Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

Hi everyone,

Today is New Year's Eve and Eladio and I are off to León to celebrate it with his family tonight.

And here is a great picture, done for me by Fátima and which comes courtesy of Nokia Siemens Networks, to say Happy New Year.

Well in fact, I am posting a couple more, because they are great.

Have a great one! Ours just has to be good because 2008 will also be the year of our Silver Wedding Anniversary. Imagine, 25 years!!!

All my love and the very best to you all


Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas should begin with “F” as it’s all about family, friends and food! “F” for mystery fish and thanks Mercadona!

Eladio and I with happy Christmas faces at Julio's annual dinner on Boxing Day
Hi again

Here I am writing my blog now that we are well into Christmas. And what have I been up to for the last 10 days? As I think back, it seems Christmas is all about family, friends, food and, of course, presents.

It all started with an invitation to the Ericsson Christmas party in the town of El Molar at the famous caves on 19th December. It was a great do but as I’m not a real party animal, I came home early as I had Christmas at home to prepare and I was a bit behind this year.

The next day, Eladio and I ventured into Madrid by car to pick up his Father’s old radio from a repair shop in La Latina, in the heart of old Madrid. It turned out to be a bit of an odyssey as the Christmas traffic was horrific. From there we went to José Antonio’s house to pick up Eladio’s Mother who was coming to stay for Christmas.

This is Eladio’s Father’s radio which he has inherited and means so much to him. According to the the man who mended it is a jewel of a radio and was manufactured in the 40’s.
Saturday was the annual Christmas lunch at home for Fátima and Julio. This year Fátimas’ Mother and daughter also joined us; so we were 10 round the dining room table. I decided on a “light” lunch, in preparation for what was to come later, so prepared baked fish. The fish part proved to be a bit of a mystery. I had everything ready for lunch and it was time to prepare the fish when I just couldn’t find it even though the day before we had bought 10 fresh fillets which should have been in the fridge. Well, they weren’t, so our conclusion was that we must have left it at the supermarket (Mercadona). However, it was already 1.30 and my guests were coming within the hour. Luckily I had quite a lot of frozen fish which I got out and hurriedly unfroze. Meanwhile Eladio rang the supermarket. And amazingly, within the hour, Mercadona had delivered 2 whole filleted hakes (merluza) direct to our door. I have to add we had nothing to prove we had left the fish there and neither did we ask them to bring us more fish. They just believed our story! That is real customer service for you!!! Full marks Mercadona.

Gloria, Susi and Fátima's daughter, Fátima.
And on Sunday, we had guests again, but this time for tea. So in the morning we went to the Plaza Mayor with my Father and Eladio’s Mother to see the traditional Christmas market. The traffic was horrendous again and it took Eladio over an hour to park. Meanwhile, I waited with the “abuelos” in a bar for Eladio to come. The wait proved a little incidental as I kept ringing Eladio to find out when he was coming but he never answered. Later it turned out his phone was switched off and there I was imagining him kidnapped or attacked. Luckily he wasn’t and we were able to make some fun purchases, as you can see in the picture.

Fortunately our afternoon guests, Juana and Oscar, brought the food with them; delicious snacks from Mallorca. We hadn’t seen them for over a year and we were to meet their new offspring, Patricia who is 9 months old. Julio, who is the Godfather of Santiago, their 2 year old, had brought the children their Christmas presents which kept them well occupied most of the afternoon. The family, who I know from my Nokia days, now live in Mexico City. In fact you can follow their lives through Juana’s blog; the link to which is on mine below. They are flourishing in Mexico and having a great life, as you will see from the blog.

A lovely afternoon was spent with Juan, Oscar, Santiago and Patricia
And suddenly it was Christmas Eve, that most important date at Christmas for the Spaniards and what they call “Nochebuena”. Nochebuena is celebrated with a family dinner which is the most special dinner of the year when you get out the best china and table finery you have. So I spent the 24th cooking most of the day. I cooked so much stuff that we have been eating it for the last 4 days which, of course, is a great advantage as I don’t have to cook any more. We are now totally fed up of potato salad, bacon rolls and cold turkey.

Christmas Eve dinner
Christmas day is the most important day for the English at Christmas and I have followed the traditions I learned from my Grandmother all my life. The girls have a stocking full of small goodies then we all have a special breakfast together. And after it is time to open the presents and this is what we all look forward to every year.

Unwrapping the presents from under the tree is the best moment of Christmas and the one we all prepare for weeks in advance or months in some cases. The important thing here is the quantity rather than the quality; so we all give each other lots of little things, but nothing over the top ever.

Photo of the tree moments before opening the presents on Christmas day

Everyone ready to open the presents on Christmas morning
And as Christmas lunch is the most important meal in the English calendar, there I was cooking again most of the morning. And here the menu cannot be altered like it can on Christmas Eve. So, of course, I made roast turkey and all the trimmings and Christmas pudding with white brandy sauce like I have done every year of our married life.

On Boxing day, we were invited to the annual dinner at Julio’s house. This year we were only 5: Julio, Fátima, Susi, Eladio and I but the dinner was as big a success as ever. An intrinsic part of this dinner is the exchange of presents and the wishes we make for the new year; all of this, of course, to the sound of laughter from beginning to end. Thanks Julio for another great dinner this year!

Susi with Anne's lovely Santa sack full of our presents for Julio and Fátima
And today, we took the “abuelos”, my Father and Eladio’s Mother, to El Pardo to see the palace there and have lunch out at El Gamo. El Pardo was built in the 16th century as a royal hunting lodge. It was never used to live in permanently until the late General Franco took up residence there in 1940 until his death in 1975. And from the 80’s it has been used as the residence for heads of state visiting Spain, the latest being Mohamed Gadaffi only a week ago.

Eladio and his Mother posing by the El Pardo Palace.
And that is what we have been up to this Christmas so far. I have also been working, but of course, at half steam due to the holiday season.

Very soon we shall be off to León to spend New Year’s Eve with Eladio’s family as we do every year. But more about that next week.

Meanwhile, I wish you all a fantastic 2008.


Happy Christmas everyone


Here is a belated Happy Christmas post to all who read my blog.

Hope you are having a great Christmas.

Best wishes from Masha and her family

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Martina for tea, a bad back, me on the TV, parties galore, a visit from Aunty Masha and Sasha, getting ready for Xmas + an invitation to an event

Hi again

I have been so busy that I have not updated my blog for more than 10 days now. And a lot has happened since we came back from Gredos.

The first thing that springs to mind was the visit of Martina and her Mother, Graciela for tea on Sunday 9th to see Anne and me. Martina is only 3 but knows exactly how to behave in society. Just look at her enjoying herself with us during their visit. “Adorable” was the word used by Anne and I completely agree. She was fascinated both with the cats and, of course, the piano.

I had a very heavy week last week with 3 big events I had been preparing for for months and I was very unlucky to start the week off with a bad back again. To make matters worse on Wednesday I crashed into a glass door which only made it more painful. However, I was determined my events would be successful so I just had to grit my teeth and get on with it.

Wednesday morning brought a press conference organised by me for the 4 mobile phone operators in Spain. We were presenting a new code of conduct for the safe use of mobile content for minors. As you will see in the picture, I was the only woman of 8 presenting. Amazingly the news which got a lot of attention from the press, came out on Spanish TVE’s prime time news programme and there was I in that same photo smiling for all and sundry to see. A lot of people have told me they saw me but I only actually got to see the clipping yesterday.

Wednesday evening was our Christmas party for Bloggers, quite a different audience from the morning. However it went really well and a lot of the thanks go to Jyri and Peter from Ramblas Digital in Helsinki who did a great photo activity were people posed against a Christmas scene for which they got a post card they could either keep or send by post there and then.

But the parties didn’t end there. On Friday we had the employee Christmas party for staff, partners and their kids and we held it at the Madrid horse racing course, El Hipódromo. That took some organising too, as it wasn’t just a regular dinner but a real Christmas Fair with Santa Claus, fortune tellers, a real casino, a magician show and a host of other fun stuff. I must say on Saturday I was nearly K.O.

However Saturday was to bring another party at home, a little smaller this time. Aunty Masha, my Mother’s sister was coming to stay and her son, my cousin, Sasha was bringing her. I hadn’t seen Sasha for about 7 years so it was quite something meeting him again. Sasha is highly gifted and I often wonder what his IQ. He is completely multilingual in English, Russian, German and French. His Spanish is near perfect too. His general knowledge is enormous and when he was younger I used to call him a “walking encyclopaedia” which is what he is really. He works in the tourist industry and now comes to Madrid quite frequently so I hope I will be seeing more of him. Apart from being very intelligent he also has a spark of fun and warmth about him too; he is altogether a very special person.

Eladio and Sasha

Aunty Masha talking to my Father
Unfortunately Aunty Masha didn’t stay in the end so her visit ended on Sunday.

Sunday afternoon was spent decorating the house for Christmas. This year we added more indoor lights from Ikea which are very Scandinavian and make the whole place really cosy.

This week, starting on Monday 17th looked like it was going to be less busy but, of course, that is not how it is working out. Also, in between work, I have had to get some Christmas shopping in which, actually, I have now done about a half of.

The week had a great start though as I had a lunch date with Mamen and Bill, my contacts at the Outplacement agency when I left Nokia. Neither of them are there any more but we are still in contact. They are very special to me because of how much they helped me then, psychologically, of course.

And yesterday I had a surprise lunch with dear Viivi, who is fast becoming a a new friend. She is Finnish of course and lots of fun. Amazingly she is a General Manager at the good old age of 31!!!

And today I am very happy because I have been invited to an event. You will wonder why but the answer is really very easy. I am the one who usually organises events and invites people. There is a lot of stress in that and you never enjoy the events themselves. I don’t often get invited myself, so when I do, I thoroughly enjoy myself and can enjoy every aspect of the event without worrying about it being perfect. And today I have been invited by our network provider and manufacturer, Ericsson to a lunch and afternoon of activities. It will be so nice to be on the invited side rather than the inviting side this time.

I’ll let you know how it went in my next post.

Meanwhile, good luck with all your Christmas preparations


Monday, December 10, 2007

A trip to Gredos (6th to 8th December 07)

The view from our bedroom window

This is a post to try and summarise our lovely stay at the Parador de Gredos, the central mountain system of Spain in the province of Avila about 150 km from Madrid.

We had planned the trip some 2 months ago and the 4 of us, my Father, Anne, Eladio and I were really looking forward to this break in routine and the possibility to “get away from it all”, or at least, rest a bit till Christmas. I hadn’t seen Anne since the spring, so it was lovely to be with her again.

We were lucky with the weather as we had sunshine the whole time and even though Avila is supposed to be one of the coldest provinces in Spain, we hardly felt the cold.

The Parador, like most Paradors (state run hotels in emblematic buildings and places) was a home away from home with the usual Castilian décor. We were given rooms with a view and all of them had four poster beds. They were small but extremely comfortable. The food was also top quality with the breakfasts being in the top 10 in my mind for breakfasts at hotels in Spain. Re food, I am afraid we all ate too much and had to do a hell of a lot of exercise just to work up an appetite for the next meal, never mind to burn the calories.

The Parador is located in a very remote part of Gredos and is literally surrounded by forests and mountains. The walks around the hotel were breathtaking with loads of opportunities for great pictures, such as two trees growing together for us to poke our heads through or tree root formations looking live caves for us to pose from.

Posing outside the Parador

The surroundings of the Parador

Eladio, Anne and my Father on the walk near the hotel on the first day.

Eladio and I posing in a tree root formation on the walk near the Parador
We spent the time eating, reading, talking, resting, walking and touring the nearby places of interest by car; activities which all 4 of us are particularly keen on.

Anne resting in one of the hotel lounges
The highlights of our trip were finding out that one of the Parador lounges was where Spain’s constitution was first worked on and this was on Constitution day, 6th December, something of a coincidence.

The room in the Parador where the Spanish constitution was begun
They were also seeing the view of a roman road covered in cloud from the mountain top called Puerto del Pico which is 1.450 metres high.

The Roman road and the clouds - view from the Puerto del Pico
Then there was the visit to the caves called Cueva del Aguila near Arenas de San Pedro. They were discovered in the 60s but are 12 to 14 million years old and by far the most fantastic I have ever seen with their amazing rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites. Some of them resemble religious statues or other shapes such as tortoises and the dominating colours are orange, red, white and light brown; quite marvellous.

View of the caves inside: the rock is called the Virgin of PilarHi
Another highlight was lunch in Guisando at a place called Tropezón but not so much the walk up the mountain afterwards which quite exhausted my poor 88 year old Father. This is where we learned he actually has a limit.

Good local food at El Tropezón: "chuletón de Avila" - a bit too much on the plate!

Eladio resting on the way up the mountain near Guisando

All too soon the 2 nights were over, but not quite, because we decided to visit the historic and monumental 12th century walled city of Avila on the way back.

The wall of Avila
It was our first visit in many years; beautiful yes but a bit crowded and it took us ages to find a place to park. It also took us ages to get a table for lunch but the place, a restaurant called La Hostería de Bracamonte was well worth it and turned out to be the crowning glory of the whole trip, at least the “cordero asado” (roast suckling lamb). It had me sleep all the way back home to Madrid too.

Lunch at the Hostería de Bracamonte in Avila
And so within the blink of an eyelid, we were home again. Home sweet home is what we always say when we get back from a trip. It’s a cliché but oh so true.

And now as I write this, Anne has gone back to Finland, Oli is back from Barcelona and the family is back together again. And now we have Christmas to plan and look forward to. Thanks Anne darling for the Father Christmas sack and lovely Finnish goodies; that was so lovely to receive and so unexpected.

Cheers and greetings to you all,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A 3 day week and off to Gredos

Hi again,

This last week was very short work wise as there was a long bank holiday weekend from Thursday onwards, all thanks to the Spanish constitution (6th Dec) as well as the Immaculate Conception (8th Dec). I’m not RC but I am very much in favour of all their saints because of their link to days off from work!

It was a short week but I had to get a lot in before being able to go off on holiday and feel free to enjoy it.

On Monday we had an interview with a financial paper which turned out to be front page news the next day!!! On Monday we also had time at work to respect the 5 minutes silence that was happening all over Spain in protest for the killing by the Basque terrorists of a Spanish policeman in the south of France at the weekend. His colleague, also shot at, sadly died 2 days later.

The highlight of the week was lunch with Mónica on Monday. Mónica was my ex assistant at Nokia. She now works for a Spanish bank and looks as sweet and blooming as ever. We had a great time going over the past and catching up on the present too. Wow, how I miss her company and help at work.

Tuesday had me visiting the Plaza Mayor Christmas market to choose joke items for the up and coming employee Christmas party. I nearly got pick pocketed but luckily survived. On Tuesday evening Eladio and I went to the Casa de América for a tasting dinner for the same party.

Dinner at Casa de América
On Wednesday we had another interview, this time with a top Spanish weekly magazine called Tiempo. And at lunchtime I went to the Finnish Embassy for a cocktail party to celebrate their independence day. This year it is the 90th anniversary of their independence from their Russian neighbours. I’m afraid to say that this year’s party was a bit boring for me as the people I had had a good time with the year before, namely Viivi, were not there this time. So I left pretty early, picked up my pc from the office and made my way home.

Photo to prove I was at the Finnish Embassy
My dearest Finnish friend Anne arrived late on Wednesday night, so she got a quick hug to say hello and good night. Our time to chat would start the next day at breakfast. Thanks by the way Anne for bringing the dark break, the salmon and the chewing, altghough the latter were entirely devoured by Susi and her friends while we were away!

And as I finish this post, I must just add a Happy Birthday to my dear nephew Mario whose birthday it was on Monday. ¡Feliz Cumpleaños Mario!

And the next day, we set off on our trip to Gredos, the central mountain range in Spain in the province of Avila.

But more about that in the next post.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Corporate blogs and protocol lectures, dinner at Casa Lucio, a restaurant fit for a king, Federico García Lorca, new friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Hi again

This week I went to 2 lectures organised by Dircom which is the Association of Communications Directors (sounds very fancy but is not really). One was about Corporate blogging by the Spanish internet “guru”, Enrique Dans and the other was on Protocol which is quite the other end of the communication spectrum but equally necessary for my job.

Picture of the Poster announcing the corporate blogging course to prove I went there.
I hadn’t been on any work related course since I left Nokia so it was quite nice to go “back to school”. Enrique Dans' lecture was fascinating and right up my street but I think not all the audience thought the same. The lecture was held at the German Chamber of Commerce and the German Ambassador was present. I remember him because his comment was that Internet was damaging to book reading and books in general. Needless to say my school of thought was quite the opposite to his. The audience was made up of communications professionals but I had the feeling some of what Enrique Dans told them was water off a duck’s back and that some of them are in the stone age when it comes to online communications tools.

The protocol lecture was full of interesting information but the approach a bit old fashioned. I mean, don’t talk to us about letter writing these days as I, at least, do not use that form of communication and haven’t done for some time. Maybe the lecturer should have included a bit on email and internet etiquette, ….

The highlight of the week was dinner at Casa Lucio with the Roaming team. For those of you not in the telecomms industry, roaming is using your phone abroad and involves agreements between operators all over the world. It was their Christmas team building dinner and they invited me as an honorary guest. I hadn’t been to Casa Lucio since I celebrated acquiring my previous car with Julio and that was quite some time ago. How can I describe the place?

Casa Lucio, view from the street

Lucio Blázquez, the owner and soul of the place.
Politicians, famous actors, the King of Spain, and writers can be found eating at this restaurant which is on Madrid's Cava Baja, not far off the Plaza Mayor and which enjoys international renown. Lucio Blázquez first started out in El Chotis, a restaurant located a few doors down the street before opening up on his own. The food is very simple Castillian fare, the most popular dish being broken fried eggs and chips. We had a grand night as you can see from this picture. However we didn’t spot anyone famous. The week before, the King of Spain had taken Bill Clinton there for dinner which has probably made it even more famous than it was before!!

Part of the Roaming team and me around the table at Casa Lucio

Broken eggs and chips (huevos estrellados) at Casa Lucio
This week I have also been location visiting for places I am doing Christmas events at. Whilst downtown in the Plaza Santa Ana I came across a beautiful statue of English hispanists' favourite Spanish author, Federico García Lorca of the 1927 Generation fame. He was certainly my hero too when I did Hispanic studies at Nottingham University. So I couldn’t resist taking a photo of him when I came across the statue. The backdrop is a wonderful hotel, called ME Madrid, more famous for the name of its restaurant, Midnight Rose.

Federico García Lorca in Plaza Santa Ana
And finally this week I made more friends on Facebook – any Facebook member reading this will understand how important it is to make as many friends as possible. It’s a bit of a competition really amongst friends. So, yes, I found old friends I had lost touch with like Kelly Levy from Israel or Didier Bordes from Paris, but I also “made friends” with Mariano Rajoy (Spain’s leader of the opposition and from the PP right wing party) and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s current socialist Prime Minister. It’s amazing how politicians are cottoning on to internet social networking sites.

Talking about social networking sites, are you familiar with Twitter?
According to Wikipedia, Twitter is: "a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send "updates" (text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) to the Twitter website, via short message service, instant messaging, email, or an application such as Twitterrific"

Well, I tried it out, recommended by Enrique Dans. According to the NYT it is the fastest growing internet phenomena. However it seemed a bit “big brotherish” even for someone like me whose (tellable) life is open to all and sundry on internet. So, I think I will not be using it. But watch out for the name to see if it really catches on.

And that’s all for this week. It’s now Sunday afternoon, we’ve had my marvelous Spanish cocido (chickpea stew, sort of) and after updating my blog, I shall be going with my 2 men to Ikea for Swedish fare for Christmas and a look around the Kitchen ware department where I always buy something.

Next week will be busy but there is a bank holiday and on Wednesday night my best Finnish friend, Anne Nenonen, will be coming over and we will be going to the Parador in Gredos for the weekend, amongst other bank holiday activities.

Till then or later, cheers to you all and, as the Americans say, “have a great week”.