Salzburg

Another day, another train, another new city to see. Since my children have been proving their mettle in the traveling department, my bravery to take adventures with them, just the three of us, has grown. So on Thursday we hopped on a train south and spent the afternoon in Salzburg with one of my closest friends from South Bend. She is Hungarian, grew up in Salzburg, and is back with her new baby and little family for a visit. Travis and I are so pleased to have them just a two-hour train ride away, and we are all planning to visit again at least one more time.

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This visit was especially a treat, as it is so rare at this stage in life to get to “go home” with a friend and see their world, where they grew up, and the places they love. It is, of course, particularly rare when that place is overseas.

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As one can imagine, Salzburg is an absolute gem of a place. The mountains provide a spectacular backdrop to the many domes, spires, and steeples that rise up from the city.

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After grabbing a traditional Austrian sandwich, Beata took us up the Mönchsberg, one of Salzburg’s mountains. It rises up out of the city. We were able to take an elevator up to a lookout on the mountainside and then slowly trailed our way down the mountain back to the city. A few times, Beata said, “I forgot how steep this was,” or “Sorry, just uphill again,” and now we have some good laughs about her taking me on a mountainous hike with a double stroller and 27-week pregnant belly. The views, however, were spectacular, and it was the perfect place for toddlers to collect sticks and stretch their legs.

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Both children are really into babies these days, asking about them and looking for them when they hear one cry, so spending the day with baby Elias was very exciting for them. Edith, especially, was absolutely delighted by him.

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After coming down the mountain, we took a break in a beautiful courtyard by the oldest restaurant in Europe, which began in 803 AD. It sounds silly, but it was especially a treat for me to have a friend to do mom things with, like push strollers and change diapers in an old Salzburg courtyard.

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Edith got to hold baby Elias, and I am pretty sure that elated doesn’t even begin to describe her feelings.

After a quick glance into one of Beata’s favorite Salzburg we completed our Salzburg excursion with coffee and cake, the sort of thing we only dreamed about sharing a few months ago!

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The cake and coffee ended with my littler toddler making quite a scene in the square, as he slipped off a chair and knocked a whole tray of empty dishes off the table. That was probably the most mortifying moment of my overseas travels with toddlers so far, but the waiter was incredibly kind about it, wouldn’t let us pick up a single piece of glass, complimented JH on his cool shoes (“You are a superstar!”) and brought Edith and John Henry little pinwheels as consolation.

All in all, our visit to Salzburg was magical, and the train ride home simple and easy. We sat by a lovely Swiss boy who is in college in England and was traveling north to staff a religious camp in Scotland. His English was perfect and he enjoyed the children and chatted with me the whole trip back. Our only sadness is that the time was too short in Austria and we already can’t wait to go back!

Sadly, that night Edith woke up with a very high fever and we’ve been dealing with fevers and sad children in this house for the last three days. Aunt EA comes Tuesday, which will be a much-needed morale boost and excitement to finish out our last few weeks here.

The last few days

We have been spending the last few days of Travis’ time off a bit more quietly, with grocery store runs, coffee stops, tram rides, and longer walks through some of my favorite neighborhoods. It has been great to have him with us and I have especially appreciated having an extra set of hands as we are out and about. Tomorrow class starts again, so I’ll be on my own for a week before EA arrives! We are so excited for her to come, and I am especially looking forward to her arrival, as I have been missing the company of friends. Here are some photos from the last few days.

I love a good rainy day in the city, and we had one a few days ago. It has been a mild summer; we have never once gone to bed sweating, and the temperature remains in the 70’s (sorry South Bend!). The few rainy days we have had, the temperature has dipped down to where we need pants and sweatshirts. My favorite.

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Four of the best things in life:

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John Henry has really turned a corner and seems to be much more settled. I love seeing his more easy-going personality and pleasantness return, and his vocabulary and ability to communicate have exploded, with him using four to five-word sentences. I give Edith all the credit, as she talks to him non-stop all day long. My favorite things he says lately are how he responds to most questions with just a simple “yes” (not “yeah”), and he thinks that “hold you” is one word, so he’ll say things like, “Mama hold you me?” or “Bubby hold you bulldozer?” He and Edith both continue to be fascinated by babies and if they hear one crying on the tram or subway, they immediately try to find where it is.

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On this day, Edith taught Bubby to put his hands in his sweatshirt pockets, and he was tickled pink and so proud of himself every time.

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On Sunday, we attended Theatine Church, a huge, gorgeous church in the middle of the city. I didn’t get any of the inside, but plan to go back soon. I really enjoy the city on Sunday mornings, as it is quiet and still. We had a little time to pass, so we discovered the church’s lovely courtyard and the kids enjoyed the fountain and the climbing opportunities.

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After mass, we walked out of the church right into the center of a Greek culture festival, where we got to enjoy fantastic gyros and live Greek music. Another highlight.

Today was for coffee and new toys at a coffee shop, and Edith cradled the cherries from the sidewalk stand all the way home.

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I still think that my greatest life-saver on this trip, and the unlooked-for blessing has been our backyard. The kids play it in it non-stop, almost always very happily with little to no bickering, from naptime to dinner time and then after dinner as long as we allow it. I can’t imagine being cooped up inside or having to go to a playground to pass the time or to get some fresh air, and I am trying to remember to be grateful, every day, for this little space. I am also grateful that Edith and John Henry play so well together and I truly enjoy just sitting, listening to their conversation and watching their imaginations.

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Prien am Chiemsee

We learned of this town back when a summer in Germany was still a small idea in our minds. Prien sits on the southern border of Germany and Austria and is on the main rail line between Munich and Salzburg. (We can’t wait to go a little farther south very soon!) Prien sits on Lake Chiemsee, often called “The Bavarian Sea,” and there are three main islands in the lake.

We arrived late-morning, after a train ride through southern Bavaria as the Alps grew closer and closer. We took the boat to the first island, Herreninsel, home to a palace built by King Ludwig II in 1878 which was meant to be a replica of Versailles.

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To get to the palace, we had about a fifteen-minute walk on the island, past some lovely green pastures and through a pine forest. The children enjoyed the walk, although after a 1+ mile walk (often uphill!) from the train station to the boat dock, my body was not enjoying it quite as much!

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The palace had some impressive fountains and lush green grass, so we plopped ourselves in the shade and ate our packed lunch. Again, the children entertained themselves and had the time of their lives with sticks (and later a lunch box!) in the grass. It’s not often that a few toddlers have the chance to play in front of a German palace.

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The kids are such troopers when it comes to these long days with missed naps and lots of walking, and they almost always choose to walk with us instead of ride in the stroller. I am so glad they readily embrace these new adventures. Especially if sticks, water, or rocks are involved. They had a chance to put their feet in the water and play with rocks (throw rocks), which is likely their favorite pastime as we waited for the boat. A highlight for them, I am sure.

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The second main island, Frauenchiemsee, is the smaller of the two, although we found ourselves wishing we had a lot more time to walk and explore. (Bedtimes were coming quickly, and we still had that mile-long walk back to the station and an hour plus train ride ahead of us.) Travis and I agreed to one day come back to the island, without children, so that we could walk and explore and eat with no other concerns. The island is home to a few professional fishermen, lovely gardens and alleyways, and a Benedictine nunnery that was built in 782.

On the way there, Edith made a friend with a very kind man who we were sitting by on the boat. He and his wife were understanding of the constant wiggles and occasional whining from the younger of the two children and he invited Edith to sit by him. She sat down right next to him and it was so cute to watch her slowly inching closer.

Another Edith story: on an earlier boat ride, a woman was sitting with her feet out, placed on top of her shoes. As we were getting ready to get off the boat, Edith says, quite loudly: “Mom, she has her toes out!” The woman understood perfectly, laughed, and started to talk to Edith. It was quite funny. Edith has begun to make comments about things she sees about other people, and I have been laughing to myself, thinking that it is quite convenient this is happening in Germany where most of the time, no one knows she’s talking about them. On the train, she saw a man with a large tattoo on his calf and said: “Mom, why did he color on himself?” After seeing a woman with ripped jeans: “Mom, she has holes in her jeans!” And upon seeing a man with a vape on the tram today: “Mom, what does he have?” All of this is, of course, with a pointing finger and spoken in a less-than-subtle voice. We’ve been working on the pointing first. Still, her comments provide some good laughs for Travis and me.

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The church is the only part of the convent that is open to the public, as it is still active. It was absolutely gorgeous, with lovely painted ceilings, soft light, and the feeling that it is very, very old. The patron of the convent is Saint Irmengard, who was a granddaughter of Charlemagne and the daughter of a German king. Her father built the nunnery, and she was the first abbess at Chiemsee. Her tomb, which dates 866, was in the church.

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We wish we could have stayed longer on the island, but were already pushing it with the babies. The boat back to Prien took longer than expected, so we caught an even later train back to Munich than we hoped. (And JH caught a stroller nap on the walk to the station!) Thankfully, the rain held off until we were on the train and we had a picturesque view on the way back. One day I would like to see Chiemsee in the sunshine, but the clouds for the day offered a few mercies: less sunburn, and some happily moody photos. All in all, it was a great day, and the children slept until 8 a.m. this morning—the first time that has happened this entire trip.

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The Marienplatz glockenspiel

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Included on our list of things to do while Travis has the week off: “Shan approve or reject a jacket at the Bayern soccer team store,” and “Travis introduce Shan to his discovery of the perfect pastry.” We accomplished both this morning, as well as one of the kids’ favorite things to do: watch the Marienplatz glockenspiel, which dances on the town hall building.

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This is one of the most crowded places in Munich, but arriving early enough in the morning allows for a bit of a more relaxed and enjoyable experience. It is actually becoming one of my favorite places in Munich, with all of the different roof lines, domes, spires, and statues, and all of the interesting people-watching. We lingered in the square, listening to musicians perform, got pastries, and parked ourselves in front of the glockenspiel. My pastry included some sort of dough filled with poppy seeds and cheese. Upon tasting it, Travis said, “I don’t understand the need for an extreme amount of poppy seeds.” I say that I don’t understand how I’ve never had them in baked goods before. (Well, I have once before, but only a few months ago, thanks to our Austrian friend!)

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While listening to the music, I met two families from Idaho who are here for a wedding and then to sightsee for eight days. They are going on to Ireland next and between the two of them, traveling with six children under the age of ten. Sometimes I feel insane traveling with my small toddlers, so it was nice to see their young children on such a big adventure.

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Once the glockenspiel began, the children were pretty mesmerized, Edith especially, and she has been asking to go back to see it again ever since.

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A zoo day

The day did not begin in a very promising way, with some unexplainable toddler tears and emotions, but upon arriving at Tierpark Hellabrunn, we made our way to a playground to begin the day and everything went uphill from there. Sometimes I get cranky, too, after 45 minutes on a full tram and metro.

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The Munich zoo is huge and described as a zoological garden, which seems about right, as it feels more like the animals are “built” into the park than the park built around the animals. It made for some beautiful scenery, although it did feel like the animals were a bit less accessible to small children.

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We were especially pleased to discover the penguins and polar bears and could have watched the penguins for hours, kids included.

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After lunch, we headed to the elephants where we watched one down about thirty apples in two minutes. The monkey exhibits were the most toddler-accessible and they had a blast watching the various monkeys swinging around. Edith, especially, was fascinated by all the fruits and vegetables the monkeys had to eat.

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The day, of course, ended with ice cream and then a grumpy train ride home, 6:30 bedtime for the babies and 9 p.m. bedtime for me. A good day.

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Settling in again

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The remnants of our France adventure hang in my kitchen window here, and we are very much, again, in Germany. As Travis is between class sessions, we get him for the whole week and are alternating between enjoying some adventures and taking it easy.

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Our first day back, we walked to the park, did the grocery shopping, and generally settled back into the routine of life here. Sunday was for coffee and cake at a café that advertises a whole corner of toys, so Travis and I were able to actually sit and sip our coffee for a while as the kids explored all the exciting options. I love a café where a kid can ride by on a scooter.

This is the look of a very excited little girl. (You might also think, for the rest of our trip, that Edith lost her entire wardrobe. But this dress from France delighted her so much that she asks to wear it every morning.)

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In other news, the fifth member of our family continues to grow (too quickly for my liking). I am glad we’re doing so much walking this summer, but it does result in a sore body and tired legs every night. My energy levels are still good, and I am glad that Aunt EA will be here very soon to play with us and help me hold toddlers and maneuver double strollers on and off trains and trams!

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France, the last two days

Our last few days in France were quietly full of laundry, pool time, lunch at Paul Boulangerie (delicious and inspiring), and naps.

With the kids waking up early every morning, I would separate them, pray for a little more sleep for both, and then sit with my coffee and book. This was my favorite place to sit, listening to the bees buzzing on the lavender, and watching the sky grow lighter.

The children really loved the pool and I was especially pleased to see Edith’s growing confidence in the water. She has been overcoming much timidity and fear this trip, and the pool was another example of that.

Our final morning, Axelle provided us with bunches of lavender and we headed to the bakery for a few souvenir pastries

The trip back to Munich, although a long day, was simple and easy. The children really are becoming pros at the routines of airplanes and trains and I am thankful it was so simple to travel with them on my own. Here is a view of the Swiss Alps from the sky.

All in all, our trip to France was absolutely delightful. I am so grateful we has the opportunity to return to such a beautiful place and to visit with special family friends. Their generosity was unmatched! They also made the trip without Travis so much simpler with their many arms ready to carry babies, hold bags, push a stroller, and generally keep my arms empty as often as possible. I am proud of myself for making the trip on my own and proud of the children for how well they adjusted and for their openness to new friends, new places, and new sights. It was completely worth the exhaustion and occasional frustrations!

France holds such a special place in my heart, something I discovered on this trip as I found I recognized even different intersections or shops. It is a magical place, and I am hoping it won’t take another eleven years before I have the chance to return. Next, the kiddos and I have to show the place to Travis!