How to Sell a Watch

March 25, 2010 · Posted in Travel · Comments Off on How to Sell a Watch 

A man walks into a Swiss watch store, looking fairly normal, and probably not old enough to buy a real Swiss watch anyway.  An incredibly polished salesperson approaches him.

S: “Can I help you, sir?”

“Oh no, I’m just looking.  I’m a student and can’t afford these watches anyway.”

S: “Not a problem, please let me know if there is anything I can do.”

(Salesman notices potential customer admiring a particular watch, valued at around $20,000)

S: “Would you care to try it on?”

“No no, I’m just looking.”

S: “It’s not a problem…please….allow me.”

(Salesperson takes the watch out, gracefully places it on man’s wrist.  It’s gorgeous.)

S: “Lovely……………………………………………..isn’t it?”

S: “A man who invested in such a watch would certainly make a statement for future generations.”

I have to admit…he was good.  Very good.


Misadventures in the Alps

March 23, 2010 · Posted in Travel · 2 Comments 

Besides looking for a rigorous academic experience, one of my motivations for studying abroad was going somewhere I could ski basically at will.  Growing up in Chicago there isn’t exactly a surplus of great ski-able terrain anywhere close by.  Milan, however, is different.  It is extremely close to a small mountain range called the Alps, which, turns out, happens to be pure evil.  That’s right.  The mountains are evil.  Or at least out to get me.

My first, short trip was to Champoluc, a decent sized resort about two hours north of Milan.  It was a bunch of full-time students at Bocconi and me…not really knowing any of them.  We got off to a late start and hit the mountain late.  In true Italian fashion, before the first lift was done, they were already talking about where and when to have lunch!  No…I was there to ski.  Eat later.  Thankfully there were a few guys who shared my philosophy, so we broke out on our own.  The rest of the day was pretty uneventful until I had to take the buses home.  No direct bus exists (this happens more than once – it’s horrible) and at the station where we switch, not three minutes has gone by since the first bus left that I realize my brand new camera is on it.  Begging the assistance of a fellow traveler, I call (or rather she calls) the bus company.  I arrange for my friends back at Champoluc to meet the bus and talk to the driver…see if they can find my camera.  All of the calling back and forth took well over an hour and a half…most of it was trying to explain to the bus company what we were actually asking of them.

Now, for those of you paying attention, you’ll realize I’m still in Italy.  I am not getting this camera back.  It’s going to disappear like charges against Berlusconi…

Yet somehow…somehow…it turns up.  My friends pick it up, and I get it back. This served as a warning shot from Fate.  I should have listened.

But I very rarely listen.  So I sign up for the school ski trip to La Thuile.  Three days of boarding, drinking, eating, and very little sleeping.  To tempt fate even further I sign up to go heli-skiing on Sunday.

We arrive Friday, January 29th and ski for the afternoon.  As the day ends a terrible storm rolls in and some of the worst white out conditions I’ve ever skied in move in around us.  I was losing people less than 30 feet away from me.  My group ended up trapped at a closed ski lift with no way out – they had to reopen the lift for us so we could ride it up and ski down properly.  At the top, a kindly ski patrolman met us to make sure we didn’t get lost again…

Dinner Friday night began like this:

And ended like this:

After cursing every decision we made Friday night, we struggled to get up a bit Saturday.  You may recall the storm from the preceding paragraph – which is obviously going to make for some great powder the day after.  Cloud cover was extremely low Saturday morning, covering the base.  No one wanted to go up but Agnese and I…and about halfway up the mountain the cloud breaks and we’re in brilliant sunshine.  Do we call anyone?  HELL NO.  This is our powder.  We suffered to get it, it’s ours.

And for about 8 glorious runs, it was.  Powder up to your knees, unbroken, light and fluffy.  At times the spray was so tall it was cascading over my head.  There is almost nothing like that in the world.  Just you, alone with the mountain, breaking fresh tracks.

After soundly thrashing the mountain for a few hours we stopped into a little hut to have vin brule…hot spiced wine…which is something the US ski resorts need to start importing immediately.  It’s about 50x better than hot chocolate on a cold day on the slopes.

After lunch some fellow boarders (including an Army Ranger) wanted to go off-piste…said they had some good powder that no one had touched for at least weeks.  We jumped in under the gondola and promptly sank up to our waists in fresh snow.  They were right – no one had touched this stuff.  Here’s a shot of Carlos stopped partway down:

Everything is all fine and dandy until the line starts to squeeze in on us.  There’s really only one way left to go.  We’re about ten minutes from the bottom of the slope and literally 30 feet away from an open meadow.  We head through some trees until we reach the final squeeze…a tight cut between two trees.  I’m third to go, catch an exposed root slightly, and land not especially hard or anything.  Something twinges.  When I come up, I hold up my left hand, ski over to Adam and announce “I think my finger’s broken, I have to go now.”  Very matter of fact.  Time to go.  Carlos boards with me to the emergency station, where we confirm it is not broken but merely dislocated.

Pretty sure your finger doesn’t do that normally or naturally.  So without pain killers the nurse yanks my finger back into place, at which point my body does something bizarre.  From both elbows to the tips of my fingers, my arms go numb, and my hands twist and contort into a weird position.  I can’t move either of my hands for at least 15-20 minutes.  When I can finally get them back to normal they put this contraption on it that makes it look like a much more serious injury than I think it is at the time.  ( I say that because about six weeks later it’s still swollen and I don’t have full range of motion back in it yet…)

Clearly I am thrilled at this point.  Does this injury keep me from staying out until 4:00 a.m., dancing on tables and banging on the ceiling with the rest of the Bocconi students?  Sure it does.  Sure.

We will never be invited back to that resort.

Sunday of course was absolutely perfect weather, and so I wasn’t going to stay inside.  Instead of boarding, I decided to help some newbies learn to snowboard – they only grabbed my right hand a few times during the day.

At this point I’m 0 – 2 on the slopes, Alps are winning.  Juan, Kathy, Marco and I decide to head for a quick ski weekend nearby a little town called Bergamo.  There’s a direct bus from Milano to Castione del Presolano, so this is going to be easy, no problem.

At 6:30 in the morning we struggle to get to the bus station only to find out….there’s no bus.  This direct bus turned into a train to Bergamo, tram to Albino, bus to Clusone, a bus that went partway to Bratto then back to Clusone, another bus finally into Bratto.  At this point I was convinced we were going to have to ride a donkey into town eventually…  It was pouring rain and we were all thoroughly soaked upon arriving at our hotel.  All’s well that ends well though, because we found a very nice relaxing spa to spend Friday night at.

Saturday was pretty awful to start.  I’m riding the lift up with Marco who has never skied before.  It’s white-out conditions, so bad we are losing the chair in front of us.  Marco starts to get very nervous, and on the outside I’m trying to calm him down.  Telling him this is normal, no big deal, tutto bene.  On the inside, I’m convinced we’re all dead.  No one is making it down from this little adventure.  After about two hours we finally make it halfway down the mountain, to the restaurant where Marco more or less decides that’s it for the day.  Can’t say I blame him.  The sun eventually does come out and we get some nice views of the surrounding areas.

Sunday was much better, having gotten a light dusting of snow the night before.  Crystal clear skies greeted us, and the surrounding landscape looked even more amazing than the day before.

All is going well and good at this point.  The day’s fantastic, weather is nice, skiing was good.  AND lo and behold – a direct bus home does exist!  No more ridiculous antics just to get somewhere!  We can all sleep the two hours it will take to get back to Milano.

About halfway home, I wake up with a start, like you’d see in a movie, obviously realizing something important.  I smack Juan and ask:

“Juan, Juan, do you have our passports?  Did you take them from the hotel?”


Our passports were still at the hotel, now an hour away in Bratto.

You know what that means – unintentional ski day in Italy!

That Tuesday we packed up, me, Juan, and Kathy (Marco was still curled in the fetal position from the weekend) and drove back to Bratto.  Once again we encountered white-out conditions in the morning, with most of it clearing up by the end of day.  So…when you can’t see anything…and are not worried about losing your dear friend Marco while skiing…the bottles of red wine look ever more appealing at the restaurant on the mountain.

After a verrrrrrrrry long lunch, the skies cleared a bit and we were greeted with this:

Now all the wine and beer at lunch was speaking to us this afternoon, and what is said was “Stop for grappa.  That will be fun.”  Thankfully it had snowed Monday so there was lots of powder to cushion any afternoon spills.  And, being ridiculous Americans (ok Juan is Puerto Rican) we decided that our last run down was going to be shirtless.  Just gloves and pants.  Sometimes, when grappa speaks, it’s best to listen.

For my last and final appearance in the Alps, I was going to do it right.  My dad was coming in, and for a long weekend we were going to ski the real deal.  The broad consensus amongst my fellow students was: Zermatt, in Switzerland.  So on Thursday, March 4th, we boarded our train.  At our connection in Visp, the change in atmosphere was notable.  The train from Visp to Zermatt was two cars, packed with skiers.  Everyone had ski gear, people were drinking “Austrian herbal things” out of little shot bottles, and it was in general a boisterous affair.  Dad promptly fell asleep.  Something about how he hadn’t slept on the flight over, I don’t really know.  No cars are allowed in Zermatt so our little electric taxi picked us up and took us to the Hotel Firefly where they greeted us with a welcome drink.  I think everywhere you go should include a welcome drink but that’s just me.

Friday we walked out of our hotel to head to the resort and were promptly jumped by a bunch of Swiss guys who stole our wallets and taunted us in German.  Well I suppose technically I just made that part up.  It’s just the most expensive place I think I’ve ever been.  It’s almost $20 for bread at dinner.  Ridiculous.

Besides from the fact that the mountain hadn’t seen snow since December 1st, it was an amazing trip.  It’s hard for it not to be when you’re skiing under the Matterhorn.  For the most part I’ll let the pictures do the talking here –

A little serving of medicine

Chez Vrony

One shot of the spa at Hotel Firefly

Overall the trip was absolutely amazing.  However, this being the Alps, and the Alps hating me, something had to go wrong.  Let’s review shall we?

1 – Lost camera

2 – Dislocated finger

3 – Left-behind passport

4 – Massive case of food poisoning on Saturday night.  Just massive. Ruined the next two days.  Fantastic.

I can’t wait to go back to the Rockies…