On Friday, May 26, I rode into Washington with Robin, then hopped the Metro to National Airport. I was headed to England via New York, and JFK flights later that day got goofed up, so I opted to head up early. I planned to head to the Neue Galerie, the museum of German and Austrian art created by the Lauder (cosmetics) family, but some time-sensitive consulting work arrived in my in box just as we were leaving D.C. By the time I finished my “homework” at LaGuardia, it seemed too late to head into Manhattan, then back out to Kennedy, so I hopped on the Q70 to one of my favorite E Pluribus Unum places, the Jackson Heights district of Queens. The streets are packed with new Americans from all over. Almost no one looks like me. On the bus, the first T-t-S of the trip, with a jetBlue captain. Turned out to be a fellow Minnesotan (ja sure you betcha, as we say in the Northland). We had a nice chat about the airline business, careers, family.
Not surprisingly, there are a bunch of good ethnic restaurants in the area, and I tracked down a simple Korean spot on Broadway, Hae Woon Dae, and tucked into a spicy stew based around kimchee, the spicy fermented cabbage that is sort of the national dish. Fortified (and sweating from the spice), I hopped the subway two stops east, then the Q10 bus, which lurches through Queens to JFK. The airport-to-airport public transit fare was $2.75, and the glimpse of humanity in all its colors was huge added value.
Landed at London Heathrow at 6:50, zipped through border control, and onto the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. The day before saw a record high temperature in London, and it was still surprisingly warm. My next train, west to Worcestershire and my dear friends the Crabtrees, departed at 8:18, so I headed out to get some cash, then back into the station for one coffee, then two. In no time we were zipping west, past Oxford, through the timeless and verdant English countryside. John Crabtree, who I have known since we met when both of us were guest lecturers in Australia in 1981, and his daughter Jessica (now almost 12), were waiting on Platform 1 at Worcester Shrub Hill Station. Hugs, into the car, and home to their splendid old house in Crowle, a village four miles east. John’s beloved Diana, sons James and Robert, rounded out the welcoming party, hugs and kisses. It felt like home.
At 12:30, John and I set out on foot for Chequers, the village pub that has been fancied up into a gastropub (nice, but I liked it better before). Diana and the kids drove, and soon Diana’s friend Claire and daughter Olivia joined us at a big table. Nice big lunch, pints, laughs. Back home, nice afternoon nap, then at 5:30 we drove north to Birmingham and the Hippodrome Theatre to see Milongo, an energetic Tango presentation with Argentine and British dancers. We arrived early and had a walk around. John is a Birmingham native, a Brum, and has contributed mightily to the economic and social development of the city, including 25 years of service on the Hippodrome board (he would retire as chairman in four days). The show was great, but Jessica was a bit bored, so we left at intermission and headed home. On the way we passed a nearly completed, £14 million training and care facility for Sense, Britain’s charity for the deaf and blind. John has been on their board for years, too. His commitments are many. A true citizen, a righteous person.
It gets light at four in England in late May. I slept two more hours, then grabbed a cup of tea, bowl of cereal, and hopped on young Robbie’s mountain bike for a slower gaze at the wonderful landscape, through villages like Broughton Hackett and White Ladies Aston, past grazing sheep and cattle, old churches. Timeless and splendid, all the more on a sunny, cool morning. Thirteen miles, a nice leg-stretch.
Sidebar: Election Time in England
Regular readers know that I prefer the parliamentary system over the U.S. model of separate executive and legislative branches, and a day earlier had asked John and Diana about their constituency (“riding”). I spotted an election notice with the riding name, Mid-Worcestershire, so I looked up who was running. The incumbent was a Tory, and my eye then moved to Margaret Rowley, the candidate from the Liberal Democrats, a party closely aligned with my beliefs. I looked up her website, read her ideas, and thought “I’d vote for her if I could.” So I sent her a note:
Dear Ms. Rowley,
I’m an American, visiting long friends in Crowle, and just read the summary of your views on the LibDem website. Too bad I can’t vote next month! I wish you and your party much success.
Within an hour, she responded (I simply couldn’t imagine a U.S. politician replying to a non-constituent, much less so quickly):
Thank you for your good wishes. I too am sorry you can’t vote! We seem to be suffering from the same phenomenon here that gave you Trump as president (whom I suspect you don’t support!)
I hope to improve my vote from last time, but I suspect not as much as I should given the relative merits of the Party manifestos. In time, I believe that more people will realise we were right and we will eventually win through.
It was a busy weekend: at ten we headed out, driving 45 miles southwest into the gorgeous Wye Valley, into a desigated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And it was, just wonderful. I was last in the valley exactly 40 years earlier, when I visited journalist Patrick Rivers and his wife as part of my dissertation research. At 11, we met two more long friends, Andrew Manning Cox and wife Janet, with their golden retriever Humphrey. We did a nice three-mile walk in the valley, crossing the river on a footbridge, and re-crossing on a hand-pulled ferry to our real destination, the Saracen’s Head pub, for Sunday lunch. The place was hopping. James, his girlfriend Immy, and Robbie joined us. Another lively and fun repast. After lunch we had to hike back up to the car, about 300 vertical feet. Full of lamb, potatoes, and beer, it was a bit of a slog!
We were home in an hour, and into their swimming pool. Nice! Then a simple dinner, bit of television, and off to sleep. A full day, for sure.
Monday was cloudy with the prospect of rain – more like real British weather – but I was able to crank out 12 miles on the bike. Nice yaks with John and Diana in the kitchen, bowl of cereal, shower, and the whole family, save James (who was studying for senior exams), drove me back to Shrub Hill station. They insisted in accompanying me to Platform 2A to see me off with hugs and kisses. Such wonderful and special people, more like family.
I settled in, pulled out my laptop to write in this journal, and cued The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” perfect background to admire a paddock full of grazing sheep. We arrived London Paddington at 12:30, to meet the next friend, albeit a newer one, Freddie Broderman, for lunch at 1:00. Freddie tracked me down just as he was graduating from Georgetown in 2015, bound for a job in American Airlines’ Revenue Management Department. After a year in Texas, he transferred home to England and now works in the European regional office. We had lunch, beer, and a long yak about the airline industry. He’s an interesting and perceptive young fellow, loves the business.
At 2:45, I hopped on the Tube out to my lodgings, back with Omar Merlo and his family in Kew (I had stayed with them in February, and was lecturing in his class at Imperial College the next day). In a few months, their golden retriever puppy, Mr. Waffles, had grown to 65 pounds, and greeted me at the door. Took a much needed nap. At 5:30, Omar’s wife Carolyn, son Freddie, the hound, and I drove a mile to Richmond Park, and set off for a pond to see if Mr. Waffles would swim. We took a wrong turn at the start, so it took awhile to get there, but it was a cool day and the park is such a lovely place, a semi-wild expanse in the middle of a huge metropolis. As we approached the pond we encountered a large herd of deer. Mr. Waffles was uninterested in them, but he liked the water. We threw sticks far into the pond, to help him find his swimming legs, but he was content to wade. We found the straight path back to the car, but it was still a five-mile trek, and all of us were nackered by the time we got home after nine. Had a few slices of pizza and I headed to bed.
Up early Tuesday morning, suited up, out the door to fetch milk and flowers for Carolyn. When I got back, Mr. Waffles had a plaintive look and was whimpering softly. Ah, I thought, you want breakfast, so I found the dog food and dumped it in his bowl. When Carolyn came down, she said she fed him at five. What a trickster! Walked the short way to the Kew Gardens station and onto the Tube to South Kensington and the university. I had time, so hopped on a shared bike and rode around Hyde and Green parks, grabbed a coffee, rode some more.
The morning reminded me that one of the joys of travel is experiencing ordinary life in a different place. It’s one of the reasons why staying with friends is such a delight, because you can walk to the grocery store, feed the dog, and do the dishes. These experiences are at the polar opposite of most mass tourism, which guides visitors to a curated set of “sights.” At its worst, this nodal approach presents the ordinary landscape and ordinary experiences as mostly worthless, a desert. I have long railed against that view.
Met Omar for lunch, and from one to three delivered a talk to MBA students. At three I went back out on the bike, riding to Westminster, past Buckingham Palace, and back. More than 20 miles, a good stretch. As I was docking the shared bike in front of the school, a nice T-t-S moment. A father approached me and asked if I knew the neighborhood, because they were looking for a playground for their five-year-old daughter, who looked seriously unhappy. I told father and daughter that we would find one, and with a few taps on my iPhone we had them on their way to Hyde Park Playground, 0.6 mile east and north. “I hope when you get there you’ll start smiling,” I said to the little girl, “because you look pretty gloomy right now.” She finally smiled!
I grabbed my backpack, and hopped onto the Underground, east to Holborn to meet a former Cambridge student, Tim. We’ve stayed connected for a decade. The original plan was to meet at a pub on The Strand, but it was closed for a private function, so we ambled a block north to a wonderful tiny pub, the Seven Stars (established 1602), just across Carey Street from the Royal Courts of Justice. Tim and I got caught up on jobs, families, a bit of politics. Way interesting fellow, and a genuinely fine person. We walked back to Holborn and parted, me riding west to Earl’s Court for a Indian dinner at the now-familiar Masala Zone (my fourth visit in under six months); as I’ve written, I’m not a fan of chains, but the place offers a sampler tray called a Thali that gives a lone diner great variety. As often happens, the (Bangladeshi) waiter looked askance when I asked for some chopped green chiles, and later surprised that I finished them all. I was full, happy, and tired. Headed home, chatted briefly with Carolyn (Omar goes to sleep even earlier than me).
Up early again, packed up, down to the kitchen. Mr. Waffles did not fool me again! Made some coffee, ate a bowl of cereal, hugged the family, and headed out, Tube and train to Gatwcik Airport. Dropped my bag and at ten met Roz Chivers, a second-generation airline manager (her dad worked for the long-gone British Caledonian, Royal Brunei, and Virgin Atlantic) I met at London Business School in April. We had a nice yak across a bunch of airline and non-airline topics.
At 11:30 I hopped on EasyJet 8957 to Vienna. A young Hungarian family with a 14-month-old joined my row. I explained I was a grandfather, so crying or getting up and down didn’t bother me. Dad said “she doesn’t cry,” and she didn’t. But she did take a liking to me! Bound for Austria, it made sense to cue Mozart, and soon I was tapping my foot to Symphony #41.
We landed in Vienna about 3:20. I was pumped! First visit in 46 years (on my very first trip to Europe, 1971). Wowie! Hopped on the nonstop train into the city (doh, the T-Geek could have saved $10 by taking a local train), then walked just over a mile to my Airbnb in the Erdberg neighborhood. School had ended for the day, so there were lots of kids on scooters, alone and with moms, plus a few grandparents like me. Erdberg was a slightly gritty (but not threatening) working-class neighborhood, a place where lots of men have tattoos and women smoke cigarettes while pushing strollers. (Indeed, it seemed like lots of Austrians smoke, so I looked up the stats, and indeed 24% of adults do so, compared to 15% in Germany and under 9% in Sweden.)
It was warm and humid, and I was sweaty when I got to my digs – a whole studio apartment – in in a pleasant old building on Wällischgasse. So I stripped down, drank some water, and took a late but tonic nap. At six I headed out, bound for the closest station of Citybike Wien, the bikeshare system. It was several blocks, but in no time I was gliding along. Citybike is cool, because 1) it’s completely free, and 2) the (free) time allowance is 60 minutes, not 30. Only downside is the density and number of stations is relatively small – hence the half-mile walk to the nearest one. I rode north then east, through the enormous Prater park to WU, the Vienna University of Economics and Business, where I would lecture the next evening. The campus is brand-new and eye-popping, with buildings designed by several superstar architects, including the late Zaha Hadid. Rode back, dropped the bike.
I was thirsty, so stopped at the Petrus und Paulus Stuben for a beer on their sidewalk terrace. Way pleasant, beneath tall trees and across from a primary school. I considered eating there, but decided to head “home,” wash my face, and put on jeans. Gasthaus Bauer was right around the corner from my digs, and they also had outdoor seating. The neighborhood is seriously off the tourist track, so my rough German came in handy for the beer and meal order. And what a dinner: pan-fried fish filets (Zander, European cousin of the walleye, a species we treasured growing up in Minnesota), boiled potatoes, and three spears of white asparagus, all with hollandaise sauce. So good.
Up after six Thursday morning, on foot to the Citybike station, then to the Belvedere Palace, and famed State Opera House, then back. Bought breakfast fixings at a supermarket and headed back. Showered, did a bit of work, suited up, and walked back to grab a Citybike, then north to WU. I was seriously needing coffee, do dosed up on a large Americano and brought this journal up to date.
At 12:00, I met one of my new hosts, Bodo Schlangenmilch, and we started chatting. Ten minutes later, a longtime University of Minnesota colleague, Mike Houston, came in. The U of M and WU have run a successful joint EMBA program since 1990, which is how I was invited. We chatted a bit more, then walked to lunch, and another WU colleague, Barbara Stöttinger, joined us. A lively lunch. Barbara kindly offered a short tour of the dazzling campus, and off we went. She forthrightly pointed out that some of the superstar-designed buildings already required remediation (why can’t famous architects get the basics right?). After the walk, I headed back to the Marketing Department to work for the afternoon.
At 6:30, it was time to stand and deliver, to 32 EMBA students, almost all from either Austria or Eastern Europe (Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, etc.). The program is clearly relaxed, because prior to my talk the class was tippling, and brought their wine and beer into the classroom. They offered me some, but I politely declined. Twenty minutes into the talk, Georg from Südtirol left the classroom, returning quickly with a glass of wine for the presenter. I took a sip and they cheered. Prosit! It was a great class, lots of engagement, and the hard questions that typically only come from older EMBA students. They are my favorite kind. After the talk, I stayed around for another glass and a good yak with Ferenc from Hungary, Signe from Estonia, and several others. I had planned to ride a Citybike home, but it was nearly dark, so I hopped the U-Bahn and bus. Changed clothes and walked a block to another local gasthaus for a splendid filled schnitzel. Slept hard.
Friday was a free day, and I knew it would be a long one, because the overnight was not in an Airbnb or hotel, but a night train to Munich that would depart Vienna at 11:30. But I still woke up at 6:30 and got moving, though slowly. Out the door at 8:45 to the Hauptbahnhof (main station). I suspected that Google Maps’ transit information was inaccurate, and that morning I noticed the disclaimer: “These results may be incomplete. Not all transit agencies in this area have provided their information.” Yep. I could have taken a tram from the Airbnb to the station in under ten minutes, rather than two subway rides. Sigh.
At the station, I put my bag and backpack in a locker, and headed out, bike helmet and iPhone in hand. Before grabbing a Citybike, I needed a coffee, and spotted a wonderful traditional Viennese café, the Goldegg in the Wieden neighborhood. Zipped in for a café latte. There was an old billiards table and some other things from the past. A joy that places like that are still in business. Hopped on the bike and rode north to the first stop of the day, the apartment building designed by the idiosyncratic Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Cool, but crawling with tourists, validating my point above about “nodal tourism.” I took a few snaps and got back on the bike, riding north to stop 2, the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Dom), a Gothic fortress begun in 1137. The tower lookout was not nearly as high as the one in Ulm visited six months earlier, but still afforded great views. Check and done.
Stop 3 was lunch at a recommended spot, but it was a bit early, so I hopped on a tram that I followed the ring-streets that encircle the city core. When we rolled past the opera house, I spotted about a dozen men dressed like Mozart standing in front, posing for tourist pictures, the Vienna equivalent, perhaps, of the naked cowboy in Times Square! A couple blocks on, some fancy palaces (the Habsburgs owned some nice real estate), the Austrian parliament, city hall. A good ride. I mistakenly thought tram #1 would go 360 degrees around the ring, but the streetcar knew the way, and headed west. European transit systems are dense and integrated (about that moment, I noticed that screens on the trams displayed real-time info on Citybike availability at adjacent stations, way cool), so I hopped on the U-Bahn, then a S-Bahn (suburban train), and by 1:15 was at Gasthaus Kopp in a residential area north of the center.
The Kopp was a triumph of web marketing and TripAdvisor mastery: a rather dumpy place in a modest neighborhood, with slightly alienated wait staff. Food was fine, but the two dinner places in “my neighborhood” were way better. It was Friday in Catholic Austria, so I had a nice plate of fried fish and salad, lots to eat. Walked two blocks north, grabbed a Citybike, and rode down the Danube, past a bunch of river cruise ships, to the WU campus. My iPhone battery was not going to make it to 9:00 p.m., when I would reclaim my backpack, so I circled back to the WU campus and paused for an hour to recharge both batteries and my body in the ExecEd offices. It was good to chill.
At 3:30 I pedaled away on another Citybike and rode 10 miles through Prater, which is both a huge green space and an old-school amusement park. Next stop was the amusement side, which has been in business since 1766, although likely without the thrill rides, games of chance, and the other Midway-like attractions. Paused for a beer in the enormous Schweizerhaus beer garden. While tippling, I did a bit of reading about Austria immediately after World War II. I was unsure if it was occupied by the Allies (it was, until 1955). And I learned that Austria was, on a per capita basis, the largest recipient of Marshall Plan and humanitarian aid, in part because of U.S. concern that the Soviets would exploit hunger and poverty and tip Austria into the Eastern Bloc.
I took one thrill ride, the Prater Tower, which was way cool (and not at all scary; the kid next to me asked before takeoff if I were scared, and I replied no; but once we were flying he looked pretty tense!). Had another beer and relaxed, watching the crowds pour into the park on a warm Friday evening. I didn’t need a big dinner, but I needed to find a good place after Kopp, and with a bit of research I headed toward Sperl, a pleasant neighborhood restaurant (opened 1925) close to where I had morning coffee. The inner garden was full but not packed, and I sat right down, For about the same price as Kopp, Sperl offered tablecloths, a bread basket before the meal, and smiling waiters. I tucked into the last of Spargelzeit: cream of asparagus soup and a (vegetarian) asparagus goulash with dumplings. Yum! A reminder of the density of European cities: the restaurant courtyard was tight against an apartment, and on the railing above us were drying swimsuits and towels.
The T-Geek still had a bit of time, so I hopped a tram for a short ride in the center, walked the gardens of Belvedere Palace, and headed to the main station. Grabbed my bags and made for the Austrian Railways’ (ÖBB) first-class lounge. I had a ticket for a sleeping car to Munich, so got to use the lounge for a couple of hours, way nice. The 11:25 to Munich was actually operated by Hungarian Railways, and the sleeping car was a bit dated, but comfortable. My upper-berth roommate was Fabian, a researcher at an Austrian government agency, clearly a smart guy (he had been at Princeton in 2016). I would have been happy to yak had it not been a way-long day, and in no time the lights were out. It took awhile to fall asleep, but then I was in deep. The porter brought coffee and juice at six on Saturday morning, and Fabian and I yakked a bit about the state of the world.
Hopped off at 6:20. This trip had some long intervals, like a flight home six hours later, so I took a little walk across downtown Munich, past the cathedral and several other churches, and new and old city halls. Hopped the S-Bahn to the airport, which was absolutely teeming. Made my way to British Airways’ lounge, which contracted with American. Alas, no shower, so I shaved and cleaned up as much as possible with just a sink, donned clean clothes, and flew to Philadelphia.
The last swell T-t-S of the trip was on the short flight home to Washington. My seatmate David was from York, England, and it was his first trip to America. He was so excited, and I filled him with tips on what to see in the capital region. A nice end to a fine journey. Had Henry and MacKenzie on leashes by six.