Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mid-Level Bidding Game

The first two tours in the Foreign Service are directed. My first tour was a competition of 23 people for 23 positions (just my class) and second tour was 42 people and positions (all first tour people moving that summer). We ranked the full list from 1 to n and provide a little narrative explaining why we needed or wanted the posts we picked. A Career Development Officer (CDO) reviewed it all together and considered personal constraints like family and medical needs. The CDO put people in positions in one big step. It seemed like a fair system for balancing service needs with individual needs and desires. I miss that system.


This blog post is about the completely different game of mid-level bidding. It's not unlike Sheldon's Friendship Algorithm. However, imagine a huge diagram that has a bunch of people engaging in this diagram with a bunch of posts in order to narrow down about 50 options into 5 to 10 bids for each person.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Caracas - Year 1 Review

It's been just about a year so it's probably time to take a look back from this halfway point. I knew there wouldn't be as much leisure travel from here like I did from Stockholm. We took short trips to Aruba and Curacao since they're so close and affordable flights were available. We only managed 2 trips inside Venezuela. There was the nearby Colonia Tovar for a night and the nice beaches in Morrocoy for a long weekend.

Our first R&R was back to Stockholm. Cost-construct actually covered the flights so that was a nice affordable vacation. R&R is a good little perk for serving at a hardship post. The usefulness of it increases in places with lower flight availability. A lot of the flights out of here are expensive so going to the U.S. or Europe was equally expensive when we did it.

Here's a very small map of this year's new travels:

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Curaçao

I forgot to post pictures of Curaçao with everything going on lately in Caracas. We still managed to do a lot in about 2 days even though the trip was aborted early. It was just a 30 minute flight to get there but because of the timing we had to take 2 flights and spend the night in Bogota to get back!

The beaches appear to be smaller than the wonderful wide beaches we had in Aruba. We stayed a weekend in the area of Eagle Beach to Divi Beach on Aruba and didn't leave much other than downtown but it was very nice. In comparison, Curaçao seemed more interesting for other things if you're not after the most perfect beaches. It has more character than the area of Aruba we stayed. Aruba felt more American commercialized and we were fine for a weekend relaxing without a car. Curaçao felt more like the Dutch Caribbean and you definitely need to rent a car to get around and see some stuff. They're both cool destinations for slightly different reasons. Here's some pictures to compare to my post about Aruba.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Aruba

Flying from Caracas to Aruba is about 40 minutes. It's longer to drive to the airport. It's also cheap when you pay in bolivars with the weird exchange rates. That adds up to a long weekend away being an easy thing to accomplish. It's also good to get away from the protests and problems and just be in a place where we can relax.

Aruba is a pricey place for a typical American vacation but it's not so bad for a quick weekend getaway from here. It's another perk of being in Caracas. We spent a lot of time relaxing on the beach and enjoying some great sunsets. Eagle, Manchebo, and Divi beaches are all in a wonderful long stretch of beauty. The one cool excursion thing we did was the Atlantis submarine to see the fishes and ships they sunk for artificial reef material. Here's some pictures of a quick weekend getaway.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Centro de Arte Los Galpones

It's nice to have a normal day where you can go out and enjoy something new instead of dealing with Caracas problems. We kept meaning to go to Centro de Arte Los Galpones, but it was closed when we tried a few months ago on a Monday. These past few months have had a lot of protests keeping us home. We'd forgotten about wanting to go there since it's near a protest area. However, today was a nice normal Sunday before things turn abnormal again tomorrow so we finally made it there. We tend to have simpler goals here.

The art center doesn't have a lot of art but it's a wonderful space to hang out around the little buildings, bookstore, gift shop, coffee stand, and bistro. There's a courtyard with seating under the trees to enjoy a coffee. The bookstore has a nice patio and inside seating for the same. The bistro has good food so it's a place we could come back to in the future. The whole center is surrounded by walls and electric fencing so it feels safe. You might be able to see the electric fence on top of these outside walls.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Tunnelbana Blue Line

Here's more of the art in the Tunnelbana stations to go with the previous post about the red line.


Tunnelbana Red Line



Is this simply the entrance to the Stockholm Tunnelbana? Sure. It's an efficient and clean way to get around a beautiful city just like the bus system. But, it's also the entrance to a really big art museum! It's touted as the world's longest art exhibit at 110 km long. Over 90 of the 100 subway stations in Stockholm have been decorated with sculptures, mosaics, paintings, installations, engravings and reliefs by over 150 artists.

We finally slowed down and took a closer look at 2 of the lines. You miss so much when you just pass through to another destination. Many of these stations are destinations in their own right. Here's a look at a few on the red line starting with Östermalmstorg.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Moderna Museet

I wrote about the Modern Art Museum in Stockholm previously here. It's still free but they charge for one or two major temporary exhibits if you want to see them. I love the place for the lunch spot with the beautiful overlook, interesting art pieces, and challenging thought processes. Here's a few random pics.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hallwylska Museet

Hallwyl Museum is one of Stockholm's free museums. It's centrally located so I can't believe I missed it when I lived here. It isn't huge so it's a nice hour or so of looking around at this 1890s home with the collection of Countess Wilhelmina von Hallwyl.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Tutankhamun

The traveling exhibition of Tutankhamun is a great way to experience the discovery of the tomb. There's informative audio guides, multimedia displays, and convincing replicas. One review claims the originals in Egypt aren't as well presented as this. However, I read that they're working on a new Grand Egyptian Museum near the Giza pyramids that will be partially opening in May 2018. There's something to add to the bucket list since I've been fascinated by ancient Egypt since I was a little boy.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Uppsala

I lived in Sweden for 2 years but when I traveled outside Stockholm it was usually to another country. We went to Uppsala for an overnight trip to see something different. It's just an hour away by train so it could be done as a day trip. Uppsala is Sweden's 4th largest city of 140K with the oldest university in the Nordic countries founded in 1477. The town is nice to walk around in and the 13th century cathedral is a highlight as the tallest church in Scandinavia.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

R&R Cost-Construct

Cost-construct doesn't follow common sense. It follows government negotiated rates for some routes, perhaps some influence from consumer demand, and apparently a bit of good fortune when the cost-construct gods smile on you. I've learned it pays to at least ask.

The R&R point for Caracas, Venezuela is Miami. There's heavy demand for those flights, so prices are generally high. We wanted to cost-construct R&R to Stockholm, Sweden. I asked. The surprising answer was that a flight to Stockholm via Paris on Air France was a little cheaper than going to Miami. Who would think?!? No money out of pocket! Yep, R&R is in Stockholm. :-)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

DC for CA Systems Training

I made a quick trip up to DC for a week to attend CA Systems training. PS310 is a great class if you need to work on CA systems. I feel like I went from knowing nothing to being fully capable of configuring the software and hardware to do everything it needs to do for the various CA roles. The class has a lot of hands-on training and troubleshooting in a good lab setup. I highly recommend my fellow IMS take the course, but my usual point of blog posts is to share pictures. Here's some from the bookend weekends I added to the trip. There's various buildings and monuments (you can guess which ones) and a lot of pictures from the cherry blossoms in bloom that we just happened to catch.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Santa Teresa Rum Factory

We joined a group trip to the Santa Teresa Rum Factory for a tour, rum tasting, and lunch. It's just a 2 hour drive from Caracas so it was a good day trip. The rum tasting served to prove that more expensive rum tends to taste better. That's exactly how they should determine which rum is more expensive. It's just weird if better tasting rum was cheaper.

We ended up buying the mid-range Selecto because we preferred it over the 1796 Solera at half the price, though price isn't much of a consideration when buying local good. So much for prices dictating tastes. Selecto seems to be a bit rare outside of Venezuela so good luck finding it. We also got an orange blended and a coffee blended rum to try even though they weren't a part of the tasting.

I learned that their basic Gran Reserva rum is blended from aged rum of 2-5 years because Venezuelan law requires 2 year aging for it to be called rum here. The cheap stuff from other countries may only be aged 6 months. If there's one thing you get from living in Venezuela, it's plenty of exposure to rum and opportunities to try it and learn about the differences. So far, Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva is our favorite. The funny business with exchange rates and locally produced goods like these rums make them pretty cheap for us.

Pictures weren't allowed in some parts of the active production areas but here's what I got everywhere else.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Hiking El Ávila

El Ávila National Park is the distinctive mountain view in the background of most Caracas pictures. Usually we're looking at it from the city or from the hills where we live on the other side of the city from the mountains. It looks nice from down here so why not get a closer look?

The park has many trails and you could hike all the way to the top given enough time and energy. We don't have that kind of energy so we hiked up the very popular Sabas Nievas trail. It's sad to see on the map how little we actually climbed when it felt like so much more! I saw on a map there that we went from about 1,000M to 1,300M.

It was a lot of work but definitely worth it for the views. I guess the exercise is good too. This is a nicer way to exercise and lots of locals use it as a workout. If it isn't enough to climb all that way then there's an outdoor gym where we turned around. Crazy people!

The entrance we used to the park is a tunnel under a road that runs alongside El Ávila. There were vendors selling drinks and snacks to the large crowds that run up and down the trail.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Morrocoy National Park

Morrocoy National Park is a protected island and marine preserve on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. It's about a 4 hour drive from Caracas. Part of Falcón state, it’s known for its mangroves, island beaches and cays like Cayo Sombrero. It was one of the two cays (really small islands) we relaxed on over the holiday weekend, along with the even smaller Cayo Pescadores.

We stayed in a really nice posada (lodging) in the park with their own docks. Breakfast and dinner were served outside by the docks. The facilities at La Ardileña Posada were great but there were some typically Venezuelan things going on. A little later in the morning they'd shut off the water to the rooms to conserve their water tank. The electricity suddenly went out at the end of dinner on our last night for about 5 minutes. We could see the stars fairly clearly until they got the generator started and restored the lights. We're starting to get used to electricity not always being available or the water not being available and/or clear so it wasn't anything unusual to us now.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Caracas City Tour

We took a secure guided tour to see the heart of downtown Caracas with government buildings, churches, and museums. We normally can't go to these areas so this was a rare treat to visit some of the local national treasures! Click on the pictures for bigger versions.

Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly)


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Parque del Este

Parque del Este is a huge city park here in Caracas. It's about 200 acres with plenty of walking and jogging paths. It's a pleasant getaway inside the city since it's full of vegetation, ponds, a ship replica, and other interesting things to see. There's even some zoo animals on display along with the occasional sloth just hanging out in the wild up in the trees. It seems to be pretty safe. The park is full of families just wanting to relax, exercise, or play some sports. Here's some pictures from this weekend and probably many more to come. Click on them for a bigger view.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Paseo de los Próceres

Paseo de los Próceres (Promenade or Walk of the Heroes) is a monument to the heroes of Venezuelan independence. It's a wonderful place with fountains and walkways to enjoy a beautiful day in Caracas. There's a shopping center with parking near one end and the other end turns into a long military parade ground. It seems safe with all of the military around. It may not be safe at night on the streets of Caracas but there's some great park areas to enjoy in the right areas at the right times of day. Click on the pictures for larger versions.