The Return

Long train rides will inspire even the worst writer to put his or her thoughts on paper. In the midst of a 3-hour train to St. Moritz, one conversation with my traveling companions, Ryan and Courtny, gave me the urge to write about a subject that has nothing to do with Switzerland. No, I won’t be giving you details about the beauty of Lucerne or the majesty of the Swiss Alps. Instead, I am going to tell you about my favorite city yet—Cleveland, Ohio.

 

As I tried to explain to Ryan and Courtny the significance of LeBron returning to the Cavs (Courtny has heard it at least 5 times now), I realized that I can’t articulate it through the spoken word. I get too emotionally worked up. I make claims that if the Cavs win the NBA Finals, it will be the greatest sports story ever (not including things that are bigger than sports, i.e. defeating cancer and winning a championship or things of that nature). In terms of pure sports narrative, I stand by that statement, but as I sit here alone in my room, I can explain my argument for this bold claim. You may not agree with it, but at least you’ll see my perspective.

 

You think you know struggle?

 

1964. 27 years before I was born, Cleveland won a championship. Of course, considering the Super Bowl wasn’t even around, it puts a bit of an asterisk next to the NFL Championship that the Browns won. So let’s rewind a bit more to 1948—the last time the Indians won the World Series. Since then, Cleveland has endured more sports heartbreak than any other city in the country.

Sure, the Pirates had 21 straight losing seasons. But right down the road, the Steelers were collecting Super Bowl rings and the Penguins were parading down Boulevard of the Allies after the Stanley Cup.

Cubs fans want to bring up Bartman interfering with a foul ball? Please. It’s a foul ball. Sure, it may have been caught, but instead of blaming your shortstop for the error he had immediately following that incident, you choose to blame the diehard fan who did what 20 other fans were attempting to do. Go ahead and complain about your city’s sports “curse” as you stare at the six NBA trophies sitting in the Madhouse or watch highlights of the Blackhawks record-setting championship season.

Relax, Boston. The Curse of the Bambino is over, but even when the Red Sox were breaking your hearts, you had your GQ QB leading the Pats to numerous Super Bowls and the Celtics have had some of the best players of all time lead your city to championships.

So don’t try to tell me any city has struggled in sports the way Cleveland has—we’ve turned it into an art form.

 

Our Masterpieces

 

The Drive. The Fumble. The Catch. The Shot. Red Right 88. Those are just the heartbreaks with names. Willie Mays. John Elway. Michael Jordan. Jose Mesa. Those are some of the names synonymous with heartbreak. Heartbreak has become part of the sports culture in Cleveland, Ohio. I wasn’t alive for many of the Browns’ most devastating moments, so I’ll stick to the other two sports in Cleveland. Do you wonder why our fans are so passionate, yet hesitant to hope?

Go ahead and watch Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. One of the clearest memories I have of my childhood is watching that game, KNOWING we were about to win the World Series. This was the year. One of the greatest offensive lineups in the history of the game (seriously, look at the roster) and we were 3 outs away from bringing home the ring. Of course, had we gotten those 3 outs, I wouldn’t be typing this. Jose Freakin Mesa comes into the game and gives up the lead. Local good-guy Tony Fernandez lets a grounder to his left slip under his glove, and all of those champagne bottles in the Tribe locker room remained corked. For a moment, I was stunned. Then little 6-year-old Phil did what many Cleveland fans of all ages did—cried himself to sleep.

Before I move on to basketball, let’s skip forward to 2007 and 2013 for a brief moment. The Indians were the best team in the far-superior American League and had the matchups to beat Boston in the ALCS. When the Tribe took a 3-1 series lead, I remember hearing Mike Trivisonno claim that it was literally impossible for the Indians to blow this series. He was right. We had the two best pitchers in the game on the mound the next two nights. If C.C. Sabathia blew game 5, surely Fausto Carmona would carry us to a game 6 victory. Yet the Indians somehow blew it. The Red Sox predictably swept the Rockies in the World Series, Sabathia left for the Yankees, and Carmona lost all control of his two-seam before eventually being deported. No, seriously. His name wasn’t even Fausto Carmona and he was three years older than his documents claimed.

On to 2013. Everyone knows what a grind it is to even get to the playoffs in baseball. So Cleveland fans were ecstatic when it was announced that there would be two wild card teams and a one-game playoff to get to the divisional series. But in true Cleveland fashion, the Indians miraculously won ten straight games to earn the number 1 seed in the Wild Card Game (which I drove 3 hours to see). Before 2013, this would have meant a divisional series berth. Instead, we lost the first ever one-game playoff series to Tampa Bay. It’s not like we would have won the World Series or anything, but it still has to be mentioned.

 

Basketball Time

 

At the beginning of this blog, I mentioned how the Browns last won a title in ’64 and the Indians won in ’48. Do you want to know the last time the Cavs won a title? Well, truth be told, we never have. But as a 90’s kid, this didn’t affect my passion for the NBA. The 90’s were possibly the most entertaining era of NBA basketball ever. Rivalries meant fistfights. Every year there was a new contender, but the same champion. I’ll admit it—I was a Michael Jordan fan. I was also a Reggie Miller fan. They were conference rivals, but you had to respect the way they played the game. The passion of the NBA in the 90’s was unmatched.

 

2003 was supposed to be the rebirth of the NBA. Sure, it had Kobe, but the league needed a fresh batch of superstars. 2003 brought that. And the Cavs were getting the number 1 pick. Carmelo or LeBron? ‘Melo had just led Syracuse to a national title, but LeBron was the hometown hero who had it all. His sophomore year OF HIGH SCHOOL he was already gaining national attention. My sophomore year of high school I was competing with Boo Boo Rivera for the starting job at 2nd base on a .500 baseball team. LeBron was the real deal and everyone knew it.

 

The Draft

 

After the NBA Draft ping-pong ball lottery went our way, Cleveland fans sat anxiously as we awaited the announcement. We all knew it was coming, but it had to come out of David Stern’s mouth for us to celebrate. “With the first pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select LeBron James.” The crowd roars. Season tickets sell out and, suddenly, there was hope in Cleveland. It was hope that rested on the shoulders of an 18-year-old boy, but it was hope nonetheless. He was The Chosen One. King James. The Hometown Hero. It wasn’t going to be a quick process, but fans were just excited to have a fun team to watch and we hoped that eventually, LeBron would lead us to a championship.

 

Cleveland Rocks

 

The 2007 Eastern Conference Finals put the Cavs against a familiar foe—the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons saw a lot of success in that decade, making multiple NBA Finals appearances and proving that, with the right pieces, it was possible to win an NBA title without any true superstar. They were a group of hard-working, gritty individuals who played as one unit and stepped up when they needed to. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the way Detroit played the game. I also hated them. They knocked the Cavs out of the playoffs the year before, but now it was our turn. Detroit was good, but LeBron was better. In a memorable game 5, with the series tied 2-2, LeBron scored 29 of the Cavs’ final 30 points IN DETROIT to give us the overtime win and a 3-2 series lead.

Game 6 was all but guaranteed. Back in Cleveland, there was no way the Pistons would beat LeBron James and his crew. And you know what? For the first time in a long time, one of those “guaranteed wins” finally went Cleveland’s way. The Cavs ran the Pistons out of the gym as Daniel “Boobie” Gibson dropped 31 points and the Cavs were celebrating their way to the NBA Finals.

 

Spurred

 

Well, that ended quickly. LeBron was clearly out of gas and Gibson lost his shooting touch. Despite a few games that were closer than people remember, the Cavs were swept 4-0. Still, they had gotten over the hump—they made their first Finals appearance with more to come in the next few years.

 

Then Again, Maybe Not

 

Freakin Boston. They had just broken our hearts in the ALCS and now their basketball team was a contender. The Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the offseason to join Paul Pierce, and suddenly the Cavs had a much tougher nemesis than ever before. The two teams met in the Eastern Conference Semis. It was one of those series where we would go down, then come back and tie the series. We were constantly fighting back until finally, game 7 came. Despite 45 points from King James, the Cavs were eliminated from the 2008 playoffs. Maybe next year.

 

 

The Year

 

66-16. Number one seed in the playoffs. Best player in the world. This was the year. The Cavs steamrolled the Pistons and the Hawks on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals—they won all 8 of those games by 10 points or more. Up next was the Orlando Magic, who had somehow gotten past the dreaded Celtics. Talk about a break—not only were we rested, but we didn’t even have to play against the Big Three in Boston.

Game 1 was a fluke. LeBron scored 49 points but no one else showed up. It was probably just a case of finally facing a decent team trying to prove themselves on the road. The Magic got hot so we had to give them credit. Surely game 2 would be different.

Game 2 wasn’t any different. The Magic stayed hot and the Cavs were in danger of going down in the series 0-2 before traveling to Orlando. Then, it happened. Down by 2 with only a few seconds left, the Cavs inbounded the ball to the best player in the world. LeBron caught the pass, stepped back, and NAILED a fade away 3 to keep the Cavs hopes alive. Series tied 1-1. Season saved.

Unfortunately, Orlando never cooled off. They won game 3 on their home court, then won game 4 in a crucial overtime must-win scenario for Cleveland. The Cavs salvaged game 5, but the series would end in six as the Magic closed it out on their home court. Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis were just too much for the Cavs. Of course, both of them would end up playing horribly in the NBA Finals against the Lakers as Kobe got his easiest ring yet in 2009. That was supposed to be us.

 

Quitness

 

My memory of the 2010 playoffs is quite clouded. Normally I’m a detail-oriented person when it comes to sports, but there is one moment that will always stick out in my mind when I bring up the 2010 Cavs. Every Cleveland fan knows exactly what I’m talking about. The signs were there. LeBron was sick of carrying the team on his back. His effort against Boston in those final games wasn’t the killer attitude we expected of him. He looked disengaged. As much as we hated to admit it, he looked like he was ready for the offseason. Well, Boston was more than willing to send him to the offseason he desired. Then, as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Boston, LeBron started walking off the court while simultaneously taking off his jersey. In that moment I knew he was gone. There was no way he was coming back to Cleveland, and who could blame him? He had weak teammates surrounding him and a coach he didn’t get along with.

 

The Decision

 

Cleveland is a city of subtlety. People outside of Northeast Ohio wonder why we love Cleveland so much, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not a flashy place, and certainly isn’t on anyone’s bucket list. LeBron’s hour-long, self-centered, and downright ridiculous ESPN special was the complete opposite. His pink button down shirt was more fitting for a city like New York or maybe even Miami. Still, despite all of the signs, we remained hopeful.

 

“Taking my talents to South Beach”

 

It’s one of the most famous quotes in basketball history. It wasn’t enough to say he was going to play for Miami. He had to “take his talents” there. This was unlike anything we had ever seen before in Cleveland. This wasn’t the type of heartbreak that would leave 6-year-old Phil crying himself to sleep. This was temper tantrum material, people. 6-year-old Phil would have had tears of anger as his favorite athlete ditched his city on national television. Of course, 18-year-old Phil settled for swearing at the TV and burning a jersey in a bonfire. The city responded by immediately tearing down his building-sized mural downtown.

 

The Party, The Letter, The Cavericks, and The Rings

 

I know this blog is getting long, so I’m going to speed through the next couple of points. LeBron was already well on his way to becoming the most hated figure in Cleveland sports history (move over, Art Modell). Then he cemented that legacy when he arrived in Miami and made his “taking my talents” quote sound humble. He claimed it would be easy to win with that team. When asked about winning multiple titles, he responded with “not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7, not 8…”

Meanwhile, back in Cleveland, Dan Gilbert wrote an incredibly impulsive letter ripping on not only LeBron as a player, but as a person as well. He said things in that letter that every Cleveland fan was feeling at the time, so of course we all rallied behind him. Fast forward to the actual season.

The Heat rolled through the Eastern Conference and went on to play Dallas in the NBA Finals. They dominated game 1, and Cavs fans were already drinking their sorrows away as they watched their ex enjoy a level of happiness he never had in Cleveland.

Game 2 was more dominance from the Heat. I watched as Dallas got down by 5, then 10. “WADE FROM DOWNTOWN!” D-Wade’s corner 3 put Miami up by 15 with 7 minutes left. Dallas called a timeout as LeBron and Wade celebrated on the court by punching each other in the chest and gloating right in front of the Dallas bench. But Dallas crawled their way back into it as Cleveland fans everywhere were clinging to the hope of a championship evading LeBron James. That’s what it had come to. Behind Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki, The Mavericks (or the Cavericks as we called them) came back and tied the series at 1. The rest of the series went back and forth with plenty of heroics. As game 6 ended and Dallas won its title, it was the closest thing Cleveland had to a championship in a long time.

We mentally regrouped for next season, when the Cavs would once again be terrible but the season was a success as long as the Heat lost. That’s no way to live. At some point you have to let go. When the Heat won the finals in 2012, we finally started to let the hate ease away. The Heat won again in 2013, but that sting wasn’t nearly as bad. But 2014 had to be different.

 

Spurred Again

 

Cavs fans didn’t want the Heat to lose the 2014 NBA Finals. We NEEDED them to. Because if they lost to the Spurs, maybe, just maybe, LeBron would leave the Heat to come to a younger team like the Cavs. But no one foresaw the pure dominance of the Spurs. In a quick 5-game series, the Spurs won the NBA Finals with the biggest point differential in NBA history, and all of a sudden LeBron was back on the market.

 

We Have History

 

Twitter rumors spread like wildfire. Was LeBron actually considering leaving Miami? Could he really come back to Cleveland? There was no way. Josh Teplitz, a personal trainer in Cleveland, broke the story on Twitter that LeBron was definitely coming home. He and other “unreliable” social media sources claimed Dan Gilbert’s plane was heading to Miami to meet LeBron, which began a #PlaneWatch2014 craze. The national media thought we were crazy. We trusted a personal trainer and a parody Cleveland sports account for our information. Maybe we were a bit crazy. But we didn’t care. LeBron’s camp wasn’t squashing any of the rumors, so that was good enough for us. Plus, what Clevelander would be dumb enough to get the entire city worked up about a LeBron comeback if he wasn’t absolutely sure it was happening? This was potentially the biggest moment in Cleveland sports in the last 50 years. You think Bartman feared for his life after the Cubs lost in the playoffs? That is nothing compared to what Teplitz would have gone through if he turned out to be full of BS. Eventually, the national media caught on and started giving Cleveland a shot to land LeBron. Apparently our local sources weren’t as unreliable as people thought.

 

The Return

 

As we all know now, the rumors that were being spread on Twitter were 100% legitimate. Gilbert and LeBron met in private to settle the past. LeBron really did have a strong desire to come home, and he definitely wasn’t the same LeBron that had left 4 years ago. Finally, the announcement was made official on July 12th. It wasn’t on an ESPN special. Fittingly, the official announcement came on LeBron’s Twitter account, where he sent his followers a link to the Sports Illustrated article that had all of the details. The announcement was subtle. It was humble. The article emphasized hard work and loyalty. It was Cleveland.

 

Obviously getting LeBron back doesn’t mean Cleveland will win its first title in 50 years. It’s not going to be a quick process. We’re just happy to have a team that will be fun to watch and we hope that eventually, LeBron can lead us to a championship. Only this time our hope isn’t resting on the shoulders of an 18-year-old boy. This time, our hope rests on the shoulders of a 29-year-old man.

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I want to see mountains, Gandalf!

I quote Lord of the Rings a lot as it is, but if you throw me in a mountain town, you better be ready for a full movie recital. Ever since we booked our trip to Switzerland, Zermatt has been the place I have looked forward to the most. I love ski areas anyway, but if there is one mountain in the world I wanted to see in person, it was the Matterhorn.

 

Well, after going there, I can understand why it’s the most photographed mountain in the world. We arrived in Zermatt on a cloudy afternoon and the mountain couldn’t be seen from the town. But soon after our arrival, the skies began to clear up and suddenly the Matterhorn appeared. The first time seeing it in person was quite the awe-inspiring moment. Never had I seen a mountain that beautiful—its unique shape, towering height, the snow-covered peak… it was definitely one of the coolest sights of my life.

 

The Matterhorn summit

The Matterhorn summit

We spent the evening strolling around town and scavenging for food. As usual, the local market became our go-to, where I got a hummus sandwich. You may remember from my last blog that I ran out of hummus on the train the next day. Anyway, we headed back to the hostel (with a perfect view of the Matterhorn) and got ready for our big hike to the base camp.

 

The next morning we woke up with a somewhat clouded view of the Horn. Still, in a month that had seen rain or snow almost every day in Zermatt, we were just thankful to be dry. We headed off to the cable car station and took a nice, scenic ride up to Schwarsee, where the hike to the base camp started. I’ve gone on a good number of hikes in my life. But hiking through the towering hills of Chardon is slightly different than going to the Matterhorn base camp.

 

“An impossible labyrinth of razor sharp rocks! And after that, it gets even better!” –Gimli

 

The trek began with a steep incline up the first of many hills. It was quite rocky, hence the title of this section. Of course, the trail was pretty well-marked, so the whole “impossible labyrinth” portion doesn’t really apply. But I can’t control what Gimli says. If you don’t like Lord of the Rings then you have no idea what I’m talking about, so back to the hike!

 

Following a couple of hills, we were faced with a more mentally challenging section. If you don’t have a head for heights, this hike isn’t for you. This section of the trail was mostly along cliff edges—I know you are worried at home, but it was really quite safe. There were always a few meters of track before you would reach the cliff, but the view could still get a bit freaky if you let it get to you.

 

 “Up, up, up the stairs we go!” –Gollum

 

One particularly scary section of the trail was a staircase over the cliff. Don’t worry, there were railings and ropes to hold on to, and it gets less scary when you see other people make it to the other side alive. Of course, before we went up the stairs, I had to take a picture for you, just to freak you out a bit. Fortunately for me, Courtny was quite adamant on doing it, so we made it through the stairs (admittedly without ever looking down).

 

Yep. Pretty freaky

Yep. Pretty freaky

“But he was destroyed. Sauron was destroyed!” –Frodo

 

I don’t know how to make that quote work yet. Anyway, after the stairs, we continued our little climb along the mountain. As we got higher, it inevitably got a bit chillier, so we took a small break on a bench to eat protein bars and get a bit of H2O in our systems. We stood up rejuvenated and ready to finish our climb. To the camp!

 

The path got a bit snowier as we went on, but we were no longer along the cliff edges. The rest of the trek went rather smoothly as we came ever closer to the base camp. As we made our final ascent, we could see the cloud-covered Matterhorn suddenly much closer to us than it had been down in Zermatt. The base camp was covered in fresh snow and more was on the way as we stopped for a break. We went a little bit beyond the camp toward the Hornli Hut (the last place you can go without mountaineering equipment) but the conditions ahead were foggy and icy, so we decided to just stop and relax for a bit. I wish we could have seen more of the Matterhorn during our time up there, but the fog was so intense that we rarely got a great glimpse of the summit. At one point it cleared enough to see the peak (and it was incredible) but unfortunately that was right after I had put all of my camera equipment away.

 

See those white tents down and to the left? That's the base camp

See those white tents down and to the left? That’s the base camp

“Gandalf! We must get off the mountain!”—Boromir (RIP)

 

Ah, Boromir. What a tragic character. All he wanted was to secure the future of his people. But his ego, like so many men, led to his downfall… for more on Boromir, read the books.

 

As we turned around to head back, the fog was getting a bit thicker around the Matterhorn. We figured it probably wouldn’t clear up in time for us to see the mountain clearly again, so we began our descent.

 

“I always liked going south. It feels like you’re walking downhill.” –Treebeard

 

For the most part, the descent was quite easy. It’s also much quicker when you aren’t stopping for pictures and such. Obviously, we still had to be quite careful on the portions near the cliffs, but we made it down pretty quickly. We then began the long (and painful) hike back down to Zermatt.

 

“We should just take a cable car.” –Courtny and me

 

As we descended, Courtny and I quickly fell behind mostly due to her hiking shoes. They had been giving her blisters over the past couple of days, but she toughed out the Matterhorn hike. However, there was no way she could make it all the way down the mountain to town. So instead, we purposely (not really) took a wrong turn, setting us back a solid 45 minutes. From there, we strolled to the nearest cable car and rode it on down to town. Of course, we had no food and no water at this point with 30 minutes to run to the hostel and get to the train station. I went to the hostel and got our stuff, Courtny ran to the market and got us sandwiches (mine was hummus again), and the three of us ran to the train station and caught our train just in time. And that is why I was in such an exhausted (yet triumphant) state when I wrote my previous blog. Probably the same way Frodo felt after destroying the one ring. Exhausted, yet triumphant.

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Difficulty with transitions. Spoiler: as long as it’s a theme, it’s no longer bad writing. Just like an outrageously long title is acceptable because it’s my blog, and Eurallopeinmybusiness.

Well, folks, there’s a lot to be caught up on! I know, I know. That blog about Santorini was pretty great so your expectations for this one are probably through the roof. Well, time to be disappointed, friends. Look—transitions are hard. The climate change from Greece to Switzerland has Ryan popping more ibuprofen than Dwyane Wade after a knee workout. Courtny switched from flip flops to hiking shoes and the results have been less than ideal. Meanwhile, we’re sitting on a train from Zermatt to Geneva after a brutal (but awesome) hike. I am exhausted. I have two drops of water left and I’m all out of hummus. Insert transition here back to Greece here.

 

            So Ios was a good time. We were pretty exhausted from our sunrise trip to Ia the night before, but Courtny and I sucked it up and rented a double kayak in the afternoon. We went out to a beautiful bay area and only fought about mistimed paddle strokes 14 times. Insert transition here.

 

            Later that night we went on a group bar crawl, making it our first group activity since the first night in Athens. It was a good time, but we were ready to go to sleep after a few bars so we made our way back to the hotel. Insert transition here.

 

            Predictably, day two started off around noon. That is the schedule Courtny and I have become accustomed to at home, but on vacation we’ve been getting off to much earlier starts. However, after the intensity of Santorini and the kayaking on Ios, our poor little bodies were exhausted. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t take advantage of all of our time—the day started off with a boat excursion out to some caves, a private beach, and another cliff jump. This cliff jump wasn’t as high or as beautiful as the one in Amoudi Bay, but it was still a fun experience. Insert transition here.

 

            We watched an amazing sunset from the top of Chora, the main town in Ios. There was a classic Greek island church and a mountain with the sun dropping into the ocean in the background. Afterward, we went into town and found a nice little restaurant with the best sagnaki I’ve ever had. Admittedly, I had never tried sagnaki until I went to Greece. I don’t even know if that’s how you spell it, but it was delicious. Insert transition to Athens here.

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The sun setting on Ios. It’s super symbolic because our Greek Isles trip was nearing its end. So the sun is setting on our trip. That’s what I’m trying to say

 

            Athens was a lot of fun. We had a farewell dinner and wine (with a lot of extra that we poured into giant plastic bottles) and headed off to the hotel to hang out with our tour friends. Unfortunately, we had to catch a shuttle to the airport at 4 in the morning and didn’t get to bed until 3. So I got 20 minutes of sleep. On the bright side, falling asleep on the flight to Switzerland was incredibly easy. Now THAT’S a transition!

 

            We landed in Zurich on Sunday afternoon. We missed the memo that Switzerland is completely dead on Sundays. I mean, sure, most people in Chardon stay inside and watch football on Sundays. But if you walk uptown, you’ll at least see some cars going up and down the street. By the time we got to Zumikon, there was no humanity in sight. Have you ever seen I Am Legend? That was us. We were legend. To add to the effect, my GPS wasn’t working, so we had no clue how to get to Robin’s house. Fortunately, two lovely people walked by after about ten minutes and guided us to our destination. Robin’s family has been incredibly gracious in our time in Switzerland—the dinners have been amazing, the wine from their winery in Australia was delicious, and the beds… oh the beds. Insert transition to Lucerne here.

 

            Lucerne was the first city I’ve been to on this trip that felt like a traditional European city. The architecture was elegant and the churches were towering over everything. In a quick stroll around town, we saw all of the landmarks that we wanted to and made our way to the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Boom. Transition.

 

            The Lauterbrunnen Valley hostel we stayed at had a better view than most hotels I’ve seen. We got to overlook the whole valley from a balcony and I spent probably the first hour and a half just sitting on the bench looking out over the landscape. At night, Courtny and I (along with a couple of hostel buddies) braved the rain and walked to the biggest waterfall in the valley. There was actually a path leading behind it, so we took that well-marked (and quite wet) walk to see the waterfall from inside of the cliff walls. I have to say, my first time behind a waterfall was a pretty cool experience. After that though, it was time to head back and go to sleep.

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We walked behind that. It’s whatever

 

            Day two was much better in terms of weather. We could actually see to the end of the valley where there was a huge glacier towering over us. We went to the Trummelbach Falls—a series of waterfalls inside of caves. We got soaked but the sheer power of the water was awesome. If anything, my time in Lauterbrunnen Valley convinced me there’s no way Kuzco and Pacha survive that waterfall in The Emperor’s New Groove. Water is powerful stuff, people. Insert transition to Zermatt here.

 

This movie is unrealistic

This movie is unrealistic

            Actually, we’re gonna hold off on Zermatt. It deserves its own blog. Boom. Transition.

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Picture Perfect

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. The heart beats in the background while the clock tells you time is almost up. No, I’m not the next Edgar Allen Poe (thank goodness) nor is this some twisted trap from any one of the 30 Saw movies. Spoiler alert: literally every single one of those movies is the same. No… the clock and heartbeat can only mean one thing in my mind—24. Bauer Hour. It’s one of the most innovative shows of the generation. After all, there is nothing quite like being against the clock.

 

Backstory Part 1

The following took place between 6 PM and 2 AM. Events occurred in real time.

 

           After months of planning, we had finally arrived at the place we all wanted to see—Santorini. It was number one on Courtny’s bucket list, so that means it had to be flawless. With only 40 hours on the island, there was no time for mistakes. It was go time. Instead of heading out to dinner somewhere, we decided to take a taxi to the Akrotiri Lighthouse. I had found this lighthouse after weeks of researching the island during my military history class at school. Based on the pictures and descriptions, it had all of the beauty of the famous Oia sunset without all of the crowds. We got to the lighthouse and hiked up the mountain just in time to watch the sun begin its trip down over the sea. The view was nothing short of amazing. It was just the three of us on the peak of the mountain, with a few more people on the cliffs below. Of course, a picture can’t do this place justice, but it’s the best I can do for you. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

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 (Commercial break that we’ll skip)

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. When we had finished staring into the distance in awe of what we had just witnessed, we began to realize how hungry we were. Akrotiri is a small town without many places to go—it is not the type of place you’d see on a post card of Santorini. But it is cheap. We went to the first restaurant we could and paid a total of 40 euros. With that money, we had salads, huge entrees, and a lot of wine. At one euro per glass, Santorini wine becomes a lot like potato chips—you can’t just have one.

 

           After dinner, we grabbed a taxi back into town to get ready for the next day. We had a lot to accomplish and a short time to do it. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

 

Backstory Part 2

 The following took place between 2 AM and 9 AM. Events occurred in real time.

              We slept. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

 

The Big Day

 The following took place between 9 AM and 1 PM. Events occurred in real time.

 

            We departed our hotel determined to have the best day ever. We started off in the capital of the island, Fira. It is one of the many famous towns built right on the caldera and it is loaded with plenty of shops and cafes to spend your time. We found a great little wine store that was willing to ship to the United States, so we had to take advantage. Here’s the thing with those places, though. Even if you are guaranteed to purchase something, they still drag you around the rest of the store to try to milk you for all you’re worth. Of course, this type of thing could happen in worse places than a wine store—by the time we were finished there, we had probably sampled 15 different drinks for free. Still, the whole process took way too long and now we were looking at a much shorter period of time exploring the island. We got on a bus to Oia knowing that we likely would not be able to hit any of the other places we had planned on before getting ready for dinner. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

 

Tears of Joy

 The following took place between 1 PM and 7 PM. Events occurred in real time.

 

            As we unloaded from the bus into Oia, it was clear that this was going to be a special experience. We have all seen the pictures—the blue-domed buildings, the terrifying cliffs, the little shops in the narrow streets—but no pictures can compare to the actual experience of see Oia for the first time. We winded our way through the shops and streets with no real sense of direction. No one really talked to each other because of how amazed we were that we were finally here. Walking down those cliffs next to all of the hotels and houses was one of the best experiences of my life and something I’ll never forget. At one point I turned to Courtny and saw a few tears coming down her cheek. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Not the best picture, but I'm in a rush at the airport!

Not the best picture, but I’m in a rush at the airport!

 

(More commercials. One of them is Viagra and everyone has that same conversation about the awkwardness of the separate bathtubs on the mountaintop)

 

            We explored town for a couple of hours, stopping every once in a while to take pictures for all of you to see. You’re welcome. But as time ticked away, we knew we had to get back to the hotel if we wanted to make it to our dinner on time. We had been planning this super romantic date for months, so the last thing we wanted was to miss our reservation. Unfortunately, due to time shortages, we wouldn’t be able to do the hike from Fira to Oia at all, but at least Ryan could. I had found this hike a few months ago and from everything Ryan has said, it wasn’t a letdown. We began hiking to the bus stop and kept passing signs pointing to Amoudi Bay. The Bay was one of the areas I had wanted to see the most on the island but I knew we would really be pushing for time if we went. But as we got closer to the bus stop, that oh-so-familiar YOISO (you’re only in Santorini once) feeling took over Courtny. She told me we should try to get to the Bay and do the Amoudi cliff jump before heading back, so that’s exactly what we did. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

 

(And now we see the Geico commercial as everyone quotes it word for word. You know the one. Hump Dayyyyyyyyy)

 

            The walk down was a few kilometers, but it’s easy to walk around when you are overlooking the sea from a cliff top. When we finally rounded the corner to see the Bay, we knew we had made the right choice. Red cliffs towered above us and Oia sat on top of them. Amoudi was filled with beautiful little cafes and restaurants that I would have loved to visit if we had the time. But we had a mission to accomplish. After strolling through the restaurant area, we climbed across a rocky path and reached the drop off point. From there, we had to swim to the cliff. Fortunately, the waters around these islands is so calm and clear that swimming isn’t even tiring. We climbed up to the jumping spot—it is rather well marked and there were others doing it so we knew exactly where to climb. The jump itself was roughly 25 feet of pure adrenaline. The water was great to land in as well—with plenty of depth, there was no risk of hitting rocks below. After doing it once, Courtny and I couldn’t get enough of it. I did it 4 times and she did it 3, but we would have kept going if we had the time to. Unfortunately, the clock wasn’t stopping for us. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Here I am landing in the water after the first cliff jump of the trip! Possibly my favorite activity of the islands.

Here I am landing in the water after the first cliff jump of the trip! Possibly my favorite activity of the islands.

 

(Stupid fast food commercial that makes you crave food you know you shouldn’t be eating this late)

 

            We hustled back up the road and got on a bus back to Fira, about a 15-minute walk from the hotel. After arriving in Fira, we realized that Courtny would need to get ready in record time if we were going to make this dinner. As we speed-walked back to the hotel, a young man on a skate board lost his hat. We didn’t want to see a truck tear up his hat, so we grabbed it for him and gave it back. Our kindness didn’t go unpaid—soon after the same guy gave us a ride back to the hotel, getting us back 10 minutes earlier than we thought we would. When it comes to Courtny being on time, 10 minutes can make a huge difference. She hurried and got ready while I waited. Forty minutes before the reservation, both of us were looking snazzy and set to go. We went to the front desk to call a taxi… And none were available. Time to try the bus. With all of the stops on the way to Oia, there was no time to lose. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

 

Dinner and a Ring for Courtny

 

The following took place between 7 PM and 12 AM. Events occurred in real time.

 

            Relax, people. It’s not an engagement ring. Being a part-time manager at King Kone doesn’t pay for that (even though I get a healthy amount of tips). Ok now that we have that out of the way… The time quickly disappeared as we sat in traffic on the way from Fira to Oia. By the time we got there, we were already 15 minutes late for the reservation. The tiny streets no longer looked beautiful and romantic. It was like we were mice in a colorful maze; yes, it was cool to look at, but we just wanted the cheese. We got to Feredini Restaurant at 7:20. Fortunately, no one else had a reservation until 8:00 so they were still holding our balcony table. You have all seen the picture of us at our table (I felt like a pregnant woman with how many social media likes I was getting). It’s safe to say it was the best date Courtny and I ever went on. After dinner we walked around the area at our own pace, looking in the stores for something that I could buy Courtny. Fortunately, we both liked the same item more than all the others, so we left Oia that night with a little bit more jewelry than we had come with. Eventually, we made our way back to the hotel after some post-dinner gelato. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

 

The famous picture...

The famous picture…

The Road People Take Less Often Than The Main Road

 

The following took place between 12 AM and 9 AM. Events occurred in real time.

 

            Yep, this section has a totally original title. It was not inspired by a famous poem whatsoever. We arrived back to the hotel exhausted from a long day on the island. As we got ready for bed, though, we knew what we had to do—head back to Oia at 4:45 in the morning to watch the sun come up over the town. So at 2:00 we went to bed for a quick nap. We woke up at 4, got ready, called a cab and got to Oia by 5. We waited on the cliffs for the sunrise, basically by ourselves. Compared to the masses of people that head into town for the sunset, the sunrise was beautifully calm. The actual town was completely empty, so Courtny and I got to see all of its beauty by ourselves. The actual sunrise made the whole process worth it. Words can’t describe the beauty of the golden sun slowly ascending over the cliffs, eventually touching its rays to the blue and white-domed buildings of the most picturesque town in the world. Ok so words can’t describe the experience but I feel like I gave it a good effort. After the sunrise, we grabbed the first bus of the day back into Fira. We stopped in a couple of stores before going back to the hotel. We got back at 9:00 and had just enough time to take a power nap before we departed for the island of Ios. Mission accomplished. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

One of many shots I took from the sunrise

One of many shots I took from the sunrise

 

            Ok so Jack Bauer’s escapades are a bit more risky than my own. But he’s also trained for saving the world. Me? I just trained to travel to the best spots on Santorini. And even though most of the time your travels won’t go the way you planned (like getting fooled into thinking you lost a wallet when it’s in your camera bag), there are times that exceed every expectation you had. Our day and a half on Santorini was one of those times.

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Mykonos? Mykoyes Please

The Office is incredible. Not only does it give you a knack for turning anything into a “That’s What She Said” joke, but it also gives you the ability to create terrible puns (hence today’s blog title). As many of you know, Courtny and I went Netflix-crazy this year and watched the whole series in about six months. I know some of you questioned whether our relationship could last after The Office ended. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous as well.

 

The ferry to Mykonos was a bit of an experience. After a sleep-deprived couple of days in airplanes and Athens (which would make a great album name for any of you musicians out there), there was no way we were making it through a 6-hour boat ride without snoozing. Thankfully, almost the whole room was our group, so taking a nap didn’t feel quite as risky. So, with our bags locked and secured under our seats and our important items safely hidden on our bodies, we slowly lost the battle with sleep and dozed off.

 

We slept for an hour or so when Ryan woke me up with the news everyone dreads in Europe—his wallet was gone. We frantically searched through his bags and it was nowhere to be found. So with five hours left on the ferry, he had to find a way to contact his bank. A bit later, everyone started to wake up and we began compiling a suspect list. Of course, no one really knows what to do when you find someone you think is a picker of pockets, but we wanted to bust this guy anyway.

 

Oftentimes, thieves will use spotters or distractors to, well, spot or distract. Not long after waking up, a shady looking young man—about 5’7, 165 pounds—walked through the room and seemed to be avoiding Ryan. And I know you’re over there saying, “Really Phil? He’s shady? You’re 5’7 too.” I understand the logic, but this guy had facial hair. After monitoring him for a few minutes, though, he checked out clean. Our next suspect seemed far more likely. Some kid that was probably around 12 years old kept strolling in and out of our room. At one point, he spotted an iPod, stopped, looked around, and kept going. Naturally, we followed him out and we saw him sitting with two older brothers, presumably telling them the location of the iPod—just like the punk probably did when he spotted Ryan putting away his wallet. I stopped, chatted with the young men, and remained convinced that they were the ones with Ryan’s wallet. So I got our tour guide, Georgios, and he went out and questioned them. Of course, there was nothing we could really do—they said they had nothing to do with it, and IF they were telling the truth and we started patting them down or fighting, then that’s a whole new world of problems. So we had no choice but to let the dream team of thieves go.

 

Of course, they ended up being totally innocent… Just a few kids from Denmark looking to have a good time. Meanwhile, after deactivating all of his cards, Ryan found his wallet in the bottom of his camera bag. So that happened.

 

Once on Mykonos, we had a ton of fun. It was beautifully windy both days we were there. We started off the island adventures by going to a small beach a few kilometers from the hotel. Now that I’m in Europe I am speaking with kilometers just to be cool. After a beautiful hike up from the beach, we came back and got ready for dinner. The dinner we had was incredible—it was right on the water, the food was delicious, and we got a free dessert before going on a night walk around Platys Gialos. Walking around the island with the breeze coming off the sea was easily one of the most beautiful walks I’ve ever taken.

 

But the highlight of our time on Mykonos was definitely the morning trip we took to the small island of Delos. Delos is a small island that is just a short ferry ride away from Mykonos. It was a sacred place to the ancient Greeks and many of the ruins are still in great shape. The tour was incredible, but they best part was the free time we had after. Instead of going to the museum, we hiked up the highest mountain on Delos and got a beautiful 360-degree view of the island and water.

 

Later in the day, we skipped out on Paradise Beach, mostly because our research earlier in the year (and our taxi driver) told us Psarou Beach was the best spot on the island. It was my favorite beach I’ve been to in my life—the water was crystal clear, the waves were non-existent, and there was no danger of creatures coming and gobbling us up. We finished the evening by watching the sunset by the windmills (unfortunately all batteries were dead, so we just have a tiny bit of GoPro footage of this). After finally showering back at the hotel, Courtny and I decided to suck it up and head out to the bars in Mykonos. After strolling around Little Venice, we settled on a spot right over the water to get a drink. The service was incredible—we both got one cheap drink and chatted with the bartenders while we sat on the balcony. In exchange for a good review on Tripadvisor, they gave us two free shots and said drinks were on the house if we came back the next night. Unfortunately, we are about to leave for Santorini. In fact, I should probably be getting off of here right now.

 

Oh, remember that reference to The Office at the beginning? Well one of Michael Scott’s alter-egos is a Greek man named Mykonos. That’s the connection. I know that took a long time, but it was totally worth it. That’s what she said.

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Time to get you caught up

Before I begin writing about the various adventures Ryan, Courtny and I will be going on over the next few weeks, I have to give a few shoutouts. First, shoutout to everyone’s favorite Southside buddy, Jess Shannon, for coming up with the name of my blog. Next, shoutout to Benedryl for working its usual magic on the flight over the Atlantic. Lastly, shoutout to LeBron James—this trip will be much less stressful without the emotional and mental weight of free agency bringing me down. Welcome back to Cleveland, LeBrodigal Son.

 

            And that is where my journey began. Well, technically it began in Chardon, but for the sake of transitions, we’ll say it started off in Cleveland. And while the trip from Cleveland to Athens has been exhausting, nothing too crazy has happened, for which I am incredibly grateful. It was a bit humorous when Courtny and the fam were getting nervous as we frantically searched for her locks 4 hours before the flight. If you have ever flown with my sister, Julie, you will know why I was more confused as to why we were anywhere near ready to leave for the airport at that point. Of course, we made it in plenty of time and took of from Pittsburgh to begin our journey. Instead of boring you with details of the Alitalia in flight meals (and the freight train nature of the flight attendants when they push the carts), I will give you a brief history of how we ended up booking a trip to Greece and tell you of our journeys in Athens.

 

            It all began after my passport lost its stamp virginity in 2012. After a brutal 5-hour flight to LA, I popped my trusty Benedryl and slept for 11 of the 12 hours to New Zealand. In a whirlwind 10 days, Julie and I explored the countryside like the hobbits we are. That trip opened my eyes to how much I wanted to see different areas of the world.

 

            Let’s go to November of 2013. Like anyone who lives in Northeast Ohio, I spent many of those cold days indoors, looking at pictures of beaches just to keep my heart warm. Then on an especially bitter Monday night over Thanksgiving Break, Ryan and I did what any two college dudes would do when there were no classes the next day—drank white wine, watched Planet Earth, and decided to go on a tour to the Greek Isles. It wasn’t hard to convince Courtny to come along—just a few days earlier she was saying how badly she wanted to go to Santorini.

 

            After an agonizing 7-month wait, we arrived in Athens, Greece. I’m not going to lie—first impressions were not great. I was already wary of Athens before the trip, but I was still surprised by the number of tagged buildings and run-down apartments. Our first night, however, fully made up for the drive through the slums. We went to a great little hole-in-the-wall bar, had one of the best mojitos of our lives, and then spent the evening exploring the well-developed areas of the city. These spots—the rooftop bars, the shopping centers, the ancient ruins lit up for all to see—make visiting Athens completely worth it.

 

            After catching the metro back to the hotel, it was time to head to sleep and get ready for day two. Hopefully my writing is much more interesting when I describe day two to you, but I’m not sure. I know you’re all super hyped about this blog, but you have to understand that I’ve had 10 hours of sleep over the last 3 days (with a solid 4 more hours coming tonight). Plus it’s tough to focus on blogging when you are about to go to some of the most beautiful islands in the world. But here I am… On to day two!

 

            This morning we woke up at 7:30 to head to the Acropolis. Not surprisingly, Courtny and I almost missed the bus. Once we got on, we went and saw Athens’ version of the changing of the guard, which was a bit goofier and not nearly as impressive as the same event in Washington, DC. They had these weird slipper things on with big furry balls (for lack of a better term… more furry ball jokes will come later in the week).

 

            We then headed to the Olympic stadium, which was predictably awesome. But the main event was of course the hike up to the Acropolis. It is a truly incredible place and the city looks absolutely stunning from that high up. Instead of seeing graffiti and dirty apartments, we could only make out the beautiful rooftops and the stunning coastline. Our tour guide, Georgios, took us at the right time of day as well. There were plenty of people there, but it was nothing compared to the masses of tourists that would make their way up in the early afternoon.

 

            The rest of the day was spent exploring the various ruins downtown. There are plenty of ridiculous pictures that will be posted once the trip is over. A lot of them include me doing the LeBron pregame pose, as a way of welcoming him back to the 216. That’s right, ladies and gentleman—I don’t care how tired I get, I can still bring this thing full-circle.

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