Traveling Recommendations for Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland

Recently I've had several requests from friends who have been traveling to Geneva on what to see/do. To avoid repeating myself, I've coalesced my responses into the following recommendations:

Geneva frankly isn't that much of a destination - it's more of a place to live than it is to visit. While you're there make sure to walk around and see the jet d'eau, some old/important churches, etc. but I think your best bet is to get out of town.

Lausanne is awesome. Check out the Olympic Museum along the lake, the Chateau d'Ouchy nearby, Place St-Francois further up the mountainside, and the cathedral / canton hall (an old castle) even further up.  The train from Geneva to Lausanne is only ~45 minutes. Ouchy, at the shore of the lake, is a former fishing village that is now the summer destination of many of Europe's and the Middle East's rich and famous. Featuring a long promenade, this area is great for strolling and people watching.

For night life the major hub is the Flon district, a filled-in river full of restaurants, bars, and clubs. For good food my absolute favorite is Beau Rivage along the lake - the cafe, not the full restaurant. The full restaurant is Michelin starred and obscenely expensive. The cafe offers the same food and costs 1/3 as much - still not cheap given the damned exchange rate. Further up from Beau Rivage is the Croix d'Ouchy, a little less elegant but just as nice. For authentic Swiss fondue I recommend Cafe Romand near St-Francois or Cafe du Vieil Ouchy on the water. 

Other Ideas
Take the ferry across the lake to Evian.
Take a day trip to Gruyeres and see how cheese and chocolate are made.
Take the train or bus to Lutry and hop on the Lavaux Express, a mini-train that winds through the vineyards and stops for several tastings. Swiss wine is so-so and overpriced, but, when the weather is nice, this makes for a lovely outing.
Nyons and Montreux are particularly scenic with their chateaux right along the lake.  If you go all the way to Montreux (another 15 minutes by train beyond Lausanne), you can see the iconic Freddy Mercury statue near the Jazz Festival location. He, Audrey Hepburn, and some others are buried there.
If you really want to take in many of the towns/chateaux along the lake, take a sunset dinner cruise, which will take you by each one.

What do you think, have I captured it or missed the mark? Any other recommendations to add?


Buenos Aires Part 2

Katie and I are now wrapping up what has really been an awesome trip. Sunday evening we had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant with a friend of a friend who recently moved back to his native Buenos Aires from Houston. Monday we walked downtown and, after lunch with a local Rice alum, we walked to the "must see" sights in that area: the Casa Rosada, the Obelisco, etc.

Monday evening we went for Italian again - this time to a little place called Guido´s! It was such a trip inside, very kitschy with all kinds of Italian and Italian-American memorabilia. It was a set menu featuring whatever Guido happened to be making that evening, course after course of mostly vegetarian antipasti and pasta while we were there. Add to that a good house red wine and a low, low price and we were quite satisfied!

Tuesday I went back downtown, this time for a meeting that one of my IMD classmates had set up with the energy manager of his company. Doing business in Buenos Aires I felt like quite the little jet setter. :) Katie and I then met back up and had lunch at Buenos Aires Verde, a vegetarian/vegan/organic kind of place which was quite good.

Tuesday evening we had dinner at Leopoldo, a modern Argentinian-Asian fusion restaurant that was rumored to be very popular on Tuesdays - and indeed it was! This time we were meeting another IMD alum who had helped my ICP group via conference call four years ago so it was a pleasure to meet in her finally in person. The food was delicious; I went for the beef and paired it with a big ole Malbec - great combo! My beef came with a ¨perfect egg,¨ soft boiled at 63 degrees C for one hour. And it did indeed have an awesome texture. I think I´ll leave that to the pros, though, and keep frying mine up in just a couple of minutes!

Wednesday was supposed to be rainy so Katie and I spent it in the two big art museums: the MALBA and the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo. The former is more of a classic art museum while the latter is a converted mansion featuring much of its original owners´ private collection.

After a late lunch, siesta, and run, we had dinner with Felipe, Laura, and their toddler, Celeste, for one last hurrah together. They were excellent hosts while we were here and it was fantastic to finish up our trip with a lazy, simple dinner with them.

We checked out of the hotel this morning but had all day to kill before heading to the airport for our overnight flight. We walked around a bit, relaxed in the park watching all the dogs chase balls, sticks, pigeons, and each other. More walking, another lazy lunch, and finally it is nearly time to go.

Final impressions of Argentina are very positive. Some things leave much to be desired. There is always trash in the streets, for example. There is no recycling to speak of. You can´t walk anywhere without inhaling second hand smoke. But the people are very nice. They seem to value fitness and the outdoors (Even late at night there would be groups of boot campers and others doing exercises in the parks.) - and dogs! The wine is good and very inexpensive. The beef is of such high quality that, even when they massively overcook it (to my tastes), it is still tender and delicious. Add to that the perfect weather we had all week and we are sold!

After a week here I speak much more Spanish than I used to, I´m very relaxed, and I´ve had a great time with old friends, new friends, and - most importantly - Katie. This has been a great trip and we will certainly look for excuses to come back again. ¡Adios, Buenos Aires!


Buenos Aires: Part 1

For our one-year anniversary, Katie and I decided to go somewhere we've never been before: Buenos Aires, Argentina! Thanks to recommendations from many friends who have visited or lived there, we have more on our BA bucket list than we could possibly handle in a week, but we'll certainly make a noble effort.

After an overnight flight direct from Houston (There was another Rice alum in our row on the plane - small world!) we arrived Friday morning to glorious weather. Although it's Autumn here, it felt much more like late summer. We checked into our hotel, which is right off of one of the main throughways: Avenida del Libertador, a wide street (10 lanes one way!) lined with parks for miles and miles. We're in the Palermo neighborhood, which is very walkable and full of shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants on every block.

Our first order of business was to break our fast so we struck out walking. I was stunned by how much green space there is even in the heart of this large urban area. Every few blocks there is another park or monument with lots of grass around it. Combine this with the extreme walkability and A. everyone is out walking all the time and B. it seems that everyone has a dog! This is great . . . except that people don't seem to pick up after their dogs here. Early in the morning the shop keepers hose down the sidewalks but, as the day wears on, you have to be careful of stepping on land mines.

We found a little cafe with no English on their menu, so we figured it was safely not a tourist trap. Katie ordered a pizza while I took the salad bar. Because of Argentina's high Italian immigrant population, it seems that we will never find ourselves more than a block away from pizza or pasta. This is great for Katie, but not so much for me, as I'm rarely eating grains or starchy carbs these days. My salad bar, by contrast, consisted of at least 75% meat options (which Katie, a vegetarian, can't eat)! Yes, we're definitely in Argentina! Between the two of us we can eat just about everything, but rarely the same thing. On a related note, I'm relaxing my grain avoidance rules while here to eat empanadas, which we have had with almost every meal - including breakfast!

We spent much of the afternoon just wandering around and then I went for a run in one of the nearby parks. There are miles and miles of trails; I could probably run a different route each day and still have not covered them all by the end of this vacation.

For dinner we met up with two of my IMD classmates, Felipe and Hernan, and their wives, at Sucre, a modern Argentinian restaurant. The food was fantastic and of course we accompanied it with Mendoza Malbec. From the reviews it seems that this restaurant is considered pricey but, due to the exchange rate with the US dollar, it is actually quite affordable - even by Houston standards, which is already pretty cheap.

Saturday we put together a breakfast from the bakery down the corner and then struck out to La Recoleta, where we visited the craft market and the cemetery. I was blown away by the cemetery; it's like an entire city of mausoleums with different streets and paths and avenues between them. Some of them are more dark and somber; some are more colorful and vivacious, but they're all really impressive with really detailed craftsmanship. Some haven't been terribly well maintained, though, and you can even see the coffins inside. We were there on a sunny day but I have to believe that it would be incredibly creepy to be walking around all those tombs at night!

Saturday evening we did a wine tasting at Anuva, an exporter of boutique Argentinian wines. It was fun not only to taste wines we had never heard of there but also to meet other couples who were interested in wine. Because Argentinians eat dinner very late, we then had some time to kill and had a drink at 868, an old school speakeasy-style cocktail joint. Our drinks were delicious and expertly crafted by a very nice, talkative bartender.

Finally we had dinner at Casa Felix, a small private dining establishment that grows all of its own herbs and seasonings on site and sources everything else locally. Here again it was fun to meet other couples (including another Rice alum!) who value the locavore lifestyle enough to seek it out while traveling. Dinner was delicious: Bolivian peanut soup, salad with homemade burrata and spicy plum marmalade, cocoa-chili crusted Patagonian sand perch, and three different papaya desserts. It was a very, very satisfying way to end the day!

Sunday has been a wonderful ride as well. We spent the day out on Felipe's boat (with Laura, Hernan, and Natalia) getting a tour of the many rivers around Buenos Aires. Eventually we stopped for an outdoor lunch (mostly meat but they managed to find some ravioli for Katie!) and just relaxed along the beach for some time. We followed this up with alfajores, a traditional Argentinian cookie that can be thought of as an oreo but 800x better, and headed back to the city - a fun IMD mini-reunion boat trip!

After nearly three days here, I'm beginning to get the feel for the place. Buenos Aires is widely called the "Paris of the South" due to its very European layout and culture but it seems much more like Rome than Paris to me. It is big and beautiful with all kinds of stuff to do at all hours, but it is just a little bit dirtier (e.g. the dog poop!) and the fiery latin tempers cursing at each other in traffic definitely remind me more of Rome. One of the big monuments here (which we haven't yet visited) is an obelisk, which I much more strongly associate with Rome than with Paris too. We will be here several more days so we will see if my opinion changes!

For the moment, though, we're off to an Italian restaurant with a friend of one of my startup company's investors - hooray for the global network!


A Life of Significance

In my last post I mused about my pattern of chronic overcommitment and speculated that a contributing factor might have been my father's early death contributing to a sense of urgency to get something done before it's too late. This is probably a bit simplistic as it neglects the motivation to do something significant in the first place. For that it's probably more instructive to look at my other source of DNA: my mother.

Last weekend Katie and I ventured up to the Washington DC area to cheer Mom on as she took delivery of the Discovery space shuttle for the National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center. As a curator of human spaceflight, this is essentially the crowning accomplishment of her career. She has authored/edited books, produced exhibits, given talks at conferences, been interviewed by major media, etc. but the acquisition of Discovery is in an entirely different league. Discovery is the champion of the shuttle fleet, having flown more than any other spacecraft, including many notable missions. This $2.4B (in 80s dollars, mind you!) artifact is really, really significant.

Looking back, Mom has been a constant source of inspiration for me toward a life of significance. Coming from very modest beginnings in a small town, she has constantly striven to stretch her wings and test herself against greater and greater challenges - through Arkansas, Texas, California, Minnesota, New York, Alabama, and, finally, Washington DC. She received the Smithsonian's job offer to work at one of the world's most popular museums while we were still living in Huntsville, Alabama. To my 10-year-old self DC seemed like a big, scary place. Mom didn't shy away from the opportunity, though; she was eager to test herself on a larger stage, one that would would impact millions of people each year.

During my childhood, Mom was always encouraging me to spread my own wings. Whether through family trips to foreign countries, or taking me to plays/concerts/cultural events, or reading with me, or visits to historical sites (and LOTS of museums, obviously), she always nudged me to expand my horizons. What impresses me most, though, are the things she helped me pursue that were way outside her comfort zone: Art Monk Football Camp, for example, or the annual Great Debate about the size and rate of expansion of the universe.

Throughout, she also tried to instill in me her values of doing the right thing, the honest thing, rather than just the thing of greatest benefit. Lord knows I didn't always succeed in this area, but she was always there to, ahem, help me see where I had strayed - and correct course!

Add all that up and I think it's easy to see how I would find myself dedicating my professional life to addressing the world's energy challenges. As Nobel Laureate Dick Smalley often said (paraphrasing), if you take the top ten challenges to humanity over the next 50 years and solve energy (the top challenge, according to Smalley), you solve at least eight of the others (water, food, environment, poverty, etc.) incidentally.

I'm working hard on this most significant of industries not just because I believe my efforts will have a big impact, but also because I believe it is right. So many bright, capable, energetic people work in industries or for organizations where they really aren't addressing the world's challenges. Many of them don't love that fact but they don't know anything else. Some of them don't really care. Most don't really think about it.

Thank you, Mom, for inspiring me to live a life of significance. A life of meaning. I'm so proud of what you have accomplished and I'm working my tail off to live up to your example!