The last week has been absolutely wonderful. Building up to the IMD MBA 2008 reunion here in Lausanne, I spent most of my non-working hours catching up with those whom I haven't seen since our graduation last year. It began on Tuesday when my Swedish classmate, Jesper, arrived in town and crashed at my apartment for a few nights. We went out for drinks with the other Laussanois classmates as well as some others who had made it into town early but we also had great opportunities just to catch up between ourselves. I found this particularly valuable as Jesper is working on a project to bring distributed solar energy to the developing world. I know he will be wildly successful and perhaps some day we will have the opportunity to work together.

On Thursday, Jesper's family arrived so he moved into a hotel with them. Then Friday my Slovakian classmate, Tomas, arrived to take over the Jesper suite. Friday was fun. The reunion began with lunch at IMD followed by a full afternoon of presentations from IMD faculty and staff about the school, the program, and the like. After our back-to-class sessions (No case preparation necessary!) we moved to the IMD restaurant for a cocktail and dinner. For those of us who traditionally spent most of our lunch time playing ping pong, this meant that we first played ping pong all evening until the sun went down and it was no longer feasible. Oh what glorious memories!

That same evening the Class of 2009 had organized a Latin Party so we stopped by for some dancing and catch-up then wrapped up at MGM, one of our favorite lakeside watering holes from last year. It was a great kickoff to what was sure to be an exceptional weekend.

Saturday morning most of the class loaded onto buses for a day-long hike in the mountains. The four of us who frequently played beach volley last year, though, embraced the gorgeous weather and returned to the sand courts of Vidy. Mario (Brazilian), Martin N. (Czechoslovakian), Tomas, and I were the only ones playing so we enjoyed several games and a dip in the lake before a relaxing lunch at Le Carousel.

It is amazing but the weather here is clearly tending toward fall already. The high on Saturday was in the mid-60s (F) and there was evidence of many fallen leaves on the ground. Furthermore there was that particular autumn smell in the air that indicated warmer clothing would be necessary soon. It seems that just about the time that it becomes too cool for beach volley in Lausanne I will move to Houston where I can keep playing for another two months--good planning!

After lunch we returned to the courts and played against locals, who had finally begun arriving. A dip in the lake and a nap back home prepared us for the evening's festivities. What seemed like the entire class gathered at Le Pur for dinner and followed up at Red Club afterward. It was wonderful to see everyone but it was apparent that everyone was dead tired after a full day of physical activity in the sun. By 3 AM only Peter (the Great Dane), Ian B. (Canuck), and I were left at the club so we decided to call it a night.

Sunday morning began early as I met up with Sergei (Belorussian) and Martin N. for a mini-reunion of our first building block bbb7 group. We decided to allocate some time to discuss the weightiest issues on our mind. I therefore expected to be talking about career issues, professional challenges, etc. but, instead, we spent the whole time talking about the women in our lives! Hmm, maybe that's dangerous to refer to our women as "weighty" but they know we love them! :-)

Although we could have tarried for hours, we wrapped up our discussion and made our way to Parc du Milan for the final Class of 2008-vs-Class of 2009 soccer match of the year. 2008 won 2-0 to take the series decisively. The Class of 2009 will forever cry foul that some of their players were unavailable due to ICP travel requirements but, well, a win is a win. :-)

All Sunday afternoon was spent at a relaxing picnic along the lake. We grilled out, ate, drank, and took hours to say all of our goodbyes. It was a wonderful weekend and many thanks go out to the organizing committee--especially our fearless Chair, Irina (Russian), for pulling it seamlessly together. Those who were unable to attend were sorely missed but we will all hope to see them soon.

Pictures are in my facebook album.

On the subject of tearful goodbyes, today is my last day at Poken. I have a great deal to accomplish in order to enjoy a farewell drink this evening at Les Brassieurs. What an intense ride it has been! I will definitely miss the Poken team and just as definitely I will continue to foster Poken adoption wherever I go.


IMD Keeps On Giving

Last week was a very IMD-centric week for me. It began Monday night with dinner at a professor's house to discuss my next career move. After dinner and much discussion of Harry Potter with his children, we moved out to his terrace for dark chocolate, 1997 Castello Broglio Chianti Classico, and a marvelous sunset over the lake. While I distracted his dog with lots of petting, he played an excellent sounding board to my ideas and offered very helpful insights based on his experience and contacts.

Tuesday and Wednesday I met professors at IMD for coffee and again benefited from their very different perspectives. Also the IMD Info Center has helped me discover articles and papers to inform my decision process about next steps. Not wanting the benefit to flow only one way, though, I've been trying to give back to the IMD community as well and last week I met with three students interested in entrepreneurship to discuss some of the real issues encountered when starting up a business.

This weekend my Poken coworker, Bogdan, and I traveled to a few castles in the area. First on the list was Yverdon, which is a charming, sleepy little town with a modest castle in the center. Apparently the castle operated as a school for much of the 20th century--what an awesome place to have classes!

Next we moved up the road to Grandson, which boasts a much more sizable castle and was hosting a medieval festival that day. Although much smaller in scale than the renaissance fairs to which I am accustomed in the US, this one did have the advantage of location on real castle grounds. There was an artillery demonstration, archery competition, and duel between armored knights outside plus a museum of armor and weapons inside. The turrets (Yay!) offered breathtaking views of Lake Neuchatel and a pleasant feeling of dominance over the peasants below. :-) Here we bumped into Paul, the ping pong "ringer" from IMD who used to beat most of us last year--again the IMD network is ever present!

Unfortunately, though, there was no meat-on-a-stick to be found so we departed in the afternoon for Neuchatel. The castle there is very Swiss in style and provided some good exploring through its courtyards and along its parapets. The day was beautiful but almost chilly with the wind coming off the lake--what a change from August in Houston! I'll still never forget the 140-degree heat indexes of two-a-days in full pads at Rice Stadium . . .

Pics of all the castles are now in my facebook album.

As the day wore on we returned to Lausanne, but not without a pit stop in Renens for the European Sumo Championships!!!! We arrived just in time for the highest level of women followed by the highest level of men. Having never attended a sumo match before, this was quite a spectacle to me and it was interesting to see that a match consists of much more ritual than actual wrestling.

Bogdan and I bet on each of the matches and cheered loudly whenever someone much smaller beat an oversized opponent. They might as well have called it the Eastern European Sumo Championships, though, as it quickly became easy to predict the winners by country of origin: Georgia, Bulgaria, Russia, and Poland seemed unstoppable. The poor Swiss contenders never stood a chance.

Video of the men's final match is on facebook.

It was a fun day of local exploration and I'm glad I took advantage of Bogdan's offer to drive us around. It would have been all too easy just to stay at home and get work done but opportunities like this are fleeting before my imminent return to the States. Switzerland really is a beautiful country and I will miss it dearly--especially in the summer!


Berlin, Take My Breath Away

Another weekend, another great trip to visit friends in new places. This weekend I went to Berlin to visit IMD classmates Matt and Lucy. I arrived late Thursday night, crashed at Matt's place, and awoke early to accompany him into work. His office is conveniently situated in Mitte, so, while he worked on Friday, I walked around and took pictures of Berlin's cool buildings (see my facebook album).

Berlin's architecture is really cool. Much of it has been rebuilt since WWII, and some of it even since Germany's reunification. The result is beautiful, very modern architecture juxtaposed with beautiful, very old architecture. Downtown Berlin is very walkable, making a great deal of sight seeing accessible in a short amount of time. I began at the Berliner Dom and made my way down Unter den Linden. This took me past the Lustgarten, German History Museum, opera, St. Hedwig Cathedral, and Starbucks (They're everywhere!), arriving at Pariser Platz and Brandenburger Tor.

Pariser Platz was mostly cordoned off for for the 2009 World Track & Field Championships, where Rice alum Funmi Jimoh will compete later this week. It's too bad the timing didn't work out but I'll be cheering her on in spirit! I tarried a bit in this square, watching them set up the athletic facilities and eating my first meal in Berlin: a "Berliner!" This was the subject of great controversy after, upon my arrival the night before, I tweeted "Ich bin ein Berliner" and was told by many that I was a jelly doughnut. Fortunately some quick wikipediaing revealed that I--and JFK--were both in the right.

Making my way through the Brandenburg Gate, I veered right to walk around the Reichstag and surrounding government buildings then moved back in the opposite direction past the Holocaust Memorial to Potsdamer Platz. As Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in IMAX 3D wouldn't be showing until the afternoon, I spent the next few hours getting in touch with my musical side, first paying a visit to the Berlin Philharmonie and then the Berlin Musical Instrument Museum.

That afternoon Matt ducked out early from work so that we could enjoy some currywurst and Smash Ball before Lucy arrived from Norway. Upon Lucy's arrival we went out for dinner at Massai, an East African restaurant that served up food reminiscent of the time we all spent in Kenya last year. Although the samosas we ate there were much better than those we were used to in Nairobi, we still found it to be pretty authentic.

After dinner we did some bar hopping but ran into one disappointment after another--one bar was closed, another advertised numerous drinks that they couldn't actually make, etc.--so we called it an early night.

Saturday morning began with breakfast at a local Turkish bakery--yum--then more walking around downtown. Matt took us on a tour of the Berlin Wall and the bunker where Hitler spent his final days. We wrapped up with a leisurely beer lunch outside the zoo and then napped it off in the late afternoon.

Saturday evening began with Thai dinner and was followed by excellent cocktails at The Velvet Lounge--stark contrast to the night before! Street prostitution is legal in Berlin so it was kind of shocking to witness obvious hookers soliciting johns all along the sidewalks between the restaurant and bar. I suppose it's the oldest profession in the world but I was still somewhat taken aback by how overt it was. We finally called it a night and were treated to Bollywood's greatest hits on our taxi's DVD player--what a finish!

Sunday morning was lazy and featured pancakes made with Matt's crazy awesome unbeatable pancake flipping technique. Lucy deserves some credit, though, because the recipe was Australian. They make a heck of a team and it was a heck of a weekend in Berlin. The sight seeing was wonderful but the best part was the company. Thanks for hosting and you're both welcome at my place in the US anytime!


Prague, Musical City

This weekend I took advantage of a last-minute fare to head to Prague, where I had never been before. A friend of mine from the Rice volleyball team, Klara, lives there and she kindly opened her doors on very short notice to host me. It was a wonderful--if short--weekend that has left me hungry to explore the rest of the beautiful Czech Republic.

The trip began well; while I was waiting to board in Geneva, someone kept whistling The Final Countdown. When I arrived at Prague airport Friday afternoon, I was disappointed that my passport wasn't stamped (Switzerland is now part of the Schengen area.) but my disappointment didn't last long. I was thrilled to discover that the baggage claim conveyor belts notify passengers of incoming bags with a sound similar to 80s-era video game lasers instead of the harsh buzzers I'm accustomed to. Good start.

When I exited customs, Klara was already there waiting for me and she whisked me off to her family's apartment in the 6th district. It was a nice house with a big garden, an apricot tree laden with fruit, two dogs (blood hounds), and three cats. Fun! We dropped off my stuff and headed immediately to Prague Castle, the largest castle in Europe or the world, depending on whom you ask.

Prague Castle is very cool and has a great view over the city. Its main gate features two very gruesome statues of men savagely beating other men with clubs and knives--what a warm welcome! Inside the castle walls is a very impressive St. Vitus Cathedral. Its exterior is mostly Gothic but includes Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles as well. Inside the cathedral stained glass windows create a dynamic light show on the stone and the pipe organ spans multiple stories. I could have spent an entire day there just learning about the myriad monuments, sculptures, and artwork--again, very impressive.

From there we wound our way down and walked around a bit, stopping at a cafe along the Vltava River. Everywhere we went there were numerous posters for classical music concerts: Mozart, Beethoven, and of course hometown favorite Dvorak. Every church, concert hall, and outdoor venue must have been booked for concerts. And then there were plenty of modern music concerts advertised as well: Madonna, Leonard Cohen, and on and on. Surely there must have been a music festival going on that weekend--nope, just business as usual in this very musical city.

After our exploration of Western Prague we returned to the 6th district for dinner with Klara's sister, Karo (also a Rice volleyball player), and brother-in-law at a converted abbey that now serves traditional Czech cuisine. I had roasted leg of rabbit on garlic creamed spinach--delicious!--and, of course, hand crafted beer. We wound down with a few more beers at a nearby beer garden and then called it a night.

Saturday we headed over to the East side of the river and walked around all day. We had lunch at Klara's parents' restaurant (Anna Bar--highly recommended!), where I had garlic soup and Czech goulash--so good!. Our next stop was Old Town, where we witnessed the chiming of the really, really, really ridiculously cool astronomical clock. En route to Vysehrad, we passed many beautiful towers, churches, theaters, concert halls, and other buildings--I'm so fortunate to have had a tour guide who knew where to go!

Vysehrad was another cool castle with great views over the city and a cool basilica (St. Peter & St. Paul). After paying our respects to Dvorak in the cemetery, we hung out on a bench along the castle walls and just enjoyed the nice weather for a while. We then relocated to a cafe with a black tie pianist who played everything from Beethoven sonatas to oldies. It was nice to be out of the direct sun for a while so we lingered before making our way to dinner.

In a major departure from meaty Czech cuisine we dined at Prague's best vegetarian restaurant. The food was phenomenal (I had bulgur risotto with chili tofu and peanut sauce.) but unfortunately Karo couldn't join us--because she was going into labor! We cut the evening short and returned to the apartment to await news--which came around 1:30 AM--of the birth. Congratulations to the entire family and no need to thank me for my services--I'm sure the baby would have come eventually even if I hadn't been there.

After a full weekend of Czech food, beer, walking tourism, and friends, and after instigating the birth of Klara's nephew, there was nothing left to do but return to Lausanne--but not before buying a bottle of Slivovice in honor of my Czechoslovakian classmate, Martin. Here's to you, Martin (Na zdravi!), I'm sorry we couldn't meet on this trip but I assure you that your compatriots gave me an excellent introduction to your beautiful country.

While I was waiting to board my flight back to Geneva, the Prague airport speakers began blasting The Final Countdown. What a poetic bookend to a great weekend in such a musical city!

Pictures are in my facebook album.