Great Days: Kloster Andechs Monastery Munich, Germany

Kloster Andechs Monastery Munich

On the final evening of my inaugural trip to Europe, I took a walking tour of Munich and afterwards ended up having a few beers with the gregarious leader of the tour. It was from this wise gentleman that I first heard the legend of the Kloster Andechs Monastery Munich, the holy hilltop beer beacon of the Bavarian countryside.

Sadly, It took me a few more trips to Munich and a handful of other enthusiastic recommendations to finally make the trip out to the Kloster Andechs Monastery. When I did, it proved to be well worth the wait, so don’t repeat my mistake.

Kloster Andechs has been a site of religious pilgrims for centuries as its gilded Baroque church is home to a small collection of revered relics. Most importantly for most of us though, the monastery is known the world over for brewing some of the best beer anywhere and when you visit in person, you get to enjoy it freshly brewed and in a simply stunning setting.

Kloster Andechs sits atop a hill in the rolling Bavarian countryside, placed between two serene lakes and within eye shot of the Alps. Once you make it up the hill, you get the chance to drink their famous beer fresh from oak barrels and enjoy plates of traditional Bavarian cuisine. You can even arrange tastings and private tours if you’re into that kind of thing. We ordered our beer and food and hung out in the biergarten, but there is also an inside portion in case the weather isn’t idyllic.

Kloster Andechs Monastery Munich

You could easily spend an entire day feasting at Andechs and surrounds, and that’s precisely what I recommend you do. It’s the perfect place to soak up some sun and suds and take a break from sightseeing in Munich. After all, you probably came to Bavaria to see some pretty onion-domed churches and drink some amazing beer, right? Well, you can do it all at Kloster Andechs.

Know Before You Go:

Kloster Andechs Monastery is open everyday from 10-8 except for major holidays. I recommend getting there early or late on a weekday to avoid the crowds though.

You can either drive from Munich (about 30 minutes but not really recommended due to the drinking), or take the S-Bahn S8 Line to its last stop called Herrsching and then walk a couple miles from the station (could be cool on a nice day) or take a bus from the Herrsching station to Andechs when you arrive. The second option will probably take you around an hour or so.

If you feel like making it a day and night of it, there are a small amount of rooms available to stay in at Kloster Andechs, but they go fast.

The beers the Kloster Andechs Monastery brews are: Export Dunkel, Doppelbock Dunkel, Weissbier Hell (my fave), Weissbier Dunkel, Vollbier Hell, Spezial Hell, Bergbock Hell, but they will also hook you up with a Radler or a beer with apple juice too.

To read more about their beer, the history behind the monastery, and how to book a room, check out their Official Site.

Photo Credits: 1,2

 

Should I Buy a Eurail Pass / European Rail Pass?

Should I buy a Eurail Pass/European Rail Pass?

From time to time, I get asked about various aspects of travelling in Europe. A ton of questions have to do with Oktoberfest, and I addressed the majority of those over here on my Oktoberfest post. A good percentage of the rest have to do with the Eurail pass and whether or not they are a good deal. And in the first of a series of posts on the subject, today I am going to address the broad over-arching question I usually receive, and that is simply: should I buy a Eurail pass/European rail pass when I go to Europe?

My answer is almost always yes. Why? Three words: First. Class. Freedom.

I’ve purchased a Eurail pass four times now, and what I’ve discovered in my experience is that if you are willing to do your research and plan every detail of your trip ahead of time, it can be slightly cheaper to buy point-to-point train tickets online instead of buying a Eurail pass.

So, why buy a Eurail pass then Scott? Well, because buying a Eurail pass buys you freedom, and you can’t put a price on freedom. A Eurail pass buys you freedom from lines at ticket counters, freedom from hustling to internet cafes to print up tickets, and most importantly, the freedom to change your plans if you see fit.

Don’t underestimate the importance of that last one.

Should I Buy a Eurail Pass / European Rail Pass?

If you oversleep for your train because you were out late partying (not that I would know or anything), you just catch the next one. If you hear about a cute medieval village overlooking a river from another traveler and decide to see it for yourself, you massage your plans to squeeze it in. If you’re travelling through Italy, and decide you want to hop off the train in Pisa and take a selfie with the Leaning Tower, you can just go for it without getting any grief from your purchased-ahead-of-time-plans.

The bottom line is having a Eurail pass frees you from having to make decisions between chasing your travel dreams and tossing money you have already spent out the train window.

Now I understand that a lot of people will have their European travel itinerary completely planned weeks and months in advance of their trip, and aren’t going to wander around Europe all willy-nilly. So, should they still get a pass? Yes, for two main reasons. First, even if you know the exact route you want to travel, do you really want to decide months ahead of time what time you want to head to the train station? Well, the cheap fares are going to be for specific train times only. The other huge thing about Eurail passes is that you get to ride in 1st class if you are over 26, and this small little perk is worth its weight in gold. It’s just a little thing, but it can make all the difference between a decent train ride and a great one. Trust me, there is nothing more relaxing then stretching out in a nearly-empty 1st class cabin watching the European countryside glide by.

Should I Buy a Eurail Pass / European Rail Pass?

For me, a good general rule is that if you plan on travelling by train on at least half of the days your going to be in Europe, it is more than worth it to buy a pass. For example, if you are planning on being in Europe for two weeks and your itinerary will have you travelling during 6-7 of them, just buy the pass instead of booking all those tickets ahead of time. Even if the pass costs a little more than buying them ahead of time, the freedom you have at your disposal and the first class experience you’ll receive more than makes up for it.

Any hardcore online breakdown I have ever seen of the costs of Eurail pass versus buying point-to-point tickets usually shows them around the same price in the end. But it’s the intangibles that make the Eurail pass worth it. Now of course there are all kinds of exceptions but this advice is meant mostly for people who want to see a few countries in one trip over a couple weeks or longer. If that’s you, then just buy a Eurail pass, and I’ll see you in the bar car.

Great Stays: Mountain Hostel Gimmelwald

mountain hostel gimmelwald

There is a philosophy of European travel that says the actual place you stay in doesn’t particularity matter all that much. It usually goes a little something like this: “I’m not going all the way to Europe to stay in my room, and since I plan on being out all day sightseeing, all I really need is just a place to crash”.

This can be true. Sometimes. Sometimes though, the places you stay end up being the sight that needs to be seen. Sometimes, you go home and tell people hings like “we stayed in the coolest place … “. Sometimes, the place you stay actually ends up making your trip.

The Mountain Hostel in Gimmelwald, Switzerland is one of these places.

Without a doubt one of the coolest hostels in all of Europe, The Mountain Hostel Gimmelwald offers a glimpse of what you probably envisioned when the idea of going to Switzerland first crossed your mind. Gimmelwald (not to be confused with nearby Grindelwald) is a tiny village nestled up in the mountains in the Bernese Oberland area of Switzerland, not far from Interlaken. You can only reach Gimmelwald by taking a mountain gondola, and that is part of the fun and part of what keeps the village a tad bit secluded from the world.

mountain hostel gimmelwald

You won’t find cars in Gimmelwald, but once up the mountain and inside the hostel, you will find a rustic and jovial atmosphere full of travelers from all over the globe and jaw-dropping views of the Alps.

During the day everyone goes out hiking, mountain-climbing, or lounging in flowery fields like a cow (ok, maybe that was just me), and then re-convenes to talk about the day’s alpine adventures over a beer or two at night.

The Mountain Hostel Gimmelwald isn’t the most glamorous place in the world as it is a dorm-only wooden chalet, but for what it lacks in luxury, it makes us for with character and, uh, VIEWS LIKE THIS from the bedrooms.

windowalps

Even if you aren’t quite up for the dorm-style summer-camp atmosphere at the Mountain Hostel, you can opt to stay at one of the handful of B&B’s in Gimmelwald instead. You will still get to experience some of the magic of the Mountain Hostel though as you’ll likely go there for a beer and a pizza as there isn’t really anywhere else to go out in Gimmelwald.

See you there.

Know Before You Go:

The Mountain Hostel is only open from mid-April until October 31st.  During the winter, it is available exclusively for private ski rentals.

Prices are pretty budget-friendly, at around 33 Swiss Francs per bed.

There are no supermarkets in Gimmelwald, but Murren is only a 40 minute hike away. Your best bet is to stock up on supplies in Interlaken on before you arrive.

Mountain Hostel Website

Official Gimmelwald site

Best Lesser Known Places in Europe

So, you’re planning a trip to Europe? Amazing. So where are you going to go when you get here? Obviously, you are legally required to go to London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and Florence. This is non-negotiable, and I am pretty sure if you even attempt skipping these places, the President of the EU will personally come to your hotel and kick you in the shins. Just joking, just joking, but these places do draw us in like moths to the flame, and for good reason too, because they are all amazing.

With this in mind, one of the best things you can do to ensure your European adventure is a fantastic one is balancing super famous places with slightly lesser known places in Europe. Doing this will make your trip more fun, more adventurous, and will probably end up saving you a few dollars in the process.

None of the following places are totally undiscovered hidden gems or anything like that, but they are slightly lesser known than some of their neighbors and will balance out the aforementioned heavy-hitters perfectly. You might receive a raised eyebrow or a blank stare when you tell people back home that you are going to some of these places, and you know what? That’s kind of half the fun.

lesser known places in Europe

Slovenia

Let’s face it, Slovenia and its capital Ljubljana are not blessed with the most charming names. In fact, I’d be willing to bet a local Union beer that this fact alone keeps many people from visiting. Well, that and a lack of familiarity with the country since Slovenia has only been independent since 1991. Judging Slovenia by her name or her youth is the utmost of silliness though as Slovenia is the setting for some of the most romantic scenes in all of Europe. Both Lake Bled (here we go again with the name thing) and Ljubljana’s castle-crowned Old Town are as close as it gets to a real-life fairytale. Seriously. In addition, the mountain scenery on display in their portion of the Alps rivals any in Switzerland or Austria.

Best bundled with: Italy (especially Venice), as Ljubljana is only a few hours away.

Official Slovenia Travel Site

 

lesser known places in Europe

The Harz

The Harz is a mountainous area of Northern Germany home to astounding natural beauty and quaint (sorry to have to use that word) half-timbered towns all wrapped in a cloak of fanciful folklore. Northern Germany’s highest peak, The Brocken, juts from the Harz, and its peak is rumored to be the home of witches. The word on the street is that a few of the Brothers Grimm tales were set in these hills too, so that’s kind of cool, too. If that stuff doesn’t impress you, just come for the hikes and scenic Harz Narrow Gauge Railway that takes you up into the mountains, and I’m sure you won’t regret a thing. I can personally vouch for the town of Goslar and its Gose beer as being the utmost of charming, but I’ve also heard (translate: read on the internet) good things about Quedlinburg.

Best bundled with: Berlin.

lesser known places in Europe

Portugal

Portugal is certainly no secret as everyone has heard of it and its name is pretty easy to pronounce. Its southern Algarve region is already huge among sun-loving Europeans, but there is no question its location in Europe keeps it off many non-Europeans’ trips to the continent. In reality though, Portugal’s spot is perfect to use as a jumping off point for exploring Spain, which pops up on many people’s must-see list.

The capital Lisbon oozes a dramatic history and the vistas and hilltop neighborhoods inside the city will have you reaching for your camera often. Taking a ride on Lisbon’s Tram 28 and listening to Fado music are both “pinch me” European experiences. Many people love Porto too, the riverside city in north Portugal famous for Port wine, and the string of fishing villages that dot the coastline in between Lisbon and Porto are a find as well.

Best bundled with: Spain, together, they make up the Iberian Peninsula and have always been connected culturally.

Official Portugal Travel Site

lesser known places in Europe

Romania

I think Romania is just simply a bit too far East for some people’s plans, but those who heed my advice and head there will be rewarded, I promise. The Transylvania region of Romania is as idyllic as they come with mountains, medieval towns, and castles carved into nearly every corner. Trust me, places like Brasov are the exact reason why you came to Europe in the first place. Other popular spots in the region are the gorgeous Sighisoara and Bran, where you can visit Dracula’s Castle or stay in a local mountain farmhouse like we did. The capital of Bucharest is worth seeing and I’ve heard intriguing things about the Maramures region too, but you could definitely be forgiven for not making it past the romance of Transylvania.

Best bundled with: Budapest.

Official Romania Travel Site

lesser known places in Europe

Luxembourg

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably always been a little curious about this country, so why not go there? Seeing Luxembourg makes for a great story to tell your friends and you may even end up liking the place too. Luxembourg is full of castles, beautiful rolling hills perfect for hiking, and banks who are more than willing to help you stash away some cash if the situation arises. The capital Luxembourg City is supposed to have some charm, but we stumbled into a beautiful little town in the north of the country called Clervaux (pictured above) and spent the night in a nearby castle, which I can personally vouch for being a great use of your time.

Best bundled with: Belgium, Netherlands, Cologne

Official Luxembourg Travel Site

lesser known places in Europe

Montenegro

A mountainous coastal country on the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro used to be part of Yugoslavia and then was tag-teamed with Serbia for a minute after Yugoslavia disintegrated. Montenegro is now fully independent and is located right next to Croatia on your map (and everyone else’s). For a small country, Montenegro punches well above its weight with jaw-dropping rugged natural beauty in places like Murtidor National Park and Tara River Canyon for those that like to get active, and sun-faded-walled towns of Budva and Kotor, for those whose ideas of getting active is flipping every hour to even out their tans. We spent a few weeks in Budva, and while it is a bit cheesy during peak summer season, the charms of the crumbling Old Town are undeniable. Seeing Kotor from above is without a doubt one of the most breathtaking scenes in all of Europe and the above pictured Perast looks great too. Please go to these two and tell me how great they are, because I only saw them from a bus.

Best bundled with: Croatia

Official Montenegro Tourism Site

lesser known places in Europe

Belgium

Squeezed between France and The Netherlands, Belgium is a well known place, but it still gets overlooked more than it should. Easy to cover due to its size and home to tons of pretty cities scattered through the three distinct regions, I think every trip to Europe should have a stop here. Brussels is the capital of the EU and is home to a quirky international vibe that kept us entertained for an entire month once. Places like Bruges & Ghent in Flanders (the Flemish speaking area historically linked to The Netherlands) are perennial contenders for the most picturesque canal city in Europe championship title, and the Ardennes region of Wallonia (French speaking Belgium) is full of gorgeous bite-sized towns like Dinant and Bouillon nestled on the banks of the meandering Meuse river.

Also, this place is a foodie and boozie dream come true home to world famous mussels, chocolate, waffles, fries (they invented them), and of course probably the best beer in the world available at every bar on the corner or Trappist brewery in the countryside.

Best bundled with: The Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France.

Official Belgium Travel Site

 

 

Photo Credits: 1,2,3

Best Places to Start a First Trip to Europe

Choosing where and what time of year to go on your first trip to Europe is tough. Choosing the literal first place you’ll visit is even tougher.

Deciding where to go first is a big decision because first impressions are huge and those initial days at your first stop on European soil will likely stick with you forever.

No pressure though, right?

It turns out that there are definitely some places that are better suited to be your first stop than others, and that’s what this post is all about.

With a continent so diverse, how do you decide where to go first? Well, first off, you’re going to want somewhere that will allow you ease into things. Translation: English is widely spoken and the vibe there isn’t too intense.

Next, the first place you go in Europe has to be quintessentially European. And what I mean by that is at some point in your first few days, you have to see or do something that just makes you stop, pinch yourself, and say “Whoa, I’m definitely in Europe now”.

So with all that in mind, I recommend that you start your trip in Western or Northern Europe and then take it from there.

And here are some places I think make great first stops:

first trip to europe

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When Is the Best Time to Go to Europe?

best time to go to Europe

When is the best time of year to go to Europe?

This is a question that comes up over and over and it is one of the biggest decisions that you’ll end up making about your trip to Europe.  Everything from the price of your flight to the length of lines you will wait in, the type of clothes you’ll pack and where you’ll eat lunch will be affected by the time of year you choose to go to Europe.

Why? Well, when demand is lower for hotel and hostel rooms, train tickets and flights, prices tend to drop. Unfortunately, when the demand is high, they go up. There is also the issue of the weather. When the weather is the slightest shade of nice, European cafes, parks and beaches spring to life, practically begging you to join in on the fun. When the weather is really cold or rainy, the action moves inside and sightseeing can be a bit of a chore.

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Where To Find The Best Mezcal in Oaxaca

When you think of liquors from Mexico, tequila is almost always the first one that springs to mind. You may love it, you may have had too much of it one night in College and hate it, but you still probably think of it first. Some may also think of creamy cool Kahlua, but nowadays there is another liquor vying for your attention from south of the border, and that liquor is Mezcal. Mezcal is an agave based liquor like tequila (and in fact tequila is a type of Mezcal, but that’s not important right now) and it’s been showing up on more and more trendy menus around the world lately and so when we arrived in Oaxaca, the de facto home of Mezcal, we just had to try it out at a few places around town. 

Here’s my pick for where to find the best Mezcal in Oaxaca.

best mezcal in oaxaca

La Casa De Mezcal – Flores Magón 209

This place is what you envision when you hear the word cantina. This is the kind of place to drink, drink some more, get rowdy, and maybe even get tossed out through the swinging doors. For this reason, we felt a bit intimidated standing outside, but once we went in, we felt very, very, welcome. The menu was extensive without being overwhelming and the place was a touch rough, but in a welcoming way. I asked the waiter what his favorite mezcal was, and he brought me one of those. He said it was “sauve”, which if you remember your 90’s pop music correctly, means “smooth”. It was indeed smooth and smoky and when followed up with a little orange, hit the spot. As with all mezcal, the move is to cooly sip it, not to do it as a shot.

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How To Save Money in Iceland

save money in iceland

Is Iceland expensive? Well, does an Icelandic horse pee on a glacier? Unfortunately, yes, yes it is expensive. The expense of Iceland is actually one reason it took Julia and I so long to get there, and it has been the subject of most questions I’ve received from readers since we visited. The more isolated places are, the more expensive they tend to be, and Iceland sure is Ice-so-lated (sorry, I had to). Fear not though, there are definitely some things you can do to save money in Iceland, and here are a few of them.

Go in Winter

I know it’s cold, and I know it’s wet, but winter in Iceland means low season in Iceland and therefore the time of year for the lowest hotel, tour, and flight prices. Plus, it also happens to be the high season for seeing the Northern Lights. To summarize, that means lower prices and livelier lights. That’s a perfect combination if you ask me. Plus, while some may think the lack of sunlight is daunting and depressing, I didn’t think it was that bad, and, in a way, it just adds to the mystique of the place in my opinion. I actually thought it was pretty cool how the sun didn’t come up until nearly 10 AM and then set at 3:30 PM in January. It was different, and that is why I came to Iceland in the first place.

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Oktoberfest Munich: How To Do It Right

oktoberfest munich

Since I’m always talking about how much I love Oktoberfest and the fact that I’ve been there a few times, I get e-mails every once in a while asking me questions about it. I figured it would be cool to respond to the most common questions that I get here in one post. So, if you are getting ready to go to Oktoberfest Munich for the very first time or had so many beers in previous visits that you don’t remember anything, this one’s for you.

When is Oktoberfest every year? There are no set dates for Oktoberfest. Like Mardi Gras and Easter, it changes every year. In 2015, it’s from September 19th to October 4th. Most years, it spans 16 days from the third Saturday in September through the first Sunday in October. There are some rare occasions it is extended by a day or two to tie in with German Reunification Day, but let’s not worry about that right now. The main thing to remember is that Oktoberfest is mostly in September not October and it includes three weekends. Speaking of those weekends …

What are the best days to go to Oktoberfest? Not the weekends. Going on a weekday is probably my number one bit of advice. Seriously, avoid the weekends at all costs. Why? well, it is undeniable that if you go to Oktoberfest, you are going to have a fantastic time with thousands of your closest friends, but there’s no need to make it millions. The weekends at Oktoberfest are a mega-mess of masses and I recommend just staying away. Plus, it feels good to be drinking beer at noon on a Monday or Tuesday when all your friends back home are at work. Oh yeah, If German Unity Day (October 3rd) falls on a weekday, avoid that like stale beer too.

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