February 27, 2015

Copenhagen weekend with kids

A long weekend in Copenhagen was exactly what the doctor prescribed, and so last Friday we managed to convince Yon that we don't have to take all his staff for a three days trip, made sure everyone got a haircut for the photo-ops (waste of money and time, it was a hat at all times kind of weather) and remembered that we still haven't bought Easy-Jet fitting trolleys (we are used to taking all our staff. After all we travel with kids), and made our way to schönefeld airport for a one hour flight to Copenhagen and our first out-of-the-country-holiday in more than two years.
Schönefeld is a funny airport, which more than anything reminds me of the airport in Gibraltar - small and cosy and somehow warm and friendly. Especially after we found a place to sit and I got some coffee and a cinnamon roll.
This photo was taken AFTER the coffee
That, coupled with Easy-Jet's policy of fast-tracking families, which meant Yon did not have to wait in the queue, and the fact that the flight took only an hour (here it is not about the kids but me. I have issues with flying, so Hidai is in charge of the kids and I am in charge of surviving the flight), made our arrival to Copenhagen the best we've ever had.
Actually the whole trip was a whooping success and the kids have already started inquiring about our next destination and what does it mean we can't go every week?

I take none of the credit fir this as it is largely due to two things - planning and internet. Gone are the days were we left the hotel at eight in the morning and came back at night after walking around all day, gone are the days were museums, palaces and cathedrals were an integral part of our sightseeing, gone were the days of sitting at a cafe and gazing at passers by. Nowadays we have science museums and McDonalds and going back to the hotel at six pm... Travelling with kids, and especially of the Special kind, means one thing and one thing only - your trip is only as good as your plan.
So here is my recommendations for Copenhagen with kids -

1. Copenhagen Card - it is quite expensive, but on the other hand it makes travelling by train / bus so much easier when you don't have to figure out how to pay for them, and gets you into almost everywhere you'd go - taking into account that Copenhagen doe not have a "family discount" at most places and that kids do pay for entrance - it is definitely worth it, and we got ours at the airport information, right across from the ATM (if you plan on using a credit / debit card to exchange your money the ATM gives the best rates, but don't take out too much as every place accepts debit/credit cards and the rates are the same).
2. Local SIM card. Or as I like to call it - a life saver. Go to the WHSmith next to the bus/train exit and buy a Lebara sim card and credit for a pay as you go plan. The whole thing cost me less than it does here and gave me 2 GB which were more than enough for 3 days, even with massive use of Google maps. But how will I know how to do it you ask? If you search the internet it will look like mission impossible, right after you land and not to mention the 2 tired kids and 4 bags that feel like 50. Well, it is easier than trying to figure out how to do it here since the instructions are written in English and the very nice sellers at WHSmith know English and are willing to help. It took us all of seven minutes to be the proud owners of a Danish phone with working internet.
Resting at the airport. With internet
3. "And then?" - Like I said - a plan. I guess this one, which is key for us, is more due to Yon's need of routine and his difficulties with new places, but I guess it can't hurt anyone to have a plan to some degree. Our plan, however, is a detailed plan which we say again and again and again including where we are going to go, what street it is on, what time we'll get there, what we are going to see, how long we'll be there, and so on and so forth for the whole day...
4. Hop on Hop off Bus Tour - take the official one because they have a discount with the Copenhagen card and the kids were free. Yon finds sitting quietly very difficult, which can be a bit of a problem on the bus, but the weather was not so friendly and we planned on going through the whole tour (without any hopping) and eat which made him fall asleep and allowed us to both enjoy the city and understand it a little bit more.
5. The Lego Store. The holy grail of the trip for the kids. Prices and stock are exactly the same as in Berlin, but the kids still thought they died and gone to heaven. We were there for a very long while and came out with one big box, one small bag and two posters. We were lucky we had the "not enough room in the suitcase" excuse.

6. Food. Was the way I explained Einsteins theory of relativity to Ron - if you come to Copenhagen from London you think the food is amazing; If you come from Berlin... Well, then it's just pricey. We needed to keep the food quite simple and familiar for Yon so I can't really recommend great restaurant and crazily unique food. I can tell you not to dare enter a McDonalds as it is a very expensive rubbish, that the Hard Rock Cafe has great food and service but costs double the price here, that 7-eleven has very good bagels, that if you want good pastries you shouldn't try to buy anything at the bakeries in the afternoon, that the Andersen bakery next to the central station is a good place for breakfast and that the chocolate is amazing. Oh, and if you go along Strøget (the shopping street) and you see a tiny booth called Rajissimo - go and buy those funny waffles on a stick. They cost 5 Euros each, and taste like heaven.

The kids plates at Hard Rock Cafe - a big success

The amazing waffles
7. Boat Tour - it is the same company as the bus tours, and if you have your Copenhagen cards then it's free. The boat tour takes you through the city canals and all the way to the Little Mermaid "out there in the sea". Like the bus, it has a longer tour in the summer, but it doesn't stop in winter time and has an indoor option, which we took advantage of a. Because it was very cold outside, and b. Because Yon found it hard to sit down quietly and not try jumping overboard. If you don't have this problem, then I'd recommend sitting outside so your photos are better and you get to duck below the canal-bridges.

8. The Round Tower - the kids really enjoyed running all the way to the top and hiding in every opening, and I really enjoyed the lack of stairs which made the way up so much easier. There are a few interesting stops along the way up with exhibitions (they say there is also a cafe but I couldn't find it, and try to avoid the toilet as much as possible) and viewing points. The last part does have stairs but the view is definitely worth it, just beware of pickpockets. When we were there we saw a very suspicious guy trolling the viewing gallery looking more at the people around then at the view...
Regardless, the kids ran the whole way down and declared it an extremely cool tower.

9. Shopping - is not something we did a lot of. Ok, we did virtually no shopping, except for the Tiger store, which we missed so much since leaving London, and is just one of those stores that you can't go in to and not buy something (or two). We did walk Strøget and its surrounding streets a few times, but somehow, even when you sit them down and give them phones, shopping with kids is not so much fun, add to that the fact that everything was quite expensive, and the fear of "holiday buys" (you know, things that only look like a good idea because you are on holiday) and you can understand how we ended up with two shirts and a box of Leogs. But I do have to say that the clothes were lovely, and if I ever get a chance to tour Strøget again, I'll be coming back with a lot more than two shirts.
This is how they look when we try to shop...
10. Experimentarium City - The best science museum we've been to in regards to how interactive and fun it is. It is not included in the Copenhagen card (though we did get a discount with Yon's visual impairment registration card), but it is worth every penny, especially if, like me, you have kids who love science and/or touching things. Yon thought he is in heaven when we told him he could touch everything... It is basically two rooms inside a huge warhorse which is a bit hard to find if you don't get there by boat, with plenty of interactive activities for the young (and geek at heart). We had a very hard time getting the kids out of there....

11. The Planetarium - is really NOT a must, unless you want to see the movie I guess. We did not think Yon would agree to sit an hour for a 3D movie (especially since we don't think he can see the 3D) so we just toured the exhibition. It took less than an hour, and even that was because the kids wanted to play on the computers and see if they can land a probe on Mars.
12. The Blue Planet Aquarium - in Danish Den Blå Planet, it is something you wouldn't want to miss. It is really close to the airport, so we stopped there on our way back and were not disappointed. They have lockers for suitcases, an excellent cafe, fabulous view, and it is most definitely in the top 3 aquariums we visited. It is huge, clean, well lit, friendly and full of weird fish.

When he was younger, going away with Yon used to be awful. It is not a melodramatic exaggeration on my part here, it takes time to understand how to travel with any child, to accept the differences between traveling as a couple and travelling as a family. But a child with special needs adds another difficulty to the equation, especially when his needs revolve around routines, difficulty with new places, inability to wait in the queues, food, and touch. Over the years we've had a few very bad trips and holidays, and at the end we gave up and decided to just not go anywhere anymore.
Being able to go on a weekend vacation with Yon, being able to enjoy every part of it, and having everyone asking for another trip is the result of a lot of hard work and experience, but honestly it feels more like it is just the result of magic.

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February 25, 2015

Berlin - 4 months in

On Saturday we'd have been in Berlin for four months. London is starting to look like a lifetime ago, and I can't believe it's been only four months, and already four months. We have an apartment (with a garden no less) in the middle of the city, both kids are in school (well Yon had to go back to pre-school as they start school here at age 6 and not 5 like in the UK) and some days the sun is actually shining.
It was not an easy start, and looking back at it all now, I have no idea why I expected it to go differently. Moving to a new country is never easy, but something about moving to a country where you can't even claim to have basic knowledge of the language, right at the beginning of winter, with a husband who has a new job, and without knowing anyone, should have tipped me off that we are off to a rocky beginning. Well, it didn't, and no one was more surprised than me when things did not immediately fall into place. Things did fall though, straight on top of my head, and in the first two months here in Berlin nothing seemed to work.
More than that it seemed nothing will ever work properly again.
And I was too embarrassed about it to write. I had this picture in my mind of how things in Berlin are supposed to work, of how easy it is to move from one place in Europe to the next, of how much simpler it will be because we are actually citizens here, unlike in the UK where the Home Office likes to make you jump through enough hoops to make you into an Olympian athlete in bureaucracy (should most definitely be an Olympian sport).
I was wrong. So wrong.
Or maybe it's that I simply forgot how hard it is to build everything from scratch, how frustrating it is to not know anything, and how difficult it is to change everything. I guess it doesn't come as a surprise to anyone that Berlin is as different from London as it gets. It is part of why we wanted to move here - the adventure, the difference, the quiet. It's just that  there are hidden differences, the ones no one talks about, and those are the the ones that catch you by surprise. Those are the ones that makes you sit down holding your head in your hands and wonder quietly - How am I ever going to feel good here?
What people think when they hear about our country-hopping lifestyle is either "wow, you are so brave" or "wow, you are so stupid". I don't particularly think we are brave, but I didn't really like the whole "stupid" thing to be true, and yet that is exactly what it felt like in the last few months. Even now I am straggling with the words and the phrases. What might you think of me if I tell you how many tears I spilled, or how many hours of doubt I had, or how I haven't slept a full night in I don't know how long?
That is not what you are supposed to write about when you move to a new place. You are supposed to be all shiny and new, going on city-adventures, looking all rosy and positive. No one wants to hear or read about how hard it is to move to yet another "really cool" place.
After all, people have real problems.
And whining is really not a very attractive quality.
So I didn't write.
And things did not become any easier.
It just made me feel invisible, and not in the good way (there is a good way).
Baby steps. Chocolate (and pastries, and cakes - the food here is great) and a lot of "just breathe" moments. That is how I managed to survive. And here we are, four months later. Most of winter is behind us. Hidai got me (and him, and the kids) a long weekend in Copenhagen. No one has been sick for the past week. My To-Do List is just one page long (a massive accomplishment as I can now count on just one hand the number of things that are yet to be dealt with, as opposed to the 3 pages long list I had a month ago).
There might be a rainbow at the end of this tunnel after all.
So here I am, writing.
I am just not really sure what I am writing about.
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