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drive your life by diconium – Route 2 | Northern Europe

What is drive your life actually? We wanted to prove that Hybrid Work actually works – under the motto "it doesn't matter where you work, it matters how you work", we enabled 3 constellations of drivers to take a unique trip through Europe: including extraordinary encounters, technical highlights, exciting accommodations, office visits and, of course, lots of fun – without missing a single day of work. Over 1,000 applications, both external and internal, had to be screened. Deserving winners Lisa, Eric and Jennifer chronicled their experiences in our drive-your-life blog. Eight weeks of Hybrid Work in Europe, eight weeks of life-work balance. That was drive your life.

The second tour took our colleague Eric and and his 3 companions up to Northern Europe and back to Berlin. On this page you will find a summary of their experiences. Have fun reading!


...or check out straight away what Eric & our Managing Director Marcus discuss on the streets of Stockholm as well as at the Epicenter on the future of work:

"My CEO paid for my 8 week road trip" | drive your life: Eric meets Marcus

 

 

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Episode 1: Lighting the Candle

There are 24 hours in a day. Right now in Norway, about 20 of those hours still have daylight… and let me tell you: One can do a lot in 20 hours of daylight.

What is the plan? Why am I in Norway? What is Drive your life? Do you want to vicariously live the highlights of the first few days? There is a 3 minute intro video for you:

Vlog 1 // The Kickoff – Working REMOTELY in Europe for 8 weeks

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I arrived Monday evening after surmounting the typical last second problems one faces when relying on Deutsche Bahn these days, and found my way to the Oslo AirBnB. The host, Martin, was there to show me around a bit. The design and intrinsic comfort of the apartment struck me immediately, man, 
I could live here! Martin was also quite the character. I kept pointing out details, and he had a story for each one of them. He was a carpenter, making his own table and cabinets. He was a musician, with several instruments laying around and a seemingly endless stack of vinyl. He was a location scout for films, seen in photos placed on the wall here or there, and this uncanny eye for that intangible artistic vision. We hit it off immediately, and what seemed to be planned as a quick handover led to almost two hours of conversation. Eventually, he departed, but not after extending an invite to join him and his family on a boat he is restoring in a southern part of Norway, Tønsberg.

Working from the AirBnB has been a breeze. Thimm also has meetings from time to time, but we have spanned ourselves out on the large walnut dining room table; me, with two laptops, one for work and one for video and photo editing, and Thimm with a laptop and an iPad. It truly feels like one of those digital nomad startup houses. Plus, we had over 200mbps internet, which means we can almost hear what our colleagues will say before they say it.

Fast forwarding a bit after work Wednesday brought a very cool event. I found a beach volleyball tournament taking place a few weeks before departing, and had wrote them an email whether we might be able to join. They accommodated with a free “one-day-member” pass, but told us that we would still have to register like everyone else, at 1800 the Sunday before the tournament, and they warned we had to be fast on the button. We managed to get in before the 48-person tournament was full.

So, there we were: A 48-person “social” beach volleyball tournament, where you change partners every game. We played 7 games in total, and had quite a few unofficial games. In the end, we met a good 20 people, many of whom gave us great suggestions on places to go and things to do. We ended up being the last group there playing, well into the extended sunset, and after exchanging contacts with a few new friends, we gave some others a ride home in our beautiful DYL van.

It feels like every minute of every day is being squeezed and wrung out like water in a towel. Working, taking photos, making videos, exploring, traveling, writing, meeting people; it is a whirlwind of activity and task-switching. It’s invigorating and exhausting: I signed up for it, and I’m loving it.


Thursday brought even more adventure – we were meeting with NORA, the Norwegian Artificial Intelligence Research Consortium. Friday evening we headed toward the Fjords for an adventurous weekend, and actually, I am writing this from the car now. But we will save these experiences for next time.

 

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Episode 2: Keeping the Candle Lit

The ever elusive time. It is amazing to look back and think Thimm and I have been here in Norway for 10 days. On one hand, it feels like 100, and on the other, that we arrived only yesterday.

This entry will cover essentially the rest of last week and the weekend; at first, it might not sound like a lot of time to create a dedicated blog post around, but I can assure you, it was a lot.

Last week, we left off just before the meeting with Sachin Gaur, a senior advisor at NORA, the Norwegian Artificial Intelligence Research Consortium. He was simply a wealth of insight, and it was quite enjoyable to hear about all the ways they are enabling researchers in Norway while also providing valuable services for the AI community at large. I highly recommend you read through our in-depth interview on the applydata blog [click the link below to go there!].


I think from here, we should let videos and photos do the talking, after all, a picture is worth a thousand words, isn’t it? This 4-minute video will not only give your eyes a nature bath – but it will also give you a good impression of what is possible in 48-hours. Keep in mind that about 13 of them were driving, and you know, we even used a few for sleeping too!

Vlog 2 // Mission Carpe Diem // 48 hours in Norway

 

If that wasn’t enough eye-candy. Enjoy some photos.

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First up: Vøringsfossen

Though it doesn’t look like it – it is about midnight at this point. We headed toward our next destination, and using a great app Park4Night, we were able to find a nice place in the woods to put our van and rest for the night. 

This place, just happened to be about 2 minutes from another place called Skjervsfossen, somewhere we had not planned to visit – but thought – why not go since we are here?!

This kind of serendipity seems to happen quite naturally when you’re open for it! We were blown away by the immense size of this waterfall, and even more by the fact that ZERO other people were there. 

The hike went through beautiful green pastures, following trickling streams to their sources: Glacial lakes and ice caps. We were so amazed to find ourselves walking through snow to reach the summit, quite literally in the middle of the longest days of the year in Norway, in the middle of the summer. The hike, and the view, were simply breathtaking.

But our adventures didn’t stop there, even though we found ourselves constantly bathing in natural beauty, there was more to be seen. I mean, honestly, this country is amazing. Anywhere you look, anywhere you stop, you find mountains and waterfalls, lakes and forests. Sheep and cows often block the roads, and they do not move for anyone. If you don’t believe me, this next set of photos is taken out of the car window on our way to the next hike in the Aurlandsdalen Valley: We found a beautiful spot to set up our camp for the night, tucked next to a river, just behind a lake. You could imagine people hiking for such a view.

Did we? No. It was right off of the road. We were joined only by roaming herds of sheep.  

The next day, we began our hike in Østerbø, this leg of the trek is called the “Grand Canyon of Norway”, and we were not disappointed. Our path followed a serpentine river between towering green mountains. Often, waterfalls would sprout out of the sides as if a few bricks from a dam were plucked out. The hike was another 20 kilometers, but without the intense elevation gain of the day before.

We found ourselves amongst vibrant landscapes filled with ferns and mountain flowers, with view after view into the gorgeous valley below.

Our hike was only momentarily paused, as a gentleman had a small fall, and his glasses flew down the side of the hill. Thimm and I spent a good 30 minutes searching for the brown glasses in the high grass, and eventually, I can happily say, we found them!

Apart from that, we took a few breaks to see some of the farm settlements. The signs here indicated that they were likely abandoned during the time of the black plague. We thought that was interesting, as this seemed to be one of the most remote places in the world ...where would you rather be during such a great plague?!

In any case, we eventually made our way down, across the valley, and toward our final destination. From there, we were able to take a bus back to our starting point, and then began the long drive back to Oslo.

Yet – the adventures weren’t over so soon. We stopped near a large lake, took out our cooking equipment, and had one last meal in the wild before the work week would begin again the following morning.

48 hours, door to door. I ask you: Could you ask for much more? Come Monday, we were both happy to start working, and simply be able to sit there and work with our minds, instead of our bodies; a different kind of resting.

Episode 3: Norway Norway Norway

We’ve met a lot of people over the last 2 weeks. It is always fun to watch people’s expressions when they find out we are on this road trip through Norway, Sweden, and Finland – they light up at the thought of it. But what really gets me is when they find out we are working full time as well! I cannot begin to tell you how many people have told me: “I wish I had your job!”, or rather they tell me how cool it is. In my head, I am just saying, ‘yes! I know, I know!’.

It really is such an opportunity, and I am certainly grateful for it. In the end, opportunities are always what we make of them. I could spend all the time in the van, or sitting in an AirBnB, and get almost nothing “extra” from this experience. I could walk around without speaking to people. There is saying: you get out when you put in; I think opportunities need to be seized, and this one, well it is a big one. Now, I am not saying I have it all figured out, but I am doing my best to figure it out! 

 

Vlog 3 // Rondane and Jotunheimen National Parks // Cinematic Norway

 

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Episode 4: Berries, Boats, Treehouses

With Norway in the rear-view mirror, we headed ever forward toward Gothenburg, Sweden’s 2nd largest city. It was only a 3 or 4 hour drive, which in comparison to our weekend driving extravaganzas, felt more like only a trip down to the local grocery store, or in this case, maybe the nearest IKEA.

Gothenburg is positioned on the western coast of Sweden, and as we all know, the west coast is always the best coast (sorry, California reference). If you would take a look on a map, you’d see that this coast line is peppered by archipelago. About halfway through our drive, we decided to head toward the water and see what this was all about.

We followed a mixture of google maps and intuition and ended up on a small island which proved to be full of two things: Berries, nice – and ticks, not so nice. We picked both of them, each getting its own kind of “squish”. In the end, our hands were stained, but don’t worry, it’s from the berries.

We stayed for two nights in one of the tree houses they built, complete with a rope-bridge and a terrace overlooking the forest. Every detail of urnatur was planned, inspired by some connection, deeper meaning, or a general aesthetic appeal.

We spent most of our time on or near the lake, switching from canoe to standup paddle board to simply floating around. A few other groups were there, all from Sweden, and all equally amazed by the experience.
Here is a short video showcasing our time there, the story continues after that:

Vlog 4 // Life in a treehouse // Urnatur, Sweden

 

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Episode 5: Filling the Cup

I wrote the other day on LinkedIn that I felt like I was a sponge attached to a rocket, and it’s true. The staggering amount of novel experiences I’ve had, and the truly inspiring people I’ve met in the past few weeks is overwhelming. I am constantly feeling both that I am filled to the brim with ideas, but at the same time, that I want to sit with each of the ideas and dive deeper and deeper into them to really make sustainable change for the future.

I guess once your cup is filled, you need to drink it.

Thimm and I left the tree houses at 4am to get him to the Stockholm airport in time. After dropping him at the airport, I had about 10 hours until Federica arrived, my new drive-your-life partner-in-adventure (and simply my general partner, too). I looked on the map and found an area which looked nice and headed there. I should have taken a nap, but instead I went for a long walk that ended in a small café. From there, I busted out the blog entry you read last time (you read it, right?). All that work... and yet there were still many hours to go. Those were spent watching some machine learning videos to stay sharp, and then picking up a pizza to surprise Fede with.

The next few days involved some combination of working from home, from cafes, and from the Stockholm Public Library. Fede, however, was on a true vacation, and after a nice breakfast together, would usually spend the days walking around the city. We did of course have time to explore together in the evenings, and later on the first day found ourselves at Fotografika, a really nice photography museum. 

On Sunday we were also able to explore a bit of Sweden’s natural beauty on a trip to Tyreska National Park. Deep in the woods we saw countless flowers and sights. But I’ll simply let some photos do the talking here. 

The next week was truly inspiring.

On Monday, I was set to meet with Marcus Worbs, the managing director of diconium strategy. Just before that, I met with Paula Accordi, and a film team. Our idea was to make a short film about the DYL experience, hybrid working, and the future of work. Marcus and I drove around for almost 3 hours discussing these topics, among others, and it was a pleasure. Looking forward to continuing some of these conversations in Hamburg!

Vlog 5 // Stockholm City Top Sights and Sounds

 

On top of that, the agenda also had us going to Epicenter Stockholm, one of the most innovative hubs maybe in the world. Epicenter has the unique advantage of hosting not only large blue-chip companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, but also many start-ups choose to have their offices there. They also strive to focus on a few key areas at a time, in a sort of vertical attack of a problem. What ends up happening is an immense networking of ideas and connections; and I can assure you, THAT HAPPENS.


After a journey there, we met for dinner with some of the brilliant minds behind it all: Hannes Sjöbald, Linus Kaasik, Malin Nyström, as well as a brilliant mind of ours: Martin Czerba. It was a wonderful evening, and the conversations varied from e-commerce to the metaverse to implantable chips and biohacking to synthetic data to God, philosophy, religion, and politics. This type of energy only seemed to build rather than diffuse over the next days.

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Episode 6: Island Hopping

Åland is an autonomous island group, once Sweden, now officially Finland, that resides between the two. If you're more of a visual person, check out the video!

Vlog 6 // Exploring the Åland Islands in Finland

 

A large ferry took us the 2.5 hours across the Baltic sea to Åland, an island itself, surrounded by a seemingly endless archipelago. We arrived in Mariehamn, the capital, but our AirBnB for this leg was in Geta, on the exact opposite side, and quite literally on the islands most northern point. However, despite the polar opposite location, it took us no more than 45 minutes to reach our new home. And my, what a new home it was… 

This was clearly a developers dream, a pocket of houses all built in the same one or two model styles, but all directly on the rocks abutting the northern sea. When we opened our door we were greeted by floor to ceiling windows which showcased the natural beauty that lay outside. What a treat – from here, I would have no problem working. 

Having arrived late on a Sunday, it was almost sunset, and we walked out on the cliffs. To my pleasant surprise, we could see the sunset along the water horizon. The combination of this, with the pine trees and the rocks made me really think of San Diego, where I lived for so many years. This made the scenery extra special.

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Episode 7: drive your life? What a ride...

The hop over to the mainland Finland from Åland turned out to be more a long, long swim. If we did indeed sail to Helsinki, we had over 10 hours to go; we cut this a bit shorter by heading to Turku, and making a 2 hour drive at a much more moderate 130kph.

Fede and I had two things on our agenda for the (late) evening:
1) Visit Jaakko and Aino, a Finnish couple who I had met during my PhD time. We had already spent 2 weeks together in Finland for a workshop on TMS-EEG (look it up, I dare you!)
2) Pick up Juan from the airport

The problem was that after dealing with potentially the most inefficient ferry-boat exiting ever, we were 1 hour later than planned. So, our short visit became ever shorter, and after a quick 10 minute hello, we arrived at the airport to fetch Juan. Fede had to be back at the airport the next morning at 6am, and dropping her off signified the closing of the 2nd leg of the trip.

Vlog 7 // Living the Dream in Helsinki

 

The next day we wanted a taste of the Finnish co-working model, so we jumped on our bikes and headed the 5 kilometers into the city. Being we didn’t know how long it would take to get setup and connected, on the way we pulled into a local park so Juan could take his standup before entering into MOW, the “Mothership of Work”. 

The co-working hub itself was stationed in an old brick building, 4 or 5 floors in total. In contrast to places like Epicenter Stockholm, MOW did not really have the smaller work areas or breakout stations that are handy when you need to take a meeting, but it is more structured around open work areas, or office spaces that scale-up companies might be renting. In any case, we enjoyed our time there and also enjoyed the unlimited popcorn. 

The next day we wanted a taste of the Finnish co-working model, so we jumped on our bikes and headed the 5 kilometers into the city. Being we didn’t know how long it would take to get setup and connected, on the way we pulled into a local park so Juan could take his standup before entering into MOW, the “Mothership of Work”. The co-working hub itself was stationed in an old brick building, 4 or 5 floors in total. In contrast to places like Epicenter Stockholm, MOW did not really have the smaller work areas or breakout stations that are handy when you need to take a meeting, but it is more structured around open work areas, or office spaces that scale-up companies might be renting. In any case, we enjoyed our time there and also enjoyed the unlimited popcorn. 

The next days involved exploring a bit more of the city, from random military complexes, to even more random art exhibitions, to even working on the steps of a grand cathedral on the senate square. This latter one comes with a bit of a story. You might have noticed a large line of people coming towards us. Well, it turns out, that at 6:30pm there would be a 30 minute concert put on by ALL of the choir groups in Helsinki. And we: well we just happened to be at the right place, at the right time. With prime seats on the statue in the square, we listened to hundreds of small choir groups come together to form a sonorous masterpiece.

As I had two microphones and a camera with me, I also happened to capture the entire thing: It is definitely worth a listen.

But – it didn’t end there. The choir groups all separated after the big show, and spread themselves across the city, serenading anyone who had enough time to pause and listen. Our walk home brought up back through the same direction, and seeing the city lights and golden lit bridges shared yet another side of the beauty of Helsinki.

We had big plans for the weekend. Jaakko and Aino had invited us to head with them to the small island of Linlo after work on Friday. The idea was to make a fire, camp there for the night, and go mushroom hunting the next day. We arrived at a such a beautiful time, just before sunset, and the light streaming through the trees made everything glow. 

We then set up a fire and grilled nothing other than bananas in their peels. Have you ever done this? Incredible. Basically, you heat them until they good and brown, then slice open the peel and put in a few pieces of chocolate. This essentially makes the most delicious thing you could ever eat – and then all that is left to do is eat it. Pretty good plan if you ask me.

After another small hike, we were feeling quite tired and decided to drive back to Helsinki. Along the road, we found a couple who were walking, with waaaaay too much luggage, guitar included. They threw up the hitchhiker thumb, and being we have a 7-seater multivan with plenty of room for all that luggage, kind of had to stop, didn’t we?

Apparently, it was their first time ever camping, and they also didn’t realize the buses don’t travel on Sundays. Oops! Lucky them, as we drove them the 20 kilometers directly to their train station. Hugs were given.

The final week brought a series of events which made it seem like two weeks.

After another good Monday (well, for some of us, Juan battled his PC and unfortunately lost. #JuanNeedsAMac), we planned to meet once again with Jaakko and Aino for our after-work festivities (tennis and dinner!).

The two of them are also neuroscientists by trade, and if you’d look up Jaakko, you’d find a publication list containing more pages than I have publications. He only recently pivoted into industry, joining a small 4-person startup as the CTO. They essentially made hypersensitive hardware that measures the temperature of the retina when it is given laser treatment for blindness due to retinitis pigmentosa or macular degeneration. Funny enough, I also did my Masters in a similar field! … Aino has finished her PhD this year, and will also be making the jump into industry, working… as of today?!... at a startup involved in writing algorithms to automated the processing of biomedical imaging.

We took a breather on Tuesday, with each of us working pretty much straight through the day and then taking a walk, each on our own, around the city while chatting to some family and friends on the phone. It was nice to just walk aimlessly without a map, taking in the different ins-and-outs of the city and watching as the fire-lit sky turned into night. 

The next day we were headed to the Epicenter Helsinki! If you had been following along, you might know that I spent some good time at the Epicenter Stockholm and really met some bright and intriguing people. There was no change here as Patrick, the CEO, put me in touch with Kristian Nieminen, the country manager for Helsinki. We immediately were greeted by him as we came into the hub, and spent a good 30 minutes chatting before starting our day.

Jussi also took me to a new part of the city that is set as a sort of artificial intelligence test-bed, if you will. Here, they are trying to implement cutting edge solutions for tangible problems. For example, the harbor is nearby, and every so often a ship comes in and unloads a bunch of trucks and cars. Well, this part of the city has now integrated LIDAR sensors atop the traffic lights, and implemented open source real-time tracking solutions to better account for the added traffic and help with intelligently orchestrating its flow out of the city. Nice! They also have autonomously driving street cleaners. Again, all of this is open source. Should we download their software model?


But what would a final weekend be without juuuuust one more adventure...?

Estonia sits only 2 hours away by boat and Tallinn is such a beautiful city, that it would be shame not to visit it. It would be the second time for me, but the first for Juan. We booked the earliest boat there and headed out Saturday morning.

The city itself has such a different vibe than Helsinki – and although Estonia is certainly even a leader of digitally oriented modernization, the architecture really gives more of a medieval feel. As we walked through the streets, we happened to pass by the Russian embassy, on which several posters and banners hung expressing every sort of opinion. Just after, we experienced beautiful music played on an instrument I would have to look up to tell you the name of it. Although we were so close to Helsinki, we felt we were transported a bit to a different time. 

What’s even better, is that I have a few friends scattered around there and we were able to meet up with one, Oli. Our plan was to meet at the famous Kompressor restaurant, who specialize and make pretty much only filled pancakes. If you ever go, you’re going to have to try this out! 

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The final day arrived. We ate breakfast, packed our things, and then drove to the huge boat which would carry us, and the van, back to Germany.

There is something beautiful about being on the open sea, the great expanse of space that is laid out before you. There is something about being able to look out at the horizon and imagine. I wonder if this is what the first explorers felt as they set out from their countries in search of new lands. We walked up to the 12th deck to see the sunset, and as if the Nordics wanted to gift just one last gift, the sun burned with immense color, and turned the multitude of clouds a vibrant pink. 

The sun eventually set, as will this trip. But like the sunshine before the sunset, and the sunrise still to come, this trip has been enriching, sometimes over-brimming with life and connections and memories, and without a doubt will shape my vision for the days to come.

So, one more thank you, for this tremendous gift of opportunity, for arranging the parts and for being part of yet another beautiful symphony in this song of life.


Eric