On Saturday, September 15, was onto the short flight to Philadelphia and across the Atlantic for the first European teaching of the autumn term. Landed in Zurich on a beautiful late-summer morning, sunny and warm. Had a $7.50 cup of Starbucks in the airport train station, and hopped on the 10:44 train to St. Gallen and my 19th visit to the university there. While waiting for my train, there were three variants of Talking to Strangers: H-f-S, help for strangers. I directed two Israeli youngsters to the platform for the train to the downtown main station, an African fellow to the train for Weinfelden, and a Chinese student for the train to Ziegelbrücke. I do know my way around Switzerland!
Arrived in St. Gallen, after 18 years well familiar, at 11:35. Happily, my nearby hotel had a room ready (the Swiss can be rigid about check-in times), and I was changed and out the door before noon, onto my local host Georg Guttmann’s bike. Georg has kindly loaned his bike every September since 2014, and I’ve varied my rides. I hadn’t been toward the Alps since 2015, so I pointed the two-wheeler that way – actually west out of town, then south. My destination: the end of the road in Wasserauen, 15.5 miles away. Google Maps helpfully told me there was 1,515 feet of climb and 890 feet of descent on the way there, and in no time I was huffing and puffing. Georg’s bike has a very low front gear, which made the steep hills less arduous (but still harder than I recalled from three years earlier). The descents were fast, and in a couple of places wild. Biggest downhill risk were the many moist cow turds in the road. I imagined skidding on wet poop. But I did not spill, and made it briskly through small villages to the tourist town of Appenzell (teeming with visitors), then another few miles up the Sitter Valley to Wasserauen. Lovely ride.
Paused at the midway point for water, then started back. I was hungry, and my usual go-to places for lunch, either the Migros or Co-op supermarkets were closed on Sundays, so I peeled into Backerei (Bakery) Schäfli. They had a big outdoor terrace, and I tucked into Sennenrösti, the Swiss version of cheesy hash browns (like the Waffle House’s “Smothered and Covered,” but twice as expensive). The plate was yummy, and it was nice to relax for nearly an hour, watching the Swiss enjoying their weekend. Lots of elderly folk with the ski-pole-like walking sticks. And almost no tubby folk like in the U.S.
Three years earlier, I took the wrong way back, climbing way too much, and back then I cheated a bit by hopping the local train, the Appenzeller Bahn, back to St. Gallen. But 2018 was the real deal, which meant a tough slog back up the hill to the village of Stein, and then lots of Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee descents into St. Gallen. Was back at the hotel at 4:40, an awesome afternoon. The cool shower was tonic, as was a 60-minute nap. Worked a bit, and at 8:00 headed to dinner at Drahtseilbähnli, a fun, small restaurant that opened a few years earlier. Super friendly staff, great food.
Was up way early Monday morning, biking up the hill to the University of St. Gallen. It’s a climb, and even on a cool morning I worked up a sweat (my suit jacket was neatly folded into my backpack). Worked the morning in the library, at 12:15 met Georg, and from 12:30 to 2:00 gave a lecture on airline pricing. After class, a group of students invited me to coffee and further discussion. We sat outdoors at the student union and yakked for 90 minutes. Said goodbye, rode back down the hill (Wheeeeeeee!), changed clothes, and took a quick nap. Biked out for dinner, checking a few places before settling on Tibits, a vegetarian buffet place I visited in May. Great meal, down the food chain.
Rose early again Tuesday morning, out for a short (six miles) ride before sunrise on a cool morning. On the way to an 11:15 lecture to MBA students, I stopped at the wildly Baroque abbey church, pausing for daily prayer beneath my favorite religious icon in the whole world: a wooden angel up on the ceiling. I’ve admired her and whispered to her since my first visit in 2000. After the MBA talk, Georg, my prof host Winfried Ruigrok, and I repaired to an Italian place for lunch (our traditional Swiss eatery was closed for renovations). Worked several hours, and from 4:30 to 6:00 gave a lecture to 55 international management students, a younger group. Back down the hill. At 8:00 I met Georg’s replacement, Xiaoxu (from Shanghai), who just began her Ph.D., and Nina, who was a student helper, for dinner at Zum Goldenen Leuen, a longtime favorite. Had a nice craft beer, potato salad, weisswurst, and great conversation. Xiaoxu was especially interesting, very perceptive. Third night, finally slept hard.
Repeat, repeat. Up at six Wednesday morning, onto the 7:25 train to Zurich Airport and a 10:20 flight to Berlin. Hopped on the 109 Bus from Tegel Airport and was at my digs, an Airbnb, by 1:00. My host, Angelika, was as friendly and nice in person as she was in arranging the stay, and kindly allowed me to check in early. The apartment, in a wonderful early-20th-Century building, was 100 feet from an U-Bahn (subway) station, which made the capital’s excellent public-transit system even more accessible.
Berlin was just a quick stopover, 27 hours, to attend InnoTrans, a huge railway exposition and trade fair held every two years. I first visited with fellow Transport Geek Michael Beckmann in 2016, and really enjoyed it. I’ve started to do a little consulting in railways, and remain fascinated with trains, so after dropping my suitcase and yakking a bit with Angelika and her daughter Helena, I headed to the huge Berlin Messe (fairgrounds). Spent an afternoon wandering through several buildings. Headed back to the apartment, washed my face (it was still very warm in Berlin, after a record hot summer), worked some email, and at 6:30 headed into the center. Hopped off a S-Bahn (suburban train) at the newish main station, and walked toward the Reichstag, the German Parliament. It was not quite as open as last time I visited, but still way less guarded than the U.S. Capitol. I walked east on Unter den Linden (in the other direction was the famous Brandenburg Gate), and continued south to dinner with friends at the Hilton Berlin. It was a nice meal and good conversation, but really long, and I was way tired. Hopped on the U-Bahn at 11:20, head hit pillow past midnight. I did not sleep well that night, ugh.
Up and out the door, back to InnoTrans. I was headed to Sweden that Thursday afternoon, so rolled my suitcase and backpack everywhere. It was still warm, and it was a sweaty morning. But an interesting one, seeing lots of state-of-the-art trains and trams, yakking with some interesting people. Scenes from the show:
Left the show at 1:00, S-Bahn and bus back to Tegel Airport, quick lunch, and a SAS flight to Stockholm, then, after hustling across Arlanda Airport, onto a connecting SAS flight north to Umeå, my 24th visit to the university in that pleasant city of 120,000. I was seriously hungry, and the hotel where we always stay, the Uman, offers a free buffet dinner every night. Tucked into fish curry and lots of the vegetables that are often missing from the travel diet. Was asleep at 9:00, deep ZZZzzzzz for nine hours. Tonic!
My student hosts, from HHUS, the business-school student association, had kindly rented a bicycle for me, and the hotel receptionist handed me the key the night before. So Friday morning at 6:20 I pulled on bike shorts and sweater (it was about 45° F, clear blue sky) and zipped off. After two dozen visits, I know the place well. Crossed the river, east to the island of Ön in the Umeå River, then west to my favorite place for riding, the small island of Bölesholmarna. For several years (though not since 2015), I would say hello to Keso, a West Highland Terrier like our Henry, and his two masters. I did not see Keso in 2016 nor 2017, so when I saw two women walking their dogs on the island, I asked if they knew Keso. One did not, the other did, but said she had not seen them for a long time. I vowed to keep looking.
After a shower and breakfast, was back on the bike and up the hill to the university, and USBE, the business school. Worked a bit, and at 9:40 met one of my hosts, Chris Nicol. Delivered a talk to his first-year international business students, ate a quick lunch, and from 1:15 to 3:00 gave a talk on airline strategy to Masters’ students. Still not done. From 3:30 to 4:45 it was time for the sixth annual “Drink and Learn” seminar at the E-Pub, a bar that HHUS runs. The place was packed, and the bar was doing a brisk business in pitchers of beer. I gave a short talk on emotional capital in business, answered some good questions, and was done. But I stayed around for a couple of beers and informal chats with students.
On previous trips to Sweden, I met people with connections to Swedish-Americans in Minnesota, but never 3 in 10 minutes: Mary from the small town of Mora, daughter of a Canadian father and Swedish mother (who was on exchange from a small university in northern British Columbia); Axel, who as an exchange student in 2015 lived three blocks from one of the houses in Edina where I grew up (we talked a lot of hockey); and another young Swede who was an exchange student in a small town west of Minneapolis. Small world stories, all.
I was about to head back to the hotel when a student asked me if I would “join the boat.” It was noisy and I wasn’t clear about the invitation: a ride in the Umeå River, perhaps? No, the boat was a 4-foot long toy-like wooden vessel, the Titanic, with five holes for shot glasses. The bartender filled the glasses with Jack Daniels (not a favorite spirit, but when in Rome, or Umeå . . .), I joined the group, and at the foghorn signal we lifted the entire boat and drained the shots. Lots of applause and backslapping. “We are young,” I thought, and perhaps a little drunk! Hopped back on the bike, slightly wobbly, and back down the hill in light rain to the hotel, where a sauna was just what I needed. After a good sweat and a cold shower, I tucked into the buffet dinner, back to the room to read, and asleep early. The original plan was to go to the opening game of the local pro hockey team, the Björklöven, but the game was sold out. Boo!
Up at 6:15 Saturday morning, cloudy with rain forecast, but I gambled a bit and headed out for a pre-breakfast ride. Strong wind from the southeast, but no rain until the last mile of nine. Back into the hotel only a little wet, and hungry. The hotel also lays out a lovely breakfast buffet, with plenty of coffee. The weather forecast was rain until early afternoon, so I chilled in the hotel room, bringing this journal up to date and doing some consulting work. I checked the local weather radar, ventured out at 11 in search of replacement Björklöven T-shirts for Jack and me (originals purchased 2009!), to the northern end of town and a big sporting-goods store. The store was of course open, but the little “Team Shop” that had the team shirts, was closed. And when I left the store, it was a full-tilt gale, howling wind and pelting rain. Got home sopped, nearly with little fish squirting from my shoes!
With a lull in the storm, about one I headed out to grab lunch at a nearby supermarket, then a nap. By three the skies had cleared, so back out on the bike, which was nice, except for a saddle that was truly tearing up my rear end! Did a little more work in the room, then at six rode a few blocks to Lotta’s, a wonderful pub and microbrewery. The place was hopping. Shook hands with the bartender, who I see every year, had a $10.32 glass of IPA from the Swedish island of Gotland, and headed back to the hotel for the buffet dinner. Read for an hour or so, and copped another 8.5 hours of sleep, window open, nice and cool.
Up at 6:15 for the third straight morning. Mostly clear skies, light wind, on the bike (ouch in the butt!), west along the Umeå River, upstream, a familiar ride. The light was lovely, the ride pleasant on a gravel trail. Crossed the river on a pedestrian/bike bridge, back on a highway. Grabbed a couple of cups of coffee, then changed, then a really big breakfast. At eleven, I rode a few hundred feet to the (Lutheran) church for high mass. I had not been there for three years. As always, the sequence of the liturgy was the same as home, but the hymns were tricky!
I hopped back on the bike about one, intending to go far, but the combination of the tortuous saddle and a strong wind were discouraging. Grabbed a light lunch at the supermarket, then a nap, then some reading and writing, as well as photo editing for this blog. At five I headed to another pub, Gröna Älgen, the Green Moose, a few blocks east of downtown. It was a new place, and having visited the Blue Moose in Vail, Colorado, many times, I needed to see the verdant one. The place had a neighborhood-bar vibe, small and welcoming. A fellow three stools down at the bar recommended a Belgian Lambic (ale), fruity and a bit sweet. It had been at least 25 years since I had one, and though I normally drink local, I thought it good to agree. And it was tasty. He left soon after I arrived, so I struck up a conversation with the friendly bartender. Toward the end of the chat (and my beer), he told me he was a Kurd, and that his family emigrated to Sweden in the early 1990s, after the first Gulf War (I emailed the bar later that day to ask his name; a few hours later he replied that his name was Baland, and he was the bar owner). I’ll go back to the Green Moose in 2019 for sure.
Monday was an all-day meeting with the USBE’s International Advisory Board. As we’ve done since the board formed in the late 1990s, we convened in Samvetet, a conference room with glass on three sides. I’ve long enjoyed the IAB meetings in that room, not least for the opportunity to gaze out at the always-interesting Northern sky. And in recent years, I’ve appreciated conversations with Håkan Olofsson, a Umeå native who has worked all over the world and now lives in suburban Denver. His two oldest boys are serious hockey players, one with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, and the other finishing at the University of Nebraska Omaha and hoping to turn pro. We talk hockey and lots more – just a terrific fellow.
Was up earlier than usual Tuesday morning for the last morning bike ride, 9.8 miles to make an even 350 for the month to date. My backside was still sore, but the morning was clear and cool, and the ride was nice, a last spin along the river and around Bölesholmarna (sadly, no Keso the Westie). At nine, the IAB met jointly with a local advisory board and the trustees of the business school for a “strategy session.” Like the day before, it was a tutorial on the consultative “Swedish way,” which sometimes includes gentle euphemisms: “messages for future improvement” = bad stuff. It was a full day, and at 6:30 enjoyed a wonderful last dinner, a favorite far-North fish, arctic char (röding in Swedish), and more great conversation with Håkan. Asleep early.
Wednesday the 26th promised to be full, and it was. Flew to Stockholm at 7:25, arriving late because of heavy rain and wind. Hopped on the express bus, soon into traffic on the highway into town, a bit of stress about getting to my first lecture at Stockholm School of Economics for the 10:30 start. It’s less than a mile from the bus stop at St. Eriksplan to the building, but it was raining hard. Most folks would have hopped a taxi, but I’m a Transport Geek, so jumped on the Stockholm Metro two stops (the equivalent of $3.50 for a senior fare), and made it to class 15 minutes early. Whew. Met a new host, Daniel Tolstoy and delivered a talk on new airline business models from 10:30 to noon. The usual formula is lunch at a nearby buffer restaurant, but I was due at Uppsala University, 35 miles north, at 2:00, so hustled to the train station, grabbed a ham-and-cheese sandwich at 7-Eleven, and hopped on the 12:40 train.
Arrived Uppsala at 1:10. It had stopped raining, which was nice. Walked briskly to the Uppsala business school, met longtime host Katarina Lagerström, and from 2:00 to 4:00 delivered a talk on alliances. But I was still not done. At 4:30, I gave an hour talk to Ekonomerna, the student business association. Then I was done, but two students wanted to talk some more, so they walked me back to the train station.
At 6:10 I met longtime Stockholm School of Economics host Hans Kjellberg and a new Ph.D. student Fairouz. Since my time at the school earlier that day was limited, Hans invited Fei (pronounced “Fay”) to dinner. And he and wife Mia kindly invited me to stay overnight in their new-but-old Swedish house, always great. We tucked into a wonderful spicy North African stew, lamb tagines, served on couscous. So good. After dinner, Hans’ wife Mia left us to talk about Fei’s Ph.D. research plan on U.S. airline deregulation – so I was still working! We had a great chat, and she left about 8:30. I was fast asleep by 9:15. A long day.
I was up before sunrise Thursday morning, breakfast and coffee with Hans, and south in his car a few miles to Knivsta. He hopped on the train into Stockholm, and I took the #801 bus to Arlanda Airport, a BA flight to London, an AA flight to New York Kennedy, and a connecting flight home to Washington.