Tired after spending the morning inside the Bundestag dome in Berlin (post here!), we picnicked in the lawn outside. We had had a rainy morning and the bright sunshine that followed offered us the sort of bright light that brings the colours alive and makes everything around look like its straight out of the pages of a computer-rendered drawing!
In this setting, Aadyaa discovered the pleasure of feeding the birds when she accidentally dropped a morsel of bread on the grass beside her! The eager and clever sparrows, well versed with tourists, began to seat themselves in the bushes and trees nearby, waiting for one of us to throw out piece of bread or a broken off potato wafer. Slowly they began to wait in the grass beside us, only a few paces away and it would seem that if we had spent the rest of the day there, they could have eaten out of our hands as well!
Needless to say, our little girl was thrilled! My intense pleasure of experiencing the Bundestag dome paled a bit in comparison with her genuine happiness while feeding the sparrows. Rahul and me were spellbound by the extreme simplicity of a child’s mind. Sitting there, deliberately not rushing the kids towards another touristic destination, we were able to see, for a bit, life the way our kids see it. Uncluttered and in the moment!
This post is part of a series on our family’s experiences in Berlin and The Netherlands in the Summer of 2014. Some of the more popular travel posts from this series are:
I’ve seen this sort of stuff before in Germany. Many years ago in Cologne, I remember walking on a street with a giant circle inscribed in it, to remember the Roman structure that once stood there. It was 1999. I had recently graduated from architecture college and the simple memory tool simply blew my mind!
This summer in Berlin, I noticed that the heavy scent of memory and nostalgia, tinged with sweetness and pain, still hangs around every street corner. And so I was particularly struck by this little open space near Checkpoint Charlie.
It’s called Bethlehemkirchplatz. Here, where a Church once stood, stands a metal frame that recreates the outline of the original building in a giant three-dimensional sculpture designed by Spanish artist Juan Garaizabal (it is a tube structure that plays with light apparently, but we saw it only in the daytime). You walk inside it and you see the plan of the erstwhile church inscribed into the paving in a distinct colour. It urges you to try and conjure up its walls and roof, its interiors, furniture, people. And you cannot, because it is in fact an empty space, filled with memory and emotion.
A 16th C church built for Szech Protestant refugees who came to Berlin at the time of Frederick William the 1st. Built around 1737, the church was bombed during the WWII in 1943 and in 1963 the ruins were brought down. The current artwork was inaugurated as recently as 2012.
We first caught a tantalizing glimpse of the sculpture on our way back from Checkpoint Charlie on Day 1 of our exploration of Berlin (more on that later). But it stayed in my mind and we went back to it another time to feel wha its like to stand inside that shell. Interestingly, the plaza is also known for the building in the background that was designed by well-known architect Philip Johnson and in this way, the place holds more than just memory but is linked to Berlin’s recent history and architectural prowess.
After a congenial and comfortable train ride from Amsterdam to Berlin, we weren’t exactly tired. And so, shortly after we dumped our bags in our hotel room, all four of us were eager to walk around and explore our new destination.
At first sight, I found Berlin hard to read. So much was happening around me visually. Heritage structures abounded, but the skyline was dominated by the slender and modern TV tower, the 4th tallest structure in Europe. Cranes dotted the horizon as well and I could sense the energy of a city that seemed to be in a constant state of re-invention.
Despite the broad research I had done, I hadn’t dwelt on what it would be like to walk the streets of Berlin and I loved the feeling of taking in a new place, the tingling sense of curiosity, the eagerness to discover. Rahul and the kids seemed to share this feeling as well and we found ourselves walking around the Nikolaiviertel (St Nicholas Quarter) that was adjacent to our hotel.
Aside: We stayed at the Novotel and Aadyaa called it the No-Hotel for two whole days to our utter amusement. A decent place to stay, not luxurious but well located.
Interestingly, this is the oldest residential area in Berlin dating back to medieval times. We circled Nikolaikirche, the oldest church in the city, which was to become a familiar landmark over the next few days. We walked past the ornate Ephraim Palace and the red Rathuis (Townhall). We admired the River Spree and paid our respects to St. George slaying the dragon.
Everywhere, I saw the infill new buildings that had been fitted into the fabric of the older city and it took me some time to shake off the visual symmetry of the Dutch landscape and accommodate the more kitschy urbanscape of Berlin. Somewhere in between our wanderings this first evening, we sat down to a hearty German meal of bratwurst and potato salad, beer and schintzel. A good beginning to a packed 4 days ahead in one of the most interesting cities in the world!
One of the highlights on this time’s Netherlands trip, for all of us, was the lovely dinner Anne and Marijn had planned for us at De Molen, a traditional windmill converted into a restaurant. There are several of these in The Netherlands and it was a great introduction to the Dutch countryside as we drove from Amsterdam through lush green fields, pretty canals and past picture-perfect provincial homes and farmsteads to the this fantastic old windmill, all restored and poised, waiting for us.
It was a lovely summer evening. We had only been in The Netherlands a couple of days and were easing into the peculiar feel of the European summer. Long leisurely evenings full of light, gossip, laughter, relaxation. Time to explore, or just be! The windmill was the perfect place to do all of that.
Built in 1766, windmills like this are scattered all over the countryside, many of them rebuilt from scratch to their original glory. While they performed the all-important job of using the wind’s energy to grind cereal in the pastoral 18th century, today these structures have become a touristic symbol of Dutch culture, along with tulips and clogs galore! The Dutch love to conserve the past and it’s delightful to drive by numerous windmills even as you see the countryside dotted with modern windmills as well! I loved the way this structure has been creatively re-used, maintaining its essence and character. A family run restaurant meant it had a distinct charm and standard of service that made the experience especially pleasant.
So through this perfect summer evening, we (the lazy grown-ups) chilled and chatted with the windmill behind us, while the children explored the nearby canal and a little ‘island’ they found there. At some point, Marijn got them into skimming stones over the water and that kept them busy for a long long time.
The menu at De Molen was a small selection, not designed to confuse certainly. And we could all choose something quite different. Rahul ate a pork Schnitzel (we would mostly give that a pass in Germany, but it was very good this evening), Udai had a dish of pork tenderloin that he pronounced was excellent, I had a very typical Dutch dish that comprised a super thin well-cooked fish fillet. Marijn also had the schitzel while Anne ate something that looked particularly healthy! The desserts were fantastic. Apple strudel and a sinful chocolate concoction sealed the deal for us. We returned home to Haarlem one set of very happy holidayers!
It’s a very simple list, seen from the eyes of 6-year old Aadyaa. Along with her friend Myrah who is a year younger, the children’s’ perspective on the vacation was an important one for us, for keeping them in good humor was the vital ingredient in our holiday! Here’s my attempt to reconstruct our day out in Shimla from their perspective!
#1 The mandatory horse ride
Yes, the mandatory horse ride must be ticked off the list in a place like Shimla. I did it in Mussourie when I was perhaps the same age and here is Aadyaa astride Badal, the horse who wore her “kathak ghungroos” around his neck!
#2 Roadside eating
From pastries to the local phalsa fruit, the kids had fun demanding on-the-go food at regular intervals. Besides the energy shots, the food served as able distractions from the changing weather!
#3 Picture posing
For some inane reason, the kids would yell “Aaloo parantha!” and “Pasta!” each time someone asked them to pose for a pic. It gave us all a hearty laugh each time and I loved the way they infected us grown-ups with their wonderful inanity. Check out their wide grins!
#4 Battling the winds and the rain
I don’t think the children expected the cold winds and the rain. Aadyaa had a windcheater on to help her out, but she found the wind quite uncomfortable. Her legs were cold in the rain and she has to ask me to buy her new pajamas in the mall. Myrah too needed to buy a thicker jacket.
We spent quite a lot of time walking in the drizzle and then taking shelter wherever possible when the rain increased. One time it was the crowded porch of the post office, another time the porch of the church. Yet another time it was a long long wait under a sturdy old tree. They didn’t mind the latter too much as they had space to stretch and play and we passed the time singing rhymes and laughing!
#5 The monkey menace!
The monkeys were everywhere. Despite several instructions about not looking at them, ignoring them, not being scared etc etc, it was hard for the children to not worry about the monkeys. I was scared that Aadyaa might try to be too friendly since she loves animals. In the crowded part of the city, we managed to avoid the monkeys, but on a lonely stretch they managed to terrorize little Myrah and snatch away a bag we were carrying. From then on, monkeys became Enemy no.1 on the trip!
My children are now 10 and 6. They’re growing, they’re increasingly independent and very very curious. My boy is in what they call the Viking Stage- full of aggression and passion, an opportunity to direct his energies into things creative and exciting. My girl is ever enthusiastic, talented and hard working. All the ingredients are on the table for an exciting summer. The only critical piece of the puzzle is my time and energy.
This summer I’m determined to put that missing ingredient into the mix and let ourselves in for a super super roller coaster ride! Each day, while I tick off the usual stuff off my to-do list, my mind is doing its own background thinking about what activities we could plan for summer, together. I find a lot of parents asking each other and at a loss as to how to occupy their kids. So I thought it might be useful to document my ideas as well as the execution of our plans.
I have the first 2 projects germinating in my head now, and I’m already discussing the how-to’s with friends and the kids themselves.
Outdoor sketching for fun
Designed as 4 separate modules, I’m planning to take a group of kids accompanied by their parents/guardians to outdoor locations in the city (in the early mornings of course!). Armed with sketchbooks and pencils, the idea is to see and draw, just letting the mind and the hands wander over the pages. It’s a fun activity, not designed to ‘tech’ but to ‘experience’. I’m trying it out with a small group this summer and some artist friends are joining us for general guidance as well.
DIY planners for the kids
Udai is at the age when he is struggling to organize his life. Schoolwork has increased, so has social and co-curricular activity. There’s a lot on his plate. And poor mommy ends up being the planner and general nagger. So we decided to make ourselves an A3 planner for each month of the remaining school year, all the way till March 2015. We’re still thinking about how this will happen, if it will all be handmade or a combination etc etc. Aadyaa wouldn;t want to be left out, but maybe a different format might work better for her.
Here are a few absolutely awesome things we saw on pinterest that inspired us.
Cornflower Blue’s Rotating to-do list (unfortunately, her blog is private)
If you live by the water, you have no idea how those of us who live in landlocked places long for the open sea. No matter what age we are, no matter what state of mind, just take us to a beach or jetty and watch us go wild!
One morning in Goa, this past week, we were out to fill fuel in the car and decided to visit Miramar, which is a beautiful stretch of beach next to Panjim, Goa’s capital city. Within minutes, the children had walked out into the waves, sat in them, jumped in them, rolled in them, and well, thoroughly soaked themselves into the experience of being on the beach. I walked around in my shoes (why was I wearing them exactly?) collecting shells, which Aadyaa really wanted but didn’t have the patience to collect, preferring to frolic in the water instead. Udai wore a silly grin while Rahul had a beatific smile stuck on his face. I took pictures of my beautiful family as we all thoroughly enjoyed some peaceful time on a nearly deserted beach!
Just back from a week out with kids and friends and friends’ kids and I cannot sleep. The images of the week gone by and the to-do list of the week ahead clash inside my head as I toss, turn and finally sit up and start up my Mac to..what else, blog!
Our trip to Dharamsala included two couples and three kids- aged 9, 5 and 4. Quite a bit of our time and patience went into managing the kiddos and so I thought I’d pen down what worked and what didn’t. At the end of it all, I wonder whether it wasn’t the kids that had the fingers on the control buttons all along!
1- Kids are competitive, so comparisons are a no-no, even though tempting at times! Aadyaa and Maayra, the two girls aged 5 and 4, drove us up the wall with their constant competing. They wanted the same number of spoons to play with at each meal, they wanted to eat the same stuff, play the same game on the same ipad at the same time, outdo each other at getting our attention, all the time! All four of us were taking turns at getting irritated with them on Day 1 and 2. By Day 3, this was getting to be hilarious and I started noticing how much we incite them to compete.”Look at her, she is eating so well. Why can’t you?”…..”Look at her, she is siting properly in her chair. You also sit down!”
And so on and so forth. Within ourselves, perhaps, we are competitive too, I thought. And that’s why we need to super super let go if we are calm them down. As the vacation progressed and the holiday chill sobered us down, the girls seemed to calm down as well. Or our management skills improved, perhaps! Just wondering how much of our own stresses, insecurities and inner struggles we pass on to our kiddos unwittingly!
2- Never underestimate children, they are built to amaze! Rahul and me were enamored of the idea of trekking on this vacation. When we mooted the idea, Udai was super enthusiastic, but we were all a little skeptical about whether the girls could trek a lot. Aadyaa had managed a couple of hours of walking earlier this year at Ramgarh, but could we push her a bit more this time? So we set off one morning and decided to see how it goes and we were more than pleasantly surprised. The kids rose to the challenge and loved the adventure, even the youngest of them all, Maayra. Finding new paths to climb up, getting stung by nettles and recovering fast, drinking from a cold mountain stream- all these little thrills served to entice them to go further and further and we ended up successfully completing a half day trek without much fussing and with enough energy to enjoy the rest of the day as well!
3- Don’t shy away from using tech to keep kids busy, too-principled is passe! When you’re on vacation, you’re there for a break. So letting the children have a good go at the ipad once in a while is just fine, in my opinion. They do the same at home as well, or watch television, for a small bit of time everyday. I found that asking kids to share an ipad or iphone actually meant they found ways to cooperate, take turns and share. They taught each other new tricks, they exhibited patience while waiting out their turn.
On day 5, when you’ve decided to stay put making one place base camp, the vacation takes on a different nature, a slower rhythm, a relaxed tone. A pity day 6 is when we head back, though a part of me also yearns for routine and I sense the holiday coming to its natural end.
But look at the kids, they have a natural knack for filling in the time with make believe games and role plays. They begin to enjoy a vacation in its true sense when our pitifully logical adult minds start to tire! Not for then tick mark tourism nor planned outings, though they have no choice but to comply.
Post breakfast today, while those of us yet to get ready did so, the three musketeers decided to run around the resort lawns. I did not understand their complicated game, nor was I invited to participate. Udai was the director, the two girls Aadyaa and Maayra playing their parts happily in a story full of magical creatures, war, weapons and rescue! Those are the essential keywords I gathered while wandering around the garden watching them!
Family vacations are things you dream of when the work piles up and deadlines threaten to obliterate all possibilities of sleep. Getting away from it all in the company of people you are comfortable is a great way to destress and to do it with kids gives us the opportunity to see things from their uncomplicated and ever-excitable perspective!
Yesterday was one hell of a day for us. We started from Gurgaon at four thirty am, quite a feat with four adults and three kids aged 4,5 and 9! All three of them were bright and chirpy, thankfully. Making good time, we crossed Delhi in an hour only to hit a snag when Mishu’s car had a tyre bust. Not ones to lose steam, the rest of us carried on to Murthal in our car and ate a leisurely though super early breakfast while a replacement car was arranged etc. only about an hour later than schedule, we were back on track, driving straight through to Chintpoorni, where the climb towards Dharamsala begins. Of course, the kids car hopped a bit, so there were short handover stops. They sang songs, playing some sort of Antakshari, with our inputs. They played ghar-ghar, with strange role plays that left us bemused. We invented code names and played a game with Rahul giving them instructions that they must respond to only when their code names are used, without ever responding to their real names! Great fun, with all of us collapsing in giggles!
At Chintpoorni, we stopped to say hi to the resident goddess, who promised to fulfil our wishes, whatever they may be. The experience of wading through throngs of devotees, responding to touts selling Prasad and blessings was amusing and thankfully not too stressful. Mishu introduced us to ‘uncleji’s’ bun-paav and we were off again, stopping a bit to feed the kids a proper though late lunch and then driving straight on to D’sala. The hills gave us a fitting welcome, with a wonderful show of rain and thunder. Temperatures dropped and all of us, up since early morning with barely a wink of sleep on the way, were refreshed and excited to be here. It had taken us 12 hours to do the entire trip, each minute enjoyable.
The numerous pics I took are locked inside my Nikon for now, but I am sharing some shots of the Dhauladar range as I see it this morning after a good night’s rest, from my room at Blossoms Village Resort.
We’ve had a number of friends writing in via mail and FB with some great tips for how to spend the next few days here. Will get back to you on what we decide to, and how it went!