Sunday, January 16, 2011

Swine flu, mission accomplished and the week I went to Stockholm again, to the land of snow and smörgåsar.

At the Ice Bar with Bea in Stockholm this week
Hi again

This week has been great although it didn’t start well. Monday was the first day after the Christmas holidays and I went into the office with my cold which I just couldn’t shake off. As I wrote last week, we had a cold since the 24th December. I was tired of nursing it at home through Christmas which this year seemed a bit long to me and I was raring to get into some action. So in I went into the office for the first time in two weeks for a meeting with my events agency to go over the script of the prologue to the 20 minute video on the inside story of Yoigo I have to have ready by the beginning of February. And that’s when I really began to feel ill. When I got home I took my temperature and saw that it was nearly 38ºc. I had resisted going to the doctor until then as I thought that all I had was a winter cold. As I was off to Stockholm on Wednesday I decided to go and it was a good job I did. The doctor told me I had swine flu with bronchial complications; i.e. the beginning of bronchitis and she prescribed me antibiotics. She told us that there was an epidemic of a slightly less virulent type of what is known here as “gripe A”. The difference between a normal flu and swine flu, at least the one I have or had, is that the latter is longer than the former. Otherwise the symptoms are pretty much the same. I went back home and straight to bed to sleep off the temperature for which I took a paracetamol. The next day I felt much better, the same as during the rest of the cold, without the temperature. So, being the hyper active person I am, I decided to go into the office again for the first management team meeting of the year which I didn’t want to miss. I wasn’t worried about my swine flu being contagious as nearly everyone around me had had or had a cold anyway. It’s amazing that there is an epidemic of swine flu and that the authorities are not communicating it. As one friend of Olivia’s commented on Facebook; “swine flu is no longer in fashion” and I suppose that is true as no one seems to worry about it anymore. I suppose that’s probably because, in the end,  it is no more dangerous than normal flu.

On Wednesday morning, the day I was going to Stockholm, I got on the scales as I have been doing 2 or 3 times a week since 24th September. And the news was great; I had reached my target weight of 64.2 kilos. In fact I was under at 63.9. It was mission accomplished for me of the cruise phase of Dr. Dukan’s wonderfully effective diet. Now I have to start on the consolidation phase so as to maintain the weight. I will be able to introduce new foods and will only have to do one protein only day per week. The consolidation phase will last some 6 months and will still be quite strict but will allow me to have one celebration meal per week, whoopee. I’m sure that the celebration meal will take place at La Alpargatería on Saturdays.

For the record here is a before picture which you can compare to the photos of me now and to the one below. It was taken just over a year ago before I started the “up and down diet” through which I lost some weight but put some of it back on after our trip to Israel and Jordan. It was after the latter that I started the much more effective Dukan diet.
The before picture: Fat me, August 20009

And here is the after photo, taken on 17th January 2011.

And this is the after picture, 22. 5 kilos later. I've gone from size 48 to size 42, that's size 18 to size 12!!!
There is a difference now of some 22.5 kilos!!!! For my English reading friends, that is the equivalent of approximately 3.5 stone! I am very pleased with myself and feel a different person. I now fit into everything I try on at the shops and that, my friends, is a good feeling. I also intend to keep this weight and the consolidation phase will be the first step in accomplishing the objective.

The day of mission accomplished was the day I went to Stockholm. I was going to film four interviews for the Yoigo video with people from TeliaSonera, Yoigo’s mother company, who had been instrumental in the story of Yoigo. TeliaSonera is a Nordic mobile operator which is the dominant operator in Sweden and Fiinland with operations in all the Nordic and Baltic countries, Eurasia, Turkey, Russia, Nepal and Cambodia, as well as Spain. I was accompanied by Bea from our events agency, Quintaesencia, as well as by Angel, the video editor, who I kept calling César, and Ramón, the young cameraman.We caught the only direct flight there is from Madrid which leaves at just after 10 in the morning and arrives at about 14h. It was snowing when we arrived and there was snow on the ground and it was at least -5ºc. That didn’t stop the airport from operating perfectly. I thought to myself that maybe the Swedish staff running Arlanda airport could teach the British staff at Heathrow a lesson or two in clearing snow for planes to take off and land.

So we arrived in the beautiful land of snow on a great adventure. Our taxi took us past traffic free motorways where we saw many snow ploughs and there were no problems in driving. The secret is that all Swedish vehicles have special winter tyres that they change in the spring for summer tyres. No cumbersome snow chains for the Swedes then.

We checked in at a small boutique hotel called Hellsten, not far from the centre.

Our hotel, the Hellsten.  They were removing the snow from the roof in this picture as they were doing all over Stockholm when we were there.
Very soon we met up to explore the terrain and to buy the boys proper winter coats as they had come with totally inadequate clothing. I have been to Stockholm some seven times before so I knew the main streets and was eager to show my companions beautiful Stockholm, often quoted as the “Venice of the north” because it is located on canals and on the Baltic Sea. I never knew or know which is a canal, Lake Mälaren or the Baltic Sea as Stockholm is divided into various islands. Soon I found our way to the longest and perhaps most famous pedestrian street in the city, which has the unpronounceable name of “Drottninggattan”, meaning Queen’s Street. Here Angel and Ramón found great winter jackets at great prices at Helly Hansen, a Norwegian brand of sports clothing which was new to us.

Angel and Ramón after buying proper winter coats in Stockholm as soon as we arrived.
So now suitably clad, we carried on down Drottninggatan towards the old town called Gamla Stan. Here we walked through a very touristy street which I actually love and find very quaint. It is called Västerlånggatan, another unpronounceable name, which actually means “the western long street” and is full of lovely little shops. Bea walked into one of the tiniest ones to buy some thick woolen socks to line our boots. Later I went back twice to the same shop to buy more socks, some warmer gloves and a winter hat for Eladio for our walks on cold days. We had a table booked for dinner at 20.30 but we were hungry so I took my friends to the oldest square in Stockholm called Stortorget. It means big square but actually for these days it is quite small. Stortorget houses the Swedish Academy and Nobel Museum and here thousands of tourists flock to see the coloured typical houses of the 17th century which are a sight to see. I took my friends to a bar called Misteln where I had been before and which you can see in the picture below. It is in the green house on the left.

The coloured 17th century houses tourists flock to see at the Stortorget square in Stockholm.
Later we would go back to film there and here is a picture of Bea and I outside Misteln which became our centre of operations on Friday.

Outside the Misteln bar in Stortorget with Bea
It was at Misteln that I introduced my friends to the Swedish or Scandinavian concept of open sandwiches called smörgåsar as Mica later told me. We shared the one I like best, made of prawns, hard boiled eggs and mayonnaise as well as a platter of Swedish food including cheese, herrings and salmon. Notice the Swedish flag on the latter, something which would be impossible here in Spain. None of us, I am afraid, were very fond of the herrings, so typical of this part of the world. And here are the marvelous dishes they served us to quash our hunger before going for dinner. I went on, as did Bea, to eat a prawn “smörgåsar” every day for lunch for the duration of our stay.

The lovely smörgåsar sandwiches.  Notice the prawn one on the left, I had one like that every day!
To work off the smörgåsar before dinner, I took my companions to see the Royal Palace and harbour by the Grand Hotel. It was so cold very few people were walking in the streets. It got even colder in the big open spaces and somewhat more bearable in the smaller streets. So we huddled our way back to Gamla Stan and then towards Sluessen, the lock between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic sea, made even more famous by Stieg Larsson in the Millennium trilogy.  Our destination was the Gondolen bar and restaurant, 30 metres above the lock and with some of the best night views of Stockholm. It is also a gastronomic delight and features in all the guide books. The bar is a treat in itself and you don’t have to have dinner at Gondolen to enjoy ti. I love the way the waiters are dressed, in pseudo tartan waistcoats and so we had our photo taken with one of them who was as tall as most Swedes.

The "four musketeers" at the Gondolen bar with a spruce and stylish waiter.
Bea enjoyed a cosmopolitan cocktail and in the picture below she looks like she was a walk on part in “sex in the city”! By the way I got the tip about cosmopolitans at Gondolen from my Swedish friend Mica. If you are reading this Mica, thanks! Once again, to work off the food we walked home in the freezing cold which took some 40 minutes! Hopefully all the walking in Stockholm consumed some of the extra calorie intake as I broke my diet whilst there to celebrate my mission accomplished new weight.

Bea enjoying a cosmopolitan cocktail at the Gondolen bar near Sluessen
Thursday was spent choosing the places to film. The idea was to film the people in  emblematic places in Stockholm to add a Swedish flavour to the video. We had all agreed the day before that Stortorget was certainly to be one of them. So we went to the Misteln bar to ask for their collaboration and they were very agreeing and helpful. The second location we chose was the bridge in between the Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag, and Gamla Stan, the old town. From here there are beautiful views of churches with spires and the Town Hall. Amazingly the water that flows below was nearly all frozen.

Very well clad for the minus zero temperatures at the Riksgatan bridge near the old town
We had lunch nearby at a Swiss café called “Schwiezerkonditoriet” on the tourist ystreet Västerlånggatan and once again we ate a prawn smörgåsar sandwich. We decided that this lovely café I had discovered on an earlier trip with Eladio, would be our other centre of operations for the interview with Cecilia by the Parliament bridge. They also agreed. I must say the Swedes I have known and the ones we met last week were all very accommodating. Below is a picture of the charming café. If you look closely you will see a photograph of the Royal wedding couple. The Royal family in Sweden is well loved and there are pictures of the Royal family in many places, including a welcome picture at Arlanda airport!

The lovely Swiss café in Gamla Stan where we spent so much time. 
On Thursday we also went to Stureplan, the “posh” area of Stockholm full of office buildings and expensive shops. We went to film the outside of TeliaSonera and I particularly liked this scene with the snow and bicycles which employees obviously use to go to work even in the snow. In the afternoon, after a rest from so much walking in the freezing cold, we worked hard on the script. There is so much to do for this video and we have only finished the script of the prologue, so in a way have hardly started.  Help!
TeliaSonera in Stureplan. Notice the bicycles in the snow employees use to go to work even in this weather
Dinner was at a favourite restaurant of mine in Stockholm and one I learned about on a press trip with Nokia some years ago. It's called  F12 and is on 12 Fredsgatan near the Parliament. We were going to have the 11 course gastronomic tasting menu but were told it would take 3 hours. So we went for the smaller 5 mini courses and you know what? It took 3 hours! However we didn’t mind and even got talking to our neighbours, two Americans on our right who recommended the Ice Bar we would later visit, and the exuberant Maija and very Swedish looking Karen on our left. Maija was a wine journalist and Karen a wine importer; a good combination eh? We got lots of tips on what to do in Stockholm from these charming ladies. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to take any of them up but I will certainly try to on other occasions. F12 is great but rather slow but then I knew that.
Guests we made friends with at F12, Maija in pink and Karen.  In the picture too, Angel who I kept calling César
Friday was our big day and it started early. We met Cecilia, the ex Marketing Manager of Yoigo, at Schwiezerkonditoriet. Whilst we were in the café, the most bizarre thing happened; in walked a Japanese film crew filming a scene for a Japanese TV travel show; so we weren’t the only ones filming in the area! As soon as Cecilia and I had agreed on the questions, out we went into the cold and snow to the bridge for the filming. It was snowing whilst we did the interview. Luckily Cecilia was to the point on all the questions and we hardly needed to repeat any. From there we made our way, this time by taxi to take all our gear, to TeliaSonera for our appointment with Andreas at 11. Luckily for Andreas and for us, of course, the interview was held inside, sheltered from the minus zero temperatures, because we wanted to use the great logo in the entrance of the building.

Me looking very colourful in red at TeliaSonera
Andreas is head of Investor Relations and when Yoigo was launched he was an analyst who was skeptical of the company investing in Spain. However of course time has taught us all that the adventure was to be successful and now Andreas believes otherwise. As he was a true professional the interview was over in a flash. My next appointment was coffee with Birgitta at a café in the nearby Sturegallerian where we exchanged information on various projects. She’s always a pleasure to be with.

Our next interview wasn’t until 2 which gave us time for lunch at the afternoon’s centre of operations, the Misteln bar in Stortorget. Here once again I indulged in a prawn smörgåsar sandwich!! Soon we were joined by the dashing Norwegian Arne who had been head of sales and marketing at the start up phase of Yoigo. Arne had prepared his own questions and had rehearsed for the interview; a true professional once again. I think he was a bit dismayed to learn the interview would take place outside the bar. We wanted to get the Swedish atmosphere into the picture, so there we had him sit on a wicker chair with a blanket on his knees and a steaming cup of coffee on the table. I have a feeling Arne thoroughly enjoyed the interview. Well I must say it was quite fun.

The interview with Arne outside the Misteln bar in Stortorget. I look quite the reporter here.
Just as the interview with Arne finished along came Ove for the final interview we had to do in Stockholm. Ove had been head of operations at Yoigo from the start until this last summer. This time the interview took place in the middle of the old square with a view of the coloured houses. This interview was perhaps the most awkward of all as cars kept coming past, even a helicopter flew above our heads and finally there was a very annoying Swedish toddler playing in the nearby snow who was making an awful noise and whose parents couldn’t keep quiet. However I think the footage we got is more than sufficient for our 20 minute video.

It had been a truly long, intense and very cold day but now our work was over and we could relax. It was Friday evening and Bea’s boyfriend, Jordi and his sister Nuria, were coming for the weekend. I was going back the next day but the others were staying until Sunday. Spurred on by the American’s suggestion, we decided to go to the Ice Bar he had suggested. I wasn’t that keen as I had already seen an ice hotel once in Finnish Lapland and thought the whole idea was a bit too touristy for my liking. However, I was wrong, and ended up thoroughly enjoying it and getting tipsy into the bargain! At the entrance they kitted us out with a sort of thermal poncho with gloves at the end and in we walked into this fun and freezing bar. In the ponchos, however, you don’t feel the cold.

All kitted out to go into the Ice Bar in Stockholm.  It was such fun.
Everything is made of ice, the seats, the tables, the bar, the glasses, you name it, it’s made of ice. As the bar is owned by the Swedish vodka company Absolut, the only drink served is vodka. However I didn’t mind as I quite like vodka, maybe owing to my Russian blood, and asked for vodka and orange. Not surprisingly I felt quite tipsy when we left. I’m not used to drinking spirits and hadn’t eaten for many hours, but maybe the below zero temperatures increase the potency of alcohol. It must be that because as we walked to the restaurant for dinner, the feeling slowly left me. I must say it was fun whilst it lasted.

My vodka and orange at the Ice Bar, even the glass was made of ice!
Dinner was at Grodan near Stureplan, recommended to us by a fellow diner at Gondolen, an elegant Swedish gentleman who my companions swore was trying to flirt with me. I promise you I didn’t even notice! His recommendation turned out to be a great success. We all loved Grodan and Bea and I, followed by Nuria, once again had Norwegian lobster (much cheaper than in the rest of the world) and more prawns, this time in a salad. Yes, now you all know that Bea and I love prawns and lobster! And of course, Sweden is the country to eat them.

My flight on Saturday was at 15h, which gave me some free time in the morning. Guess what I did? Go to a museum? Noooo. I went shopping and Bea and Nuria came with me of course whilst the boys had a late breakfast. I took them to the big shopping centre called Gallerian. Here I bought a dress and some jeans at one of my favourite Swedish shops, Lindex. From here we crossed the road to take a glimpse inside the very exclusive NK department store and left rapidly to go to the pedestrian street called Biblioteksgatan, recommended to me on my trip in October by my colleague Belén. Here Bea and Nuria enjoyed Urban Outfitters whilst I bought a long red cardigan and scarf at another favourite of mine, the Danish brand Jackpot. Our shopping finished at Sturegallerian where we all bought fur accessories at a place called Monroe. I bought a very flashy bright pink fur and material long scarf, like Maija was wearing at F12. When Susana saw it she said, “yes Mummy that is very you”. It might be a bit over the top but I love it.

I said goodbye to Bea and Nuria as well as to Jordi, Angel and Ramón and made my way with my purchases to check out at the hotel. I had to fit all the things I had bought in my suitcase which was no easy task. I even
tried standing on it but there was no way it would shut. In the end I decided to take out my favourite pillow (yes I travel everywhere with my feather pillow from home) and carry it in a separate bag. So I had to get in the taxi and travel with a big suitcase, my heavy pc bag, my heavy handbag and a light but bulky bag with the pillow. I can just never travel light!

I was driven to the airport by an Iranian taxi driver, so took the opportunity to “interview” him too. I always find it fascinating to talk to immigrants. He told me what I knew, that oof a population of some 9 million, 1 million were immigrants  with many from Irak and Iran. He told me had come 27 years ago just after the Sha died during the Ayatollah Homeini’s reign of terror. We both agreed on the excessive government of the so called “Peacock king” and he told me that the latter’s family had left Iran wtih 13 billion dollars, which was probably equivalent to all the money of the country. He has never once been back and doesn’t dare to go in case he gets arrested. I asked him how life was for immigrants in Sweden. I again knew the answer, the state takes care of everything and he told me that all his needs were catered for. He said that there was no problem in finding a job, buying a house, keeping a family, going on holiday but that that was not “living”. He said he felt he was not from Sweden as there was very little integration with the local people, but that he didn’t feel as though he was from Iran either because his mentality had changed. He had a sad look on his face and I totally understood him coming from an immigrant background myself, on my Mother’s side.

Once at the airport, everything was easy because I had already checked in and was carrying my boarding pass. I bought some chocolate, a local newspaper, some lingonberry and cloudberry jam for my Father and some smoked salmon for the family. Of course it was lunch time and time to have my very last prawn smörgåsar sandwich before boarding the plane. I slept for at least 3 hours and spent the last hour reading Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants. I was dying to be home and get through all the arrival hassle. I was home just after 19h and happy to greet my Father, Eladio, Susana and Olivia and Norah of course.  I had brought back woolen socks for the girls and the hat for Eladio.

After unpacking, as I felt quite rested, having slept through most of the flight, I suggested going out to dinner and Eladio happily accepted. So last night, I enjoyed pasta at La Alpargatería, as a sort of final concession to my breaking the diet during my time in Stockholm. Today I did a pure protein diet and tomorrow will start the new consolidation phase.

Today, Sunday, has been spent quietly at home. We went for a walk in the morning with Susana and Norah. The girls were out for lunch at Elena’s, so there were just the three of us for lunch at home. This evening we will be meeting our friends Roberto and MariCarmen. And tomorrow it will be back to normal and I will be working hard on the video script with Bea and Angel.

As you can see, this week was great and the trip to Stockholm fun and successful. There is hardly a sign of my swine flu and I'm feeling much better.  Now I must leave you to edit and copy this and add the photos and publish this blog post before we go and meet our friends. I wish you all a great week,

All the best Masha
PS You can see the rest of the photos of my trip here.

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