girl’s trip to Florida 2017

A little over two weeks ago, Elsa and I returned from our second annual ‘girl’s trip to Florida‘.

The fourteen days spent in America visiting family, soaking up the warm sun, and taking a break from the daily grind of the household was just what I needed to recharge my batteries. I returned to Germany feeling reconnected, refreshed, motivated and inspired.

Our trip was broken into three segments.  We flew from Germany into Tampa, Florida and stayed with Jay’s parents in Clearwater Beach for four days.  The weather was cool and WINDY those first few days so we just relaxed and took in some shopping.


We then flew to Tallahassee, Florida.

My mom drove down from North Carolina.  She and my brother picked us up at the airport and we drove a little under two hours to Panama City where my brother is now stationed with the U.S. Air Force.  We enjoyed seeing where my brother and his family now call home.  He was a great tour guide, taking us to great restaurants and fabulous beaches.

St. Andrew’s State Park

Panama City Beach

We got to see my brother all dressed up on his way to a ceremony for work.

Elsa fell in love with the family dog, Lilly ♥♥♥


Elsa and I then flew back to Tampa for the remainder of our stay in Clearwater Beach.
We enjoyed splashing around in the pool at the condo and hanging out on the nearby beach.

 

 

My tan might already be fading, but the memories made on this trip will last a lifetime.

I am filled with gratitude for all who pitched in, rearranged schedules, took time off of work, drove long distances, and for girlfriends back home who made dinners and picked up kiddos, making our wonderful trip possible…THANK YOU!!

xoxo,

Mel

Weekend in Berlin :: Day 3

Monday was our last day in Berlin and it was forecasted to be the coldest. We decided on a visit to the Berlin Zoological Gardens & Aquarium, an outing that would include both outside and indoor activities.

It can be a bit confusing for tourists as there are two large zoos in Berlin, the Zoological Garden (known as “The Zoo”) in former West Berlin and the Tierpark in the East.

The Zoological Garden is located on the south-west corner of the Tiergarten. Opened in 1844, it is the oldest and best known zoo in Germany. During World War II, a large part of the zoo was destroyed and only 91 of 3,715 animals survived. The Aquarium Berlin was built in 1913 as part of the Berlin Zoological Garden complex and is one of Germany’s largest aquariums.

Tierpark was founded after WWII in 1955, so that the capital of East Berlin would have a zoo of its own. Tierpark is said to be the largest zoo in Europe.

We practically had the zoo all to ourselves. The restaurants and food kiosks were shut up tight and a few of the exhibits were closed due to it being winter. To my surprise, the polar bears were included in the closures. Despite this, the animals we did see were very active and engaging to watch. We lingered at the baboon exhibit the longest as they were very energetic and animated. The boys paid special notice to the the mamas carrying their babies on their backs. The lion and tigers were amazing. In my experience going to zoos, these cats are usually disappointing, lying down or sleeping the majority of the time. Here, however, they were the most active and vocal ones we’ve ever seen. The lion constantly roamed around and even roared deeply and loudly several times. We were really taken by his mightiness. The tigers were just plain frightening, pacing in their cages, roaring and licking their chops. At one point with our mouths agape, the boys said “let’s get outta here!”

We spent the majority of the day in the Aquarium. With three stories containing jellyfish, tropical and native fishes, crocodiles, reptiles, and a broad variety of insects, we had plenty to see. The shark tank, unfortunately, was closed for renovations. A highlight of the aquarium was the petting tank located at the entrance with Japanse Koi carps. The boys spent a great amount of time there both when we entered the aquarium and on our way out.

We left the Zoo with big appetites and hopped on the train to the Potsdamer Platz location of Andy’s Diner. This was the first of the now three locations in Berlin. A quote from the diner’s website was interesting to us, “Potsdamer Platz – now an urban and lively neighborhood – just a few years before the opening of the first ANDY’S DINER & BAR in 1999, was a no man’s land because of war damage and the decades-long division of the city. Now, amidst wonderful modern buildings, this area is so packed full of cultural activities that one can get dizzy – as at the sight of the skyscrapers.”

The diner serves American-style cuisine and some of Berlin’s own specialties. We enjoyed a burger, chicken club sandwich and pizza for the boys. The food was quite good and we would recommend the diner to anyone visiting Berlin.
Andy's Diner

The boys were so exhausted from the day, they were falling asleep on the booth at the diner. We decided it was best to wrap up the day. We snapped a few last photos in Potsdamer Platz in front of chunks of the Berlin Wall and headed back to the apartment.

chunksofthewallpotsdamerplatz
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In the morning, after one last visit to Harmonie Bäckerei, the corner bakery, we loaded into the car. Before the long drive home we made a final stop in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate.

Throughout its existence, the Brandenburg Gate was often a site for major historical events. The area around the Gate was featured most prominently in the media coverage of the opening of the wall in 1989. After winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Germany national football team held their victory rally in front of the gate. It is considered a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, as well as European unity and peace.

The clear, sunny early morning visit gave me the opportunity to photograph the gate with only a few tourists lingering around.

Brandenburg Gate

 

Each of our days in Berlin were full and enjoyable. One of the more gratifying aspects was that while the boys were busy having fun, they were also curious and asked questions about the wall. Much of Berlin’s rich history is very heavy on the emotions. During our last visit, many years ago when Alex was a baby, we visited the Jewish Museum Berlin and the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächniskirche (Memorial Church), both emotionally moving places and ones we feel will be important to share with the boys in years to come.

 

xoxo,

Mel

Revisit our first two days in Berlin here ::
Weekend in Berlin :: Day 1
Weekend in Berlin :: Day 2

Weekend in Berlin :: Day 2

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to head out into the big city. It was a sunny, but cold, Sunday morning and within a short walk from our apartment on Ruppiner Strasse were two nice sized markets, both with playgrounds beside them. How could I refuse!?
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First stop was the trödelmarkt in Akronaplatz (10435 Berlin-Mitte; Opening hours: Sun. 10am – 5pm; in winter until 4pm).

This smallish market is nested in between a playground and big open green space in the middle of the neighborhood with several cafes. We arrived just after 10:00am and some vendors were still setting up. The market consisted of 50 or so stalls selling design pieces to include furniture from the ‘50s,‘60s and 70’s, vintage knick-knacks, retro fashion pieces and industrial items. After walking around a bit and contemplating a few purchases, a huge signage letter A or E was hard to pass up, I stopped into a little cafe for coffee and hot chocolate to go for the boys who were playing at the playground.
flohmarktBerlin
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We then made our way to the large flohmarkt at Mauerpark (Bernauer Straße 63 – 64, 10435 Berlin-Mitte; Opening hours: Sun. 8am – 6pm).

Mauerpark, or “Wall Park”, is located in what used to be the Death Strip (the empty area between the two parallel walls that actually made up the Berlin Wall) and is popular with Berliners and tourists alike. There are seemingly endless rows of overflowing stalls selling usual flea market treasures including furniture, secondhand clothing, books, electronics, bikes, dishes and toys. Bargaining is expected.

You will also find food stalls with locally-produced food, ethnic eats, and a beer garden. I was drawn by an amazing aroma to a stall where head-scarfed women prepared delicious looking Turkish specialties.

It is advised to go early if you don’t like crowds. We finished up just after 12:00 and it was starting to get packed.
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(Side note :: The difference between a trödelmarkt and a flohmarkt:: at trödelmarkts only used/old items are sold and at flohmarkts used/old items are sold and you may find some stalls selling new or handcrafted items.)

 
 
The walk from Mauerpark to the U-bahn (underground train) took us along a part of the former wall and the Berlin Wall Memorial. In fact, the neighborhood we stayed in was once divided by the the Berlin Wall and several of the successful escape tunnels are located close by. Read an interesting walking tour of the area here.

Markers in the pavement indicated the boundaries of the wall and gave memorial to those who successfully escaped “flücht” and those who were arrested “festnahme” trying to escape.

November 9, 2014 marked twenty five years since the Berlin Wall fell. Walking the area, viewing old photographs and reading the history displayed on markers left me with an impression one can only get by seeing it first hand. It is unimaginable what it must have been like to live on the East side of the wall, divided from family, friends, freedom and democracy.
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Public transport was very easy to navigate. We purchased day tickets on Sunday and Monday for Jay and I. The children rode for free. The U-Bahn at Brenauer Strasse was our ‘home base’ so to speak.  The boys enjoyed hopping on and off at the trains at different stops as we navigated the city.


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We spent our Sunday afternoon at the interactive Science Center Spectrum. The boys had a blast. I stuffed my camera in a locker with our coats, so no pictures here. I will say, the Science Center is a must when visiting Berlin with children.

From there we had a quick visit with friends, the Pflüger family, who now call Berlin home. We first met them at the International German School in Brussels where Alex attended early primary grades. It was nice to catch up with them and to see Alex interact with an old friend, Fynn.

We ended the day with a few scoops of the #1 ranked ice cream in Berlin at Caffe-e-gelato. We all agreed it was yummy! Another must while in Berlin with children (or without!).
 

Coming soon….the final day of our adventures in Berlin!
{Read about Day 1 again here — Weekend in Berlin :: Day 1}
 
 

xoxo,

Mel

Weekend in Berlin :: Day 1

This past weekend was a four day break for the kiddos with Fasching, or Carnival, celebrations going on Monday and Tuesday. German schools in predominately Catholic regions of Germany are closed for Rosenmontag and Fastnacht. This year, the holidays lined up with President’s Day on Monday and on Tuesday Jay used a day off that was due to him from his travel to Orlando a few weeks ago.

So we decided to hit the road and travel to a city that we last visited when Alex was just a baby…Berlin!

RoutetoBerlin

We left home on Friday evening, drove three hours to a halfway point in Eisenach and spent the night in a simple budget hotel, two double rooms for $118, hooray for IBIS! We were back on the road early Saturday morning and arrived in Berlin with time to spare before our scheduled entry time to the Legoland Discovery Center. This was the boys’ first stop request!

Upon entering the city, we were greeted by the Siegessäule (Victory Column) which stands on a large intersection called the Großer Stern (Great Star) where five roads converge. Completed in 1873 and having survived World War II, the Victory Column was designed to commemorate the ‘Unification Wars‘ :: Danish-Prussian War (1864), Austro-Prussian War (1866) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71).
The monument has a viewing platform (a steep 256 step climb) with views to the east down Strasse des 17 Juni of the Brandenburg Gate and beyond to the Berliner Fernsehturm (TV Tower).

VictoryColumnPop Culture note:: The golden statue, named Victoria, atop the column was featured in the music video to U2’s “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” from their 1993 album Zooropa. Watch the video:: here

 

To burn off some of the energy from time spent in the car, we found a little playground in Tiergarten Park.

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After blowing off some steam at the playground, it was time to head to the Legoland Discovery Center. Parking was convenient in the underground parking garage at the Sony Center Complex, Potsdamer Platz.
 
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The discovery center is arranged by theme. The boys’ favorite areas included ::
Lego Miniland :: Built out of over two million lego bricks, the most important buildings of Berlin are on display here. Many of the scenes include buttons which when pressed, animate a portion of the scene. Among the featured buildings are the Stadtschloss (City Palace), Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), Reichstag (Parliament Building) and the Berlin Dom (Cathedral).
Lego Miniland Star Wars :: This area includes interactive features in several Star Wars scenes built out of lego bricks.
Lego Factory Tour :: Where the step by step process of turning raw plastic into lego bricks is shown.
Lego Build and Test Center :: Race cars can be built here and then placed on the test track and raced against other builders. Time and speed is also measured on the track.
Lego Discovery Center Shop :: Each of the boys used money gifted to them from Christmas and Valentine’s Day to buy a lego set that they built later in the evening.

By the time we wrapped up our visit to Legoland Discovery Center, it was getting late. We made arrangements by phone to meet the check-in person to get the keys for the apartment we would stay in for the next three nights. The apartment was located on the sixth (and top) floor of a building located on a quiet street in the Berlin Mitte neighborhood (city center & considered the historical heart of the city). A parking spot in an underground garage was included and the apartment was conveniently close (100 meters/0.06 mile) to public transport so we never had to take the car out. If you are interested in taking a peek at the apartment. Photos and booking info can be found here :: Attic-Apartment in Berlin-Mitte incl. underground parking / Wlan / Lift / TV tower view

The boys and I settled into the apartment as Jay walked to a nearby grocery to grab some essentials. We got cozy in our jammies and Lego set building commenced.

Coming soon….Day 2 & 3 of our adventures in Berlin!

 

xoxo,

Mel

Christkindlmarkt Munich {2014}

ChristkindlmarktThe weekend before Christmas we traveled south to Munich to enjoy the beautiful city and one of the most famous Christkindlmarkts (Christmas Market) in Germany. Christkindl literally translates into “Christ child”. The traditional market held in the Marienplatz (Mary’s Square) opens each year on the Wednesday before the first advent and closes on 24 December. On the opening night of the market onlookers welcome the “Christkind” depicted as an angel-like girl acted out by a local child.
 
RathausMunichChristmasMarktNeues Rathaus (New City Hall) completed in 1908.
 
GlühweinGlühwein literally translates to “Glow wein”. Drinking a few mugs of the warmed mulled wine, is said to give a warmer–upper or a glowing sort of feeling and a great amount of cheer.
 
jamieJamie in front of one of the 156 wooden booths at the market with Alpine handwork, Bavarian Christmas wares, and food/drinks for sale.
 
pyramidThis large wooden pyramid looks down on Neuhauser Strasse. Authentic nativity scenes fill the wooden booths here and are complete with lanterns for the mangers, ox, donkey and gifts from the three Magi. The Weihnachtsmann atop the pyramid arrived on his bicycle.
weihnachtsmannbicycle
 
warmdrinkThe boys enjoy the non-alcoholic version of Glühwein called Kinderpunsch.
 
lebkuchenherz2Another of the boys’ favorites, spiced heart-shaped cookies with icing (Lebkuchenherz).
 
weihnachtsmannYay, a photo with the Weihnachtsmann!
 
St.Peter'sChurchStanding since 1180, the church of St. Peter (Peterskirche) is the oldest church in Munich and also known by locals as “Alte Peter” (Old Peter).
We climbed the 306 steps of the bell tower to reach the observation deck at the top of St. Peter’s Church for a panoramic view of the city.
 
NeuRathausWorth the climb, the view of the Neues Rathaus from the top.
 
We always love Munich and the Christkindl market. We spent a wonderful few days there last year with Brian, Tiffany & Harrison. This year it was made special by enjoying it through Jamie’s first impressions.
Who wants to go next time!?

 
xoxo,

Mel

afternoon outing :: sunshine pumpkin farm

SunshinePumpkinPatchYesterday we were given a gorgeous, sunny Sunday afternoon. We saw it as a perfect time to visit the pumpkin patch at Sunshine Pumpkin Farm.

 
 
AndyPumpkinAndy testing his strength. He was determined to lift the biggest pumpkin he could find.

 
 
PumpkinPatch2014Ari in search of the Great Pumpkin. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown television special is one of his favorite’s to watch on dvd. We have it checked out from the library year round!

 
 
AlexPumpkin2014.1Alex was on a mission of his own in search of the smallest pumpkin.

 
 
AlexPumpkinHappy2014After examining more than a dozen for the perfect one, he was happy with this little pumpkin. He plans to draw a face on it.

 
 
PumpkinSquashStomping and squishing out the insides of rotting pumpkins became Ari’s game. The field was pretty muddy too so I was happy we all wore our rain boots.

 
 
Pumpkins2014Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins on the vine.

 
 
Pumpkins2014-2Hokkaido pumpkins are delicious to use in cooking.  The best part is they do not need to be peeled, the skin softens during cooking and then can be blended smooth.

 
 
BoysPumpkinPatch2014We would spot a good one, carry it for a few feet and then spot one we liked better.  Choosing our jack-o’-lantern pumpkins took some serious time.

 
 
PumpkinsPicked2014Finally, ready to take our pumpkins home. We carried them to the weighing station where the pumpkins totaled 21kg (+/-47lbs) and cost 0.72 euro cents per kg.

 
 
AriPumpkin2014 Tired from all the fun, Ari sat down and gave me the perfect moment to capture this photo.

 
 
Do you remember a post from two years ago on our first visit to Sunshine Pumpkin Farm? Here is a link to that post a visit to the pumpkin patch :: sunshine farms. For some reason, the post was sent out via email when I linked to it so you will find it in your inbox as well.

 

♥♥♥

Mel

 
 
 
For our local readers :: Sunshine Pumpkin Farm is located a few minutes from Landstuhl and open Saturday & Sunday from 1-4. They offer hayrides and special visits for groups. Visit their facebook page Sunshine Pumpkin Farm for more information.

one from the archives :: {aug 2008}

 

We were living in Bamberg. Alex just turned 3 and Andy was only 15 weeks old.
Brian and Tiffany were visiting and we made a trip to Poland for the Polish Pottery Fest.
Alex loved Thomas.  His trains traveled everywhere with us!
I am grateful that I carried my camera everywhere, even back then, and grateful for this photo taken of us.

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Boleslawiec, Poland (Aug 2008)

 

♥♥♥

mel