This past weekend, we hopped a Friday flight to one of the most interesting cities in Europe: Edinburgh, Scotland. Soph and I have officially mastered the whole “wearing the same clothes for three days so that you can stuff a giant camera and some toiletries into a single backpack” thing, so it was easy packing and a quick flight out.

Edinburgh is one of those places that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of press, but almost everyone we know who’s gone there has ranked it among their top cities. It’s got a wonderful Old Town, built on a giant hill with tons of hidden streets and narrow alleys (as well as a broad thoroughfare). There’s a bustling student population, which keeps the city fresh and the art scene alive. Lastly, there’s a huge castle sitting at the top of a giant rock in the center of the city, overlooking everything. And to top it off – the castle is pretty cool-looking - so it’s an easy city to like.

The downside of visiting Edinburgh in November is that sunset falls ominously close to 4:00 p.m., which means you don’t have nearly as much time as you would like to sightsee. We walked for probably 6 hours straight, breaking only for stoplights, and sometimes not even those (but since cars come from the opposite direction, you had to be a little careful when jaywalking). We were able to manage having time for a walking tour, which I still think is one of the best ways to get to know a city - because how else would you know which café was the one where JK Rowling started writing the Harry Potter series? Well, maybe the one with the giant “Harry Potter’s birthplace” sign, but that’s beside the point.

While I know everyone has heard of kilts and thinks they’re kind of funny, I was surprised at how many people we saw who were actually wearing them. I mean, it’s one thing to joke about it, or to be watching a movie where somebody moons their adversary by lifting up the kilt and shouting an insult; but to actually wear one on an ordinary Saturday, simply when walking around town? In November? Seriously? After a day of seeing them, though, I had to admit that they are kind of fashionable – especially if you have a rugby shirt on.

That being said, Scotland is known for more than just kilts and the Loch Ness Monster (although those two are arguably the coolest). Famous staples of culinary greatness such as Angus Beef, haggis, and Scottish brews, are also known the world over – or at least, they popped up on Google when we were researching “what is Scotland famous for”. For those of you who have never had haggis, I highly recommend it. Haggis is essentially all the throwaway parts of the sheep, such as the heart, liver, lungs, etc. These are then put into the sheep’s intestine / stomach, and then boiled for awhile. Finally, they open it up and serve it to you. Terrible as it sounds, the haggis we had was really good – much better than the “cow tongue” and “veal face” we tried in Paris! The Angus beef was probably a bit overrated, as I’m learning I still prefer Oklahoma, hormone-fed cattle – the kind where you can taste the steroids. As far as Scottish beers – well, we had quite a few misses, a couple of which bordered on undrinkable, but we did find two excellent ones which I’m sad to say I’ll probably never get to drink again.

All in all, Edinburgh was a great weekend trip, and is worth a stop if you’re traveling through Europe. Although you might want to steer clear if you have an aversion to bagpipe music, because it’s everywhere, and it sounds like the same song being played over, and over, and over…kind of like listening to a top 40 station.


I had the chance to go see the Chargers / Saints football game in London this past weekend, which was pretty cool. As some of you know, I had done a semester in London a long, long time ago, and had always wanted to go back and re-explore my old stomping grounds. That said, this was not the weekend in which to do that, as we were there for one thing and one thing only: to show the British what true football is! And also because one of my friends hooked me up with a VIP corporate package - I never get those things! Anyway – the football thing was great – but I’m not going to spend time talking about that, because this is, after all, a travel blog, not a sports blog.

So, London…one of the major cities of the world, a center of the arts, literature, finance, and late-night stabbings. London wasn’t nearly as nice as I remember it – but maybe I just didn’t notice all the commercialism ten years ago. That said, it still has its’ charms. One of the great things about this city is the pub culture – sort of a staple of the UK, I guess. We went into a pub for lunch, and it’s just a great atmosphere for eating a little food and drinking a little beer. Also, a little-known fact: pubs are baby-friendly! Sure enough, I looked down on not only one occasion, but two separate times, only to see a baby crawling on the floor beneath my table, staring up at me and smiling. Ok, I made the smiling part up – but the babies were crawling all over the place. I haven’t yet decided if that’s really cool, or if it’s really terrible.

The other thing I noticed about London was that the public transport system, while seemingly efficient and easy to navigate, was pretty much under construction at every point I needed to use it. What should have been an easy cross-town jaunt turned into a 2.5 hour combination of tubes, overgrounds, and bus rides down streets that should not have had buses driven down them. Disastrous, would be the correct word. I also got to live my lifelong dream of waking up in a foreign country, not being able to find a cab, walking to an airport to catch my flight, and still arriving at work that same morning. Gotta love being centrally located in Europe!

All transportation problems aside, though, it was a fun weekend. We did see Big Ben / Parliament, and I did say “look kids – Big Ben / Parliament”, even though there were no kids around (I had left the pub at that point). Got to eat some fish and chips, and realized there was a good reason I hadn’t had fish and chips since the last time I had been to London. But most of all, I got to see a crowd of proud British citizens stand and put their hats across their chests while Old Glory whipped in the wind and our great national anthem played. It was at this point where I couldn’t help think inspiring thoughts, such as “no taxation without representation”, and it took all my resolve not to act on the impulse that all strong-hearted Americans have in a moment such as this.

That impulse being, of course, to streak the field.

Next week: Edinburgh!


When you come to Munich, there are a couple of things you have to do. First and foremost, you have to drink some German beer. I mean seriously - it’s the beer capital of the world! Second, you have to eat some sausage. I mean seriously - it’s the sausage capital of the world! Third, you have to…shop? Seriously - it may not be the shopping capital of the world, but it's pretty good, and considering the fall season is fast approaching (and God knows we can’t afford to shop in Geneva), it was a small bonus to the trip.

The city of Munich is consistently ranked as one of the world’s greatest places to live. It’s a center for the arts, has a rich (and dark) history, and its’ inhabitants enjoy a very high standard of living. There are restaurants of all kinds, a great public transit system, a wide range of museums, and pretty much anything else you could imagine that would make a city great. We got to see a small taste of this during last year’s Oktoberfest, but not enough to say we really saw the city. As such, we decided to come back this year, and spend some time exploring Munich itself, as well as some of the surrounding countryside.

One thing we’ve found when visiting cities is that walking tours are among the best ways of getting to see a lot of things, while understanding their significance. We started with one of these, but so did 102 other people, so the group was a bit large. As luck would have it, they split us up into 3 groups, and we were lucky that we didn’t get the annoying tour guide, so our day was looking up. After the walking tour, we did some shopping, because like I said, the shopping is good, then got ready to go on the Munich Beer Challenge, which was basically the same tour group who did the walking tour, but they took you to beer halls instead of historical sites (although in one instance it was a historic beer hall). While it was kind of useless, it did give us an opportunity to meet a bunch of other people who wanted to see the beer halls, so that was fun.

The next day we decided to get out of town and visit the Neuschwanstein castle (I’m pretty sure I spelled that correctly). The Neuschwanstein castle is known as “the fairy-tale castle”, as it was the inspiration for the Walt Disney castle that most girls dream about being a princess in (and most boys dream about pillaging and setting fire to, so that their enemies know they have been crushed). All kidding aside, this castle is impressive in that it’s set in one of the most beautiful spots in the Bavarian Alps, and therefore has a truly magical feel to it. As we’ve seen tons of castles over the past year, we didn’t feel the need to go inside, so instead we hiked through some of the mountains around it, and ended up with some of the best vistas I’ve seen anywhere. To finish, we took a horse-drawn carriage down the road leading up to the castle, which was kind of fun, although I don’t think I’ll ever see the appeal of those things. I think an even better idea would have been to let people fire a catapult from one of the ramparts, but that’s just me…

On Friday, we decided to brave the masses and go to the actual Oktoberfest festival. What we didn’t know was that Friday was a German holiday, meaning Germans were getting their drink on and attending the festival instead of working. The resulting huge mass of people made it almost impossible to get inside any of the tents. That being said, after about 3 hours of waiting around, Soph sweet-talked a security guard into letting us in, and we were able to join the party inside. I think it was because she was wearing a drindl; it looked pretty cute on her.

A quick aside about Germans; they are known the world over for many things, but missed in all of that is their love of John Denver. I had forgotten how at our previous Oktoberfest, and Stuttgart, that the crowd knew all the words to “Country Roads”. While this is not necessarily odd in that they know the words, it is somewhat surreal to see thousands of people, many of whom don’t speak English, flip out and join arms while reciting the lyrics to a song that champions the positives of being a redneck. I have trouble describing the utter weirdness of seeing a foreign culture break out in a John Denver homage, and even more trouble understanding why; I mean really, John Denver? That said, it will probably remain a mystery, as psychologists the world over will continue to focus on the more pressing question of the Germans’ love of David Hasselhoff before looking into the John Denver phenomena.

Anyway - the festival was great, and it really is something everyone should do at some point in their lives - if you like massively large groups of people drinking and screaming. In a good way, though - everyone is friendly, and not in that normal irritating-drunk way. Or maybe I was friendly in the irritating-drunk way, and didn’t realize it. I guess we’ll never know…but it’s fun.

Finally, on Saturday, we went back to the festival, but just to walk around and do some of the rides and eat sausages. The one thing that’s lost among Oktoberfest is that at it’s heart, it’s a German family festival where you can take your children and have a good time. There are roller-coasters, games, haunted houses, and all sorts of things that you can find at Six Flags, except I didn’t notice any skee-ball, which is too bad, although I wouldn’t have played anyway because I’m not really into skee-ball. For those of you who are, though, maybe Oktoberfest isn’t for you.

To summarize - Munich is an awesome city. There’s a lot to see and do, it’s beautiful and has some great architecture, but most of all, it’s just a fun place. It has a really nice vibe to it that not many other cities possess, and it’s probably one of our favorites so far. And besides - you know you want an excuse to wear some Lederhosen…

Next weekend: Football in London, American style!

Greece Part II

We split our Greece vacation up into two parts; Santorini, and the mainland. While it’s tempting to spend 10 days on an island as beautiful as Santorini, we also wanted to get a look at Athens, Meteora and Lefkada, as well as some of the countryside in between. As such, for the second part we rented a car and hit the road!

As much as I hate driving, the back country of Greece is a great trip; the red clays of the soil and lime greens of the olive groves combine to produce a scenery very unlike anywhere else I’ve been. The final leg followed the Ionian coastline, an amazing drive that has the sea on one side, and mountains on the other. Driving also enabled us to go through some nice villages, and see things you wouldn’t find in a city. At one point, traffic was forced to stop while a shepherd drove his flock of sheep across the road; another time we had to slow down to avoid an old lady leading her pack mule through a village! From honey stands on the side of the road, to cool villages that public transportation simply doesn‘t reach, Greece is a great country to drive through.

That said, the driving in Greece is on the one hand awesome, and on the other hand terrifying. Take a normal 2-lane road (1-lane on each side). In most countries, this means that you have one line of cars going each way, right? Well, in Greece, that’s just not enough, so they pretend the shoulder is actually a lane in and of itself, thereby making the road 4 lanes. Even mac trucks follow this logic, and at high speeds, you wonder if it’s really as safe as the Greeks seem to believe. That said, I picked up on this habit very quickly, and I’m not sure if I can go back to the wussy “driving in the correct lane” mentality that the rest of the world employs.

One thing that really struck us about Greece was the friendliness of the locals. Maybe it’s because we were slightly out of tourist season, but everyone we saw was friendly and eager to make conversation. For instance, we spoke at length with one of the ladies who ran our hotel in Meteora, who explained that the reason their homemade morello cherry jam was so amazing was that “it was made with love”. Another conversation brought us to the understanding that in Greece, my name would be “Andreas”. I replied, “in the US, that would be a girl’s name”, to which our host responded, “see, our countries aren’t so different”. Everyone, though, went nuts over Sophia’s Greek name, and thought she would make an excellent Grecian goddess, or at the very least a solid nymph.

Our first stop was at Meteora. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Meteora is one of those places that seems lost in time. Basically, a long time ago a bunch of monks wanted to get away from civilization, and so they climbed up into these oddly-shaped cliffs and built monasteries. Check the pictures to get a sense of how crazy this must have been. I thought Meteora was one of the coolest places ever, although if you don’t like monasteries on cliffs, then you might disagree.

We also hit the area around Lefkada, which is Greece’s beach country. Greece’s beaches (at least the ones we went to) are absurdly beautiful, in a unique way. While I generally consider a long stretch of white sand to be the pinnacle of a perfect beach, Greece adds on to that by putting a giant cliff right behind the sand. The result is you have some spectacular spots, which are secluded and private. The sand is also different – much like Santorini, it’s made up of tons of tiny rocks, so while it feels very similar to regular sand, it doesn’t stick to you quite as much. This makes for great beach-laying, and combined with the scenery and lack of people, the beaches are easily among the best we’ve seen.

The only downside to going cross-country through Greece is that the food is so cheap in the rural areas, that you feel obligated to eat Greek food every day. Don’t get me wrong – Greek food is great. Olives, feta cheese, lamb, kabobs, etc. – these are all wonderful dishes, and I highly recommend trying out a Greek restaurant if you haven’t in the past. However, as much as I like a good lamb kabob, to eat them multiple times that many days in a row is kind of, well, sickening. However, at seven euros for a main course, we were pretty much forced to order two or three each at every meal! We tried to mix it up every now and then with something like moussaka, but in the end, the lamb was good and you kind of felt like you were cheating yourself if you got anything different. At one small village, we even found a 1.50 euro kabob – that’s like practically free! And it happened to be probably the best kabob ever.

One thing you can have for every meal, though, is the Greek coffee. What makes it “Greek coffee” is that the grounds are actually served in the cup when you drink it; scary at first, but once you get past that, it’s awesome. Best thing to come out of Europe since capitalism (although depending on what happens in the markets over the next couple of months, it might surpass even that!)

Finally, we made it to Athens to spend our final day. I’m not going to talk too much about Athens because it was kind of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong – the Acropolis was pretty cool, and there’s a lot of culture there. It’s just that the city seemed almost colorless, and the ancient ruins, while archeologically important, clashed with the city that has sprung up around them. That said, we still had fun walking around, and it’s definitely worth a day of your time – it’s just that rural Greece was so awesome that Athens paled in comparison.

In summary – Greece is an awesome country, and warrants a good two weeks of traveling. With that, I’ll leave you with a few stats from the trip:

# of pictures taken: 901
# of dishes eaten with lamb in them, per person: 9
# of times we stopped on the side of the road to buy something from a farmer: 5
# of Greek coffees I had: 28
# of times the phrase “it’s all Greek to me” was uttered: 15
# of times I yelled “This…is…Sparta!!!”, before kicking something: not enough

Next: Munich!


Santorini is one of the most picturesque places in the world. You’ve probably seen the whitewashed churches with blue tops, looking out over the sea (if you haven’t, I’ve put one right above this sentence, so no excuses!) Santorini was formed when one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history blew the island apart, sunk it, spewed ash into the air, left a couple pieces to survive, and then forced some new chunks of land above the sea. Anyway - I’m not here to discuss geology - I’m here to talk about jacuzzis overlooking the Mediterranean! We had one of those…it was awesome…and we sat in it a lot and watched the sunsets from there. Good stuff.

Speaking of sunsets, Santorini is known for having some of the best sunset vantages anywhere. Hard to disagree with that, seeing as you’re on a cliffside overlooking the sea, with a volcano a little ways up, and nothing but blue water on the horizon. Most of the resorts are set within the side of a cliff, so that you have an unobstructed view. So while it’s the same sun as anywhere else in the world, the fact you’re a couple hundred feet above sea level, and there’s no ground beneath you, makes it that much better.

Santorini also has very interesting beaches. Black sand, red sand, white pebbles, cliffs…there are a handful of cool places where the volcanic rock meets the Mediterranean in a unique mixture of color. We first hit Red Beach, which is true to its’ name in that the sand is red. The beach is a thirty-foot swath between the Mediterranean and a giant, lava-formed cliff, and you have to go on a short hike to get there. It was a great place to sit for awhile, and although the water was kind of cold, we still braved it and went swimming, because you can’t go to a red-sand beach and not get in the water! The other noteworthy beach in Santorini is Black Beach, which is laid out more like a regular beach in that there’s a mini-boardwalk with shops and everything, the difference being that the sand is black. I thought this beach looked awesome, but unfortunately it was raining like crazy so we just walked around it a little.

As mentioned before, it wouldn’t be a true Wintermeyer vacation without something freaky happening. In this case, I’m referring to the monsoon that hit Santorini while we were there. Apparently, they hadn’t had a drop of rain since March, which may or may not be true, but I’m going to assume the locals know what they’re talking about. While we were out walking around one night, the skies completely opened and gave them a storm the likes of which haven’t been seen since, well, probably March. Still – it was crazy. We were essentially trapped in a café, as the pathways turned into raging torrents of water, and the outside roof started leaking like it weren’t even there. As I like rainstorms, I thought this was awesome. Everyone else, however, fled as far inside as possible.

For the most part, we stayed on our balcony/porch/vista, and just relaxed and enjoyed the views. I also went crazy taking pictures, and we walked through the various towns quite a bit, but this was supposed to be the relaxing part of the trip. Because next, we hit the mainland of Greece! But I’ll save that for the next entry…

Next: Greece II!

Hiking in Gryon!

It’s common knowledge that if you are living in Geneva and you spend three consecutive weekends in town, you‘ll end up with a voracious cheese addiction that has no known cure. While we’re always happy to have an excuse to eat more cheese, rather than take any chances we decided to take a quick getaway to the lovely Swiss town of Gryon late Friday night!

The only problem with taking the last train out of town is that when you arrive to your destination, it’s already dark. This has happened to us a couple of times, and you’d think we’d learn, but we don’t…so once again, we found ourselves walking around in the mountains in pitch-blackness, with only the sounds of cowbells in the distance keeping us company.

The hostel we stayed at was quite nice, by hostel standards. Most students are between travel seasons right now, so we had the place mostly to ourselves, except for the owners and a handful of their friends, who all happened to be around the same age as us. I’m thinking the whole hostel-owning thing is a great way to make a living, although it would get boring in the mountains, as there isn’t a whole lot else to do other than, well, hike and ski. The town of Gryon is basically a handful of houses, with a small grocery store and a butcher shop. As the butcher shop was top notch, and the hostel had a barbecue grill, we were able to make some awesome steaks, which was almost worth the cost of the trip in and of itself. Hey - good steaks are hard to come by here!

The only unfortunate thing was that the weather wasn’t being cooperative with us. We got up early Saturday to go on a hike, and about halfway into it the clouds rolled in. As a result, we had to cut the hike a little short, and rather than go up the mountain we were planning on hiking, we took another trail around it, which was probably better anyway since we got to see some cows. Cows still rule! We then spent the rest of the day sitting around the hostel as the rain and fog doused Gryon. In honor of the weather, we watched “The Mist”, a movie from last year where monsters come out of the fog and eat people.

Sunday we came home a little early, for two reasons. One - it’s kind of pointless to be in the mountains when you can’t see more than three feet in front of you. Two - it’s the beginning of football season! This year, the NFL finally got their act together and are offering a service to anyone outside of the US that allows you to watch the games online, so we tried that out. Considering we saw a grand total of 1 game last year, it’s going to be nice getting back into sports that aren’t completely inane (you know who you are, soccer!)

Next: Greece!

Alps and Provence

This week, my brother and brother-in-law joined up with my sister, nieces, Soph and I to hit the Swiss Alps and Provence. Also, as it’s early August, the Fete de Geneve is in full swing, so it was a good time to showcase Geneva, as the city’s energy levels are a bit higher than usual.

The first day we kept it simple with a daytrip to Montreaux and some local vineyards. While the kids aren’t too big on vineyards, these are among the most beautiful in the world, in that they’re apparently the only terraced vineyards facing a lake, anywhere. They’re a UNESCO heritage site, and for those of you who might not be familiar with what that means, it’s basically a guide to tourist spots that are supposed to have culture and stuff older people like myself are interested in. The vineyards had a nice walking trail, and I’m surprised we hadn’t done it before now, as it’s only half an hour away. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hit any of the wine caves before heading back, but as I’ve discussed previously, Swiss wines aren’t exactly world-class, so no big loss there.

Next, on to Gimmewald. Gimmewald is possibly my favorite place in Europe. It’s this little village – not even big enough to be a village, really – that sits on a giant cliff above the Lauterbrunnen valley. It’s steep, and it directly faces the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains, which are massive – so you essentially have this gigantic rock wall in front of you that stretches up almost through your entire line of vision. It’s impressive, and surprisingly not overly traveled, meaning it’s also peaceful and quiet. It also boasts what I call “cow hikes”, meaning that you tend to run into herds of cows on the actual trail. I love cow hikes. Anyway – we went there for two nights, did a couple hikes, and just enjoyed ourselves. Sam found an awesome cheese shop in the town over, and armed with local mountain cheeses, we were set to sit around and relax (assuming a nice hike is your idea of relaxation).

One quick thing about traveling with kids - the nieces are at that age where they’re able to travel and have fun while doing so. They’re also at that age where it’s possible to get them into trouble; for instance, Rachel, 13, is learning the power of “talking back”. So in return for all the meanness my sister inflicted on me growing up, I of course found the most opportune times to get her to say something that would bug my sister. Ahh, family bonding! Julia, on the other hand, will say just about anything if you agree to “heelie” her, so between ninja punching lessons, I also taught her to say “duh-uh”, when somebody says something stupid. Her mom loves that one…

On to Provence…I always thought of Provence as the land of paced living, sun-drenched landscapes, and herbs growing like wildflowers. I will admit I expected it to be…greener. That said, it was pretty cool, and had it’s charms. We started in Arles, a city known for something or other (Soph told me, but I wasn’t really listening), and used that as our base. It’s a medieval city with old walls and all that, and apparently was the place where Van Gogh painted a bunch of his more famous works (there are a couple of spots where they put his painting in front of the scene it was depicting, to show the similarities / differences). While here, we also saw a bullfight – although French bullfighting is different than Spanish bullfighting. They don’t actually kill the bull here, but rather, they have like 20 guys running around trying to touch it’s head. Yeah, weird – but it was in an old Roman arena, and it was cool to sit there and watch. Of course, we were all rooting for the bull – and he almost got one dude, which would have been great – but he didn’t have the closing speed I expected of him. For some reason, the bulls kept jumping over the fence, which was funny at first, and then got kind of boring. In the end it’s just a weird custom.

Les Baux is another town we stopped in. It’s basically this old castle on a hillside, with lots of touristy stuff to look at. The castle was kind of neat, and they advertised a “catapult shooting”, which should have been awesome, except for the fact they only shot it like three feet and didn’t destroy anything. What’s the point of shooting a catapult if you aren’t going to destroy anything? Ridiculous. Unfortunately, we had our only casualty of the trip here, as the mistral winds kicked up a rock that flew into Heather’s eye, and forced us to stop at a hospital. She was probably cool with this, however, as it meant we took the kids out to the lavender fields, while her and Sam got some alone time in France. It was during this period that Soph and I learned we will be terrible parents, as it was well past 2:00 and we hadn’t yet fed the nieces, whereupon we finally found a small little supermarket and bought them some…bologna. Yeah - I need to start praying for our offspring…

We also stopped by the Pont du Gard, which is an old Roman aqueduct that spans the Rhone river. It’s an extremely impressive feat of engineering, and it’s also a great place to stop and go for a swim! We spent a little over an hour here, and while Morgan and I didn’t don our speedos (much to the chagrin of French women everywhere), we did wade out into the water a little.

The last stop was a town called Avignon, which had a giant castle or something that we didn’t see the need to go into. As I’ve said before, it’s easy to get “castled-out” if you do it too much, and since we had seen a couple already, there wasn’t much of a need to pay 12 euros apiece to get in. The exchange rate is brutal right now!

Sadly, everyone had to leave on Saturday, as we all have work and stupid stuff like that to go back to. But as with all family trips, we got a couple of good lines that will be inside jokes pretty much forever, which is always important. We also started planning our next European family vacation, so there’s that to look forward to next year!

Next weekend: Man Weekend / Girl’s Night!

Paris Deux!

Some more visitors this week; my favorite sister in the entire world, Heather, and her two daughters (aka, my two favorite nieces in the entire world), Rachel and Julia, made their first trip to mainland Europe to come see what all the hype was about. And of course, they wanted to visit Sophia – I like to pretend they wanted to see me, but I know the truth. After spending a day or two in Geneva with them, we took them to one of the most visited cities in the world – Paris!

Now, let me step back a few months; last time Soph and I went to Paris, it was amazing. Nice people; great sites; cool bakeries on every corner; it lived up to its’ reputation. Let me step back even further, to the time when I was growing up in the Wintermeyer household. One thing we learned from watching our parents is that we have really bad luck. I’m not talking the “born into poverty in a third-world country” bad luck, because let’s be honest – that’s really bad luck. Rather, I’m talking “things that don’t really matter but are mildly annoying” bad luck, such as losing at raffles, getting served last at dinner by the waiter, and stupid things like that. Hey – it’s still bad luck! Just wanted to clarify though.

Since I met Soph, I’ve kind of laughed at the “bad luck of the Wintermeyer clan” theory. Sometimes stupid things happen, but I chalk them up to coincidence and the law of averages, or just figure that most people have these same experiences, and it’s just the way it is – not that it’s related to some divine force trying to slowly and methodically beat my family down. However, my family thinks I’ve abandoned the old ways, and that I’ve fallen prey to the glitz and glamour of that concept we call yuppie-hood (something my sister has clearly done).

Well, put my sister and myself together, and the bad luck forces are too strong to deny. Paris was apparently mad at the fact I liked it last time, and decided it would take some vengeance on us for leaving happy! I won’t bother you by going into the details, but let’s just say it got dicey (I actually planned on going into the details, but they sounded trite and silly once I got into them, and I realized it was merely coincidence and the law of averages.) Anyway…onto the trip.

The first morning (after having an argument with a waiter completely in French – all those hours of studying are starting to pay off!), we climbed the couple hundred stairs to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral. I hadn’t known you could do that, and if I had I probably would have complained and said “that’s a lot of stairs!”, but it was pretty cool once we were up there. Had some great views of Paris, as you can see the Eiffel Tower (as opposed to the view from the Eiffel Tower, where you can only see…well, all of Paris except the Eiffel Tower.) Soph also got some good pictures of me and the nieces doing our best gargoyle impressions – gargoyles rule. After that we walked to the Museum D’Orsay, which has an insanely great collection of paintings, and which I would recommend over the Louvre (while the Louvre is much more massive, the D’Orsay is nice because you can do it fairly quickly).

On Sunday we debated walking up the Champs Elysees to watch the end of the Tour de France, for as my brother-in-law Sam would say, “how could you go to Paris on the final day of the Tour, and not go see it?” Our response was easy – “it’s a bike race…who cares?” Sacrilege, I know, but seriously – I’m not wasting a day in Paris to stand in a huge crowd to have a bad view of a pack of bikers zip by. A couple of you can address the hate mail to the address on the right…I know we disappoint you.

Instead, we went to Versailles; I was looking forward to this, as I thought it was going to be cool. Well - it wasn’t - but we still had a good time. Why wasn’t it cool? First of all, the gardens, while nice, weren’t in nearly as good of shape as the gardens just about everywhere else we’ve gone. They just seemed kind of…lifeless - not sure how else to explain it. Second, the Hall of Mirrors was kind of gross; you could barely tell they were mirrors due to the amount of accumulated dirt and grime on them! I was hoping for something out of a Bruce Lee movie, but I guess that was just wishful thinking. Third, there is a “fountain show” in the gardens twice a day, which we patiently waited for, dreaming of Las Vegas-style Bellagio action. And you know what the fountain show turned out to be? Simply, the turning on of the fountains. Regular fountains; nothing synchronized, choreographed, etc. Just fountains doing what fountains are supposed to do all the time, only they turn them on twice a day and call it a show. In their defense, it’s an impressive marketing technique. So while I wouldn’t recommend Versailles for any reason, we still had fun running around and exploring it.

I unfortunately had to go back to Geneva that night so I could make it to work the next day, but I left Soph, Heather and the nieces to another day of exploring (or probably shopping, if Soph’s threats were true).

One last note – many of you in the States are probably aware of “heelies”, which are shoes for kids that have wheels in the back. I guess they’re not very common in Europe yet, as Julia was heelie-ing everywhere, and without fail, people would stop in their tracks and stare at her, wondering what she was doing. Pretty funny; a lot of people did double-takes, little children flipped out, and one old lady stopped in her tracks as if a spirit were floating across the subway platform. If she’d ever met Julia, she would have known it was a spirit of mischief…

Next weekend: The Brother and Brother-in-Law come!

Weekend Catch-up

Due to the fact it rained most of May, and then Soph was gone through most of June, the summer has quickly descended upon us and is quietly slipping away. As I view every weekend at home to be a wasted opportunity, we've actually been doing quite a lot of late, but I haven't had much time to update the blog; that said, here are some of the until-now-unwritten highlights of the past month and a half...


Lausanne is a city about 40 minutes away by train; many guidebooks say it’s better than Geneva, and as we still hadn’t been there, I figured it was time to see what all the hype was about. A short ride later, I stepped out of the station platform prepared to be blown away, only to discover it was…well, ok. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still kind of a cool city – but I’m going to have to give props to Geneva, as there just seems to be more personality here.

That said, we had a good time walking around, and even better than that, shopping. While Geneva is a high-end shopper’s paradise, Lausanne is more of a middle-class shopper’s paradise. You’re not going to get anything original, but it won’t break the bank on you - so that was kind of fun, although it feels weird to go to another city and end up shopping when you’re there to sightsee. In our defense, we did sightsee first, so we fulfilled our travel obligations and didn’t have to feel guilty about it.


We used another one of our recent weekends to hit Chamonix, better known as "the town by Mt. Blanc". Mt. Blanc is the highest mountain in Europe, which is kind of cool when you think about all the places around here with mountains. Anyway – it was a cute town and all that, but what was more important, is that we got to go to a French grocery store afterwards, as we had rented a car for the afternoon! Sad, I know – but we don’t get to see cool things like "selection" and "name brands" in Switzerland, especially not for the low prices the French are asking. Our friend Ryan, who came with us, stated it best when he said "it’s the first time I’ve been at a supermarket here where I’ve actually been able to make a choice." We actually lost Soph at one point because she heard there was bacon, and disappeared into the melee of consumers who were also buying stuff to sneak into Switzerland. Good way to spend a weekend! (Note: thanks Heather for the Chamonix pic, as we didn’t take any of our own!)


Switzerland, for whatever reason, doesn’t get a lot of mainstream musicians touring through. My theory on this is one of simple demographics, as the population of all Switzerland like 10 million people, meaning even the biggest cities here are smaller than mid-level US cities. That said, what the Swiss do instead is they host massive musical festivals, the most famous being the Montreaux Jazz Festival. As that’s way over in Montreaux (a whole hour away!), and another festival (Paleo) is right outside of Geneva, we opted for the closer one, because we’re lazy.

The bands weren’t very good, but it was fun – it was hosted in a series of open fields with multiple stages. We met some friends, and probably spent more time just hanging out than actually listening to music; good stuff. I have to say it’s somewhat amusing to hear a Swedish band come to Switzerland and speak to the crowd in English; yet another reason to put off the ol’ French studies! The only other notable observation is that either I’m getting old at a more rapid pace than I expected, or kids here start smoking at a much younger age than they did in my day. I’m sure I saw 14-year olds with packs of cigarettes and cans of beer…although in Switzerland’s defense, they allow you to bring in your own food and drinks, which is awesome.

Fete de Musique

This was a little local thing that happened awhile back. It was random unknown bands playing in various parks throughout Geneva, all free. The idea is that for the entire weekend, anyone can go anywhere on the street and play music – there are stages set up to host bands, but you also get random people coming together and making noise. Great idea, and in a three-hour span, Sophia and I saw a Greek classical / folk ensemble, some electronic stuff, a French heavy metal band, a funk band, and an awesome Latin troupe who just set up in the middle of the street and worked the crowd like there was no tomorrow. Good weekend!

Next week: Family visiting!

Nice, France

Ahh, the French Riviera…sun-drenched coastline, easy breezes, middle-aged men in speedo’s…does it get any better than this?

At first impression, yes, it could get better. Being stuck in traffic on the road from GVA to Nice brought out the latent road-rage that had been festering in Sophia for the past year, and reminded us that our tram passes are about to expire and we really need to go renew those! However, once we got to Nice, I got to take my turn, as I circled the streets for about 45 minutes searching for parking. Not a good way to start the weekend…

However, as frustrating as that can be, Nice’s charms quickly caught us. The promenade along the Mediterranean is just about perfect, while the narrow alleys of the old town keep the walks interesting. It’s really a beautiful place, and while I was unimpressed at first, it only got nicer and nicer as the weekend went on. Or dare I say "Nice-er and Nice-er"? Ok, sorry, I’ll stop…

The first night we met up with Heather and Karen, fresh off their whirlwind trip of Europe. I always find it funny how girls will get invited to way more "local" parties when traveling, than couples do…go figure. So we went out to dinner, walked around, and did most of our exploring of the city. We knew we had to keep it simple, because we had a busy day of sitting at the beach ahead of us!

The next day we got up early, hit a bakery (French bakeries rule), walked through what Soph has claimed to be the best market in the developed world, and hit the beach. We actually reserved chairs, which was a great idea, as the Nice beaches are basically just large rocks, and as such are not very comfortable to sit on. However, they’re fun to look at, and you don’t get any sand on you, which is pretty cool. So we sat there all day – literally, for over eight hours – and then went back to get a bottle of wine, and bring it back to the beach to hang out some more! Hey – it was vacation, and it was a cool beach! I can’t think of too many reasons not to spend an entire day on the beach if the opportunity presents itself…so it was a good day.

Sunday, while we were sad to leave Nice, we decided to stop at Monaco, to A) add it to the list of countries we’d set foot in B) see the ridiculous amount of wealth there C) try to find the Prince so that we could pawn off one of the girls on him and then have a standing invite on his yacht. That last piece wasn’t my idea, but I was more than willing to go along with it, especially after seeing the yachts – they were absurd! Anyway, Monaco is a cool place – I believe it has the highest Ferrari-to-human ratio of anywhere on the planet. You could tell that this was real wealth – not this multi-millionaire stuff we normally see, or even star-athlete wealth. I’m talking real, serious, filthy, my ancestors-screwed-over-your-ancestors wealth. Therefore we decided that, for lack of meeting the Prince, any one of these guys would do as far as pawning one of the girls off. Hey – pimpin’ ain’t easy!

So that was Nice, and Monaco; well worth a weekend trip, and I’m kind of surprised we hadn’t done it before now. After that, we headed back on the road to Geneva, and then the next day we sadly had to say goodbye to our visitors. In the attached picture you can see just how sad Soph and I were to see them go…

Next week: Chamonix!

Heather & Karen's visit!

First off, we would like to extend a welcome and thank-you to Heather and Karen for coming out to Europe and paying us a visit. Smartly, they realized that an entire two weeks with us would probably be a bit too much, so they used Geneva as a launching point for what might be the greatest European vacation ever (they hit Gimmewald and Cinque Terre, two of the best places this continent has to offer). However, as that is their story, I’ll let them tell it in their own words. However, the part where they were in Geneva, is also my story – so I’m going to tell that before they blab it to everyone!

Geneva is a very unique place in some ways; it’s not a place I would ever tell someone to go visit for it’s own sake, yet it’s still a decent-sized city with a handful of things to see and do. It also has a great expat community, which makes it easy to meet tons of interesting people. That said, I thought it would be a great idea to take our visitors out for a quiet night on the lake at one of the many wine bars dotting the water’s edges. It just so happened that some of our friends were also there, so what was planned as a relaxing couple glasses of wine on a Tuesday night, quickly turned into a massive bar crawl that lasted well past 2 am! Along the way, Heather learned how to impersonate a leopard; Karen desecrated a lion statue; and I taught them the joys of Geneva’s $20 drink menus. Good times, good times…

But it isn’t all fun and games, for there was work to be done. As many of you know, Sophia doesn’t like chocolate, which means I don’t get to eat nearly as much of it as I would like. But, since Heather and Karen do like chocolate, I was able to convince them to go on a "chocolate crawl" with me. Now, it sounded like a great idea – and in truth, it was a great idea – but we quickly learned that you can’t just keep on eating chocolate. After a handful of pieces, it starts to taste…sickening. Which is too bad, because I wanted to eat it for like three hours straight. Maybe I just need to train for it.

Next weekend: Nice!

EuroCup 2008

I’m going to throw this out there: I don’t like soccer. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is the fact its non-American name desecrates the title of our greatest sport, but in the end it’s just not something that appeals to me. I sort of view soccer the same way most girls view any sport – that is, it’s just a silly thing that guys get worked up about for no real reason.

Anyway, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention to European sports (and if it wasn’t continuously bombarded into my face, I would be in your ranks), the EuroCup 2008 is a giant soccer tournament held between all the European nations. Well, the European nations that qualify for it – England didn’t make it this time around, so pretty much every other country here is laughing at them. I think it’s played every four years, partly to offset the fact the World Cup is played every four years and there’s a lot of time in between wherein nothing really happens. Why am I telling you this, you ask? Well, this time around, Switzerland is the host country; more specifically, the park half a block from our apartment is the site of one of the "fan zones", meaning we get all sorts of hooligans roaming our streets.

But, it could be worse. Depending on how you feel about hooliganism, you might say Geneva dodged a bullet; the teams playing in this fair city are teams that nobody bothers traveling to watch. We have Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey, and I think Czech Republic, whereas other Swiss cities have teams such as Greece or Holland playing.

Again, why am I telling you this? Well, one of our friends had the bright idea to go to Bern this past Friday night, to go see the France / Holland game. Not actually go into the stadium, but just to the "fan zone" there, to "soak in the atmosphere".

Well, let me just tell you – I have never been to a sporting event more insane than this. Holland ended up winning, which was great considering we were surrounded by about 50,000 screaming Dutch fans. As Bern isn’t exactly a teeming metropolis, it got crowded very quickly. I would use words like "chaos" or "pandemonium", but I think they’re overused, and what was going on in Bern was well out of the ordinary. There were people climbing parking signs, gutters, port-a-potties; we ran across two impromptu brass marching bands, one of which we followed for a couple blocks because, well, it’s a lot of fun following a marching band. I have to say it was really cool after having lived in Switzerland for almost a year now, to see the complete craziness that Bern became on this one night. The party was still going strong a couple hours after the match, although we had to catch the midnight train back to Geneva.

So, my advice to anyone who actually does like soccer is, follow the Dutch fans. Obviously the English are also crazy like this, as are apparently the Scandinavian countries (that is, thousands upon thousands of them travel to watch their sports teams in international events). Considering Bern is much closer to France than Holland, it was interesting that there were easily 50 Dutch to every Frenchie (or clogs vs. frogs, if you want to use the local slang). No exaggeration – it was almost all Dutch.

The Dutch rule.

The only unfortunate thing is that I didn’t get to see much of Bern. They apparently have a bear-pit (with live bears), so I’ll have to go back another time. Looks like a fun place though.

Next week: Soph’s back!