It’s snowing in Sofia — 10 centimeters so far with a bit more on the way — and as an Oregon kid who had exactly one snow day off from school while growing up, the sight of the white stuff never fails to delight. Of course the first thing I did this morning was throw a pen on it and take a photo. Луда Американка — crazy American.
By the time this post goes live, I’ll be on a plane to Bulgaria, where I’ll spend the next 10 weeks living out of a carry-on bag. I’ll also be 9,771 kilometers away from my stationery stash, and it’s been quite the puzzle figuring out what goodies to bring with me.
I’ve always packed lightly, be it for a backpacking trip, motorbike adventure, or jaunt across the Atlantic. The whole idea of bringing a bunch of notebooks and pens clashes with my minimalist packing tendencies. As I only started bringing paper back into my life within the last couple of years, finding balance here is something I’m still working out.
First, I must apologize for reusing the following photo from last week’s post. It’s been crazy busy at Penster HQ as I’ve scrambled to prepare for my trip, and I didn’t get a chance to gather everything for a nice photo shoot.
For paper, I’m taking the Hobonichi trio I wrote about last week. This is a case where Hobonichi’s dedication to making compact notebooks really shines. Space is at a premium in my carry-on bag, and these three cram a lot of pages into some wee little books.
I was really torn about taking my Traveler’s Notebook, and ultimately decided against it. Spending 10 weeks in Europe sounds like the perfect chance to get my TN on, but due to certain particulars about this trip, I won’t have the time to do much travel journaling. I think I can get by with my Techo alone. But who knows — this might come down to a game-time decision. [Update: I changed my mind because of course I did. My TN is tucked into the last remaining space in my bag.]
When I started thinking about what to pack, I set a limit of six pens. Even six feels like too many, but I have some reviews in progress where I need to give the pens more of a workout before I can pass judgment upon them. Bringing the pens along will kill a few birds with one stone.
Here are the fountain pens I’m taking:
- Pilot Metropolitan (F nib)
- Lamy Vista (EF nib)
- Namiki Vanishing Point (M nib)
- Wing Sung 698 (F nib)
- TWSBI Vac Mini (F nib)
The Metro, Vista, and VP are workhorse pens that I use on the regular. They’re traveling empty and un-inked. The Wing Sung 698 and TWSBI are newer acquisitions that hold gallons of ink. They’re on the flight with me fully inked because I like to live dangerously. (I also want to test the TWSBI’s ink shutoff valve.)
Mathematically-inclined readers might have noted that I’ve only written about five pens. That’s because the sixth pen I’m taking is not a fountain pen.
This sleek beauty is my everyday pen at work. It’s a vintage Pilot 2+1 multipen and I’ve never seen anything else quite like it. I don’t know much about it — not even what its real name is. I’ve been told that it’s around 40 years old. Despite its age, it takes most D1 refills.
Speaking of refills, I’ve packed a few spare D1s. For fountain pen ink, I have a nearly-full bottle of Waterman Inspired Blue, a few Lamy cartridges, a pack of Pilot Blue-Black cartridges, and a small 8ml bottle of Iroshizuku Yu-yake. That should be plenty.
If I run out of anything, I’ll just buy more. I’ll be scoping out the stationery scene regardless. If it’s anything like the bookstore scene in Sofia, I’ll be in great shape. If not, there’s always the Pilot G2 I stash in my laptop bag as a spare. And the other G2 I keep in my carry-on. And the other G2 I clip inside the top of my sock, like a shiv.
Always be prepared, I say. See you on the other side of the pond.
Ah, the oft-overlooked Lamy Vista. The odd pen out in the Lamy Safari/AL-star family, the Vista is a pen for those who like the Safari’s aesthetic and want to see it in demonstrator form.
I received this Vista as a gift, and it holds considerable sentimental value. This has undoubtedly influenced my opinion, so take this post with a grain of salt.
The Lamy Vista is the clear demonstrator version of the Lamy Safari. Aside from the color difference, the Vista is a Safari in every other way, right down to the ink level cutouts in the barrel, which are of course made completely unnecessary by the Vista’s transparent plastic.
The Vista accepts proprietary Lamy ink cartridges as well as the Z24 and Z28 converters. I’ve used this pen with both cartridges and a converter, and I prefer the cartridges because they hold more ink and because I don’t like the red knob on the converter.
While I understand why the Vista has the ink cutout windows, they create a huge missed opportunity. Can you imagine this pen as an eyedropper? You’d probably have enough ink to write Ulysses. As it is, you’ll have to settle for admiring your ink from within a cartridge or converter.
The cap is mostly clear plastic, with the classic U-shaped Safari clip and black plastic “+” finial. The inner cap is metal, with a black seal that fits snugly around the shoulders of the section. While the metal inner cap does disrupt the demonstrator aesthetic, it makes up for it by securely sealing the nib when the pen is capped. Even after sitting for several weeks, this pen has started on the first stroke every time.
The cap can be posted, and it fits on the barrel deeply and securely. In my smaller hands, posting the cap makes the pen feel unbalanced, so I prefer to use my Vista unposted.
The Vista is what I’d call a typically sized modern pen. Indeed, Safaris/AL-stars/Vistas are so ubiquitous that most pen reviews have at least one in their size comparison photos as a standard of reference. As I tend to favor smaller pens, this Vista is one of the larger pens in my collection.
For a mostly-plastic pen, the Vista feels substantial but not overly heavy. It’s heavier than the Pilot Kakuno, the Jinhao 992, and the Hero 1202, but it’s lighter than the Pilot Metropolitan. For me, the unposted Vista is in that sweet spot of weight and balance that makes it well-suited for long writing sessions.
Aside from their looks, perhaps the most controversial thing about the Safari/Vista is the shaped section. Most pen folks seem to love shaped sections or hate them.
I find the Vista’s section comfortable, but I have small hands and hold my pens in the standard tripod grip. For this reason, I strongly suggest trying a Safari/AL-star/Vista in person before buying one.
This particular Vista came to me with an EF nib. Lamy nibs tend to run wide in sizing, and I’d describe this EF as similar to a Japanese medium. This Vista’s nib suits my teeny-tiny handwriting just fine.
The nib is made of steel, with its tipping shaped into a rounded ball. The result is consistent lines with no variation.
In my experience, this nib writes on the dry side with most inks. It has a bit of feedback that I liked more than I thought I would. It’s not at all scratchy, but also not as smooth as a Japanese nib. The nib on this Vista wrote perfectly out of the box.
A nice thing about Safaris/AL-stars/Vistas is that their nibs are interchangeable and easily swapped. Buy one pen and a bunch of different nibs, and you could go from an EF to a 1.9mm stub without breaking the bank.
This Lamy Vista is the most reliable pen in my collection. It starts up every time and never skips. It works so well it’s almost boring. I’m pretty sure the Germans would call that a success, and I can see why these pens are a modern classic.
That said, I don’t feel compelled to add an AL-star or Safari to my collection, though this year’s Safari Petrol limited edition was awfully tempting because I liked the color. But I’m not sure I want to fall down the rabbit hole of acquiring multiples of the same pen in different colors. I’d rather invest in a wide array of nib sizes instead.
Since nearly everyone has at least one Safari, AL-star, or Vista in their collection, I’d love to hear what you think about yours.
This Lamy Vista was given to me as a gift. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.