Europe Again, Part 1: England, Switzerland, Italy

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In the old town, Lausanne, Switzerland

On Saturday, November 25, I felt like a yo-yo: out the door at 12:30, to National Airport, then JFK, then back to Europe for the eighth time in 2017, last teaching trip of the year.  I was home for 10 days, most of that time with a lingering cold (I had zero colds in 2016-17 and already two this fall/winter).  I was a still a bit wobbly, but, as they say in the circus, the show must go on.  We celebrated my 66th birthday the night before, two days early, and apart from a lot of fun and a great Mexican dinner I got a new rollaboard suitcase, replacing a cheapie I bought about 18 months earlier (I simply gotta think of luggage as tools, and I never bought cheap tools!).  The new one was already way easier, better balance, more stability.  Ready!

Landed Heathrow a bit late, onto the express train to Paddington, then the Tube to Queen’s Park.  It was a cold but sunny morning, and the walk to the Sages’ new house was refreshing.   Figured out thermostats and Wi-Fi, changed clothes, and walked several blocks east, across Queen’s Park, to St. Anne’s (Anglican) church.  I was immediately glad I made the effort, for the congregation, though small (about 25 in the sanctuary, which I later learned was typical Sunday attendance), was so welcoming.  Before worship I met Alice, Kay, and the Vicar, Christine Cargill from Australia.  The order of service is almost identical to the Lutheran liturgy, so I was right at home – and knew the tunes for half of the hymns.

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Queen’s Park

The Vicar, also known as Mother Christine (I rather like that equivalence with Father), had a wonderful, down-to-earth manner, and her sermon was superb: just remind us of the basics.  In the announcements after benediction, Vicar Christine welcomed me as “a special guest.”  I stayed for 45 minutes for coffee and some wonderful conversation, mainly with Prof. Mark Haggard, a psychologist at Cambridge (lives in London weekends), and his son, Prof. Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at University College London.  Seriously interesting people.  And believers.

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Altar, St. Anne’s; the glass back wall reminded me of the Dallas synagogue visited in January

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Chevening Road, Kensal

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A splendid old Austin Healey

Walked back, ate a late breakfast, and at 12:30 hopped on the #52 bus a mile or so to the bikeshare station closest the house.  In no time, I was zipping south, and in two miles was back at The Design Museum in Kensington, last visited in June.  The place was packed with visitors to a temporary exhibit on Ferrari, but that was of almost zero interest.  I was there to see the finalists for the 2017 Designs of the Year Awards in six categories: architecture, digital, graphics, product, transport, and fashion.  Some way cool, and way innovative stuff:

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Solar-cell power supply for mobile phones, and the famous Pussyhat

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Aspirational emojis for girls (not princesses!), IKEA’s new dowel fastening system, and a model of a tower that can capture potable water from the atmosphere

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Piaggio’s robotic Gita personal helper, and a redesign for the Welsh “brand”

Got back on the bike and rode to South Kensington for a quick sandwich, then east to the Royal Mews, the stables Robin, Carson, and Dylan visited in June.  Carson had lost a little mirror with a royal corgi on the back, so I bought a replacement.  Check and done.  Back on the bike.  At four, I met longtime friend and ex-AA colleague Don Langford for a quick pint at a pub ‘round the corner from his house in Belgravia, and a good catch-up.  Then onto the Tube west to Earl’s Court and a spicy dinner at Masala Zone.  Polish and Italian waiters in an Indian restaurant in the U.S. would be unlikely, but common in London.  My plan for a quick return home was dashed (the Overground suburban rail service was down for weekend repairs), so it took awhile to get home.

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Man and best friend, The Duke of Wellington

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I always ask for chopped green chillies; before and after

I was asleep at 8:45, and a hard sleep, too.  The cool room was tonic, especially with a thick comforter.  Slept eight hours, up about five on my birthday, breakfast, and out the door into wind and light rain – more typical British winter weather.  Onto the #52 bus and Tube to Paddington, then hopped on the 7:00 train west to Reading.  It was one of Hitachi’s brand-new trainsets, sleek and shiny, but already gawky after just six weeks of service (the UK media are not amused).  Halfway to my destination, the train came to a stop for 10 minutes, “due to a fault with one of the safety systems.”  Hmmmmm.  Changed trains in Reading and headed south to Southampton for my debut at the University of Southampton business school.  At the station I met a longtime German colleague Heiko Frenzen, now teaching there.  We hopped on a bus to campus, had a coffee and a good catch-up, and from 11 to 1 delivered a talk on airline data mining.

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Two Paddington Station icons: Isambard Kingdom Brunel, designer and engineer of the Great Western Railway; and the famous bear

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Hitachi UK’s new high-speed train

Hopped the bus back to the center and a spicy goat curry at a Caribbean restaurant.  Walked to the train station, said goodbye to Heiko, and hopped on a slow train to Gatwick Airport.  Arrived in time to change into jeans, check my bag, buy a sandwich for the flight (was not very hungry after a late, big lunch), and call my brother and home.  Flew to Geneva on EasyJet.  I was once again unimpressed with the behavior of my fellow customers.  At the gate, some woman was swearing at the gate agent, who was doing his best to be calm but firm.  When I got to Moktar, I told him I was an airline veteran and I was on his side. “She swore at me,” he said.  “I know.  Hang in there, brother,” I replied, and shook his hand.  A little bit of airline solidarity.  We arrived Geneva 10 minutes early, which allowed me to get the 10:47 train to my destination, Lausanne.  With a short Metro and bus ride, I was in my digs by 12:15, late by my standards.

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Birthday lunch

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Southampton Guildhall; the city has a very pleasant feel, with lots of green space

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Here’s my idea for increased airport revenues: some of us will pay extra to avoid walking through a shopping mall!

I was billeting at the Jeunotel, a Swiss Youth Hostel.  My hosts at HEC, the business school of the University of Lausanne, proposed to pay for only one hotel night, and somehow we talked them into paying for two nights at a youth hostel.  Private room, not a dorm, bath across the hall.  A bit spartan (the walls and ceiling of my room were entirely concrete), but Swiss-clean, and a comfy bed.  I was overtired, which always means hard to fall asleep, but down I went, seven hours, not quite enough but pretty good.  Earlier in the year, I stayed in the wonderful big youth hostel in Cologne, and the private rooms with private baths had soap dispensers in the showers, but the Swiss version was old-school, so I had to innovate: I filled a plastic bag (from my backpack, always a good idea to carry!) with soap from a dispenser by the communal bath sinks, and, Voila!

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My room (cell) 308

I had the morning free, so I retraced steps on my first Lausanne visit in 2013, on bus and Metro down to Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).  It was partly sunny, with great views of the lake and the Alps in the distance.  Hopped back on the Metro, up the hill to the old town and cathedral, then back to the hostel.  Put on a suit, hopped back on public transport (the hostel provided a two-day card for bus and Metro), and rode a mile or so west to the university.  I had an hour before meeting my several-schools-host Omar Merlo of Imperial College London, so sat in the Mensa and brought this journal up to date.

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Views of Lausanne above, and below

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View from the Mensa, University of Lausanne; the Matterhorn is the pointy peak at left-center

Met Omar at noon for a filling lunch (the Swiss version of meatloaf) in the Mensa; he presented me with a swell birthday gift: salt and pepper shakers in the form of little Swiss cows.  Moo!  Worked a couple more hours, and from 3:20 to 4:50 delivered a lecture to his marketing-innovation class.  He peeled off back to London and I hopped the Metro and bus back to the youth hostel, via a supermarket for a sandwich, potato salad, and beer.  Many of you know my energy derives in large part from good and regular sleep, and I needed to catch up, so was in pajamas and lights out by 7:30.  Like a four-year-old, but almost ten hours of dreamland was precisely what was needed.

Was up briefly ‘round midnight, but then down until 6:40.  Packed up, grabbed plenty of coffee, and hopped on bus and Metro back to the railway station and onto a train for Lucerne.  It was a scenic ride, with snow in the upper elevations.  And was interesting to see the many small and mid-size Swiss manufacturing companies along the tracks.  Take just one: Hunleker AG;  I Googled and found their website and their description:

Anyone who processes paper and print knows our name as a byword for excellence. It stands for “Excellence in Paper Processing”. That is our constant claim. Working for the printing industry since 1922, we are an independent, owner-managed family business which today has some 280 employees around the world.

As I have written many times from Switzerland, one has to admire a country where wages and living standards are among the world’s highest, yet a company in a remote place has global presence.

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Near Fribourg, Switzerland

Changed trains at Lucerne, then at Arth-Goldau, and onto a train bound for my next teaching in Lugano.  The Transport Geek was pumped, because I was soon in the recently-opened Gotthard Base Tunnel, one of the world’s longest.  It took 22 minutes to speed through 35.5 miles of rock.  This was one of Europe’s costliest infrastructure projects, and another demonstration of will to improve mobility, a trait sadly missing in my country.  Traversing the tunnel was a bit like flying at night: dark outside, a whoosh not unlike a jet, and a ride almost as smooth as being aloft.  Impressive.

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I got off in Bellinzona, 20 miles north of my destination, Lugano.  Grabbed a sandwich, stowed my suitcase in a locker (a very un-Swiss process that took 30 minutes, because of two defective lockers; happily, a Swiss Federal Railways fellow got it working, and with a smile).  After lunch, I set off for Castello Montebello, a 13th Century fortress and one of three castles in the town, which is the seat of the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.  Bought admission, and wandered around the top of the outer wall, with great views of town and the valley.  In the main interior structure was a small but nice archaeology museum.  Scenes from the castle and nearby landscape:

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Splendid Art Nouveau detail, Bellinzona

Walked down the hill, hopped back on a train to Lugano and a bus to my hotel near USI, the Università della Svizzera Italiana.  Grabbed a quick nap, worked a bit, headed out for dinner, back to the Hotel Pestlalozzi, a simple place I found the year before, with tasty and inexpensive (by Swiss standards) food.  Tucked into tender roast rabbit with potatoes and vegetables.  Yum.

Thursday morning, up and out the door to the university, my 9th visit.  Worked the morning, and for the second time in three days met Omar Merlo for lunch.  He peeled off to the class, and I joined at 3:15 for a lecture to a small group of MSc students, mostly Italian.  High point that day was dinner with Omar and his brother-in-law Sandro at a wonderful restaurant, Gallo d’Oro.  It was our fifth visit, and the jocular owner, Matteo, remembered us.  What a meal!  Started with pumpkin flan with a fondue sauce, then quail stuffed with spinach and prosciutto, then chocolate cake.  Whew!  Atop the cuisine was a lot of laughing and storytelling.  A splendid evening.

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Happy diners: Omar, Sandro, and your scribe

Friday morning, out the door, on the bus up the hill to the railway station, and onto the 8:18 fast train south to Milano.  At the big central station, hopped on the #92 bus.  I was due to meet Marinella, my Airbnb host (coincidentally in the same building as the Airbnb where I stayed a year earlier) at 10:30, so in my usual way of cramming the max into every day I hopped off close to Piazzale Loreto to see the memorial to Tullio Galimberti, a member of the anti-fascist resistance executed by the Nazis in that location on 10 August 1944 (I learned about Tullio in a superb historical novel based on a real story, Beneath a Scarlet Sky).  Unhappily, the piazza had been greatly reduced in order to widen the roads, and I could not figure out how to get to the “green middle” – there were no pedestrian crosswalks.  It was, as the radical 1970s geographer Bill Bunge memorably wrote, “machine space.”  I was running out of time, so wheeled my suitcase south to meet Marinella on time.

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In the overgrown middle of Piazzale Loreto; but where is the memorial to Tullio?

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My Airbnb in Milano

She was a lovely woman, a secondary-school teacher a bit younger than me.  We yakked in her beautiful apartment for about a half-hour, then she departed for a weekend job in Udine, four hours east.  That she left me to her whole house speaks to the essence of what people call “the trusting economy.”  I changed into nicer clothes and set off for a lunch at Bocconi, a private university and one of Italy’s best.  Hopped on the Metro, then a very crowded and slow tram #9 south to campus.  At one, I met Sandro Castaldo, a marketing professor who was one of my hosts on my only teaching visit, in 2006 (through the years I periodically emailed him and a colleague, but didn’t get any traction).  We walked a block to a small, family-run fish restaurant for a plate of spaghetti with seafood and a good chat.  The Bocconi business school and the larger university are both growing, so there might be teaching prospects in the future.

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Milan scenes; at right, note inflatable snowman on balcony

At 2:30, I said goodbye and hopped on BikeMi, the city’s bikeshare system riding three miles back to the apartment, changed back into jeans, and returned to Bocconi to meet Celia, a new professor of leadership, introduced virtually by my Cambridge and WHU colleague Jochen Menges.  We met at a tiny wine bar on Viale Bligny.  We were immediately on a first-name basis with Gianfranco the owner, and he poured a couple glasses of a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon from Trentino in northeast Italy.  Celia was on a tight schedule (a Canadian, she needed to get home to take her two older boys to hockey practice, classic Friday-night activity!), so we had a quick yak and she peeled off.  I stayed to finish my glass, and had a nice T-t-S chat with Gianfranco.  He spoke good English, so I could explain my Italian roots to him and a patron (who didn’t speak English, so Gianfranco translated) through old family pictures on my iPhone, starting with the photo of my maternal great-grandparents Enrico and Cesira and their kids.  It was a lovely moment; I hope I get invited to Bocconi if only to return to that bar.

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Bar Est Di Lepratto Domenico Fausto

 

At 6:30 I hopped back on the packed tram #9 (it was a lot like the Tokyo Metro!), then onto the Metro and up the Lambrate district and a wonderful brewpub, Birraficio Lambrate.  The place was hopping on a Friday night.  Craft beer, free hors d’oeuvres, the Rolling Stones and Allman Brothers on the speakers, and for me a stool in the front corner, to watch the entire scene unfold.  It was one of those moments when I thought “we are young,” but in fact I was the oldest guy in the room by multiples!  I chatted briefly with a young Italian next to me, and a bit more when several of his friends arrived, including his girlfriend, a beauty who looked like she just stepped out of a painting by Botticelli.

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Friday night in the Birraficio Lambrate

They were all from Ancona, on the Adriatic coast.  Ten minutes later another friend showed up, smiled at me, and introduced himself.  “Federico,” he said, shaking my hand; “Roberto,” I replied, and he began speaking in Italian.  I replied in broken Italian that I was a stranger, just a grandfather from America.  “Oh,” he said, “I thought you were the uncle of one of these guys!”  Nice to fit in, and a perfect vignette of a warm and friendly country.  Italy is such a special place, for its people, and much more.  Thirst slaked, I headed back to the apartment, stopping to buy some tortellini to boil up (the huge lunch was the day’s main meal).  After a light meal, clocked out, sleeping hard in the cool room.

 

Was up at 6:30 Saturday morning to do some work, eat some bread and yogurt bought the night before, shower, and out the door, across the street to a café for a couple of cappuccinos.  The place, a traditional neighborhood place, was owned and staffed by a Chinese family, further proof of the powerful transformative role of the jet airplane.  Stimulated, I walked across the street to wait for my friend-since-1991 (and former American Airlines colleague) Massimo Vesentini.  While waiting, another vignette of Italian civility: a delivery van was partially blocking the sidewalk in front of my building.  An old lady on a bicycle approached, and I could see I would keep her from passing the truck, so I quickly stepped out of the way.  As she passed, she smiled brightly and thanked me.

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Italy = style and refinement; even a cappuccino in a simple cafe on Viale Abruzzi

Massimo appeared at 9:30 with his little dog Lupetta on leash, and when I called her name, she started dashing toward me – did she recall my face from a year earlier?  We walked a couple blocks south to their street, popped across for a third coffee at their local bar-café, where, Massimo explained, he and the owner run a betting pool on the top Italian soccer league.  Cash changed hands.  It made me smile: another nice feature of Italy is a strong egalitarian sense.

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Massimo keeping book at the neighborhood cafe

Further stimulated, we crossed via Francesco Hayez and met Massimo’s wife Lucia, who was coming with us on our second annual “wine run,” to buy stocks for the winter – or at least until the New Year.  We walked a few blocks to where they park their cars, hopped in Massimo’s, and set off for the Piemonte, west of Milan and north of Genoa.  Sped down the autostrada, turned off, and started to climb into low mountains already covered with the season’s first snow.  Stop 1 was Tre Castelli in the village of Montaldo Bormida, where we sampled the classic Piemonte varieties, Dolcetto and Barbera (I prefer the latter), plus a nice spumante (sparkling).  We bought several cases.  Hopped back in the car and headed west to the spa town of Acqui Terme, where thermal baths date back to the Romans.  Old.  We walked the town, put our fingers briefly in scalding water flowing from a font in the town center, then into La Curia, a splendid restaurant in a very old building.  Tucked into a wonderful lunch, some wine, and good conversation.

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Early winter in the Piemonte and (below) at Tre Castelli, where table wine is €1.20 per liter

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Scenes from Montaldo Bormida (top) and Acqui Terme

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Our lunch venue, La Curia

Back in the car, and about ten miles to the second and last stop, Castello di Tagliole in the village of Tagliolo Monferrato, where the same family has been making wine since 1498, in a castle that dates to the Tenth Century.  Old.  The place was empty and the big castle gates closed.  Rang the brass doorbell, spoke on the intercom, and the gates opened.  Into the cellar to sample and buy some more wine.  The clerk-pourer had emigrated from Sri Lanka 20 years earlier (there’s the jet again!).  We had a good chat about winter in northern Italy compared to the tropics.  It was just getting dark as we descended a steep hill on a narrow and windy road, then onto the autostrada back to the city.

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Above and below: Castello di Tagliole; at top-right, weathered stone

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We unloaded the wine, into the elevator, up to their big apartment.  Their daughter Martina was just leaving, but we had a brief chat.  I had one more glass of Dolcetto, hugged them both, and walked back to the apartment, stopping again to get breakfast for the next morning.  I needed to get up at 4:00 AM, so was asleep at 8:45, Zzzzzzzzzzz.

Sunday morning, out the door at 4:30, walking briskly northwest on Via Plinio and Via Vitruvio to Centrale station, onto the train to Malpensa airport.  I was cutting it a little close, but had time to down three cappuccinos from vending machines, surprisingly good, and cheap.  Hopped on EasyJet and flew north to Copenhagen.  The previous week was relaxed compared to the coming seven days, and I needed to start leaning forward!

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