Travel Diary: Berlin

Do you ever put off blogging because you want to write the perfect post—carefully researched, well-selected photos, thoughtfully written… then life just takes over and you never seem to find the time? This is the story of my life lately. It’s already summer, and I have yet to blog about my spring travels.

I’ve decided to say “So what?” to perfection, otherwise I’ll never get any blog posts written! Let’s go for something short, sweet and simple: a travel diary of my (already not-so-recent) trip to Berlin.

Berlin Soho House selfie with Alexanderplatz TV Tower

When I learned I would be sent to Berlin for a client shoot, I was thrilled. What began as a weekend fling years ago grew into a love affair with this captivating city. After being back several times, it has already begun to feel familiar—yet Berlin being Berlin, it will always be unknowable, a chameleon, constantly evolving.

To recognize parts of yourself in a place, yet be confronted with secrets to discover and enigmas to unravel —for me, that makes perfect travel alchemy.

Berlin Brandenburger Tor tattooed organ grinder

It’s no secret that I love food, and in Berlin good food is abundant, varied and best of all, affordable. The Diplomatic Wife and I pigged out on a massive brunch at Cabslam in Neukolln—including the best salted caramel cheesecake I’ve had in years… no, wait, ever—and our restaurant bill was ridiculously low, a fraction of what it would have been for a meal of the same quality in Amsterdam.

Berlin Cabslam salted caramel cheesecake

I love street art, too. In this facet of urban life, Berlin is a feast for the eyes…

Berlin street art girls dancing

a constantly evolving gallery.

Berlin street art JR paste remnants

I’m positive this used to be a huge mural by JR!

One of the press perks of my working visit was a private evening tour of the Alte Nationalgalerie. Led through a darkened museum by a bearded old art historian with thousands of tales to tell, I learned the secret story of why this innocent-looking painting by Manet caused a scandal in the 1800s, and had to be banned…

Auguste Renoir In Sommer Berlin National Galerie

and also recognized shades of my own domestic life, those too-familiar tantrums and tears, in this marble Venus and Cupid. Again, that fine line between discovery and familiarity, being transported and finding yourself at home.

Berlin National Galerie Venus and Cupid sculpture

My shoot was at Soho House on Torstrasse in Mitte, and I loved wandering around that area after work. From hipsters to hausfraus, iced lattes to hot latex, the diversity of cafes, shops, businesses and restaurants makes for fascinating window shopping.

Berlin old book frontispieces wallpaper store

A shop along Torstrasse beautifully wallpapered with antique front pages

Where else can seventeenth-century cemeteries coexist so closely with third wave coffee bars? That’s Berlin, where there’s always a dark undercurrent to all the energy, a poignant counterpoint to all the hipness.

Berlin Alter Garnisonsfriedhof

I’m tempted to say I feel something of Manila in Berlin, and in a way, being in Berlin relieves my homesickness a little bit. Okay, German efficiency and Filipino chaos seem universes apart. If you’ve been to both cities, maybe you can tell me if I’m on to something here, or if I’m just crazy.

Berlin U-Bahn

On your travels, have you ever felt that sweet spot between familiarity and discovery? Where does it happen for you? I’d love to know.

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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!

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Christmas markets in Dusseldorf

Just two hours from Amsterdam by train, Dusseldorf was an easy and convenient choice for this year’s annual Christmas market trip. This is the third winter we’ve traveled to Germany to visit Christmas markets with friends, and I love how it’s become a real holiday tradition.

Dusseldorf has five Christmas markets spread out over its main city center. Rather than congregating in one central marktplatz or square, the city’s markets are best experienced by taking a long, leisurely stroll from the Alter Stadt (Old Town) to the promenade on the bank of the Rhine river.

Dusseldorf Christmas market Heinrich-Heine-Platz

Everyone is on foot here, so the flow of human traffic is constant and busy. It was easy to tuck our maps away and simply follow the crowd as it swirled and moved: from the Engelchenmarkt (Little Angel Market) on the sprawling Heinrich-Heine-Platz…

Dusseldorf Christmas market

among the stately buildings that make up the commercial heart of the city…

Dusseldorf Konigsallee winter

across the stone bridges spanning the Konigsallee, Dusseldorf’s main upscale shopping street…

Dusseldorf Christmas market snow village

to the schneehuttendorf, or Scandinavian-inspired “snow hut village” on the Schadowplatz, a modern spin on the traditional Christmas market.

Along the way, there were scents to entice, trinkets to tinker with, flavors to enjoy, and copious quantities of gluhwein (warm spiced wine) to drink.

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Off to find some Christmas cheer!

Now that our Christmas decorations are up, I fully intend to get into the Christmas spirit. The pursuit of Christmas cheer begins this weekend with our yearly visit to Germany for its famous Weinachtmarkten, or Christmas markets. In between strolling, shopping and stuffing my face, I may or may not try to squeeze in an emergency Ritter Sport Nugat run.

Frohe Weinachten cookie

I’ll be back on Monday with lots of holiday goodness, including a fun little photo shoot for Tala’s first Christmas. In the meantime, here are some merry links to help you get into the Christmas groove!

One striking difference about Christmas in this part of the world: Northern Europeans love their advent calendars. They start on December 1, so you still have two days to pull off a last-minute wonder. Get ideas from these 10 beautiful Advent calendars on The Style Files.

Working on any snowflake-related holiday crafts? Draw inspiration from these stunning snowflake macro shots taken with an inexpensive lens taped to a point-and-shoot camera. Resourceful process, gorgeous results.

I wrote about my 10 favorite things to do at German Christmas market for The Filipino Expat MagazineHop on over to their Facebook page to check out the December issue and find out how you can get your own copy.

It’s never too early to start shopping for gifts… or wrapping them, for that matter. Perk up your presents with these free printable mercantile-inspired gift tags from Design Editor. The black, red and white palette makes them chic and classy.

What is Christmas without carols? Insanely talented a capella group Pentatonix just released its official video for Little Drummer Boy on Youtube. I love this group, and I love a capella Christmas music!

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Let’s Do Brunch in… Munich

Since I’ve had Tala, finding a baby- and family-friendly brunch spot to indulge my love of brunch has become more important than ever. Now before entering a restaurant, I run through a quick mental checklist: space for the stroller, peace and quiet, a spot to breastfeed discreetly, and families with babies or young kids are always good indicators.

We’re lucky that at five months, Tala doesn’t need space to play yet, and is still too small for a high chair. But families with older kids need more. So I’m glad that this month’s guest blogger Bronwyn Darnoc chose a family-friendly restaurant perfect for Sunday brunch. And it’s in Munich, Germany!

Bronwyn is the creator of the Simply for Flying flight logbook, which you might remember from Tala’s first flight and my first giveaway. An Aussie living in Munich and a traveling mama with two little ones, Bronwyn recently relaunched Simply for Travel, her blog about kids and travel. This month, she brings us to her favorite kid-friendly brunch spot in Munich.

When I first moved to Munich nearly three years ago and asked everyone for the best coffee location in town, there was an overall unanimous response for Bar Centrale. Being a bit of a coffee snob, I was desperate to taste a good coffee without long-life milk! I can definitely vouch for this location, as the moment you step in you feel like you are in a typical Italian coffee bar, which you would find in places like Rome or Milan.

It didn’t take long to realise that the owners of Bar Centrale own a whole group of fantastic venues throughout Munich, like the Cortina & Louis Hotel. But it’s the Brenner Grill that deserves a big nod for its kid-friendly Sunday brunch!

Brenner Grill Munich

Image from Brenner Grill

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