I used to break down these trips into multiple parts, thanks to extensive journals I kept, but I think I’d just prefer to do a single round-up and not just because I didn’t keep a journal this time. I think I’m just going to do a summary by category.
Climb UP! Climbing Forest.
This was one of the cooler adventures we got up to. For adults, there are various challenges to climb up into the treetops, and of course, some zip lines. We didn’t do the adult challenges in favour of accompanying the kids. They each wore safety harnesses with 2 carabiners that got hooked into safety lines that ran alongside each climbing challenge. The challenges were strung together to form an entire course to traverse. At the end of one challenge, you’d unhook a carabiner from the completed challenge’s safety line and hook it into the new, then you’d repeat for the second carabiner, so that in principle, you were always tethered. The kids never got any higher than around 5 feet off the ground, but I guess it’s the principle that’s important. Shark Boy loved it and managed his own safety harness, and while the Lightning Kid seems to be a born climber, he got a little tired about halfway through the course so I let him bail.
Germendorf Zoo/Theme Park
We’ve visited this place annually for at least 3 years now. When we got in, Shark Boy found a dead snake beneath a statue of an elephant, and by the time we were done, he still considered it a highlight. This year I had us navigate toward the ‘Dinosaur’ section before we got too close to the carnival rides and playgrounds that always seem to high-jack the kids’ interest in the animals there. I think I only saw one dinosaur (statue) but we got to see some animals we haven’t seen in prior visits. For me the highlight was a puma, which is not only one of my favourite animals, but this one actually got up and walked around, which is kind of rare for big cats in captivity (in my experience). He did seem to take an unhealthy interest in Shark Boy; at least, unhealthy for the boy – his ears pricked up, he stared, licked his chops, you name it.
We got to see monkeys playing, meerkats, parrots and even pet and feed a deer.
Then it was time for lunch and rides. We shelled out for them to ride these electrically powered motorcycles (they move fairly slowly), which not only gave us a sweet moment of the two brothers riding together, but we actually got the Lightning Kid to ride his own. He did a great job of steering until he’d get distracted by what his brother was up to, and then he’d crash – which didn’t hurt him but resulted in tears from the sudden shock. There was an indoor play area which used to house a ball pit and a few bouncy castles, but they’ve expanded it into a much more extensive play area with all kinds of climbing structures.
I don’t like to make fun of personal appearances, but I have to tell this story. My wife and I were sitting near the ball pit which was intended (according to the signs) for kids aged 0-5. There were kids much older in there, and they were throwing the balls out of the pit and generally making a nuisance of themselves. The supervisor turned up and told them off – and they got off light, because the supervisor was a witch from a storybook, I kid you not. Hook nose, wild and wiry hair, crazy eyes… all that was missing was a wart. I know we weren’t all created to have movie star good looks, but maybe using a brush once in a while… on the other hand, maybe it helps with her job. My wife and I have read a lot of German children’s literature (as children ourselves, we don’t like it too much for our kids) where there is often some kind of boogeyman who comes and gets you when you don’t follow the rules (see here for an example) – so we couldn’t help but laugh to see one of these scenarios brought to life.
Another annual mandatory outing. We had lovely weather, but this year they stopped making a stop near where we were staying, so we had to make a round trip. The food menu seemed reduced too, but at least it’s getting easier to keep the kids safe while they roam the decks.
We rode our bikes through the local forest into the town of Tegel to find a playground. This day was particularly hot, so the shade provided by the trees was very welcome. Shark Boy had been getting over a flu, and I think we overestimated his recovery, because he simply quit well before we could get home, in spite of covering a much bigger distance last year. Still, taken as a whole, I have to call it a successful outing, and hopefully a precursor to future family bike trips.
There’s a Simpsons episode where Germany is referred to as the land of chocolate, so we had plenty of that. I honestly don’t quite understand how Germans stay thin (my observations of people make me think that they’re thinner on average, though I found this on Wikipedia – Canadian men are 2 kg lighter than Germans [who are 6 kg lighter than Americans] on average). They have some good habits like more walking and biking as transportation, not to mention that the evening meal is generally quite light, with lunch being the big hot meal, but still! The bread is made with white flour, the meat is often red; I have a hard enough time eating fruit at home, but with fresh cold cuts and cheeses bought on a daily basis, they really get pushed to the side.
And then there’s my fetish for ice cream made in the image of pasta… I try to eat Spaghetti Ice Cream as often as I can get my hands on it while I’m in Germany since I can’t get it back home. The ice cream is pushed through a press to make noodles, the tomato sauce is actually strawberry sauce, and the grated cheese is either grated coconut, or grated white chocolate. I didn’t get to try any new places this year, but I got enough samples to keep me happy.
My wife and I had two date nights: once at our favourite little Italian place, where they always treat us like royalty and once at Alten Fritz (which has been open, in some capacity or another, since 1410!). We actually went to this restaurant twice: once with a larger group, and once with just the two of us. The first time I had a Goulash made with Wild Boar, and the second time a platter with 3 kinds of dumpling; it was really an eye-opener to how fine traditional German cuisine can be. There’s outdoor seating and even a little forested area with pond that really adds to the ambience.
I used our proximity to the Havel River to my full advantage and I’d packed my wetsuit. I got in 3 open water swims, and since I’ve been doing a lot more than usual pool training, the difference that the open water makes was a bit of a surprise to me. I’m not sure of my technique in open water, but I’ve got the rest of the summer to figure it out. I got 3 different swims in, and one was 1800m, close to a half-iron distance swim. I think I’ll be putting together a post about swimming in an unfamiliar river.
In addition to the family bike ride mentioned above, I got in 3 rides. I knew my cycling training would suffer the most for not having access to a road or tri bike, but two of my rides were with the Lightning Kid, including one that had us out for about 3 hours (2 hours of actual riding) – it was great bonding time for us, and he liked seeing the sights and sounds including visiting a pens where boars and deer are kept. My third ride got cut short by a flat tire.
Running is the easiest form of training to accomplish on vacation. Running with my brother on the day we arrived with jet lag (after an overnight flight) was pretty challenging; I expected to feel tired, but I had this dead feeling in my legs that I wasn’t prepared for. For the first few days in Berlin we had a lot of cold weather and rain so my first solo run was not enjoyable, but I also had nice runs in sunnier weather, alternating between going along the Havel River (and trying, unsuccessfully, to race one of the Steamboat cruises) and through the forest.
In addition to the usual suspects I also got to try the original Budweiser. This Czech lager is nothing like the American brew and I really enjoyed it. There was also Altenmuenster, which I gave 3.25 stars out of 5 and my wife and I both had a Kronbacher Radler. If you haven’t heard of a Radler (Moosehead is making one, for example), it’s a little like a shandy or other beer based beverage. A mix of sparkling lemonade and beer, the story goes that a bar owner was getting cleaned out of stock by thirsty cyclists stopping in, so he found a way to stretch his inventory while still quenching his customers’ thirst – Radler translates to ‘Cyclist’ as it turns out. So of course we had one while on the family bike ride mentioned above.
That’s a wrap on another German holiday!