Getting out into the world with little ones and less stuff
Germany and India, with a Toddler: Part III
If you’ve been following our adventure so far, you know we traveled to Germany and India last month with our one and a half year old son. We’re thoroughly enjoying sharing our lessons learned, highs and lows of traveling light with a highly active toddler boy, and the unexpected joys and challenges we experienced while visiting both unfamiliar and known cities and countries as a new family right here in this space. This kind of thing is deeply rooted in our veins, and we love sharing what we’re learning. So thank you for reading!
Right now we’re talking about Germany. We landed in Frankfurt, which would serve as “base camp” and spent the first day settling in and doing just a little exploring in the evening. We also spent a day in Heidelberg. If you’ve missed it, head here to read all about it.
The next day we hopped on an early morning train, after another filling and delicious breakfast (God bless our hotel find), and spent the day in Würzburg.
Würzburg sits in the region called Franconia, in Northern Bavaria, and marks the start of the “Romantic Road.” If you haven’t heard of it, that’s a route that runs through the bottom half of Germany connecting a series of picturesque towns and castles, ending at the very famous Castle Neuschwanstein. The region is also famous for wine-production, which at least one of us sampled while there and can now attest to the fact that it deserves its fame. There were so many sights we wanted to see here. For example, the local World War II exhibit, which showed in miniature detail the ninety percent of the whole town that was destroyed in 1945 during the British air raids. We actually did see everything we wanted to see here while going at a relaxed pace, and giving Johann his much needed “running breaks.”
We arrived in Würzburg after a short train ride. We had walked about three quarters of a mile towards the Altstadt (old town), when I noticed that Johann – riding in the Ergo on Ryan’s back – had chucked his sun hat somewhere along the way. The hat is a high-quality one, and was meant to fit his head for the next three or four sizes of growth (supposedly). So we retraced our steps, and finding nothing we gave up all hope, sad to start our day with a small but sad loss. But, to our surprise, a kind stranger had perched the sun hat atop a post mere steps away from where we had discovered it was missing.
Setting aside the hat-chucking incident, and a harrowing train-catching incident yet to come, we loved our day in Würzburg.
One of our first stops was the World War II exhibit at the town hall. The magnificent churches, castles, and town buildings we marveled at were almost completely reduced to rubble, then painstakingly reconstructed to prior accuracy in the decades that followed.
The accompanying text said that the town wanted to remember the tragedies it suffered through, and never wanted to face anything like that ever again. The whole thing was a humbling paradox of an experience, one that made us feel very blessed and fortunate not to be living in times of war devastation and also one that showed us how normal life can seem one or two generations later. Like it was nothing.
It was easy to find beauty and joy in everything we saw here.
But the churches here were especially beautiful, and we explored as many as we could.
That is, until Johann discovered echoes. As in, his own very loud echo inside a church. While someone was giving a talk. The more he heard it, the more thrill he got out of it. Yep. So I went in with the other tourists who knew how to be quiet, and took the keepsake pictures. But that wasn’t all of Johann’s church-related mischief. At another church here (one that was completely deserted except for us, thankfully), Johann decided to take a break from running when he inadvertently discovered that the cushions could be pushed off. The excitement grew when he discovered all the cushions could slide off in a long line down the pew.
We broke the day up with a nice, leisurely lunch at a picnic table in the Altstadt Marktplatz.
We all shared one huge German Pretzel. Johann inhaled his share of lunch then sped off to run around the square and play peekaboo with random but friendly big German guys enjoying their lunch break while we ate and drank. We couldn’t help but smile the whole time. As a side note, we were able to eat really cheaply in Germany, with the abundance of picnic stalls and summertime pop-up vendors, and ended up spending less than $8 per person per day while we were there, which included all the water, snacks, gelato, and other drinks we bought too. Getting a free daily breakfast helped greatly, but we were still pretty proud of ourselves since we came in well under budget for the whole trip to Germany and India.
Another highlight was the Residenz and its gardens. An enormous palace commissioned in the early 1700s by the Prince-Bishops of Germany, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inside of which pictures were strictly verboten. But the whole interior, particularly the tile and woodworking details were indescribably exquisite. We then walked around the impeccably manicured gardens with its millions of varied flowers, and were able to take pictures outside while we took a snack break and waited for Johann to wake up from his afternoon nap.
Everything was going smoothly, and we were having fun. We walked around a little more, stopped to buy the one and only souvenir we bought during our time in Germany – which, because I know you’re all dying of curiosity, is a bottle of Franconian wine, to open and celebrate after baby number two comes – then headed back to the station to catch our train. Which brings me to the train-catching incident that shall forever live on in our memories as THE train-catching incident. Let me elaborate…but first, this cuteness.
Waiting for the train is like waiting on a high dive board. The platform is a narrow space, it’s hot (95 F) and you’re nervous so you try not to move too much. On this high dive board you also have an active, sweaty toddler, and also about a hundred other people. Johann did not want to be held, which was okay because it was hot, and there was no breeze to make it even remotely comfortable. He was also cranky now, after being an angel all day, which makes complete sense since it was after 5 p.m. now and it had been a long day. He had a mostly empty apple juice bottle that provided some excitement, and he carried that around while Ryan made sure he didn’t get too close to the edge of the platform. Sort of like the old game of pong. My son and husband bouncing back and forth between the two platform edges. There was one exciting moment when Johann bolted for the edge and tripped. He and the bottle in his hands went flying and Ryan had to choose which one to catch. He chose correctly, unfortunately though the bottle added to the litter next to the tracks. This bothered both Johann – since he lost his entertainment – and Ryan who loathes litter.
I watched all of this play out while trying to figure out what happened to German precision and punctuality. Forty minutes after the scheduled arrival there was still no train in sight and the digital signs on our platform with the train information had yet to change. Then, without notice or announcement, the signs changed to show a different train. Not ours. Slowly, as the wave of awareness swept through the sweaty crowd on the platform, a garbled announcement came over the PA system. Something about our train changed and platform four, which was not the one that we were waiting on. Suddenly the crowd that had been simmering in the heat started to move like a herd of cattle beginning to stampede. The ones closest to the stairs started to move and then everyone started to funnel down into the tunnel between platforms. Getting Ryan’s attention, ensuring we had our daypack and of course Johann – who was very excited to be doing anything besides waiting – we pushed into the herd. It was unclear when the train would be arriving but the leaders of the herd seemed to think it was pulling into the station as they bolted to the new platform. Of course the rest of the herd follows so we ran too. Had we known what was to come we would have conserved our energy. The new platform was just the next one over, eager heads turned to look down the track and saw nothing. The slow members of the herd arrived in plenty of time, basking in their calm while the rest shimmered in their sweat.
Finally a light on the tracks. Using the handy map that the Deutsche Bahn had put on the wall, we figured out where on the platform to stand so that we could board straight into our car when the train stopped. Standing confidently, we watched as the train came in and started to roll by and keep rolling by, finally stopping. Our car was not in front of us nor were we even close to our car number. Taking off at a quick pace we ran towards the end of the train, unaware that no one else was coming this way. We realized why when it dawned on us that none of the doors on this section of the train were open. Looking behind us, we saw everyone boarding the train back where we had been standing. Now, in a panicked full run, we made for the first open door we could see, back the way we came, pushing a Chinese tourist group and their enormous wheelie bags in ahead of us. We all jumped inside the door with seconds to spare. If we had to do all of this pulling suitcases full of stuff behind us, we would not have made it. One active toddler and one small daypack was enough for this sweaty five-months pregnant wife and spouse! Johann was securely in the Ergo carrier, and was now laughing hysterically because of all the running. Turned out, our car was just the next one over, in the opposite direction of all the closed doors (of course). We sank hippopotamus-like into our seats, and spent a full ten minutes recovering before tearing into the sandwiches we had grabbed for dinner.
We had saved our last full day to see more of Frankfurt. After another filling breakfast, we took the U-Bahn to the Altstadt. Side note: getting around Frankfurt was really easy by U-Bahn. We also got lucky being there on weekdays. Since the city is mostly all about business-activities, the best time to see the city is during the week.
We got the Altstadt and started with the Kaiser Dom. The cathedral itself was beautiful in its gothic architecture, and interesting.
But then we climbed up three hundred and twenty-eight steps straight up to the top of the bell tower.
The spiral staircase was old, and narrow. There was almost no room for the couple that passed us on their way down. We got to the top and were the only ones there for most of the time. It was the perfect place to enjoy the 360 views, let Johann run round and round, take a snack break, and change a poopy diaper.
Next, we headed into the Historiches Museum. What a pleasant surprise! The museum is shiny and new, built only within the past few years and it turned out to be the thing we enjoyed most in Frankfurt. We walked in, and Johann promptly fell asleep. I guess the soothing lighting and quiet atmosphere of the Museum was too strong a sleep inducer. We learned a few things in the medieval and World War II exhibits, then headed to the attached tower.
Johann woke up just in time to enjoy pushing all the buttons that simulated different church bells hundreds of years ago, and look through kid-friendly telescopes to see what medieval Frankfurt had looked like. We left and had a nice picnic style lunch in the plaza, and did a little more sight-seeing before heading back.
We packed, then put Johann down to bed, and enjoyed one last sunset on the balcony, feeling extremely grateful for such a wonderful time in Germany. The next morning we would be boarding our flight to Chennai, India. And things continued to go smoothly. We took the S-Bahn back to the airport and caught our plane. There were no lines anywhere through the airport, and God must have shown us mercy because we had an empty seat next to us. I don’t need to say, but I will anyway, that the 9.5 hour flight that day was the smoothest one we’ve ever had (even including our pre-baby days). What an amazing trip so far.
My next post will be my last and final post on this series, will cover how it all went in India, including how we dealt with the weather, Johann’s adjusted schedule, and car travel. Thank you for sharing in our journey!