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At least I had my sunglasses…

20 Mar

I’m in Düsseldorf, on my last leg of a March Tour of Europe.  I left home exactly 2 weeks ago.  The first week had 4 days in Rome and 2 days in Naples, then one night back home in Madrid that turned into two nights.  I’ll pick up the story there.  A week ago Monday after spending a lovely night in my own bed I headed back to the airport for a 1:20pm flight to Copenhagen.  Once onboard the plane we pushed away from the gate right on time.  A minute or so later my week started to unravel.  The captain came on the intercom and announced the front wheel had been damaged during pushback.  The plane was pulled back up to the terminal, and we waited for 1.5 hours.  The captain then announced they were trying to source a replacement wheel and that the repair would take at least 1.5 hours more.  Kindly, the fine folks at SAS invited us off the plane and to enjoy a free meal at a restaurant in the terminal, courtesy of SAS.  Never one to turn down free food I took the stroll over to Terminal 3 where they sorted out the details of giving 165 or so passengers a free meal.

Roughly 4 hours after our intended departure the repairs were complete, and passengers were able to reboard with one small exception.  Due to the delay, one of the flight attendants was now “off duty,” and apparently there is a maximum number of passengers per flight attendant allowed.  That meant they needed 16 passengers to volunteer to wait until Tuesday to fly to Copenhagen.  I quickly volunteered, realizing it would 11pm before I made it to my destination in Malmo.  Around 6pm I headed back home, ready to sleep in my own bed again.

I didn’t get to sleep long that night as my new flight departed at 7am.  Back to the airport I headed just after 6am when the Metro started running and away we went towards a stopover in Munich, more or less, on time.  We reached Munich unscathed and proceeded to sit on the tarmac for a bit.  The captain popped onto the intercom and announced our gate was occupied (by a plane with wheel damage?).  About this time I glanced at my ticket and realized I had only a 45 minute layover in Munich and the minutes were ticking preciously by.  And they ticked, and they ticked, and they ticked, and finally about 10 minutes before my next flight was due to depart we were able to exit the plane.  Not surprisingly, we deplaned at gate 37 and my next gate was gate 7.  Perhaps, surprisingly to some, this meant my next plane was waiting approximately 30 generous wingspans down a very, very, very long terminal.  Running shoes on and in need of a good jog, off I went to find my next plane.  I arrived, the flight attendants didn’t seem surprised, and proceeded down the gangway, and then down the stairs, to a bus.  A bus?  A few more passengers that I recognized from my flight the day before came huffing and puffing down to the bus as well, and I realized, I needn’t have run, as I only had to be as fast as the slowest person off my flight from Madrid.  Recognizing our folly we joked about the situation, and in the course of the conversation I came to learn that my flight the previous day had been completely cancelled.  A bright moment in my trip!  As it seems by volunteering I had simply sped up the inevitable and returned home much sooner than had I tried to fly on to Copenhagen.  My moment of satisfaction lasted just that, moments, as the bus proceeded to drive along the edge of the terminal, back the way I had just run, back the entire 30 gates, underneath the plane I had just left, before curving left onto the tarmac where my new plane happily waited.  In case you got lost, I had waited 30 nervous minutes on a plane on the tarmac, ran the entire length of the terminal and then rode a bus back the entire length of the terminal and boarded a plane waiting on the tarmac!!!

So it was on to Copenhagen now.  It turns out that I had another flight scheduled from Copenhagen that same day up to Stockholm and given the non-direct flight I had no option but to wait in the Copenhagen airport until my afternoon flight to Stockholm.  While I waited, I stopped by the SAS baggage service to check on the whereabouts of my luggage as the day before I had left the airport with my luggage on a plane I presumed was on its way to Copenhagen before me.  The friendly SAS lady informed me that my luggage would be on today’s SAS flight from Madrid, and I could just pick It up here later this afternoon.  Perfect!  Say, what time does flight arrive?  16:10?  Oh, that’s very funny, because my flight to Stockholm departs at 16:05!  So I filled out the paperwork to have my luggage transferred up to Stockholm later in the evening.  Fortunately, or so I thought, I was flying on another SAS flight to Stockholm, so I reasoned this would make the logistics of transferring my luggage easier.

Undeterred, I thoroughly enjoyed my flight to Stockholm.  It was a beautiful evening, and I had trouble telling the hundreds of lakes from the hundreds (or is it thousands?) of Baltic Sea inlets that surround and pass through Stockholm.  Amazing place and I had just arrived!  I was flying with colleagues now as we were headed to a future wind farm site a few hours north of Stockholm.

Approaching Stockholm from the air.

After landing, we made a quick stop by the SAS baggage service to check on my luggage.  It hasn’t checked into Copenhagen yet?  But that flight arrived an hour ago?  Well, we’ll go have dinner in the airport and check back again.  And so we did, very slowly, taking our time at every opportunity.  Around 9pm, with only one flight left to arrive from Copenhagen I checked again, this time with the fourth different SAS person.  She tapped in my special baggage service number, drew a puzzled look, tapped some more, left the room to make a phone call and returned a few minutes later to inform me that my luggage was in fact, still in Madrid!  I don’t know if I can share with you the joy I felt knowing we had just waited 4 hours for that excellent news (that perhaps one of the 3 previous friendly SAS people could have shared with me?) and that I the very next day I would be spending a glorious day outside in a forest, in northern Sweden, north of 60° N, in the winter, without a coat, nor boots, nor socks, nor hat, nor gloves.  But hey, AT LEAST I HAD MY SUNGLASSES!

And so it was, the very next day with two borrowed coats, borrowed socks, and a purchased hat (I really like the hat, so that part didn’t “smart”), I headed off into the forest.

Making our way to various sites.

Our access road.

Boreal forests in this part of the world!

Fortunately, the sun was out (and remember, I had my sunglasses!) so the 35° F temperature wasn’t bad, until I stepped through the crusty knee deep snow into a small stream, in my very non-waterproof shoes.  Ah well, it was worth it to see a little part of this world, and we saw hundreds of moose prints in the snow as we walked to a few of the turbine locations.

Moose tracks!

Actually, we walked quite far that day, because you see, about 100 meters after departing our first stop of the day, our VW SUV high-centered on the center ridge of the road.  By high-centered, I mean we were stuck, in the snow, in the forest, in northern Sweden, north of 60 north, in the winter.  And as we were quite stuck, I headed off to visit a few turbine locations while we awaited rescue courtesy of the rental car service.


It seems that it is not so easy to explain exactly where we were in the forest, in northern Sweden…, especially since we only spoke English (and Italian, and Spanish, but really how helpful could those languages be in Sweden?), and the “rescue” service only spoke Swedish.  A little telephone game through colleagues back in Malmo that spoke both English and Swedish seemed to be getting the rescuers on the right course, although, I’m told at one point they were way up at the top of the nearby ski resort  searching for us near the “big metal mast” that was supposed to indicate our whereabouts.  Roughly 4 hours after getting stuck and having walked to all reasonable turbine locations, and with the sun rapidly setting, I decided that despite the apparent futility, we should at least make an effort to get ourselves unstuck in case our rescuers don’t arrive as expected.  Using the jack and some wood to support the jack, I raised the VW up so that it was no longer high-centered, and by placing a generous supply of sticks under the tires along with a packing of snow so the tires wouldn’t sink back down, it seemed we had made some progress.  In fact, I think I’ll hop in the driver’s seat and see if we have made any headway.  Oh wait, there are our rescuers!  Umm, their vehicle really isn’t any bigger than ours.  In fact, they are going to get stuck just trying to get over to us.  How fine would that be, to have freed ourselves only to be blocked by our “rescuers” on this very narrow one lane road?  Nevertheless, the rescuers hopped out of their not so big vehicle and took a look at the situation.  “Not good” in Swedish is apparently one of the few phrases my colleagues understand.  Indeed!  The second chap seemed less concerned and after slipping and sliding his vehicle back the direction we’d all come, he returned to our situation, hopped into the driver’s seat of our VW and proceeded to drive us right back from whence we’d come.  Rescued!  Rescued?  Didn’t he just drive the vehicle down the road?  Couldn’t we have done that?  Ah, nevermind, at this point, we had another plane to catch, and with luck my luggage would be waiting for me in Copenhagen.

And yes, we DID see two moose alongside the road on the way back to the airport!


Top of the world

17 Jul

It just so happened that when I was finally able to fly over to Europe on July 5th, there was a meeting in Germany for my new team.  It made sense, then, to fly directly to Dusseldorf for the meeting before flying to Madrid over the weekend.  The meeting was a great opportunity for me to meet my new European colleagues, but it also proved to be a bit of an adventure.  Thursday afternoon we hopped in 3 cars and hit the autobahn for a 400km (250 mile) drive to the German coast.  Once we cleared the urban areas the speed limit went from 120 km/hr (75 mph) to “unlimited”.  I have to say it was a fine experience riding along with the cruise control set on 180-200 km/hr (111 – 125 mph).  It helps that the drivers in Germany actually pay attention to the act of operating a motor vehicle.  Anyway, traveling at that speed makes short work of the drive and we arrived in Cuxhaven in time for dinner (9pm).  Surprisingly, we’ve adjusted quickly to the norm of eating lunch around 2pm and dinner around 9pm.  I’m not sure how I can now go that long without eating, but it seems like perfectly reasonable timing now.

The reason for our visit to Cuxhaven was to visit a small wind farm right on the shoreline with 4 of the largest wind turbines in the world.

A 6MW turbine in the foreground. The 5MW turbine we visited in the background.

This was a special treat for me.  In the 4 years I’ve worked for E.ON in Texas I’ve never been inside or up to the top of a wind turbine, but here in Cuxhaven, after getting a climbing safety lesson, not only did I get to go inside, but I was able to ride a small elevator to the top of the turbine (nacelle), and walk around inside the enormous nacelle with its 60 ton gearbox and 5MW generator.

A RePower 5MW wind turbine.

Heading inside the turbine tower.

Looking up through the hole where the elevator passes. There were floors every 20m or so for safety.

The last few steps from inside the nacelle to the top of the nacelle.

Then, to my surprise, we climbed a small ladder, opened a hatch, and climbed up on top of the nacelle.  Did I mention this turbine was huge? The top of nacelle was over 120m (~400 feet) above the ground.  The 3-bladed rotor spanned 126m!  Imagine the blades laying on a football field.  2 of them, end to end, would span the entire length of a football field, including the end-zones, and then some.  By comparison, a typical large wind turbine in the US is 80m high, with a rotor diameter of 101m, and a 2.3MW generator.  The view from the top was impressive.

A very big blade. 63 meters long.

Standing on the platform on top of the nacelle.

A beautiful day to view a number of other wind turbines in the distance.

Our teeny, tiny cars parked at the base of the turbine.

The other RePower 5MW turbine next door.

That small turbine in the background is a typical big turbine in the US.

This channel was the access for shipping into the Elbe River.

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