Viewing: Berlin

2013: My Year in Travel

The plan for 2013, believe it or not, was to seriously cut down on travel. Looking back at the year in travel, that was clearly a fail.

We might have failed, but we didn’t fail miserably—we had so much fun doing it! Tala’s arrival only slowed us down for the first three months; it wasn’t long until we got itchy feet again.

Berlin Oberbaum Bridge street art

Berlin, Germany was our first trip of the year, and our first with Tala. Cheap eats, great nightlife, street art, Tala’s first museum visit, blogger meetups, and a redemptive visit to my favorite hangout, the Badeschiff, were some of the highlights that cemented Berlin as one of my favorite cities in Europe.

Monkey installation building Berlin

A monkey-covered building I saw in Mitte. Anyone know what it is?

Fueled by so much inspiration, I went on a blogging bender from just five days in Berlin. Look at all these posts!

Tala’s first flight, my first giveaway
Street art sightings in Berlin
Nhow Hotel Berlin
Breakfast in Berlin
Berlinische Galerie
Date night: Berlin edition
A walk to remember
Badeschiff: The return

Alicante Spain beach

As a couple, patience is not one of our virtues. That really showed in our spur-of-the-moment weekend in Alicante, Spain—the result of a too-long winter, a dismal spring, and a summer that seemed to take forever to get to Amsterdam.

Extra large mojito Alicante

Oversized sparkling sangrias (plus mojito o’ clock !) on the beach, cooling off in the Mediterranean Ocean and excellent restaurants mere steps from our hotel justified our spontaneous and kinda crazy getaway.

Alicante: Playa Postiguet
At the beach with baby
Out and about in Alicante
Alicante: Where to eat (and eat and eat)
Maastricht Selexyz Dominicanen

Closer to home, Maastricht was another weekend destination we revisited this year. Good food, contemporary art and a visit to one of the world’s most stunning bookstores made this a fun and fulfilling weekend drive.

Weekend in Maastricht
Selexyz Dominicanen: Heaven for booklovers
Bonnefanten Museum

Naxos port

Greece was actually the only trip we had planned to take this year. As the Big Trip of 2013, Greece did not disappoint. This country captured my heart with its warm and friendly people, mouthwatering food, picturesque villages and beautiful beaches—not to mention the underlying thrill of its epic history and ancient myths. We loved our time in Naxos…

The beautiful beaches of Naxos
Exploring the port of Naxos
Away from it all in Apiranthos
Traditional charm at Taverna Lefteris

Santorini sunset

and ticked a big one off the bucket list in Santorini—even if a sick baby and husband made our trip less than ideal.

7 great places to catch the sunset in Santorini
Oia: Postcard perfect Santorini
Atlantis Books in Oia, Santorini
Greece: a few last things

Dusseldorf Christmas market ferris wheel

In December we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Christmas markets in Dusseldorf, Germany. Gluhwein, gingerbread and gallivanting in the cold got us all revved up for Christmas and put us in the holiday mood for our trip to Manila.

Not bad for two first-time parents with a new baby, eh? What a year it’s been… and it’s not over yet! This weekend, I get to strike another long-awaited destination off our travel wishlist in celebration of our sixth wedding anniversary. I’m so excited!

Badeschiff: The Return

To cap my series of Berlin posts, I’m happy to report my return to the Badeschiff!

Last year, I was delighted to discover this awesome hangout and barge-turned-pool floating in the river Spree. But because I didn’t pack a swimsuit and have a serious case of Asian modesty, I was forced to sit on the deck, stewing in my own envy as everyone enjoyed a swim on a sizzing hot day. Everyone except me!

This time, I came prepared. I made sure to return on the warmest day of the week, during a weekday afternoon, to avoid the huge crowds of my past weekend visit.

Badeschiff Berlin weekday afternoon

It was super easy to grab a seat, which was a relief after my previous sardines-in-a-can experience. People were killing each other for these deck chairs last year.

Badeschiff Berlin white canvas sun loungers

Not only did I return with a swimsuit,  I also brought a friend—the Diplomatic Wife, freshly relocated from Jakarta. And oh yes… I brought a baby with me too!

Badeschiff with baby

The summer heat made Tala drowsy, putting her to sleep most of the time. Occasionally, her tiny feet would pop out and she’d wiggle her toes, letting me know she was awake and in need of a little attention.

Tala's toes

Notice the mole on her right foot? According to Filipino superstition (my mom is big on them), a mole on your foot means that you are meant to be traveler. I have one on mine, too!

Anyway, Daddy joined us after work, which was fun…

Tala at the Badeschiff Berlin

… and together with The Diplomatic Wife and her Diplomat, we all just kicked back with a few beers and chillaxed in the sun. We may have had to deal with a poop explosion or two, but I’ve accepted it comes with the territory now. By the way, in this picture you can see the Nhow Hotel Berlin, where we stayed, on the right.

Badeschiff Berlin deck chairs

A huge thank you goes out to The Diplomatic Wife for being fab company, for teaching me the right way to put on sunblock, and for watching Tala while I finally took that swim I’ve been longing to take. I was as happy as a seal, and just about as large, too—so the pictures of me actually swimming in the Badeschiff will never see the light of day.

I’m always the one behind the camera, so it’s really nice when we have a friend around to take a family photo!

Family photo Badeschiff Berlin

Our sun-drenched afternoon at the Badeschiff already feels like ages ago. It’s been dismal and cold here, so we are chasing the sun this weekend with a last-minute escape to the Costa Blanca in Spain. I hope to share some sunny pictures and Spanish stories when we get back.

In the meantime, have a great weekend!

Berlin: A walk to remember

Wandering off the beaten path can be many things. It can be disorienting, frustrating, like when it leads to a dead end, or even scary. But as a traveler, you know that it can also be magical—that at the end of the path, you might happen upon something special, something that will bind you to a place and tuck a moment securely into your nest of memories. And that’s why you wander.

This is what I felt after a long, sometimes confusing ramble that led me through a construction wasteland, past government buildings and the giant glass-and-steel Berlin Hauptbahnhof, off Invalidenstrasse, to the Berlin-Spandauer Schifffahrtskanal.

Berlin-Spandauer Schiffahrtkanal

Appearances can be deceiving: along this peaceful, tree-lined path ran the Berlin Wall, and the dead zone between East and West Germany. The first instance of a border shooting happened here, when a man tried to cross the canal from East to West in a small boat. They fished his body out of the canal on the West side.

Berlin-Spandauer walk

Then there it was, that something special at the end of the path: a graveyard with old, elegant tombstones, standing still in time.

[Read more...]

Date night: Berlin edition

Since our first post-partum date night was such a success, Marlon and I decided to make it a monthly commitment. This month’s date night was extra special because we did it in Berlin.

Marlon & Deepa date night Berlin

We hired a babysitter for the evening, fed Tala and put her to bed before setting off. Before leaving our hotel, we just had to stop and take a few outfit photos by the street art park along the riverside. It is such a highlight for me when I get to wear non-nursing clothes!

Berlin has some amazing nightlife, but since we were exhausted from the day’s activities—a conference for Marlon, wrestling with the stroller and public transport for me—we weren’t too ambitious. We just wanted somewhere nearby with a cozy, intimate atmosphere and superb food.

Bar Raval Kreuzberg Berlin

That’s exactly what we got at Bar Raval, a tapas bar right beside the Görlitzer Park (which I hear is a prime spot to catch the sunset). With the huge windows thrown open in summer, it’s a great place to watch the hip Kreuzberg crowd stroll by. I didn’t see a single baby or child while people-watching, so this was the right choice for our baby-free date night.

Bar Raval al fresco tapas Berlin

We were attended to personally by one of the owners, who put a stop to our gluttony after we had chosen five small plates from the speisekarte. “I think you should stop here,” he said gently. Point taken, señor.

Luckily, the fantastic tataki of Iberico pork made it into our party of five. “People come back here just for this dish,” he said. For this—lightly charred and crisp on the outside, tender and flavorful on the inside—I would, too. Also, I can’t go to a tapas bar and not have pulpo (octopus); they do a delicious one here, served over warm and creamy potatoes.

Bar Raval Berlin tapas

Bar Raval is not a budget eatery by Berlin standards, but I thought it was terrific value: five (generous) tapas plates, two sinful desserts, and four glasses of Spanish red wine for a hair under €40. The babysitter was more expensive than this meal, but I guess I have to get used to that.

Night view Friedrichshain over the Oberbaum Bridge

We capped our date night with a romantic evening stroll over the Oberbaum Bridge back to our hotel. The lights reflecting off the river almost made me forget about the aroma of pee welling up from various nooks in the bridge. Oh Berlin, you sure know how to treat a girl.

Berlinische Galerie

After Tala’s birth, I find myself approaching things that I used to do pre-baby almost as if I was doing them for the first time. Whether it’s going out on a date to traveling, part of me is now more cautious and curious—can I still do this or that thing that I loved to do? How will that experience change for me now that I have a baby?

So I really wanted to visit a museum while in Berlin. Marlon and I love museums—as boyfriend and girlfriend, we used to have sketching dates at the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore, and we always try to include a museum in every city trip that we do.

We love art museums in particular. An art museum seems like a quiet and contemplative temple, where silence is required for the thoughtful consideration of art. You never want to be the mom with the screaming baby anywhere, much less in a cavernous space that’s prone to echoes. But, inspired by Jenni Fuchs’ awesome post on kids in museums, I decided I had to try.

Berlinische Galerie

For my starter museum-with-baby visit, I chose the Berlinische Galerie, a museum of modern art, photography and architecture in Kreuzberg.

Berlinische Galerie-foyer

It’s a beautiful space, all cool, white concrete, definitely a good one to be in on a sweltering summer day. With just two floors, it’s a small and manageable museum, perfect for a few free hours in Kreuzberg.

Berlinische Galerie architecture stairs

Some of my favorite works from the museum’s collection included Emilio Vedova’s Absurd Berlin Diary, which was like walking in a landscape of paintings that had been freed from walls.

Absurd Berlin Diary by Emilio Vedova

At the time of my visit, the collection showed 100 years of art in Berlin, from 1880 to 1980. Turn-of-the-century Berlin was almost innocent in its art…

Lying Nude (1889) by Lesser Ury

Lying Nude (1889), Lesser Ury

… but the two World Wars changed all that.

Berlinische Galerie The Conformist-Mourning Mothers

The Conformist Turned Wild (1920), George Grosz & John Heartfield;
Mourning Mothers (1948), Fritz Cremer

The belle epoque of languid, glowing nudes disappeared, and the broken soldiers and mourning mothers of wartime took its place. I was struck by how politically charged the art became, and what a dark and complex history Berlin’s artists had to wrestle with. Another layer of this amazing city, peeled back and revealed for me to ponder.

I savored a couple of good, contemplative hours in the Berlinische Galerie—and when Tala started to cry, I didn’t get any dirty looks from anyone! I just sat facing a wall without any art, facing away from people, and nursed her in that cool, white space. It was pretty relaxing, actually. On my way out, one of the museum staff even helpfully pointed out the changing room for me to use.

So, museum with baby: check! I think I have the confidence to attempt a bigger one next time. The newly renovated Rijksmuseum, perhaps?

Breakfast in Berlin

There were many reasons to join Marlon on his recent business trip to Berlin. First of all, it was a long trip and I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of being a single mom for four days. Second: hello, it’s Berlin. Who can say no to Berlin?

Aside from being one of my favorite European cities—in case you haven’t noticed!—what clinched the deal was the feeling that I have friends in Berlin. From past experience tagging along on work trips before, exploring by oneself is fun, even liberating, but it can get lonely. Having local friends makes a world of difference. Company is great, and I get to discover places that I might not have found or chosen on my own.

This is how I found myself doing what seems to be a very Berlin thing: breakfast. With frühstück menus displayed prominently at many cafes, it seems locals are mad about breakfast. It’s a good thing I had some pretty cool Berliners to introduce me to this very Berlinische pleasure.

My first breakfast was with the lovely Lena from Mina Moka. She took me to her brunch pick for my Let’s Do Brunch series: 3 Schwestern in Kreuzberg.

Bethanien Mariannenplatz Berlin

Lena wrote her guest post on 3 Schwestern in the winter, so with summer in full swing, it almost seemed like a totally different place.

3 Schwestern Kreuzberg

We sat outside in the courtyard, basking in the warm summer sunshine, brunching on picks from the day’s menu and chatting about bloggers, travel, babies, Berlin… a little bit of everything. [Read more...]

Nhow Hotel Berlin

I first saw the Nhow Hotel Berlin last year while sunbathing at the Badeschiff, looking across the river Spree to Friedrichshain. You can’t miss it: it’s a distinctive piece of architecture, a giant glass box perched atop a sprawling brick building.

Nhow Hotel Berlin exterior2

Back then, I didn’t know it was a hotel. And I didn’t know that I’d find myself staying in it a year later! When my husband’s company put us up at the Nhow Hotel for a work event, I finally got to see its quirky and interesting interior, designed by no less than Karim Rashid.

Want to know what I found inside?

[Read more...]

Street art sightings in Berlin

I never really paid attention to street art until I went on a graffiti walking tour in Granada, Spain, seven years ago. Since then, it’s become one of my favorite things to discover and photograph when I travel.

Luckily for me, Berlin is a street artists’ paradise. When my friend (and ex-neighbor) Giova blogged about her street art discoveries in Berlin, I was inspired to share some of my own street art sightings from my Berlin trip.

Berlin street art Schlesischerstrasse

I didn’t have to go very far to see some really cool pieces of street art. The terrace of the Nhow Hotel (where we stayed for the week… come back on Monday for more on this hotel!) features street art on original segments of concrete from the Berlin Wall, making a sort of promenade along the river. These were a couple of my favorites, especially the black-and-white warrior—it reminded me strongly of indigenous tribespeople (Mangyans?) from the Philippines.

Berlin street art Nhow Hotel terrace

But it would be cheating to just post street art from our hotel right? Then it misses the point of being street art. Venture further afield after the jump!

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Tala’s first flight, my first giveaway!

A baby’s life is full of firsts, and my daughter’s first flight was one that I was both nervous and excited about. Tala and I joined Marlon on a five-day business trip to Berlin last week. I was thrilled to finally put that hard-won passport and return visa to good use. But you know what? Nobody even looked at her passport! That’s flying within the Schengen states for you.

First time flying with baby

Having flown once with an infant doesn’t make me an expert, but I learned a lot from this trip. Here are some of the things Marlon and I did that really, really worked for us.

1) Ease into it. Our travel history is full of crazy transfers and photo finishes, but you don’t want baby’s first trip to be The Amazing Race. Flying time to Berlin was just one hour, no transfers, making it an easy first flight. We also chose a 12 noon departure for ample time to do our morning routines (for three now!) without rushing.

2) Plan your mode of baby transport around your itinerary. I didn’t have the time to plot out a day-to-day itinerary as I used to, but I had a general idea of what I wanted to do in Berlin. I brought the stroller because I wanted to go shopping and be able to put Tala down somewhere while fitting clothes; a (borrowed) car seat instead of the bassinet because we planned a weekend drive out of town; and the Ergobaby carrier as backup for situations where I might not be able to use the stroller.

Traveling with car seat, stroller and baby carrier

3) Factor in lots of time. We were at Schiphol a little over two hours in advance, and it helped us go through the airport at a relaxed pace. There will always be a need for feeding, changing and minor disasters.

4) Know that you can’t anticipate everything, so be ready to roll with the punches. Pre-baby, I would’ve put on my Google ninja suit and researched what to expect from the airline and airports. Now, I just don’t have the time. I only knew in advance that KLM allows strollers to be checked in free of charge. Beyond that, we had to improvise.

For example, we were allowed to take the stroller all the way through Schiphol and check it in right before boarding the plane. But at Berlin Tegel, we had to dismantle it, wrap both parts in huge plastic bags, and drop them off at a separate bulky baggage terminal prior to security. This is where factoring in lots of pre-departure time makes a huge difference.

5) Nurse at takeoff. The only hiccup was that on our flight home, we were made to take Tala out of her nice, secure baby carrier—where she was sleeping peacefully—and sit her on my lap, facing forward, with an infant extension belt around her waist.

Wow, that was awful. Not only did she wail miserably throughout takeoff and landing, but those flimsy belts don’t stay on (not even for a minute!), and are even banned in the US and Canada! Why the EU still enforces their use is truly beyond me.

It was definitely better on the flight out, when I had Tala on the boob. She had wriggled out of the belt, but at least she was quiet and calm. I’m definitely doing that again next time.

6) Document the flight! Doing all of the above should help make flying with a baby easier, but documenting the flight will make it special.

Tala and the Captain

Marlon and I made sure to deplane last so that we could take Tala’s picture with the pilot, who was super nice and friendly. But that’s not all!

We documented Tala’s first trip with a fun and cool souvenir that I want to share. So here comes my very first blog giveaway!

[Read more...]

Hello from Berlin

Wow. After what seemed like weeks of preparation and ages at Schiphol airport, we took Tala on board her first flight yesterday.

Where are we going?

And now we are in Berlin! I almost can’t believe we pulled it off.

Berlin, baby!

I will blog more at length, maybe next week when we get back to Amsterdam, about traveling with a three-month old baby—sort of a post-mortem of what worked and what didn’t. Plus, I’m excited to share how we documented this milestone in Tala’s life with a super cool and really fun souvenir… one that’s it’s inspired me to host my first ever giveaway on this blog!

But for now, it’s time to enjoy summer, coffee, shopping, brunching, heck maybe even a few cocktails, in one of my favorite European cities. Hello, Berlin… it’s great to be back!