Four for the Road: Backpacks in Berlin!

berlin pergamon1

(At the start of spring, we spontaneously decided to take the kids on the road. For them, there is nothing more fantastic or fun than the thought of us four piling into car just for “an adventure”...)

berlin road

Although we’d passed briefly through Berlin before, today is our first time to get to really take in this iconic city.

We cruise into Germany’s historical capital, feeling like country mice entering the slick city. In awe at the flashing lights; dwarfed by dazzling skyscrapers; taken aback by throngs of people. Parking is another story, as cars are lined bumper to bumper along the streets of Kreuzberg, where we make our first pit stop.

We want to find wifi, in order to book a hotel, in orberlin streetder to sleep somewhere the night. At a bright and busy café, we park our backpacks and kids, order breakfast, brought by a woman speaking some kind of strange foreigner-German accent, and proceeded to Booking.com

The website has hardly ever failed us; we punch in the usual requirements:

2 adults, 2 kids, and an extra child’s bed.

We like to think we’re not that demanding as travelers.

And truth be told, the boys are easiest. Alex and I appreciate a little more comfort—private toilet and working shower at the top of the list. With a budget somewhere between 50-100 euros per night, we’re likely to almost always find something pretty decent.

berlin apartment

But today in Berlin, we strike gold! Smack in the city center, just on Checkpoint Charlie, we score a two-story luxury apartment with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, giant living, dining and kitchen for 70euros!

town apartments

Definitely, the best way to see a city, when you only have 24 hours to do so, is from the top.

So the next day, we ascend up the TV Tower, a 365 meter high monument, the tallest building in Berlin. Built by East German architects, it receives over 1 million visitors per year.

Adding to those figures, we become tourists for a day, lining up to get our tickets, before passing through a couple of security checks that feel like airport controls.

berlin tower2

“Ele-bator! Ele-bator!” Alexandra has been adding new words to her vocabulary at a dizzying rate.

Once piled into the lift, we zoom up 200 meters to the observation deck in 40 seconds.

Upstairs, the kids are in awe. Our birds’ eye view of Berlin and Brandenburg impresses them profoundly. The fun lasts all morning, as these little ones don’t want to leave, switching from one side of the tower to the next, and then back again, they peer through the tower’s windows and telescopes, observing life down below: miniature buildings, miniature cars, traffic and trains. All so fascinating!

berlin tower

Meanwhile, I am checking the menu at the Tower restaurant, supposedly a fantastic way to eat with a view—as the room rotates with a panoramic view of Berlin. But all the window view tables have been reserved; better luck next time.

After convincing the kids that it’s time to reward our tummies, we head back down and check out a newly opened sushi restaurant. I always feel an affinity for other Asians when travelling, but am suddenly confused when having to speak in a third language.

berlin sushi

In Berlin, we also wander through the Pergamon Museum, investigating the archaeological ruins of Persia. Ancient Babylon, at its peak of greatness.

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I am longing to see the famous bust of Egyptian “Sun Queen”, Nefitirti. And so excited am I, that I buy a magnet souvenir of her at the museum shop even before entering—only to find, hours later, that we were in the wrong museum the entire time!

She is apparently on display in the museum next door, for which we will have to pay another entry fee. And by now, the kids are restless, the husband wants (needs) a beer, and so I agree to save the date with her for another day…

It is not so easy to linger as long as you’d like in museums, when you’ve got two trailing kids (or running ahead of you). Especially when one, a toddler, has just learned to explore on her own. I am forever chasing after her, scolding her for attempting to touch precious artifacts, sitting on artworks or getting lost down some enticing corridor.

berlin pergamon2

A girlfriend from Manila happens to be studying in Berlin and we meet to catch up over the museum tour and later, for dinner at an Indian restaurant announcing Happy Hour all day.

berlin nights

We enjoy the spicy taste of Lamb curries, samosas and chicken Tikka, then, it’s back to our party apartment to enjoy each other.

In another thrilling wave of synchronicity, I savor this kind of encounter. You never know where in the world you end up, with whom, or at what day and hour. And yet, when things are meant to happen, they do…in strange and wonderful ways.

berlin2

Berlin brought out my childlike wonder once again, as travelling in strange and new places usually does.

After a good night’s sleep, we hit the road–this time, headed for the capital city of Saxony Anhalt, a dreamy destination along the Elbe river: Magdeburg!

…to be continued…

berlin mall

(Of course, if you are in Berlin longer, and have the time to see more, check out the suggested itinerary here, on Lonely Planet’s Top 20 Free Things to Do in Berlin.)

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Notes on Twitter and Trains

wb2Did you know that, as a boy, Jack Dorsey, was fascinated—no, obsessed—with trains? And that, his interest in the dispatch center and the way they communicated eventually led to his invention of the popular social media tool, Twitter? It’s been told that as a kid, he often hung out at the train track with his brother, waiting to capture them zooming by on camera.

Yesterday, for something different and fun, we travelled old-school style, in a very old, original steam locomotive engine!

photo of our train track by wikimedia
photo of our train track by wikimedia

The Weisseritz Valley Railway, or Weißeritztalbahn dates back to 1881. Although the track has been reconstructed due to severe damage with the 2002 flooding, its locomotive and cars are the original, basic design. It’s a great way to see the Erzgebirge mountain views here in Saxony.

And today, it wasn’t about getting to any destination at all. This was purely for the excitement and enjoyment of our transportation vehicle. Winding through all that nature, I couldn’t help but feel like we’d time-traveled back hundreds of years ago. (Interesting read: What nature does for your productivity.)

wb1We simply took the train to the very last station (about 45 minutes one way), stopped for lunch at a Greek restaurant, ate way too much Suvlaki, and then rode the steam engine  right back.

My son was fascinated, as usual. My daughter, her first time to ride the train, watched just as intensively as we chugged up the trail that followed the Weißeritz river, and waved to everyone who stopped just to see the steam engine go rolling by. I’ll bet they were also surprised to see three Asians waving back at them from inside the locomotive!

wb4We’ve ridden countless trains since Karsten was born, been to the German train museums numerous times, and when there is an opportunity to watch one pass, we do so with all the hurrah and excitement. Aren’t kids a great reason to start doing things “just for fun” in your adult years?

I hope that, as we greet the first few days of 2014, if you have made new goals for yourself, mapped out and marked destinations you’d like to reach, that you remember to enjoy the getting there, too.

Happy new year; happy journeys!

wb3http://www.weisseritztalbahn.de/

wb6P.S. Speaking of Twitter, you can find (or connect and follow) me here. 😉

Sometimes, Moms Wish They Were Einstein

Last night, as I sat in the living room watching Masterchef, my son was sorting his Bob the Builder ABC flashcards on the carpet, and found one that particularly interested him.

He examined it for a few minutes silently, staring and staring—before I noticed what he was doing.

“What’s this, mom?”

“It’s X, for X-ray.”

“But what’s this part?”

“Bones, those are bones. Your body is full of bones.”

“Do dogs have bones?”

“Yes. Most living things have bones.”

“Do chairs have bones?”

“No, chairs are not alive.”

He kept staring at the picture.

I turned off the TV.

“Read this one, mom!”

“I just read it, it’s X for X-ray. Remember, when you go to the doctor, he sometimes takes pictures of your body? That picture is called an X-ray. He checks you to see if all your bones are okay.”

“You mean, like not broken?”

“Yes, not broken.”

We packed up the mess in the living room and headed upstairs, where I decided to show him some kid-friendly anatomy pictures on the Internet.

And the questions kept coming…

“Is that a toten-kopf?”

“Yes, toten-kopf in German. In English, it’s called a skull.”

“And is that a zipper?”

“Hmmm, it does look like a zipper. It’s called your spine. It’s the bones that go all the way down your back.”

“Mom, how does poop get in my body?”

…as we talked for the next hour, I felt just as in awe. Here was my child, turned three years old just a week ago, and here was the great big world of knowledge he was so eager to learn about.

“E-ner-gy…small intestine…large intestine…” he repeated all the words that interested him, as we found some educational videos on Youtube, he took charge of my laptop for the next hour, begging me to watch the next one, and the next, to learn about digestion, and body organs, and heart-beats, and zipper-bones.

And how I wished I were Einstein! So I could properly explain all those thousands of legitimate questions.

I love three-year-olds, this delicate yet strong age of innocence; curiosity; development. I love waking up every morning with my boy, knowing that it is a brand new day of learning, loving, and life.

Today is the last day of 2012…cheers to a new year of discovery!

chess