Monday, August 31, 2015

Swimming (Xander)

The swimming pool was fun. It was very crowded. We got there by waking to an U-Bahn station, then we took the U2 to Gleisdreieck, then we transferred to a U12. We got off near the pool at the Prinzenstraße stop and walked to the pool.

When we got there, the line was long, but it went fast. When we got in, we saw three pools. One lap pool. One play pool. And another lap pool. In the play pool, they had a slide. This slide didn't have any lifeguard at the top, so you would just wait for the next person to be at the bottom before going down.

They also had umbrella-like things that squirted water out of the top, ran down the umbrella-thing, and fell off. You could stand under it and get "rained on".

It didn't get that deep, maybe at the deepest, 3.5 ft. It meant I didn't have to tread water at all. But it also meant it wasn't that deep and I like deep pools because you can dive for things.

The water was COLD! It was 90-something degrees outside and the water was only 86F. So it felt really cold.

Day 18: Swimming Pool

On the way to Chris' work, we stopped by the store where our neighbour Tony suggested we buy monthly Bahn tickets. The woman behind the counter did not speak English. What we could understand, is that an adult ticket is about 80€, which we knew from the website. But what we think she was saying, is that there is no monthly ticket for kids. The implication is that, kids are in school, and they either get a school pass, or ID, or ticket, or whatever, for being a student. Problem, our kids aren't in school.

At this point, a deliveryman walked in, who spoke a little English and tried to help translate. It seems confusing to have school-aged kids, not in school. Not a problem they are prepared for. What to do for a kid who needs a Bahn ticket, but is not in school? They have a weekly ticket for traveling kids, but it's almost 30€. So, that's 120€ for a month, way more than the 80€ for adults, so not a desirable option for us. I asked if they could just use an adult ticket, and the man said no. So, we decided to only buy two adult tickets and see about the kids later. Ah... they don't take credit cards and we don't have enough cash on us, so we'll save it for another time.

Ugh, it's a hot day. Chris arrived at work less than happy and I arrived back home (there is that slight uphill) unable to cool off for about an hour. Meanwhile, the kids had been happily coding away in Minecraft. A perfect time to go get cash, without being missed by the kids.

I went around the corner to our favourite geldautomat. But there were several people right around the machine, waiting for the street train. So, paranoid-uncomfortable-around-people, I decided to go just a few stores down, to the next one. But I got there and couldn't figure it out. It had been a week since I got money out. I couldn't get the screen into English. The ticket machines for the Bahn have a little icon to switch languages as a first step, on the touch screen, and I didn't see that on the cash machine. I decided, I was looking like a dork, and the train came (therefore, no one was around the other cash machine any longer) so I walked back to the first one. But now there was a line. But, I got to see how people wait (for privacy) for the machine.

Machine on the left (the green was blue on the one I tried to use)
didn't have a picture of a card, only the words Achtung! (Danger!),
which scared me from going any farther.
Machine on the right has a nice photo of how to
insert your bank card, so I used this one :)

Aha! This machine, has a different card intake, with a picture showing me how to position the card. I immediately remembered to start by inserting my card, then the screen came up asking what language I wanted. Phew. So, thinking back on the "other" machine, it didn't have a nice little picture showing me how to insert my card. If I had seen that, I would have gotten started. But I had an irrational fear that if I stuck the card in the wrong slot (like where the money is supposed to come out?) I would lose my card. Anyway, yes, I'm a dork. I think I got it figured out how. I can act like a pro the next time.

The kids and I packed for the swimming pool! It's going to be a hot day (over 90 F) and we want to swim. Chris ran by a cool looking pool yesterday, with a really big slide, that we were going to try. Good thing I decided to look it up on the web. Closed. At first, I thought it was just not open yet, for the day. But turns out, Sunday was the last day for swimming pools and beaches in town. Today, being the first day of school, means less customers and Fall is coming, so I guess outdoor pools and beaches close. BUT, I saw, on the website, that a few pools and beaches decided to stay open a little longer in anticipation of the hot weather. Phew!

I found the closest pool to us (30 minutes to get there with walking and taking Bahns). So, we were off to Kreutzberg. Side note: We once thought of looking for a place to rent in this part of the town, but after the loooong Bahn ride, I'm glad we settled on Prenzlauer Berg instead. I suppose the 24 minute ride might have seemed longer as it was over 100 F in the damn thing. But still, day after day, I have to imagine that would get tedious to have to take the train to and from work. I guess Chris has to walk for 20 minutes, but that feels freer, more choices, and not so claustrophobic.

I thought about buying three adult monthly Bahn passes at the Bahn station... but I didn't have enough cash (it only takes up to 10€ bills, so having 240€ in tens was not going to happen). So, I thought I'd only buy mine and get one way tickets for the kids. But the machine asked me if I wanted a monthly ticket, or a flexible monthly ticket. Damn it! Stymied again! I don't know! Three one way tickets it is (later, Chris thought the monthly ticket is for a calendar month and flexible is a 30 day ticket, needing to investigate more!)

So, today's U-Bahn became the sweat box. It was over 90 F outside, and the train was stale, motionless air at least 10 degrees hotter. UGH. I had it happen again (remember my story from Italy on my honeymoon?) I stepped by someone sitting on a bench and my leg swiped their leg, bringing with me a tablespoon of their sweat. GROSS. Just GROSS.

We arrived at the pool, yay! And there was a line, boo! But, this allowed me to get my money out (I knew how much it would cost from the website). Ein Familie, bitte (one family, please). 11.50€. But then she asked me a question (damn it). I think she was asking how many in my family, so I dragged the kids in front of the window, pointing, and saying "Drei (three)". She gave us three tickets and proceeded to say several more things, but not looking at me and not very loudly. I'm hoping she was talking to her co-worker because I have no idea what she said.

We watched a few others stick their tickets into the card machine, it beeps, and they can go through the turnstile. Easy. Only our tickets beep, but the turnstile isn't activated. Or they don't beep at all. And all the words on the machine are German, so I can't figure it out. There are 6 machines, we try several, can't get through. We watch more people, some get through right away, others have trouble like us, but eventually they get through. Just us! Then Venice gets through, success! But Xander and I are still stuck and hoards of people are pouring past us. Right when we start to wonder if our tickets clicked but we didn't go through and now they're "invalid", a woman with a master key came out, took my ticket, un-clicked the side gate for me and walked me through. She took Xander's ticket and tried every machine, no go, so she clicked him through as well. Don't know! But dang, phew, we're in.

Yes, we're in, along with the entire city! There were mass amounts of people there. We changed into suits and headed to the pool. There are three giant pools in the "pool-area". Surrounding this area, there is a wide brick deck and some terraced areas for bathers to hang out and place their towels. Then there is a 3-4 foot wall and on the other side of this wall is a ton (massive) grassy area that you can use as well. There are several openings in the wall, each dipping to a 12 inch dip of water. We're thinking this is so that wherever you are coming from, the street or grass areas, your feet get clean. Then there are tons of showers for you to rinse off, before or after your swim. I rinsed off right away as it was so dang hot.

Then to find a shady spot to set our stuff.

A view from our towels

The pool was wonderfully refreshing. It was still pleasant, considering the many, many people that were there. I did get dinged in the head with a ball (not soft) as two men (not boys) were playing catch (and no one said sorry, evil people). And there were only three lifeguards on duty. Chris reminded me that we were warned of this (limited to no lifeguards over here). The pool you see above is just one of the three pools, each pool only had one lifeguard. Crazy.

The slide here is short and slower, but the kids had fun on it. They especially liked that it was self-regulated and that most people obeyed simple safety rules of going after the person was out of the way. And the line was fast, that was good, too.

We wall swam together at first. However, at our first break, a man motioned to me to watch his stuff, saying, "Ich habe kleine Kinder (I have small children)" indicating he had to swim with them. I nodded and said I'd watch his stuff. But then, a young woman came presenting her flip flops and tank top to us, talking in fast German. I said no, those aren't ours and she switched into English, "Oh sorry, can I put my stuff with you, you know, people take things." So, I said yes. Apparently, I look like I don't want to swim anymore and just want to spend my time watching other people's stuff?

The kids went back in the water, and I will admit, I was fine sitting out... and now, I'm paranoid as I have my iPad and phone in my backpack. I felt ok before, but now I feel I have to stick with my own stuff! We ended up taking turns swimming in pairs, it worked out fine.

Venice and Xander at the top of the slide (left), our failing tickets (middle), a happy post-swim-Xander (right)

Two hours of cooling bliss.

Then, we readied ourselves for the hot, hot trip back home. Three more one way tickets and we're off. We were serenaded by a violinist playing Pink's Just Give Me a Reason on one leg of our train ride. We were actually serenaded by a different violinist, playing the same song, on the way to the pool. The first guy had electronic accompaniment, this second guy didn't. First guy wins.

While we're sitting miserable in the stifling heat, a gentleman walked passed us. Then walked passed us again, this time, he said, "Tickets".  I got out our three tickets, handed them over, he looked at them and handed them back. Phew! We passed inspection! But just as promised, he was not alone. Another worker was on the other half of the train car working towards the middle. They were plain-clothed, carrying their scanners. It was in between stops, so you can't escape if you didn't have a ticket. Good thing we had our this time! It was more mellow than I thought, as he was so quiet, I didn't realise he was checking tickets until he was right upon us. I'm glad he wasn't yelling, I might have panicked. A good reminder to buy our tickets every time!

Home for "meat pocket" dinner! We cooked the "meat pockets" from the farmers market. Turns out they are like giant raviolis, with layers of noodle, pesto, cheese, and a tiny amount of pork (we're assuming it's pork by colour and taste as the sign only read "Fleisch" (meat) with no other explanation). Everyone enjoyed it.

Now to try to sleep in this heat (over 85 F in our apartment). Go-go 13€ fans!

Random Signs and Such

A first instalment of some signs and such that we have enjoyed around town:

As well as I can translate:
I am Sprite.
No hot-shit.
No cool stuff.
Just simple:

Prenzlauer Berg (where we live), is very family oriented

The German pronunciation of
the word "Pi" sounds like "pee".

We liked this license plate.

Aw, shucks.

We sent this to Nana, thinking of Mork from Ork.

A "sticker-ed" post

Didn't know He owned a store.

Popular coffee shop (all over town)

Kids liked the name of this chocolate.

In our apartment, you will ride "Schindler's Lift" 

Kids liked this popsicle photo

The trashcans around town all have different sayings.
This is my favourite, "Thank you for the hot dogs".

Xander liked how "ASS" is highlighted at the top.

Just made us giggle "Uhranus". 

I laugh every time I see this poster.
"Just make the day to night. With the day ticket of the BVG"


French for "hard-ass"

We really do love their trashcans.
"Feed me!"

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Day 17: Sunday

Today is Sunday. Except for restaurants and coffee houses, stores are closed. Remember this fact. We are trying to (such a different mindset).

This morning, I decided I wanted to make pancakes. I found a simple recipe online. We do not currently have any baking powder. I figure, this is ok, they'll still taste good, they just won't be fluffy. As I begin gathering ingredients, I realise something else we don't have. Neither measuring cups nor spoons. I "eyeball" everything. I'm feeling very Little House on the Prairie (but maybe they had have measuring units... so maybe a better description is I'm feeling very "Grandmotherly" where you're so experienced you just put a pinch here, a handful there...)

As predicted, they did not rise. They were flat.... flat as pancakes, hahaha! Actually flatter.

Oh, and something else we do not have? Syrup. I remember, though, Nutella! And, we did just go from the farmers market, so we have fresh berries and honey! Perfect! I decided to serve them to the family calling them American Crepes. We've seen a crepe truck at the farmers market, and now we don't have to try it out, because we have American Crepes.

They were a huge (albeit flat) hit (my favourite is Nutella with strawberries)! I should have doubled the recipe. Somehow, flat food doesn't seem as filling.

After breakfast, we catch the M1 train just around the corner from our apartment. And who jumps on the train after us? Our neighbours from below! Tony and his daughter Ruby are on their way to a swimming pool (smarties, as it's going to be a warm day). We chat and get a little information about Bahn tickets. Chris wasn't able to buy us our tickets because we didn't have enough coins for four tickets and the machine on the train only took coins, so we were going to chance it, since we'd be transferring at a Bahn station (that will have a ticket machine that takes bills) in a few stops.

Tony mentioned that, during his last trip here, when Ruby was 2 (she's now 7), he was caught without tickets. He says plain clothed workers enter the train from both sides yelling, "TICKETS". You show your tickets and they walk on. But Tony didn't have one and they were very upset with him. People on the train were suggesting they leave Tony and his 2 year old alone, but no, they demanded the 60€ fine and to get off the train. But he hasn't seen any ticket checkers this trip.

It came up that we didn't have measuring cups or spoons and Tony mentioned that there was a 2€ store up the street. Perfect! We'll have to check that out to help fill in more kitchen needs, otherwise, it's back to Ikea (check out this PERFECT video of Ikea), and we don't want that!

Chris has wanted to (or needed to, is probably more accurate) do a little shopping for some clothes. There is a mall, here, called Bikini (weird, I know). He checked and thought it said it would be open Sunday. I asked several times, he said he checked, it's open.

The name of this store says it all!
Well... it's Sunday, so no, it's NOT open. Well, the mall is open, but all the stores inside are closed. I'm not sure what happened, but I'm wondering if the hours Chris saw were for yesterday. In any case, it's like everything else on Sunday, closed. You can walk through the mall, get a bite to eat at one of the cafés or a coffee, maybe even a gelato, but no shopping to be had.

We walked around anyway, just to window shop. Taking notes to see if we would come back, when it's open, to buy anything.

The air conditioning (if there really is any) is also closed on Sundays, so it was stuffy in there. So, we made a quick look around and headed to lunch, on another sweat box (Chris agrees with me, the bus is HOT!)

We decided to eat lunch at the Sony Center where the Minion movie is showing. Prices are definitely higher here 3€ for a 8oz of soda. Not like home where for that same price, you get unlimited refills. Here, it's a glass bottle of soda and just the one. So savour every ounce! Side note: Chris ordered an ice coffee. Well, "ice" in English, sounds like "eis" in German, which can have different meanings. Eiskaffee can be an iced coffee, but perhaps it can be interpreted differently by the seller? "Eis" is also the German word for "ice cream". So, Chris' eiskaffee came and basically was a glass of coffee with a scoop of ice cream in it. Not what he wanted, but boy did it taste good (I drank it all, taking one for the team).

The kids wanted to watch the Minion movie, so we went to buy tickets. Here, they assign seats! The ticket salesperson shows you a screen of the seating chart. There are cheaper seats (down in the front rows) and some that are already sold.  You pick from the available seating and purchase accordingly.

We take our tickets, go into the theatre (we're about 15 minutes early) and the theatre is completely empty. I guess, why show up early if you have an assigned seat? We were the silly Americans getting there to stake our claim! Well, no worries. It gave us time to use the free bathrooms... twice.

Creepy-cool hallway coming out of the bathroom (left)
Silly Americans alone in the theatre (middle)
An elegant hallway between theatres (right)

We waited for the movie to begin in super silence. No pre-pre-ads were airing, so it was quiet in the theatre. This lack of noise caused us to whisper, even though we were alone. While the movie was screened in English, some of the ads/previews ahead of time were not. I was wondering if they'd be any different than those back home. But they were just as crappy as ours. One had suggestions of violence and the other suggestions of sex. Both seemed inappropriate for a rated PG movie! Other than that, the kids enjoyed the movie. We all think the first Despicable Me is the best, but this was entertaining.

Side note: the seats were velvety and cushy, but they did not rock or fold up. The height of the seats was pretty good, so when people sat right in front of us, we could still see very well. And, because the seats don't rock, it was no problem when a large man sat in front of us, he didn't rock back into our knees!

On the way home, I think it happened at least twice, but I can only remember one instance, now. We need milk. Oh, we'll just stop into the store on our way home. NO! Stores closed! Denied again!

Back at home, Chris and the kids Skype'd with Poppi and RooRoo, while I rested from the heat and the day. Nice dinner at home with some bedtime reading.

I'll leave you with this warning:

Seen at the mall.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Day 16: Picnic

After breakfast, we (Chris, Venice, and myself) went to the farmers market. It didn't take as long this time, as we had experience under our belts! However, that doesn't mean we didn't make mistakes or learn anything new.

For example, Chris got slightly chastised for taking green beans on his own (they usually do it for you). I realise that Venice and I grabbed basket of berries on our own, at a different stand, but the women filled a "cone" with cherries for us. I think it's ok that we grabbed the berries on our own, since they were in baskets, but I also saw people asking for them and the person behind the counter picking the baskets themselves. Venice and I didn't get in trouble, like Chris, but we'll have to keep your eyes on this to see if we're doing the right thing or not.

We bought more fresh noodles. The family liked it so much, so more super long fettuccine. And a few others to try (spinach ravioli and some sort of "meat pockets", who knows what it really is, we just picked by looks). The woman we had serving us our pasta, today, did not speak any English. But she gave us a brochure for their pasta that tells us how long to cook each item. Which is good, because the "meat pockets" need to cook for 20 minutes! Not like some of the other pasta which is only 4-6 minutes. Needless to say, we're excited to try the new noodles.

A few days ago, our neighbours from the fourth floor put an invitation on our door. Being the introvert that I am, I was hesitant to go. But, I know it's something we really need to do. We are here for a long time and we should know our neighbours (for friends, for emergencies, for questions, for whatever).

The kids were a little reluctant to go, as well. Both are a little shy around new people, and in addition, Venice tends to always be the oldest there. She decided to take her drawing materials down with her, just in case she needed to entertain herself while the "little kids" played.

Chris was ok going, I'm thinking the biggest thing is that we were thinking of doing some items on our "list" over the weekend, and now we might not get to do them.

But, turns out, it was a great afternoon. Idyllic, really. The weather wasn't hot, just perfect. The kids all played together, including the shy and the "old". Two of the kids didn't speak any English, but that didn't seem to matter. Everyone seemed to be included and find something to do or someone to play with.

The backyard behind our building (private area).

As for the adults... similar. The best thing is that everyone spoke English. So, yay for us! It was great to have easy conversation and understand it all. At one point, one of the friends slipped into German and I guess I was staring. He apologised and switched back into English, repeating what he was saying. I thanked him, but I really enjoyed listening to his German and trying to get a feel for what he was saying. But, it was also nice to actually know what he was saying.

As Chris mentioned, the conversation was all over the place, including so many subjects. Sometimes, it was a bit crazy how "worldly" these people are. Living here and then there, traveling all the time. It seems like they have all been everywhere! Chris and I are the least traveled in the bunch, that's for sure. I do think they are mostly all wealthy (at least doing well) and a lot of their travels seem job related, so a very educated bunch as well, I think.

As a count, there were about 10 or more adults (at any one time) and at least 8-10 kids. Random side note, it was a bit distracting, to me, as one of the friends looked like Woody Harrelson and one looked like Crispin Glover. I can pretend I was meeting the stars.

Chris also mentioned, "brot, bread." Yes, there was a discussion about who makes the best bread in the world. According to the German, there is no discussion, German bread is the best. She did say that some people are starting to manufacture the bread in off-site plants, freezing it, sending it to markets who then bake it. Crap, she says. But all other German bread... is the best. No discussion.

After the picnic, we took a break upstairs. Xander wanted to fix the Bailey server for Minecraft so he could invite a new friend from the picnic to play on it with him. So, Chris and Xander worked on that while Venice and I took some quiet time to rejuvenate.

Apparently, we took a little too long, as we were all hungry (and cranky) as we left to go find dinner. It didn't help that the restaurant we set out to patronise... wasn't there when we got to the address. Not sure if there is a mixup, or if it's gone. Not sure why Yelp wouldn't be updated. Whatever the reason, we couldn't find it where it was supposed to be, so we walked (and walked and walked) to find a different ramen restaurant.

So, a very nice day, feeling happy with the neighbour connections.

Day 16 - Aug 29: Saturday BBQ with Neighbours (Chris)

Our 4th floor neighbors threw an afternoon BBQ in the backyard. We didn't know what to expect, but this turned out to be a truly great afternoon. Oddly enough, that morning, when I got back from my run, I ran into the woman (names withheld for reasons explained in a bit), as she was hauling ice up. I offered to help, but she declined. I was pretty sweaty, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt ;-)  Later she told me she was frazzled. 

We ventured down, to find the 4th floor folks, and a couple of their friends, as well as all their kids. As we came to find out, the 4th floor tenants actually own the building! They were very friendly, as were their friends. They already had a nice spread of food laid out, and immediately got beers into our hands, so this was off to a great start right away! The kids also started to play together pretty quickly as well.

The husband of the first floor tenants, who'd we'd briefly met before, and his daughter arrived, as well as a few more of the owner's friends. It was interesting to me how quickly and easily the conversation flowed as we all sat around the table eating some great cheese, salami, pickles and so on. We did have to take occasional pauses to deal with the bees, who were pretty thick, the 4th floor wife unfortunately wound up getting stung as well. 

I truly enjoyed talking with all the folks. The range of work folks did was great: film director, investment banker, real estate reporter, writer & TV studio technician, software (me), auditor, and probably a couple I've missed. Furthering the interesting mix was the combinations of ethnicities and countries of origin (which I'm not sure I even fully untangled) - Egyptian-German, Egyptian-American, Australian, American, German, and a couple I'm not sure of (and almost certainly not amongst these). Also, one very inquisitive and talkative kid that we had a lot of fun talking to.

Conversations covered things such as books, German bread being the best (but now some folks slipping in some sub-par shit, shame on them!), movies, Cairo, Sydney, Melbourne, Oregon, Morristown (New Jersey), tons on Berlin, software and of course HotelTonight :), learning languages, German bureaucracy, German efficiency, buying German real estate, writing, making movies, homeschooling, international schools, food, and much more. The conversations flowed so easily and casually, and it was really just so much more enjoyable than I guess what I'd expected. I have to say, I love hearing the perspectives of folks that have lived in, or are from other countries. This is one of the reasons I want to be here - to absorb and witness a lot more/different culture. I like that the kids are seeing this too, and hearing a lot of these topics.

We thought we'd be at the BBQ maybe 2 hours, and then were planning to go to MountMitte (a ropes course). But, we had such a good time, that we wound up there for almost 5 hours, helped them clean up (which was handy, as we got a tour of the owner's 2-story top floor apartment), and have a nice feeling of knowing who our neighbors are. There will be some tenants coming in to the 3rd floor (nobody there now) this coming week. We hear they have a daughter, and Venice is really hoping she's her age. 

However, I'd say the biggest surprise of all was Xander's reaction. He's been very shy and unwilling to go down and play when some of the other kids have been in the backyard. But, he, unprompted, told us how much he liked the BBQ, how much fun he had, and said thanks for taking him to it. Really cool, and I hope gives him that bit more confidence for the next one. I know Venice also enjoyed it, and is planning to send notes down to the younger girl who lives on the floor below, via the balconies and some tree vine system she's conjured up. Xander also plans to play Minecraft with one of the boys he met (son of one of the friends, not a tenant). Finished the day with such a warm and great feeling about where we are. 

Questionable Running Shirt

Got back from my run this morning and realized the shirt I had on. Asked Diana, hmm, could this be misconstrued?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Day 15: The Zoo

One of Berlin's United Buddy Bears
Venice likens these to the Oregon Ducks
found all over Eugene. They are similar
in size and varying designs, but always
the same position.
First, I must update that the 1 Euro coin is smaller than the 2 Euro coin. However, the 1 Euro coin has gold on the outside and silver on the inside, and the 2 Euro is opposite. This confuses me as, if I designed them, I would have the one worth more have the golden-outer ring. Whatever, I just have to memorise it. I'm getting better.

Today I decided to take the kids to the zoo. I guess that this is something, perhaps, Chris wouldn't mind missing, as well as it's set to be a cooler day (topping at 70). So it's a perfect day to spend walking around looking at animals. I figure, we'll be cooler and the animals will be more active as a result.

So, another U-Bahn and we're on our way to the Zoo. This time, we do get to transfer to the S-Bahn. We transfer at Alexanderplatz (the really short ceilinged transport hub, mentioned before) and it's a crazy, giant rat maze. There is amazing signage, so you just follow the signs to the train you want to take, but it was a really long series of down some stairs, across a low ceilinged area, then up some stairs, around a corner, then up more stairs, then another a low ceilinged area, back down some stairs... I feel like it took about 4-5 minutes to navigate the maze. We ended up traversing the enter "Platz" underground, thus the crazy labyrinth. But, it means we don't have to "leave the station". It's kind of fun, but it's very airless and hot. Looking back, I wonder if it's easier to exit to the outside, cross the "Platz" and then enter the S-Bahn station. I don't know. In the end, as hot as it is down there, it is kind of fun, following the signs below.

This is my first time on the S-Bahn. The S-Bahn is also an electric tram, like the M trains that run on the street. However, the S-Bahn runs above ground on an elevated railway. It makes less stops, so it faster, if you can take it. It circumvents the middle of the city, a bit, so you can get from one side to the other in less time than if you went through and made a lot of stops. Anyway, we are able to see the city from above, enjoying a beautiful view through the windows.

Look how far the L.A. Zoo is!
I had looked up the Zoo ahead of time and found that there was a "Kleines Familienticket" available. I'm seeing this ticket style at many places, you can either buy individual tickets, or a small family ticket (1 adult and 1 kids) or a large family ticket (2 adults and 2 kids). I've also seen packages that include up to 3 kids, and I even saw one that said you might have to bring birth certificates if you had 3 or more kids (guess they get suspicious after 2 kids!)

So, I practiced my German, but, as usual, got nervous and just blurted, "Zwei kinder... and me (two kids and me)". Good thing German is so close to English, it almost sounds like it could have been real, "Zwei kinder und ich (or mich)." So, the nice lady behind the counter figured out that we are a small family, which is what I meant to ask for, and we were on our way with tickets and a map.

The Berlin Zoo is beautiful. I'm not a big fan of zoos, in general, I get sad seeing all the animals in cages. But, as the kids wanted to go, and here we were, I tried to enjoy. The grounds are gorgeous. Lots and lots of trees, shady areas, and a real feel of nature. Many of the enclosures seemed as good as a zoo can be.

Flamingo area (top), a living roof on the penguin habitat (left)
a stinky area behind the giraffes (middle), curious otters (right)

Since the signs were mostly in German, we didn't do a lot of reading. The species were listed in English, so we knew what things were, but all the descriptions were in German. However, there were pictures on each sign that showed what the animal ate and who its predators were. 

Xander braving the walk-in bird enclosure (left), a bird with a crazy coif (left-middle)
Venice with the bird (right-middle), a buzzard type with a weird "thing" on his nose (right)
We ended the zoo day at the Pirate Park within the zoo. It was incredible. HUGE, possible the size of a football field, filled with all sorts of inventive play structures. There were at least two mini-trampolines (you had to be under 14 to be on them, phew, Venice just made it!) And a lot of other really cool equipment. I could see how you might get a pass to the zoo JUST to be able to play at this park, it was that awesome. The kids played for a much longer time than planned!

While the kids explored the playground, I used the bathroom. I found the entrance to the bathrooms, but there was no attendant there, just a plate for coins. I almost walked right by it, but stopped, dug in my purse for coins (no 50 cent coin, so I had to use 1-20 coin and 3-10 coins, phew, had it!) As I clinked the coins onto the plate, I heard a "Danke" from behind me. The attendant was sitting at a table in the café area. Good thing I was honest (not that I wouldn't have paid) but, phew, still. I was proud and walked right into the bathroom.

That's when I heard a bit of yelling after me. I peaked my head out and the attendant and another person were waving me to another door... whoops! I had walked into the men's room instead of the ladies'. Doh. Now, feeling super embarrassed, I waved and ran into the other bathroom. Oy.

As I pretended to have my dignity back, I walked over to the park and waiting with the other parents as the kids played.

There was a little boy who had hurt himself and there was an Rotes Kreuz (Red Cross) worker helping out. He moved the boy to the same bench where I was sitting. I gathered he, and his brother, were there with their grandparents. I eavesdropped (after I offered to move for space, but they said they were ok). The grandmother, it turns out, is from Israel. She's speaking English for the most part. The boy, I think, is speaking Hebrew? And the emergency worker is speaking German. So, the grandmother is translating for all of them. Amazing. Since, she mostly spoke in English, I could follow along. Anyway, the poor grandparents (although they seemed in pretty good spirits) had to deal with the bureaucracy of the incident. If the boy couldn't walk on his own, he'd have to be taken to the hospital. If they took him in their own car (home, hospital, or otherwise), and were in an accident, insurance wouldn't pay because they should have gone to the hospital (by official vehicle). All very interesting. Meanwhile, the boy kept saying he couldn't walk and the pain was too much, but I never heard him cry. His mom arrived later with a wheelchair. She did NOT want him going to the hospital and she did NOT look happy to be there.

I did have a super short exchange with the emergency worker, during all of this. He said something to me with a smile and I said, my German is very bad. He responded that his English wasn't any better. Made for an interesting time for me while my kids were playing. More interesting than just sitting there waiting for my kids to be ready to leave!

On the way home, we got turned around a bit at the S-Bahn station. We had exited on the opposite side, so when we returned, we figured we'd enter on the closer side this time, but since it was different, we got mixed up and ended up on the wrong set of tracks. And let me clarify, I was turned around. Venice knew exactly where we were and kept trying to tell me where to go. I thought she was suggesting something else, but had I stopped to listen better, she was right and was telling me exactly where to go. That girl has some really good sense of direction and I need to listen to her more often (she'll be happy to read this :)

So, we went down some stairs, walked over, and went up the right stairs to get to the correct set of tracks. And there was a train there, not sure if it's the right one, Xander and I think it is, so we all hop on... Venice wasn't so sure... but there we were on the train. Seconds later, it pulled out, said what the next stop would be, and, yep, we were on the train going the wrong directions. Dang it. Venice was right again! So, we hopped off, got on the next train going the other direction. Phew. Now all we have to do is follow the crazy labyrinth back through Alexanderplatz, and we're home free!

Bonus, Chris is cooking dinner tonight.

Aug 28: A Bit More on Friday

A few more notes from Friday...

Diana led the way to work today, and we took a different route. This was good as we passed a few shops we wanted to hit, or were good to know about.

On the way home from work I went to mail a postcard. I found the Deutsch Post, but upon entering, hey, the line was as long as at US post offices. Since I was in a hurry, and figured there might be an interesting language issue on this one, I decided to just got a block or two down the street to the i31 Hotel where I'd stayed before, and where they'd mailed postcards for me. Sure enough, walked in, and no line, got the postcard mailed right quick. Aside from stellar postcard mailing services ;-) the i31 is a great hotel, check it out if you're in Berlin staying in the Mitte area.

Next up was the meat store: Fleisch Handlung. Woah, they had ribeye steaks! We'd not really seen "normal" looking steaks here yet. Snagged 2 of them, which I realized were quite expensive (22-23€ each). Lots of good looking stuff, so I also picked up some sausages that were made there that day, and a mustard. The woman working there spoke English and was really helpful in telling me all about their products and helping out. I'll be back!

I had planned to go next to the kitchen store to get some mixing bowls, but the fleisch store had cleaned me out of my cash, and I was running late, so I skipped it.

Aug 25-28: First Week of Work & a Few Thoughts

View down the street from outside our apartment one night.

I had a great first week of work. And yes, only 4 days :) It was a very busy week helping the team here with issues they had that I provide help on, as well as we had several events:
  • Tuesday: team lunch, including two HT employees visiting from our London office.
  • Tuesday: team dinner to celebrate the Berlin supply team winning a big sales challenge. Went out to a fancy nightclub/restaurant place on the water, Spindler & Klatt.  Food was quite good, and it was a really fun time with the team. Lots of good joking around and interesting stories.
  • Wed: I did a Q&A to explain more about why I am in Berlin, and cover various tech and product things.
  • Thurs: my family came to see the office and have lunch. Kids got to play ping-pong and check out the HT neon light.
  • Thurs: went to the Elixir meetup here in Berlin. This was at a fun bar down in Kreuzberg, called Room 77 - love the web site ;-). No relation to the travel company, but the owner is an ex-software guy. And, it is one of the few bars in the world that takes Bitcoin for payment (we did not pay in Bitcoin though). Enjoyed talking to folks, even if we didn't talk too much about Elixir. Oh, the beer here was great - it was from RollBerg, a brewery on the next street over. Lastly, the quesadilla I had there was truly damn tasty! 
  • Fri: weekly team lunch. This was at a place just a short walk away and was buffet style. 
Overall I was really happy with how the week went work wise too. I felt like I was able to solve a whole slew of things for the team and make them really happy. Plus, I felt like I got along with everyone well too, and have just really enjoyed hanging out with them so far. Everyone is really nice, and I love how comfortable folks are, with lots of joking around. About my only complaint so far is that the chairs we have suck. I am spoiled from sitting in an Aeron for the last 15+ years!

The funny menu at Room 77.


A few random things that I've noticed or have been on my mind...

I am not used to the graffiti yet. In the US, if you saw such graffiti as you see here, you'd think you were in a pretty bad neighborhood, yet it's just all over and normal here. Not sure how long it'll take for me to get used to it.

Driving: our experience is primarily based being in taxis, and then somewhat from watching. They drive a bit more aggressively, and seem to drive a lot closer - stopping and trailing at distances we'd consider tailgating in the US. However, they also seem more efficient AND courteous! Drivers always stop for pedestrians, and they also don't cut each other off, even at times when I'd think they'd just jet around or whatever.

We're pretty used to carrying cash (geldbar) all the time. Credit cards can be used some places, but for example, not even IKEA took them! (Good thing I had over 200€ on me when we went!) Further though, they like exact change. So, anytime you are pulling out just a bill they may look at you expecting change, or at least getting as close as you can to the exact amount. It's funny as it takes me a bit longer to make change here still.

Lastly, it has already occurred to me that I'm sad we'll leave "soon." Ok, so we've only been here a couple weeks, but knowing it's really about 2 months left, and there still SO many things I want to see and explore, as well as learn more language and talk to more people, it's hard thinking we'll have to go. I feel like we're just settling in. And, every time I walk around, or go for a run, I see all these shops or parks or sights I want to explore. It'll be a good reason to come back, but it's crazy to think I already wish we had more time. I'll be curious to see how I feel in another month or so.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Day 14: HotelTonight

ALERT: I must add that, yesterday, I also went to the hardware store. It was farther than I remembered. And yes, that was me walking back with a mop in my hand. This pushed my day over 20,000 steps. Booyah!

So, Chris going back to work has been interesting. We're definitely missing him during the day. And for two nights this week, he's gone for dinner and bedtime, so it's a bit of a shock to our system, being without him for so much. We figured today was a good day for us to meet at his work. See HotelTonight's Berlin office, meet his coworkers, and have lunch with him. 

I got my photo of Chris as the HT logo! (left) The door to HT (middle) The kids (right)

The kids and I walked to his office at lunchtime. We were able to get a quiet tour of the office space (it was mostly empty with everyone out to lunch) and meet a few coworkers (and use a free bathroom!)

The offices are bright with wooden floors. Sparsely decorated. Clean.

It is in a building that is also with a few other offices and some residents. They think their offices used to be an apartment. It was either a very large apartment, or maybe two? There are many cool nooks and crannies in terms of side rooms here (for the server) and rooms there (for conferences). A nice kitchen with lots of drinks, and did I mention, free bathrooms!

There is a room dedicated to a ping-pong table. The kids were so excited to finally get to play! Funny side note: When meeting more coworkers, I asked them if they had any suggestions on where to find a sports store, where I could find ping pong paddles and balls for purchase. They hemmed and hawed a bit while they thought, one person suggested the Berlin Mall (a large walking area with lots of shops), but in the end, they all said, in unison, "Amazon." I'm in good company, Amazon is often my answer, too.

We enjoyed sushi rolls for lunch. They roll the sushi but they don't cut it into pieces, you get (maybe half) the roll and just nosh on it. There were interesting choices and we all enjoyed our meal (even though the bees were chasing the kids away every now and then).

After lunch, there were more coworkers returned from lunch. It was good to meet them all and put faces to the people Chris has been working with. They were all super friendly and willing to help if needed. Most of them are not from Germany. So, they are all pushing for us to visit their homelands as side trips (Austria, Czech Republic, and others). We're getting good advice and a lot of choices. We'll see. It's hard to not get excited by their homeland excitement and hard to not go out and see them all. But our pocket book and clock will force us to pick and choose. In any case, they are all nice people and Chris has a good office environment.

On the walk home, I had the kids follow my path that I've been taking on the way home from my morning walks with Chris. I had passed several parks and thought we could slowly make our way back home by briefly stopping at each park.

The kids complied.

First, a water park (with limited water turned on). Then some swings. Then another park with great "different" equipment to explore. Then a giant "web" to climb.

Then for the "hill" portion of our return trip. It isn't a big hill, but at the end of a hot walk, it can sure feel tiring. So, when we reached the top, where there was one more park to explore, we looked at it and I said we could either go home and try it another day, or we could make one last stop.

Xander was super hot and wanted to wait, but after I said there was a cool looking slide in there (maybe just one go on the slide?), Venice said she wanted to do just one slide and then we could go home. Xander hesitantly agreed. 

Um, hello! 30 minutes later, we left the park. Good thing we stopped, the slide was crazy fun for the kids. It's a pretty steep slide, I'm not sure the pictures create a clear picture as to how steep this slide is. The kids felt like, if they took a "luge" position, it looked like they were standing up.

They even got me to try it.

So, it was a good walk back with lots of exploring. And the best thing about getting back to our apartment, we get to try out our new Brita that Chris bought from (and had sent to the office, so yesterday it was a mop, today it was a package you saw me carrying all over town). The kids approve of the water coming out of the Brita. Yay! We might hydrate this family after all!

P.S. Tonight, Chris is out for a tech-meet-up, so we're on our own for dinner. Side note: Sometimes we get bored and play with the cartoon app:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Day 13: Dinner

Venice's photo (left) and our amuse-bouche (right) 
I forgot to talk about our dinner out. As is common "back home", we often wonder what to do for dinner. The great thing about our neighbourhood is that there are so many choices. Good thing (choices) and bad thing (choices).

Tonight, we decided to try tapas at Die Schule, just around the corner.

There are many open tables. There are many bees (but we brave it anyway). A taxi driver told Chris that this time of year is not very crowded, as many locals are away on vacations. In a few weeks, it'll be much more crowded as everyone returns for the school year, or for fall. On the other hand, I wonder, what of all the tourists? If they leave, what is the net gain or loss of people? We have heard, from many sources, that we need to make reservations. But in reality, we have walked right into dinner with no problem finding a table. Either, we are the weirdos who eat around 6-7pm instead of later, or, this is "not crowded" and in a few weeks we'll see that we do need to make reservations at restaurants. But for now, it's nice to decide last minute what we want and to just walk right in and seat ourselves.

The tapas menu looked good and was tough to decided, so we just decided to get one of everything and two extra dishes. It was a beautiful display of delicious food.

The downside to our ordering method is that it was a bit heavy on the potatoes and not quite enough protein. But we left with happy bellies anyway.

And the walk home, seemed shorter than the walk there, literally around the corner with a wonderful view.

A view down our street as we returned home from dinner.
Our apartment complex door is on the far left edge of the photo.