France, the second day


It was another gorgeous day in the south of France, not as hot as before, a beautiful breeze, clear skies, and lots of food to eat and classic French scenes to see.

On our way to the weekly market in the center of the city, we stopped at the Montpellier zoo for an hour. It is simple to do, as the zoo is free. Sadly the morning began with two skinned knees on Edith which colored the rest of her day. I can’t blame her, as she fell onto those rocks with great gusto.

The Montpellier market is at the base of a Roman aqueduct that runs through the city. It is quite a striking place, and again, a detail that must be barely noticed by the locals. Imagine living somewhere that this is normal!

The market itself, as one can imagine, was full of beautiful fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, meats, olives, and flowers. The children enjoyed some perfect brioche, tearing off large chunks of it as we strolled. I love that experience: buying a loaf of bread and tearing off portions.

Axelle got some delicious paella for lunch, one of those dishes that will forever remind me of my grandmother and my own mother.

We ate like royalty at lunch, although somehow this was a normal sort of meal in France. Paella, four different kinds of cheese from the market, baguette, fresh fruit, and a magical lemon tart.

After naptime, the children thoroughly enjoyed time in the pool, so much so that Edith never wanted to get out.

This evening, the neighborhood was having their “block party,” which mostly consisted of a lot of food and French karaoke. As well as a boccee tournament where I got a kick out of watching the men get out the tape measure every time.

Again, we had such simple but beautiful food, finished, of course, with cheese and fresh fruit and then an amazing tiramisu. I have had a few good laughs thinking about and explaining to our friends what the block party on our street in South Bend is like every summer, compared to theirs. Burgers, macaroni and cheese, beans, bouncy houses, a “band” in the middle of the street… As I sat tonight, sipping wine and eating Brie, I was struck by how different but how beautifully similar the two parties really are. They are both neighbors, trying to build friendship, establish a connection, and enjoy the good things of life together. I wish that one day we could have a merger of these two block parties.

France, the first day

The kiddos and I left Munich early yesterday morning (accompanied by a very kind husband to carry bags and push a stroller up to security) for a week in the south of France with old friends of my family. The last time I was here was with my sister, when we were 16. It doesn’t feel like it’s been 11 years, as so much of the landscape and the place is quite familiar. The children have been troopers with yet another change imposed upon them and although it has proven a bit of a challenge the last few days to keep spirits up, children sleeping, and to do it all on my own without Travis, I couldn’t be happier to be here and to see my children get to know these people and this place.

The children were lovely travelers for me and they are becoming quite used to the routines of trains and security lines and airports.

We arrived easily in France, napped, and enjoyed the backyard at our friends’. It is a lovely little backyard, and I enjoyed sitting and soaking in the sun and blue skies while the children explored.

In the evening, we headed into the town center of tiny little Grabels, their village, for Alina’s orchestra recital. The evening of music was put on by the local public and music schools and was held in the courtyard of a very-old looking building. I laugh to myself when I realize that I sit at an event like that and think about how not typical that is for people like me, and just how typical it is for the French that they probably don’t even think twice about the venue.

The beauty here is just so quintissential and striking, and I have found it particularly special to realize the many happy memories and connections I have to my family in this country, thanks to the trips we’ve taken before and the food that I grew up eating. France is truly my favorite place not just because I’m a snob (according to my husband, at least) and like good food, but because it holds connections to my family and my past that I am sure I will rediscover every time I am here.

Elisabethmarkt

Another day, another neighborhood explored, market visited, coffee sipped, and playground enjoyed. This time, it was Elisabethmarkt, a much smaller market than Viktualienmarkt, but lovely all the same. It is tucked inside of a little green park in the middle of a neighborhood, making it a bit quieter, simpler, and perhaps more toddler-friendly.

The Munich public transportation system is really quite simple and straightforward and I have found it relatively easy to navigate. The only detail that complicates things: the double stroller. Finding elevators proves to be the wrench thrown into all smooth traveling (particularly in the biggest stations in the city!), and today was no exception. I was able to confront the difficulties this time, however, with more humor and patience, reminding myself we’re on no one’s schedule but our own, and there’s always a way to get home if we need to. An extra U-Bahn ride and about three Tram maps later, I got us to the correct place and felt like a conqueror.

As we waited at the tram stop, I realized it’s not many days in your life that you have a view like this while waiting for a ride.

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So far my plans for exploring Munich have become: find coffee shop, buy some time to sip the coffee by keeping toddler’s mouths full, find a park or playground where they can run, and then return home with a box of those juicy strawberries that seem to be everywhere. Today was no different.

The treats of choice this morning were the smoothest iced flat white (I have only ever had a Starbucks flat white, so I probably don’t have any other authentic flat whites to compare it to, but it was so good!), an oatmeal almond chocolate chip cookie, and a piece of carrot cake decorated with gorgeous dried flowers.

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These red balloons were the highlight of the babies’ entire day, obtained from people walking around promoting an event in the city. They remained tied to their wrists the entire tram and subway rides home and then clenched in their fists for the rest of the day. I can’t decide if the disappointment will be less if I simply make them disappear tonight and hope they’re not remembered in the morning, or if they are discovered, deflated and drooping on the floor in the morning. Probably neither will be the happiest situation.

When Edith got her balloon, she told me she was ready to float up into the sky, like Curious George.

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The balloons say “We [heart] Munich” and although it has been slow in coming, I am starting to feel those sentiments myself.

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Munich’s 860th

This weekend was Munich’s 860th birthday and the city holds a giant celebration throughout the center of the old town.

We actually stumbled across it, not realizing it was such a big weekend and enjoyed a taste of traditional Bavarian culture like men cracking whips very loudly (I have no further explanation for what exactly was going on), lots and lots of liederhosen, and we got to eat some delicious food.

It is mind-blowing to realize this city has existed for so much longer than my entire home country has!

There were food tents set up in the Marienplatz, the main square, as well as a stage where a New Orleans-style jazz band was playing. Edith especially loved dancing to the music and I was surprised to suddenly hear English in the middle of Munich!

Travis had schnitzel on a sandwich, John Henry downed an entire Weiswurst, eating it like a banana, and I enjoyed this amazing Bavarian “hot dog” called a Bonsa. It had a Weiswurst on top of a slaw with horseradish and some kind of mustard-y sauce, from what I’ve read after the fact, possibly with some curry in it. The whole thing was served on a pretzel roll and topped with fried onions. So delicious. The babies capped everything off with a waffle on a stick, likely the highlight for them. (Another highlight was the large dancing clock on the town hall building!)

This city is slowly finding its way into my heart, and it felt like a special treat to be celebrating its birthday with the locals. (And a whole bunch of tourists as well!)

After such a big weekend, we took today slowly. Edith collected snails and made them a salad, I enjoyed hanging clothes on the clothesline in the backyard, and I braved the weekly grocery run with the two of them in tow.

It is amazing how much more complicated simple things like getting groceries can be without a car, but we made it work (the huge stroller basket is a lifesaver!) and John Henry didn’t mind having a prop for his feet on the trip back!

Freising, again

(Prepare for another photo-laden post!)

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Tuesday’s discovery of the little town of Freising, north of Munich, was such a happy discovery that we had to share it with Travis as soon as possible. As I walked around on Tuesday, there were so many corners I noticed, windows and flowers, rooflines and views, that I just couldn’t get my camera out for thanks to a double stroller and two toddlers. So my hopes of doing more strolling, camera in hand, babies watched by another set of eyes, were met perfectly this morning.

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We found it, again, to be a delightful, little place. The weather has been glorious the last two days: warm sun, cool air, light breeze. The town was much busier today, and a market was set up in the square. I love sidewalk markets, and especially European ones, with their sights of fresh fruit, fancy cheese, and beautiful flower arrangements. Once Edith has been somewhere or done something before, she acts like a pro whenever we do that thing again or return to that place. She practically led the march up the hill to the cathedral.

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When we were at the cathedral earlier in the week, we stopped in a for a five-minute glimpse, so I enjoyed having time to explore the corners, the side chapels, and the crypt. What a stunning place!

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While we explored the crypt, we found Edith kneeling, her hands folded in prayer. When she was done, she got up, grabbed my hand, and said, “Mom, Jesus loves me! So I was praying to Him.” I pray those words are a truth she holds firmly in her soul for the rest of her life, and that her response remains the same.

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In contrast to Edith’s sweet piety, John Henry simply begged to go outside the whole time, as he remembered all the fun he and Edith had had in the rocks at the overlook.

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John Henry is also obsessed with Travis’ watch and had the special treat of wearing it all day. It is too much.

My favorite thing about Freising might be the narrow little alleys, usually lined with some sort of foliage or brightened by blooming flowers peaking through the fences or over the tops of gates.

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Another novelty in the architecture here (I have seen this a bit in Munich, but it isn’t quite as prevalent!) is the religious imagery that appears on the sides and corners of buildings.

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We ended our time with more of those incredibly deep red, juicy, sweet cherries that seem to be a staple in southern Germany. They are heavenly.

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The second week

Since our big adventure to Freising earlier this week, rain, chilly weather, and my own tiredness kept the rest of the week pretty simple and quiet. Munich apparently has a number of museums that are wonderful for children, so on a cold, rainy Wednesday we decided to explore one, choosing the Deutches Museum Verkehrszentrum (the transportation location of the Deutches Museum). This was the closest to our house and involved the least amount of walking in the pouring rain.

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The museum itself is aesthetically quite lovely, with bright colors, a lot of natural light, and some creative displays. My children aren’t quite at the age, yet, where we can spend a lot of time even at a museum like this as they wanted to ride (“yide,” as JH says) everything and didn’t quite understand that sometimes we go to museums just to look. Thankfully they did have a few train cars the children could go on, as well as a tractor trailer truck cab to “drive” that we visited a few times. The kids could have stayed at the truck for hours, I think.

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The next day was quite chilly, so we took a walk in the park and made a trek to the grocery store after naptime. All of the feathers Edith collected on our walk have ended up on our back patio and there are so many that when I catch a glimpse of them, it looks like there’s a dead bird in the backyard! As it turns out, Thursday the transportation workers went on strike so the tram and subway schedules were completely messed up, few were running at all, and it was the talk of the town that evening. I love imagining all of the dinner-time conversations that the strike prompted.

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After the rain and cold, today’s sunshine was heartily welcomed and we enjoyed it by going pretty far into the old town from our apartment in search of a highly-recommended coffee shop and the promise of “watching surfers.” Before today, Edith and John Henry had no idea what surfers were and last night when I was putting Edith to bed, she says, “Remember, we don’t touch surfers.” I think, now, she understands that they are people.

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The coffee shop was just what I imagine all European cafés should be: walls of windows that open completely out onto the street, beautiful light, and as a special treat for me especially, we discovered an entire corner of toys for the kids. I was able to enjoy my cappuccino in relative peace for about five minutes while they played happily; until the cake came: an apricot streusel cake and some sort of cherry cake topped with candied almonds. Both were incredibly delicious. The apricot piece had some sort of frangipane, I believe, with crushed poppy seeds, and the almonds on the cherries reminded me of the almond extract my mom would always put in her sour cherry pie. The kids highly approved, as well, and surprisingly today we all happily shared the pieces together, with Edith even feeding John Henry bites off of her fork.

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After our café stop, we headed to the English Garden, to Eisbachwelle (the “ice brook wave”), the local surfing attraction in the Isar River which runs through the city. We enjoyed watching and Edith was, no surprise, inspired by the view and began “surfing” herself on the bench and around the park.

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One of my favorite moments of our days continues to be the race to our front gate. I am reminded, every time, what a blessing it is to have such a wonderful apartment with lots of space for us to spread out, play, sleep, and rest, with a beautiful backyard and a quiet little street. It is not something I will ever take for granted!

All in all, we had a lovely, quiet week with some simple, quiet days and a few days of exhausting outings and incredible new sights and tastes. Besides 6 a.m. wakeups, the toddlers are doing beautifully and Edith tells us she wants to stay in “Munich, Germany” for a while still.

Freising

Life in Munich has been interesting and exciting, to say the least. We ride trams and subways everywhere, walk down crowded sidewalks, and pass many a traffic jam. I hadn’t realized how much of a big city it is until today when we went to Freising, a sweet little quintessential European city north of Munich. One of my oldest friends who is traveling overseas had a layover here, so we met in Freising and enjoyed the cobblestone streets, gorgeous fresh fruit, and the hilltop cathedral.

We took a regional train to the town, an experience the babies were very pleased with. It was true train travel, as opposed to all of the underground travel we do around here.

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Before making the trek up the hill to the cathedral, we enjoyed the center of the old town and some sidewalk ham and cheese sandwiches.

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The Freising Cathedral, the Domberg, sits at the top of the tallest hill in the city, a fact I had forgotten about old European towns. The hike up the hill, pushing a double stroller, was quite the workout! Edith was a champion and walked the whole way up for me so I was pushing only one 27+ pound toddler, instead of two!

The cathedral itself is magnificent, and the view from the top of the hill lovely, as well. There is a little garden on the grounds, so the children had a lot of exploring opportunities as we waited for Juliet and Ryan.

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And the inside of the cathedral.

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Back down the hill, we shared some amazing cherries, soaked in the quaint, quiet beauty, and (no surprise) the babies had some ice cream.

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Today was just how I imagine European summer days; we only wish we had more time with Juliet and Ryan! This place was so lovely that we plan to take Travis back as soon as possible. I don’t think the babies will mind.

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