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!

France, the sixth day

We returned to Sète for the day today, and somehow, every day in this coastal city feels magical, and blue, and bright. We began by parking just outside of the town and taking the “boat bus” down the canals to the center of town for the market. The boats are the city’s way of making the market more convenient, as Sète has become a very full and busy city and it would be much harder for people to get to the market (especially from the outlying villages) without the “taxi”. The boat is also an attraction for tourists, and we happily took our place among the crowds.

The sky was so blue, the canals and the colored houses picturesque, and the children were absolutely delighted by the whole adventure. We were glad to have Alina with us too, as she does not have school on Wednesdays.

We met Axelle’s mother at the market, and of course, she insisted on pastries to begin the excursion. Edith and Alina got matching ones.

How I prefer to do all my walking.

Edith had the chance to pick out a dress from the market for a gift, and she immediately went to a dress she had seen Alina wearing a few days before. There was no changing her mind, and she wanted to put it on immediately. Her connection to Alina and their companionship has been so sweet to watch. It makes me want to find an older playmate for Edith immediately. I also love that Edith answers to “Édit” whenever Alina calls her name. She and Alina have become quite good at communicating, as Alina knows a bit of English and has tried very hard to learn the words she needs to ask Edith if she likes something, or if she wants to come look at something, or if she wants to be held. I will get a picture of them in their matching dresses before we leave.

We made a stop at the cheese shop on our way up the hill for lunch. As you can see, Edith made faces in the mirror and John Henry read about all of his cheese options. We truly are something to see, everywhere we go.

We returned to the car by the boat bus, which no one was complaining about.

We returned to L’Escarpée Belle, the home of Axelle’s parents (and a beautiful B&B if anyone is looking to visit Sète!) for lunch. Between me and my family members, we must have a hundred photos of this view, but it just never gets old.

Lunches in France have inspired me to forget all of my angst about lunch. They truly make it as much of an event as other meals, but somehow it is simple and not a lot of work. We had a lovely salad of boiled potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, radishes, and a vinaigrette, along with leftover chicken from lunch a few days ago, baguette, cheese, and melon with prosciutto. Maybe it is just this woman and this family, but every meal has been simple, yet lovely.

After lunch and some regrouping, we headed à la plage (to the beach) as my one request was to put my feet in the Mediterranean. We did more than that, and the children were delighted by the waves and the sand.

Yes, the water is this blue. Even bluer. After some delightful floating in the water (which was freezing… Edith was shivering thirty seconds into it), the children warmed up in the sun and enjoyed the sand. Edith discovered all of the seashell pieces in the sand and took to collecting only seashells and putting them in her bucket. I love how in all of this traveling and craziness, the children are still developing and growing and surprising us. A few months ago, she never would have differentiated between what she was putting in her bucket. She was not at all pleased with the rock that John Henry attempted to contribute.

We left the beach as two grumpy toddlers and one very satisfied mama. I love the Mediterranean, I love seeing them have such a good time, and I love being on the way home again, because on such big days like this, home means bedtime and bedtime means 6:30 p.m. Sweet John Henry couldn’t wait until then.

France, the fifth day

I must admit, day two of 6 a.m. wakeups really affected all three of us this morning and by about 10 a.m., everyone (me included!) was grumpy and whiny. We were alone again this morning and I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with our time. But the attitudes and misery called for some exercise and, you know, pastries. We took the lovely walk down the hill again to the old center to Axelle’s favorite bakery. It is closed on Mondays and I need to try her favorite bakery here, of course, so what better time for some paztries? (This time pain au chocolat, brioche au sucree and essentially a pain au chocolat with orange pieces, although I forget exactly what it was called.) They were perfectly buttery and flaky and delicious, and the view from the tables in the courtyard was truly French.

We returned home with a baguette hanging out of the stroller basket and full bellies. On the way up the hill, we stopped at Axelle’s favorite wine shop so I could get her a bottle. Much to my pleasure, I was able to communicate to the owner in French that I wanted to buy a bottle of rose, I was a friend of Axelle’s, and that she had told me that he knows what she likes, so I wanted him to help me pick out a bottle. I can still speak just a little French, but it has been so fun to try to use it when I can and to discover the things that have stuck with me all these years. It has also been a nice change from Munich, being able to speak in the local language with the local people. I’ve been inspired to maybe try to pick up French again – maybe just reading a little every day, but I’m trying not to make huge demands on myself considering what is coming up in the near future.

A new road is being built around the corner from the house, so John Henry has been especially pleased to discover that bulldozers do, also, exist in Europe.

A pre-lunch swim and then a nap put everyone in better spirits for our trip into the center of Montpellier. We picked Alina up at school and then headed to the Place de la Comédie for dinner at the new fast food restaurant that has been the talk of the town. You can imagine the kick I got out of discovering it was Popeyes. We have a Popeyes around the corner in South Bend and I’ve never eaten at Popeyes in my life. It seems like a good story, to say I had to go to Montpellier for my first taste.

I have fond memories of exploring the center of the city with EA, just the two of us, years ago. We ate macarons from Paul on the benches among these trees.

After dinner, I loved watching the kids dancing to the street performer and throwing their balloons around. Whatever Alina is doing, Edith is trying to do too, and JH is copying Edith. It is quite a magical place for some Popeyes and balloons.

It truly has been a vacation for these kids, with swimming every day, lots of food to eat, and staying up past their bedtime every night. It can make for some more challenging moments and attitudes, but I’m so glad we can make these memories together. And Edith now has a French BFF.