Last Wednesday I came back from a two-week trip to Germany and Paris. For this trip I did something I’ve never done before:

I packed everything into one carry-on suitcase.

For a female, this is a significant feat. Sure, our clothes are typically smaller than guys’ clothes, but, in stark contrast to males, females are expected to accessorize, layer, bejewel and vary their outfits. Not to mention the footwear. (Note: I did not say “shoes” because “shoes” would not suffice.) Depending on our destination, we need an assortment of sandals, heels, boots, flats, hiking shoes and/or tennis shoes (for those die-hards who insist on hitting the gym on vacation.) And, all of that footwear must match our clothes, jackets, jewelry, scarves, headwear, watches, swimsuits and whatever other crap we simply must bring along. Talk about packing a headache.

I, however, am a packing champ and managed to procure all necessary items from my closet in one afternoon and then fit all of said items into one tiny rolling carry-on. You know that zipper that many suitcases have that allows them to extend out and inch or so? Didn’t use it. Who was proud of herself? This girl.

Compared with those folks from the rest of the world, Americans are notorious for carrying with them everythng and the kitchen sink when they travel. I suprised my mom’s cousin, Dieter, with my small amount of stuff.

“Where’s the rest of it?” he asked.

“Just this,” I said, nodding at my carry-on.

“That’s it?” he said, puzzled.

And that is how you befuddle a German nuclear physicist. Did I mention my German relatives are a bunch of smarty-pants?

OK, before I go diving into the family stuff, here’s some background info on the trip:

What was this trip to Germany and Paris about?

My grandparents immigrated to the USA in the 50′s, so we still have close ties with relatives in Germany. My family was invited to the 50th wedding anniversary celebration for my grandmother’s brother (my great uncle) and his wife (who live in Bremen). This weekend-long party was going to be a reunion of sorts for my grandmother’s side of the family. My parents and I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to see our German relatives – some of who we haven’t yet met face-to-face.

And Paris?

After the family festivities in Germany finished, my dad had to fly home to get back to work. My mom and I had five days left to explore Europe (cheap airfare permitting). With the street cafés and shopping beckoning, we jetted to The City of Lights.

[Did you like that magazine-style interview format? I thought so.]

Now back to my mom’s cousin Dieter and his smarty-pants family. Dieter Hoffmann is a professor of physics at Darmstadt University. He’s always flying across the world to give this lecture or attend that conference. He’s helped discover elements (like those ones on the periodic table) and performs experiments at CERN. The European Organization for Nuclear Research. Yes. That’s the same CERN from Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons. He’s the guy creating antimatter. Dark matter. Serious shit.

Dieter’s wife, Ingrid, is a doctor. Their son, Patrick, is a lawyer. Their daughter, Britta, is in med school. It’s mildly intimidating trying to have a conversation with this lot.

However, considering all of our relatives in Germany, we’ve had the most contact with the Hoffmanns. In fact, when my sister and I were younger, our families did an “exchange” of sorts with the kids. When Patrick was 14, he came to visit us for a month-ish in the states. A few years later I went over to Germany and the Hoffmanns took me camping around Europe for two months when I was 12. Britta then came to visit us, and later Kelly spent six weeks with them when she was 14.

That’s enough family history for now. More to come. And lots of photos too! Hang on to your (smarty) pants. ☼