This weekend was a fabulous trip to Luzern, where neither Katie nor I had ever been. More than just a quick trip, though, this was also our first experience traveling together with a dog--especially someone else's dog! I was a little anxious that something might go wrong and we would be far away from home but, as it turns out, Acacia is an amazing traveler.

Saturday morning we hopped on the train to Luzern and she was a perfect angel. I love being in a country where dogs are just considered part of the family and are let in basically everywhere. They ride trains and buses as easily and naturally as humans; you just buy a half-price ticket for them. Acacia just plopped down next to us and snoozed for most of the train ride.

When we arrived in Luzern we met up with Katie's mom and two aunts, who had just come in from Heidelberg, where one of them lives. We spent the afternoon catching up then went out to an early dinner at Schuetzengarten, a "vegetarian restaurant . . . with meat!" Their food was great with many vegetarian and vegan options--plus plenty of meat and fish options for those in our group who were not so inclined. However, all the recent factoids Katie recently unearthed about the energy and water chains in the [US] meat industry (e.g. eliminating 1 lb of meat from your diet reduces your water consumption more than not showering for an entire year!) motivated me to go the veggie route.

We were joined by two IMD classmates from Zurich/Zug at dinner and it was a real pleasure catching up with them. After dinner they dropped us off at the KKL concert hall for a Morcheeba concert. I discovered Morcheeba almost 10 years ago while I was living in Florence but had never seen them live. For the last several years I haven't had much interest in seeing them live without Skye Edwards, their original vocalist. However, they reunited for their most recent album so the timing was just perfect.

After a really subpar warmup act (One redeeming factor: he led a Bohemian Rhapsody sing-a-long before finishing.), Morcheeba took the stage and ROCKED OUT! Their live songs bear enough resemblance to the studio originals that they are still awesome, but their showmanship definitely adds a significant "can't get this on the album" element too. They played a great mix of of their older favorites and new additions; Skye Edwards has just as an awesome voice live as she does on recordings so I'm so glad she's back.

The one downside was that the crowd was very . . . Swiss. Almost no one was dancing or singing and it was tough for the rest of us to get down without bumping into people. Oh well, the music got Katie and me so pumped up that we just had to let loose anyway. When the concert finally ended we were sweaty and satisfied after a great performance.

Sunday we spent just walking around Luzern, including a traipse around the lake to Wagner's house. We met up with another IMD classmate and his wife for a late lunch and had dinner along the river with Katie's family. No agenda, just walking around a beautiful place and enjoying good food with good people.

Acacia caused a stir wherever she went. She's a very big girl (Not sure exactly how big--maybe 100 pounds?) and tourists are either scared by her or enchanted by her. Many tourists, especially Asians, timidly requested to have their picture taken with her. She's so sweet and good natured that this was no problem at all. And each restaurant we frequented brought her out a bowl of water--again, it's so nice to be in a place that supports dogs and their owners!

Monday morning we ascended Mount Pilatus, which offered gorgeous 360-degree views of . . . mostly clouds since there was a lot of cloud cover that day. Oh well, it was still a fun trip and there was some good mini-hiking at the top. Again, Acacia was so good on multiple modes of transportation: train, funicular, cable car, and bus. It was a nice excursion to wrap up a quick-but-excellent weekend with family and friends in a new place.

Now we are back in Lutry! Katie is on vacation and I'm trying to sneak in work during her naps and reading sessions. As I've known since her first visit during my IMD year, Switzerland is so, so much better with her here!


Turkey For Me, Turkey For You

The IMD MBA Class of 2008 reunion in Bodrum, Turkey was awesome! My Turkish classmate organized a trip to his homeland and invited the rest of us. As I was already on this side of the Atlantic I couldn't pass up such an opportunity!

My journey began very inauspiciously. I had planned down to the minute my Thursday morning schedule: drop Acacia off at the kennel, pack, walk to the Lutry train station, take the train to Geneva airport, and wait patiently/comfortably for my flight--very Swiss! However, it was not meant to be. There was construction on the one road into the tiny town where the kennel was located and my GPS had a hard time finding an alternative route. After an hour of driving around in concentric circles, the GPS finally locked onto a new route and we were in business--but the damage was done.

I raced back home, grabbed my suitcase, hoping that it had enough toiletries and clothes to sustain me for four days, and then realized that I was too late to catch the train from Lutry. My next chance was the train from Lausanne, so I hopped in the car and proceeded apace, intending to park the car at the Lausanne train station. Unfortunately I arrived about two minutes too late, leaving me with one final option: driving to the airport and parking there--very American!

Driving to the airport is slower than taking the fast train, though, so I would be cutting it close. And the Swiss have HUGE penalties for speeding (They take a percentage of your salary instead of a fixed fee.) so I wouldn't be able to make up time that way. It was my only option, though, so I moved ahead. And then I hit major traffic due to construction--doh! Finally I arrived at the airport, figured out how/where to park, and ran into the checkin line about 40 minutes before the flight was due to depart.

This is where the Swiss really showed their quality. It took me minutes to check in and then I was expedited through security. After a very friendly exchange at Passport Control, I made it to the gate with 25 minutes to spare. Well done, well run GVA airport!

Turkish Airlines was another story altogether. Aside from the flight that left from Geneva, all of my Turkish Airlines flights were delayed. They also kept strange things like passenger meals and newspapers in the overhead bins, a practice I had never seen before. But the food was good, even the turkey sandwich (Was that supposed to be a joke?) on my second leg. At long last, we eventually made it to Bodrum airport several hours late. After a bus and a taxi ride I finally caught up with the rest of the group for dinner at a nice hotel along the ocean. Fresh, local seafood, mmm!

I shared a room on the trip with my Danish classmate, Peter, whom I usually call "The Great Dane." Our room was small but it had enough air conditioning for us to sleep. He's super nice and very athletic so we were looking forward to playing a lot of beach volleyball together during the trip. I brought my Wilson AVP ball to be used in its 5th country.

Friday we woke up early and went for a swim in the ocean, which was cool, clear, and still. This was followed by a monstrous breakfast as we waited for others to wake up. Turkish food features many cool foods with high water content, e.g. tomatoes, cucumbers, and watermelon, which work well in the hot, dry climate. These foods plus lots of cheese, bread, and honey comprised our breakfast each morning and were omnipresent throughout the rest of our days.

We spent the rest of Friday at a private hotel beach. "Beach" may not be accurate as there wasn't any sand but they had wooden docks with shade and lounge chairs all along the coast line plus a private swimming area and great bar/kitchen. It was a very, very nice way to spend a long day in the sun.

Turkish women are beautiful, by the way. Everywhere you look there are Princess Jasmine lookalikes. This was not what I expected out of Turkey but it certainly isn't the first time I've shown myself to be culturally ignorant.

Saturday we rented a boat and motored around the Aegean, dropping anchor here and there to swim and eat freshly caught, grilled fish and Turkish pastries. What a life! That evening we were treated to a veritable feast at a local restaurant where we had an "in" with the owners. We began the meal already full and by the end we were positively stuffed. To digest we added Raki (Turkish liqueur) too and then rolled ourselves home.

Sunday we spent the day eating and lounging around the beach at our Turkish classmate's parents' house. We hadn't been able to find any beach volleyball the entire trip (Go figure with no "beaches" available!) but this place at least had a ping pong table. So finally we got some land sport in on top of the swimming we had been doing. By that evening all of our classmates had already departed so Peter and I walked along the coast, found a nice place for fresh seafood and had one final meal.

My return trip went about as well as my first one. The taxi got me to the airport with plenty of time but my flight was delayed 80 minutes. We arrived in Istanbul's Ataturk airport after my connection should have departed but, fortunately for me, Turkish Airlines is consistent and my flight to Geneva was also delayed--just long enough for me to sprint across the airport and run down the jetway before they closed the hatch.

Waiting for me at GVA was a friend from Rice who will stay here for a few days. It's good to be back in Switzerland but my few days in Turkey definitely generated positive memories that will last a lifetime! More than the eating, swimming, and boating, I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to catch up with my classmates and make some new Turkish friends.


Swiss Productivity

Now that I am settling into my routine here in Switzerland, I'm becoming very productive! When not meeting with previous connections or networking with new connections, I've been spending most of my time powering through major objectives at the Smart Office Energy Solutions EMEA HQ. Sometimes this is by myself but I have also had the fortune to work with some local experts on designing some revolutionary new product features. As I am very extroverted, working with others like this makes me even more energized and productive.

I have also been pursuing a new type of workout regimen: one with no gym whatsoever! This is a first for me so I enlisted the help of noted expert Drew Skaggs in putting together a program that would continue to meet my fitness goals without requiring specialized equipment. You can see the initial results at Drew's THE SHOP blog. This first week won't be quite complete due to scheduling constraints but, as of next week, I should be into the routine.

My time here hasn't been all diligent work and working out, though; there has been plenty of time to play as well! On Tuesday I attended a concert at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival for the first time. Buddy Guy was in town and I just couldn't resist the opportunity to see him. The event was fantastic: a bunch of people packed into a small venue and Buddy playing to the crowd. The concert was basically a nonstop medley of his original songs mixed in with blues standards ("Hoochie Coochie Man," "I Just Want to Make Love to You," "Five Long Years," "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," "Strange Brew," and "Sunshine of Your Love," to name a few). He adopted a "point-counter point" style, singing softly and slowly then answering with blistering electric guitar riffs. As is his trademark, he used a wireless pickup and came out into the audience to play a couple of songs. I was 20-40 feet away from him all night; it was a grand experience!

The following night a French classmate and his family hosted a party for Bastille Day! There were 15 of us in all (including a family from a different IMD class year) so this was my best chance to date to catch up with those whom I haven't seen in awhile. Even though I had to get up very early this morning to check everything off before departing for Turkey, I stayed at the party very late because it was so, so nice.

And on that note, I had better get moving in order to make it to the airport on time!


Returning to Normalcy

After my first week back in Switzerland I'm starting to feel plugged back in to a "normal life." Although it's not routine per se, it is beginning to feel just like business as usual--a good thing.

Even though I have a car at my disposal here it is amazing how much more active I am just from walking/taking public transportation everywhere! Since my arrival, I've burned an average of 3,415 calories per day vs. an average of 3,054 per day in Houston. The fact that much of the walking is uphill probably contributes as well!

Friday night I attended an apartment party for a former Poken coworker who is leaving to join the staff of . . . IMD! I know from personal experience that it can be hard to make the decision to depart from Poken but I am very, very excited for her new opportunity--and for IMD's great new team member!. The party was a lot of fun and ridiculously international--exactly what I remember about my Swiss social life.

Saturday one of my best friends from IMD and his family came to visit so we organized a small dinner gathering with other local classmates. It was so nice to see everyone and impressive how easily and naturally we fell back into catch-up discourse. IMD is more than a name on our diplomas; it is a unique, trying, wonderful experience that binds us all together and--I suspect--always will.

Sunday was the finals of the World Cup. As I did Tuesday night for the semifinals, I attended a major outdoor viewing party in Ouchy with an enormous screen. The place was packed to the hilt with fans for Spain but we were cheering for Holland (supporting Margot, one of my French classmates's Dutch wife, who organized the get-together). It was a tough, close match but, in the end, Spain won and we had to sneak out before the mob turned on us.

Soccer really frustrates me to watch. It does have potential and I can see why so many people worldwide get excited about it whenever there's a run toward goal that makes you hold your breath. However, more of it seems to be about baiting the ref for some wimpy foul instead of just playing the game and that just totally ruins it for me. Still, it was fun to be amidst a throng of people who were very, very excited about the game.

This will be a short week as I have much to do before heading to Turkey for an IMD class mini-reunion!


Settling In in Lutry

Slowly but surely I am settling into life in Lutry. It is very different than living in Lausanne--or even Ouchy--where I lived for one year each. Although Lausanne is only a city of 150,000 people, it is a bustling metropolis relative to the sleepy town of Lutry. I definitely feel less "connected" here--which is not a bad thing! It does reinforce my preference for living in the heart of a major city while choosing more "out there" settings to get away.

I've always found Switzerland to be a very magical place and the further out you go the more fairy tale-like it becomes. Villages like Lutry are interspersed with old forests full of tall trees--very much how I would imagine the "dark forest" although not nearly as sinister. There are also spiders everywhere! Each morning when I wake up there are new cobwebs along the paths outside. Although I have no great love for spiders, I do appreciate the work they do on keeping the "mosquito" (not real mosquitoes because they don't bite!) population small. The most surreal aspect of the Swiss environs, though, is the false twilight. Because we are surrounded by mountains, the sun "sets" out of sight at 8 or 9. However, it still provides plenty of ambient light until it actually slips below the horizon around 10. This leaves 1-2 hours with the sky a soft, mystical blue. The street lights are already on, but it isn't quite dark yet. It's fantastic.

Despite this I have been doing more than frolicking in fairy tale land. Every day (after taking Acacia on a morning walk through the nearby vineyards) I have had meetings in town with IMD faculty, staff, friends, and other connections. It feels great to be back in touch with this crowd!

Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights have all featured meet-ups with classmates. Tuesday's was to cheer on the Dutch (on behalf of the Dutch wife of a French classmate) at the huge outdoor viewing party in Ouchy. While I'm still not in love with soccer--World Cup or no--it is fun to be around lots of people who are!

Wednesday evening I had to pass on social activities in order to give my first investor pitch on this side of the Atlantic. There is a budding Angel network here that has just started a small sustainable investment subgroup. The gathering was tiny and informal but it was very nice to be around others in the cleantech space. Because I was a last-minute addition to the program I just gave a five-minute "quick pitch" but it stimulated a great deal of Q&A. This group may not be a great fit for us right now but I'm very excited to have made the contacts.

The rest of the week and weekend is still up in the air but I will report in soon!


Back En Suisse

To beat the Houston summer heat I'm officing from Switzlerand for much of July and August. One of my favorite IMD professors is out of town for the summer and was looking for someone to watch his place, take care of his dog, water his plants, etc. Katie and I were looking for an opportunity to escape the Houston summer. Voila, a match made in heaven!

Narrowly escaping Hurricane Alex, my delayed flight made it out of Houston and arrived in Frankfurt too late for me to make my connection. That was no problem, though; Frankfurt's Star Alliance lounge was nice and World Cup soccer was on. As most of my readers will know, I'm no big fan of soccer but I do enjoy the cultural experience of watching momentous games in places where people take it very seriously. The game that was on during my layover in Frankfurt was Germany-Argentina so the entire airport was abuzz with excitement. In the lounge, they were offering both German and Argentinian cuisine--very festive. Germany scored early and often so most of the travelers around me were quite pleased.

Eventually I made it into Switzerland and was surprised by a few things. First, it didn't feel nostalgic at all. I suppose I haven't been gone long enough for that. It really just felt like I was coming back to a second home. Second, nothing has changed about Geneva Airport. In the nine months that I've been gone, so much has changed in my life and my business, but even the watch advertisements along the moving walkway in Geneva are the exact same as those from before I left.

Finally, this was my first time being picked up at the airport in a car. Previously I had always just taken the fast train back to Lausanne. This time, though, I am living in Lutry, about 5km outside of Lausanne. The distance isn't that great, but the dependence on an extra travel leg of bus or train adds significant time to travels and makes a car much more useful.

I spent most of the weekend catching up with my professor and familiarizing myself with the house. It is very, very nice and is going to be a wonderful place to spend the next several weeks. It features a pool, a great view of the lake, and--most importantly--it comes with a three-and-a-half-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog named Acacia! She's a big girl with lots of energy and she seems to like me. :-)

Sunday night we had an impromptu 4th of July dinner at my Singaporean classmate's house, joined by a French classmate, his wife, and an American/Swedish/Mexican classmate. It was so great to see people for the first time in months and we very naturally fell back into old patterns of career discussions and IMD gossip.

People are complaining about how unseasonably hot the weather is here right now but I will take the moderate, dry heat over Houston's oppressive heat/humidity any day! This isn't a vacation; I'm just taking advantage of the fact that right now it doesn't really matter where in the world I work. Still, it feels great to be back, especially at this time of year!