Sunday, October 17, 2010

A trip to Stockholm, a Japanese hotel, shopping, the Chilean miners’ incredible story, home again and the girls go to Salamanca

The view of the Baltic Sea on the Stockholm Archipelago from our hotel.  The ferry in the picture is going to Helsinki
Hi my friends, this sunny autumn afternoon in October.

Well this week has been exciting and different for me as you can probably imagine just by reading the headline. A trip abroad for work purposes always motivates me and this time the destination was Stockholm, that lovely city they call the Venice of the North. The reason? A global meeting for the communications people within TeliaSonera; people like me doing a similar job in the countries the company has a presence in and which are the Nordic, Baltic and Eurasian countries and even places as far away as Nepal. So yes I was to meet my colleagues from all these countries including some exciting ones like Kazakhastan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Georgia and Moldavia. Imagine!

We stayed outside the city on the Stockholm Archipelago, some 20 minutes from the centre, right on the Baltic Sea where the enormous ferries going to Finland go by and are a sight for sore eyes. The location was a Japanese-cum Swedish hotel called Yasuragi which I had suspicions about because I am not a great fan of Nippon culture and was worried how I was going to continue with my Dukan Diet with so much sushi around.

The Stockholm Archipelago as seen from the terrace at the Yasuragi Hotel where we stayed

My fears turned out to be unfounded as the place was incredible. The building itself looked like some sort of Army barracks, to quote my new found colleague and friend Phillip, but inside it was a dream if rather big for walking to your room from reception and back which took at least 10 minutes each time. My room was small and a bit barren but the view outside of the Swedish autumn colours made up for any lack of comfort. Plus it was right next to the amazing spa and when I say amazing, it truly was with its Japanese hot baths and everything you could think of to enjoy heat and water and nature. The crowning glory of the spa were the outside hot springs, a bit like Canadian hot tubs, but bigger and built of stone where you could relax, enjoy the combination of hot water and cold air and feast your eyes on the beautiful Swedish countryside. Needless to say I went there as often as I could and especially enjoyed the women’s silent bathing room with its hot baths, dry and humid saunas and where I quickly followed suit when I saw how the Swedish ladies happily went naked. I also enjoyed a great deep tissue massage from a big healthy looking girl called Hanna and went back to my room feeling on top of the world.

I thoroughly enjoyed the open air hot springs at the Yasuragi Hotel spa, what  a place!

Upon arrival you are given a traditional Japanese robe called a Yukata (I thought they were called kimonos), a pair of slippers and a bathing costume. Many people wore the robe throughout their stay but I only wore mine for the spa. I must say guests clad in this garment certainly added a picturesque note to the place.

The Yukata kimono all guests are supposed to wear at the Japanese hotel

After checking in mid afternoon on Monday morning I decided to do some Swedish fashion shopping before the conference started the next day as I knew I wouldn’t have much time. So I made my way to a nearby shopping centre called Forum in the suburb of Nacka. Here I enjoyed going into the Swedish shops you don’t normally have access to outside Scandinavia. Thus my first stop was Lindex for a pair of their lovely jeans which are labelled “a curve for every woman” or something similar. Lindex jeans thus always fit me well and even better now I have lost some more weight. I also ventured into HM but found it to be more expensive than in Madrid. I went  into the German designer shop, Gerry Weber, a favourite of mine, and finally made some more purchases in the Ahlens department store. So armed with a pair of jeans, a tartan skirt, a long grey cardigan and a black and white striped jumper, I thought I should put a stop to so much spending and head back to the hotel to enjoy the spa before my evening meal.

The evening meal was going to be difficult because of my diet and not very enjoyable as I was going to have dinner alone, something I loathe. Thus I walked into the “Tokyo Restaurant” at the hotel with some trepidation only to find my friendly colleagues from the Brussels office, Kaisu, Phillip and Pascale happy to welcome me to their table. Whilst they feasted on wonderful looking creative food, I was good and just had a lean piece of venison. My only sin was a small glass of delicious red wine. Well I mean you can’t be perfect. We had a great meal together and I don’t know how it happened, but once again I told the story of my life; how I came to meet Eladio and how we have now been married for 27 years. It must have been the wine. I was happy to hear that both Kaisu and Phillip read my blog, so cheers to you two if you read this. It was great meeting you again.

The conference took place the next day. Most memorable for me was meeting up again with Thomas and Anna, two of my former Nokia colleagues now working for TeliaSonera. Well actually Thomas used to be my boss. It’s a small world certainly but as they are both Swedish quite understandable. It took me back to my Nokia communications conference days which were always held in very similar surroundings. The information gathered was of course important and interesting but most useful was meeting and mingling with old and new colleagues who generally face the same challenges as me in their daily work. So it was great to meet for the first time and see again people like: Anna, Birgitta, Charlotte, Nina, Cecilia, Eva, Lars-Ake, LJ, Niklas and Inger from Sweden or Timo from Finland, Sanju from Nepal, Bekhzod from Uzbekistan, Oyvind from Norway, Rodica from Moldava, Nadezhda from Tajikstan, Aida from Kazakhstan and many others. I think we have all gone back to our respective countries charged with renewed energy and a bigger sense of belonging to TeliaSonera.

The last night in Sweden was held in the company of my colleague Belén who joined the conference at the end and our colleague and newly found friend Phillip from Brussels. He is originally from York in the UK so we have much in common. We made our way to Gamla Stan, the heart of the old city of Stockholm. The evening was cool, some 7ºc and Belén and I shivered in our coats made in Spain, unused to the temperature. Here we walked through the charming old streets and then stopped for a drink at the Milstein café in the famous Stortorget square which means “the big square” in English. It is in fact the oldest one in Stockholm. As we drank and chatted we could see the Stock Exchange, the Nobel Museum and the Swedish Academy, all gathered in this same square with its picturesque houses.

The beautiful Stortorget square in Stockholm where we had a drink

Dinner was to be in Slussen (remember the name from the Steig Larsson trilogy?) at Gondolen, a place recommended to me by many people and where I had never been able to book a table until that night. It is at the top of a non descript high rise building but probably boasts the best views of the city at night which certainly took my breath away. The food was nearly as good as the view and I now understand why it is so difficult to get a table.

Belén and I were leaving the next day and had appointments at the TeliaSonera headquarters in Stureplan in the centre of town in the morning.  However in between the meeting and catching our flight home at 15h, there was still some time for shopping.

The TeliaSonera HQ building in Stureplan in the centre of  Stockholm
So off I walked down Bibliotekagaten to find my favourite clothes shop, Jackpot, a Danish designer. Here I had a field day and bought 2 cardigans, 2 t-shirts and 2 scarves. From Jackpot I made my way across the road to Urban Outfitters to try and find something for the girls. The instructions from Susana were to buy “the nice and warm stuff they have up there”. However I found the shop far too modern and it was impossible to choose. Thus I played it safe and carried on to another Lindex where I got the girls some nice chunky long winter cardigans and one of those fashionable tartan over dresses. My shopping ended with the purchase of the typical Scandinavian blue and white striped long sleeved top of which I found plenty to choose from. Shopping ended in the city but began again at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport where I stocked up on gourmet goodies to take home for the family (smoked salmon, delicious looking jams and plenty of Fazer chocolate – not for me of course). Needless to say I had trouble getting on the plane with so many extra bags, especially as they are so strict these days.

The Jackpot Danish fashion designer shop in Bibliotekagatan in Stockholm where I bought so many clothes.
Before I tell you about my coming home, this is the time to write about the Chilean Miners' rescue because for me that event is intimately related to my stay in Stockholm. Their rescue took place on the 12th and 13th October, right during our conference and is something I shall never forget.
On the 5th August the San José copper and gold mine, near Copiapó in the Atacama Desert in the North of Chile, collapsed trapping 33 miners 720 metres underneath the bowls of the earth. 17 days later, thanks to sophisticated listening probes, the world learned that they were miraculously all alive but incredibly hungry and sheltering in the mines refuge which is where they were having lunch when the mine collapsed. The miners attached a note to the probe which said: “all 33 of us are well inside the shelter”, a note the now famous President of Chile, Sebastian Piñera has carried in his wallet until the day of the rescue.

Chile's now famous President, Sebastián Piñera, holding the piece of paper giving evidence the miners were alive.

The story ever since has been how to rescue them as never before in the history of mankind have people been trapped so far below the earth's surface. Contact was made and a system established via special tubes to channel the men food, water, medical supplies and other necessary items as well as a telephone and thus messages too could be sent to relatives anxious to know their men were safe. The humidity was 90º and the temperature around 30ºc and the men thought they were in hell. It was thought they would not be rescued until Christmas. However Plan B, a rescue capsule to reach them through a drilled shaft that could winch them to the surface was ready to start rescue well before and the whole of Chile and the watching world rejoiced.

I watched the rescue live just as it started on the television in my room as I returned from dinner in Stockholm. My choice was the wonderful BBC who did an incredible job of this live coverage. It went on the whole of the next day and night of the 12th and 13th October.  The 33 miners who had been trapped for 69 days were lifted one by one in the capsule until they were all out and safe and reunited with their families and the world. We learned their names, the names of their families, the intimate stories of their lives and we felt for them and wept when they came out of the bowls of the earth, from hell to a new life. We shed tears as they were reunited with their loved ones and felt a part of every man's story.

One of the moments of the rescue I watched live on the BBC from my room at the Japanese hotel near Stockholm.
To quote The Independent “this was the most compellingly upbeat story since the lunar landings”. It is certainly also a lesson in human resilience. It is understandable then that more people watched the rescue than the World Cup in South Africa. Above all it is a story with a happy ending, a story which the whole world watched in awe as one by one these resilient men appeared out of the capsule, each one telling their personal story of triumph. The nation of Chile has shown the world how dedicated and perseverant their people are and their politicians, the Mining Minister Laurence Golborne and the Chilean President have gained in popularity, so much so that now maybe Chile will be more famous for this fantastic rescue than for the Allende coup d'etat. Certainly we will be hearing more about their stories in the coming weeks. The press will have a difficult time though as it seems the miners have made a pact to talk as one group and so far they have said nothing of significance. First though they will have to rest and get used to living on earth after 69 days in hell.

Luis Uzua, the last miner to be rescued is greeted by Chilean President, Sebastián Piñera
So when I came back from Stockholm, these resilient and brave 33 men were getting ready for their new life. Life at home for me, thank goodness, continued as ever and it was lovely to see my family again. You can see more of the photos of my stay in Stockholm here on Facebook.

One good piece of news after returning was what my scales told me on Saturday morning. I had lost even more weight on the great Dr. Dukan diet and was now just short of 5 kilos less than when I had started 23 days ago. That only gives me motivation to continue. The good thing is I'm losing interest in food and now my thoughts are all about getting into certain garments and what I will wear tomorrow.

That did not stop me however from going out to dinner yesterday with Eladio, but sticking to my diet. First though we went to the cinema to see the much awaited The Social Network about the story of the beginnings of Facebook and how Mark Zuckerberg came to create it whilst studying at Harvard in 2003 just a few years ago. Today he is a multi millionaire.  I was rather disappointed maybe because my expectations had been high. It was all about how he came upon the idea and the eventual lawsuit from fellow students who claimed he had stolen their idea and his relationships with other students at Harvard and how he made a few enemies. I don't know what I had expected really but it just didn't live up to my expectations. If you haven't yet seen it you can see the trailer here.

The Facebook story on film,  or so I thought.  It's more about the troubled beginnings.
I was not disappointed with the dinner though. I stuck to my diet and ate only vegetables and the wonderful steak but I was a bit naughty again and drank a glass of wine. One glass of wine is only allowed once every 2 weeks but having it a little more often doesn't seem to worry my scales. Therefore I'm not worried either. Ah, by the way, we went to De María, a great Argentinian place in Majadahonda, one of my favourites as you probably know if you read my blog often.

The weekend has been a little strange. Eladio was missing yesterday morning as he was attending the second day of his UNED University course for Tutors in Education. The house felt empty because the girls were missing too. They had gone to Salamanca for the weekend with Rocío, Estefania and Elena.

The girls in Salamanca this weekend.  Oli is in grey with brown boots on the left and Suzy on the right with her trademark red hair

They stayed at the Hostel Revolutum, a very modern budget accommodation place right by the famous Plaza Mayor which they said was great.  They were joined at times during the weekend by their beloved cousin Paula who is studying there. Here is a picture of Suzy with Paula. What lovely girls.

Suzy this weekend in Salamanca with her cousin Paula (taller and on the right) who is studying there.

They have just returned and seemed to have had a grand time, visiting the monuments and enjoying the local fare and things like mojito sorbets, ummm.

The story of the girls in Salamanca brings me to the end of this weeks blog which I hope you have enjoyed.

Now let's see what next week has in hold for us all. I for one will be packing and on the road again as next weekend Eladio and I are going to Barcelona. I just read that it is the world's capital for pick pocketing so I shall be on my watch.

Cheers till then


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