Thursday, December 17, 2015

Making Changes...


Some people live all their lives in the same place and barely leave it for vacation. Some people go to work at the same job and in the same location for decades. Their weeks are all the same and their weekend routines become... well, routine. Some people keep the same friends and associates throughout their entire lives. Many of those people seem comfortable with the continuity they've established. I'm not one of those people.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Nordiska Museet

Nordiska museet has exhibitions about life and work, trends and traditions, in Sweden from the 16th century to today. It's a beautiful building for the museum which was founded in 1873. I remembered I hadn't taken a pic of the building as I was leaving at the 5pm closing. It had already been long dark since sunset was at 3pm so it's hard to see.

Monday, November 16, 2015

London

It was another midweek holiday and another opportunity to take 2 days off and be out of work for 5 days. This time my nearby European trip was London. I've always wanted to visit and it's just a 2 hour flight from Stockholm, so why not? Life has a time limit so I still plan on doing as much as I can while I can.

I saw lots of touristy things in 4 days of wandering using the London Underground. There's still so much more to see and do that I'll have to go back several times to feel like I've seen it all. Maybe I'll even try to get posted there some day since it's one of those cities I just enjoyed being in. I took hundreds of photos so it's hard to pick out representative samples but I'll try...


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Dublin Ireland

Ireland is a beautiful country and Dublin is a fun city with all of the Irish pubs filled with music and beer. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves (click on them for bigger versions):


 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tough Viking

Tough Viking is the leading, largest and most brutal Obstacle Race in Scandinavia and Russia. The obstacles are massive and consists of fire, water, electricity, deep mud, monkey bars and barbed wire set out along a challenging route. The obstacles are designed together with the Swedish elite maritime special forces unit Kustjägarna.
We participated in the Tough Viking competition in the much easier "spectator" class. We actually went to cheer on the Embassy team and enjoy the nice summer weather for possibly the last weekend. None of these pictures are of the Embassy team since this is a publicly visible blog so they're just random tough vikings.

The entire course was 15 KM with 30 obstacles. We stayed on the left side of the map and watched some of the more interesting obstacles. If anyone wanted to watch all of this then they probably should have joined as an actual competitor. It was spread over a huge area even with some of the winding back and forth so it would have been difficult to see everything.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Stockholm Zombie Walk

Once a year in Stockholm there are zombies. They go for a walk through the city.

We're having a little nice weather for a few weeks so it was actually sunny and 73F. Summer appears to be unusually short this year with a bit more umbrellas and jackets needed compared to our first summer here. But I digress so here are the zombies...


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Kolmården Wildlife Park

Pairi Daiza in Belgium is a really awesome zoo we visited earlier this year. We have a zoo near us in Sweden which was good too but wasn't quite as big. This is a regular looking zoo but it has a couple of unique things. There's a cool indoor dolphin show with huge video screens adding to the show. The real highlight of the zoo is a cable car safari dangling us over the animals like fresh meat box lunches. LOL

Kolmården Wildlife Park is about an hour and a half away from Stockholm. We rented a car for the day to get there. Since it's Sweden they gave me a Volvo station wagon as the smallest car with the luxury option of an automatic transmission. I'm a silly American who hasn't been driving manual all my life. I learned the basics a couple of decades ago but I'm not going to try to pick that skill up again unless I really need it. It's definitely not going to be during a rental car day trip.

Our daughter's pictures of the day (click on them to enlarge):


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Stockholm Pride Parade

Stockholm's Pride Parade is the largest in Scandinavia with as many as 40,000 participants and over 400,000 spectators. There was some rain in the forecast but fortunately it didn't rain on this nice happy parade. It was also warmer than it has been lately. #LoveWins Our daughter took some great pics of the event:


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Birka

Birka was a village on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren about 2 hours west of Stockholm by boat. Birka was an important trading center with the rest of the world during the Viking Age in the 8th-10th centuries.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site was a day excursion with Strömma boat tours. The excursion included a guided tour from an archaeologist. He was both informative and entertaining as he walked us around wearing a period costume. There were recreations of some of the wooden houses and boats from the time but the town site is just an open field now.

On the way to Birka


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Views Above Stockholm

One last bit of pictures from last week and playing tourist with our tourist friends. (Yes, it was still cool enough for jackets in July) We finally went up in the SkyView on top of the Ericsson Globe Arena. We've been inside the Arena several times for concerts but hadn't gone up in one of the viewing gondolas crawling up the outside of the world's largest spherical building. It's a fun way to see Stockholm! After that we went to our favorite overlook walk along Monteliusvägen for another view above Stockholm and closer to the old town of Gamla Stan.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Vasa Museum

The Vasa museum displays the only almost fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged, the 64-gun warship Vasa that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. The museum is the most visited museum in Scandinavia and is another place I visited while playing tourist in my own town last week.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Stockholm Boat Tour

Another thing I did last week with our friends was finally going on the Under the Bridges Boat Tour. Friends coming as tourists helps us get around to doing the tourist things in our own location. We've been here a year and I just never got around to doing that one. Stockholm is spread out over 14 islands so a good way to get around and take a look at the city is from the water. We passed through 2 locks separating the water levels of Lake Mälaren with the Baltic sea.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Sweden Royal Palace Changing of the Guard

A year ago we arrived and we saw the changing of the guard ceremony at the Swedish Royal Palace. Last week we had some good friends visiting us so I soaked up some more of that royal experience you can get living in a kingdom. The changing of the guard is a really cool and somewhat long ceremony with lots of marching back and forth and a band. I already posted pictures here last year but it's interesting enough to post some more. Their marching is interesting with how high up they swing their stiff arms. I'm glad I never had to march that way because being out of step would have been that much more obvious.


Friday, July 10, 2015

2nd Tour is... Caracas!

I received the individualized email from my Career Development Officer (CDO) announcing my 2nd tour. Next summer I'm heading to Caracas Venezuela!


This was #22 on my list of 42 choices. It was a medium choice out of the high, medium, and low categories we had to tag on the list. It's a 20% differential post with a COLA currently similar to Stockholm since the COLA here has been dropping. This means there's a 20% pay raise to offset the somewhat harder life there compared to the 0% differential Sweden. There's also 2 R&R trips with paid airline tickets to Miami (or equivalent pricing somewhere else) for the 2 years there so that'll provide some nice breaks.

One of my new hire classmates is there now and gives it a pretty good review overall. Venezuela is often in the news concerning poor relations between our governments and frequent shortages of basic goods, but there are many ways to deal with it including 2 shipments authorized for consumables and just having some patience. It's also a high crime location so I'll be much more limited with my travels. It will be a relatively safe assignment following the security guidance and avoiding the risky areas so that's exactly what I'll do!




Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Prague Czech Republic

Receiving my next assignment is delayed a week so I still don't know where we end up next year. Instead, we distracted ourselves with a trip we already had planned.

We met some friends from the US in Prague for a long weekend of sightseeing, beer, food, and beer. It's a popular European tourist destination because of it's affordability and Czech beer. Prague lived up to its reputation. It was a blistering hot time made even worse by being acclimated to the much cooler Swedish summer. I haven't felt heat like that in over a year. We were forced to stop more often at the outside cafes and beer gardens for some shade and a cold drink. I'll share the rest of the experience in pictures.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

First FS Post - 1 Year Later

I arrived in Stockholm a year ago and this is the halfway point for my first Foreign Service post. My bid list was submitted this week for next year's move. Everyone in the Summer 2016 Entry Level Specialist (ELSPEC) assignment cycle should find out by Thursday where our next directed tours will be. Our class has stayed in touch so there's a small group of us around the globe collectively holding our breath until those emails arrive.

I think I prefer getting an email instead of having a flag day ceremony. I'll get a private moment to digest the information instead of having it shared with everyone like some game show. "Come on down! Your next 2 years will be in exotic..." It was a memorable ceremony and I was happy with what I got but I think it was a little torturous to sit through. However, each work email this week might end up being torture too because any one of them will contain our fate for 2 years of our life. I guess it's game show time again!



Wherever we go next, it probably won't be as easy to travel around to nearby countries as it's been here in Stockholm. I'd never been to Europe so I really wanted to come here to take full advantage of how easy it is to travel around the Schengen Area. Oh, have we! We've discovered you can do some really cool things in Europe over an extended weekend if you just go. This map was blank a year ago:


It's been a great year and and a great start to an interesting and fun career!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Swedish Midsummer

Glad Midsommar or Happy Midsummer! We had a few good weather days recently but apparently it's a traditional Swedish Midsummer if it's cool and rainy. So here we are with 56F and drizzly rain all day to celebrate the beginning of summer. The official longest day of the year will be Sunday with a 3:31AM sunrise and 10:07PM sunset. It doesn't get to full night and only reaches nautical twilight this time of year.


What it looks like at 1:30AM

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bid List for 2nd Tour

I'm approaching my 1 year anniversary of arriving in Sweden. Times going fast and I've just received the bid list from which I'll try to pick my 2nd directed assignment. After that it's a more open bidding system where people lobby the posts with job openings and try to convince them they want you there. It's almost like applying for a job each time you move. In contrast, directed assignments are decided by our Career Development Officer (CDO) considering our rank ordered preferences we submit along with any special family needs and maybe a dart board or some other random selection device. Apparently there's a little art to the science of slamming a list of people into a list of posts.

This is the Summer 2016 cycle where all of us at our 1st tour post starting between May 1 and October 31 2014 will have to move next summer. We had a big class of 23 people in the IMS specialty when I joined. Now we have a total of 42 jobs for 42 or less number of people. 42 is a nice number featured in my favorite book series: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I've read all 6 books in the trilogy several times. Yes, it's a trilogy because Douglas said so. Anyway, we now have just TWO WEEKS to research and rank order the entire list of 42! There's actually just 38 distinct posts since 4 of the posts have 2 positions each. Just a week later I should know where I head to next...


Stockholm Sweden is a 0% differential hardship pay and 0% danger pay post. I'm getting a high cost of living allowance but that doesn't matter for this next little bit of math where 0+0=0. That's the amount of "equity" I have towards picking my next post. This means there's lots of other people with lots more equity getting higher precedence towards their top choices. I'm instructed to be realistic with my bidding. Apparently this means I should guess what other people will want and not bother rating those high since someone with greater than 0 equity will win out and get it. My classmates desires were all over the map and now we have an even bigger map of choices:


The other idea concerning equity is to not bother too much with what other people might want since I'm not The Amazing Kreskin. I'm in Europe now and some people may think I'd want another European post when in actuality I'm looking around at other areas of the planet to try out. That's the point of joining the Foreign Service instead of getting a regular job in Europe. Over the next 2 weeks I'll be busy researching and hashing out some pros and cons for 38 locations. I think I'll end up with a mix of sorting it as I desire and kind of taking into account my equity by not seriously considering other 0 equity posts. I'll turn the list in and then I'll get... something in the top 1/2? Even if it's something in the top 1/3 that's still one of a dozen possibilities.

All I know right now is that I can honestly look at the map and have absolutely no clue where I'll end up next. Isn't it exciting?!? I think so! :-)


Monday, June 8, 2015

Riga Latvia

There was a 3 day weekend for Swedish National Day so naturally we popped over to a nearby country we haven't visited yet. This time it was a quick and cheap 1 hour flight to Riga Latvia. We just stayed one night but got in early and stayed late enough to have nearly 2 days of exploring.

Riga has the finest and largest collection of art nouveau buildings in the world. They have a great looking old town with several town squares providing lots of outdoor eating and drinking areas. We rode a tour bus to see the popular areas and discovered the park by the Monument of Freedom was a beautiful place to hang out. We explored a huge market south of old town. Finally, we took a boat ride up and down the river to get a different view of the city even though it only went up to the commercial port and back for no apparent reason. The weather was nicer and warmer than Stockholm has been so we spent the weekend wandering outside. It was 76F in Riga on Saturday but it still hasn't cracked 70F here in Stockholm... and it's June now!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Car2Go Stockholm

We tried Car2Go this weekend. It's a short term car rental company spreading around the world. It arrived in Stockholm earlier this year. I used to see Zipcar back in northern Virginia but we never needed it while living there so this was my first use of this kind of service. They're all little 2-seat Smart cars perfect for running around the city.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Belgium

We had another Swedish holiday this past Thursday (Ascension Day) so I took Friday off and we flew to Belgium to visit some friends living there now. It was a 2 hour flight to Brussels so another short trip. We didn't end up spending too much time in Brussels since our friends lived about an hour away but that was a good thing. Our trips so far have been from city to city using public transit everywhere we go. Our friends had a car so we actually saw some of the countryside and sights we wouldn't have normally looked for if we had flown to Brussels on our own. Here's a little bit of downtown on a rainy day which I'm told is typical for Belgium:

     

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Fjäderholmarna



Fjäderholmarna is a little walking only island near downtown Stockholm. It's only a 30 minute ride on one of the many ferry services here. The tiny island has it's own website and their slogan is "where the archipelago begins" so we'll have to further explore the islands after this little taste. We hadn't taken advantage of the ferry services like that before but it's an easy way to get around. During the warmer season they run every hour to this and many other water accessible destinations. We simply hopped on and paid onboard when we were ready to go. There are some longer bookable trips with set timetables that we're interested in now that we're looking at these options for exploring the area around us.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Copenhagen Denmark

The First of May Swedish holiday made a 3 day weekend so we took a quick trip down to Copenhagen. There was a choice between a 5 hour train trip or a 1 hour flight. I found some cheap tickets on Norwegian Airlines so we chose the quicker option.

Copenhagen isn't too different from Stockholm with the same Scandinavian look and feel. The Danish language is different with some similar sounds and they have a different currency of crowns since neither country has embraced the Euro. They speak English just as easily and their metro system is also very good for getting around. They only spot check tickets on S-tog (train) or metro and nobody checked our tickets just like our time on Berlin's metro. It's definitely easier without station turnstiles slowing you down and it gives the illusion of free access to transportation. There were a few signs about the hefty fines for riding without a ticket so I wouldn't try cheating that kind of system.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday in Stockholm

The temps were in the low 50s but the sun was shining. The sun is shifting back towards summer with a 5:26am sunrise and 8:10pm sunset already today. It doesn't feel like spring yet and most of the trees and stuff are still bare from winter. However, we headed to Kungsträdgården for the Cherry Blossom Festival to see the blooming trees in the park and finally a sign of plant life coming back to the city. It was a very small festival compared to the one we always went to in DC so it made us miss that part of home. Regardless, we're really enjoying living in Stockholm. It's definitely a walkable city best enjoyed on foot. We walked along some of the waterways to Kastellholmen and Kastellet which is a small military fortification built in 1667. Here's some pictures of our day and another beautiful walk around town ending with a typically Swedish fika or coffee break. Click on the pictures for bigger versions.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Paris

It was a 4 day weekend at work for Easter. It was another opportunity to add a few days and spend some time in another city on our European wish list which is pretty much every country in Europe. Paris might have seemed more exotic and different if we hadn't been living in Stockholm and visited Berlin, Lisbon, and Rome before this trip. It has it's own vibe and hearing French everywhere is different but there's something about European cities that's starting to feel familiar.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Gran Canaria

We're taking full advantage of opportunities to take vacations. I had leave from my previous job and saved more during 5 months of mandatory training. We've taken short weekend trips so it may look like we're on vacation a lot, but this was only our second full week of vacation since Dec 2013. My office has another IMS which gives me the luxury of taking time off as long as he's working. I may be the only one in the office at a future smaller post so I'm taking advantage of this while I can.

We headed south to the Grand Canaries to escape the Swedish winter and soak up some sun. The Schengen Area lets us travel around participating EU countries without international border control. It was as easy as flying around the US when we flew 6 hours to a Spanish island off the coast of Africa. I thought this might be the southernmost Schengen Area destination but Wikipedia lists EU's southernmost point as the French island of Réunion near Madagascar. This job definitely gets me looking more closely at world geography in a hands-on way.

Monday, January 19, 2015

IceHotel Sweden

We went to the IceHotel! They style the name as ICEHOTEL but I refuse to capitalize the whole thing since it gives it way too much emphasis with shouting letters. Icehotel doesn't look right and Ice Hotel is too generic because several of them exist around the world. The Hotel de Glace is near Quebec which is closer to our family and friends if they want to try something like this.

The IceHotel is actually in Jukkasjärvi but Kiruna is the big town with the airport. Kiruna is also a little easier to spell and say. We can now say we've been 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, slept in an ice room in -3°C / 23°F temperatures, and had lots of fun snowmobiling and dog sledding. Unfortunately we can't say we saw the northern lights because it was cloudy almost all of our time there. If we had an actual "bucket list" then we definitely scratched off a bunch of cool stuff... or would that be cold stuff? :-)