Thursday, May 15, 2008
Europe at the Speed of Light
(Note to self - I just checked and it looks like I did NOT blog about Copenhagen or Amsterdam. I'll post pictures of those wonderful places soon.)
My usual routine was to rise early, around 6:00 am, head to the airport (or train station) for departure around 8:00-9:00 am. I would arrive in the destination city before lunch and visit one or two customers. The sales people and I would grab some dinner, then we'd give a presentation at a local SQL Server user group meeting that night. European culture being what it is, we'd then go for beers, allowing me to get back to the hotel around 11:00 only to start it all over again the next day. Whew!
During my second week, I visited Amsterdam as well as Lausanne, Switzerland. Lausanne is a smallist city of about 150,000 with two main areas - beach and city. (Amsterdam in another post!) It's only about 40 km from Geneva and less than 10 km from the well-known resort towns of Vevey and Montreaux (where the band Deep Purple wrote "Smoke on the Water").
Switzerland, first and foremost, is mountainous. This is both beautiful, when you're looking, and arduous, when you're walking. The lower hills are covered with vineyards and small farms, while the upper hills and mountains are adorned with little villages and snow-capped peaks. The cities are clean and the people, contrary to the stereotype, are not generally multi-lingual. Most people I ran into only spoke French, unless they worked in the travel or hospitality business or were in IT as I am. All the signage was in French.
I was surprised that there were so many vineyards since Switzerland isn't known for wine. But from what I gathered from the locals, there's a very strong culture to buy locally. So most if not all of the wine produced locally is consumed locally. Same goes for the famous Swiss chocolate. The Swiss eat more chocolate than anyone else, about 7 kilograms per year (that's over 15 pounds!). Although brands like Toblerone and Lindt are famous, the Swiss eat more dark chocolate than I had imagined.
Switzerland is also expensive overall and uses the Swiss Franc instead of the Euro (which was a good thing since the Franc had a more favorable exchange rate than the Euro). The Swiss are an affluent people and so can afford to have the nicer things in life. Throughout the whole trip, I never felt like I was in a low-rent part of town. The pretty town of Lausanne and French/Swiss architecture made for some nice sightseeing, with the gorgeous Swiss Alps and Lake Geneva as a backdrop.
One peculiarity I found common throughout northern Europe was that there's no air conditioner in your hotel room. And if there's an AC in your car, don't expect a European to use it. I wasn't sure if it was just unusually warm for that time of year, but I found myself a tad uncomfortable most of the time. It wasn't uncommon to be with my German colleagues all wearing suits and even vests and yet not turn on the AC. I was sweaty but tried my best to just get used to it.
While there, my colleagues and I did our seminar at the amazing Beau Rivage Palace. This place was literally a 19th century palace and it showed in every detail of the place. To give you an idea what the place was like, the gift shop(s) carried famous Swiss watch brands that averaged around $3,000 after currency conversion. Of course, you could spend a lot more than that on a fine Swiss watch if you wanted.
I hope to go back some day and enjoy all of the activities and sights that the beautiful lake and mountains offer!