Greek Salad, and Mousaka

Crete. A gigantic Island that could almost be its own country. We flew into Chania and grabbed the airport bus into the city. I think we got lucky, the busses only run every hour and it was loading up when we walked out of the airport. I didn’t want to wait an hour for the next bus. You would think they would run more often than that from an airport. The main station in Chania is buried in the center of town. The streets are so narrow, I have no idea how they get busses in and out of there. Talk about threading a needle.

We kind of planned ahead and found a number of campsite on the island before we left Germany. So we had a general idea which direction we wanted to go and what to expect. If you’re in need and you fly to Chania, they have free wifi at the main bus station. I thought this was pretty surprising considering finding wifi anywhere else in the rest of Europe was almost impossible. Come to Greece and it is everywhere. They also have some pretty good sandwiches there too. As far as mass transportation, it is either bus, taxi or rent your own vehicle. The busses run only every hour or so and stop around 6pm or so. Plan accordingly. We grabbed the next bus out towards Kissamos a town about 46 kilometers west of Chania. Our campsite, Camping Nopigia, was about 7 kilometers short of town, away from anything hustle and bustle and directly on the water. We were ready for relaxation, and lazy in the sun.

One thing we did not expect, was how influenced business was by tourism in Greece. I understand the concept of high vs low season, but here in this area of Crete, it high season and no season. We wanted to stay at the campground for 3 nights, but had to cut it down to 2 because they were closing on that third day. And by close I mean, completely shut down until May of next year. So our relaxation in Crete was little shorter than we planned, but we still had the rest of the week in the greek isles so it wasn’t all that bad. On the bright side, we shared the entire campground with two other couples for the last three days they were open. It was like a ghost town, perfect.

The area was called Nopigia, in the eastern corner of a Kissamos bay. On either side of the bay were two giant peninsulas that jutted north. Both national parks. It was quiet and secluded. The rest of the first day, we took a walk along the coast up the peninsula, exploring and playing in the perfect crystal clear water. It was sunny and warm and exactly the change in weather we were looking forward to. We made our way back to the campground and used their community outdoor kitchen to cook some pasta for dinner; calling it an early night after.

The next day we decided we wanted to head into Kissamos to try to rent a car. We talked to the reception desk at the campgrounds and they suggested Autofun. A company that rents compacts for about 25eu a day, which is pretty cheap. We didn’t know where the bus stop was on the main highway so walked in trying to hitchhike. We got about 4 kilometers in and finally met a british family at a gas station that gave us a lift the rest of the way. We never saw a bus stop the entire way in. When we got into town we found the car rental place and they were closed for lunch or something. Apparently Greece is very similar to Spain in regards to the siesta. So while we waited we walked to the other side of the square and had lunch. Enter our greek salad binge (we’ve had worse binges).

I don’t remember the name of the restaurant we ate at but, it was the best meal we had the entire time we were in Greece. And we had some amazing food. We shared a giant greek salad and an entrée called Moussaka. The salad was simple: cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, green peppers, dried oregano, feta cheese, and obviously, olive oil. The feta was a giant square about a half an inch thick. It didn’t crumble apart, it kept its shape as you forked away a chunk, kind of like butter. It was crumbly and creamy at the same time. I liked feta before, but this was on a whole other level.

We wanted to make a point to only order an entrée item that we had never had before. Per the recommendation of the service, we ordered the Moussaka. Basically, the Greek take on lasagna, but this one was cooked in a stone pot as a single portion. This confused me when we ordered others later on and the looked like a typical lasagna cut. The bottom of the pot was lined with thinly sliced potatoes and topped with cheese baked to a crisp. In the middle it was stuffed with zucchini, eggplant and lamb and filled with a creamy béchamel sauce. The béchamel sauce on the top had thickened when it cooked, while the rest was still creamy. It was an amazing contrast of texture and consistency. I want to buy a stone pot just so I can make it the same way. I am afraid a lasagna pan wouldn’t do it justice, but then again, it could be that they had made it fresh. This meal definitely set the par for the remainder of our foodie experience in Greece.

Wine in Greece is also cheap and delicious. You can get if from the restaurant in a number of different ways: by the bottle, or opened by the liter or half liter. It is usually much cheaper if you buy the opened wine by the carafe. I like to try things mystery style. I think we shared a half carafe at every dinner because it was so reasonably priced.

After a most satisfying lunch, I walked back across the street when I saw the guy open the store back up and asked about a rental car. The rates were great and I was definitely ready to rent, but there was one small problem. This is basically how the conversation went:

me: Hi, I would like to rent a car.
him: You want today?
me: Yes, today, thank you.
him: We don’t have today. We only have one car available for tomorrow, but it is reserved.
me: Do you have anything available for rent today?
him: No, we have one car.
me: :/ Ok you have only one car, and it isn’t available. Do you have a scooter?
him: Yes, but only one.
me: Ok is it available, could we rent it?
him, No, it is too small. not worth renting.
me: :/ Ok, thank you…I think.

This is a prime example of high season and no season in this area. We tried another car rental, that was closed as well. They had cars available, but the only way you could rent was to call them by phone, then they would come down and open the store and run the paper work. This place was a bit more expensive than my last conversation, so we decided to not rent a car and just hang out along the water. Since the campground was closing we had to checkout and leave anyways. So we nixed the rental idea and went to the beach and played in the water for a bit.

We walked along the waterfront and made our way back into town and caught the bus back to Nopigia. The reason why we couldn’t find the bus stop on the way in to town was because the bus take a completely different route off of the highway. Good to know. We went back to the campground and relaxed by the pool for the rest of the day and watched the sun set from the tent. Yes, they have a pool there, and it is very nice. They also have wifi across the entire campground! Camping Nopigia was great. We made dinner again and walked down the street to a small restaurant. They had some live music playing so we sat and talked for a bit over some wine. They had brought a book about Kissamos over to our table and we thumbed through it learning about the food, the culture and the history of the region while we listened to music and enjoyed our wine. With the exception to the car, a great first day in Greece.

young wine, and tree cake

We arrived in Mainz around 830 on Friday night. We had planned to stay with Anna, another friend I had also met in Belize the same time I had met Michael. We met up at the main station, grabbed some mixers and went back to her house for the evening. We hung out catching up over drinks until about 2am. Hiking around one of the largest parks in Europe with our packs on, and traveling the rest of the way to Mainz; that was a long day.

We got up had breakfast and went to walk around the downtown area. We did a little shopping and checked out the massive cathedral, also called the Dome church. I did not know that Gutenberg was from Mainz. He was the guy that is credited with basically inventing the first removable type printing press in Europe sometime in the 15th century. You may have heard of the Gutenberg Bible. That’s this guy. Removable type today is based on this invention. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to check out the museum.

Highlight of the day was trying ‘fresh’ wine. I don’t know exactly how to describe young wine and I won’t pretend that I know a lot about it either. I have no idea about the aging, barreling, fermenting, decanting, or for any matter, appropriate drinking processes. Beyond identifying the basic characteristics of reds, whites, and blends and how they differ from each other, I don’t know squat. I do know that I have a developed pallet for food and drink naturally, and If I don’t like something, it is usually for a reason. Even if it is beyond my understanding.

This fresh wine is called, Federweißer. It is kind of like a grape juice that has yeast added to it. They serve it even when it is still fermenting, leaving it cloudy, and sweet. In laymen’s terms – it has floaties and tastes like candy. Wiki says, when the alcohol content reaches 4% it is ready to serve, but can be fermented up until 10%. It is also made from a red grape as well called Roter Rauscher, but the place we went to had run out for the day so, unfortunately, we didn’t get to try it. They said they only had 15 bottles available for the day. Boo.

Afterwards we wondered around the downtown area for a bit and grabbed some dinner at a local brewery then headed back to the house to get our stuffs ready for the flight. Plans for the night, meet a friend, go out for drinks until we can’t take it anymore, grab our gear from the main station and catch the airport shuttle at 3am to the airport. Again, wonderful Ryanair choosing airports that are nowhere near the city they say they are. Frankfurt Hahn isn’t anywhere near Frankfurt. You have to go through Mainz to get there. A completely different city! Anyways, 3.5 hours later we were on our flight, sleeping most uncomfortably, heading to Crete for the last days of sun, beaches and relaxation of the summer and our trip. Our last few stops in Greece, and Turkey before, it’s back home to Seattle.

Donars, pastries, and more burgers oh my

So our first day of taking it easy, ended up being a pretty full day even though we didn’t go into anywhere, we just wandered and saw the sites. We saw a lot and didn’t spend a penny. We discovered that the Donar was supposedly invented in Berlin as well as the Curry Wurst. So naturally we had to try them here. We grabbed some Donars and some pastries on the way to see the Berlin Wall Memorial. Our hostel is only about a 20 minutes away so we walked. After we grabbed the train back down to Brandenburg Gate and walked the 2 blocks down to the Holocaust Memorial, or The Memorial for Murdered Jews in Europe. This is a beautifully eyrie monument; a couple thousand concrete blocks on a sloping field in the center of the city.

At this point we were torn, explore the abandoned amusement park, or the abandoned spy station. 🙂 Hmm, decisions decisions. The amusement park is on the east side of the city and the spy station is on the west. The monument we were at was directly in the middle. Apparently there are a lot of things you can explore in Berlin that are abandoned 🙂 We chose the amusement park, but when we got there, it was all fenced off, there were dogs and a guard. So that was a fail. Either way, I would come back and explore Berlin again. There are too many things to do here.

After that we decided it was time for more burgers :). This time we went to a place called The Bird. When we got there, the entire place was completely full. On our way in Kristin overheard the hostess talking to someone about reservations. The earliest they had were over a month out! This was not something we expected from a burger joint. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, my recommendation would be to try the bar. Never apart of the reservations issue nor do you usually have to wait to be seated. It is usually first come first serve. In this case, nothing special, we elbowed past the indecisive couple in front of us and grabbled two seats at the bar before they were gone. Ok, Burgermeister was good, but greasy spoon, hole in the wall, made by a very large man on the verge of cardiac arrest sort of good. The bird was equally delicious, but on the completely other end of the spectrum. Gourmet hand formed beef imported from the states, and served with homemade fries. You could choose between a flat top grill or an open grill. And holy schnikey, I was in hot sauce heaven also. They carried a number of brands, but one line that I absolutely loved was called Suicide Sauces. The company that does the distribution of sauces for The Bird started making their own. If your a hot sauce nut, I believe you can buy them from their site. The company is called Pfeffer Haus. I particularly loved the Mango Fire and the Habanero BBQ.

After Dinner it was still a little early and on a friends recommendation we should go check out a bar called Salon Wilde Renate. It has its own labyrinth, need I say more. I thought it was a lot of fun and very fascinating. It forces you to explore with your ears and touch instead of sight. Kristin walked straight through and didn’t particularly care for it. They didn’t let us go in together, unfortunately, and we never found each other inside. I would recommend checking this out. The beers were cheap and the music was interesting too. This place is stuck somewhere between creepy and fascinating. They also have a large outdoor area, but that was closed when we were there. I bet the parties here would be absolutely amazing. Walking down the street you could see piles of confetti that built up from the wind blowing them together.

We walked back to the hostel in the rain and hung out for the evening. We planned to camp near some old spy satellites, but it was raining all night so we just hung out with some people in the commons area for the rest of the night. I am really sad I missed those. They are a cold war relic that were built on top of a nazi college that couldn’t be destroyed after WWII. Apparently the building was so strongly built it was impossible to destroy, so instead they buried it under the rubble of all the buildings that were destroyed during the war. After which during the cold war the US built a spy station on top of the rubble. It is abandoned now. Damn, that would have been cool to explore.

The hostel we stayed at was called The Heart of Gold Hostel, for the most part it was fine. The dorm was comfortable and quite, all the normal amenities were just fine, but it had one major downfall that would make me never stay here again. The entry to the hostel is down a long covered walkway to a courtyard. This is where all the smokers hung out. Every time you leave the building you have to walk through it. Every time you go to the dorms, you have to walk through it. It was a gauntlet of disgusting. I feel like everyone here smokes.

We didn’t need to catch our ride out of Berlin until 6 pm, so we spent the day exploring Sanssouci gardens in a neighboring town called Potsdam. This was the summer palace for Frederick the Great. It was disgustingly beautiful. I felt like I walked into the set of Pride and Prejudice. Unfortunately we only had about 1.5 hours to spend there, but it is definitely a place I would like to come back to. Seems like everywhere we have gone has something amazing we missed out on or need to come back and check out again. We caught the train back into Berlin to get our stuff from the hostel and headed down to meet our ride out of town.

We needed to catch a flight early on sunday morning out of Frankfurt, but we still had a few days before then so we chose to spend one of them in a Kassel, a city between Frankfurt and Berlin. We didn’t intend to go to the city, but just to the west of it is a park called Bergpark Wilhelmshoehe. It is the largest park in Europe and the second largest mountain park in the world. It is home to a palace, an aqueduct, a castle and and a cascading falls that runs the entire length of the park naturally powering a large fountain in the pond at the bottom near the palace. We got to the park around 10 pm and hiked to the north side where we set up tent and camped in a forested area. It was cold, but quiet and comfortable. We felt like we didn’t get enough time to explore Sanssouci, so we got up early that next morning to have more time. We didn’t have our a place to stash our packs and didn’t want to leave them where they were since we were so far north, so we decided to just haul them around with us the entire day. We spent the entire day hiking the grounds exploring. At 6pm we made our way back into town and met up with another person to get our ride down to Frankfurt. I learned something new about how you can offer a service on Blablacar. The person we met had a 5 person regional pass and had that for us to take. So instead of driving we took the train. I swear I love this site. And since we were traveling beyond Frankfurt on to Mainz we got to keep the pass afterwards and continue on with it. 

Burgers in Berlin

Ok, So as promised, If your interested in looking at pictures now, you can check them out on my flickr page here. I will link photos in to the rest of the blog when it is complete. Until then, pictures can be viewed through the link.

Our first day in Berlin was on a beautiful rainy Tuesday. Seems like the crappy weather followed up pretty much the entire trip. Although we did get some fairly decent weather in Munich, we were inside the entire time. So that was a fail. For the most part we wanted to take the day relatively easy. For one, the city is way to big to explore and get the whole thing into 3 days and be able to get all of it, and two, we didn’t want to cram too much in and feel like we were working. Were on holiday, we don’t have to do anything really. Some people miss that premise.

We had spent the first few hours of the day in the commons area of the hostel flipping through their giant brochure wall figuring out what to do and how much we did want to see. I had said the first thing I wanted to do was do the walking tours in the city, but here, their tours were 6 hours long! Can you believe that! They advertised, shorter tours for those that were in a hurry that ran for 3.5 hours. Seriously, I barely have the attention span to take a standard 2 hour tour, I couldn’t imagine a 6 hour one. So that was out. We grabbed a map from the front desk. On it was the layout of the majority of the downtown area of the city along with all its major monuments pointed out. It also offered walking routes of the city as well as metro and bus lines. This eventually became our lifeline to the city.

Our last day at Oktoberfest, we spoke to a guy at a neighboring table and his recommendation was to check out the burgers in Berlin. I did not expect Berlin to be known for their burgers, but who doesn’t like a good burger. So naturally the first thing we decided to do was get that. This brings me to 2 recommendation. If you have a smart phone, download trip advisor and trip advisor city guides. While you have wifi trip advisor is an amazing app giving you reviews by listing, a map view search closest to you, pricing comparisons, etc. Any what trip advisor lacked for each city, the city guide made up for it. Your able to download each city to your phone and use it off-line. that is a huge factor!

So based on the reviews and the top # of places to go and see we chose what to see and what to avoid. First stop, Burgermeister, a tiny little spot nestled underneath the metro line and crammed practically in the middle of an intersection. If this was America, it would be a food truck. It was smaller than most of them we have here. They had table set up outside, half of them were standing only, the others were the same, but the seats were bike locks with padding taped around them. Anything else was either a milk crate, or a soap box, or anything they could put together to sit on really.

Either way it doesn’t matter. These burgers were bomb. Literally and metaphorically, amazing grease bombs. They also had chili cheese fries. One thing that I have noticed while eating all throughout Europe so far is that no matter how much I eat here, I never get full like I would have gotten in the states. The food here really is much better in some aspects. The eggs especially. And this burger.

Oh yeah, About the metro here. It is fairly reliable, there aren’t any turn styles or people checking to make sure you have paid your fair. When we first arrived we bought a 3 day pass for about 24 euro. This allowed us to use any form of public transit for 72 hours. There are two passes you can choose from, the City Tour Card and the Berlin Welcome Card. Here is a link to the Berlin Metro site if your interested in learning more. They both have their benefits, discounts to museums, restaurants, etc. And they both cost about the exact same. So determine which one you want to use.

The city is also broken up in to 3 zones, A, B, and C. A is the majority of the downtown area, B being outlying city area and C, the outskirts and neighboring towns. You can get a pass for 24, 48 and 72 hours for either zones A and B or pay an extra 2 or 3 euro and get C thrown in as well. We wanted to explore outside of the city as well, so we paid the little extra. In the end, I don’t think a single person check our tickets the whole time we were there, so you could easily get away with not having any passes and use the metro at your own risk. If you get caught, I think the ticket is about 40 euro or so. Munich is pretty much the same way. 

After burgers we took the metro down to Berlin Flughafen Tempelhof Airport. The originally terminal and grounds were built in the 20’s and is one of the only pre WWII airports in the world. It is also one of the largest buildings ever built (I saw that it was huge, but I didn’t realize it was that big).The main terminal and surrounding buildings were rebuilt by the National Socialist party in the thirties and was, in their eyes, to be the gateway to the center of the world Germania (Wikipedia). Walking around you can see the nazi era architecture throughout the building. Now the airport is a huge park. You can actually go out and walk around on the old runways. It is HUGE. We would have spent more time out relaxing in the park, but it was raining, so we walked to the next station and headed back north.

Next we walked by Checkpoint Charlie, a checkpoint gate in the wall between east and west berlin to the Topography of Terror, a memorial for political prisoners taken and tortured by the Gestapo and the SS. The grounds of the memorial and museum are the former grounds of the SS and Reich security office buildings. Along side the entire length of the Topography of Terror Museum is a section of the original Berlin Wall. From there we walked to Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building. We didn’t go inside though, to do this you need to set up an invitation online for a specific date and time. It is free to do, but you should do it a few days in advanced.

After that we went back to the hostel for a few hours to decide if we wanted to go out to the clubs for the night. We sat and chatted with some guys from Vancouver who also had the same idea. So we partied up with them and headed out to a place called the Q-club. There were all of 4 people in the entire place so we grabbed a cab with some german guys that in the same boat and went to another club called Matrix. This place was packed! They played all of the top 40 hits from the 90’s; like flashback to high school. The only downside to the entire place was the glass. I have never seen so much glass on the floor of any club, it’s like people smashed their drinks on the floor after they were finished with them. Around 3am we were pretty tired and wanted to head home but we had to wait until 4 for the trains start running again. On the way out some kids were hanging out in a pedestrian underpass jamming out. I took a video, but for some reason the sound didn’t come out. Im pretty sad about this. It was pretty cool.

3 days of beer, pretzels, sausage and pork knuckle.

We got in to Munich around 5 pm and scrounged around for wifi at the station, but because the service was so crappy, we walked across the street to the Wombats, a hostel I had stayed at a few years before. We mooched their wifi for a bit and charged our phones. While at the hostel we had overheard a tour guide person talking to a large gaggle of travelers about Oktoberfest, what to expect, times, dress attire, etc. Most of the information we had pretty much expected or anticipated, but I will get into this in a bit. For now, we were most interested in their advice regarding dress attire. Lederhosen and dirndl, not necessary, but you will stand out if you are not dressed to dress.

I already have a nice lederhosen, but I didn’t want to haul it around for 7 weeks to only use it for 2-3 days. Luckily, their advice had told us about a shop at the end of the block that sold some cheap knock-offs for 20euro! So we immediately left before the crowd dispersed to do the same. I got the last pair that didn’t look like gigantic clown pants. As we were paying, we say the rush of guys coming down the stairs on the hunt for their own. We walked to a number of different stores checking prices for a decent dirndl for Kristin. Oddly enough we found a nice one for 50 euro from a pop-up vendor next to the main station. Now that we were all squared away on attire, it was time to find out where we were going to stay 🙂

Because we booked our flights so late, we didn’t feel we had any chance on finding an economical accommodation, so I had reached out to people I knew in the area that could possible host us during Oktoberfest. Patrick, another friend I had met from traveling had responded and let me know I could stay with his family. Even though he was actually out traveling through the Philippines and wasn’t going to be around we were able to set something up through couchsurfing with them.

We had two minor setbacks with this plan. the first was my couchsurfing account was messed up and I needed to wait for them to fix it before I was able to reach out again through it. So we defaulted to email, this was our second setback. All updates I had sent out, had been forwarded to the junk mail folder and our hosts weren’t sure if we were still coming. In the end, it all worked out, but it was a little awkward at first when we showed up and they didn’t know who we were or how we knew how to get there. They basically thought, because I never responded, we planned to stay elsewhere. Luckily they still had room for us and all was well.

Basically this is the quick and dirty run down on Oktoberfest. Dress to fit in. General styles are perfectly fine, but if you really want to fit the bill, look for the traditional Bavarian style attire with vest, socks, etc. You will stand out if you are not dressed up that goes without saying. On the first day they do not start serving beer until after noon, after the procession has passed and the first keg has been tapped by the mayor. It is tradition. Only then will the beer begin to flow. But until then get there stupid early to stand in line to make sure you can get a table. I don’t know when, but they open the doors early. We aimed to go to the Hacker Pschorr tent but that felt completely full when we arrived at 8am and we still stood in line outside until 11 or so. If you go on the first day, bring a deck of cards and aim to get there around 6am to get your pick of a good table.

About reserving tables – you can’t, unless you are a local. And even still, they have to reserve super early, think beginning of the year early. So if you know a local and know you plan your trips in advance, plan accordingly. The reservations are free and seat 10 to a table., but you must commit to a certain amount of food and drink and pay that ahead of time. Interpret that how you like.

For everyone else who doesn’t know locals or plans to elbow their way in, this is how it works. On the first day if you want the best table get there around 6am. We got there at 8am as recommended and did not find something until after 2 or something. I can only speak for the first day, For the week days, I don’t think it matters, we got there around noon on monday and walked right in and sat down. For the weekends I heard try to get there around 8 or so, They don’t start serving beer until after 930 or 10, but you at least have a table.

Another heads up, if you plan to just show up whenever, consider this, they typically do not serve you if you are not seated or have a seat at a table. If you want beer or food, you must have a table you can get it from, otherwise you will not be served. We basically vultured near a table and waited until a server brought beer by and had extras and we snagged those. I only saw one type of beer, so don’t go asking for a beer list, just say how many, be quick and have your money ready. When you do get your first beer, make sure to tip well on it so they come back. If you do not tip they will not keep coming by the table. The philosophy is simple really, tip and you will be taken care of. The cost per liter stein was 980eu this year. Plan to spend money.

Smoking is also not allowed inside the tents, you most leave. If your waiting for the first beers and need to get your fix, I don’t know if they will let you back in. They may, but that is something you may need to figure out on your own. Maybe invest in an electronic cigarette or bring some nicorette.

About the tents – if you’re looking for specific information about specific tents, my recommendations would be to seek that elsewhere, I can only share what I know. The Hacker Pschorr tent is supposed to be one of the most famous tents. It is also supposed to be the most beautiful because of the clouded ceiling. And I believe it is supposed to also be one of the rowdiest with a younger crowd. If you want a little calmer, seek another tent. This is the tent we spent the first 2 days in. On opening day we were there for about 13 hours in total. I heard good things about the Hippodrome, Haufbrau house is supposed to be the most famous of blablabla, but personally I could care less for their beer. Maybe go check out the real Haufbrau House downtown, but I wouldn’t stay. There is much better beer out there, but that is all a matter of opinion really.

If your interested in getting the true local experience, go to Augustiner. We went to this tent on the third day, but their beer where the real experience is at. They have halls and restaurants all over the city. The food is to die for; they have their own butcher only for them. In my opinion, their beer is, hands down, the best. They do zero advertising, and not until very recently (3 years or so) they didn’t do any exporting and still it is impossible to find. Any local you speak with will say it is their favorite. The tent was fine, but the real experience are in the halls.

As far as my personal take on Oktoberfest, it was fun but I don’t know if it is something I would make a point to come back to every year. Probably now just another tick off my bucket list, but worth every penny. You can do it in 2-3 days, just make sure to pick your tents and times wisely. We met tons of people so even if you go by yourself, which I doubt, you wont drink alone. And everyone is out to have a good time, singing, dancing, standing on the benches, etc. 

On the second day we relaxed and took it easy and planned to meet up with some of kristin’s friends later that evening in the HP tent again. But for the day, we did laundry and other important things like setting up a ride to Berlin, booking a hostel, and playing Candy Crush Saga 🙂 Again, Sundays are a pain in the butt if you need anything. Finding change for the washing machine was next to impossible. We also left the house that afternoon and stowed our stuff in the lockers at the main station and went to meet with Kristin’s friends. We drank with them and crashed in their room that night.

On the third day we spent a few hours in the Augustiner tent until around 330 or so. Then took off to catch our ride up to Berlin. I think the total beer count for the both of us was somewhere around 22 liters in three days. 🙂 great success. Kristin got blitzed on monday. I tell you that was super exciting hauling around super drunkiface through the subways and streets of Munich with two packs on our backs and in head-to-toe lederhosen and dirndl. I have a video of her somewhere, but she would kill me if I posted it.

When we got to the car, Kristin slept the entire way up to Berlin, with the exception for when we stopped for a quick bite to eat halfway there. She was still drunk. Burger in one hand, salad fork in the other.  Another tick off ye ‘ole bucket list, Oktoberfest down. We were in Berlin by 9pm.

 

Jagerschnitzel and Curry Wurst

I am a huge fan of Blablacar. We paid 16 euro to get from Sant Galen, Switzerland to Memmingen, Germany, a town about an hour outside of Munich by train. Seriously, I am back in Seattle now and have been procrastinating finishing this blog up, but since being back. I envy the driving of Germany; Europe for that matter. Something about people understanding the left lane of an autobahn/interstate is for passing, not for sightseeing, lolligagging, or day dreaming. It is a law you are not allowed to drive in the left lane in Germany unless you are passing. HEY! Guess what America, it is a law here too, oh but wait, that doesn’t matter here cause your stupid. Seattle you have a lot to learn. It is unbelievably frustrating driving with so many clueless jack asses. There are stupid people everywhere, I get that, but there just seems to be a much bigger concentration of them here. Ok, I digress. Enough Ranting, back to story time.

Our end goal was to get to Munich for Oktoberfest but we had 2 days until the first day of the 3 week event, so we decided to spend the first night near Fussen. The train heading south ran only every hour allowing us some to have our first meal in Germany so we grabbed dinner at a smaller shop next to the station. The place was covered in coo coo clocks, steins, trinkets and doodads. Most definitely a mom and pop kind of place. We loved the place, so weird and kitschy. We ordered two of my favorite dishes, Jagerschnitzel and Curry Wurst. They were both delicious. The lady that took our order also cooked our food. We could hear her pounding out the schnitzel after we ordered. It was a perfect way to start this part of our journey.

From there we headed south towards another smaller town called Fussen just north of the austrian border. We got about halfway there and stopped to camp for the night next to a very large, very loud rushing river. We woke up super early in the morning around 530 or so to catch the first train out to get to Fussen.

The town Fussen isnt particularly famous for anything, but just outside of it, is one of the most famous castles in the world. Neuschwanstein Castle. The Disney castle is designed after it. It is beautiful; built on the ruins of another castle of the past. It is built on top of a small hill nestled in front of a waterfall at the foothill of a mountainside on the northern edge of the austrian alps. Spread before it are wide meadows, forests lakes and the rest of Germany.

The place is beautiful, but the only way your able to go inside is via guided tour. They also don’t let you take pictures inside and if you try they yell at you. Too many people come and visit the every day. Thee guides are rushed through so quickly you can’t really stop and appreciate its true value. It really takes away from the experience. My recommendation is if you decide to take the tour try to get the last tour of the day. You may get lucky and get to take a little more time and I am sure sunset there would be amazing, as it faces northwest.

One of the entertainment halls is still used. Once a year a concert is held in the hall. I don’t know what it takes to go, or how much it would cost, but I am sure it would be breathtaking. The design of the hall was engineered to amplify acoustics. The hall was intended for opera and theatre. I couldn’t imagine experiencing that. I only know this because when our tour went through, the seating and instruments were still set up. The concert was the night before and our tour was one of the first to go through.

I wish I could share more about the castles history, but honestly, we were rushed through so quick we didn’t really get to ask too many questions or get too much information. We were in and out in about 30 minutes. It was built by King Ludwig II and wasn’t completed and costed too much to maintain. The family cut all funding to the construction after the king’s death. Which was and still is a mystery. The King was help captive against his will in another palace by his family for a short period. They say that he went mad and 2 days later was found dead. No one other than those that were there truly know how he died, but if you ask me, history has a way of repeating itself. Royalty are assholes and have to have things done their way. And if they aren’t, well, they shunt you from the world, even if you’re a king, and write history how they please. So in the end, this beautiful Castle was never completely finished and sold to the German government because the cost was too great to keep it maintained. I believe the guide had said its annual budget is greater than what it cost to build it in the first place.

After walking around the castle grounds and up to the waterfall we hiked back down the hill and grabbed the bus back to the station. Now that we knew what to look for we got another regional day pass for the two of us and took the next train to Munich. 

 

Wine, cheese and chocolate in motion

The next morning we checked out of the Matterhorn hostel, left a thank you gift for the unbelievable hospitality and headed out to explore Switzerland with the end goal to be in Chur by the 9pm or so. With no real itinerary other than our final destination we decided to play a little game stolen from Denise. Since we had all day, we rolled dice to determine which direction to take and another roll to determine which stop we should get off and explore. East or south, by odd or even, and how many stops before we get off, from the total number of dice. We ended up going south towards the center of the alps. We hopped off 3 times to explore smaller towns and change directions. Our last hop off  in a small town called Andermatt smack in the center of the Alps. With only one direction to take the game ended there, east, straight through the alps, towards Chur.

This last train was the coolest. The Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn, a 2 car slow train that cuts directly east/west through the alps. It is slow not because it is old and rickety, but because of all the sharp turns and steep grades. The views were non-stop amazing. The conductor was pretty chill and chatty and kept coming by to tell us about the area. The coolest part of the ride; the windows roll down completely allowing you to hang out of the side of the train!! Freaking cool.

From the attendant, we learned that hunting ram requires custom made bullets and being hunting season you could hear gun shots every now and then from the train. As long as your hanging out of the window 🙂 Also, there are little houses that are sprinkled all over the fields near the tracks and on the sides of the mountains, they are not all houses – they were camouflage for the flack cannons during WWII and would split open right down the middle to reveal the cannons when needed. We saw where streams collect from the alps become two rivers and where they come together to create the start of the Rhine. And if your wine key sucks and you find that half of your cork breaks in your bottle, the attendant is more than happy to help you open it for you 🙂

3 hours of steep grades, twisty turns, sharp cliffs, mountain villages, rivers, sky scraping peaks, 2 bottles of wine, and one of the coolest sunsets in motion ever we arrived in Chur. Epic! If you have the time, take it, and if you get a pass, well, thats a no brainer. There is another train called the Glacier Express that runs the entire length of the alps in about 5 hours or so. This has a glass roof to see the sights, and serves dinner fine-dining style. This one is much nicer and a lot more amenities. We didn’t take this one 🙂 And it isn’t included in the pass, but you do get it 1/2 price if you have one. So keep that in mind.

We got in to Chur (pronounced something like, phlegm-long U-rolling R, hard to say, but fun to try) right about when we planned and walked to Kristin’s friend’s, Rafie and Fabio’s, place. Pretty much de ja vu all over again…a short walk, great place, great people, great hospitality. One of the coolest apartments I have seen; they had a huge private roof deck with a great view of the entire city.

They had just eaten dinner and had plenty for us so we joined them for what felt like was going to be an easy night chatting, and drinking some good south african wine. I couldn’t be any more wrong. We quickly learned how to count in swiss german with a new drinking game using dice, lies and truths. I dont remember the name. After that it was, drink, shot, drink, shot…you know the drill. Fabio is a trooper, stayed out with us till 4 in the morning, then got up and went to work at 630.

At some point in the night we had gotten Donär somewhere near where we went. I have no idea what it was or what was in it, but all that I can say is that it was by far the best Donär we have had this entire trip. Hands down. Drool.

The next day we woke up and made breakfast with Rafie. It was a beautiful day so we hung out on the roof deck or a bit and wandered around the city checking out the views. We stopped near his place and grabbed a cider and relaxed in the sun. About midday we headed off on the last train out of Switzerland to catch a blablacar from Sant Galen, a town on the Switzerland/Austria border. From there we planned to head to Fussen, a small town 2 hours or so outside of munich, to camp out for the night and visit the most famous castle in the world, Neuschwanstein castle.

Swiss burgers and beers

When we first arrived we went to the tourist center and grabbed a map and ask what there is to do. Right next to the city is a giant mountain called, Mt. Pilatus. It has the steepest incline railway in the world! A single car barreling up the mountain on a greased up rail. At its steepest point angled somewhere around 49 degrees. So naturally we had to go. Plus, an amazing 360 degree panoramic view and a sweet gondola ride down; the trifecta of mountain madness. On one side of the mountain, is the railway, and the other is the gondola. Also, another bonus for buying this pass, tickets for the mountain train up and the gondola ride down, usually costs about 70 francs each, but this pass gets us half off all non-included trains like this one. Win, win.

At the top, there is a a few short trails one can take around the peak for a variety of views. They are all fairly short, but each have great views. The one we chose to take felt like an old mining path that was converted into a walkway cut through the side of the peak. Half cave, half walking path complete with rails buried in dirt. Although it doesn’t make sense to me  since the mountain peak was only about 50 feet above the path, why would there be a mining path there :/

Either way, it was cool, there were some stalactites all over the ceiling of the walkway from a summer of melting snow. All along the cliff side were cut outs, peak holes and wide open areas that made for some pretty unique views. I love Europe, there was a huge opening with only a metal railing keeping you from plummeting a thousand feet down to mountain cows and death. Here in America, there would be a chain link fence, maybe some barbed wire, a standing guard or 2, warning signs and most likely a law suite currently in the works. Also at the top is a hotel and restaurant that had been there forever; since before the incline railway and the gondola. But now the area has been upgraded to accommodate tourists with a number of lookout points, walking trails, a picnic area, and a welcome center, complete with snack bar and gift shop.

By this time it was midday and we headed back down the mountain in the gondolas (turns our there are multiple sections). The first was packed with military trainees geared to the teeth, guns and all. Safest gondola ride ever. The second section reminded me of a typical ski resort gondola, it was just missing the snow and the skis and it was going the wrong direction 🙂

Once back in town we made our way to the station and had originally planned to head down to explore Geneva for a bit, but when we talked to a train attendant, it would take 3 hours to get there from Lucerne and three more to get back up to Olten, so instead we decided to go to a neighboring town called Thun. There was no particular reason why. We just had time to kill, wanted to explore somewhere else and they have a castle in the center of town and another cool looking covered wooden bridge. I think every town has one over a very large very fast river. Once there we strolled around for a bit checking out the sites and headed back to Olten to meet Michael, Denise and Denise’s sister for our last night out.

Amongst the many famous sites of Olten, is their one famous pub Rathskeller, but all the locals call it, ‘the pot’. I don’t know why or how, cause it isn’t correlated to the original name whatsoever. But they have delicious burgers and a good beer. Afterwards we visited a new pub that had only been open a few weeks. It was nice and they had a drink on their menu that Michael had made up! It was still mid-week and a school night for the kids, so we felt we had to be responsible and call it an early night.

 

Zucher Geschnetzeltes and roclette = nom de nomz

The town Michael lives in is called Olten. It is a small town that doesn’t show on google maps until you zoom in, but it is cute and welcoming and has it’s own bit of history. It is also relatively equidistant from Basel, Zurich, and Bern making it a central hub for commuting trains and an ideal location to live. Not to mention cheaper rent.

Our first day there was pretty much a lazy one, recovering from a long night out and nursing a individual hangovers. We meandering aimlessly throughout the town looking at the ‘famous’ sites of Olten. Their one famous bridge. Their one famous river. Their one famous house with a golden roof that shines sun into other peoples houses when it is sunny and creates a bit of small town controversy and gossip. Also making it the one famous house of Olten. I like this small town.

I’m glad it was a lazy day because Sundays in Europe suck as a traveler. Basically plan to do nothing or maybe have beer in the park and chill. Also the markets here close at 630 everyday and aren’t open at all on sundays. Can you imagine what that would be like in the states. Think Costco, Mayhem.

Denise had to write a 15 pg essay for a class, so for leaving the house so she could work we were rewarded with food! You win Pavlov. ANd not just take out, a special, from scratch, Swiss dish called,’Zürcher Geschnetzeltes’. Thank goodness for cut and paste 🙂 This delicious dish consists of thinly sliced veal in a mushroom cream sauce over a potato hash-brown kind of stuff. It reminded me kind of like a beef stroganoff my mom used to make. All I know is I could eat this for days. Tip of the hat to the chef, it was amazeballs.

Finishing our lazy day we shared a couple of bottles of wine chatted about our best means of transportation during our visit, watched a movie and called it a night. Not the movie we watched, but the Watchmen dubbed in Swiss German was quite entertaining for a bit.

Part of our conversation from the day before was what we were going to do about getting around Switzerland. It is an expensive country to begin with but the rail system really presses the bank. Getting from Basel to Olten had cost a lot more than what we expected after spending times on trains in two other countries. I can not recall exactly the price but I think for the two of us was about 70$ for the 30 minute ride. The same price for the all day regional pass for 5 people in Alcace France. We had 4 more days in Switzerland and still needed to get over to the other side of the country to meet up with some of Kristin’s friends. We needed to figure something out.

Michael and Denise had both looked onto a number of options for us to get around, but all of the train passes were still a few hundred dollars more than what we were wanting to spend. So we tried our luck and went to the station with Denise to figure out our best option by talking with the station office. By some strange act of Zeus, the rail company had a special on their passes starting that morning.

Like most countries or rail companies SBB offers a variety of passes for travelers, commuters and general citizens, but from what I could make out in the end, there are passes for swiss citizens and then passes for every one else. As a citizen passes are at reduced rates depending on what type you get and frequency of use; distance, for a month, a year, etc. Since Denise is a student her pass is basically free and Michael pays a flat rate once a year which seems like it would pay itself off quickly. The SBB site is pretty extensive and shows a number of options so make sure you know what your looking for and ask specific questions when talking to someone.

Anyways, the passes we ended up getting were a citizen only pass that for this special offer had been opened up for everyone and then reduced from 270 to 140 swiss francs. So to travel anywhere we please, for the 4 days we had left, put it around 150$ for us. The best thing about this pass, is it works for everything, bus, tram, train, boat, ferry, all of it. Lucky! Having a native speaker really helped too, but the attendants were extremely helpful and would have probably pointed out the best option for us in the end, either way, once again, thank you to Denise for the help.

Now with pass in hand and no limitations on where we can go we rode into to Zurich with Denise and split ways for a bit while she went to class. I found a new pair of shoes and immediately threw away the Pumas that had been killing my feet. We grabbed some pastries and a coffee and met back up with her 2 hours later to ride the tram around, cause we could. She showed us that you can see the University from almost everywhere in the city 😉

I don’t know if it is me, but you hear a lot about Zurich as being a financial capital and you would assume it would be a large city. It isn’t. Ends up most of the cities in switzerland are relatively smaller than many other European cities by comparison. I can’t speak or all of Switzerland so take this with a grain of salt, this is only through interpretation.

We met Michael for lunch for the most expensive dönar you could ever buy, for around 11 francs. Then decided since we could, we would tour the city by boat and after ride on to Bern to explore that town for the rest of the day 🙂

Bern is a city names after bears. They have bear beer, bear wine, bear fountains and you guessed it, live bears in their very own bear park. When we arrived at the station the first thing Denise wanted to show us the parliament building. For some reason it is one of the main sites to see in Bern. Unexpectedly on this day was a festival called Alpabfahrt (I had to look it up). It means bringing the cows home. Basically every year the cows spend 100 days of summer in the alps grazing on grass and mountain herbs. This is all they eat. As they are milked at altitude the milk is made into mountain cheese. In the fall, always in september, the cows are brought down from the alps to spend the winter in the safety of the farms. All over Switzerland 10s of thousands of cows are paraded into town wearing gigantic traditional bells by farmers also sporting traditional attire. In the square they show the livestock off, and parade them around, sample cheeses and milks, play games and drink beer.

We played a game that involves a stump, a rock hammer and a nail for each person. I cant’t remember what it is called but ironically I was talking to Michael about it the day before. Drinking game involves taking turns hitting the nail in with the smallest part of the hammer, last one to finish buys the next round of drinks. Kristin was doing horribly and won in the end, of course.

After the cows, we went down to check out the bear park and then back up to get groceries and head home for another delicious dinner. Roclette. Another traditional meal in Switzerland that requires a two level griddle: you cook all your ingredients on top and on the bottom, underneath, cook your cheese in a tiny cooking tray. It is hard to explain but it is focused around the cheese of course, you can put whatever you like in it: bacon, sausage, veggies, pickles, anything! Again, it was delicious. Now I have to get my own Roclette cooking thingy.

Full of cheese and another day down we watched another movie to appease our cheese coma and called it a night. Tomorrow we adventure on our own. Michael left us a key and now that we had free reign to go anywhere we liked in all of switzerland we decided to head to Lucern to check out the famous bridge there and walk the city for a bit.

Flembe, creme brulee, and wine d’alsace

Lets see how do I describe Colmar… I think disgustingly cute will work. Every direction, every corner, every shop, every house are all disgustingly cute. We spent the day window shopping eating pastries, planning the next few days and wandering the streets.

The evening came and we were still wandering around gawking at the fountains and architecture. The city lights some of the facades up  with different colors at night adding to the uniqueness of the original color of the building. We grabbed some donars for dinner and slowly walked back to the tent for an early night. I had acquired World War Z sometime in spain, so we watched that together on the smallest screen known to man and went to bed.

In the morning we packed our camp up and grabbed the bus to the train station to stow our bags for the day. We didn’t have a plan; was just going to try asking a hotel or something. Turns out, next to the station on the north side is a bicycle rental. They do not advertise it but they will hold luggage for free. If you plan on visiting Colmar and do not know were your planning on staying, this may be handy for a bit. They like tips.

We spent the day shopping and wandering the streets again trying more pastries since they will be the last french ones we get to end our 6 day pastry binge. Thank you France, we came, we gorged, and now I’m sure we are both 10lbs heavier from from your flakey buttery confections.

At the station we talked to the attendant about a ticket to basil and he informed us the cost for the both of us would be close to the regional pass for 5 people and we should just get this. Basically what this meant was, you and 4 of your friends could spend the day exploring all of the Alsace region from Basil Switzerland up to Strasbourg, France hopping on and off the train where ever you please. When we heard this we decided to only spend a few more hours in Colmar and grab the train up to Strasbourg for dinner then head back down to continue to conquer our next country, Switzerland.

I met someone from Strasbourg in Valencia and he told me about some great places to visit and some unique things to eat. I tried to reach out to him to meet up, but he was away at a festival for the weekend so we wandering with a tourists map we acquired at the station instead.

Another suggestion. If you plan on visiting Strasbourg for only a day or so, stow your luggage somewhere else, IE back in Colmar where it is for free, because the lockers at the main station cost 9eu for each one. Luckily we were able to cram both our packs into one locker.

It happened to be a saturday and the entire city was in a hustle bustle. We had arrived just after 4pm and as we walked around we started seeing people with make up and shredded clothes all over the place. We had just missed their zombie walk by minutes 😦 Imagine walking out of a train station and seeing that as your welcome to a new city. Damn.

The women working at the information counter had told us the cathedral was a great sight to see and today was special. The normal fee to climb the spires was waived and we were able to explore the buildings roof and see the view of the city. We had considered doing this in Paris, at Notre Dame but didn’t.

Free is nice, but you don’t just hike up a spire, look and then hike back down. You get to walk across parts of the roof and explore some fascinating area of these larger churches you would otherwise never see. At the very top, they have a ancient human powered elevator wheel. People used to walk in it like mice to haul equipment and other items up and down the church. The main spire had engravings in stones of people dating back to mid 16th century. I didn’t ask but it entertains me to think it is 5 hundred year old graphiti  🙂 On the way back down it down-poured. It rained so hard the gargoyles were overflowing and rain was running down the steps in the staircase we walked down. This just added to the unique experience.

After the rain died down we headed over to old town to have a try at some regional cuisine. On the way over we ran into a parade having to do something with music or cultures from around the world. There was all types of music and dance in motion one style after another. Another great thing to stumble into to make our day even better.

Once in old town we looked for a good place to try flembé, or flammkuchen. Traditionally it is a flatbread crispy pizza thing with a cream sauce, onions, cheese and bacon, but you can make it with other toppings like salmon and capers. Either way it is amazing!! I made sure to get a recipe.

We also tried some wine from the region and finish the evening off with a creme brûlée. After that we grabbed the next train south to meet up with a friend who was expecting us in Olten, Switzerland.

People ask me why I love to travel. It’s not only the great places to visit or get wasted at but half of it is the people. It is also the same reason I am an advocate of using hostels vs hotel rooms. Traveling is meeting people and experiencing their stories. Think of it like the Yelp version but with more emotion, more personal, less corporate and with a lot more drinking involved. 🙂

Any ways, Amongst many others, I met Michael in Belize on a tiny island where there are no cars, sunsets are amazing and I didn’t wear shoes for 9 days straight.

Since I was late I missed him at the station, but luckily I had his address and he lived close to the station, so we walked. When we got to his place, I was greeted with yelling out the window, “We don’t buy any!” and scribbled on a piece of printer paper taped to the front door, “The Matterhorn Hostel”. He was gracious to give us his spare room, also taped on the door another piece of paper, “The Dorm”. Inside was a cozy bed, towels, even the code to the wifi. Everything you look for in a hostel when you get in. This is my review for The Matterhorn Hostel. If you can find it. It is the best hostel I have stayed at, ever. Most gracious host, hospitality and entertainer. I am grateful to have such an amazing friend.

We settled in and joined michael and his girlfriend Denise for an amazing assortment of sliced meats and delicious Swiss cheeses and some wine for dinner.

After talking, catching up and sharing stories we went out to one of their favorite bars down the street. Literally, it was like 5 doors down, on the same block, but around the corner so I will say, ‘down the street’. You could see the balcony of his apartment through the window. Denise’s sister also lived on the other side of the courtyard behind his apartment. 3 doors down the other direction from the bar. Yes it is a smaller town.

Anyways. The rest of the night gets a little blurry after that, but the abridged version goes something like this. Beer, shot, beer, shot, beer, walk to next bar, beer, shot, beer, shot, beer, cram all of us into a passport photobooth and make funny faces, walk to another bar, beer, beer, walk to the civic center with more beers, go swimming, walk home make more foods and proceed to play drinking games until around 6 am. Honestly, I really don’t know when. Just that Michael went MIA with a handful of pistachios for a bit there. Welcome to Switzerland.