Working Tools -15. Tripit

Tripit is another digital tool. Last week, I wrote about analogue tools, so this week, something truly digital. I travel a bit, and Tripit is now my goto tool for travel plans.

Camino de Santiago

The best way to demonstrate why I like it, is to provide an example. I am walking the Camino de Santiago, following the Via Francés, which runs from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, five hundred miles away. I am doing it in stages, a week a year, for five years. This year will be the fourth. We are starting in Léon and finishing in Triacastela, one hundred and ten tiring miles later.

There are many ways to walk the Camino, and my walking-buddy Stuart, (I know, it confuses everybody) and I have settled into a routine where we pre-book our overnights. We’re both creeping up on fifty years old and after our first camino decided that dormitories have had their day for us. We share a room in a cheap hotel. Now, we walk at an easier pace, and often enjoy a leisurely lunch, secure in the knowledge that we can roll into our chosen village at six pm, our bed secured.

Camino by Tripit!

The Process.

I sit down with the guide book to plan our next stage. First criterion is that both Stuart and I are very lucky in that our wives put up with us disappearing for a week each year to go walking, and we don’t want to push our luck. We stipulate that we will go for no more than eight days. Two days travel and six days walking.

Task 1.

International. Stuart starts from Dublin and this year, I start from Cyprus. We need to get to Léon to carry on from where we finished last year. I use RometoRio and Skyscanner to work this out. This year, we will be landing in Madrid, and taking a bus to Léon. Leaving, we will be getting a bus from our finish point to the town of Sarria, overnighting there, before getting a train to Santiago de Compostela, and a bus to the airport there. That worked out, I book my flights, and Stuart books his.

Task 2.

Stages. We are pretty comfortable at around eighteen miles a day. Less than fifteen feels too little and twenty plus feels a slog. Using the guidebook, I identify likely stop points, and then search accommodation options online. I tend to use booking.com. Twin beds, private bathroom and access to a laundry service or washing machine is essential. We carry everything that we need for the week on our backs, so the ability to wash and dry clothes is non-negotiable.

Task 3.

Finally, we get to Tripit. I go to my email, which is now full of booking confirmations from airlines and hotels. I forward all of these to Tripit. This is where the magic happens. In moments, all of the bookings are collated into an itinerary that is available to me online or on an app in my phone. Each booking is summarised on a master view, and I have the ability to drill into the detail. The reservation number, the cancellation terms, the payment status, everything. For example, in one of the bookings, this is listed under Notes:
“Notes. This room features views of the Santa Mariña Church. It comes with 2 single beds and a private bathroom.”

Advantages

Everything that I need is stored in the app and online. I can share the trip plans, so that everyone is in the picture. I am able to add notes and pictures to any item in the itinerary.  We are not pre-booking bus tickets, we will buy them on the ground, but I am able to save the schedules in the itinerary, both the buses that we plan to take and the fallback options, because, well, life happens. Stuart and I are both now looking at the route, reading blogs, seeking out sites to visit, churches to see, even restaurants, (we take lunch very seriously). All of this can be added to Tripit.

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Good triumphs over evil

Good triumphs over evil. That’s how a good story ends, isn’t it? It was looking bad for a while, but in the end, good found a way and won the day. This is the conventional logic. Writers ask readers to identify with the protagonist, and in return there is an unspoken promise that the hero will win.

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Living the Dream 39. Zambartas Wine Tasting

“Zambartas.”
“Bless you”, rejoined Margaret.
She’s a wit, my wife. Zamabartas is indeed a winery, a short drive from the mountain hideaway. I had booked us “Experience 3” for the afternoon of Margaret’s birthday.

Background

I am fond of a glass of wine. In fairness, I’m fond of a glass of pretty much anything, but sensible, grown-up me tends to gravitate towards a glass of wine. I am a long way from expert, but I have, through practice, gravitated beyond the adjectives red,white and pink to describe wine. Over the years, I have struggled to find wines in Cyprus that I enjoy. Initially, I could only find local wines that were very cheap, and frankly, barely drinkable. Fear not, I persevered. Gradually, the choice increased. I was able to enjoy barely drinkable wines from all over the world. Of late, it has been possible to find good imported wine, at a price, and in one of our favourite restaurants, we were served a lovely crisp white; from Cyprus, called Zambartas.

Experience 3

We drove into the village of Agios Amvrosios. I was suspicious, there are unambiguous, prominent signs directing visitors to the winery. Reading road signs in Cyprus is usually more of an art than a science, but not even I could get lost following these arrows.
Experience 3 is a tour of the winery followed by a tasting of five wines with matching canapés. The naming could obviously do with some work, but that is my only criticism. We were hosted by Adriana, a witty, personable polyglot with a passion for people and wine. Mags and I joined a young couple visiting from the UK, and the four of us had a cracking time.

The Wines

I’m not going to write an extensive, detailed review of each wine. I lack the expertise and the inclination. The detailed appraisal of individual wines has no joy for me, I’m all about the combination of company, conversation and wine.

Our first was Xinisteri. Exquisitely described by Adriana as a “Veranda wine.” Light, easy drinking, either alone or with lunch. We worked through another white, a rosé, up into a couple of reds, the last of which is a big boy new world style Shiraz. I was going to write, “these won’t win many awards”, but actually, some of the wines are winning awards. What I mean is, that not one of the wines struck me as exceptional. They all struck me as good and approachable. There is sufficient variation across the line, for me to be confident that every guest to the mountain hideaway will find something that they like.

I left with boxes of wine of different shades and tastes, and fully expect to go back to Zambartas and try some other Cyprus wineries.

The last drop

Everyone sees #livingthedream differently. For me, a group of friends on the terrace, the coals burning, wine glasses full, IS the dream. There is nothing better.

Working Tools -14. Writing Instruments

Writing Instruments

Writing instruments are important to me. I consider myself a writer and keep several journals. I own a notebook company. Of course, writing instruments are important to me.This post could run to pages, and I daresay that this is a subject area to which I’ll return. I will try not to go on too long today.My love affair with pens and pencils is similar to my relationship with bags. I adore finding and using the write instrument for the purpose at hand.

Matching

This “matching” is more important to me than any subjective or objective measure of quality or merit. For example, I own a Pelikan 805 Stressemann fountain pen and I own multiple Mitsubishi Uniball UB-150 gel pens. For my bullet journal, I will always reach for a Mitsubishi rather than the Pelikan, even though the Pelikan is a magnificent fountain pen, that is expensive and a joy to own.
Writing a letter to a friend, I will always reach for a fountain pen. Often, I might reach for several, changing pen, nib and ink, mid-sentence. Drafting a chapter, or a blog post, I might use a pencil, a rollerball, a gel pen, a fountain pen or, at a push, a ballpoint. Which will depend on where I am, and how the mood takes me.

A beautiful Writing instrument
Isn’t she gorgeous?

Tools

Ultimately, the writing instrument should simply be a working tool. It shouldn’t, and doesn’t, matter what we use, it matters what we do with it. Nevertheless, it helps if you enjoy using your tools. I definitely enjoy mine too much. I even have pencils coming by subscription. Heck, I even bought a notebook company!
Analogue writing is mounting a comeback in this, the digital age. There is much research that using pen or pencil stimulates parts of the brain that keyboards simply don’t reach, and the success of Moleskine and Field Notes has led to the launch of multiple competitors.

Everpresent

Whether I be hiking the Camino De Santiago, or sitting in a coffee shop, I am never without a writing instrument and a notebook. Marie Kondo would approve; they bring me joy. Handy for making a shopping list too.

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Debut Novel Syndrome

Debut Novel Syndrome is, of course, well-known. You haven’t heard of it? Shame on you. Alright, I confess. I made it up. As far as I am aware, which is as far as the first page of the search I just completed, Debut Novel Syndrome is not a thing. It should be though.

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Living the Dream – 38. Six Months

Six months? You’re kidding.

As I write this, we are a few days short of six months #livingthedream. I wrote last week about how I had become distracted. Before I could address that though, I had a Pen Show to do. London was great fun, and travel went well until the final leg. The airport is forty minutes from the mountain-hideaway. Usually. On Monday, it was one hundred and fifty minutes away. Ho-hum. I also brought home a gift, a sniffle. (The sniffle has become a full-blown head-cold now.)

Wins

That notwithstanding, I have managed to play two rounds of golf, been wine-tasting and eaten some tasty suppers out. As promised, I had a word with myself, and am back on track, or at least moving closer to the track.

I am hitting my move goals on my Apple Watch, which are 30 minutes exercise and 850 calories per day. I’m doing that through my static bike and walking with Spice in the garden. Beer consumption is down, although I remain far from abstemious. My trousers remain VERY tight, so there is plenty of work to do on the diet and exercise front, but I am confident that being more aware of the calories that I am putting in, and making more effort to burn them will quickly have me heading the right direction.

I suspect that the above might be over-sharing, but hey, I’m nothing, if not honest.

Margaret

Margaret is beginning to feel a little better. What she went through is not something that anyone should ever go through, but she is much stronger than she believes. We’re both ready for the wet winter to evolve into a warm Spring and we are making a real effort to go to new places and do new things. She has some travel booked, and we have a slew of visitors coming.

Spice

Spice is alternately infuriating and endearing. A proper tomboy, she is a digger and an eater. She likes nothing more than snuffling around in the garden and bringing in all sort of bugs, pieces of wood and assorted junk. Then, she curls up to sleep and is a canine angel. She sleeps through the night and is pretty much house-trained.

The next six months

We are beginning to see how our year is going to shape up and although the weather remains a mite unreliable, we do now get the odd glimpse of the spring and summer to come.

First sun in six months?

We are very lucky to have this opportunity, and we are both looking forward to the next six months.

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Working Tools -13. Baron Fig Messenger

Baron Fig Messenger

It’s been over a month since I changed bag. Perhaps a record? There must a syndrome name for this obsession. Now, I’m into a Baron Fig Messenger. This latest change was prompted by a super-short trip. Sunday last, Nero’s Notes had a table at the WES London Spring Show. Tuesday just gone (yesterday, as I write this), was Mrs L’s birthday.

Therefore, the confluence of these two events meant that I was flying to the UK on Saturday afternoon and returning to Cyprus on Monday morning. I could choose either to live out of one bag for the duration of the trip, or, as I ultimately chose to do, have one bag for the hotel, and one for the show and “out and about”.

New criteria. New bag.

The Pacsafe

The PacSafe is an excellent bag and for a commute, I would definitely recommend it. However, there is a lot of it. It’s big. I wanted something lighter and smaller. In my mind’s eye, I expected to be doing a fair amount of walking about town – not necessarily with a destination in mind. On my last trip, when I went for a wander, I left both my bags in the hotel, I think, because of size concerns.

I have recently acquired a Messenger bag from Baron Fig. It’s small, the opposite of tactical and a pleasing shade of baby-blue. To be honest, spec-wise, it is not in the same league as the PacSafe. But, its small and cute.

A Messenger bag by Baron Fig

Pros & Cons

A real advantage of “small” is that it places constraints on what I can carry, forcing me to keep things light. From that point of view, this definitely worked. However, there was an issue: My DSLR. I have, on 1857, been talking about getting more into photography and wanting to carry a camera, other than my phone, around with me. I had been toying with the idea of buying a new mirrorless camera and prime lens, giving me a compact form but a huge sensor. Whilst an attractive idea, I had rejected it, in favour of a new lens on my existing Nikon. It is only a little bigger and heavier. The trouble is, that little counts. A camera and lens is a bit boxy, and boxy is anathema to Messengers, at least in my mind. As a result, the camera ended up around my neck, or in the wheelie bag. Food for thought.

Conclusion

The Baron Fig is a lovely bag. It is well-built, looks good and does the job. I believe that the newer version has some water resistance, however I suspect that the person carrying this bag is not hiking or cycling through a storm. This bag might jump into a Lyft or an Uber when the rain came. The zips are tough and heavy duty, but they are metal. Metal doesn’t always play nice with things being pulled in and out of the bag. As a smaller model, it doesn’t offer the versatility of the Pacsafe, although it would be a mite unfair to criticise a small bag for being small.

I suppose the real question that I face is, bigger bag or smaller camera? The search continues…

Inspiration

Inspiration. Where does it come from?

They say that everybody has a book inside them. I say, “Of course everybody has a book inside them, many, in fact. The trick is getting the bloody things out.”

 

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Living the Dream -37. Distraction

If you have been following along, then you know that the dream did not begin as we had hoped. There has been a period of recovery and re-thinking, for both of us. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, life happens. However, distraction becomes a habit, and like most habits, it can be tough to break.

Distraction

I have allowed myself to become victim to distraction. Don’t get me wrong, I have been busy, too busy in fact. I have been focused on the wrong things. Let me explain.

We are building a new life, in a new country. We are in the extremely privileged position of being able to choose this course. Mags and I were not forced to come here, nor are we forced to stay. It’s our choice.

Distraction made me forget that. The most important thing that I need to be doing is focusing on “why” we are here, rather than “how’ we are here. We came here for the amazing climate (and one wet winter is weather, not climate) and the opportunity to craft a lifestyle that was healthy and relaxed. Let me use health as an example.

Healthy Living

  1. Fruit and vegetables are incredible here. I love them. Yet I seem to be eating more chips (French fries) and biscuits (cookies).
  2. Beer here is frankly, not great. Gassy and tasteless. Water is lovely. Yet I’m drinking more beer, and less water.
  3. I love to walk. Cyprus winter is perfect walking weather. Yet I have barely walked at all.
  4. Swimming. Sure, the pool is cold, (comparatively) but once I stopped my morning swim, in October, I have stopped entirely.
  5. An office downstairs meant that I could corral work into intentional time slots and close the day down, yet I find myself working in the kitchen, in the living room, everywhere.
  6. Golf. I have a membership that allows me to play as often as I wish. A beautiful course, and wonderful conditions. Yet I play less than I did in the UK.

Lesson

First conclusion is that I need to have a serious word with myself. However, what’s interesting is how easy it was to lose sight of why I’m here, what I’m trying to achieve. Yes, we have been presented with more challenges than we envisaged. Yes, I have achieved some good things, but what I haven’t been doing is focusing on building the life that we want.

A lesson learned.

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Working Tools -12. Buffer

The Dilemma

I wrote before about my distrust of Facebook (and by extension, Instagram), and Twitter. Ultimately, I find the way that they harvest and trade in personal data abhorrent, and the way that they allow themselves to be instruments of manipulation, dangerous.
Nevertheless, this is where the people are, and whether it be my writing or my notebooks, I want people to see what I’m up to; so I need to continue to post on Twitter and Facebook. In large part, I do this from one remove.

Buffer

I use a tool called Buffer. This is a web service that allows me to create and schedule posts in advance from an independent platform. Once a week, I sit down and prepare a week’s worth of content. I schedule Facebook posts, Tweets, LinkedIn updates and even Instagram photos (although Instagram/Buffer is a bit awkward). This isn’t my sole interface with social media, but it does help me maintain a more intentional presence. I have no notifications turned on for any social media channels. No little red numbers, no banners in the notification centre, no cute little sounds. I look at social media when it suits me, not the other way around. I recommend that everybody do this with pretty much all notifications, on all things. My phone rings when someone calls it, and beeps when I get an iMessage or SMS. That’s it. My iPhone home screen is empty, bar one app in the dock. The telephone.

Other check-ins

  1. Instagram. I check in at the beginning and the end of the day, to respond to any comments on my posts and to have a little browse myself.
  2. Facebook. I don’t go there anymore, perhaps once a week, I might have a scroll through some of the Groups. Clare looks after the Nero’s Notes Facebook page, and it connects through to the shopfront for any customer queries.
  3. Twitter – Once a day, I check mentions, retweets and spend a little time scrolling through for something of interest.
  4. Linkedin. As per Facebook, I might have a look every week or two.

Content Inbox

During the week, I will top up my Buffer queues. Buffer allows me to set up “Content Inboxes”. These are made up of RSS feeds, so when the Pen Addict publishes, this will appear in my Nero’s Notes Twitter Content Inbox. I can then add this to my queue. It seems likely that people following Nero’s Notes are going to be interested in the output of the Pen Addict, and so giving them a link to it, is a service, of sorts. Similarly, my own blog posts appear in the Content Inbox and I can then push status updates and tweets from there.

Summary

There is always a risk that social media will suck away time, but tools like Buffer do make it easier to manage and control. Buffer can’t replace genuine interaction, but it does provide a background ‘base’. I’m not looking to profile, target and pursue customers with Big Tech’s data harvesting, I just want to let people know that we’re here and that we may have something that they are interested in.

My writing is supported by people like you. If you can support me, I’m very grateful. If you choose not to, that’s OK too. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.