TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 11 | RETURN TO GRAFFITI JUNGLE

saffi graffiti firetruck

Wandering aimlessly can be adventurous at times. Other times you simply want to get to your destination. When you know how to get to where you are going, you are able to spend more time enjoying the moment instead of trying to find your way. Today we returned to Kreuzberg - to the graffiti jungle.

Our walking time from Görlitzer Bahnhof to Five Elephant was 13 minutes. This was at a casual pace as we stopped along the way to take a few photographs. There are many interesting photographs one can make in Berlin in general, but particularly in such a colourful place as Kreuzberg.

Before our adventure, we came across a bear on Wilmersdorfer Strasse. Saffron was excited about the bear and told me to take a photograph so her siblings could see it too. There was an exhibition of some kind and the bear was apparently part of it. Another man was off to the bear's right hand side with a Canon telephoto zoom lens photographing the bear. I believe he was also part of the exhibition.

berlin bear at dm corner

We boarded the U2 in the direction of Pankow and switched trains at Wittenbergplatz. We walked outside the station and walked over to the post office and around the station. I wondered if we should go back to KaDeWe then decided to continue on our journey to Five Elephant.

at wittenbergplatz

At Wittenbergplatz, we boarded the U1 towards Warschauer Strasse and exited at the Görlitzer Bahnhof stop. Descending the stairs we came upon a crowd of youth which would make one want to turn around and get back on the train. As we found out later that day, a group of police officers were gathered around the questionable youth.

We walked across the street on Wiener Strasse until we came upon a fire station. On the wall of the station was a most beautiful mural of a fire truck which made for an interesting photograph with my daughter. She claimed her brother would like to see the fire truck.

Sometimes first impressions or preconceived notions of something can prove to be incorrect - as in the case of graffiti. What fascinates me most about the graffiti I came across is the colour combination and the thought put into the design. If you open your mind to a new way of thinking, anything can be seen in a positive light.

feuerwehr kreuzberg

We continued down Wiener Strasse until we reached Glogauer Street. Before we turned right on Glogauer Street, we noticed a man on a ladder trying, in vain, to vanquish the graffiti on a wall of a building. Before I photographed the man on the ladder, I set my daughter in his line of sight to make a photograph of her.

saffron by graffiti scrubber

Putting my covert efforts aside, we walked by and I simply snapped a photograph of the man before he had a chance to turn around. On our way back from Five Elephant, there was another man on the ladder still trying to wash away the art.

graffiti cleaner

There are many things along the way and in life we come across but to which we rarely pay any attention. A pole on a wall along Glogauer Street had a piece of paper taped to it with the handwritten words "Bitte Keine Fahrräder anschlißen. Danke". Translated it means "Please do not connect (fasten) bikes. Thank you". I glanced at the sign and continued walking. Then I turned around and took out my camera as I thought it would make for an interesting photograph.

keine fahrräder

As soon as we reached Reichenberger Strasse, we turned left and saw the round sign of Five Elephant. I shook my head as I remembered our first excursion to this coffeehouse a few days ago and how it took us an hour to get here.

five elephant diptych

We noticed all the tables in the front were occupied so we placed our order and waited in the back room by the kitchen until someone vacated a table up front. Luckily this happened before our order arrived.

Saffron had her mind set on the same dark and white chocolate chip cookie as last time - along with a glass of milk. I ordered a cappuccino and a slice of cheesecake. We sat there for a while and enjoyed our treats. The weather was gloomier today and cooler so few people sat outside.

After my cappuccino, I ordered a cortado. I waited for a while but did not mind as I enjoyed sitting in the coffeehouse. At some point I realised my order must have been forgotten so I got up to inquire about it. The barista acknowledged the order was overlooked and set about to make it. I smiled when I saw the chocolate and vanilla elephant cookies that accompanied my cortado. Saffron insisted I take a photograph of it for my son as he loves elephants.

cortado with elephant cookies

After the cortado, we decided to make our way back to the U-Bahn station. Earlier, I had noticed a large mirror along with cupboard doors tossed onto the sidewalk. On the way back, I saw a lot of fun could be had with this mirror. Making a photograph of me with my daughter in front of the mirror was the closest I got to a photograph of us besides the silly photos we took at the first flat with the point-and-shoot camera.

saffron mama mirror diptych

After playing with different compositions of mirror photographs, I decided we would continue on our way. On the wall across where the mirror had been set by the bicycle path I noticed beautiful red, black, white, and blue colours with gold in the background. I composed a photograph and looked back at the mirror. It was beckoning me to return.

kreuzberg graffiti jungle

People walking by had an inquisitive look on their faces. Little did they realise I was capturing them passing by.

mirror play diptych
lady in the mirror
saffron leaning into mirror

My most favourite mirror photograph was of my daughter looking into the mirror as a lady, who appeared to be looking for someone, walked by Saffron in the background.

saffron and lady in mirror

After fun with the mirror, we continued to the U-Bahn station where we noticed several police vans and police officers at the station and across the street. A group of three officers ran across the street towards a building. My daughter and I continued across the street where at the bottom of the stairs the same questionable youth were now surrounded by police officers.

police vans at kreuzberg

We waited the three minutes on the platform as the train arrived. Once on the train, we sat acrosss a lady who later turned out to cause us to miss our stop and go to the end station of Uhlandstrasse. She looked to be in her 30s and perhaps Polish. She wore a brown fur-like coat and had a large blue plastic bag on her lap.

At one of the stops, two young men boarded the train. One guy sat next to the lady whilst the other guy sat directly across from her with a camera strapped around his neck, the lens cap off, and his finger on the shutter button.

The guy was trying to be surreptitious with his wanting to photograph the lady but she caught on. It was quite comical to watch her hold the plastic bag up to the top of her head whilst texting behind the bag. The lady continued to hold up the blue bag as she exited at the Kurfürstenstrasse station.

I wondered if the lady was famous or simply paranoid, but it made me smile as it was silly and funny at the same time. An older lady boarded the train and sat in the spot across from the guy with the camera. The lady did not seem to mind the camera being pointed at her.

In the adventure of the bag lady, I forgot to take notice of our station. I planned for us to exit at Wittenbergplatz so we could change to the U2. Instead we found ourselves at the end station of Uhlandstrasse. Our return to the graffiti jungle of Kreuzberg proved to be quite an unexpected and interesting adventure.

jungle sign kreuzberg

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 10 | TWO PLAYGROUNDS AND A TOY STORE

saffron farmers market

Our day began at the Wednesday farmer's market. Saffron wanted baby eggs. As is the case with most times at the market, we ended up buying a few other items. Today there was no need to go to the bakery as there were plenty of vendors selling baked goods. We bought a croissant, brötchen, cheese, Kalamata olives, and an apple. Most of these were for breakfast.

Although the sun was peeking through the clouds, I felt a light jacket was warranted. Saffron, on the other hand, refused to wear a jacket. She claimed she was not cold. I was not able to convince her otherwise as she has a mind of her own and one can rarely change it unless she feels the need to change it. At one point she stated her hands were cold but only her hands which she remedied by placing them inside the front pocket of her dress. I believe she was asserting her choice of not thinking she needed a jacket this morning.

The lady at the stand where we bought an apple inquired as to why my daughter was not wearing a jacket, asking Saffron if she wasn't cold and eyeing me as if to wonder why a mother would possibly let her child out of the house without proper clothing. She then continued to tell Saffron she would have to stay home alone if she gets sick.

saffron vegetable stand

We walked around the market twice to make sure we did not overlook anything. At one point, Saffron looked into the bag with the croissant and noticed we were given the incorrect item. So, we walked back to the stand where we bought the pastry and stated we were given something which was not a croissant. The lady looked confused and stated "Das ist ein Butter Hörnchen".

I merely thought the Germans had yet another name for a croissant, as was the case with the first bakery we visited last week. The sign in front of the croissant display at the market clearly read "Butter Hörnchen". It turns out the lady had placed the wrong sign in front of the croissants. She immediately took the other bread back and handed us a croissant.

Walking a few stands down and around the corner from the croissant lady's stand, we came upon another bread vendor. I ordered a small ciabatta-type bread with sesame seeds. It was more like a roll but flat.

After my handing the vendor the 1€ coin, he asked if he could give Saffron half a roll of what turned out to be brioche. I agreed, thanked him, and we walked away. Eyeing the bread she was eating, I asked her for a bite since she stated it was the best bread she's tasted. It was soft and flavourful but not greasy as was my experience making brioche myself once.

We turned around and ordered two brioche breads as those were the last two left. I'm sure that was the vendor's plan all along, but I did not mind as it is important to support local vendors instead of the big chain stores.

wednesday farmers market graffiti

After breakfast, we walked across the street to the playground. The swing set was Saffron's first play equipment of choice. Back and forth she swung as she smiled over at me saying "hi" and swinging higher each time.

saffron swingset

She then switched to climbing the rope structure and mentioned how her sister Cinnamon taught her to climb a certain way this past summer. I worried she might lose her grip and fall, but she was careful.

playground diptych

The next item was a zip-line on which she rode three times waving and blowing kisses as she passed by each time. 

saffron kisses

Saffron finished her time at the playground this morning by jumping along the rubber bridge - smiling and laughing as she jumped.

saffron jumps

The toy store was our next destination. I made sure to note the subway stop for future reference by photographing it. We took the U7 from Wilmersdorfer Strasse to Berliner Strasse at which point we switched to the U9 to Schlossstrasse.

The Werken Spielen Schenken toy store is a large store with multiple levels. The puzzles, games, and books are on the main level, the craft section is downstairs, and the model trains are upstairs. The choices are many and the prices are better than at both KaDeWe and Galeria Kaufhof.

As we entered Saffron walked to the Schleich figures whilst I made my way to the enormous puzzle section. There were three aisles of puzzles, mostly Ravensburger which I prefer for their quality. I bought puzzles for the children for Christmas and saw other games I would have liked to buy them for my home. Unfortunately space is limited in my luggage and other items will have to wait for another time.

berlin toy store at schlossstrasse
saffron haba display

After our two trips to the toy store and the Hugendubel bookstore next door to the toy store, we returned to Karl-August-Platz. There were a few food trailers from the farmer's market still parked on the cobblestone plaza.

church tower clock

Saffron requested to go to the playground by the church. The same area where the weekly farmer's market are scheduled. She chose the rope hammock as her first choice of play before moving on to the balancing teeter-totter where she played with a girl named "Ana".

saffron hammock swing
balance swing
playground leaves bw

As we left the playground, we observed a group of three teenaged girls by the church on the grass holding a large plastic bottle of what appeared to be cola. They were laughing and shaking the bottle and it appeared there were about to film the ensuing scene of them spritzing cola at each other.

Saffron asked what they were doing. I said they were being silly and doing stupid things. As a mother, I imagine having to wash the girl's white sweater covered in cola - if that is, in fact, what they were doing.

My daughter then looked over at me and stated "I will also do stupid things when I'm a teenager". I have a few more years to enjoy this time of playgrounds and toy stores.

karl august platz playground

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 9 | THREE WISHES FULFILLED

saffi sony center

Every day is different. Every day is unpredictable. Every day is a new day to start over. Today was no exception. At some point everything starts to get to us when it should not - adults and children alike. Important to remember is to make the most of the time we have been given. Being able to fulfill three of Saffron's wishes was what mattered today.

Saffron and I awoke later than usual, most likely due to the lack of sunlight in this place (thus having been dubbed "the dungeon") which failed to notify us the night was over. We readied ourselves and walked to a bakery close to Zillestrasse for croissants, a sesambrötchen, and a slice of marzipan kranz. Saffron commented on how the croissants at Lindner's were much better. I've never been one to like croissants much, but my daughter is making me rethink the buttery pastry.

After breakfast, Saffron worked on her homework whilst I sent out my resume for a potential job and verified the start of the movie we were going to see early this afternoon. I had already taken Cinnamon and Sage to see "Boxtrolls" before I left for Germany. Today was Saffron's turn.

We arrived at Potsdamer Platz 40 minutes prior to the start of the movie. Saffron was unreluctant to smile at one point when I photographed her. She simply refused to smile until I promised her we would go eat fries after the movie.

Fries were another item on her checklist along with movies and popcorn. All three promises were fulfilled today.

promise of fries

After purchasing the tickets, I walked around Sony Center with Saffron until 13 minutes before the movie was scheduled to begin. We walked to the LEGOLAND Discovery Center where I saw Saffron smile when she was able to touch the giant giraffe.

legoland giraffe

As we made our way downstairs to the theatres, a small tantrum ensued when we were presented with the choice of popcorn - salty or sweet. I was not expecting anything but salty as an option but Saffron insisted on sweet.

Having already ordered the salty version I did not want to make changes - at least not in Germany. Saffron's choice was either the salty popcorn or no popcorn and no movie. She wisely chose the movie and salty popcorn.

We continued to our seat in a fairly empty theatre hall as we were two of eight people in the entire hall watching the movie in English. Another tantrum occurred when Saffron was unable to choose a seat. There were many choices yet she took her time deciding on a seat.

sony center fountain

Unlike in the States, the previews did not start until the scheduled time of the movie and went on for 20 minutes. We were both annoyed with the delay. Despite the tantrums, Saffron enjoyed the movie.

cinestar sony center

It was still light outside when we left the theatre but the sun would be setting in less than an hour. We walked underground until we came upon the train station. Trains can be a relaxing mode of transportation allowing for much contemplation.

potsdamer platz train station

The U2 was crowded by the time we boarded the train. Saffron and I were unable to find a seat and had to stand by the door the entire ten stops. Across from us, two girls in their late twenties or so were sitting and giggling. They looked up at the dark-skinned girls standing next to them. I was irritated because the word which came to mind was "bullies". Immature was another word.

I wasn't sure what the girls' issue was but one of the girls kept looking at me and said something to me as she exited at Wittenbergplatz. I was glad they left. I did not need to be involved in an altercation of any kind.

We exited at Bismarckstrasse and walked along the crowded Wilmersdorferstrasse. People were standing around watching and waiting for something or another. Saffron and I stopped to watch a man play some tube horn instrument where he placed a microphone at the end to amplify the sounds he was making.

wilmersdorferstrasse man playing tube

We made a stop at The Arcaden to visit a bookstore. Umbrellas were everywhere and an interesting sight.

umbrellas at arcaden

Bookstores are a refuge of sorts for me albeit I rarely buy anything. Today I browsed children's books and bake books. 

arcaden thalia bookstore

After the bookstore, we walked to a Greek restaurant around the corner from our place where we ordered pommes. Saffron took an eternity to eat the fries, at one point taking ten bites from one as she proceeded to cover each piece with a drop of ketchup. I was tired and my patience was waning but I was glad to have fulfilled another three wishes from her list of things she wanted to do on my visit. Albeit they might seem like small wishes, to her it meant something much more.

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 8 | THE THOUSAND MILLION MILE ELEPHANT QUEST

saffron graffiti kreuzberg

Today’s destination was unplanned. What had started out as a simple walk to buy another croissant to share with my daughter, ended with “a thousand million miles” of walking – according to Saffron. At the last minute, standing on Bismarckstrasse, I decided I needed coffee. 

The sunlight poured in through the windows this morning as we sat at the dining table for breakfast. It was noticeable as the previous week clouds ruled the sky. Despite the sun being out, it was still too cold to eat breakfast outside even though Saffron sat at the table on the balcony and started eating the croissant we bought a few minutes earlier.

“I’m cold”, I heard her say. We moved indoors and she continued savouring the croissant whilst I poured lemon yogurt into a bowl. Saffron assured me she could eat the entire contents of the 250g container. I was skeptical until I heard her announce “68!”. It took her 68 spoonfuls to finish the yogurt.

Ten minutes before the 10:00 taxi arrived this morning, we said farewell to the beautiful flat where we spent the first seven nights. We would have stayed the next four nights as well had the place not already been booked, but plans changed at the last minute and we had to resort to another place. I still wished we would have gone to Prague, but my daughter made her wishes clear about not wanting to go.

As soon as we dropped off our bags and backpacks and food, we locked up the “dungeon” and set out to buy another croissant. I decided another croissant would have to wait. I wanted coffee. Not from the place on Zillestrasse – which would have been a two-minute walk – rather from another place recommended by a site I found this summer.

kreuzberg

Thus began our “thousand million mile” journey for Five Elephant. Since I was not planning on going there today, I did not take the time to glance at the map again or write down the address. All I knew was it was somewhere near a green area on the map, the U-Bahn station began with a “G”, and the street name started with an “R” and was long. I knew as soon as I saw the name, I would recognise it.

Standing at the U2 station at Bismarckstrasse, I wondered which U-Bahn we had to take to get to our final destination. I knew we had to change lines somewhere so we simply boarded the next train in the direction of Nollendorfplatz.

Once on the train, I studied the map posted inside and figured we needed to get on the U1 towards Warschauer Strasse. I then recognised the station beginning with a "G" as I saw it two days ago on my iPad when I wondered where the coffeehouse was located. We then exited at Görlitzer Bhf and started walking.

I recalled the coffeehouse was nowhere near the station so we turned right as we descended the stairs of the station and continued straight until I found some sort of green area as I remembered seeing on the map. None of the street names looked familiar and the area was not as nice as other parts of the city we've seen. I considered turning around and going back to the flat but I was determined to see if the cheesecake lived up to the raving reviews.

After 15 or so minutes, we made a right onto Glogauer Strasse. We walked until we reached a street with an "R" which was long. Reichenberger Strasse was the street name which now looked familiar. It was at this point where the mistake was made. Should we turn right or left, I wondered.

Left. We should have turned left. Instead, we walked for at least half an hour in the opposite direction only to turn around and end up where we started another half hour later. Saffron was tired and did not wish to walk anymore. At one point I asked a lady where the Elephant House was. It was only later I realised I'd remembered the name incorrectly. I was about to give up and turn around when after one more block I spotted the name on the window along with an elephant.

We sat outside after having ordered and waited for our food and drink. Saffron wanted a big chocolate chip cookie which she greatly enjoyed. She fed crumbs to the little birds which gathered at her feet.

saffron cookie elephant

I ordered a flat white coffee to which I added a small amount of raw cane sugar as it did not need much sweetening.

flat white elephant

The cheesecake was the real reason we had embarked upon this journey as a review I read stated it was the "best in the world". I looked toward a table on my right and noticed a younger couple as they started in on their slice of cheesecake. I asked the lady how she liked it. She commented on its amazing taste. I decided to stop photographing the cake and simply eat it. It was truly amazing. Creamy and smooth with a simple graham cracker crust and what appeared to be some sort of sour cream topping. It was very similar to the recipe I use from Cook's Illustrated.

cheesecake elephant

The day was warmer than previous days and the sun shining through the leaves above us was a beautiful sight. But my daughter was cold and wanted to sit indoors.

I first realised people in Kreuzberg do not care to clean up after their dogs whilst sitting outside waiting for our food. I placed my camera bag on a chair and noticed "mud" on the strap. Then I noticed it on my jeans. Mud it was not but luckily I could clean up most of it inside the coffeehouse bathroom.

It was also a time I realised renting a flat without a washing machine whilst traveling is not a good idea. The first flat had a Miele washer/dryer combo. This flat has nothing. But travel is not meant to be convenient or comfortable, so we make do with what we have.

look up trees

Once inside, I contemplated a long time about getting another piece of cheesecake. I knew I would not be returning to this place anytime soon. I decided to keep contemplating whilst I asked the guy at the counter what other coffee he would recommend and what was the coffee I saw served in small juice glasses. A cortado, he informed me. It was two shots of espresso with warm milk. I ordered one of those for myself and a glass of cold milk for Saffron.

inside five elephant

As I was waiting, I decided to photograph the window. Saffron commented on the name "FIVE ELEPHANT." and said they had it wrong. "It should say elephants, not elephant. That doesn't make any sense", she insisted. "They need to put an 's' and take away the dot", she stated.

She was correct. Grammatically it makes no sense but not everything needs to make sense.

As I paid for the two drinks, I decided to order another slice of cake to take with me to eat tomorrow. Once outside, Saffron noticed the white bag in which was the slice of cheesecake. She stated the bags also need to be changed. We observed the guy stamping the bags at the counter when we moved inside.

sign five elephant

At the end of the street, I photographed the two street signs of the coffeehouse location so I would remember it if I ever happened to return to the area - which I later discovered we were in Kreuzberg.

elephant way

It was time to make our way back to the U-Bahn station, which turned out to be another long quest.

saffron by elephant

Saffron took Bela the kitty with her on our journey. The kitty she pretends is real as she had it drinking some of the milk from her glass at the coffeehouse before we left.

saffron and bela

On the way to the coffeehouse, Saffron spotted a playground she wished to visit. On the way back, we stopped here for 20 minutes as she explored this new playground.

saffron playground kreuzberg
saffron slide kreuzberg

As we continued along our way, we came across graffiti on every building. Windows, doors, walls were covered with graffiti - more so than we noticed at Prenzlauer Berg.

graffiti kreuzberg

Saffron asked what was "graffiti", as she heard me call it. I told her it was colourful art.

saffron walk graffiti

We noticed tools imbedded into the sidewalk. There were many of these types of blocks with various tools. One had a bicycle chain as well.

road tools

Somewhere along the way, I ended up taking a different direction which caused us to walk further away from our initial stop. I wondered if I should ask somebody for the closest U-Bahn station but decided against it. We kept walking until we saw the welcoming blue sign with the white "U". Somehow we ended up on U8 and we figured out how to get back home.

moritzplatz

Outside Moritzplatz station, as I was changing lenses, I noticed a bike hit a car. I did not witness the actual impact but saw the girl on the bike trying to get the driver of the car to pull over to inspect the damage. Saffron and I continued on our way home as nobody was hurt.

bike hits car kreuzberg

We returned to Wilmersdorfer Strasse four hours after we initially set out on our unplanned journey.

back to wilmersdorferstrasse

After a stop at the flat to put the cheesecake in the refrigerator, we walked around the corner for the pony ride I promised Saffron. This was the highlight of her day.

pony ride and ticket

She smiled and waved at me as she rode the five rounds on the coveted white horse. I also smiled as I thought how proud I was of my daughter to have endured the four-hour long walk of our unplanned quest for the "elephant".

saffon pony ride

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 7 | HAPPY SUNDAY AT KRUMME LANKE

saffron at krumme lanke

“60 seconds?!” exclaimed Saffron. “That’s way way too long. I can be quiet for one second. One. Here...” she counted one second and continued on her merry way. I was trying to get some break from Chatty Cathy this sleepy Sunday morning indoors.

The day was long. An hour longer today due to Daylight Savings Time which ended here in Europe a week earlier than in does the States. Saffron was already getting bored before breakfast and I persuaded her to work on the new dot-to-dot book I bought her a few days ago. She seemingly forgot about it as she ran to get both the book and her coloured pencils.

She coloured Ariel, the mermaid, pink and green. She coloured a horse black and pink. All the while talking without hardly taking a breath. Quiet is something I cherish dearly and Saffron’s penchant for talking is certainly not inherited from me. But she is full of life and happy which is what matters.

saffron dot to dot

Our Sunday breakfast included the hazelnut cake I made last night and the strawberries from the farmer's market with freshly whipped cream. Muesli was the healthier part of our breakfast. Sundays are different. Sundays are special.

I particularly like the custom of stores being closed on Sundays in Germany. Also the noise laws prohibiting the loud lawn equipment often heard back home when all one wants to do is enjoy a peaceful Sunday morning.

We spend most of the day indoors, enjoying our last day at this flat before having to move in the morning. Unfortunately having to leave meant having to pack. I would prefer to have Sundays be the one day during the week we take for true relaxing and unwinding before the new week begins. It is something I hope to instill when I return home - as much as possible.

hazelnut cake

After breakfast, Saffron somehow got the idea to make short films. Most of them were of her and one was of me. She walked around the flat narrating her short movies on her iPhone, chatting a mile a minute and talking to a non-existent audience. "Hello. This is Saffron again. You know, from the other five movies...", I heard her say at one point. Perhaps she needs to work as an actress.

She then sat on the red sofa, viewed her movies, and laughed at herself. “That’s so funny”, I would hear her say, and she would continue to laugh. Listening to her was truly funny, I have to admit.

“It doesn’t matter, I’m doing this film and nobody is allowed to interrupt me” she said on one of her films as I filmed her with my iPhone. My film was a few seconds. Her films went on for 15 minutes each, at least.

saffron films

After a while I felt the need to go outside for a walk. I decided we would take the U3 to the end station of Krumme Lanke. Since we left fairly late in the afternoon and since I didn't want to get lost so late in the day, we stuck to the area around the station and to a main street. Autumn leaves were everywhere - a most beautiful sight.

leaf covered house krumme lanke

Our first stop was to fulfill one of the items on Saffron's wishlist - ice cream. I was able to find the place I visited five years ago and it did not change as I remember. Saffron ordered a kugel of vanilla bean ice cream. I decided on a slice of cheesecake albeit it was not the same taste as one I make due to the differences in cheese used.

We sat in the back of the place and watched the other customers enjoying their Sunday treats. Saffron told me her other wishes - one of which is going to see a movie. Going to the playground was another one but I decided today nature would be her playground.

We walked some way along the main street until we happened upon an open area filled with leaves. Saffron was delighted and asked if she could run around. "Run", I told her as I changed the lens on my camera to better capture her delight.

saffron running

She had a lot of energy to burn as most children seem to have. If only there was a way to have some of her energy for myself.

saffron waves krumme lanke

At one point she seemed to be getting tired but she kept going. A break was all she needed.

about to fall

She asked if she could sit in the wet grass. I had no problem with that as long as she was happy.

saffron and leaf

It was a great opportunity to make some fun photographs of her. After a few serious faces, she decided on some silly ones.

silly saffron diptych

Part of me wishes I could return during Christmas as this will be the first Christmas she will be without her siblings and parents. Albeit too cold and too dark to spend much time outdoors, winter in Germany is quite the experience.

saffron pondering

Saffron and I had a nice experience today in the open field as she ran back and forth several times and finished the day with a few cartwheels. And an attempt at a handstand. The look on her face was something I wanted to cherish when I return home so photographing our time together is the best way I know to do so. It is also something she can one day look back upon and recall when we spent an autumn in Berlin together.

saffron spins

We walked further down the street making sure to stay on the main road. At one point, we turned down another street and headed back towards the U-Bahn station. Along the way we saw a few more autumn-filled sights.

IMG_4930-1-2.jpg
franz kafka

We came across an inflatable pool tossed out into the sidewalk. Saffron wanted me to photograph it since it was so colourful and interesting. She asked why someone simply tossed a pool outside. I didn't have an answer but I agreed it was an interesting photograph.

broken pool

Saffron wondered why I was photographing leaves. "Leaves are the same in Texas!" she exclaimed. "No, my dear, they are not", I replied. To her, they were simply leaves. To me, the leaves were the beauty of autumn and not something I get to see back home. The little things...it's always the little things.

autumn leaves on black road

We made it back to the station as night was approaching, tired but glad we were on our way back home. A happy Sunday spent away from the city with memories to cherish for a lifetime.

leaving krumme lanke

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 6 | SWIMMING AND CHIPS

saffron after swimming

"Ja, ja" I told the cranky man at the Schwimmhalle as I placed two 2€ coins on the counter for the 3,50€ entrance fee for my daughter. Instead of simply explaining to me the entrance fee was not covered in the receipts I was given - ones I handed him - the man repeated the amount I owed. No smile, no kindness, no understanding or willingness to help.

The cold nature I experienced is typical German mentality. While it takes time to get used to, I was not prepared to deal with this nature so early this morning when I took Saffron to her swimming lesson.

Trusting my daughter's sense of direction, as I had no idea where to go, I followed her up the stairs of the Deutsche Oper U-Bahn station to Krumme Strasse. As we approached the building she usually frequents, we saw a sign on the door stating the lessons were moved to the "new" hall. Saffron did not know the location of the "new" hall, so we walked further up the street until we saw another building announcing it as the "Neue Schwimmhalle".

After the confrontation with the cranky man, Saffron and I entered a small, warm locker area where a mix of mothers and fathers were standing about, albeit I noticed more fathers than mothers. In the States, this type of scene would not be acceptable - the mixed sex children and adults. Outside the women's locker room at my gym back home there is a sign stating no children of opposite sex are allowed with the parent. Cultural differences prevail.

Intending to watch my daughter swim and hoping to photograph her as I did during the summer, I noticed it was not possible. The viewing area was in the entrance hall and the pool was separated by two walls of glass. One can certainly watch the children if you stood the entire 45 minutes. I chose to walk outside and along Zillestrasse until I reached the coffee shop my daughter and I visited earlier in the week.

At the coffee shop, I ordered a flat white. Spoiled from yesterday's high quality coffee, I noticed this one was too bitter and required far too much sugar. I drank it anyways and handed the barista a 5€ bill for the 3,20€ coffee. He handed me three coins and I held onto them as I left.

Once outside I glanced at the coins before placing them in my coin purse. I noticed the guy had shorted me 0,50€ and wondered if I should bother saying anything. Seeing how I was still reeling from the treatment of the cranky man, I decided to walk back into the shop and point out the discrepancy. The barista handed me the missing coin and I was on my way. I'm sure most people would simply walk away and give it no thought. Most likely I would give it no thought, if I had an income. But 0,50€ is $0.63 (according to today's exchange rate) and I wasn't about to give it away. I'd rather use the money towards the pony ride Saffron wants to take.

Upon my return, I stood and watched my daughter's swim class. Saffron noticed me and waved as she walked and swam her way across the shallow pool with a swim noodle. This seemed to me too basic of a class for her as it was similar to the beginning class she took this summer with her siblings. She kept waving and smiling and I felt as though I was distracting her. At the end of the class, they all took turns sliding down a red elephant slide several times. Then I recalled Cinnamon's lessons where she was truly swimming and not playing as I observed at this class.

After swimming, we rode the U-Bahn home seeing how I forgot my ATM card and needed money for the next flat we will rent starting Monday. We returned to Wilmersdorferstrasse, withdrew the needed money, and walked towards the Saturday farmer's market.

saffron on u-bahn

The place we will be staying next week is on the way to the market, so I decided to contact the owner via the intercom outside the building. This was no easy feat as the owner knows no English. Somehow, I made my intentions known, stating I had booked the place online last night. I kept hoping she would come outside so we could discuss this in person but she did not. She did, however, recognise my name and remembered my having stayed at her place two summers ago.

Saffron and I walked to the corner of Krumme Strasse and Goethestrasse at Karl-August-Platz where people crossed the street with their market purchases. We had no intention of purchasing anything but alphabet pasta, which I've noticed only at the Saturday market. Unfortunately, no pasta was available today.

Instead, we purchased a large container of strawberries and flat leaf parsley. Baby eggs we would get once more before I leave - at Wednesday's market. I recalled my mistake of purchasing too much food on previous trips to Berlin and wanted to avoid it this time.

saffron at farmers market

Seeing the stand with the eggs and potatoes on the corner - the exact one where the lady chased after me two years ago - I had to snap a photograph of it as a reminder. I couldn't have pulled it off without the assistance of my smiling daughter.

egg lady

We made our way around the crowded market once and stopped to look at the guy with the guitar. Others also glanced his way as they passed by.

guitar guy at market

Saffron and I continued to Wilmersdorferstrasse and noticed the decorations for Halloween. We first noticed them last night on our walk when Saffron expressed her desire to ride on a pony. I told her I would consider it for next week.

halloween on wilmersdorferstrasse

As she admired the white horse in the stall by the pony rides, I couldn't help but notice her sincere smile. I then promised her we'd return tomorrow when she could take that ride.

saffron and white pony

On our walk from the Theodor-Heuss-Platz station, we stopped at Kaiser's for chips as Saffron expressed her desire for chips instead of popcorn for movie night. She chose the Paprika Chipsletten and I chose a small bag of Nic Nacs. Tonight's movie night included whatever she discovered on television which turned out to be a dragon cartoon at first, then a movie with Obelisk and Asterisk.

My girl was tired after lunch so she retreated to the bedroom for a long nap. As she slept, I worked on a recipe for a 5" hazelnut cake which I then started to make as my daughter awoke. The cake would be for tomorrow's breakfast with plans for Saffron to help make two more cakes during the day.

As I tucked Saffron in bed this evening, I asked her what most stood out for her today. She wondered why I was asking and I told her I simply wanted to know. An adult's lasting impression of a day is almost never the same as a child's. Her answer was swimming and chips.

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 5 | TO PRENZLAUER BERG + ALEXANDERPLATZ

saffron day 5

Curiosity got the best of me as I wondered about the coffee at The Barn. Was it worth the hype, I wondered as we sat in the U2 and rode half an hour to our destination in Prenzlauer Berg. Twenty stops later, we were at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz.

Without Internet access during this trip, other than the connection at the flat, I had to recall the Google map I glanced at last night on my iPad. There were two stops on either side of the coffeehouse and we exited the first one. I knew we had to cross a main street but I failed to write down the address of The Barn. As soon as I saw the street name Schönhauser Allee, a sound of familiarity rang in my mind.

We passed a sign letting us know we were now entering Prenzlauer Berg. "Mama, why are you photographing the sign", asked Saffron. "Is it so you know how to get back", she continued. It was a valid question since she's seen me photograph signs with my iPhone in case we got lost. No, this time I simply thought the sign was interesting in the sense it was part of the story of our day together.

prenzlauer berg sign

The first thing I noticed in this part of the city wasn't the graffiti, albeit graffiti graced the walls along our walk. The large picture windows with the people sitting in front of them and looking out were the first thing I noticed. Seeing how it was also a nice part of our story - and not wanting to seem obvious about taking a photo of the two women who were already eyeing me - I had Saffron sit on a stool in front of the window as I photographed the scene.

saffron outside the barn

The signboard outside the door mirrored the simplicity of the indoor décor - sparse, neutral in colour, and devoid of the adornments of some coffeehouses. The charm was in the rustic feel of the country, complete with grey blankets on benches and barnlike lumber throughout. A cozy fireplace would have made the place more charming and worthy of staying longer. Regardless, it was a memorable experience.

the barn sign

The white walls were bare except for the few wire cage lamps hanging on them. Small black and white signs along the picture window walls read "no laptops" in lowercase letters. Minimalistic is how I would describe the place. No plates, merely wooden boards on which the slice of carrot cake was served.

The cake was good. Saffron kept pointing out the large pieces of carrots and almonds. We split one slice as it was fairly large for one person to eat. She told me I should develop a recipe for carrot cake. "You should call it", she paused to think, "carrot almond cake". I smiled at her and drank my flat white.

The reviews online stated the coffeehouse had no sugar anywhere within sight. I always add raw sugar to any coffee I've ordered and I dared not ask for any. On The Barn's website they state the reason for the lack of sugar is they feel it distracts from the flavour of the coffee. I decided simply to try it and see if this flat white was worth the twenty train station rides. It was. The coffee was not bitter. It was smooth and pleasant. An opinion merely my own.

the barn inside

Having eaten our cake, we were ready to leave. I had my mind set on walking about the streets. Saffron, however, had other ideas in mind. An eight-year old is not interested in seeing the sights. At least not my eight-year old. She wanted to look at toys at the toy store. Not buy them. Simply look at them.

graffiti star brick wall

"Walking is boring", Saffron exclaimed. I assured her our next stop would be Alexanderplatz to look at toys but not before we spent a little more time walking up the street. Along the way, we observed more graffiti. She was happy to pose for me again albeit the cold was biting at her fingers. I held her hand and encouraged her to enjoy the walk and the surroundings for a while longer.

saffron and graffiti wall

I was beginning to realise how going to Prague with her would not have been as great an idea as I had initially thought. She is simply too young to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of new places. I explained to her the significance of her being able to go live in another country at such a young age - or any age for that matter. One day, I hope she will realise the great opportunity she had.

tower clock

We approached a hair salon with a sign board outside advertising children's haircuts for 15€. Not minding the fact the sign said something about appointments; I walked in and asked, in German, about getting my daughter's haircut.

As in typical German fashion, "no" means no exceptions and don't you dare ask. In other words, "We are German and we bend the rules for nobody". Not that they were busy as there were only two clients in the little salon. We walked out and continued our stroll up the street.

Upon our return, I stood in front of the window and had no problem photographing the pink cushions. I admired them as we passed them by and did not want to leave without photographing them.

pink cushions

As promised, we went to the toy section at Galeria Kaufhof on Alexanderplatz. But not before we walked through the greatly organised food section downstairs on the ground floor. We left without buying any chocolates, but we sampled a dark and light nougat bar. In the wine and liqueur section was a lady offering samples of Slivovitz from the Czech Republic. At home, I have a bottle of Croatian Slivovitz I mix with honey and lemon juice for times I have a bad sore throat. I knew of the strong taste. Nonetheless, I decided to have a sip. Even a sip was too much.

galeria kaufhof alexanderplatz

Having accomplished the mission of satisfying my curiosity about the coffee without sugar at The Barn, we headed home for a late lunch. Above in the cloudy skies, the Berliner Fernsehturm was a beautiful sight as it was embraced by fog. A symbol of Berlin, it is a striking tower with beautiful views of the city and is worth another trip to Alexanderplatz to show my daughter the views from above in the rotating restaurant.

fernsehturm alexanderplatz

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 4 | AN AFTERNOON AT WITTENBERGPLATZ

saffron by ivy

The cloudy weather begs for one to stay indoors and curl up in bed. For a while after breakfast we did just that until I awoke from a long nap at 14,00. I had to open the windows and let the cold air in. Then I dialed down the radiator and decided the maximum amount was simply too warm and possibly furthering my sleepy tendencies.

I warmed the lentil soup from last night's dinner and Saffron and I sat at the table indoors for lunch before heading out somewhere. Anywhere. I told Saffron we would get on the U-Bahn and go wherever it took us. I intended to go to the Krumme Lanke station for cake and coffee at a place I've been before. We decided we would go there tomorrow. Today we would ride in the opposite direction.

As I remember from years ago, the ticket system for the U-Bahn changed to where you now are no longer able to use the same ticket for a return trip. This can become limiting if one wants to ride multiple times during the day. My daughter was able to get a monthly student ticket since she resides here. I will have to purchase a 7-day ticket tomorrow so we are able to go to more places during this next week.

yellow leaves close up

On our way to the U-Bahn station, we spotted a green bike. Not wanting to be obvious about making a photograph of someone's bike, I had Saffron stand to one side as if I was making a photograph of only her.

saffron and green bike

Then I had her move to one side so I could make a photograph of the green bike. After my experience with the lady at the farmer's market two years ago who chased after me for photographing the eggs at her stand, I am more careful about my choice of subjects to photograph in Germany.

green bike

Wittenbergplatz was our destination today. It is a place we never miss on a trip to Berlin as the toy section on the fifth floor of KaDeWe is one of the best I've found. Our first stop was the Ravensburger puzzle section where I found a 500-piece puzzle for my son. Today was merely a window shopping day as I needed ideas for Christmas presents for my children.

wittenbergplatz station

Books are something I've given my children every year for Christmas and a tradition I intend to continue. I do not believe in overindulging the children with toys. When they are given too many options they are overwhelmed and start tossing toys all over the place. Now that I have a place of my own, I can control what comes into my home.

With fewer toy options, the imagination is expanded as I have seen with my two youngest. At first when my kids started staying with me, my middle daughter complained of being bored because she didn't have anything to do. In reality, she was used to the closets full of toys at the old place and had to readjust her thinking to use what she had available. My son, on the other hand, rarely appears bored. He seems to find something to do with anything at his disposal.

My oldest is into anything crafty and was perusing the craft section whilst I walked over to the book section. I flipped through several bake books but did not find anything to my liking. I then walked over to the children's book section and decided I need to expand my German children book collection which is essentially non-existent.

ka de we

We also made our way to the Lego store nearby and browsed the various sets. Saffron pointed out a set she'd like for Christmas. I saw one I wouldn't mind building with my son. Since we would not be spending Christmas together, I told her she could open her present when she returns home in February. The younger two will open their presents after Christmas since this year is not my year to have them.

lego store berlin

Before heading to either of the two stores, I noticed the broken link sculpture. One that was not surrounded by fences as in August. My intent every time I've been to Berlin was to photograph the link sculpture. Not merely a pass by photograph, but one up close.

It so happened this group of three Germans beat me to the sculpture and stayed a long while filming some sort of travel documentary. One girl on the bike rode toward the links as the guy with the video camera and the other lady with the sound equipment captured her riding through the links. All I was able to understand was "Charlottenburg ist...".

I took hold of Saffron's arm as we backed away from the sound lady in case Saffron started talking as they filmed. I would wait as long as it took to get my photographs. And we did as we sat on the nearby bench.

chain link sculpture berlin

At one point, the three Germans moved back out of the way and I inserted myself between them and the sculpture. I was able to make a few photographs but will most likely return with my longer lens another day for more photographs. Today I did the best I could with what I had.

link sculpture close up

Saffron is always a willing model and I'm happy about finally getting to make photographs of her.

link and saffron diptych

One can go to Berlin many times and yet every time is a different experience. I'm glad to have the chance to share this experience with Saffron.

saffron link close up

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 3 | A RAINY WEDNESDAY FARMER'S MARKET

saffron rainy day

We were awake early enough and walked to another bakery for this morning's brötchen. One with real croissants and non-airy bread. One merely a block away. Saffron approved of the croissant, preferring it to the one from yesterday morning's breakfast. Initially, she had me split the croissant between us, and then asked for the other half. She offered me a taste and I could see why she liked it as it was flaky and buttery and soft.

After breakfast, we boarded the U-Bahn and rode the three stations to the farmer's market. Seeing how the rain still was not letting up, we perused the books at Hugendubel for 20 minutes in hopes the rain would subside. It didn't. But we wanted to return home as soon as possible and enjoy the rain from the warm flat so we walked to the market in the rain.

"Are we going home now?" Saffron asked ten minutes into the shopping. We made our way around the market twice before heading home. The Wednesday farmer's market is smaller than the one on Saturdays, but we needed only a handful of items today.

saffi at farmer's market

The most important item was the quail eggs. Or as I call them "baby eggs". Every time I come to Berlin, I make sure to buy them. At the market on Karl-August-Platz there are two vendors selling quail eggs. One sells a dozen for € 2,20, while the other vendor sells 18 eggs for € 3. I opted for the 18 eggs.

quail eggs

We needed onions, garlic, and fresh thyme for tonight's lentil soup. And a few potatoes for another night. Cooking whilst traveling brings into perspective how much food we actually need and how much we end up throwing away as a result of purchasing too much.

vegetable basket

A 500g bag of Pardina lentils doesn't look like a lot. I used up 100g of the lentils and ended up with a pot full of soup for at least two dinners for two people. We also bought two Gala apples and had one for dinner along with the lentil and rice soup. I told Saffron these were the best Gala apples I've ever tasted, as these are the variety we purchase back home.

german gala apples

We left the market and walked the short distant to Kardstadt where Saffron wanted to buy a bead set with her own money. I was across the aisle from her eyeing the candy section. It was difficult to resist buying more German chocolates - marzipan nougat and marzipan kartoffeln this time. After a final stop at Lidner's bakery for two brötchen for lunch sandwiches, we were finally home.

saffron boots

The first thing Saffron did was open the bead set and make a bracelet for me. She wanted it to say "LOVE YOU MAMA", but realised there were no "y" letters for some reason. She improvised nicely despite the setback.

bracelet for mama

Saffron saw how I put her bracelet on the window sill to photograph it with more light. So, she grabbed her (my old) iPhone and did the same.

saffron with iphone
saffron photographs bracelet

She then asked if we could take a nap as she was tired from walking around in the rain. We ended up taking a three-hour long nap. I woke up before my daughter and admired how she slept so peacefully.

saffron naps

As soon as Saffron was awake, we had a late lunch. She then worked on her math lessons but forgot her eraser at Oma's. Tomorrow will be a trip to the store for a new eraser so she can do more lessons from her book.

Whilst I made lentil soup, I let Saffron watch some cartoons in German. I also asked her for the third time if she really is opposed to taking the train ride to Prague. I have tried convincing her to want to go, but she keeps refusing. When I ask for a reason, she gives me two.

One reason is she simply wants to be in an apartment so we can cook and bake. The other reason is a language one. She knows only three languages (four if you count the Spanish she learned in school), and Czech is not one of them. Valid reasons and I admire her for stating her wishes so clearly. Therefore, I now need to find another flat to rent for the remaining five nights. The one next to Oma is still available ("The Dungeon"), so it might be the one we rent.

brotchen sandwich

The other item I purchased at Kardstadt was a bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wine I found for € 4,99 . Wine in Europe is affordable when compared with the prices we pay in the States. A similar bottle would have cost three times as much back home.

montepulciano

The rain was a nice change today. Much nicer was our being able to admire it from inside of a warm flat. I only hope it is raining back home so my plants will be watered as I was unable to fix the corrosion on the irrigation timer before I left. It broke down during my last trip and another purchase simply wasn't worthwhile. But I won't be too heartbroken if the plants don't survive. Having the freedom to travel and spend time with my daughter once again is what is truly worthwhile.

wet leaves

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 2 | DAY OUT WITH THE GIRL

saffron funny face

One of the things I love about Europe is the ability to walk to the bakery every morning for freshly baked breakfast rolls. By 9:00 we were awake and ready to go to the bakery for brötchen. Saffron also wanted a croissant but I found out it goes by another name here in Germany. Something starting with "Butter...".

Breakfast was the typical brötchen with butter and sauerkischmarmelade (sour cherry marmalade). And fruit - banana this morning. It had rained overnight, so we ate indoors instead of on the balcony.

After breakfast, Saffron and I retreated to the loft where she read to me from her new Magic Treehouse book. I admitted to her that I had fallen asleep last night when she was reading - not even getting past the first two pages. So, she started from the beginning.

saffron loft

Once again, I found jetlag taking a tight hold on me as I fought hard to stay awake. Saffron would look over to me on the other side of the loft making sure I was awake. I admit I wasn't for the most part. After she read the first two chapters, I suggested we take a nap before heading out again. She wasn't too tired and asked if she could get up and go colour.

saffron through railing

At 13:30 I awoke from my nap and had Saffron work on her math lessons. She was working on two-digit subtraction visually - a method with tally marks, dots, and stars she came up with which works for her.

saffron math lesson
math lesson diptych

As she finished up her lesson, I took a moment to notice the beautiful autumn colours outside the window. It was nothing I would witness back home so I basked in this rare opportunity.

yellow tree from window

After her math lesson, we sat down for lunch. Saffron wanted the same cheese sandwich as yesterday but this time the bread was a mini baguette we bought at the bakery this morning. She preferred the softer bread of yesterday's lunch.

Then it was time to play with the Schleich figures. I was given the choice of two. I chose the fairy and the smaller horse. Saffron informed me the fairy was the mother of the smaller horse.

schleich figures

Saffron chose the two unicorns - Sparkly and Sparkly's mother. The "kids" played hide-and-seek and tag whilst the "mothers" sat to the side and conversed.

schleich and saffron

My girl was excited to have me see her at jazz dance class this afternoon. Not being sure of the time it would take to get there, we left early. We passed the bookstore we discovered yesterday on our walk where Saffron had purchased a small book on unicorns.

bookstore and trees

She was having a great time simply walking around with me and posing for photographs. She doned her handmade orange dress. The one she sewed by hand. The feature I like most is the one she also included on the dress she made for me - a hood.

saffron blue orange

Making our way to the U-Bahn, and remembering Saffron's monthly pass this time, we rode the three stops to Bismarckstrasse. On the way, I observed the feared ticket inspector. Luckily he went the opposite direction of where I was sitting and had caught a guy with an expired pass. I checked my ticket and noticed I had validated a child's ticket - one leftover from this summer. I took a chance on the return home as I figured the inspector would have a more difficult time in a crowded subway than in the middle of the day.

theodor heuss platz

Seeing how we still had time before the 17:30 class start, we sat at a coffeehouse on Zillestrasse. I enjoyed my flat white. Saffron sipped her pineapple juice and nibbled on the vanilla cookies. Three men at the neighbouring table were discussing a potential business deal. Two British guys and one German guy. I couldn't make out what they were saying but they were interesting to observe.

Afterwards, we strolled along Wilmersdorfer Strasse and decided to stop in at Kardstadt's. Saffron looked at drawing books and stickers whilst I browsed the much desired German chocolates. I promised her we would return after her class for stickers and chocolate.

Upon reaching our stop at Grunewald, it started to sprinkle. Neither of us had an umbrella with us but it wasn't necessary today. As we walked to the dance studio, we noticed the door was locked. Granted, we were 25 minutes early. So, we waited.

grunewald

Eventually two girls showed up but no teacher. The one girl with her mom left precisely at 17:29, figuring if the teacher wasn't there by now, she would not be coming at all. Saffron and I left two minutes later.

lamp bw

At the S-Bahn station, we ended up missing two subways as Saffron insisted we were waiting on the correct platform. We were not. 25 minutes later we were boarding the S-Bahn back to Charlottenburg.

grunewald sbahn

As promised, we returned to Kardstadt's for stickers and German chocolate. I noticed boxes of Reber's Mozart Kugeln on the discount table. Eight kugeln for € 2.99. So, I bought one box of those and a small marzipan schwartbrot.

We returned home and had dinner. Cooked potatoes, per Saffron's request. She ate hers with ketchup; I ate mine with saure sahne. I also made a salad for myself of arugula, baby tomatoes, feta, and rosemary crackers. Saffron eyed my salad and asked if she could have some. I gave her the rest and she liked it, requesting more for tomorrow's lunch minus the tomatoes.

A day out with my girl was a day well spent. Now that the two-day jetlag time was over, we can enjoy more days to come.

wilmersdorf strasse

BERLIN BOUND

vino volo newark

To get to where you need to go, the journey might not always be an elegant one. At times you will fall back on your sleep hours or forego food in order to ensure you are on time. In my case, it meant both. No food. Until I arrived at the airport. No sleep. Not one single wink. That is until I sat on the first plane to Houston. I feared if I slept even two or three hours it would be more difficult to awaken from a deep slumber.

On the flight from Houston to Newark, I intended to sleep the entire flight. Thirst and hunger cried out for me to quiet their desperate pleas. The Texas-sized currant scone I bought at the Austin airport was still in my pocket, on its way to dissolving into crumbs. It was a far cry from the scones at lovecrumbs in Edinburgh. But it was the only food I had with me other than a banana I brought from home.

austin airport

Since I was now in a temporary state of awakeness, I turned on the screen on the back of my seat instead. I wondered if there would be anything interesting to watch on this short flight as watching movies on long flights is something I tend to do in lieu of sleep. The title of one movie intrigued me due to my destination: "A Coffee in Berlin". What fascinated me most was the fact the movie was shot entirely in black and white. Stripped of colour, the story showed more depth, more soul, more of what is behind the eyes staring back at us from the screen.

"A Coffee in Berlin" (originally titled "Oh Boy") follows the story of Niko - a young man trying to figure out a life where he doesn't quite fit in. The substory is his never-ending pursuit of a cup of coffee, the ensuing disappointment of which is well-woven throughout the movie. The movie starts by him being dumped by his girlfriend. It moves on to his being harassed by two men pretending to be subway ticket agents. Then he was confronted by a former fat girl turned skinny girl - yet still psychotic. He dropped out of law school to "think" for two years, whilst his father kept sending monthly tuition money. The story is nothing close to a Hollywood movie. There is no happy ending. No perfect wrapping up of the storyline as there really is no storyline. It is everyday life and the black and white aspect of it is a perfect choice.

So begins my quest. My pursuit of the next chapter in my strange but interesting life as I get ready to board my third plane...the one to Berlin.

newark airport windows

THRESHOLD

bed stu boots
‘Twas the day before travel, when throughout all the house
persevering hands and feet were bustling about.

On the verge of travel, on the threshold of adventure. So the journey begins.

There is great satisfaction in a job well done. Knowing we've done all we could in the amount of time allotted. Though not everything is perfect, we realise it's the best we can do in this moment. Next time will be better.

The excitement of someplace new, somewhere other than our own home. Going out of our comfort zone into a world more vast than the walls of our homes. Such is the euphoria of travel despite the oft delays and inconveniences. 

Moving forward without looking back. Living life to the fullest. On the threshold of life we sometimes stand wishing for life to come to us instead of simply going out and embracing it with full force.

SPORTY SPICE

cinnamon pool

For a while, I wondered which activity interested my middle child. Her older sister showed a penchant for fashion design at the age of four whilst her younger brother exceled at building puzzles and Lego structures prior to attending preschool. It wasn't until this summer I realised Cinnamon's beloved activity - swimming.

Cinnamon has taken quite well to swimming. This past summer I observed and photographed her and her siblings during swimming lessons in Berlin. Every morning we made our way through the maze of U-Bahns, stairs, and surface streets to get to their outdoor pool location. On the second day of my four-day trip, we ended up taking the U2 in the opposite direction instead of the U7 as I relied on Saffron's instructions. This ended up in Sage tripping and bumping his head, whilst holding my hand, as we ran to minimize our lateness.

This week I observed Cinnamon learning the various strokes in the 30-minute lessons she's been getting from a private trainer. I smiled when I heard the instructor tell my daughter she was very disciplined when it came to her carrying out his instructions. The most used phrase was "bubble arm, breathe arm" as she made her way numerous time across the lap pool and back.

breathe arm

Earlier in the week, as Sage and I were relaxing by the pool during Cinnamon's lesson, I showed him ballet performances by men on my iPhone and pointed out how they could fly through the air. I have been trying to convince my son to take up a sport - any sport - though quite unsuccessfully. Flying seemed to intrigue him to the point where he was asking when he will be attending ballet so he could fly through the air. He also wanted to know if he would be wearing costumes.

After the lesson that day, the discussion ensued between brother and sister about boys wearing dresses. Cinnamon insisted boys did not get to wear dresses during ballet class. As their discussion continued and we made our way home, I was amazed to see the contrast of their talents and glad my sporty spice girl is now doing what she loves.

sage bright sun

RECOVERY

sunset october

As the sun set on this Thursday night, the day-long battle of the lawnmowers, trimmers, edgers, and grass blowers was finally over. Prior to the landscaping company arriving, the construction workers played with their equipment. I look forward to the time when construction is completed in this community. Despite the noise, I managed to get two more hours of sleep after walking the kids to the bus stop. The rest of the day was spent recovering from the sudden illness of yesterday and contemplating minimalism.

Whilst in bed, I read through comments posted on the article about the stay-at-home mom who realised she was a "luxury" to her spouse. Though we could debate the pros and cons ad nauseum, an important aspect of the case for staying home with small children is having a supportive spouse. One who believes you add value to the family. One who supports you emotionally, believes in you, is there for you, and loves you for the person you are and will be. People change as years progress. The key is to adapt to the change.

At one point, I had to click away from the distraction but wondered how I could continue to be there for my children despite my no longer being a spouse, rather a single parent with no income. Savings takes one only so far. One solution which came to mind is downsizing the living space. An article that furthered this thought was one I perused on the Houzz site yesterday morning. One entitled "6 Mental Tricks to Outsmart Your Small Space". All six points were enticing, including the tiny-home movement and especially the last one, "Pretend It's a Vacation Rental".

One of my favourite vacation rentals abroad is Greyfriar's Attic in Edinburgh. I've been there twice in the past year and would love to return sometime in the future. What enticed me most was the coziness of the sloped attic roof, the light from the skylight, and the window seat in the bedroom. The central location is most ideal with the view of Edinburgh castle from the dining area and the streets of city centre within a short walk.  I could live in such a place despite its small size and because of its minimalism.

I recall how my children adapted well to the minimalistic vacation rentals in Berlin. Living in one-bedroom apartments was sufficient for them as it is for many families around the world. It seems only in America have we become accustomed to the notion of needing more space. All at the sacrifice of working longer hours and leaving child-rearing in the hands of strangers. Albeit I have never fancied the notion of a nanny raising my children, I realise some people have no other choice. Cities with higher costs of living, such as New York and San Francisco, offer little choice but for parents to work. In the meantime, my search for flexible employment will continue. If the option is available, sacrificing living space for the opportunity to be present for my children as long as they are still young is worth considering.

MEDICINE HOUSE

lego map

As I grabbed hold of Sage's hand tonight, I noticed it was cooler than mine. He did too. I put his hand on my forehead and he exclaimed, "Mama! You're hot!" The fever started earlier this morning and has not yet subsided. From the time I dropped off the children at the bus stop until it was time to pick them up at noon, due to it being a half-day today, I stayed in bed and slept as much as the illness allowed me to sleep. Chills accompanied me throughout the day despite my having been curled up under the down comforter. Nausea and abdominal pain followed shortly thereafter.

Upon our return home, I told the children I needed to lie down some more. "I love taking care of tebe", voiced Sage ("tebe" is "you" in Croatian). "It's nice", he continued. So, both of the children pretended to be nurses, taking care of me in between their building a "medicine house", as Sage explained. Every 10 to 15 minutes, nurse Sage would walk over to me and give me medicine in the form of water. A few minutes later, nurse Cinnamon would rush over to take the bottle of water away and return it to its place on the floor. At times they argued over who got to administer the medicine, but the system in place seemed to work well. They proved they could play nice together.

cinnamon up hairdo

This stomach flu, if that's what this is, could not have come at a more inconvenient time as I will be departing for Berlin early Sunday morning. Saffron called on Skype this afternoon and was able to see her siblings due to their early release day. She let me know she's packed her bag and is anxiously awaiting my arrival. I wish I could say I was ready but two illnesses this week served as hindrances to my plans.

Albeit today was another setback, I have confidence tomorrow will be a better day.

pajamas


ELEMENTARY

kids and legos

Innocence and simplicity. Life starts out with the bare essentials. The elementary necessities of survival - food, shelter, clothing. Somewhere along the way we set about to accumulate more, believing we need more in order to have a fulfilled life. Before long, simplicity becomes complexity whilst innocence turns to corruption and eventual dissatisfaction of some aspect of life. At that moment, we lose sight of what it means to truly enjoy life.

cinnamon legos

Saturday morning as I was sitting at The Hideout Coffeehouse downtown and enjoying my flat white coffee and pumpkin muffin, I noticed a man and his son at a neighboring table. The boy must have been perhaps 9 or 10 years old and was busy explaining something to his father in a most enthusiastic manner. I heard the conversation but did not listen. I merely observed the gestures of the boys' hands as they waved about. He was excited to explain to his attentive father his latest thoughts. I smiled as I witnessed this experience. Albeit I was not tuned in to the words the boy was saying, the son's fervour spoke volumes. 

At that moment, I wondered at which age we lose the joy and spirit we once had as children. The time in our lives which were once simple and innocent. A time when we possessed the carefree nature of an unjaded heart and an inquisitive mind. When everything seemed possible and we viewed the world as an endless stream of possibilities.   

Children need far less than we think they do. Even less than we lead them to believe they do. They need not a room filled with toys, electronics to keep them passively entertained, or endless extracurricular activities which take time away from their thoughts. What children need most of all - beyond the elementary necessities - is love and an attentive ear to listen to their impassioned cries of joy and enthusiasm. To help build confidence and develop their inquisitive minds.

sage catchlights bw


SICK DAY

sick boy bw

The darkness enveloped us this morning whilst the gusty wind nipped at our clothes as we made our way to the bus stop. In the distance, flashes of lightning broke through the darkness at regular intervals bringing with it the jolting thunder and the impending rain as Cinnamon and I watched from afar. Her brother would not be joining her on the journey to school today. As she walked towards the open doors, she whispered: "You have to take care of Sagey". The kindness in her heart was touching. She waved goodbye and climbed aboard.

It started as his reluctance to get out of bed, even after having gone to bed by 7:30 the night before. At breakfast, Sage was taking longer than usual to get started eating his vanilla yogurt with granola. He mentioned he felt hot but I imagined he was trying to get out of going to school - particularly since he voiced his dislike of school yesterday morning. I finally let him go get ready seeing how we had 15 minutes until the bus was to arrive.

Then the whimpering in the distance. At the top of the stairs. That's when I knew he was serious about not feeling well. Sage sat on the top stair not saying a word. "Do you have to puke?" I asked him. I told him to run to the bathroom. He didn't make it in time but luckily I was there with my hand. I realise how unpleasant that might sound to some, but when you're a parent you get used to these things.

A sick child is a fact of life at this time of year as children attend school and are exposed to other children who are ill. I decided to keep Sage home and spend time with him. My plans for the day could wait until tomorrow. I laid down next to him and we slept for a short while. As I was drifting off to a deeper sleep, I heard "Mama, look!". Sage was looking out the window at the rainbow - a double rainbow, as it turned out. The last time I'd seen a double rainbow was long ago in Ireland. There one can witness many rainbows.

"I want to touch the rainbow!", exclaims Sage. "I want to be in the rainbow", he continues. We walked outside on the porch to take a closer look. Children show us the beauty in the little things in life. Had it not been for him staying home today, I would not have noticed the rainbows as I most likely would not have been looking out the window.

double rainbow texas

When we walked back inside, Sage decided to play by the fireplace. Jenga was his choice today. In a matter of a few minutes he ushered me to come look again. I stood there in amazement and admired the structure he built. 

jenga house bw

As I raced upstairs to get my camera, he also grabbed his camera and started to photograph his creation. He proceeded to take more photographs of his stuffed animals and anything around the room. Then he sat on the blanket on the floor and reviewed the photographs he had just taken.

sage camera review bw

In the meantime, I mustered the energy to make scones for my breakfast. I decided on using the wild dried blueberries I normally put in the multigrain cereal. Turkish coffee and scones made for a tasty breakfast.

wild blueberry scones

Sage and I retreated upstairs where I comforted him as he went back to sleep. Afterwards, I read him two stories. The first was "The Travels of Babar" which I had a difficult time reading without laughing - which also made Sage laugh. I've never heard of the Babar series until my children were given a Babar book a few years back. The stories and style of writing I found a bit bizarre for my taste. The second book was "The Dark" and is about a little boy who is afraid of the dark but starts to converse with the dark as a way to overcome his fears. This book is one of four books I brought back with me from my travel to upstate New York last year. The story was more to my liking than the Babar book. Regardless, Sage enjoyed our time together and was all that mattered.

sage and babar book bw

Upon returning from Cinnamon's swimming lesson, Sage climbed back in bed and slept through dinner. Cinnamon readied herself for bed and chose a book for tonight's bedtime story. Ironically, she also chose a Babar book - "Babar and The Ghost".

sage asleep bw

Tired from swimming, Cinnamon fell asleep within 10 minutes. I returned to my room to write and heard Sage shifting around on his bed. He was thirsty and was searching for his bottle of water.

"I love you", I told Sage as he settled on his bed.

"I love you too", he replied.

"I love you more", I responded.

"I love you more than the Earth and the higher world", my Sage proclaimed as he drifted off to sleep.

WHAT LIES WITHIN

rain drop red leaves

This morning I tried to convince the children to sleep in since it was Sunday and there was no school. My attempt was futile as they were wide awake. I don't blame them as they had five hours more sleep than I had.

“But I like school”, declared Cinnamon. I asked her why. “I don’t know”, she replied.

“I don’t”, proclaimed Sage about his dislike of school. I then asked him why and he replied, “I don’t like learning.”

I laughed but he was clearly not pleased with my response. "It's not funny," he sulked. I then asked him what he liked. I already knew the answer but wanted to give him a chance to voice his response. “Building”.

My boy also seems to take quite an interest in photographing the world around him. As we went on our afternoon photo hike, Sage asked me what I was photographing and then proceeded to replicate the shot with the indestructible kid camera purchased years ago. I'm still a bit hesitant to put a real point-and-shoot camera in their hands - a fear that was confirmed when Sage tripped later during our walk whilst holding the camera, two sticks, and a rock.

sage photographing

There were many objects of interest to photograph - as long as one took the time to appreciate the little things. The native grasses lining the walkway of a new townhome recently completed in the neighborhood were beautiful against the late afternoon light.

native grass

The wispy grass jutting out of a nearby rock swayed with the wind as we attempted to capture its loneliness.

grass in rock

The abandoned glass Coca-Cola bottle placed on top of a rock fence - most likely by one of the construction workers - stood out against the natural surroundings.

glass coke bottle

When you learn to appreciate the little things, your heart will lead your eyes to see much more than you believe is in front of you.

kids by cactus

Even a seemingly boring rock wall can yield interesting results - especially when stripping colour to reveal intricacies. I told Cinnamon the wall would look interesting in black and white. She asked how one goes about changing the colour of things. I told her "on the computer".

rock wall

The absence of colour in photographs has always been a fascination of mine. Pure emotions are more readily seen when the distraction of colour is removed.

kids by container bw

When you have a colour as bold as red, your eyes are immediately drawn to the red object instead of the emotions that should be at the forefront. Colour, as many things in life, tends to divert attention from what truly lies within.

kids by container colour