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 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.

Baltic or Tropic?

It is a September evening on the west coast of Denmark and I have just caught a mosquito in my living room. Surely this is a national first?

Breezing Along

Today is my six-month ‘semi-anniversary’ working on this project. To mark the occasion, Esbjerg has provided a Force 10-11 gale (63 mph according to the BBC Weather app) and heavy rain showers. It looks like a quiet night in to celebrate is in order.

Drama in Denmark

Barely two weeks back at work and summertime in Baku already feels like a very long time ago.

Having several deadlines to meet in the project is demanding plenty of focus. On top of that we all received a surprising piece of news on Monday morning that provides further food for thought: Maersk Oil is to be bought by Total.

A “town hall” meeting was immediately convened on Monday followed by an other one on Tuesday. Yesterday was long-set in the diary as a day of activities designed to promote teamwork and togetherness and it took on an extra dimension in the light of the buy-out announcement. Suffice to say my project productivity has dipped below plan while I have remained rather busy.

Opinions and emotions on the subject of the sale understandably cover a broad spectrum. Maersk Group (from which Maersk Oil was in the process of separating already) is a long-established, family-run Danish business with a large global presence. There is some pride at stake here.

The move towards independence has already wrought a lot of change. According to “Plan A” the bulk of it was over and everyone could look forward to settling down a bit now. To a certain extent Monday’s news has thrown everything up in the air again. I will hold my counsel for now.

Meanwhile in other news, the nation is in what might best be described as a state of shock following the murder of a journalist in Copenhagen.

In brief: international journo meets rich eccentric on homemade submarine; submarine sinks; eccentric saved and later reports journo “buried at sea” after accident; journo’s head- and limbless torso washes up on shoreline a few days later.

This sort of event does not occur in Denmark very often if at all. The news coverage is extensive to say the least and the story would run with only a fraction of the intrigue that surrounds it. As things stand at present, we have the makings of a modern saga on our hands.

I’m on the bus…

…and I’m online.  So I am writing a quick post simply because I can.   No doubt I am showing my age here…

The bus in question is a recently introduced service to Billlund Airport that has replaced the one I used to take.  Hardware upgrades make it similar to an aeroplane (lights and air vents per seat for example) but with huge windows and one of those large tables with four seats facing it; which is where I am sitting now.

There are two other people on the bus, one of whom is the driver.  As the other chap is sitting very quietly at the back I can almost pretend this is my private conveyance.

DKK 80.00 for the bus ticket versus around DKK 1000.00 for a metered taxi.  When the schedules align, no contest.