Random August Blog

While we’re taking a short break from traveling these days (we’re still doing daytrips whenever possible, but the big trips are done for the time being), there are still things worth putting on the blog every now and again. The past couple of weeks have been especially fun, so here are a couple anecdotes around that…

Many of you might be aware of the Montreux Jazz Festival; it’s considered one of the finest in the world, and while that is clearly up for debate (as is the fact it’s called a “jazz” festival instead of a “pop” festival), since Montreux is only an hour train ride from Geneva, Soph and I headed down there one Wednesday afternoon to check out the hype. The thought was that we would walk around, see some of the free musicians on the side pavilions, and if we’re lucky we might even be able to score some Asian food cooked in one of those 5-foot woks. Those things are awesome! So we arrived and started to do the whole walking around thing, and within about 30 minutes heard the pitter-patter of rain and headed under an awning. It got louder and louder, and sounded kind of like it was bouncing, which just seemed odd, until we realized it wasn’t rain at all, but hail! This is the middle of July, mind you. Anyway – the hail lasted a good twenty minutes, and it came down hard. Probably the biggest hailstorm I’ve ever witnessed, as the stones were about the size of large marbles, which is pretty big when they’re falling straight out of the sky. And while that was kind of fun to see, it ended up killing the festival for the night, and all the stands and musicians closed up, so a little bit of a buzzkill.

On a happier concert-going note, the next week brought with it the Paleo festival. Paleo is one of those European festivals where they get every band they can think of who is unable to sell out a concert on their own, invite them to a 5-day festival, and then sell tickets to an adoring public who’s just happy to get live music into their country. Nyon, Switzerland is clearly one of these venues, but in truth it’s a great way to spend an evening. Think Lollapalooza without all the jerks and hype, and with a bunch of bands you don’t care about, half of whom sing in French. Anyway – we actually saw a couple of good bands, one being The Prodigy, which was pretty freakin’ sweet. I mean, I’m too old to be seeing bands like The Prodigy, but there I was, flippin’ out like a champ. Of course, the highlight of this night wasn’t the music, it was the fact that Soph was able to get us backstage! As always, she did it in true Soph fashion – no, not by luring the security guards with her attractiveness. Rather, she stepped on a broken bottle and cut her foot. So as she was being pulled away on a stretcher, I followed her and ended up in the aforementioned back of the stage.

And for anyone who’s wondering, backstage is way better than being not backstage.

Lastly, we had a bit of a rollerblading adventure last weekend. I read on the internet that there’s a biking / rollerblading trail that goes from Vevey to Montreux along Lake Geneva, and it’s pretty and blah blah blah. “Ok”, I thought, “I can go rollerblade that while Sophia comes and jogs with me. It will be fun.” What the internet site didn’t say is that for, oh, about 85% of that trip, the “lakeside promenade” is actually a “highway”. At first I thought I maybe missed a sign, but I leaned over the guardrail and saw that, yes, clearly there was no lakeside promenade between the highway and the water. So that was kind of a disaster, as I’m not really at a point where I can either go fast, or slow down, or really even stay in a straight line. I guess that just goes to show that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Next weekend: Weddings, more daytrips, and swimming!

Nice, France

We’ve officially been in Europe for two years now! In that time we’ve seen a lot of things and had a lot of fun, but what we haven’t done much of is simply relax. Not to say the vacations haven’t been relaxing – far from it – but they’ve been fairly active to say the least. So this weekend we boarded a quick flight to the Cote d’Azur for the sole purpose of sitting on the beach and catching some sun.

The beauty of this trip is that we’ve already been to Nice and seen the non-beach stuff, so there was absolutely no need to do any of that again. As such, we sat on the beach, read, drank some rosé, sat on the beach some more, napped, walked into the Old Town for a meal, went back to the beach, etc. It really doesn’t get much better than that. As a result, there aren’t too many stories to tell about this vacation, other than the one where we sat on the beach and just sat there. That’s a good story, though.

I was also able to accomplish one of my random European goals, which was to rollerblade the length of the Nice promenade without falling or stopping. A lofty goal, as you can tell, and one that wasn’t really a goal until I got near the end and realized I hadn’t yet fallen or stopped, but as I was thinking about it I realized I should make this a goal so that I could say I’ve accomplished something. It was at that point where I almost fell…

One side note – we forgot to bring our camera on this trip, so no pictures. Oh well – they take too long to upload anyway.

Next weekend: no trips planned?

Back to Gimmewald!

While I’m by no means a creature of habit, there are a handful of things in this world which are worth repeating. And while we’re trying to see as many different places as possible while in Europe, if there’s one place I could return to every year, Gimmewald would be that place. Although it’s only a small swathe of maybe 30 wooden mountain houses, you never run out of things to see. Goats and calves eating grass inches from the town’s only street; water fountains cascading into hollowed-out logs; farmers working their fields by hand because the mountain is too steep to use machines. Mountain vistas, fresh alpine air. Did I mention cows? Swiss cows personify just about everything in the world that is awesome, rolled into the shape of a bovine. They rule.

My parents were still in town trying to get a feel for Switzerland, so I figured this would be the perfect place to take them. As luck would have it, we’re now considered regulars in Gimmewald, so we were able to get the hook-up and secured “the” hotel room with a balcony (only about three hotels in the town). This allowed us to sit for hours on the deck and stare at the mountains while smoking Cuban cigars - and while I’m not big on cigars by any means, I am big on sitting on decks staring at mountains, so it worked out well. The most stressful thing we encountered was trying to time the opening of the cheese hut in order to get some fresh mountain produce, something we were able to get around due to the fact we were a two-minute walk from the hut.

Of course, the main appeal of this area is the hiking. This time around, Soph and I hiked through the forest to a waterfall, while my parents went to the top of the Schilthorn to see the majestic peaks the Bernese Oberland is known for. We also hiked the easy route from Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg, affording a great view of the Eiger’s North Face. The fun thing about the hiking here is that you can pretty much take off in any direction and end up with that “good hike” feeling. Sometimes you can take a half-hidden trail that will lead you to a small winter hut that farmers use, while signs will point you in the general direction of mountain restaurants that serve snacks and other homemade goods. Streams and pastures lie in every direction, so you can explore until you get tired of walking. And if you’re not up for walking, you can just sit around and enjoy the mountain air while sitting on the edge of a precipice - or in a meadow, if you’re not big on precipices.

Definitely beats sitting in a cubicle.

Next weekend: Nice!


The rolling hills of Tuscany…an area known for invoking thoughts of good living, fine eating, and a certain slowness to life. We took a morning train out of Rome (where my dad became fast friends with an older Italian couple, who fed him lunch) and headed north to enjoy one of the famous agriturismo’s atop a small Italian village.

An agriturismo is a relatively recent concept in the vacation dictionary. Set in remote (i.e. not accessible by public transportation) areas, they are essentially working farms that produce everything from fresh eggs to homemade wine. Ours also had a pool that overlooked a huge valley, so needless to say it was pretty awesome. They even had peacocks! Although after being subjected to their annoying calls for a week, I’m fairly certain that I will never own one of those things myself.

From here we were able to visit all sorts of Italian hillside towns. Siena, Montepuliciano, Montalcino, and a couple of other ones beginning with “mon” and ending with “ino” (hard to keep track of them after awhile.) Once in a hillside town, you pretty much just walk around and look at things. It’s fun, but there’s not too much to describe other than that. Get a gelato, find a cool shop, walk down narrow alleys, try and see a vista overlooking the countryside, get another gelato…good stuff. Of course, different people find different shops interesting. For example – my parents enjoyed the pottery shops, my sister the purse shops, and Soph enjoyed any shop where they sold hot peppers. My niece enjoyed the town where one of those annoying teenage vampire movies was filmed, so her highlight was finding a map that showed the various locations of different scenes and going to them (while it was kind of cool they had a map for this, it was even cooler realizing that my day-to-day life is completely devoid of hearing about things such as teenage vampire movies.)

Of course, no trip to Tuscany would be complete without a wine tour – so we made sure to do a couple, just in case. The first was at the Caprili vineyards in Montalcino, home of the famous Brunello’s. We were guided by one of the sons who works there, who was really nice and hooked us up by letting us taste some of their better bottles, which was probably a good move considering we bought quite a few between the 4 of us that were tasting. After a quick tour of the facilities and a nice tasting, we also discovered they make their own olive oil, which I would argue is the best oil of any kind I’ve ever had. Also was able to get some good vineyard pictures, which will fit nicely into my growing vineyard picture collection. The second tour was an all-day affair throughout the Chianti region, where we again bought more ridiculously good olive oil, as well as some nice wines. Of note was a beet ravioli dish we had for lunch, which was surprisingly good, and went with the red stains on our teeth the wine had already made.

On the topic of food, this trip defined “gluttony”. On multiple occasions you would find Sophia and myself eating way too much food, at least in the sense that it was more than any two humans need to consume in order to survive. Of course, part of this is the agriturismo’s fault, as they served us great meal after great meal of extremely fresh and homemade ingredients. I mean, if you’re confronted with a huge platter of meat pasta that is probably the best meat pasta you’ll ever have, do you stop eating simply because you’re full? I say no to that, because sometimes you have to suck it up and get the most out of your vacation – and if that means eating until you can’t walk, then so be it!

That said – we had two dinners outside of the agriturismo which were also excellent. The first was pizza – plain and simple pizza. Again, probably one of the best pizzas we’ll ever have. Something about it was just better…was it the sweetness of the ham? The oil in the dough? Hard to say, but it ruled. The second dinner was preceded by the most winding road in the history of car travel. We’re talking switchbacks upon switchbacks, non-stop, for about 40 minutes. Apparently the views were beautiful, but since I was manically clinging to the steering wheel I didn’t get the full enjoyment of them. Regardless, the dinner was again outstanding, and Soph was happy because she was able to order her 2 pound Fiorentine steak, virtually raw and entirely delicious. Also probably had the best view of any restaurant I’ve ever been to, which was an added bonus.

We ended the trip with another train ride, passing through some of the best countryside in southern Switzerland. The edge of the lakes region, the valley of the Valais, the twin castles of Sion…train rides are totally the way to go!
Next weekend: back to Gimmewald!


Ah, Rome – so much history, so much charm. Seat of the once mighty Roman Empire, it’s a city that holds onto its past, but has moved into modern times with the rest of the world. Sights such as the Colosseum, St. Peters, and the Forum are just a smattering of what this city has to offer. My sister and nieces flew in and met us there, while my parents, recently arrived in Geneva, and Soph went a couple days early to get in some cool sightseeing of the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii, as well as Vatican City.

While Rome has a lot to do, we stayed mostly to the main sites (I know, sacrilege, but I was on a time crunch, since I only had one day there). The Colosseum is pretty cool, and you really can’t skip that, and then since the Forum is right there also…you kind of have to go there too. That said – the Pantheon was probably my favorite attraction, as it not only looks really cool from the inside, but architecturally it’s very impressive. We’re talking about a massive building which has stood for just under 2000 years - you just don’t find too many of those in the world, especially ones that are this well-preserved.

During the evening, Soph and I headed into the Trastevere district for a dinner and leisurely stroll. I have to admit that this is one of the more romantic places I’ve ever been, as the narrow winding streets pass Italian restaurant after Italian restaurant and street serenaders appear on every corner. And how do Soph and I spend a romantic dinner? By gorging ourselves on as much as we can eat, of course! While she might be able to beat me in a rice-eating contest, I can make children cry with the amount of pasta I’m able to consume. Finish it up with a little Tiramisu, and you have yourself a very special evening. Unfortunately, the leisurely stroll back to the hotel turned into a two-hour hike, as the trams had stopped running and we didn’t think we were far enough to warrant a taxi. On the bright side, we passed through some bustling outdoor nightlife, as the Tiber river plays host to a myriad of things to do when the weather is nice. Outdoor cinema, riverside terraces, even a miniature carnival-market thing…the Romans sure know how to have a good time!

I decided to get up early the next morning so that I could sneak into St. Peters, as everyone else had seen it a few days beforehand. Once again, I have to stress how much more awesome tourist sites are the earlier you go. No lines, the weather is still mild, nobody stepping in front of your pictures…did I mention no lines? As much as I don’t like getting up early, I dislike lines even more. Anyway – St. Peters is impressive, very impressive actually, and is worth a stop on anyone’s giant cathedral tour of Europe. And unfortunately, that was about it for Rome, as we headed into Tuscany just before lunch. That being said, I do have a couple of interesting statistics to share…

* Number of gelatos consumed by me: 4 (for only 1.5 days, not bad)
* Number of gelatos consumed by the Wintermeyer clan as a whole: 26
* Number of people dressed up as gladiators outside the Colosseum: 5
* Number of people that needed beatings outside the Colosseum: 5
* Seconds it took me to run 100 meters to catch the airport train while carrying a backpack: 10.3
* Seconds I wasted by having to jump off the train, get my ticket stamped at a machine 20 meters away, and get back on the train before it left: 25
* Seconds after I arrived back on train, before aforementioned train left the station: 2.1
* Number of times the phrase “when in Rome…” was uttered: too many

Next stop: Tuscany!


Turkey is one of those destinations that, once you've traveled a few other places, it quickly moves up on the list of cool countries to visit. It's a different travel experience from the rest of Europe, yet not so far off the beaten track that you end up eating dung beetles or other things due to the fact that you can't understand the menu. There are crazy landscapes, beautiful beaches, and a vibrant history dating back to Old Testament times (trivia fact: a shocking amount of the Bible was written either in, or to, the various locales of Turkey).

We started our trip in Istanbul. Istanbul is the only major city in the world to cross two continents (although since a continent is an arbitrary delineation defined by men, it really doesn’t mean a whole lot). Situated in both Asia and Europe, it's been a trade route for thousands of years, and was once the center of the Holy Roman Empire. Now, it's a bustling city with millions of residents and all sorts of cool things to see and do, and boasts a skyline dotted with mosques and palaces. In addition, the city is separated by the Strait of Bosphorus, essentially splitting it in two.

While there are a lot of things to see, one of the main attractions is the Grand Bazaar. Something like 10,000 stalls have set up shop within the roofs of the bazaar, and you could spend a week just wandering the corridors. There's also the Spice Market, which is similar, albeit smaller, and is heavy on spices and cooking products, while the Grand Bazaar has everything from knock-off clothing to the softest bathtowels money can buy. As there are no prices on anything, you haggle with the merchants to pay whatever you think is the right price (regardless of how successful you are with this, things still cost way less than you would get them anywhere else).

The other attractions in Istanbul worth noting are the mosques. First, you have the Hagia Sophia, which wasn't originally a mosque, but since it's an awe-inspiring structure and the country is now 98% Muslim, it was converted into one. The Hagia Sophia was built in about 600 AD, and was so far ahead of it's time that a larger church wasn't built until the Italians completed the Duomo around 1500 AD. Also impressive is the Blue Mosque, a gigantic, umm, mosque, that happens to be blue. Ok, so it doesn't have the most original name - and I clearly don't know any synonyms for "mosque" - but it's pretty cool nonetheless, although the 5:30 am call to prayer was a little hard to sleep through, considering our hotel was about 100 yards away from the loudspeakers mounted on its spires.

Having seen Istanbul, the next leg of our journey took us to Cappadocia, home of the famous fairy chimneys. The fairy chimneys are natural rock formations wherein you have these large mushroom-shaped spires dominating the surrounding landscape. It's very surreal, and very cool-looking, and as the best way to see it is via hot air balloon, we climbed in one and took a tour of the countryside. True story – the same air balloon company we took would, one week later, crash one of their balloons and plummet to the earth. As you will see, near-death experiences followed us everywhere on this trip. Other than the fairy chimneys, Cappadocia is a fairly barren landscape, but it also houses an intricate network of caves and other structures carved into the rocks (other structures being, tourist hotels).

While here, we decided to brave a Turkish hamam. For this, they stick you on a warm marble stone, in what is essentially a sauna, and then a big Turkish dude comes out and scrapes your top layer of skin off with a cloth. Sounds brutal, but it wasn’t all that bad. Apparently the Turkish visit a Hamam once a week, which seems a bit much, but hey – when in Turkey…

Leaving Cappadocia, we took an overnight bus to Fethiye, which is on the southern coast. Had a close call on that one, as the bus almost left us at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere without our coats or passports! Oddly, the Turkish keep very clean buses, and stopped on two separate occasions to spend a good half hour washing it from top to bottom.

Our final leg was in Oludeniz. For some reason, this area has become a vacation hotspot for the British, which is kind of weird, but whatever. It's home to what is billed as "The Blue Lagoon", which is a nice little cove off the Mediterranean where you can sit and look at calm water with trees and hills as the backdrop. We took advantage of some activities in the area, such as rafting, paragliding, and a boat trip, the boat trip being notable in that there was a slide built into and through the boat (it’s the little things that sometimes amuse me). The rafting trip we took was part two of that near-death experience thing, but I’ll let Soph tell you the story in person if you want to hear it. Suffice to say, when we finally got back on land, I felt guilty for having made her go on the trip, so I gave her one of my watershoes to replace the one of hers that had been violently ripped off by the rapids. I then had to carry the raft across hot sharp rocks with only one shoe…

As far as the Turkish people go…they were pretty cool. I mean, when you go to tourist places, you kind of expect everyone to do whatever they can to convince you to part with your cash, but the Turkish were so friendly about it that you can’t help but give them props. They’d make their pitch, laugh and joke, and when it was all said and done, they’d be like “listen – thanks for parting with your cash. Now I really want you to have a good time while you visit my country. Of course, if you need to part with any additional cash, come back to me, otherwise just have a good time”. One of the guys at the restaurant next to our hotel made it his sole mission of the weekend to feed us a good Turkish dinner. He saw us at another restaurant and flagged us down later, and said “listen – you’ve had their food; now I want to make you a real Turkish dinner. Let me prepare a feast for you.” We said yes, because how can you say no to someone who wants to prepare you a feast? We were then greeted that night with an amazing, off-menu barrage of flavors and spices, and a chef who was extremely happy to see us enjoying his dishes.

All in all, another great destination, and another great trip. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to drink more Turkish coffee – only averaged about two per day. However, I did purchase a cezve, and will be perfecting my technique over the next few months!