Dr. Esbjerg, I Presume?

Over a year since the last posting. My oh my…

In a nutshell: last summer’s efforts to bring the family together here succeeded, we are all well, both children are happy at school and both parents are happy at work.

Goodness it has taken some time and effort though. I will spare you details of our quick half-day visit to a government office in Odense to register ourselves that became a two month exercise. Similarly we can compare the differences between state primary schools in England and international schools in Denmark on an other occasion.

The days, weeks and months simply fly by when there are four of us to take into consideration. Last time we moved abroad for a project, Medina was five months old and Aida wasn’t yet a twinkle in an eye. It was a challenge that Leyla bore the brunt of stalwartly and we settled relatively quickly. With the girls being seven and four years old this time around, expatriating has been a more complex and involving process.

Our being in Denmark on local terms rather than as ‘expats’ contributes to the situation. The industry was riding high during our last project which made rates and conditions generous and being on the other side of the world from home there was a sort of club mentality that bound the expats together. Leyla and I avoided spending too much time in the ‘expat bubble’ but it was there to dip into when required.

Between the last project and this one the industry has taken a larger-than-usual cyclical fall. Now a few miles east of Newcastle rather than in the Far East, we are earning more realistic wages with zero perks, there is no ‘expat bubble’ and we are paying the famous Danish taxes. It sharpens the mind somewhat.

One of the main reasons we chose to re-unite here was to try the much-praised Scandinavian work-life balance for the family. The time spent in England between projects made it clear to us that having both parents at work there would present expensive challenges. If you believe the press, it should be more straightforward in Denmark.

So far I would say Denmark is more supportive of both parents working in a family. Flexi-time and work-from-home options are far more readily available than I would dare to have hoped for during much of my working time in England. There is also encouragement that one should work one’s hours and get home on time rather than an unspoken expectation that one should frequently stay late.

The part that does not always feature when this subject is written about in England: in many cases I feel it could be a necessity rather than a choice for both parents to work in Denmark.

Leyla’s job started recently. During the months prior to that we were able to live well enough on a single income but we had to be careful. The extra money in the bank is welcome but of course there are certain additional costs to consider when there isn’t a parent available at home all day every day.

Ironically it is probably our ‘expat’ status that is contributing to the challenge. Many of our neighbours are paying mortgages that are much smaller monthly outgoings than our rent. When Danes choose to place their children in a fee-paying Danish school the fees are lower than those we are paying for an international school (for primary schools at least; I have yet to inquire about secondary schools).

Swings and roundabouts as they say. At least we are in the playground rather than stuck on a street corner and for that I am thankful.

Tall Ships Race Esbjerg 2018

As mentioned briefly in the previous post, the Tall Ships Race has just visited Esbjerg.

It looked like the city made a lot of preparations for the four-day event with live music stages, stalls, decorations and much more.  The weather was glorious, the visitors plentiful and the ships; as ever; impressive.  I only caught glimpses of the action during the first two days before jumping on a ‘plane.  Here are photographs from the first night to give an impression:

In Transit

Greetings from Istanbul Airport.

This year appears to be non-stop.  Since the last post, I have flown more miles than I might care to think about, slept fewer hours than one might prefer and – perhaps rather significantly – initiated the process of moving my family to Denmark.

The moving process is absorbing some time and energy but appears to be heading in the right direction.  More news should follow eventually.

In the meantime, there has been a football Word Cup (well done England), Wimbledon 2018 and the arrival of the Tall Ships Race 2018 in Esbjerg (plus no doubt a few more events I am failing to recall at time of writing).

Time to line up for the next flight!

A Moment in Malaysia

Once more I find myself in Kuala Lumpur.

The flights were booked a while before I travelled. In the intervening period a general election accompanied by a national holiday on voting day were announced and I happened to land yesterday morning: plum on top of it all. The streets were remarkably quiet during the taxi ride from Central Station to the hotel.

The day returned a unique result: a win for the opposition for the first time since independence in 1957. Today and tomorrow have been declared further national holidays to mark the occasion. Further quiet streets so far.

Coincidentally or otherwise, the fountains in the park by the Petronas Towers were brightly lit and dancing this evening. I hope the positive atmosphere is mirrored around the nation and lasts for some time to come.

Norway? No Way!

Sipping on a cold Ringnes at the bar which constitutes half of a right-angle of light-hued wood, the other half of which is the reception desk.  The receptionist-cum-bar-staffer is on the reception side looking at a chart on the computer.  The two other visible guests who had been sitting on the rectilinear sofas by the cuboid fireplace have just left the area.  The efforts of the air-conditioning are the loudest constant.  Welcome to Wednesday night at the Radisson Blu Haugesund.

It has been six years since I was last in Norway.  Considering it was the first country I lived in with my wife, the destination to which I delivered two offshore projects and the nation in which my first child was born: a moment’s pause in contemplation.

Flying here from Denmark involved a connection via Oslo Gardemoen.  The darkness and the half-metre of snow did little to assist my dimming recollections’ attempts to recognise the place but clearly the airport had changed and sprouted some new buildings.  Its scrupulous cleanliness continues throughout.

Judgement of Haugesund must wait as this hotel is on the outskirts of town and I will not have an opportunity to explore the centre during this flying visit (no pun intended) to conduct an audit.  One hopes that there is more to “The Homeland of the Viking Kings” (as proudly proclaimed at the airport) than meets the eye in this vicinity.

A drive out along the E134 is very encouraging.  The beauty of the mountains and the fjords is majestic, even with eight oktas cloud cover and much of the water frozen.  On a sunny day with blue skies it must be superb.  Slartibartfast has every reason to feel proud.

A repeat of that drive awaits me in the morning.  In the meantime I can again reflect upon the obscure ratios between room price, decor and catering quality in Norwegian hotels while wondering if they like Gardemoen will change.

…and so to bed.

Postcard From Milan

The site visits continue.  Next stop: Milan.

Office and hotel are just outside the city in Assago but a quick trip up the green Metro line is all it takes to reach the centre.  The brief hours spent of a cold evening looking around suggest a city full of life with numerous areas to explore.  Hopefully more on that subject at a later date.  For now, a typical tourist photograph of the cathedral.

Il Duomo

Return to the Two Rivers

The project has started sprouting site teams and the requirement to visit one of them meant I have just spent two weeks in Kuala Lumpur.

Having thoroughly enjoyed a brief visit five years ago, it was good to return to the city and renew my acquaintance. This sojourn while longer was for business rather than pleasure so tourism was restricted to the one weekend.

With the temperatures being relatively wintery (high twenties rather than mid-thirties) I ventured out in daylight to explore the older parts of the city around Merdeka Square and Masjid Jamek where the rivers Klang and Gombak meet to give Kuala Lumpur its name.

The square was hosting events ranging from ‘slot car’ racing and breakdancing to tug-of-war and netball and the mosque was holding an open day.  I walked around the grounds and was drawn into conversation by a pleasant man who explained some of the site’s history to me.

Departing the mosque having learned a few things, I later visited a Chinese temple and a Sikh within the space of a mile.  Not something one does in every city…


A Year To Celebrate?

The Yuletide and New Year holidays feel like a long time ago.

In the office the rate of work has intensified as site teams prepare to mobilise and new project participants bring numerous urgent questions in need of rapid answers.

In the streets of Esbjerg the Christmas trees and lights have long been packed away while the huge ice rink in the city square remains. I am told it should last until the end of the month.

Other festivities may soon become apparent in town however. According to the light show that plays across the sea-facing façade of a large, older building on the ridge, the city and port of Esbjerg are one hundred and fifty years old this year.

My rather poor photograph below shows a snap of the show that lasts several minutes. Try to imagine the blades of the wind turbine rotating as they do in the real projection.

At time of writing I have yet to find out what events might be in store but I imagine some plans must be afoot. More news will follow as and when. In the meantime, Happy Anniversary Esbjerg.

Christmas Approaching Esbjerg-Style

If Esbjerg is anything to go by, Christmas is popular in Denmark.

There have been some obvious clues such as the Christmas tree farms that I have driven past on the way to and from the airport so many times. There by the road are fields full of conical conifers about three to four feet tall, tagged and clearly growing for market. In the last week or so some have been harvested and were lying stacked with the same sort of white netting round them that the tree sellers back home are using.

An other hint was “J day” that occurs on a certain Friday in November. The J is short for “julebryg” which translates as Christmas beer. On that Friday the big Danish brewers such as Carlsberg and Tuborg launch their Christmas beer for the season: a darker, spicier and stronger beer than their usual lager. The event allegedly includes free beer in certain bars although that would appear to be more common in Copenhagen than in Esbjerg.

The Thursday immediately prior to J day has become a J day for the micro-breweries. No free beer on offer but a bar in Esbjerg offered an intriguing sampler board where you could have four glasses of approximately a third of a pint of four of the brews. They ranged from red ale to stout, were invariably very strong but tasted rather good.

Beyond beer Esbjerg offers some attractive Christmas lights in the city centre streets and a huge ice rink filling most of the city square. I have not dared to inquire after the requirements or prices to use the rink but it gets plenty of use from other people – more than I have seen in town for a long time.

On a rare visit to the new Broen shopping mall this evening I also saw a Santa. Not the rounding, aging fellow tucked away in a grotto as per English memories but a young, slim chap (still with white whiskers attached) sitting in a bright open space. Alas, he received no visitors that I could see.

The relative calm and quiet of Esbjerg appeals to my sense of ‘Christmas’. I can walk along admiring the lights and the decorations and appreciate the effort with a sense of “peace and goodwill”. Conversely the bustling streets of my hometown felt far more hustled and hassled last weekend.

One thing Esbjerg can not offer me for Christmas is my family. In that regard I will happily bid the city farewell on Friday and return to England to be reunited with them for the holiday period.

Season’s greetings to all.

Brussels Briefly

What a mad month October has been.  Deadlines to meet, plenty of travelling and barely a moment to pause.  Thankfully the final weekend was a long one spent in the New Forest enjoying some fresh air and relative peace and quiet.

With the trip to Denmark being a Monday evening rather than a Monday morning for a change, a small variation in flight routine was required and it occasioned my first experiences of both Brussels Airlines and Brussels Airport.

The airline makes a big play on ‘sense of humour’ with a rather tongue-in-cheek safety video before take-off and various little quips in the in-flight magazine.  In a related vein, I think it is the first airline I have seen offering freshly cooked frites (fries) as a snack – served with mayonnaise of course.  Alas, the flight duration had to be two hours or longer to sample that particular pleasure so the quality of these apparently award-winning chips remains un-sampled.

My main memory of Brussels Airport was of good exercise through plenty of walking.  There were moving walkways installed aplenty but most only travelling in the one direction opposite to the one in which I was heading.

Accompanying discoveries were that Stella Artois tastes better in Belgium than it does in England (not a great surprise) and that while a draft ‘pint’ of the stuff in the airport was probably cheaper than it would be in a London pub (quite a surprise considering airport pricing), the 330ml measure cost more in the airport than in did in the ‘plane (big surprise).  Below is a photograph of the curling, swirling artefact of a bar at which this knowledge was acquired.

Would I repeat the journey?  If no direct alternative was available probably yes.