Ireland Weeks 8 & 9

Although I have been back from Ireland for a few weeks now I still wanted to finish blogging about my experiences, I just had to write the final paper first.

Weeks 8 & 9 were lots of fun for me. My duties with Coastwatch came to an end so I had a bit of time to do things that I wanted to do. Here are a few of the highlights from my final weeks in Ireland.

Ramsar Meeting

I had the pleasure of traveling south of Dublin to Wexford for a Ramsar meeting where I learned about issues affecting wetlands in Ireland. The name “Ramsar” comes from a city in Iran where the first International convention on wetlands took place in 1971 . Ramsar sites are specially designated wetlands that are critical habitats for waterfowl.

While at the meeting we saw a presentation about Tacumshin Lake where a variety of impacts are affecting the sustainability of the wetlands and habitats of the area. The condensed version goes like this, human impacts are causing the lake to dry up which is destroying the wetlands and reducing habitat space for waterfowl. Other human impacts such as twitchers (extreme birders) and people driving vehicles in the dried up lake are causing further damage.

Botanic Gardens

Over the weekend I visited the Dublin Botanic Gardens with my housemate Emma from France. We saw lots of amazing flowers. My favorites were the orchids and the carnivorous plants.

Dublin Falconry

I had the chance to see a falconry show at Trinity College, thanks to the Zoology club, and it was fantastic! The falconer brought a buzzard, two Harris Hawks, a Barn Owl, an Eagle Owl, a Long-Eared Owl, and two Peregrine Falcons (my favorite birds). It was so amazing to see the bond that he had created with the birds. While he was there we got to pet an owl, and he also flew the harris hawks and barn owl.

Donabate, County Fingal

I also traveled north of Dublin to an area named Donabate. This beach was by far the cleanest beach that I saw during my internship. I found just a few pieces of rubbish while surveying and there was lots of biodiversity. While Surveying I saw Lug worms and Sand masons, Dog Whelks, Sea Anemone, a few different species of birds, and amazing views.

The Costs to Disrupting Biodiversity & Other Planetary Boundaries: A study of Anthropogenic Impacts on Coastal Ireland

Week 1

So, this is my first trip to Europe and I am super excited! I am working with Coastwatch Europe, which is an NGO based out of Trinity College Dublin that is concerned with the health of the Irish and European coastal zones. I want to thank Lindsay Ortega and Joseph Dorsey for recommending Coastwatch as an internship for me. I will be helping Coastwatch with their annual survey of the Ireland coastline that takes place between September 15th and October 15th. The survey will be looking at the litter, biodiversity, and water pollution from nitrates (fertilizers) on the coasts as well as any other degradation that may be present such as development or destruction of dunes, etc.

I am really lucky that there is already another intern here to show me the ropes. Her name is Christine and she is an environmental science major. She has already been to Ireland a few times and has really helped me learn the city and the public transportation in and around Dublin

Malahide Beach

The first week I was here I visited Malahide beach. Malahide is located about 30 minutes north of Dublin and has an amazing coastline with dunes and rocks and lots of seabirds. We set off from Dublin and rode the train, called the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transport), to meet up with one of the regional coordinators for Coastwatch in order to survey a 500 m section of the beach at low tide so that I could start to learn the process.

Christine and I going over the Coastwatch Survey

Shells collected from Malahide Beach
Shells that we collected from Malahide Beach during our survey.
Michael and I performing a Nitrate test
Michael and I performing a Nitrate test. All clear.

Fieldwork is Definitely my favorite thing to do because I get to go to the beach! However, sometimes you also have to do things you don’t really enjoy while interning. A lot of my time is spent writing emails, booking survey units, and packing up mail for our volunteers. So, I really cherish the time I get to spend outside.

Bulloch Harbour

My first field experience with my supervisor, Karin Dubsky, was at Bulloch Harbour just south of Dublin. We completed the Harbour form questionnaire which was pretty much the same thing as our other survey with just a few different questions about litter. I was very surprised by how nice the staff were. They answered all of our questions and were very helpful. We also performed a water clarity test with a secchi disk. This test helps determine if there may be any extra nutrients in the water. I feel like in the United States we would have gotten a lot of backlash for asking the questions we did. The most notable thing we saw was a lack of garbage bins, lots of litter, and an invasive Japanese seaweed.

Bulloch harbour
Bulloch harbour
Christine and Karin. Cold and Windy
Christine and Karin. Cold and Windy
Japanese Knotweed on a Seccihi Disk
Japanese Knotweed on a Secchi Disk

Howth Harbour

The next day we set out to Howth Harbour just north of Dublin. This was my first experience driving on the other side of the road. I was nervous at first but got the hang of it fairly quickly. While at Howth we noticed again the lack of garbage bins and lots of litter in the rocks surrounding the harbour.

Howth Harbour
Howth Harbour
Howth Harbour
Howth Harbour
Driving on the other side for the first time
Driving on the other side for the first time
Haole Shaka
Haole Shaka

Malahide Castle

My first day off (Saturday) I traveled to Malahide Castle with Christine and her roommate. This castle was in the same family for over 800 years and is one of the oldest castles in Ireland. There are beautiful gardens on the grounds of the castle that we walked through.

Malahide castle
Malahide castle
Malahide Castle
Malahide Castle
Garden and greenhouse at Malahide Castle
Garden and greenhouse at Malahide Castle
Garden Groupie
Garden Groupie
Pretty Flowers in the Gardens
Pretty Flowers in the Gardens
A Church in Malahide
A Church in Malahide

Birding at Sean Moore Park Dublin Bay

On my second day off (Sunday)I walked  about 8 miles roundtrip with the hopes of seeing a Peregrine Falcon, a rare visitor to Florida but a local resident of Dublin. This species was facing extinction due to the use of pesticides like DDT. I didn’t manage to see the Peregrine, but I did see a lot of other birds, most notably a Harrier, a type of raptor that also lives in Florida. I also saw a lot of other birds, but the weather conditions made it hard to take pictures. So far my bird list is up to 25 species in just a week.

A Blue Tit @ Sean Moore Park
A Blue Tit @ Sean Moore Park
Swallows escaping the wind on a power line,
Swallows escaping the wind on a power line

Switzerland – Weeks 6 & 7

Hard Works Deserves a Break… and Long Hours in the Office

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Big Ben & Parliament

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Abbey Road Studios
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Big Ben

Bonjour!

The last two weeks were a fairly mixed bag of events. From burying myself in writing and research at the UN from 9am-8pm, to skipping across the English Channel to visit London. I know the last few entries may have eluded to my time here in Switzerland as a vacation, and in many ways it has been, but the work I am doing has been tough. It is hard to put into words on this blog of the work I am doing…. It’s a desk job and usually staring at excel spreadsheets or reading the latest reports on new policies. But more importantly, I am learning a lot. The experience I am gaining and confidence that I am developing is coming onto me quickly. It is moments like when I am sitting in a bar and having an educated discussion with other interns do I appreciate what I am learned; bear in mind I am discussing this with kids who either studied or are currently studying at schools like Yale, Stanford, Columbia, etc. That is a pretty great feeling. Although I love all of this, I really needed a break. AndIMG_2729 what better than to visit a country where English isn’t just common, but where it’s the official language.. England!

When an opportunity to visit London came, I took it. Besides the obvious historical site seeing and fun pub endeavors, I did do some minor ‘research’, if you will, be accident. The hostel I stayed at in London was situated attached to/on top of a local pub. Not bad, right? After doing the typical site seeing, I got to end my day with a pint or two (or three) and listen into the local affairs in assorted accidents that we only hear on BBC. One night I was having a pint and a like aged German couple, also on ‘holiday’, struck up a conversation with me. We were all in college, foreigners, with many curiosities to explore. They fielded me the typical American stereotype questions: “Is it true that you put cheese on everything, “yeah, why limit life?”, Are American food portions really as big as people say? “What can I say, we like a good value”,…are you catching my drift? We are fat, America, everyone is aware about it, and maybe a little concerned. Seriously, nearly 90% of the questions I receive from others is related to our food habits… *sigh*.

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Bike Sharing Station – These were all throughout London

However, when it came time for me to ask questions, I only had one thing on my mind: Energiewende. Well, two if I’m honest… I wanted to talk to them about Oktoberfest..

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Westminster Abbey

Anyhow, when I began researching my potential research topics, the German Energiewende or “energy transition” constantly came up during my searches. The Energiewende is a suite of German policies with the intent to transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear sources and towards renewable energy.

This has resulted into rapid deployment of technologies like solar PV and wind power in both large and small scale. The German model is widely considered the poster child for renewable energy policy. So, since the international community loved the idea, I wanted to know what Germans, and more importantly, Germans of my generations thought of the policy. Their response? They both said, simultaneously, that the transition wasn’t happening fast enough. Incredible. The imperative to invest in cleaner energy sources is instilled in them, and neither of them studied in field where climate change would be on any syllabus. It was so enlightening to hear how the youth in Germany really take clean energy seriously and not just as some sort of packaged “eco-fad” that, frankly, exists in America. It was refreshing.

After the glorious time in London, I had to come back to one hell of week. My supervisor was out of town all week on various missions and left me to review a report that we had been working on since day 1. To cut to the chase, this was the “menu of policy and technology options” report that we were able to finish a draft last week. We submitted to my supervisor’s boss, and received the comments on Monday morning. I am in the office to work on it, but my supervisor wasn’t, nor would he all week. Convenient. Nonetheless, I agreed with most of the comments and understood the direction in which she wanted the facts and information to be presented. I ended up sitting down with her to try and fully understand where she saw this going… basically, we were going to have to re-write or re-phrase most of the paper. Oh, joy. The week was spent entirely on this paper, and this coming week will be as well. Hopefully now that my supervisor will be back, we can make some serious strides.

That’s it for now, sorry for the lack of substance, but the policy work is very monotonous, important, but very boring.

Au revoir!

Switzerland – Weeks 6 & 7

Hard Works Deserves a Break… and Long Hours in the Office

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Big Ben & Parliament

IMG_2640

IMG_2674
Abbey Road Studios
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Big Ben

Bonjour!

The last two weeks were a fairly mixed bag of events. From burying myself in writing and research at the UN from 9am-8pm, to skipping across the English Channel to visit London. I know the last few entries may have eluded to my time here in Switzerland as a vacation, and in many ways it has been, but the work I am doing has been tough. It is hard to put into words on this blog of the work I am doing…. It’s a desk job and usually staring at excel spreadsheets or reading the latest reports on new policies. But more importantly, I am learning a lot. The experience I am gaining and confidence that I am developing is coming onto me quickly. It is moments like when I am sitting in a bar and having an educated discussion with other interns do I appreciate what I am learned; bear in mind I am discussing this with kids who either studied or are currently studying at schools like Yale, Stanford, Columbia, etc. That is a pretty great feeling. Although I love all of this, I really needed a break. AndIMG_2729 what better than to visit a country where English isn’t just common, but where it’s the official language.. England!

When an opportunity to visit London came, I took it. Besides the obvious historical site seeing and fun pub endeavors, I did do some minor ‘research’, if you will, be accident. The hostel I stayed at in London was situated attached to/on top of a local pub. Not bad, right? After doing the typical site seeing, I got to end my day with a pint or two (or three) and listen into the local affairs in assorted accidents that we only hear on BBC. One night I was having a pint and a like aged German couple, also on ‘holiday’, struck up a conversation with me. We were all in college, foreigners, with many curiosities to explore. They fielded me the typical American stereotype questions: “Is it true that you put cheese on everything, “yeah, why limit life?”, Are American food portions really as big as people say? “What can I say, we like a good value”,…are you catching my drift? We are fat, America, everyone is aware about it, and maybe a little concerned. Seriously, nearly 90% of the questions I receive from others is related to our food habits… *sigh*.

IMG_2670
Bike Sharing Station – These were all throughout London

However, when it came time for me to ask questions, I only had one thing on my mind: Energiewende. Well, two if I’m honest… I wanted to talk to them about Oktoberfest..

IMG_2739
Westminster Abbey

Anyhow, when I began researching my potential research topics, the German Energiewende or “energy transition” constantly came up during my searches. The Energiewende is a suite of German policies with the intent to transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear sources and towards renewable energy.

This has resulted into rapid deployment of technologies like solar PV and wind power in both large and small scale. The German model is widely considered the poster child for renewable energy policy. So, since the international community loved the idea, I wanted to know what Germans, and more importantly, Germans of my generations thought of the policy. Their response? They both said, simultaneously, that the transition wasn’t happening fast enough. Incredible. The imperative to invest in cleaner energy sources is instilled in them, and neither of them studied in field where climate change would be on any syllabus. It was so enlightening to hear how the youth in Germany really take clean energy seriously and not just as some sort of packaged “eco-fad” that, frankly, exists in America. It was refreshing.

After the glorious time in London, I had to come back to one hell of week. My supervisor was out of town all week on various missions and left me to review a report that we had been working on since day 1. To cut to the chase, this was the “menu of policy and technology options” report that we were able to finish a draft last week. We submitted to my supervisor’s boss, and received the comments on Monday morning. I am in the office to work on it, but my supervisor wasn’t, nor would he all week. Convenient. Nonetheless, I agreed with most of the comments and understood the direction in which she wanted the facts and information to be presented. I ended up sitting down with her to try and fully understand where she saw this going… basically, we were going to have to re-write or re-phrase most of the paper. Oh, joy. The week was spent entirely on this paper, and this coming week will be as well. Hopefully now that my supervisor will be back, we can make some serious strides.

That’s it for now, sorry for the lack of substance, but the policy work is very monotonous, important, but very boring.

Au revoir!

Switzerland – Week 5

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What a fantastic week. I’ve made significant progress in my work, I met the US Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, went sledding in the Alps, AND went to the Geneva Motor Show. I swear I am interning and doing research out here.. I swear!.

Let’s start with the fun stuff: Policy making….

This last week, I spent most of it reading many, many, many different reports from International Energy Agency (IEA), International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), and scholarly works. All of the reports dealt with existing/proposed/hybrid policy mechanisms that promote the uptake of renewable energy, example case studies, and basically tried to provide some sort of road map for implementation. Which is exactly what I have to do but specific to the 56 countries within the UNECE.

As it turns out that maybe I have (and I hope many of my fellow Patel Colleagues) have actually learned a thing or two about renewable energy policies. As I am reading I am saying to myself… “oh yeah!…. Hey I remember that!… wait, that is not what Dr. Philippidis said about subsidies”….. just kidding! It felt pretty great to read through the vast amounts of material, understand (most of) it. One tasks I had coming out of this research, was writing up a case study on the most popular policy mechanisms within the UNECE region. After doing some data crunching, turns out that Feed-in Tariffs (FIT) and Competitive Tendering are some of the most common tools used by member states. Now I needed to do some MORE research to find information on prime examples of these tools being utilized in a member state.

To cut to the chase, turns out France recently had great success with competitive tendering; between 2011-present, France has had two calls for proposals that yielded significant project proposals. Between the two rounds, France was able to secure six GW of offshore wind energy by 2020, while creating over 16,000 jobs in the construction, transportation, and maintenance of the wind farms. The tendering process allows for competitors to offer up their lowest price to build and maintain the wind farm, by optimizing all costs of the enterprise, thus, creating the most affordable per kWh price to consumers.

In Britain, they’ve had incredible success in the implementation of a Feed-in Tariff scheme. Essentially, if someone would like to install up to five MW of renewable/low carbon producing energy systems, the owner of the system is guaranteed a premium per KWh price for energy produced and supplied into the electrical grid. To highlight the success of this law, within the first year, solar PV installations increased by 500% the first year, and another 300% the second year. Holy cow, that is crazy! In two short years UK went from having 40 GWh in 2010 (before the law was passed) to 1188 GWh in 2012……

The case studies were fun to do in the sense that I reviewed some real great examples but now it’s time to get down to brass tacks. I’ve done a lot of research, but now I need to start thinking about this “Menu of Technology and Policy Options”. Essentially, I need to research how can I outline all of the various technology options, the policy mechanisms, and the key elements of nations that contribute the most to promoting renewable energy technologies. The end result should be something in which a polcymaker or anyone can look at and say, “well, I want more solar in my country” – A drop down of policy options shows up – “hmmm, I do not want to subsidize projects, I don’t want to give out grants, oh! How about this whole feed-in tariff? – Another drop down with best case examples, asking which is most like you? – “well, I would say our country is most like X” – OK, based on your results your country would be best suited to implement a hybrid FIT/tendering system that promotes both large and small scale installations.…. Something like that, except I need to review all the in between parts, figure out how to weight them, and ensure that the option presented is the best option. *Sigh*

On other, pretty great news, I got to meet the US Ambassador to the UNOG!! It’s a great story – last Thursday, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour came to the UN to debate with the High Commissioner on Human Rights along with the High Commissioner on Refugees, regarding the many issues the world is facing now. As this was my first opportunity to go to a fairly high level event, I thought it would be cool to see, plus, the event was being held steps from my office…

I ended up scoring great seats near the front row. A woman approached me and asked, “Are these seats for Ambassadors?”…. “Um what?!” I stuttered a bit and said, “As far as I know, it is reserved for someone important, and I think you may qualify for that.” She laughed, sat down and I immediately asked where she was from, turns out she was the Ambassador of New Zealand! Too cool! After telling her about myself, she said, “Come with me.” She takes me acrIMG_2399oss the isle and she pointed, and said “David, meet your Ambassador” before she could finished I practically shouted, “Madam Hamamoto, what an honor!” They all laughed, and I also had the pleasure of meeting the permanent deputy to the US Mission, Peter Mulrean. Both were incredibly nice, happy to hear of the work I was doing and after a short discussion, we all went back to our seats for the debate… Dude I just met the US UNOG Ambassador, directly appointed by President Obama! Holy Sh**! Too cool. And yes, of course I had to get a picture to prove it.

The Swiss Life – Friends, Fast Cars, and the Alps

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To top off a busy week, I got the chance to road trip to Les Dialeblerets in the heart of the Swiss Alps. This stereotypical Swiss mountain town, complete with intricately carved wooden chalets, offered a 4.5mile track down the mountain in a “luge”. Basically, a wooden plank with metal feet that allow you to FLY down the track. I thought the expereince would be very slow, drink in the scenery, and crawl down the mountain…nope. Man, it was a hell of a lot of fun though! The view from the top was absolutely staggering. I thought I had seen some mountains before, but these were monsters compared to anything I’ve ever seen… Enjoy the next few pictures, I think they explain the whole experience better than I can. I’m still speechless.

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……Need I really say more? I didn’t think so! And yes, I was there to take those pictures (some were taken with my Portuguese friend’s camera but they are authentic! I swear!

Geneva Motor Show

One thing I have loved my whole life: Cars, very fast one, specifically. This may be taboo in the realm of sustainability and reducing our use of fossil fuels but my one guilty please has always been cars. My M.O. has always been, if you are going to inefficient with gas, you might as well be traveling over 200mph… but I digress. The motor show was crazy, automakers big and small were there, and a lot that I have read about but are not offered in the USA, which was pretty cool to see.

This year, apparently, was the year of alternative fuel vehicles. Each maker had at least 2-3 hybrid or electric vehicles and these were drawing nearly equal attention as the myriad of hypeIMG_2477r cars that were there. However, one of the most intriguing items at the show was not a car at all, it was a tire produced by Goodyear. The tire, made from recycled rice husks, was engineered to transfer the rolling heat generated during use into electrical energy that would then be stored in the hybrid battery system. Crazy! And just look at it, it looks like something out of a sci-fi film!

Another nice touch at the show was that each car had a little placard that rated the fuel economy and CO2 emission against industry norms. The amount of vehicles in the upper percentile was pretty remarkable. I know we all don’t need cars, and some would be happy to see them go away, but it’s nice to know the cars being manufactured now are more fuel efficient, emit less GHGs and still offer incredible technological features.

Here are some cool shots for the Auto Show. Warning – for those who hate cars that, frankly, could care less about CO2 – avert your eyes. Some of these cars may be disturbing for viewers.

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That’s it for now – my next post will be delay because I will be traveling to London AND Paris! I got invited to attend a workshop and meeting in Paris with some fellow UNECE staff, so why not make a weekend out of it? Stay tuned!

Au revoir!

Switzerland – Weeks 3 & 4

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Bonjur!

Sorry for missing last week – I was feeling a little under the weather. There has been thisIMG_2345 hybrid flu/cold bug going around. Plus, I went for a hike in 20 degree, snowing conditions in the Alps.. probably not the smartest idea but hey, you only live once. However, I did pay for it, I was out for a day and had to just rest up with a ton of orange juice (nothing like the delicious nectar I left behind in Florida..).

Other than shaking off a little illness, it was a fairly uneventful last two weeks compared to the previous ones, at least in terms of adventurous activities. I was finally able to glean enough information to understand, in part, what my primary objective(s) will be. Since I was only afforded the dime tour of how the UNECE operates, I gathered as much about the order of operations as I could on my own with assistance from UN interns of years past during week 3.

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Week 4, however, felt like it was a very productive week for me. I spent the bulk of the week compiling data into a table in which it displayed all 56 UNECE member states and criteria pertaining to renewable energy uptake. Fortunately, most of the grunt work had been completed thanks to REN21’s 2014 Global Status Report, however, I needed to extract only our 56 member states. The table is broken into three section:

  1. National Targets and Strategies: Here, we note if the nation has Renewable Targets, or a Renewable Energy Strategy in place (i.e. a road map to implement renewables.)
  2. Regulatory Mechanisms: These include instruments that allow for governments to require renewable energy uptake including:
    • Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (requires industries or individuals to maintain certain levels of renewable energy utilization),
    • Feed-in Tariffs,
    • Renewable Energy Credits
    • Net Metering, etc.
  3. Fiscal Incentives/Public Financing: These are financial schemes/incentives, that are designed to attract investment (public and private) towards renewable energy. These include:
    • Subsidies
    • Public Investments
    • Energy Production Credits, etc.

After compiling the data, I tallied the results and began graphing/comparing the data six ways to Sunday. For instance, 28 of the 56 UNECE member states are within the European Union, how do those countries compare? How do the results compare regionally; sub-regions of Europe are categorized in many, sometimes contentious ways (western Europe, Caucuses, Balkans, central Asia, Russia, North America, etc). How does the data looked when arranged by gross national income averages? How about when we look at those who import/export the largest amounts of fossil fuels? And so on…… all week, once the data set was created, I tried to think of as many scenarios in which it may be relevant to present those that are excelling/struggling at implementing renewable energy technologies.

Aside from the endless data analysis at the UN, I’ve continued to meet some pretty great people. So far, everyone I have met has been genuine (with the exception of an American I met… imagine that!). I was certainly nervous coming into this whole endeavor, especially trying to meet others who may not view Americans in the highest regard, but it has been the total opposite of what I expected. I quickly realized everyone is in the same boat: they are foreign, new, overwhelmed with the tasks they need to complete, and a little homesick. Sitting in the cafeteria at the UN, it is so easy to pick out those that are interns and those that are full-time employees; the full timers are usually content, obviously focused on whatever preoccupied them before lunch, sitting alone or with one other person, whereas, us interns are sitting in large tables together, laughing, joking, completed intrigued about our cultural differences. It is nice to easily congregate as interns and forget about our difficult objectives and simply enjoy where we are, talk about how we all got here, and learn how common we all really are.

With as much progress that was made the last two weeks, I am hoping to carry this momentum into next week and come out with some great results. Next weekend is shaping to be a fun filled one (Toboggan tracks, alpine towns, and the Geneva Motor Show!).

Au Revoir!