Episode 1 Recap – A harrowing experience procuring the Schengen Visa. A back-breaking eight hour flight. And just when the excitement was regaining its vigour on reaching Berlin, a problem smashed right through (to read Episode 1 in full please click here)
After getting out of the airport, my new international roaming SIM card, bought in India, didn’t have any data connection. I was starting to panic, but as a smart, well-researched, well-informed traveler I… turned to my wife and told her to go look for help.
While she was figuring out how to get out of the airport, in the meantime the call centre guys gave me a solution to my data issues. Turns out, you need to change the APN settings to start the data. Panic mode off. Data on. Google Maps ready.
I’d like to establish the fact that I am not going to give you a day-to-day breakdown of my travels. There is a lot of content available online for that. Instead I want to share my personal learnings of traveling as a tight family of three.
We love walking and that’s the best way explore ANY city – the people, architecture, open spaces, culture, history, you can feel every pulse of the city. We would clock anywhere between 9 to 14 kms every single day, only walking.
4 days in Berlin was enough for us and had heavily researched the city – whether to buy a city pass? Do we need to go inside each and every monument and pay approx 10-12 Euros on an average? etc. Our style of travel is to create a proper itinerary and look up all the places on googles maps before venturing out.
We planned this entire trip by ourselves, so we went in really prepared (refer to excel sheet image). We broke down the city into zones that we would tackle each day. For example if you are going to Brandenburg Gate make sure that you explore the entire street of Unter Den Linden and the various buildings on either side. Go to Gendarmenmarkt, Reichstag Building, Berlin Wall Memorial and other places in and around.
Also go through recent reviews and check if any of the monuments are under renovation or is planning to host an event.
Make sure you keep a day aside to explore the museum island and Alexanderplatz. Go to at least one museum to experience what it’s like to explore a European museum. Do not miss the East Side Gallery, that mile long Berlin Wall has some of the most powerful paintings that I have ever seen. I personally love history and to understand what Germany went through from days of the Nazis, followed by cold war to now is astounding.
The entire city of Berlin is covered with Graffiti, officially or unofficially. Like the ones at Anne Frank Zentrum, is steeped in history, reminding you of the 80s electro-punk Germany.
Go to a flea market, it’s something you shouldn’t miss – multiple live events, impromptu singing, local delicacies, souvenier shacks and of course very interesting people. I think we hit the one at Mauer Park, honestly I can’t remember. We were not too big on shopping but yeah we kind lost our marbles when we went to Primark.
Germany clearly is a very cycling-friendly city, which has dedicated paths for cyclists, so when you are walking make sure you don’t come in their way, especially when they come from behind, you won’t hear any honking or yelling. they’ll just zip past. So heads up.
My wife and I decided to have at least one day to ourselves and explore the city alone. So my wife took up a cycling tour and spend the whole day by herself. Which meant I had a daddy’s day out with Baby Z. Sometimes space is good.
Baby Pointers – Baby Z loved to walk around and kept running away from us, so we had to keep a hawk eye on her. We would try and hit a garden in the afternoons so she could get her afternoon nap. Of course we too needed that rest after all that walking.
Schnitzel, pretzel, currywurst, sausages, cheesecakes, doner kebabs, pizzas, ice-creams, berries and the lot, but what we enjoyed the most were the beers and ciders.
In Mumbai only a handful of cider options are available to us, so that was always a priority, not to mention a selection of top beers, crisp, sparkling and the perfect remedy after a long walk.
Thanks to all that walking, we could really pack it in. We’ve had a complete meal for as less as 9 Euros to as much as 40 Euros. We stuck to the local foods for obvious reasons.
Must have doner kebab at Mustafa Gemure Kebaps (it was a 10 minute walk from our hotel) Burgermeister, one of the best burgers I have had on the trip, local delicacies and beer at a beer garden in Tiergarten and pizza. It’s amazing how many Italian joints we saw.
Unlike in India, they don’t serve water in any eating establishment. Also, be mindful when buying water from a store, there are two kinds – normal and sparkling (soda or gas as they call it)
Baby Pointers – As a two year old Baby Z ate everything, although we did carry a small snack in our bags because a fixed lunch time was never assured. She loved berries, yoghurt, flavoured milk, nuts, these are some great foods to feed her when she got hungry before lunch.
The people in Berlin just came across as rude or maybe indifferent, I couldn’t quite get a hold on their demeanour. The good thing was Baby Z got a lot of attention, people would smile at her, try and get her attention but they wouldn’t interact with us at all.
Berlin has a huge community of immigrants, and we could have easily fit in, and that’s where we encountered problems. A lot of the locals assumed that we were immigrants and treated us differently. We went to a hotdog stand somewhere on Hardenbergstrade and everything was written in German so we requested the lady behind the counter for an English menu, she had her back facing us. With a cursory glance in our direction she just said a curt NO.
Luckily we knew what we wanted and after showing considerable intent to buying, she finally gave us attention.
People in general there were not really aware of things, like simple direction, availability of certain things like a baby seat, nobody had any answers for us. We tried not to interact much with the people and relied on Google for most of our queries.
When we travel abroad, normally we’d book an Airbnb apartment, which we did for Budapest but the bulk of our bookings were hotels, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, we wanted to be close to people who we could interact with, so the hotel staff and other travelers. Secondly, and most importantly, because we had a two year old with us, ease and convenience of stay was paramount – room service, breakfast, quick in and out, etc.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express City Centre. It was fairly central and 200m from a metro station and walking distance from a number of eating joints.
The room was pretty small, as expected but sadly the bed was smaller than our expectation. We are fairly tall and co-sleeping with our daughter was going to be a challenge but barring that we were comfortable.
We got the right amount of the June sun, cool breeze and rain. Trust me, coming from Mumbai, this was better than our winters.
Before leaving we read that a heat wave was passing through Europe, so we made sure not to carry too many warm clothes. A light jacket and two umbrellas was all we needed.
Baby Pointers – We carried decent amount of warm clothes for Baby Z, a lot of socks and diapers. In the cold she tends lose her bladder control so extra diapers definitely helped.
We were really amazed by the public transport – it was clean, disciplined, mostly on time AND nobody checked tickets. So passengers can happily waltz in and out. Obviously we bought our tickets for every ride but after a point we started getting bolder and greedier and stopped purchasing our tickets. Bad move.
On the last day in Berlin, on my last train ride I got caught and had to pay a fine of 60 Euros. What was ironic though, I actually went to buy a ticket at the kiosk but it wasn’t working. As per the rule if you can’t get a ticket on that station, you have to get off the next station and make the purchase. Lesson f***ing learnt. Being an Indian, my miserly mind immediately started calculating the loses in rupees and ruing the fact what all I could have bought.
One thing to remember is that if you travel in Europe by Flixbus buses make sure you carry a babyseat, if your child is less than 3 years old. It is mandatory.
Baby Pointers – Thanks to our carrier it became supremely easy for us to enter and exit trains and buses. Since she was always on either one of us. We saw other families who struggled with their bulky prams. Also kids till the age of 12-14 travel for free in most European countries.
Next Episode – Prague, Czech Republic