Thoughts from a Vacation to Germany

A series of notes and observations about my recent family trip to Germany.

Traveling in Germany

The German People, Culture and Land

  1. The German people are wonderfully friendly and warm. I was surprised by how happy to help, how friendly and how welcoming they were.
  2. My inability to speak German was never really an issue. When ordering a beer or asking for help, I'd begin with a friendly "Hallo! Sprechen Sie Englisch?" More often than not, I'd get a warmly delivered reply, "Of course." Sometimes, the reply was more of a "A little". Yet every reply was delivered in a welcoming way. My lack of knowledge of German was not seen as something for which I was to be derided.
  3. Germans are quiet. Even when a restaurant or bar was packed, the conversations at each table were quiet. It was an effort for my loud American self to adjust.
  4. The Germans are an outdoor people. They seem to really enjoy outdoor activities of all sorts: biking, hiking, swimming and more.
  5. As for linguistics, umlauts are of great importance. Do not book a hotel in Munster, Germany, if you wish to stay in Münster, Germany. In due course, you will come to find out that they are not the same place.
  6. June in Germany is a sun-lovers heaven. It's starts getting light about 4:00 am and does not get dark-dark until 11:00 pm or so. I ate dinner at outdoor restaurants at 8:30 pm in perfect sunlight. It was wonderful.
  7. The two cities that I visited, Düsseldorf and Münster, were both heavily bombed during World Word II. Following the war, the Germans in both cities (and perhaps elsewhere too), rebuilt the old sections of their cities (Aldstadt) as they were before the bombing (albeit often replacing original buildings were facades of their former buildings). I was grateful for that approach as it returned some of the character of Europe that I wanted to see as a visiting American.
  8. Walking through cities that trace their history back to the 1200s and to churches that reach back to 800 AD is deeply moving. The connection to the past is palpable and gripping.

Food, Drink, Chocolate and Ice Cream

A variety of bacon
  1. Any trip that includes Swiss, German and Belgian chocolate in notable quantities is likely to be an enjoyable trip.
  2. If you're a meat lover, Germany is your country. My first meal in Germany (dinner, after a full day of international travel), was a variety of bacon. Later in the trip, I enjoyed a delicious sausage called a Westphalia Rosary (it's my new favorite prayer). It was a simple bratwurst, but it was by far the best sausage I've ever had.
  3. I was in Germany during the hottest heat wave on record. Apparently, Germans cope with heat by eating delicious ice cream at just about every hour of the day. I ate such ice cream twice a day, every day, while on vacation. That was wonderful. (My two flavors of choice were Nutella and Roche, a combination of chocolate ice cream and Ferrero Roche chocolates.)
  4. While I only ever drank 2 or 3 beers in any given sitting, I never drank a bad beer in Germany or Belgium. (I didn't have a chance to grab a beer in Holland.) Quality beers of all sorts: alt, weiss, lager and pilsner. The quality of the beer is reason enough to consider moving my family to Germany.
  5. It's a common practice in German restaurants and cafes to simply walk in and sit down at whatever table is available. That felt rude to me given our practices in the US. By the end of the week though, I had adjusted well enough. I imagine this will cause me problems when I seat myself at some diner in America this week.

Driving the German Roads

  1. German roads are so well maintained and so clean. No potholes. No rubbish strewn along the highways. Even the cities I visited (Düsseldorf and Münster) were impeccably clean.
  2. The concept of a speed limit like "whatever is reasonable" seems to makes sense after driving in Germany for a week. Drivers didn't seem to have a need to show off how fast they could drive, because everyone was driving fast.
  3. I loved the adherence to the rule of "pass in the left lane; drive in the right lane." This made highway travel feel safely predictable, i.e., no boy racers screaming up in the right lane to overtake with a really cool, Fast and Furious style lane sweep.
  4. The rental car had cameras in the front and rear, and on both sides. It also had sensors to warn when I was too close to a major object. This made parking in tight spots and narrow roads very easy.
  5. Europe as an entity, its geographic size and the proximity of its nations astonished me. Yes, I know that with the European Union, it's possible to drive from one country to the next without border control. Yet, the experience of driving from Germany, through the Netherlands to spend the afternoon in Belgium, before making the opposite journey home in the same afternoon was mind-blowing. It was no different than going from PA through NJ, to NY and back, albeit with less traffic, less graffiti, fewer pot holes and more scenes of rural beauty.
  6. While listening to German radio as I drove, an occasional traffic update notice would pop onto the dashboard, asking me if I wanted to override the radio program with the travel update. After listening to the first travel update, I realized it was a waste of time. The updates were, understandably, delivered in German. I skipped the remaining updates.
  7. I rented a Nissan SUV. The car had a GPS/map built into the dashboard. The coolest feature was that the GPS posted the speed limit of the road I was on to the dashboard, between the speedometer and tachometer. Most impressively, the updates about changes to the speed limit were pin-point accurate: As soon as I came level to a 70 kpm speed limit sign, the Nissan's dashboard instantly displayed the updated limit.

Technology

  1. Downloading and installing the Google Translate app with the German dictionary was a big help. The app itself allowed me to use the camera to hover over words in German while the app instantly translated the words to English (with enough accuracy for me to either completely understand or at least get the gist of meaning.)
  2. Stopping into the Bang & Olefsen shop in Münster was well worth the short visit. In a nutshell (and I imagine the marketing people at B&O would not approve of this characterization), B&O are taking the wifi sound system concept that Sonos perfected (or nearly perfected) and have turned it into an art. Beautiful speakers. Crystal clear sound. Very cool. Frighteningly expensive.
  3. Having to pay more for internet access on my phone was a blessing: I spent less time on Twitter and more time enjoying the many moments of travel.
  4. Having a quality camera in the phone was great for those "right now" shots.
  5. I was also glad that I brought my bigger digital SLR camera. I'm eager to pop that camera card into the computer to see how those shots turned out.
  6. The wireless Bose noise cancelling headphones delivered all the promise they were rumored to hold. The inflight music, movies and podcasts were so easy to hear and enjoy. The airplane noise was reduced to a quiet whisper. I even wore the headphones while sleeping – with no music or sound streaming.

Random and Miscellaneous

  1. International travel is a great source for feeding numbers onto my Instagram stream.
  2. I watched more sports on television than I expected. In relaxing in the hotel room, winding down at the end of an evening, I found that the sports shows were the only programs I could follow. I didn't understand a lick of the commentary, but I could follow the games and matches easily enough.
  3. I brought my 10 oz. Yeti on the trip. It's best use case for visiting a country where ice machines are not on every hotel floor was on the long haul flights. I didn't worry about spilling my drink as all. The kind flight attendant was impressed as I asked her to pour the small bottle of wine into the Yeti.
  4. For the trip, I bought a purse. It was a great decision. It was so easy to throw credit cards, cash, passports and other important travel documents into a single place. It was mentally reassuring – everything key to getting around, and ultimately, to getting home, was in my purse. During the course of my travel, I increasingly lamented the gender stereotypes that inhibited me from realizing this sooner in my life. (Related: Why have car makers not come up with a handy storage solution for the driver's purse? Placing it on the floorboard of the front passenger seat, or on the backseat were both less than ideal solutions.)

10 Things I Learned in the First Year of Running a WordPress Meetup

A look back at 10 things I learned in the first year of running the meetup.

Philly 'burbs WordPress Meetup

When I first started thinking about organizing the Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup, I really had no idea what I might be getting myself into. Since those early days, first talking to Doug Stewart and Brad Williams, planning with Coreen Tossona, it’s been an amazing ride. I’ve met so many new and interesting people. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve certainly learned a ton about WordPress. It’s been a fantastic ride!

1. Be Prepared to Be Surprised

After 12 great WordPress meetups, I’ve learned to expect surprises at all times. Some wonderful surprises. Some less than desirable surprises. But always something. The best surprise has been the level of interest in the meetup and the support that the established WordPress community has lent in our first year. Many experienced WordPress designers and developers have spoken to our group, generously giving of their time and skills. On the downside, the difficulties of relying on volunteers and the vagaries of hosting free events has thrown the most challenges in my way.

2. Focus on Community is its Own Reward

In Philly, there is a shining light of how to build a successful and productive community: Alex Hillman. Although I’ve never met the Fearless Leader of Indy Hall, I follow him on Twitter and learn from him every day. His focus on community as a goal in and of itself has shown me the light. Giving to a community always brings return to those who give. It’s a wonderful dynamic. I know that I have reaped more than I have sown with this great group.

3. WordPress: Build It and They Will Come

WordPress is a hugely popular content management system – and deservedly so. As word of its flexibility and scalability has grown, more and more people have become eager to join WordPress meet-ups. All I needed to to do was announce the new Philly ‘burbs WordPress meetup, and people started showing up. There is no need for any special event planning skills — just issue the call and people will join in.

4. Involve Others and Others Will be Involved

Speaking in front of a crowd is not something a lot of people do regularly. By providing a welcoming and pleasant audience, our meetup group has encouraged a wide range of people to speak about WordPress, plugins, fonts and more. The friendliness of the group has made it easy (well, easier anyway) for me as an organizer to find new speakers. Whenever I asked a member to speak about a topic — any WordPress topic — unfailingly I received a ‘yes’ reply. We’ve had so many different people — men, women, older, younger, developer, designer, blogger and marketer — deliver great presentations. To see the community volunteering to share the load has been very cool.

5. Nothing is Free

While attending our meetup has been free to all comers, I’ve come to understand more thoroughly the phrase that “nothing is free”. I have a new found respect for those who expended their own energy and time to organize the many free events that I’ve attended over the years. Organizing a free monthly meeting that offers value to attendees takes a lot of work. I now understand that better than I ever have before.

6. The WordPress Community is AWESOME

I’ve talked about the special and generous nature of the WordPress community. My experiences at WordCamp Philly 2012 really cemented my deep appreciation of the WordPress community. That Matt Mullenweg would take time on his Sunday to travel to another city to hang out with a bunch of people who like the software he started speaks volumes. Closer to home, the Philadelphia WordPress Meetup Group, and its organizers, have offered much insight, support and friendship in helping us get off the ground.

7. Hidden Gems Are Everywhere

Never judge a book by its cover, and never, ever, judge a meetup attendee by their appearance. I like to think I keep an open mind, but running this meetup has pushed me further. Knowledge and generosity is hidden behind the faces and smiles of many a person. I’ve been surprised time and time again by what I have been able to learn from the most unlikely of sources. It really has been a case of “treat every stone as a diamond”.

8. Get Ready to Push Yourself

Organizing a monthly meetup about any topic is not easy. Delivering a consistently valuable, enjoyable and dynamic experience takes a lot of time and energy. Paying attention to the little details requires a committed focus. And that’s just the start. I’ve been forced to learn more about WordPress. To make sure that each meetup is as good as it can be, I’ve been forced to work harder and longer than I expected. That’s not a complaint; I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. (Well, almost every minute …)

9. It’s Not About Money

Open source software and GPL aside, WordPress meetups should not be about the money. At our meetup, we deliberately avoid the sales approach: speakers are allowed only a minute or two to introduce themselves and their work. Yet, we meet to discuss WordPress and to create a network that many of our group use for business. By focusing on community, sharing of knowledge and experience and building a strong network, our meetup grow has generated financial value for some members. Although I don’t have any firm numbers, I know anecdotally that a number of people in our group have worked together as a result of coming together through our group.

10. Consistency is Key

Anyone who knows me fully appreciates that I am by no measure an event planner. Getting it right takes a lot of focus from me. I struggle with it. Yet, I’ve learned that delivering consistency is key to a successful community building effort. Not boring repetitiveness but a level of predictably that allows members of our meetup group to develop a comfort level in our surroundings.

London in February 2012

A selection of 5 pictures from a recent trip to London, England.

Last month, I was in London to speak at The FSI’s Workshop. While over in Blighty for a week, I stopped on a number of instances to snap a few photos with my iPhone (3G s, if you must know). Some of the photos turned out rather nicely, with a few lighting issues here and there, so I thought I’d share them here.

Cromwell Road sign

Rental bikes in London

Exhibition Road, London

The LSE

Natural History Museum, London

If you like to see more, you’re in luck. I’ve posted photos from previous trips to London on my site:

Know your limits

Knowing one’s limits is an important part of running a small business.

Pistachos, beer mug and Victory beer bottles

As a small business owner, I set myself a pretty aggressive online marketing schedule. I spend a lot of time promoting the business, trying to sell our services.

However, sometimes I have to give my marketing schedule a pass. As a small business, I can respond to only so many curve balls and tasks in a week. And frankly, this week had me running. As Friday afternoon rolls in, and having been at my desk since 3.00 am this morning, I have decided to take a slightly more Jimmy Buffett approach to this post: beer and pistachios. I know my limits, and my limits have been reached.

Yep, I am not meeting my inbound marketing task for the week, but I am doing so as a calculated decision. Other business efforts took higher priority this week. I’ll will be back to normal broadcasting next week.

End of summer evening drink

A simple photo, taken with an iPad, that seems to capture the spirit of those late summer evening drinks on the deck.

Vodka and lime on the rocks

Using the iPad, I managed to capture a simple photo that seems to capture the spirit of those late summer evening drinks on the deck that I do so love. Watching the sun set, the air just a bit cool and the leaves beginning to ponder changing colors.

Arsenal’s 2011-2012 Season: A Prediction

Sharing my expectations for the 2011-2012 footaball season for London’s Arsenal FC.

Arsenal Tube stop sign

Although I am not a sports writer by any stretch of the imagination, I thought I would do something a bit different this season as the Barclay’s Premier League and the UEFA Champions League get underway: I am going to offer my own prediction about how the Gunners will fare this season.

I follow Arsenal pretty closely, regularly reading the news about the team, the players, transfers and injuries. There are definitely people who know more than I, yet there are surely those who call themselves sports fans who know less. So I am somewhere in between.

In thinking about whether or not my prediction will add anything to the sporting conversations this season, my feeling is that it will. Sports fans argue about everything often with little or no understanding or knowledge of the facts. Why should I be any different?

Therefore, without further ado, my prediction:

Arsenal will finish in 7th place in the league and will progress far into the Carling Cup campaign, but alas, will not win it. There will be no Champions League or FA Cup trophies for us this year.

There! I’ve said it. I’ve written it down. I’ve published it. Now all we need to do is wait to see if I am correct.

Ales of the Revolution

A short review of some wonderful beers brewed in the City of Brotherly Love for us here in the colonies.

Ales of the Revolution

There is a great brewery in the City of Brotherly Love that has produced some wonderful beers for us here in the colonies. Crafted by Yards Brewing, the Ales of the Revolution are inspired by the original recipes of some of America’s first political leaders.

With the beer purchasing laws in Pennsylvania, I picked up a mixed case of Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce, Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale and General Washington’s Tavern Porter. Although I’ll leave it to true aficionados of Pintley to produce a formal review, I will tell you that these fine craft beers pack flavor, texture and atmosphere into twelve ounce bottles like few others. These are strong drinks too: Tavern Spruce is 5.0%, Tavern Porter is 7.0% and Tavern Ale weighs in with an impressive 8.0%. The Ales of the Revolution offer a varied approach for those with a wider palette. Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale is a delicious, refreshing golden ale, while General Washington’s Tavern Porter is a dark, ruby-reddish brown Philadephia-style porter. Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce is a unique rich brown ale, flavored with spruce.

My ‘thumbs-up/thumbs-down’ review: Two thumbs up for all three.