South Bend to Freiburg: The Journey Begins

Mouse of the World is back at it again.

I am reviving the blog – now just a travel blog I guess – for our six week stay in Germany this summer. The next four weeks, we will be in Freiburg, a city in Black Forest region in the southwest while Chris takes language classes at the university and my mom, the kids and I explore, have quiet time, say “Danke” like we know German, etc. I am sitting in the living room of our AirBnB in Kondringen, a charming town outside Freiburg, with my Aldi coffee and the windows open, waiting for the Saharan Bubble to heat up the apartment and I’m very happy to be here.

We left South Bend at 8:48 on Friday morning. Our friend, Trevor, drove us to the South Bend airport so we could take the South Shore Line train to Chicago. After having an unnecessary slow motion meltdown about packing on Thursday, I still managed to stick to our goal of only bringing carry-ons and shoving heavier things and large toiletries into a travel crib we could check for free. We (read: Chris) were scarred from our last Eurotrip in which Chris lugged a huge suitcase + duffel bag and car seats (here’s a picture) around from place to place. We are still puzzled by how we managed to even fill up that much space, since we have one more person than last time and brought less stuff. The kids are pros on the South Shore Line and looked out the window (Christopher), caused mild mischief (Therese) or napped/grinned (Teddy) the whole time.

(Blurry) proof that we were much more efficient packers this time.

We availed ourselves of a Shake Shack lunch in Chicago, where we got a text that our flight from Chicago to Detroit was delayed by 40 minutes. We already had a quick connection for our flight from Detroit to Frankfurt, but we decided not to sweat it since our swanky credit card would afford us $500/person for a delay that would mean rebooking to travel the next morning, which meant the five of us could get a penthouse at the Ritz or something. We ate leisurely and schlepped to the L to O’Hare. Check-in was easy, security was quick (holla TSA Precheck) even though every single one of our bags was double checked ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Our gate for our Detroit flight was at the end of the stuffiest hallway, but it was easy not to be too grumpy about our delay since the gate next to us belonged to a flight that had been delayed for 8 hours.

The likelihood of making our connection dipped when we realized Delta had seated us in the very last row of the plane. Again, I was trying hard to keep a worst-case scenario of spending a night at a swanky hotel in Detroit in mind. Therese watched Frozen, Teddy napped until the flight attendant told me I had to take him out of the Ergo for takeoff (whyyyy), etc. It was a quick 45 minute flight anyway, and when it landed Chris ran ahead with Christopher to our Frankfurt gate while I scrambled to get the littler ones in the stroller and run after them.

Thankfully, they were still boarding for Frankfurt! After some breathless stroller tag acquisition and passport checking, we jubilantly boarded and discovered that, once again, we were in the very last and second-to-last rows of the plane. I was sitting with another mom with a lap infant in the second-to-last row, but we had a free seat between us, so it all worked out. It ended up being fairly nice, since we didn’t have to worry about (normal levels) of kid noise bothering others.

Teddy slept in the Ergo on me and I watched Us (so good) and A Star is Born (so dumb) and tried to snooze the rest of the trip, mostly unsuccessfully. We got these travel footrests/beds for the kids and they worked out so well. Therese and Christopher were able to lie down and Chris even squeezed in there for a while.

We had a brief but significant scare when we deplaned and Chris had forgotten his backpack with all our passports in it in the overhead and everyone kind of stonewalled us, saying it definitely wasn’t there until they let Chris back on the plane and someone had found it. Phew. On the bright side, this took long enough that there was no one in passport control, our checked travel crib was basically waiting for us, and we had plenty of time before our train to Kondringen. We were tired at this point, but I think the adrenaline was still running (especially after the backpack situation) that we pressed on.

My friend, Catherine, had explained the ICE train protocol and how to find your numbered car, etc. I diligently followed the map, but we still had to run to the family car when it arrived. Oh well. My least favorite part of traveling with kids and stuff is getting on trains – the L, the South Shore Line, here in Germany; it’s always a negotiation with the stroller, accidentally hitting people with bags, general kid whininess or just kidness. But everyone was actually very kind and sympathetic, encouraging us to leave the stroller next to their seats or helping us with finding open ones, even if there was one woman who just sort of froze in front of me as I tried to negotiate around a curve and then she still didn’t move and I ran over her foot. Another moment to cringe about forever.

It’s interesting to see both the universality of American stuff – Therese bonding with a Muslim girl wearing a Minnie shirt on a shuttle at FRA; a guy with a tattoo in German with a Boston Patriots hat on – and the general antipathy to our politics and perceived culture – a man making a “fake news” joke in the middle of a German conversation, our AirBnB host being genuinely surprised there is Aldi in America “because of Trump” and convinced that Americans don’t recycle at all. It’s unsettling that our political foibles are the stuff of normal conversation here, especially because I frankly don’t know much beyond the surface about German politics. I’m not naive enough to be surprised necessarily, but there’s a localist-adjacent instinct in me that finds it odd.

We rode three trains to get to our little village and one whiny and hot walk from the train station later, we got to our AirBnB. Our host is exceedingly kind and helpful and the apartment is spacious with a sweet backyard. We took naps (except for Chris, who treats jet lag like a challenge and went to Aldi), ate dinner, watched an episode of Our Planet and went to bed. Teddy had a rough time in the middle of the night, but he settled eventually and we all got a decent night’s sleep.

Another long adventure. We are pleasantly surprised at how well the kids did. They are good travelers, but an international red eye is hard for everyone and we got through yesterday with no major meltdowns. We always say day three is the hardest, though, so stay tuned to this space for future tantrum reports.

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