Wednesday: Nürnberg

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I had been thinking about going to Nuremberg all summer, but the trip was just long enough and the city just large enough that I didn’t think I wanted to brave it on my own. Thankfully, EA’s wholehearted approval of the idea found us in the second-largest city in Bavaria on Wednesday. It was hot as blazes and we walked literally all day, but I am so glad we made the trip.

The journey began on the ICE train, the German high-speed train, and Edith was elated at the chance to ride one, as she has seen them many times at the train station and asked about them. Here she is, ready with all a girl could need for a trip: her caterpillar and her muffin and a look of excitement on her face (plus her attempts at a smile for a photo…she still doesn’t get it).

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While Munich feels very European, not much of it feels old, a quality I have discovered is one of my favorite things about European towns. With a medieval wall surrounding the old city and countless old buildings and a castle at the top of the hill, Nuremberg feels positively old and is not lacking in magic.

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We didn’t make many plans for the day, deciding to simply make a loop around the old town, starting and ending at the train station. Our first little stop was at the handcraft market right inside the city walls. It was much smaller than I expected, but gave us our first taste of the medieval German views we found throughout the city.

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The beginning of our loop brought us down one of the main pedestrian walkways in the old city. This brought us first to St. Clare’s Church, Nuremberg’s first church built in a predominantly Gothic style. It is small and quite simple, but the simplicity brings attention to the lovely altar pieces on either side of the church.

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Next was St. Lawrence, one of Nuremberg’s towering medieval churches, dating back to the early 1400’s. As is true of most of Nuremberg’s churches, it was badly damaged during the war and later restored. I especially enjoyed the stain-glass windows and the light coming through them.

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All of the churches also had remnants of older paintings and frescoes on the walls, something I know little about but found fascinating. I am sure EA learned about them from all of her thorough reading.

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Hanging above the altar was my favorite piece of art in all of the churches I have seen this summer. It is called Angelic Salutations and is a wooden sculpture of the Annunciation, created in 1518. The colors, the details, and the uniqueness of the piece really make it stand out in an already-impressive building.

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From St. Lawrence, we crossed the river and then stopped in Frauenkirche, a smaller but equally beautiful church.

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While EA spent more time exploring the art and history of the place, the kids and I sat on the steps and ate our packed lunch. They had the chance to run around a bit in the square outside the church, and sitting on the steps, eating grapes with them, is one of my favorite memories from the whole day.

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The forecasted high for the day was 87, and it was certainly that by the middle of the day, so of course that was the perfect time to climb the hill to the top of the city, and then to climb the very steep hill up to the very top of the castle that sits above everything else. The kids were amazing and trekked up the steep hill on their own two feet while EA and I took turns pushing the stroller.

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The view, of course, was worth the trek.

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On the way back down the hill, Edith wanted a picture with John Henry and his rejection totally cracks me up. My little boy is a very sweaty little boy, and his cheeks get flushed very quickly in the slightest heat. I pushed a lot of water on them and they survived the heat like troopers, but even people passing by would comment on his bright red cheeks.

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Just around the corner from the castle is the Albrect Dürer house, the place where the artist was born. It is one corner of a beautiful little square at the top of the hill.

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The downhill part of our city loop was a bit quieter and more relaxed, and thankfully mostly in the shade.

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St. Sebaldus, a counterpart to St. Laurence, is on that side of the old city, so we stopped in for a quick look.

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Further down the hill, we were lured in by the beautiful displays of a pastry shop, and the children learned that Aunt EA is always good for a macaron.

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We ended the day stopping in a toy store and the kids spent a very happy 20 minutes playing while EA and I tried and failed to exercise self control. We got a few of the most beautiful wooden toys, treasures that I am sure will last for many years!

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Of course, to end the day, ice cream, and then a bit of a confusing time getting back on a train to Munich, as the ICE train wasn’t running and we had to figure out which train we were supposed to get on. Thankfully, we made it home again as smoothly as could be hoped, and EA is already talking about how she would live in Nuremberg, if she could. I am glad we made the trip, although I am pretty certain we are all still recovering from the heat and exhaustion, two days later.

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Tuesday: coffee and French food

After our big day on Monday, we decided to let the kids sleep in, have a slow morning, and enjoy another area of Munich that I had discovered and wanted to show EA.

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We played at the playground, drank coffee, and then dropped EA off at the museum for the afternoon while the kids and I returned home to nap and rest.

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In the evening, EA and I treated ourselves to a lovely French dinner at Colette, a French brasserie-style restaurant by Michelin-star chef Tim Raue. I learned about him from my dedicated watching of The Chef’s Table, a documentary series on Netflix about different chefs around the world. His main restaurant is an Asian restaurant in Berlin, but he has a few of these French restaurants open now in Germany and I was eager to try it. It did not disappoint, and we went all out. One of my favorite moments was when they brought an entire, large jar of pickles to the table after we ordered, and our night ended outside on the terrace with the perfect tarte tatin: perfect because the taste was just that, and perfect because it reminds me of Christmases when my mom made ones for dessert.

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Monday church tour

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We have been busy this week enjoying Munich with Aunt EA and helping her check the sights off of her to-see list. (Which also means dropping her off at places like museums that she gets to enjoy sans-toddlers.)

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Monday was for a walking tour of some of the Munich churches in the center of the old city. First, Bürgersaalkirche, built in 1710. Church tours with Aunt EA usually look like the children and I make a quick circle around the building, hopefully pause to enjoy one or two pieces of art or a side chapel, and then exit before anyone is too loud or too whiny. We wait outside for five-twentyish minutes for Aunt EA who enjoys every word and every brush stroke or piece of historical art in the building. At our first church, we waited outside for her so long that I was worried we lost her (the family knows that very real fear), but as it turns out she was being too polite, allowing a Spaniard to talk to her for a very long time.

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While we waited for EA, Edith and John Henry enjoyed the street musicians and danced around the busy Karlsplatz.

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Next, St. Michael’s Kirche, built in the early 1590’s and one of my favorites in Munich. Both of these churches are set into the buildings along a busy shopping street, so it’s almost surprising to come upon them after passing an H&M or a tourist shop.

Frauenkirche next, Munich’s cathedral, and one of the iconic places in the city. The church was originally 12th century and was heavily damaged by bombing in World War II. It lost most of its interior to the war, and feels a bit more bare and unadorned than the others. Sadly for us, there is also scaffolding covering one of the towers.

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Last on this trip, Heiliggeist Kirche, the Church of the Holy Spirit. This is much smaller, but has many similarities to St. Michael’s, and St. Peter’s across the way. I had not been in this one yet, so I was glad to have finally gone in.

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After our tour, we had lunch at a café beside the church. We sat on the second-story terrace and had a lovely view of the city around us.

Edith has been very into The Very Hungry Caterpillar this summer and was absolutely delighted to receive this plush one. It has been her greatest treasure this summer, but we left it at a coffee shop a few days earlier and she had been missing it. Thankfully, it was still there a few days later and they were reunited this morning. Hence the caterpillar in most photos.

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The plan was to then return home for naps and a grocery store run, but then I discovered I had locked my set of keys in our apartment (thankfully I discovered that right after lunchtime, not once we had already returned home) and we would have to go get Travis’ set. The language institute is further out from our apartment than we already were, so we made an afternoon of it, stopping to pick up the keys, swinging by the grocery store, and then stopping at the Isar River for the babies to enjoy the water, something I have been wanting to do for a while. They were absolutely delighted, as throwing rocks into water is their favorite pastime. It quickly became a diapers-only outing, and they were so pleased.

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Of course Aunt EA was egging them on, trying to get them to lie on their backs in the river. JH took her up on it completely, Edith almost.

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After an unexpected napless day, full of walking, everyone was exhausted and ready to sleep. A good day, all around.

Salzburg, on a rainy day

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We have been planning this trip to Salzburg to see our South Bend friends all summer, and although the clouds altered our plans to find some mountain views, the day was just right. (As evidenced by the exorbitant amount of photos in this post…)

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This day, especially, Edith and John Henry excelled at entertaining themselves and finding fun everywhere we went. It was especially sweet to watch them doing things like spinning by the fountains outside the main train station, turning a steep little hill into a slide, and collecting sticks or rocks wherever they went. We had a very late, for them, return to Munich, and they were total troopers through the whole thing.

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It was the first day of the Salzburg summer festival, and the streets were filled with music, tents, stages, all just adding to the magic of the city. We began by stopping in the garden of Matthew and Beata’s church where they had food and drinks. It is such a special experience, to spend a day in Europe with some of our dearest friends, that I wish we could do it more often!

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Here are the children, pleased as peaches, when Elias emerged from his nap in the carrier.

The castle at the top of mountain behind the city is prevalent in so many of these photos, as it is such a striking backdrop to the town. Just looking up and seeing a castle above the rooflines and treetops was surprising, every time.

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After our garden stop, we walked over to 7th century St. Peter’s abbey and cemetery, where Beata and I mostly enjoyed conversation and watching our children while Matthew, Travis, and EA hiked up a steep mountainside to some early Christian catacombs. While we waited for the other grownups, Edith and John Henry discovered the perfect natural slide and had the time of their lives.

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From St. Peter’s, we walked further up the mountainside for some more city views, and then around the other side of the hill to Nonnberg Abbey, an 8th century Benedictine convent that is still active today. Maria Von Trapp was also a postulant there in the early 1920’s, and returned to the abbey church for her wedding.

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It is quite likely that Beata is Edith’s favorite person in the whole world, and watching Edith worm her hand into Beata’s every chance she got, or ride on the little platform at the front of the stroller, was too sweet.

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Back down the hill, we enjoyed coffee and cake at a lovely café. Everyone enjoyed themselves (Edith sailed her boat menu on the table while waiting…) and after cake, I successfully evacuated John Henry before he was able to break any dishes this time.

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While waiting for the others, John Henry, who ate his entire sachertorte with his hands, and I enjoyed some riverside views just as the clouds began to break and chats about boats and bikes. He found a telephone booth that he told me was an elevator and then began pushing imaginary buttons “for U-Bahn,” he told me (the Munich subway). He is growing up so quickly on this trip and I love watching him make new sentences and use his imagination more and more.

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Our trip ended with sun on the river, a quick glimpse of the mountains, a playground, and subsequent (very sleepy) tears over having to leave and Edith’s requests to “see Miss Beata again.”

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It was, truly, a magical day, and I hope to go back to Salzburg again soon!

Last week

This past week knocked us down for a while, and we have been slowly working back up to our usual levels of happiness, energy, and exploration. The night we returned from Salzburg, both children came down with high fevers that stuck around for a few days, and then became coughs and colds. It was exhausting and difficult, but we got through the worst of it before EA arrived on Tuesday morning.

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We took the first few days with EA slowly, as babies were still healing and EA recovering from jet lag. We showed her some of our favorite Munich neighborhoods, stopped at the Marienplatz glockenspiel and Viktualianmarkt, enjoyed post-bedtime homemade ice cream along the Isar River, and showed her the surfers at the Eisbachwalle.

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If I’m being honest, the sickness fast-forwarded my readiness to go home, but a week later and with just two weeks left here, I am feeling much better (although with much less energy than I used to have!) and I am excited to do some more exploring with EA. We are enjoying having her here, and she is always the best at making the kids laugh when they are grumpy or whiny or just need to go to bed. She also works magic with Edith, who let Aunt EA actually brush her hair without all the protesting that she usually does for me. Her hair has never looked prettier.

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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