t’s 6.21am on Tuesday morning and I feel a shiver of panic, standing on a platform 37km outside Davos. My train was supposed to be here at 6.20am. No sign. Uh-oh: I have a connecting train with just two minutes’ leeway. Why just two minutes? People said Swiss trains had military precision.
I hope no-one ever invades.
It pulls in at 6.23am, leaving me with minus one minute to catch my connection. Luckily, the second train is also late (by 2 minutes) allowing me to sprint across platforms and jump on.
It’s 7am, Davos is coming to life. Men (it is mostly men at this event) are trudging through crisp snow in wool coats. The first limos are rolling silently in.
Last night saw several parties around town. I went to one hosted by the crypto firm, Casper Labs. In the queue beside me was an Asian religious leader. Inside, Anthony ‘The Mooch’ Scaramucci was working the room. The Mooch is a big crypto-booster. He could also be a Botox-booster, with barely any lines at all left on his face.
I had to leave early to catch my two trains to Bergun; I haven’t heard yet from the other Irish who were at the party.
Now, the next morning, I’m walking to a briefing with the Intel CEO, Pat Gelsinger. It’s not yet bright and the main street (the ‘Promenade’) through the town is still lit up with the LED storefronts of all of the international banks, tech firms and national agencies that have rented the shops for the week. Because of the audience here, this can cost €1m or more to take over a shop the size of, say, a pharmacy. In the height of crypto-mania, sums of €3m or more were talked about for renting out premises.
Oddly, Manchester United is one such company, with a high profile main street rental. I know they’ve picked up their game a bit recently, but really? Davos?
Intel has taken a modestly-sized building. The ground floor is about the size of a mobile phone shop. A handful of international journalists are present: the business editor of the London Times, a senior reporter from Handelsblatt, France 24’s business editor, Politico’s chief Brussels correspondent. Pat Gelsinger walks in, accompanied by Intel COO Keyvan Esfarjani and CCO Christophe Schell.
He takes questions and mainly answers them. Yes, there’s still a chip shortage. No, they’re not having second thoughts on the German €17bn investment. Yes, he supports the US and EU giving local chip firms subsidies.
I nab him afterwards for a few local questions. He nabs me back. Literally. Gelsinger tends to make his points by latching on to your arm. It’s an old-fashioned technique, common among those who trained in sales. He tells me that Intel will be in Ireland “for decades”. He says it in a half-laughing, isn’t-it-obvious way. “When you build one of these fabs, you’re here for the next five decades,” he explains.
He also confirms he’ll meet Leo Varadkar later this week. He murders the title (“Torshuck”) but is willing to give it a go.
He’s a little pumped. Afterward, a French reporter later tells me she once saw him do push-ups to get ready for a keynote.
I write up the interview and steal a muesli bar from the buffet for later. I’m the last journalist to leave the hospitality area; a sheepish Intel comms person confirms my leechy status, saying they’ll ‘need the room’ shortly.
9am. I walk to a hotel next to the train station to interview the IDA’s interim CEO, Mary Buckley. Downstairs is the one and only non-business celebrity I have spotted this week: Donnie Wahlberg. At least I think it’s him. He has his shirt on, though, so I can’t be sure.
The IDA has rented a room the size of a bedsit on the second floor. I’m in there before them.
“The train was late,” an IDA aide says, when she sees me in there trying to figure out the coffee machine. Swiss trains: military precision.
Like me, the IDA is staying well outside Davos town in shared accommodation. “We can’t really justify the price here, it’s astronomical,” says Mary Buckely. Despite competing with other countries’ development agencies, who spend millions on renting out high-visibility shops on the main drag, she says that Ireland’s inward investment pipeline looks good for the first half of the year.
Both the Taoiseach and Finance Minister, Michael McGrath, will be deployed at Davos to help the national effort.
The Taoiseach’s people have suddenly stopped hiding his presence at the event, by the way. With no responses to queries in recent weeks – almost as if they didn’t want him being identified with ‘Davos’ – overnight they have confirmed that he is, after all, attending. I could have told them that – the WEF tweeted it a week ago. But maybe it’s never good politics to tell people too far in advance that you’re going to a gathering tagged as a party for the 0.01pc.
Lunchtime brings me to one of the most important things I have learned about Davos: where to eat cheaply. It’s the restaurants at the Co-op and the Migros. Both are Dunnes Stores style supermarkets. Both have large canteens (at either end of the town) with meals, salads, snacks and coffees that cost €10 to €20, a fraction of what a sit-down lunch in any open restaurant will cost you. This is a Tier-1 visitor hack.
The afternoon is open. Later, I’ll be going to Google’s big gathering. The Mooch is having a party after that, but I’m not sure if I’ll get in. Even if I do, I have a late-night Swiss train to catch back to my hotel. It has an 8-minute connection.
I’m just praying that it’s only 5 minutes late.
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