Getting Things Done (GTD) With Amazing Marvin

Getting Things Done by David Allen describes a framework for personal productivity. There are numerous web sites, blogs, and the book itself that will go into detail about the framework, and how to set up your own system using many different tools. 

This post isn’t that. 

This post is to document how I have set up Amazing Marvin for my GTD system, at this point in time, shortly after Amazing Marvin had Goals and Habits added to its feature set. (Early 2021). I am a long time GTD user, 15 years at this point, having migrated through many different implementations. Look through my blog archives and you’ll see some evidence of that. What works for me will almost certainly not be what works best for you, although it may give you some ideas. 

A few quick words about the GTD framework:


Collect happens in whatever inboxes you have. There’s an Inbox in Amazing Marvin, and its a reasonable place to put things (Tasks / Projects) briefly until you Process and Organize them to somewhere else.

Process is simply looking at everything in your inbox(es) and deciding what each thing is, then putting it somewhere that you’ll find it when appropriate. This is where Amazing Marvin can help a lot, giving you places to put things in an organized manner.

Organize is what happens with the things you collected as you process them. Setting up your system with well thought out components that link together intelligently will go a long way to helping you keep track of what needs to be done, and accomplish the “stress free” part of GTD productivity. Amazing Marvin has lots of capabilities for this, more below.

Review is regularly looking at everything you have organized, and making sure that nothing is being forgotten. Amazing Marvin has several features that help with this.

Do is the meat of productivity, actually completing all the tasks that you have organized so that your projects get done and your goals accomplished. Amazing Marvin has many different Strategies and approaches to help you pick and choose which tasks to do, and to keep you motivated to work through your lists.

I want to structure my GTD system to allow me to keep track of my personal and professional life in the same system. Almost never will an activity be for both, so I can start by defining two Categories: Work and Personal.

GTD tracks Goals at different timespans, see Labels for Goal Altitude below. I am using a Label Group “GTD Altitude” with three labels. I define my goals using the Goal feature (shortcut G from the main screen) and assign the appropriate “GTD Altitude” label to them. I also assign the goal a Category, either Work or Personal, or one of the Area of Focus categories.

Areas of Focus are the GTD “20,000 foot level”, those aspects of life that are ongoing, and cannot be completed. Another name for these is Roles. I define these as SubCategory entries under either Work or Personal. For example, “Husband”, “Engineering Manager”, “Homeowner”, “Maintain Healthy Finances”, “Recruiting”.

Projects are GTD’s “10,000 foot” level. I define projects with a Category, one of Work, Personal, or an Area of Focus, and if the project is part of accomplishing a Goal, I also make it a member of the Goal. I can conceive of wanting sub projects, in which case there will be a parent project instead of Category, although I haven’t done that yet.

And finally, Tasks are the runway, where the rubber meets the road and things get done. Amazing Marvin allows Tasks to be steps in a Project, or as standalone Tasks within a Category or Goal. The GTD process calls tasks Next Actions, and they should be the very next physical step needed to make progress. They are often much smaller than other productivity management approaches, for example not “replace tires on car” but “get phone number of tire store” is a Next Action. Amazing Marvin lets you set a configuration option (strategy) so that only the next task in a project or category appears on your list(s) of things to do, which can go a long way toward reducing the feeling of overwhelm that is very common when people look at all the things they have to do in one place.

Any of the above can be placed on the “Backburner” if you activate the Backburner Strategy, which creates a second master list of items that are not currently actionable. GTD calls this a “Someday/Maybe” list. Items have an edit submenu that allows them to be moved to and from the Backburner easily. Amazing Marvin when set up with the native GTD Workflow also has tags @maybe and @idea and Smart Lists “Later” and “Maybe” that might be used for similar “Someday/Maybe” concepts. For my taste, that’s too many options to sort out, and I’m just using the Backburner for my “Someday/Maybe” items.

Once all the things are Organized, you can start Doing. But don’t forget to Review regularly!

Amazing Marvin has a nice Review strategy, which lets you define the steps you want to take in a review. There are several sources that can be found on the web for “GTD Weekly Review” checklists that are good starters to build your own. I would like multiple reviews to be available, as I also do monthly, quarterly, and annual reviews, but I have workarounds for those (see Ticklers, below) that don’t rely on Amazing Marvin.

To Review effectively, you want to be able to look at your Projects, Goals, and Areas of Focus without distraction. I am doing it this way:

  • Areas of Focus I review in the Master List, expanding from Work and Personal for a high level of what’s in each, and drilling in for detail when needed.
  • Goals are best reviewed from the Goal Overlay, grouping goals by Label
  • There are several ways to look at Projects, I prefer to use a Smart List that lets me control whether I’m looking at Backburner items or not

I’m certain that as Amazing Marvin matures the Goal implementation and other features, and as I gain more familiarity with the tool that something about the above will change. That’s to be expected, and the great part about the “Getting Things Done” approach to personal productivity is that implementation allows flexibility as your needs and abilities (and your tooling) change.

Labels for Goal Altitude

Add all labels to a Label Group “GTD Altitude”

Order the group by title ascending to get them to render in order.

30kft 1-3 Year Goals

30,000 feet is for 1-3 year goals, timebound with target dates.

There will be multiple projects, tasks, and perhaps habits linked to each of these goals.

What does my world look like in 12/18/24/36 months? What has changed? What did I / will I do to make that happen?

40kft 3-5 Year Goals

40,000 feet is for 3-5 year goals, timebound with target dates.

There will be multiple projects, tasks, and perhaps habits linked to each of these goals.

What will be different over the next several years, with my

  • Organization
  • Career
  • personal life
  • etc.?

What did I do to make that happen?

50kft Meaning Of Life Goals

50,000 feet is for lifetime goals. Why am I here? What will I accomplish?

There will be multiple projects, tasks, and probably habits linked to each of these goals.

Additional Thoughts

Some additional thoughts on bits and pieces of features in Amazing Marvin, and how they affect my GTD based personal productivity implementation.

Calendar: I do not use Marvin’s calendar at this time. GTD orthodoxy says to only put on the calendar the things that are date and time bound, which is almost never anything that is on a task list. I do block my Google Calendars to reserve time for what Marvin calls “work sessions”, but I prefer to do that separately from Marvin. 

Contexts: One of the lightbulb moments for me was understanding GTD contexts. All tasks can not be done at any time in all places – many have a dependency on time of day, day of week, time available, location, mental energy, or many other things. The combination of all of those at this moment is the Context that you can use to select available tasks from to work on. Using Labels to identify the dependencies of a task, and filtering on those Labels shows the tasks that are appropriate right now.

Priorities: I do not use an explicit priority marker for tasks or projects. Experience tells me that it changes too often. I can find myself procrastinating by playing with my productivity system getting everything labeled with a priority that’s just right. Then something changes, and it needs to be done all over again. I use context filters (see above or read up on GTD elsewhere to learn about contexts) to limit the size of a list I’m viewing at any point in time to a small enough list that I can quickly decide on the fly what is the highest priority of that set.

Dates: I find start date to be a helpful strategy, allowing me to define next actions for a project that can’t be done until some future date. I will use scheduled date for some tasks, but very judiciously. I’m even more careful not to overuse due date, I have learned that it is very easy to fall into the trap of assigning due dates as a proxy for priority, which keeps changing. Better not to muddy the system with them at all, unless there is a real hard deadline. I do put an explicit due date in the text of project names and sometimes in a task when it really matters.

Ticklers, Repeating Tasks and Projects: I prefer to think about a repeating task (or project) as two different elements. One is the current instance of the task, and the other is a reminder for the future (a “tickler”) to plan the task again. Ticklers are all Calendar activities, so I use “all day” events on my calendar to hold this kind of reminder. Marvin can help shortcut the actions I need to follow by letting me define a repeat pattern for task or project so it automatically reappears in my lists. For other things that don’t have a clear repeat pattern, being able to save a task or project and “load” the saved template is useful. For the moment, most repeating tasks are defined to repeat in Amazing Marvin, and also have an entry in my calendar. As time goes on and my trust in Marvin grows, I may retire the calendar copy. 

Vacation in Germany, 2002

In moving photos from various places to Google Photos, I discovered I had written up our vacation to Germany in 2002, using the technology of the time. I’ve ported that information here, with some update for current content management, and photos hosted at Google instead of on the same hard drive.

Our Vacation, 2002

It turns out that weeding through all the photos we took and putting a
selection up for other people to see is a lot of work. So there are
some here, if you want to know more about something, just ask!

Sept 27-29,
Gloucester International Pipe and Tabor Festival, Gloucester,

It was just too convenient to cross the pond one time, with a “long layover” at Heathrow. That was a 3 day layover, letting us make a side trip to Gloucester, and a return to the Pipe and Tabor festival we had attended in 2001.

Part Two

1. Heidelberg, Germany

Monday, Sept. 30. We flew from London to Stuttgart, where our friend Peter met us at the airport, and whisked us off straight to Heidelberg, where we walked up and up and up a hill to the castle on top. (One of the disadvantages of touring castles is that they’re always up from wherever you start.) This castle is maintained as a romantic ruin, since it was destroyed in 1689 by the French.  Remember that date and those culprits — its a recurring theme.

  • DCP_0310_a: Heidelberg through a cannon port on the castle wall.
  • DCP_0312: A restored section of the castle, housing art gallery
    and feast hall.
  • DCP_0313: A “romantic” view of the castle. More romantic in the
    rain, probably, but the weather we had was much better for touristing.
  • DCP_0314_a: Laurie and Peter in the gardens above the castle, with
    the castle armory destroyed by the French visible behind them. The
    clear structure of the building is quite interesting.
  • DCP_0315: Heidelberg and the old bridge across the Neckar river, as
    seen from the top of the castle. There’s been a bridge in this
    location since the 12th century. This one was built in 1788, blown up
    in WWII, and rebuilt to the 1788 pattern (using original parts) right
    after the war.
  • DCP_0325_R: Laurie and Dennis under Elizabeth’s Arch, built by
    Frederick V as a birthday present overnight in 1615. We’d prefer gift
    certificates, if anyone is thinking of a similar construction project!

Then we went down something like 372 steps (each one with a painted number) to the bottom of the hill, which was still way above the river, and visited the library at the University of Heidelberg. They had an exhibit of rare books, some of which are famous. And we discovered the digital camera does really well in low light with no flash, if you can just hold it steady.

  • DCP_0325
  • DCP_0327
  • DCP_0331

And we returned from Heidelberg to Stuttgart in time to meet up with Peter’s wife Debbie, and go to the Stuttgart Oktoberfest (2nd largest in Germany) for dinner. We finally understand Oktoberfest — it’s like a state fair in the US, except with good beer. We rode the ferris wheel, and got a good picture of the Oktoberfest from the top.

  • DCP_0334: Stuttgart Oktoberfest

And then back to the apartment to sleep.

2. Rhine river cruise, Germany

Tuesday, Oct. 1, we went for a cruise on the Rhine. Debbie had to work, but Peter had taken the week off, so we got up really early to drive to Bingen for a Rhine river cruise. This is the same Bingen that Hildegaard was von, but there wasn’t much of anything there about here that we could find. There was a modern sculpture in a town square, but that’s about all.

The cruise ship wasn’t anything spectacular. Bar/restaurant on the lowest level, lots of windows, open seating on top. The Germans don’t seem to have the concept of non-smoking area, and there are a lot of smokers. So we spent a lot of time out in the wind. Our hosts tell us that they’ve seen improvement in the number of smoke free areas in the three years they’ve been in Germany, but it is still quite different from most of the USA.

But if the ship wasn’t interesting, the cruise was. Every bend in the river seemed to have another castle, in all different styles. Most of them had stories, announced over loudspeaker in German, Japanese, English, and a couple other languages, too. (and in that order). All of the castles do have some similarities in their story — built in the 12th-13th century, they were destroyed by the French in 1689. Unless they were destroyed by the Swedish in 1630, and then by the French in 1689.

  • DCP_0337: the Mouse Tower. There’s a story about a bishop who was
    hoarding grain in this tower… the populace was starving, he moved
    into the tower to protect his grain from the peasants, and the mice
    ate him and all his grain.
  • DCP_0339: very scenic. Vineyard in the background on the right.
  • DCP_0340: small towns nestled between the riverbank and the hills
    all up and down the river. They really look like model railroad
    layouts blown up large.
  • DCP_0343: this one is undergoing renovation — look for the
    scaffold behind the tower.
  • DCP_0346:
  • DCP_0347: I suspect the campground floods at some times of year.
    And I’m curious how many of the structures on the hill are really
  • DCP_0349: there must be a way up to it somewhere…
  • DCP_0358: more scenic, with vineyards down the hill
  • DCP_0363: they don’t build toll booths like they used to…
  • DCP_0369: how many modes of transportation can you count in this
    photo? The Rhine river valley is a hotbed of commercial travel.
  • DCP_0372: the Lorelei Rock.
  • DCP_0375: Burg Rheinfels (Rheinfels Castle), above the town of
    St. Goar. This was the furthest downriver we got (the Rhine flows
    south to north). We got off the boat here, ate lunch, and spent
    several hours in the castle.
  • DCP_0377: Laurie found a friend, who told her to look at the sign
    behind her for directions to the castle. It was a 19 percent grade up
    the hill.
  • DCP_0378: The castle wall on the uphill side.
  • DCP_0381: View down the river from the castle. Note the castle on
    the other side at the next bend. That seems to be the normal spacing
    between castles — every other bend on one side of the river, the
    other bends on the other side.
  • DCP_0385_R: The castle had a museum and shop, which included an
    early 14th century manuscript with a music notation I haven’t seen
  • DCP_0387: the castle from an interior courtyard. Note that
    although the Germans are unenlightened about smoking, they do allow
    people to take their dogs along just about everywhere.
  • DCP_0389: Peter on top of the castle’s clock tower.
  • DCP_0390: Laurie and Dennis on top of the castle’s clock tower.
  • DCP_0392: There were a lot of tunnels throughout the castle
    defenses, and they let us wander about anywhere we wanted to go.
    Peter and Laurie are wondering which way is out…
  • DCP_0394: Laurie says this way
  • DCP_0396: Guess it worked, there’s daylight out there. 🙂
  • DCP_0400_a: An attempt at artsy-fartsy photography. It kind of
    worked… This room was quite dark, light coming in only from arrow
    slits at floor level, to allow defenders to shoot down at the
    attackers. Laurie demonstrates.
  • DCP_0403: the stairway from the top of the clock tower. At least
    this one had a more or less modern handrail added. There were a lot
    of places in this ruin that if it were open to the public under US
    rules, we never would have been allowed to go, for fear we’d hurt
    ourselves and sue. I prefer the German approach.
  • DCP_0405: after the castle, it was time for a little snack. This
    bakery had a sense of humor about their treats.
  • DCP_0409: then we got back on the boat for the cruise back upriver
    to where we started. And with the sun on the other side, the scenery
    on the way back was different!
  • DCP_0413: interesting little town with huge church, and vineyards
  • DCP_0417: two level town along the river. Look at the channel
    marker in the foreground, and you can see that the Rhine moves along
    at a brisk clip.
  • DCP_0420: artsy fartsy castle in the sunset

And we went back to Stuttgart to sleep.

3. Nurnberg, Germany

Wednesday, Oct. 2, we first went to the Rittersport factory outlet store, where chocolate was cheap! Then off to Frankfurt to meet our friends David and Nadine, flying in from Maryland. Debbie had the rest of the week off, so the six of us went off touristing together. First stop Nurnberg, where we arrived and checked in to our hotel early enough to spend several hours in the National Museum.

  • DCP_0425: Laurie in front of a fountain of Hans Sachs characters.
    Hans Sachs was a cobbler who became mayor of Nurnberg in the 15th
    century. He also wrote plays and poetry — thousands of them. He was
    the model for the main character of the opera Der
    , and a favorite character of Laurie’s.
  • DCP_0426: David leading the way into the National Museum.
    Actually, this entrance was closed and we had to go around the
  • DCP_0432: One of the high points was the collection of musical
    instruments. This is just one of the hurdy-gurdys (drehleier in German) I
    took photos of. This one is unusual in being set up to play left handed.
  • DCP_0436: The Rottenburgh instruments — Moeck (a current maker of
    recorders) has an entire line based on these, extant from early in the
    17th century.
  • DCP_0441: Baroque recorders from the late 17th century. Most
    modern instruments are based on the design of these.

Thursday, Oct. 3. We spent the night in a hotel, then went off to tour Nurnberg. A friend of Peter and Debbie’s, a British transplant, acted as our tour guide. A great deal for us, since he’s done that
professionally, in English and in German, and knew Nurnberg and its history very well.

  • DCP_0503: Our guide giving an intro, and Peter, Nadine, and
  • DCP_0505: Nurnberg was essentially flattened in WWII. But much of
    it was rebuilt as it was before, using the original parts. Note how
    this church has a mottled look in the stone — that comes from the
    stones having aged in one place on the building, and being put
    somewhere else when it was rebuilt.
  • DCP_0506: Interestingly, the citizens of Nurnberg took down and
    saved some parts of some buildings before the bombing. So this is the
    original sculpted doorway to the church.
  • DCP_0510: David figures out how the fountains work. There’s a
    spout that tilts into the water flow, so you can hang your bucket at
    the end of it to take water home.
  • DCP_0515_R_a: the group under a statue of Hans Sachs. Peter,
    Dennis, Laurie, Debbie, Nadine, and David.
  • DCP_0521_a: There was a fashion in the 16th century for adding
    windows to buildings. Wives stayed in the house pretty much all the
    time except for going to church, and this was a way for them to be “in
    the house” but still see the street life.
  • DCP_0543: David and Nadine coming down the ramp from the Holy
    Roman Emporer’s castle in Nurnberg. This castle was the first thing
    rebuilt after the war.
  • DCP_0561: more of the ramp just outside the castle. It really is
    that steep.
  • DCP_0564_a: In the Albrecht Durer house. Durer lived and worked
    in Nurnberg, and his house (which contained his workshop) is still
    there. This chandelier was particularly exciting, because he drew
    several of similar designs, sculpted wood dragons attached to antlers.
  • DCP_0566_R_a: We took a guided tour of the castle, in German. Our
    friendly British transplant, and another local friend of Peter’s
    translated for us, although this tour guide was so fascinating, we
    almost didn’t need the translation.
  • DCP_0582: the oldest house in Nurnberg, 1338
  • DCP_0585_R: along the city wall
  • DCP_0586: a picturesque bridge.

The we hopped in the car (well, van — Peter drove their Ford Windstar. And the autobahn really does move at a high rate of speed between towns) and went off to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

4. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Rothenburg is a medieval walled city, the most untouched in Germany. It was a successful trading center until the 17th century, when it was repeatedly taken by opposite sides in several wars. It then became a very poor city, that never could afford the updating the rest of Germany did. In WWII, it was only about 40% damaged, and that not in the oldest section of the city. Immediately after the war, it was rebuilt, and has become a tourist destination.

  • DCP_0592_a: We first checked in to our hotel, which had this
    interesting lounge area on the 2nd floor. Well, 1st floor if you use
    European numbering.
  • DCP_0595_a: Then out for a walk around town as the sun set.
  • DCP_0598_R_a: Laurie and Nadine looking at the poster for our
    planned Friday evening activity — seeing Hans Sachs (remember him?)
  • DCP_0599: Laurie and the Night Watchman. This guy’s got a great
    gig going. He gives two tours a night, for about an hour each, one in
    English, one in German. He has a lot of information to share about
    Rothenburg, life in a medieval town, the role of the night watchman —
    a very interesting tour.
  • DCP_0600: The animated clock tells the story of one of the town
    mayors, who saved the town during one of the wars by winning a bet by
    drinking a gallon of beer in one gulp. He’s in the right window.
  • DCP_0608_R: One of the gated entrances to the town.
  • DCP_0609_R: a really pretty building

And we went back to the guesthouse and to bed.

Friday, October 4. This was the day with the least pleasant weather of the vacation. There was a light rain all morning, although it cleared by late afternoon. We spent the entire day in Rothenburg.

  • DCP_0611_R: Walking the city wall. Rothenburg really is a walled
    city, completely surrounded. Much of the wall has a walkway, and we
    did accomplish circling the city on the wall. At least it kept us out
    of the rain. Mostly.
  • DCP_ 0614_R: Buildings come right up to the wall, and this one is
    an interesting example of how post-and-beam construction walls get
    filled in.
  • DCP_0626: The ground isn’t level — but that doesn’t stop the wall!
  • DCP_0628_R: Watchtowers are built into the city wall at strategic
  • DCP_0635: All the modern conveniences for the watchmen that circle
    the town!. The door was locked, so we couldn’t give it a try. The
    outflow went down the hill to the river.
  • DCP_0636: Rothenburg is built on a bend in the river Tauber, so it
    is sort of L shaped. So you can see the other leg of the city from
    the wall, looking over the river.
  • DCP_0647: The Shame Flute. One of the museums in Rothenburg is
    the Kriminalmuseum, with history of the criminal justice system. It
    had a lot of really interesting things in it. One of the justice
    concepts gone from the modern world is that of “shaming”. People who
    committed more minor infractions could be punished by shaming. For
    example, a couple that fought too much might be placed in a yoke that
    locked their heads and hands in, facing each other. This particular
    tool of justice is for bad musicians — fingers where locked to the
    instrument, and it was strapped around the neck, and the “convict”
    would have to walk around town, bearing the visible evidence that they
    played badly.
  • DCP_0654: Peter, Nadine, David, Laurie, and Debbie on a street in
    Rothenburg. No, this was not a pedestrian only walkway, although it
    was apparently a no parking zone.
  • DCP_0663: The country around Rothenburg, from the top of the
    tallest tower in town. We went through the town hall and up many,
    many steps to get this view.
  • DCP_0670: Rothenburg from above. In the foreground, right below,
    is the central square with the clock tower with beer drinker.
  • DCP_0674: So how do they keep all those tile roofs on? The answer
    is very simple, and should work perfectly well, as long as there are
    no hurricanes.
  • DCP_0706: The weather has cleared, and we’re at the other end of
    the L from where we first looked at the city from the city wall.
    There’s a hot air balloon passing by.
  • DCP_0710: Oh, and notice how steeply the terrain falls away from
    the city wall, down to the river. Back a few hundred years, those
    trees wouldn’t have been allowed to grow so tall, so close to the
  • DCP_0718_R: This is the city gate we first saw at night, on the
    Night Watchman tour. David and Nadine in the foreground.
  • DCP_0734_R: We kept going up to the walkway around the wall, and
    back down again. As Nadine says: “Stairs. It’s always stairs. Sigh.”
    And after a few hundred years and thousand feet, they get worn down.
  • DCP_0742: We made friends everywhere we went. 🙂 This nice lady
    was in the smaller window waving to us, but moved to the one with
    flowers when we asked if we could take a picture.
  • DCP_0747: View back along the wall after turning a corner. Note
    the auto at ground level — American SUV type vehicles would never
  • DCP_0758_R: When parents in Rothenburg say “go out and play” they
    don’t just mean out of the house, but out of the city. There were
    extensive playgrounds outside the city wall.
  • DCP_0775: more playground outside the wall
  • DCP_0780_R: One last view of a building photographed the night
    before, with one of the city gates in the background.

In fact, that’s the gate the van was parked on the other side of. But before we left, we had dinner, and went to the Hans Sachs plays (two one-acts) in the theater in the city hall. We were very pleased that we’d picked up enough German over the week to have no trouble understanding the actors, especially with the slapstick style of production.

And we drove back to Peter and Debbie’s place near Stuttgart to sleep.

Saturday, October 5. Well, we didn’t do anything particularly interesting, just back to the Rittersport outlet store to use up the rest of our Euros on chocolate, and flying home, crossing 7 time zones along the way.


December 2019 Photo Links

This post is an accompaniment to our annual holiday letter, making it easy for people to click through to photos that are at least a little organized.

2019-03 Springfield, IL :

2019-04 Havana, Cuba:

2019-08 Corpus Christi, TX:

2019-10 Copenhagen and Baltic Cruise: (see post with details and links)

2019-11 Lincoln Park Zoo (playful polar bear):

2019-11/12+ Construction in progress:


Copenhagen and Baltic Cruise 2019-10

Copenhagen and Baltic Cruise 2019-10

Laurie and I spent most of a week in Copenhagen, Denmark, then boarded the Norwegian Getaway for a cruise around the Baltic, visiting Germany, Estonia, Russia, Finland, and Sweden before returning to Copenhagen and home. Her sisters Cindy and Caral went with us, and Ann, a friend of Caral’s.


Copenhagen, Denmark 2019-10-07/10/11

We arrived in Copenhagen the morning of Monday 10/7, and first thing were entertained by the Danish Modern style of the airport. We picked up our Copenhagen Card (great deal, public transit and lots of attractions at one discounted price) at the airport, and were off and running. First stop was the Hotel Danmark, where we expected to leave our bags in a luggage room, but discovered a room was ready and we could check in early. Win!


Then, off to Christianborg Palace, where we visited the Royal Stables, ruins under the castle showing prior buildings on the site, and the Royal Kitchens (amazing collection of copper cookware). Otherwise, some general wandering about, and noticing that rush hour in Copenhagen includes a lot of bicycles.

We went for field trips out of Copenhagen on Tuesday and Wednesday (see below), then met up with Laurie’s sister Caral and friend Ann on Thursday for our first use of the subway (straightforward, simple, clean, safe) headed for Amalienborg Palace. We got distracted on the way by Frederiksstaden (a church clearly following the model of the Pantheon). And roadwork – with all the cobblestones everywhere, roadwork is a bit different than it is in the USA.

After Amalienborg Palace and lunch, Laurie and I headed for the National Museum of Denmark, which had all kinds of things of interest.

On Friday 10/11, we checked out of our hotel, took our bags, and went to visit The Little Mermaid on our way to the cruise ship terminal. Very proud of ourselves that with our carry-on only luggage it was entirely possible to take subway and bus to visit a tourist attraction, and then bus to the cruise ship entirely on our on.  And then we were on the ship.


Roskilde, Denmark 2019-10-08

Roskilde was the medieval capital city of Denmark. Today, there are several nice museums, and scenic walks available in this seaside town.


The Viking Ship Museum has the remains of several Viking ships that had been sunk intentionally to help control a channel. One even has the remains of the rail used to hold shields along the side. And they have many boats they have recreated using historical techniques and materials.

Roskilde Cathedral was a pretty typical cathedral, interesting enough but nothing exceptional.

Roskilde Museum has all kinds of artifacts from the Viking period. I was particularly interested in the bone artifacts – combs, chess pieces, buttons, and musical instruments.

Helsingor, Denmark 2019-10-09

Helsingor, more specifically the Kronborg Castle found there, is the historical inspiration for Shakespeare’s Elsinore, home of Hamlet.


Helsingor is about an hour train ride north of Copenhagen. The train line ends there, in a really interesting 19th Century train station. Kronborg Castle is an easy walk from the station, passing some public art along the way.

Kronborg Castle is mostly late 16th and 17th century construction, which has been nicely preserved and restored. There are some stunning tapestries and a lot of furniture, some as early as 14th century. And then there’s the lower level basements and storage areas, where a statue of Holger Danske (see the tale by Hans Christian Andersen) was donated by the WWII resistance group of the same name.

Back on the grounds of the castle, we realized “evil Sweden” is easily visible across the water. Denmark and Sweden had a long history of “who’s the king?” and taking land back and forth.

Danish smørrebrød sandwiches aren’t like anything you get in the States.

Warnemunde, Germany 2019-10-12

Warnemunde is a seaside resort near Rostock. The cruise ship company uses this port for excursions to Berlin, but we weren’t going to take 3 hour bus rides both directions. So we wandered on our own.


The first thing we found when we walked off the ship and headed toward town was a set of sand sculptures that were really entertaining. I wish I knew what they’d done to stabilize the sand for long term display.

We wandered the town, found an historic lighthouse worth climbing for the views, and got fingers wet in the Baltic Sea. It was too cold to go wading.

Day At Sea 2019-10-13

Lazy day hanging out and reading fiction, and playing with circus toys – spinning plates, juggling scarves and ball, devil stick, chinese yo-yo in a cruise sponsored activity.


Tallinn, Estonia 2019-10-14

On our cruise around the Baltic, we visited Tallinn, Estonia. Its a small city, with the port an easy walk from downtown. On the way, there’s a large and informative sign about Estonia.


Its a very picturesque city, with a lot of buildings remaining from the middle ages. There’s a great plaza in the middle of town. And the town hall there has a cute gargoyle – which was at work with all the rain while we were there.

The highlight of our visit was the KGB Museum in the Hotel Viru, which was built for Western visitors during the height of the cold war. Guest rooms alternated with surveillance rooms. A KGB control center on the top floor was abandoned when the KGB left Estonia, with only the highest priority items removed, the rest remains to today. Direct link telephone to who-knows-where, camera used through pinholes, recording equipment, gas masks, bait purse testing staff who weren’t supposed to have Western currency, and all kinds of other toys. And a fascinating tour guide.

We also spent time walking remnants of the medieval city walls. The stairs the guards had to walk were really narrow and steep. But at least they had comfort facilities available!

St. Petersburg, Russia 2019-10-15/16

For this port, we chose to go ashore only with cruise sponsored excursions. That made the visa situation a lot easier to deal with, even though we still had to go through passport control every time we got on or off the ship.

St. Petersburg Day 1

“Imperial St. Petersburg”, with a bus tour to Peterhof, a palace and grounds built by Peter the Great starting in 1709 as a response to Versailles. The bus tour took us past numerous churches (converted to swimming pools, skating rinks, or storage buildings in the Soviet era) and other buildings of interest. We had terrific weather for visiting the grounds of Peterhof, a little chilly but bright sunshine.


Inside the palace… opulent isn’t a strong enough word. I was particularly fascinated by the floors, and the intricate woodwork they displayed. Separate photo gallery of floors:

According to our guide, we were very lucky to come so late in the season, as the crowds were much smaller. In the garden that seemed to be true. Inside the palace… well, I’m glad there weren’t any more people than there were. After the palace, we went and had lunch at a nearby hotel, and back on the bus to make a quick visit to Palace Square (more tomorrow), St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral (tomb of Nicholas II and family), and other sites in passing.

After returning to the ship for dinner, we went out to a performance of “folk dance and music”, which seemed to me to be “Ballet Folklorico de Russia”. I think I’d have preferred to go to the ballet. Ah, well…

St. Petersburg Day 2

“Pushkin and The Hermitage” expedition was a bus trip to Pushkin, a suburb of St. Petersburg with Catherine Palace (and some Alexander Pushkin sites) and then The Hermitage, one of the great art museums of the world.


Catherine Palace was built by Catherine the Great starting in 1717. Our tour guide described her as “Cinderella Girl”, who went from servant to mistress to Empress of Russia. There are “E” motifs throughout the palace, for Ekaterina. Also the “Nyet, nyet ladies” as our guide called them, grandmother age women in every room to tell the tourists not to touch things, to stay behind ropes, to keep moving, and so on. Most rooms had these huge stoves in them for heat, covered with Delft tiles. And the floors…. take another look at the link to the floor photo gallery above. Wow. And then the formal gardens, not quite as extensive as at Peterhof, but still. The Palace was badly damaged by the Nazis in WWII, but the Soviets considered it a point of cultural pride to restore it, and the current Russian administration continues the restoration work.

Then back on the bus, and return to St. Petersburg for lunch and a visit to The Hermitage. On the way, we passed a monument showing the closest approach of the Nazis to Leningrad during a 900 day siege .

The Hermitage is a terrific museum, formerly Palace. Lots of things to see, and I’m glad we were there “off season”. I’m not sure if I’d have survived “on season” crowds. And more OMG floors. There were some objects I was happy to see in person, having previously made their acquaintance only through books.


Helsinki, Finland 2019-10-17

In Helsinki, we first did a full circle of the city on the Hop On Hop Off bus, listening to the recorded narrative. Then we did another round, hopping off and on again to see things of interest. This was a short day in port, we may need to come back to Helsinki in the future.


Finnish is the language I was least comfortable with on this trip. Russian has a lot of cognates, once you’re past the Cyrillic alphabet. I was glad to find everyone spoke English, and a lot of signage was in English as well. We lucked into an orchestra rehearsing in the Rock Church – a church literally hollowed out of a huge rock. They might even have been playing Sibelius. Then the National Museum of Finland, which had quite a bit of history of Finland that was new to us. The train station was architecturally interesting.


Stockholm, Sweden 2019-10-18

Unfortunately, I had a GI system upset, and slept through the port stop at Stockholm. Laurie went ashore on her own, and apparently had a great time at Skansen, the worlds oldest open air museum.


Day at Sea 2019-10-19

Another lazy day, recovering from stomach issues and preparing to head for home.


Copenhagen, Munich, Chicago 2019-10-20

We disembarked from the ship, and transferred to Copenhagen’s airport, where we waited for our flight to Munich and then back to home. About a 20 hour  travel day, with a 4 feature movie flight  from Munich to Chicago.

Travel Tip – Learn (a little of) the Language

If traveling somewhere that uses a different language, 12 (or more) weeks ahead start listening to language lessons. The “One Minute Language Lessons” series from RadioLingua  is a good place to start. The BBC Languages page is another good source. What’s available online keeps changing, search for things like “language tips for travelers” and see what you find.

Once you have learned a little of the language, use it! The local inhabitants will be pleased that you made the effort. In some places, demonstrating that you’re not concerned about speaking a language perfectly (by demonstrating your lack of facility with theirs!) will make people more comfortable about using their imperfect English with you. And in all cases, you’ll be astonished to discover how small a vocabulary you need to achieve communication, and even have interesting conversations.

Travel Tip – Power Management


Today’s traveler carries several different kinds of powered devices. Whether smartphone, tablet, digital camera, all three, or something else they have in common that they need power. You’ll almost certainly have to recharge them while you travel.

Get and carry a travel power strip, plug adapter, and voltage converter. Also several USB power supplies, and any custom adapters you need. My current set includes a cable and USB adapter for an iPod Touch, a cable and USB adapter for a Kindle, a device specific cell phone adapter, and a device specific digital camera battery charger. They all fit in a small bag I keep in my day bag. Make sure you have plug adapters that will work where you are going – Europe is different from the US, both are different from the UK, and Africa and Australia are different from each other and all the rest.

Verify that all your powered devices will self-adjust to different current standards. The US is 60 Hz 120v power, most of UK and Europe is 50Hz 240v and will blow up powered devices that aren’t built to adjust to that power.

In the near future, I expect to be able to carry a single multi port USB adapter and a few cables, instead of the collection I need today.

For keeping track of the cords, see Travel Tips – Cord Management.

Getting coached by David Allen

This is a really informative 15 minute video, showing bits of David Allen in a coaching engagement, getting someone started on GTD.

Travel Tip – Carry on Only

Carry on only if at all possible. Yes, it is almost always possible. Checking bags slows you down at both ends of the trip, and reduces flexibility if changes are needed in the middle. I have missed flights waiting for Customs to inspect checked bags. See Airline Travel – Carryon Only for a case where having carry on only prevented a problem.

Get a slightly under sized rollaboard. That way when you over stuff it, you can still get it in the overhead. If you get one with a top front pocket, that’s where your 311 bag of liquids goes. Don’t make the security line wait while you unpack to find your liquids!

Travel Tip – Set Timepieces to Destination

Set timepieces to the time zone of your destination as you depart.

If traveling across more than a couple of time zones, it is useful to start being aware of the time at the destination a few days ahead of time, and start adjusting your sleep if possible.


Travel Tips Overview

This post serves as a description of the Travel Tips category and series of posts.

I have been travelling for long enough, even if not all that often in a year, to have accumulated a bunch of techniques for making it easier or better in some way. Some are things I have learned from reading blogs, listening to podcasts, or watching videos. Some are things I figured out for myself, often by having something go not nearly as well as it could have. I’ll put a bunch of these posts out, and keep adding to or updating them as my knowledge or opinion changes.