November Travels: London, Oslo, Honolulu, and More

On Sunday, November 1, I flew back to Europe, landing at Heathrow on Monday morning. Zipped into town on the Tube.

Canary Wharf, London's newer financial district, on approach to Heathrow Airport

As I often did in the years when American landed at Gatwick, I rode in while listening to the Beatles on my iPhone. It always fit – and did that day when “Love Is All You Need,” accompanied an older couple smooching next to me. Nice!

Ambled a block from the Gloucester Road station to my hotel, the Grange Strathmore. It was before ten and no rooms were ready, but the wait was not long (proof once again of the wisdom of being nice to front-desk staff, in this case a young guy from some new EU member in Eastern Europe). Unlike the June visit, the room was actually of reasonable size. I showered, changed clothes, and zipped back to the Tube, pausing to buy – as I always do in November in the UK – a remembrance poppy to benefit war veterans. I rode to Piccadilly, and walked south on Regent Street and west to Trafalgar Square.First stop was a yak with a Korean War vet selling poppies, a nice T-t-S moment, then into St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, where organ rehearsal was underway.

Detail, St. Martin-in-the-Fields

I had not been in the National Gallery in more than a decade. A huge collection must be reduced given limited time, so I made fast for my favorite European school, Dutch painting from the 17th Century. Two aspects attract: the light in the skies and on clouds (what Sir Kenneth Clark called “the light of experience”), and the comfort of ordinary domestic scenes – inside a pub, in the barnyard, on a frozen canal. Great stuff. Grabbed lunch at Pret a Manger (McDonald’s wildly successful fresh-sandwich shops), then crossed the street to the National Portrait Gallery.

I had never been there, and whoa, it was awesome. An amble through the history of the island, through the faces and bodies of its prominent citizens. For example, Edward Jenner, a West Country surgeon (1749-1823) who created smallpox vaccine after noticing that milkmaids and others who worked around cattle seldom contracted the disease. By 1853, vaccination was compulsory in Britain. Elsewhere, I admired portraits of Paul McCartney, James Watt, Queen Victoria, Salman Rushdie, and many others. Best of show, though, was an informal scene of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth I, and daughters Princess (now Queen) Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The work was completed 1950, and showed them having a cup of tea. The sense of them as more or less regular folks was striking.

George Washington, American Rebel, Trafalgar Square

At three I met aviation consultant Chris Tarry, a friend of a friend, for a cup of coffee and a brief chat, then headed north to the British Library, to see an exhibit on the origins of photography in the 19th Century, very c ool and very well presented. As on previous visits – I have lately been gravitating to the library – I admired a set of quotations on signs as you approach the entrance, all about learning and life, from sages like Samuel Johnson (“”Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”); and this gem from Nigerian musician and activist Babatunde Olatunji: “Today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”

At six, I met Robin’s old pal Scott Sage (who I see a lot when in London) for a pint or two of stout at the Porterhouse Brewery in Covent Garden. We had a good yak and some laughs. I peeled off for dinner, my second visit in as many London trips to Masala Zone, a small chain offering somewhat formulaic but really savory Indian thalis, a varied meal of small dishes served on a metal platter. As I had done in June, I asked the (Polish) waitress for extra green chilies, and she said “Wow!” when I showed the empty bowl that had the three little devils. “I’m from Texas, a land of spice,” I declared with customary pride. Headed back to the hotel, called home, and clocked out.

Up early the next day, new theory that I get more tired out on day two so will sleep better. Stay tuned! After breakfast, I took a brisk walk, then ambled over to Imperial College about ten. Met host Omar Merlo and jumped into an MBA intro to marketing course, with a bright and very engaged group of 70 students from all over. Very diverse bunch. We had lunch halfway through, and got caught up (I last saw Omar in June, when I visited Imperial the first time). Finished the talk at 2:15 to loud and long applause and again had that “like a rock star” feeling. Way fun. Rolled my suitcase south on Exhibition Road, hopped the Tube, and headed to Heathrow.

I was bound for Oslo, and the SAS flight looked (in our system at least) to be quite full. I needed to get there, so several days earlier I e-mailed one of my long-distance mentees, Peter Gabrielson from the Stockholm School of Economics, to ask him to ask his SAS-flight-attendant-mom Majvor if SAS allows airline staff to ride in jumpseats if the flight is full. Not only did Mrs. G. provide the answer, she tracked down the purser for the flight, Bente, and e-mailed her that I was on the way. Too nice, and further proof of the solidarity that has long existed in our business. Happily, I got a real seat, 27E. When I boarded, I introduced myself to Bente as “the troublemaker from the U.S. who has prompted all the e-mails.” She laughed, welcomed me on board, and even brought me a split of free Merlot halfway through the flight.

We landed about 8:30. The first impression of Norway, from the airport, is whoa, these folks have a lot of money (and they do, from being the 7th largest oil producer in the world). Hopped on the 9:08 NSB train to Oslo, then a subway to Nydalen, the station less than 200 feet from my digs at the Radisson Blu hotel.

Escalator, Nydalen subway station, Oslo

This one was a lot nicer than either the Radisson by USC or the Grange Strathmore in London. I worked my e-mail and clocked out. The breakfast buffet the next morning was abundant, and having missed dinner the night before, I loaded up, then headed out for a morning of sightseeing. I had been to Oslo only once before, in 1994, and I wanted to return to one of the coolest spaces on earth the park filled with sculptures by Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). Between 1906 and the year before his death, he created 212 human likenesses from bronze and gray granite and installed them in this wonderful large green park a few kilometers northwest of central Oslo. To describe them as human likenesses does not get it at all right. The sculptures depict our journey through life, from birth to old age, and their bodies and faces encompass a broad spectrum of emotion: the joy of parenthood; the thrill of running a footrace as kids; the awe children show toward grandparents; lots of love between men and women; and the most poignant of all, a dozen or more renditions of the sadness and grief that accompanies us at the end of life.

Indeed, the several that depict elderly consoling each other would prompt a tear in the most stoic among us (so you can imagine how your softie-correspondent reacted!). Walking back to the #19 streetcar, I marveled, and reckoned that few people-made spaces on earth are as evocative as that. Just an amazing place.

I rode the tram down to the water, arriving in time to see the #601 ferry to pull in with a couple hundred commuters (I’ve always liked the idea of getting to work on a boat). A ride around the harbor on that boat was tempting, and included in my $11 public-transport day ticket. Given the Norwegians’ long seafaring tradition, it fit, but would have taken a bit too long, so I instead ambled around the compact downtown.

Awash in resources from their offshore oil fields, the Norwegians are remaking the capital

I paused to admire Stortinget, the Norwegian Parliament (the word means “big thing,” which somehow fits a place full of politicos!).

Oslo is not a big place, and you can cover a lot of distance quickly. Rode a couple more streetcars for a look-see, and headed back to the hotel. My impression from the morning was like the night before: the place was awash in wealth, with renovation and new construction and infrastructure investment in every direction (I read that the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund was the second-largest in the world.)

Faculty of Law, University of Oslo

At noon I met Tor Andreassen, my host from the Norwegian School of Management (and a friend of fellow Norsk Jan Heide from Madison). We ate lunch and got to know each other, instantly hitting it off. We walked across the street to the school’s stunning – and huge – new building, opened a few years earlier. Although Norway is a small country, it’s one of the biggest business schools in Europe.

The ultramodern Oslo campus of BI, the Norwegian School of Management

I met a few marketing profs, then delivered a long talk to a Master’s class, bright but younger and less diverse than the class the day before in London. It was the last day of class; my job way to end it on a high note, and I think I succeeded. It was great fun.

Tor, his South-Dakota-Norwegian colleague Erik Olsen, and I had a wonderful dinner at Lofoten, a fish restaurant right on the water in central Oslo, me opting for my Nordic favorite of Arctic Char. Yum. (Just to scale the cost of living there, the brownie and scoop of caramel-ginger ice cream was $18. Yow!).

Up at six on Thursday the 5th, another big breakfast, and back out to the airport. The train was packed, the airport was packed, the flight to Milan was packed. They have money. It was a good day to fly south, because the land was already dusted with an inch of snow!

We landed at Malpensa at 12:30. I hopped on the train into the city (it’s another airport far from town, 30 miles). A kindly man across from me reminded me that the Italians were my people, well a quarter of me, and I opened my iPhone to the pictures of great-grandparents Enrico and Cesira, who emigrated from the north of Italy to Chicago in the 1880s.

Office furniture showroom, Corso Garibaldi, Milan

Downtown, I caught the #2 subway two stops, then vectored north-northeast on foot along Corso Garibaldi to Princi, a bakery and simple eatery I read about in The New York Times. Their slogan translates as “in the name of bread,” and my thick-crust pizza slices (sold by weight), one ham and one zucchini, were truly wonderful. Even better was the friendly clerk, who I got to know a bit, the day’s T-t-S episode. From the start I could tell she was a happy person. I subsequently learned that she has an uncle in Houston; moved to Milan from Sicily when she was five; and that she would like to move to America: “Will you take my colleague Monica and I back with you?” It was a sweet moment. Along the way, I told her why I was in Europe, and about Enrico and Cesira. I showed them the 1917 family photo, and she said “I love this picture.” In turn, I asked to take a photo of Monica and her, but Monica said the Princi owners do not allow photos. “Fear of spies?” I asked, and they smiled.

It was a lovely way to refuel and recharge.

A sort of Italian still life: pear tart, latte, and a photo of Enrico and Cesira Frediani, my great-grandparents; I wanted to show the young women behind the counter a little of my roots, handy on my iPhone!

I ambled around a bit, then hopped the Metro to the main station, then a 5:10 train north to Lugano, just across the border in Ticino, the Italian canton of Switzerland. Third country, and third currency, in one day. But before I could get there, I had to sit through an hour in the Bozo Coach, facing a guy who kept hitting me with his foot, and the guy next to him, who picked his nose rather too much for my liking. I was sort of sorry I sprang for a first-class seat. My seatmates in steerage might have been more respectful.

Happy to be off the Bozo Coach, I muttered to myself as I ambled along the platform at Lugano. People gave me space! I rolled my suitcase down the hill to the Hotel Ceresio, which I found online. My host did not arrange a hotel, so I booked the place, which turned out as expected: a somewhat worn commercial hotel (three stars, questionable!), but with the right price and a location a few blocks from the university. As proof of their sleepiness, they offered no internet access, even for a fee. Checked in, changed clothes, and headed into the center with my iPhone as a sort of Geiger counter, searching for a free and unsecured wi-fi signal. Eureka! I found one just outside a bar, so I hung for 15 minutes, working my in-box to zero (had the signal belonged to the bar, I would have bought a beer from them). I was not too hungry, given my late and filling lunch at Princi, so I settled on a simple plate of spaghetti (no meat, nothing else) and a beer, almost 25 bucks. These places are so pricey. Worse, their wireless credit-card reader was not working (things are not supposed to be broken in Switzerland), so I had to amble out into the rain and collect cash – my plan to avoid a third currency in a single day (Norwegian kroner, Euros earlier) was dashed, and a Credit Suisse spit out Swiss Francs. Sigh.

Breakfast at the Ceresio was as expected, not a lot of choice nor quality, but the coffee was strong. Walked to the Università della Svizzera Italiana, where the entire campus offers free open wi-fi, and did a bit more work. Met my host Omar – yes, the same Omar from three days earlier at Imperial in London – and from 9:30 to 12 delivered a couple of lectures.

The view from my temporary office, USI, Lugano

Ate in the student cafeteria, the Mensa, and worked in a pleasant office that afternoon. At 6:40, Omar and his brother-in-law Sandro picked me up and we went, for the second year in a row, to the Osteria Gallo d’Oro, a sensational restaurant just above town. We three boys – all married to lawyers, as it turns out – laughed a lot. And we enjoyed a sensational dinner: marinated octopus to start, then a small course of ravioli, a main course of really-tender venison, and homemade mango gelato for dessert. All with a nice bottle of red from a tiny vineyard near Verona. Yum!

The biggest laughs of the night came from Omar’s story of his visit to his Sicilian grandparents. Like my friend from Princi the day before, his mother came north, in this case crossing the border, in search of work. Omar had only been back to Sicily a couple of times as a kid, and returned in the mid-1990s in adulthood. The story of a ride with an uncle was truly hilarious. Unk may have been mixed up with less-upright citizens. He ordered Omar to put away the video camera when they were riding from one coffee shop to another. At one point they met Mickey, “just back from Brooklyn.” And so forth. We were howling. Omar had the Sicilian facial gestures down pat, just like the guys from “The Sopranos.”

Full to the brim, we rolled down the hill into Lugano, then up the other side to the train station, where I said “Arrivederci,” and waited for the night train to Frankfurt. Like the year before, I had booked a single cabin in a sleeping car, and was looking forward to the ride. At 10:44 the CityNightLine train rolled in, and I climbed onto car 264, then to bed 21. Nice! The conductor collected my passport and ticket, and in no time I was in my pajamas, lights off, watching the scenery as we climbed toward the St. Gotthard tunnel. I stayed awake for about an hour, until we entered the tunnel, then slept hard for five hours. Unlike the previous year, the train was on time, and at 5:45 we were in Frankfurt. It was a very nice ride, and for only $50 more than the bleak Hotel Ceresio you got a clean and cozy bed and a ride 350 miles north to Germany. At Frankfurt’s enormous Hauptbahnhof, I changed to the S9 suburban train to the airport, showered, and flew home nonstop. By five, I had ridden my bike 18 miles and took MacKenzie on a long walk. Woof!
Eight days later, on Sunday the 15th, I flew west to Los Angeles, walked across the airport to Terminal 2, and flew Hawaiian Airlines to Honolulu. It was a nice ride. On board was a diverse bunch, some tourists and a lot of locals. Our 50th is a diverse state, and the 767’s main cabin reflected that mainly Asian variety. We landed just before nine p.m. I hopped in a cab and headed to the Ala Moana Hotel on the western edge of Waikiki Beach. Like most stuff in Hawai’i, the cab was pricey, $32.

Given the four hour time change, I was up by five the next morning, down to the fitness center, and onto a really nice recumbent exercise bike. Good way to wake up! After breakfast, I took a $2.25 bus back to the airport, and made my way to Hawaiian Airlines’ corporate offices. Job interviews, the first in more than 22 years!

You will recall from the last update that American, my largest consulting client, was not renewing my contract after December 2009, so I needed to find a job, and the first opportunity to present itself was at this nicely profitable, small company, known for operational excellence, the friendly “aloha” spirit of the 50th state, and a perfect safety record. On the ride over the water the night before, I got even more pumped up – on the 767 they showed a wonderful video celebrating Hawaiian’s 80th anniversary (literally the week before, on November 11), and the film depicted a wonderful heritage.

It was a long but interesting day. I met six senior execs, including the CEO, a very dynamic young Brit named Mark Dunkerley. They were all interesting and nice people (not one of them was “less than” in any respect), and the prospect of working for a nimble small company reminded me of my first two years in the business, with plucky Republic Airlines back in Minnesota. I was pressed for time, so I grabbed another $30 taxi back to the hotel, changed into khakis, and walked a couple of blocks east to meet a longtime ex-AA friend for dinner. We ambled a couple hundred feet from his hotel to an older Waikiki eatery, the Chart House, for a fish dinner, yakking across a range of topics, especially the craziness of the airline business. I was asleep by 9:30.

Downtown Honolulu from my hotel window

Rinse, repeat. Back to Hawaiian for a morning of interviews, three more, and a wrap-up with the fellow who would be my boss if I were lucky enough to get hired. We shall see! I did my best. Flew home, landing before sunrise. With four hours of sleep, I was baggy-eyed, and was into bed at 8:30 that night.

Up at five the next day, back to the aerodrome, and east to Charlotte, North Carolina, for a lunchtime talk to the local ad club, likely the last of those for awhile. The local program chair, Jim Considine, tracked me down when I was in Lugano, with a referral from folks who heard my September talk down the road in Raleigh. Jim picked me up at the airport, and we motored into town. I had only been to Charlotte once before, but it was as I remembered it – a pleasant and orderly mid-size city, and now (thanks to the Bank of America head office there) one of the largest financial centers in the nation.

Lunch venue was Bonterra, an upscale eatery and wine bar in a former church. Three dozen folks attended, a nice group. After lunch, Jim showed me around downtown (lots of stuff going on, even in recession), past the Carolina Panthers football stadium (there was a game that night, and people were already partying outside at two o’clock!). Flew home, and motored into downtown Dallas. I ambled around the recently enlarged arts district, marveling at several great new performing-arts venues and the generous spirit of Dallas’ well to do that gave them form. Met Linda and Jack at the brand-new, crimson-red Winspear Opera House, and spent nearly three hours watching Bill Crystal in his one-man show “700 Sundays,” a marvelous affirmation of optimism, family, life, and more. (I was glad I napped on the flight home; it had been a busy five days – while waiting for them I calculated my average speed (including sleep time) to be 86 mph since the previous Sunday morning when I left for Hawai’i!)

The following Sunday, the 22nd, I flew to New York for my fifth appearance at Princeton’s Business Today International Conference. Lan

Midtown Manhattan on approach to Runway 4 at LaGuardia Airport

ded at about eleven, and true to form I hopped in a cab for the short ride to Jackson Heights, then the express subway into Manhattan, saving a bunch of money and having way more fun. By 12:15 I was introducing myself to young people at the lunch table; as at previous of these meetings they were a remarkably accomplished group. The lad to my right, an economics major at Stanford, had founded a nonprofit to help kids from disadvantaged backgrounds improve their SAT scores; he still had a semester before graduating, but, not surprisingly, had already landed a job with McKinsey.

After lunch, I ambled over to my hotel, checked in, and headed back. Some guys who run SkillSoft, a subscription-based website on leadership, recorded an interview (which was a lot of fun). From 4:30 to 5:30 I gave a seminar to 15 students, then sat in a panel on financial regulation, especially enjoying the clear and basic remarks from Princeton economics prof. Alan Blinder on what the U.S. should do to prevent a repeat of the 2008 meltdown. Dinner was fun, me sitting between a young woman at NYU who had created a small dress business (yep, she designed them, sewed them, and sold them), and two guys who went to high school together in Montgomery County, Maryland, and who jointly ran a tennis-lesson business in high school. Entrepreneurship was the topic of the table! The open bar opened at ten, but by then I was worn out and had almost lost my voice (I was getting over a mild cold), so I walked back to my hotel.

Unlike previous years, there was no group breakfast, so I spent the morning working in my hotel room, followed by a short walk around midtown, focused on Rockefeller Center. It had been some years since I ambled around Rock – it’s a very cool place.

Bas relief of Mercury, the swift, wing-footed god of trade and travel, Rockefeller Center

From noon to two I ate lunch with students, answering questions about airlines, careers, and such, then reversed course by train and bus to LGA, and a flight home.

Two days later, on Thanksgiving Eve, Linda and I flew north to Chicago. We met Robin, Brett, and Dylan at O’Hare, and hopped on a shuttle bus to a hotel in Arlington Heights, where Cousin Jim and four of his siblings live. We checked in, washed faces, and Anthony the driver drove us north to Jim’s for supper and the first of many nice conversations. Jim dropped the girls back at the hotel, and the boys repaired to Eddie’s bar in downtown Arlington for beer and fun. Jack flew up after us, and joined the fun at Eddie’s.

Brett and I were up early the next morning, down to the hotel gym for some aerobics, and for me the first of many prayers of Thanksgiving that day (as you know, I give thanks every day, but I reckoned some repetition would not hurt on the official day). We headed up to Michaela’s and Jim’s after breakfast. Cousin Bob and his girlfriend Susan joined us for dinner. It was a good day.

I had picked up a Hertz car on Thanksgiving, so we had wheels for the rest of the visit. Friday morning, I drove Brett and the girls to the Arlington Heights train station, and they headed into town to Michigan Avenue. The boys motored over to Fredhots hot dog stand in nearby Glenview for lunch, then to watch Cousin Mike’s youngest daughter Julie play basketball for the Hersey High School Huskies. I had never seen high school girls’ b-ball, and that game was a good place to start. Thanks to the 1972 Federal Title IX law (which prohibits gender discrimination in any educational institution that receives national support), the quality of women’s sport at all levels has improved markedly. Julia and the Huskies took an early lead, but the 4th quarter ended with a tie, which Julia’s team broke in overtime. Final score: 85 to 78. It was big fun. Dinner was way fun, with all five of the local cousins and families at Jim’s for pasta and beer and laughs. It was great to see all of them. And they sang “Happy Birthday” to me, 58 years young!

We headed back to Michaela’s and Jim’s for a last visit, most of which was allocated to the visitors taking turns with the “Guitar Hero” video game (your correspondent was hopeless, certainly unheroic!). At noon we motored to O’Hare, said goodbye to Robin, Brett, and Dylan, and flew home. Jim and his family – and the other cousins – are really the closest kin we have, and we are so grateful that they “adopt” us from time to time.

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