curator’s House. It’s operated as a cafe now, but a charming structure put to any use.
Next to this is a beguiling kitchen garden, leading to a peek at the Avon river, and even more avian species. I realize that I can’t resist walking through an arbor. I pass through each as I encounter it, letting them dictate my path through the Botanic Garden.
Fruit tree arbor
Avon River flooded landing
The river is taking up more than its fair share of the park today, but the ducks enjoy that fact.
So does a small, blue heron. He appears to be waiting for something as he stands in a protected patch of grass behind a fence; it might be brunch, or the departure of the men preparing a stage for some upcoming event.
Ducks on Avon River in Hagley Park, Christchurch, NZ
Heron in flooded park
I know very little about birds, plus have poor eyesight and limited patience. In spite of this, New Zealand makes me seriously consider taking up bird watching as a hobby. It’s simply teeming with interesting winged creatures.
Birds in the rain keep busy nabbing worms on the run crawl from flooded soil, bathing in the puddles, and napping with heads tucked neatly under wings.
Birds dining on pear
Birds bathing in puddle
I can’t give you the names of any more of these feathered friends, but it is often the tiny “city birds” dining. Two of them would fit in my hand if I could coax them out of the bush. I call them Two-in-the-hand birds for the rest of my time in Christchurch.
If I hadn’t purchased a Bluetooth keyboard, this blog would have about 30% of its current content. My preferred portable input device is a Logitech K780 model.
I bought mine from Amazon about a year ago when I began writing regularly for my blog. I quickly realized that hand discomfort was my limiting factor for writing long form content away from my desk with an iPad. I paid $75 then; today’s price is several dollars less.
My Logitech K780 keyboard in use on a lap desk
The dedicated keys for switching almost instantaneously between three devices are a major factor in my enjoyment of this particular keyboard. Those are the three white keys at the upper left of the K780 in the photo above.
Because I experience arthritis pain and stiffness in my fingers and wrists, tapping on a touchscreen while holding a device can be difficult, excruciating, or even impossible.
If I have my keyboard out, I use it to enter even short, simple text messages into my Android Blu R1 phone. Using the Logitech K780 is that much more comfortable for me.
Slim, but for the hump
Number pad: a nerd necessity
Two other functions made the K780 the best keyboard for me:
I prefer a keyboard with a numeric keypad for efficient data entry, and
the indented slot simultaneously holds phones and tablets in place while I work.
That first one won’t matter to many users. If you don’t use the number pad on your current keyboard often or ever!, then by all means choose a smaller, lighter Bluetooth keyboard for your use on the go.*
Logitech offers the K380 model which has one touch device switching, like my K780, but without the built-in stand, or the K480, with stand, but using a fussy-looking dial instead of a keystroke to change devices. I haven’t tried either of those.
The little ledge that holds a device, however, will likely appeal to many users. Imagine a small, parallelogram-shaped valley parallel to your top row of keyboard keys, and you’ll have the form of this feature on the Logitech K780. It works well, supporting even a full sized iPad without a wobble on flat surfaces.
What makes this work exceedingly well for me is the full width keyboard (remember that numeric pad!) that leaves room for an iPad Pro—inside its thin, folio style case—as well as two cell phones. Not only can I swap which device I desire to control in an instant with the press of a physical button, but I also have that same device in view without juggling electronics.
Because we’ve talked about how well I juggle these days, right? My arthritis makes me drop things frequently as well as causing pain.
Attempting to wrangle every thought I’ve entertained about a week long trip to Europe would result in my posting about it after weeks if not months passed. Instead, I’ll try to focus rather narrowly on little slices of the journey. Knowing my propensity to go on and on and on, this might also keep my posts to a digestible length for the digital age.
Home away from home: Hotel Catalonia Ramblas
We didn’t choose our Barcelona hotel. It was selected by the organizers of the conference where my husband was speaking. Sometimes, these choices are a disappointment, but something to put up with graciously. After all, I’m tagging along at little to no cost for lodging in an expensive city.
Hotel Catalonia Ramblas was not one of those disappointments. We were incredibly comfortable there as a family of three.*
Often, location is the single biggest factor in how a hotel stacks up. Hotel Catalonia Ramblas is in a prime location just two blocks from the heart of Barcelona, the Plaça de Catalunya. Leading downhill toward the Mediterranean from the Plaça is the famous La Rambla pedestrian thoroughfare.
It’s hard to beat a hotel location this close to two of the must visit sites in a city.
This is also a major shopping district. The grande dame of Spanish department stores, El Corte Inglés, is an imposing presence across the street. Which street? With more than one location near the Plaça, you can take your pick of all clothing to the south or housewares and toys, etc., to the northeast.
You’ll find anything you might need within an easy walk of Hotel Catalonia Ramblas, including access to public transportation and the starting point for popular tours.
I saw internationally recognizable brands as well as shops with a Catalan flavor everywhere along the Carrer de Pelai, home of Hotel Catalonia Ramblas.
My bank has an agreement to waive fees with a group of other large, international financial institutions, and the ATM I needed to avoid paying fees was mere blocks away.
Two’s company; three’s a crowd?
We had what I believe was a standard room (i.e, not a suite), albeit perhaps an oversized one since it included a sofa bed for our son at one end. I know there are suites with private pools(!) available in this hotel, but I didn’t investigate any other room types.
Refer to the first paragraph: I was in residence as a beggar, not a chooser.
One entered our room from the public hallway into a short corridor with doors at both ends; the bathroom entrance opened from this corridor to one side.
The bathroom employed a frosted glass door, but the presence of the additional wooden door between the private hallway and the sleeping space meant no early morning light pollution when one family member rose early to go to work while his spouse and child lazed about for hours’ more sleep!
I dare you. Just ask my opinion of glass walls in double hotel rooms. These rooms are designed to be shared by more than one person who might have very different schedules. My thoughts aren’t positive.
Entering the bedroom from the hall, the closet separated the bathroom from the sleeping space. This no doubt added some sound insulation. I found it easy to sleep through DH’s early morning routine.
One section of the closet had shelves, including a pull out with electric kettle and instant coffee/tea things; the other two thirds offered standard hanging space. Three thick blankets and an extra pillow were at hand in the closet, proving themselves very useful as we experienced a rare run of freezing days during our week in Spain.
You might notice from my photos facing toward the closet that the pulls on the closet doors could serve as makeshift hooks; I kept our light and dark laundry bags there so my family knew where to put soiled clothes.
The main bed(s) were two oversized singles pushed together in the European fashion. I didn’t bring a tape measure, but I’d judge that each of these was closer to an American double/full size (54″ wide) than our twin (36“) beds.
Attempting to wrangle every thought I’ve entertained about a week long trip to Europe would result in my posting about it after weeks if not months passed. Instead, I’ll try to focus rather narrowly on little slices of the journey. Knowing my propensity to go on and on and on, this might also keep my posts to a digestible length for the digital age.
Travel day 1: Transatlantic red eye
Anyone who’s flown within a decade or so is aware that conditions in Economy Class are cramped and uncomfortable, even for short, daytime flights. Getting to Europe from the USA means losing hours as you jump ahead six to nine time zones, and most flights depart at bedtime with a morning arrival.
Full disclosure: I had never successfully employed the “correct” procedure of sleeping on the plane, toughing it out upon arrival, and staying awake all of the first day in Europe. Before this trip, I had always tumbled into a desperate sleep upon reaching my hotel.
Even as a teen—my first visit to London was led by my high school theatre teacher between 11th and 12th grade—I found jet lag really difficult, and staying awake after a night flight really, really hard.
Heaven is a big, soft bed after an overnight flight in Economy
I’ve never been particularly good at sleeping in a seat. Now that I have a chronic condition that includes regularly experiencing fairly significant pain, I was downright worried about the seven hour flight to Zurich (ZRH), where we would change planes for our ultimate destination: Barcelona (BCN), Spain.
First, I was afraid my hip arthritis would go into overdrive from all the sitting,* like it did on two domestic cross country flights this summer. Second, I feared I would sleep poorly, if at all, and thus experience increased pain triggered by fatigue. A double whammy, and one that tripled my anxiety in the weeks leading up to the journey.
You can’t fly direct from Boston to Barcelona. I had the freedom to select** our flights, and I opted for a transfer in Zurich with SWISS International Airlines.
I’d read excellent reports about conditions in Zurich airport on FlyerTalk. I always go looking for the opinions of frequent flyers in the FlyerTalk forums when I book airline tickets that include an unfamiliar layover location.
Transfers can be beastly in the world’s largest, busiest airports. I will pay extra to have a quicker, cleaner, or smoother trip through customs and passport control.
My husband did not appreciate the fact that we flew outbound on SWISS with a return on parent airline Lufthansa. They are code share partners, but not the same airline. This made reserving seats more complicated. He had a little angst about having to view his flights on two different websites/airline apps.
After all was said and done, however, DH was pretty happy with the flights I selected. He has even declared Munich (MUC) his favorite world airport. He’d rather stay home, but, if he must have a layover, he’d like to have it in München. He loves the relaxation area with its chaise longues.
Booking airline tickets
Every time my husband has an international business trip, I check airfares to see if I can tag along. Usually, it is prohibitively expensive for an extra ticket, and the second one must be paid for on our own dime.
Sometimes, he’s booking too close to the dates of travel for the best price. DH also tends to make the shortest possible trip (no Saturday night stays, typically flying on peak weekdays) and is unwilling to adjust his schedule or take a less convenient flight to lower the fare into “bring the family” territory.
That’s his right: he’s a busy man, and he doesn’t enjoy travel. He’s going to go where the conference or university is, give his brilliant talk, eat room service, and get back ASAP to our family home and the people that he loves. I wouldn’t want him to change!
Admittedly, though, I’m sometimes a bit jealous when he makes several international trips in a year, complains about them, and doesn’t even get out of his hotel room to tell me what the city of Such&such was like. Or try the famous insert food here. Or see the renowned site right across the street from his hotel. Sigh.
This time, however, all the stars aligned. DH was invited to a great conference in Barcelona, a world class destination by any standard.
The dates fell just after Thanksgiving, so I knew I’d have family in town to watch my kids if I wanted to join him on an adults only trip.
It was a four day conference, a little longer than some, making the transatlantic flight worthwhile even for a jet lag lightweight like myself.
I booked his ticket, then checked prices for my own itinerary if I went with him. For myself, I looked at a return flight on the weekend instead of his preference, Thursday. It wasn’t pricing out in the thousands; the economy fare was under $500. I booked it immediately.
And then I started thinking… At this price, we can afford a family trip to Europe!
I’d paid for the kids’ passports to take them to Iceland years before, but we’ve hardly used them since. Apologies to Canada, but our passport cards are sufficient to visit you by land or sea.
Checking in with my teen, he shocked me by stating his preference to skip Spain. I nudged him a little, but, in the end, decided to respect his wish to stay at home. He’s kind of like his dad—a homebody—and he’s very much entered into the teen period of finding his own way by rejecting, sometimes reflexively, his parents’ priorities.
If he were studying Spanish, I might’ve insisted, but DS1 would remain with his grandparents post-Thanksgiving.
My little guy was a different story. When we travel, he is my most frequent social companion in the evening. On cruises, he’ll accompany me to formal dinners so his dad can enjoy room service in sweatpants. DS2 has danced in shipboard discos, and sipped virgin mocktails in swanky piano bars. He keeps a full wardrobe of bow ties for such occasions.
DS2 aboard our favorite ship, Crystal Serenity, at (rainy) sunset in Alaska.
When I described Spain’s culture of frequent socializing in bars and restaurants, with families dining together into what we consider the wee hours, he was all in. He didn’t object to missing a week of school, either, especially not in the land that introduced chocolate to Europe.
I had to call to book his ticket separately because DS2 is a minor. The website wouldn’t allow me to make the reservation as it looked like a case of a child traveling alone. We traveled with three different ticket locator numbers and e-tickets. This worked out to my advantage as our departure date neared.
SWISS Upgrade Bargain bid for Business Class
SWISS offers a program called “SWISS Upgrade Bargain” in which, if invited by the airline, one can place a bid in an amount of one’s choice within an airline-delimited range to be upgraded from Economy to Business Class. In my case, the price range allowed began at roughly CHF 780 up to an amount more than business class would’ve cost if purchased outright for my ticket. I always check the fare for a better seat, even when I doubt I can afford it!
This no doubt fills the Business Class cabin while providing some revenue for the airline as opposed to their offering those seats to frequent fliers as a courtesy.
In an interesting twist, of the three of us, only I received an email from SWISS offering me the option to bid for an upgrade. The program rules state that children under 18 aren’t eligible, so my son’s case makes sense, but I am less clear on why DH, with his more expensive ticket, didn’t get the offer. There’s some possibility, he admits, that an airline email went into his spam folder.
At any rate, we had to keep one parent in Economy with our minor child. I suggested we make a relatively low bid and see what happened. If we didn’t get it, we would fly in uncomfortable solidarity in Coach. If we won the bid, I would offer the seat to my husband if I boarded the plane feeling well, but take it myself if I already had pain before we left home.
I didn’t quite forget that I’d placed the bid—I think I offered CHF 810, or about 30 francs more than the minimum possible offer—but I considered it an extreme long shot. Theories online as to how the odds of acceptance are calculated include the notion that one’s initial fare added to the bid might be the determining factor, and my ticket was cheap.
Two or three days before our trip, I got the email: my bid was accepted. I couldn’t reserve a specific seat of my choice under this scheme, but had no qualms about taking whatever SWISS offered. I believed that any lie-flat, Business Class seat was going to be superior to my carefully researched thank you SeatGuru Economy Class window seat.