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…


Golden Time In The Green Hell

Late October 2016 saw me, my brother, some friends and three cars head over to the Nürburgring for some birthday celebrations.  This is one of the lost stories. Our long weekend at the place of petrolhead pilgrimage encompassed fine food, good company and of course some marvellous automobiles.  Here are the photographs that were posted originally:

Good Afternoon Vietnam

Happy New Year.

Having stayed put and kept working through the festive period it is time to sally forth in search of a quick holiday.  The window between Christmas/New Year and Lunar New Year seems a good one to aim for and we have packed our buckets and spades for the coast of Vietnam.

At time of writing we are waiting for our domestic flight to Nha Trang having landed at Ho Chi Minh City.  The flight here was reassuringly unremarkable: crisp new A321 aircraft, friendly service on board and minimal hassle in the terminal at either end.

Switching to the domestic terminal at Ho Chi Minh City has been a step back in time.  The building is as badly lit and rectilinear as only a (post-)Communist state or Heathrow can offer and it looks tired.  A brand new bright brown (yes there is such a shade) Ford Fiesta on a plinth is a jarring sign of modernity in the check-in hall.

Upstairs air-side the tone is set by the ear-piercing announcements that are issued every ten seconds via the very loud, decidedly tinny and old-tech sounding public address system.  Luckily we have found a lounge to hide in and quiet reigns.  Medina is asleep (I could not write this otherwise) and the wifi connection while slender appears to work.  What appeared to be a news programme anchored by a beautifully presented young woman in a military uniform has just finished on one of the many modern flat screen televisions showing various channels around the room.

Goodness knows what the flight to Nha Trang is going to be on (more likely an other crisp, new Airbus than an Antonov to be fair) but I am sure it will be good and we have a recommended beach resort to look forward to when we get there.  All being well, more news will follow shortly.

Hot In The City

Visiting Kuala Lumpur reminded me how tropical climates usually work.  On Langkawi we had clear skies and sunshine every day plus coastal breezes to cool things down a little.  Too perfect.  In KL you can feel the humidity in the stiller air and there is a quick downpour every twenty-four hours, often as part of a thunderstorm.  Best be under cover for those periods or be drenched in moments.

The conditions that promote such rapid plant growth appear to have rubbed off onto the concrete of this city as well.  Central Kuala Lumpur is full of building sites as new skyscrapers are built and infrastructure is upgraded here, there and everywhere.  We were on the thirty-second floor of a relatively old building with a lovely view over the KLCC Park (see below) but even at this height were at a lesser altitude than many of our neighbours.

KL’s people are as lively as the plants and the buildings. The streets bustle and the malls even more so thanks to air-conditioning; the rush-hour traffic is awful; the nightlife buzzes.  Malaysia is a Muslim state that appears to strike a harmonious balance between religious traditions and non-Islamic choices.  The former is exemplified by the large percentage of women who cover their heads, the latter by the way that that head-scarf is often worn with jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt.

Malaysia’s multi-cultural make-up probably contributes a lot to the balancing process.  Malay, Chinese and Indian are the three largest ethnic groups in the country and there are numerous other international influences mixed into that already broad palette.  Such great variety has produced times of friction in the nation’s politics over the years but many good things come of it too.

One such benefit that we capitalised upon is the range and quality of food on offer in the city.  In the course of a week we ate fine examples of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai and Italian cuisine.  Memorable dishes included wasabi ice cream (tastes much better than it sounds), chocolate durian cake (doesn’t) and a Malay dish I can’t remember the name of that combines pineapple, chilli, shrimp paste, coconut paste and lime juice.  While I enjoy Korean food a lot it was nevertheless a great pleasure to try some different flavours again.  Indeed an overall highlight of the trip was the increased variety of everything available in KL; it made Ulsan feel almost one-dimensional in comparison.

Our visit coincided with the weekend of the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix and with a happy grandmother available to look after Medina for the afternoon, Leyla and I took the opportunity to go.  As with the Korean Grand Prix of 2010, the colours, the aromas and the overall atmosphere were terrific; the latter even more so being at a more established venue this time and with grandstand seats rather than being out in the open.  The part we underestimated with the change of seating was the noise of the cars: it sounded superb but was near-deafening when reverberating off all the concrete and glass surrounding us.  Definitely ear plugs next time.

Some bright spark at Sepang Circuit decided during a planning meeting that the best entertainment to offer after the screaming V8 engines of racing cars would be the screaming guitars and vocals of a rock band.  Hence our seat tickets gave us free entry to Guns N’ Roses performing at the circuit after the race.  Of course we couldn’t not go.

My asking directions to the gig from some people wearing Access All Areas tags resulted in meeting a Norwegian oil and gas engineer with connections to the project I’m working on (small world!?), going for a quick thee-up ride on a moped and nearly getting backstage ourselves.  Alas we fell at the final fence en route to backstage but probably got a much better view and sound where we ended near the mixing desk front of house.

The gig was better than I expected.  With my liking of GNR based squarely on the pre-Use Your Illusion period, I thought the eight-piece band was too large and sounded too dense but all the musicians played superbly, Axl was still hitting his high notes and while the tropical heat was clearly being felt there was animated showmanship from all on stage.  Welcome To The Jungle was third or fourth song in the set and seldom sounded more apposite.

As we headed for the bus home we discovered our hearing remained miraculously undamaged and intact.  Hopefully our memories of the trip will be as hardy.

Trees, Smells and Sea Shells on the Sea Shore

Back in the mists of time when this blog was last updated, I mentioned how future plans for travelling with a jet lag-prone toddler would be made with care.  The two months-plus since then have been put to good use getting us to where are just now: in the middle of a holiday in Malaysia.

Why Malaysia?  Aside from its being a fascinating place, advantages include: no need for a visa in advance, only one time zone different from Korea and a broad range of cuisine to cover all family requirements.  Flying through Kuala Lumpur International Airport as a large local hub also helped when aligning our flights with those of my mother-in-law who has joined us.

We chose to break the trip into two parts: a bit of beach and a bit of city.  After a nighttime landing at KLIA and a stay at the nearby Sama Sama Hotel (a very pleasant hotel for such a stop I might add), we met Mama off her flight in the morning and headed for domestic departures.  Next stop: Langkawi.

According to what I have read and heard there is quite a lot to do on Langkawi both in terms of daytime activities and nightlife.  None of it will be described here as we chose a remote corner of the island to ‘get away from it all’ at a resort that would look after us a bit.

The resort staff certainly did the necessary.  Medina felt at home from the moment she got in the car at the airport (see below) and was treated very well throughout our stay: the child-friendly status advertised by the resort was thoroughly proven.  We three adults were thus afforded some opportunity to enjoy our island get-away.

With low-rise accommodation carefully set into a forested hillside leading down to a white-sanded bay of turquoise sea, the box for stereotype idyllic setting was certainly ticked (see below).  Walking between our rooms and the communal areas we played hide-and-seek with squirrels and lemurs in the mornings and were escorted to bed by geckos in the evenings.

Sitting under the trees at the edge of the forest/beach divide provided a shady spot for watching the world go by during daylight hours and a place to watch the moon shine on the sea at night, all the while accompanied by the sounds of the forest, the lapping of the waves and little else.

The resort appeared to be fairly busy but never felt crowded which was a rare achievement.  If you are looking for a beach in the tropics to escape to for some peace and quiet I would recommend the quiet parts of Langkawi.

Taking the flight back to KLIA and the express train into central Kuala Lumpur was almost a shock to the system after all the tranquility and nature.  Farewell rainforest, hello urban jungle.  The city is proving to be a lot of fun though.  Details will follow.