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 cafĂ©, 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!