This blog represents the views of the author. One should not assume or conjecture that the United States Department of State (DoS) holds the same views expressed below. If one feels the need, one can navigate to https://www.state.gov/ to find the views of DoS.
Leslie and I served at Embassy Islamabad from January through November 2015. It was a tough post, but for me at least, it was the best job I held during my entire career with DoS. As a facility manager (FM), this was the only posting at which I felt I was truly impacting the mission at the post. Normally, a facility manager turns on the lights and AC upon arrival, sits in the FM office, peruses Facebook and Home Depot web sites, turns off the lights and AC, and goes home (actually there is a bit more to it than that…maybe I will blog about that in the future).
A portion of my job satisfaction in Islamabad may stem from the fact that while I was there, a massive project was literally changing the face of the embassy. When Leslie and I arrived, the project was about three months away from moving into a new chancery, as well as several other buildings on the “new” side of the embassy compound. It was my privilege to help the coordination of the final project phase and the move to the new spaces.
I knew that once the move-in finished, the “old” side of the embassy compound was ready for multiple machines of destruction to raze the remaining structures. The destruction was necessary to make way for the remainder of the new structures on the compound. With the fully completed embassy compound, Embassy Islamabad will provide diplomatic and consular services well into the 21st century. For those interested, the First Phase Dedication Fact Sheet provides additional information on the project, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Islamabad.pdf.
With time literally ticking away, I received permission to photograph what I felt to be some of the more iconic parts of the “old” side of the embassy compound. Things that would soon be bulldozed and leveled patches of ground, ready for new buildings to arise.
Built as a brand-new embassy in 1960 when the capital of Pakistan moved to Islamabad, virtually everything I saw on the “old” side was new after the tragic attack of November 21, 1979, on the embassy compound. On that day, numerous protesters overran the compound, setting fire to the buildings. At the end of the afternoon, the human toll was great with the death of four people; U.S. Marine Corporal, Steven Crowley (he was shot); U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer, Bryan Ellis; and two Pakistani staff members, Nazeer Hussain and Sharafat Ahmed.
Several of the men that worked for me while I was at Embassy Islamabad started working with the embassy to rebuild after the attack. Many began as contractors and ultimately hired on fulltime with the embassy. Some of those described to me the reason for some of the discolored bricks on several buildings, the fires of 1979. I found it humbling to have trod some of the same places that were the epicenter of the tragedy.
One of the more somber areas of the “old” compound was the memorial to those who gave their life in Pakistan. Included amongst the 21-plaques are the names of the four noted above as well as David Foy, an FM killed in Karachi, and Ambassador Raphel. The construction crew relocated the memorial to a serene spot on the “new” side of the compound before demolition began.
The “old” side of the compound had a collegial feel due to the aged buildings and the very mature shade trees. It was beautiful, even on those oppressively hot Pakistani summer days. The “new” side of the compound lacked that feel. Surely once the landscaping matures, the “new” side will become softer in appearance.
I hope the reader will enjoy the following photographs of things long past.
I can only assume mongooses and jackals can read. I never saw any on the compound. Now cats, that was a different story. There were many feral cats at the compound.
To deal with the feral cats on the compound, several employees banded together to form a group known as the Cattaches. The group provided medical care for the cats, birth control, and feeding/sleeping stations such as the one below.
The driver picked us up in Islamabad at about 19:00 on November 25. We said goodbye to Patches the cat and hopped into the vehicle.
Roughly 40 minutes later, we were at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport. I was surprised we made it that quickly. There was construction activity at an overpass on the main road. That narrowed the six-lane passage down to only two. Of course, the traffic was very heavy, so we sat in a traffic jam for a little while. Luckily, there were no jingle trucks (they travel very slowly) in the traffic with us. If there had been jingle trucks, I am sure the traffic jam would have been much worse.
Many motorcycles shared the road with us too. While sitting in traffic, the motorcycles weave through traffic like annoying flies. When traffic is moving, the motos are downright dangerous. Some of the more powerful motos wind through traffic while driving at speed with the traffic. The less powerful motos are especially vulnerable when crossing from the fast lane to the slow lane. That frequently happened at U-turn crossings as the motos transitioned from northbound to southbound lanes. The actual U-turn places the moto directly into the fast lane. From there, it is a dangerous journey across all the other lanes.
The terror of the moto crossings is exponentially higher as the number of passengers on the motos increase. The norm is one or two riders. However, we did see a couple of families of five; the mom (always sitting side-saddle), the dad (ever the driver – although we were told women were beginning to drive motos in Lahore), and three children of various ages. I guess one does what one has to do, but I do not think I have enough courage to operate a moto in Islamabad/Rawalpindi.
As if those incidents were not frightening enough, we saw dozens of pedestrians trying to walk across the five or six lanes of traffic while the traffic was moving at speed. A couple of times, we saw men walking on the painted lane markings, facing on-coming traffic. They were no doubt looking for the next gap in traffic large enough to make it to the next lane markings. It seemed like a life-size version of the old video game, Frogger.
As if not all of that were enough, there was the impatient bus driver. He was continually honking, flashing his headlamps, and weaving back and forth, from lane to lane. Leslie and I commented that he must have come from Georgetown, Guyana. He operated like the bus drivers there.
Some of the on/off ramps for the main road had unending lines of carts, each selling what appeared to be fruits and vegetables. Illuminating each was a single lightbulb powered by a gasoline generator. We had never seen anything like that, but then again, we were not often in that part of town. Pedestrians were everywhere. Periodically, a vehicle picked its way through the crowd.
At the airport, we had to wait until about 20:30 to check-in. That short amount of time was all the more unbearable because of the temperature. Outside, the temperature was 17 degrees Centigrade, about 62 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside, the temperature had to have been 27 degrees Centigrade, about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrestling 85 kilos (about 170 pounds) of luggage through groups of people and security checks made me sweat. I probably lost two or three pounds, a very short-lived decrease (as one will see in my next blog entry.
Our luggage was over our weight limit by about 5 kilos (11 pounds). For whatever reason, the woman at the check-in counter did not charge us extra.
From the check-in counter, we walked to the business class lounge. It was much quieter there and, thankfully, much more refreshing. We had some refreshments and snacks while we patiently waited to board our Thai Airline plane, reminiscing on our tour in Pakistan.
Allah hafiz, roughly translated, means “God protect you.” It is an expression used in Pakistan when you will not see someone for a while, such as when one departs work and goes home or to those left behind when one is going on a trip. In the case of Patches the cat, it is the latter.
Patches adopted us shortly after we arrived in Pakistan in January 2015. She was probably around three or four months old. She and her brother, Smudge, were a great joy to watch in the mornings as we waited for our rides to work. There is a piece of the wall-to-wall carpet at the front door of our home that provides a surface on which to clean shoes before entering. When exiting the house each morning, Patches and Smudge were usually curled up on the carpet, trying to stay warm. They immediately got very excited, waiting for feeding time.
Within a couple of months of our arrival, our roommate at the time gave Smudge to some other Americans. Patches remained at the house. She was skittish, not allowing anyone to get too close to her. Over time, she became more and more used to us. She got to the point where she rubbed against our legs, even letting us touch her tail. However, trying to actually pet her back, or contact her otherwise, resulted in her turning quickly and batting at one’s hand. Usually, the batting was without claws.
Over the last couple of weeks, as we sat on the terrace with a cocktail, watching the Margalla Hills go by; she jumped on my lap on two occasions. Almost as immediately as she landed on my lap, she jumped off. Last night, now that our time in Pakistan is so short, she jumped on the lap, laid down and curled up. She stayed on my lap for a long time, sleeping. She would no doubt still be there if I had not stood up after 20 minutes or so. It was nice that she finally made that connection with us.
This morning, while we waited for a vehicle to take us to the Embassy, Leslie sat on the chair on the front stoop. Pretty soon Patches arrived. Before we knew it, Patches was curled up on Leslie’s lap.
While Patches is a beautiful cat, providing us hours of entertainment and enjoyment, we will leave her in Pakistan; it is her home. I hope that she will learn to love her new humans more quickly than ten months.
Allah hafiz Patches.
The beginning of our R&R trip was neither restful nor relaxing. After all, it was midnight when we departed. We arrived at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, just outside Islamabad, with plenty of time to make our flight check-in arrangements. Before leaving the check-in counter, we made sure our luggage tags read CPH. We wanted to reunite with our stuff when we arrived in Copenhagen.
After going through security, we seated ourselves in the waiting area near the boarding gate. When I stopped to look around at the other passengers, I saw a ten to one ratio of men and women. There were men everywhere, but very few women passengers. I am not sure if that is the norm or if it just happened that way the time we were there.
Two hours later, we went down the boarding ramp to the waiting bus. It was a short bus ride to the side of the plane. We climbed the stairs and found our seats quickly.
The plane departed for Dubai about ten minutes early.
Our flight from Islamabad to Dubai was a short two hours. We landed in Dubai at about 05:30 local time. Even at that hour, it was a toasty 98 degrees Fahrenheit.
We climbed down the stairs and boarded a bus for the ride to the terminal building. I thought the driver was going to take us directly to Copenhagen by bus. It seemed the journey would never end.
Our flight from Dubai to Copenhagen was uneventful. We collected our luggage and hailed a taxi. The taxi ride lasted about 20 minutes and cost 300 Kroner, about $40. It was 14:30 when we arrived at the Marriott.
As soon as we checked in, we made a beeline to the terrace facing the canal. Leslie and I enjoyed white wine. The channel was incredibly busy because it was such a beautiful day. It appears many people use the canal for swimming and water sports. In front of the Marriott is a wooden bridge-like structure, used as a beach. There were numerous sunbathers, swimmers, skateboarders, walkers, and bikers using the structure. People packed the opposite side of the canal from the Marriott. In general, it was a day for doing nothing more than worshiping the sun and enjoying the pleasant weather.
We saw wide, flatboats full of tourists going back and forth in the canal. They were the recipients of canal tours. We also saw larger, yellow boats going back and forth. Those were waterbuses.
Leslie was keen to get her haircut. Hotel staff directed us to the mall on the canal, Fisketorvet Byens, a little more than one-half mile from the hotel. One of the odd things we saw while walking to the mall was a round houseboat. It was strange because of its shape, but mostly because of its location. Moored to a pier directly in front of a commercial building, alongside a bustling pedestrian and bicycle path, it just seemed out of place.
Our path to the shopping mall included many unique examples of architecture; people enjoying the day, and boats.
The other oddity we found was a bride and groom taking wedding photos in front of the brick wall of the mall. We assumed they had been staying at the hotel across from the mall. For some reason, they must have liked the background. For all we know, that may be where they met.
In the mall, we stumbled upon the salon, Simply the Beth. The owner, Beth, had time to cut Leslie’s hair. She shared that the name of the salon was a play on the Tina Turner lyric, “simply the best.”
Back at the hotel, we went to a happy hour in the Executive Lounge. I saw a beer in a bottle that appealed to me. I wanted to be able to place the label in my journal. As I took a sip or two, I could tell the beer tasted funny by my standards. Although I am illiterate with Danish, I saw the word on the label that clued me into the odd reaction of my liver, “alkoholfri.” That is Danish for “alcohol-free.” I sat that down and got a lager instead. It tasted much better, and my liver was much relieved.
For dinner that night, we opted to stay in, dining at the Midtown Grill in the hotel. It is a steakhouse. For starters, Leslie chose the smoked blue cheese salad while I selected the hand-salted smoked salmon. The salmon came with lemon wedges, roe, and greens. The salmon was delicious but very rich. Leslie and I decided on the main courses of tenderloin and porterhouse steaks respectively. We thoroughly enjoyed the steaks. As good as the meal was, nothing could have possibly prepared us for dessert, sea buckthorn creme brulee. It was the best creme brulee I have had anywhere on this planet.
The sea buckthorn berry is orange in color and somewhat tart. The berries were pureed in the bottom of the bowl, creme brulee on top of that, and then the very crusty sugar top. The combination of tastes and textures was incredible.
The next morning, Sunday, we began with a coffee on the terrace, overlooking the canal. When we finished, we took a very leisurely stroll to the Rådus, the Copenhagen City Hall.
The flowers planted along the south side of the building were very colorful and beautiful. The building is an imposing brick building, dating from the turn of the 20th century. A tower of nearly 350 feet dominates the redbrick building. The tower has a beautiful clock on all four faces. Above the west entry door is a gilded statue of Bishop Absalon, a 12th Century archbishop from Denmark. It is awe-inspiring because of its size and detail.
At the corner of the Town Hall is a giant statue of Hans Christian Andersen, one of Denmark’s sons. A crowd of tourists swarmed the area, vying for their chance to have a photograph made with the statue. Many of them posed as though they had just found a long-lost cousin.
City Hall plaza is on the west side of the Radus. That morning, there was a flea market in full swing. It appeared to be specialized in antiques. Leslie found a topaz necklace that she decided to buy.
By the time we left the plaza, it still was not quite 10:00. Many of the stores on Frederiksberggade Strøget were not open, and there were not a lot of people around. Within about a half-block, we saw a store with a unique mannequin display of several older men in their underwear. The sign read, “Just let the men stay naked, as long as we girls can shop.”
As we poked around, looking for a place to have a coffee and wait for things to open, we stumbled across the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus stop. We decided to take the bus, opting to travel the entire route, seeing all 16 stops. Then we could choose where we would like to get off and explore in more depth. The sights we saw included the Liberty Column, the Tivoli Amusement Park, the Christianborg Palace, the Nyhavn District, the Nyborder District, the Trekroner Fort, and the Gefion Fountain.
We decided to get off in the Nyhavn (pronounced New-Hawn) area for further exploration. Because of bus computer problems, we decided to get off a couple of stops early and walk to Nyhavn. We got turned around once, but we ultimately made it to our destination. The canal from which the area takes its name came into being in the 1670s. For much of its existence, the area played host to drinking establishments, sailors, and prostitutes. On this particular day, there were crowds of tourists enjoying the beautiful weather and the Nyhavn venue for the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. That festival has been an annual occurrence since 1979.
The beauty of Nyhavn is quite striking. On either side of the canal are buildings painted in bright pastels. Each one is three and one-half to four stories high, facing the channel. Above the ground floor businesses are townhome or condo-like residences. I understand the addresses are some of the most sought after and expensive in the city. Peppered throughout the canal are some old boats, adding another layer of character to the scene.
We focused our search for a lunch restaurant on the north side of the canal, the sunny side. The tables and umbrellas along the canal just blended from one business to the next. The only way to tell when one was at a different establishment was to look at the facade of the buildings to see when the paint color changed.
We sat down at a restaurant named 17 Nyhavn. We began with a tall amber beer. In the heat of the day, 82 degrees Fahrenheit, the beer helped quench our thirst. Leslie opted for an avocado salad while I selected the club sandwich and French fries. It was a delightful lunch. That was not necessarily due to the food, but rather the company, the setting, and the jazz tunes lilting through.
After lunch, we decided it was time to go back to the hotel. To get to the bus stop on the other side of the canal, we crossed the short drawbridge. On the bridge, there were several padlocks from lovers pledging themselves to one another. We have seen that in several places throughout Europe.
We caught the bus across the street from the apartment building in which Hans Christian Andersen lived for nearly 20 years. As we waited, we spotted a sign for Lycamoblile, ironically touting an excellent rate to call to Pakistan.
A few stops later, the bus stopped for a break at the Little Mermaid statue. It is a very famous statue. I decided to get off and take a photograph while Leslie opted to stay on board. The icon is tiny and unimposing. That lends more credence to why the guide books say many people see the statue and claim, “Is that all there is?” Much like the Hans Christian Andersen statue, there were crowds of tourists vying to have their picture made with her. Regardless of her impact, I did get a refrigerator magnet to remind us of our trip there.
We got off the bus directly in front of our hotel. We immediately went inside for a nap. We were both more worn out than we thought.
Leslie’s mom and aunt arrived in Copenhagen on Monday. Before they arrived, we walked back to the mall to do some shopping. Just before the mall is a bridge strictly for bicycles, it is known as Cykelslangen or Cycle Snake. It is a curvy, fun way for cyclists to cross the canals.
On Tuesday afternoon, we all boarded the Regal Princess cruise ship for our Baltic cruise. Leslie and I booked a suite with a balcony. We were delighted with our accommodations.