Sunday, April 01, 2012

Spanish Tuna music, another trip to Sweden, shopping in Stockholm, a letter from the past and a quiet weekend at home.

At the global communications conference this week in Stockholm

Hello again my friends,

I hope you have had a good week.  Mine has been great.  It started off with a bang on Monday last.  We had a visit at work from the HQ management team, some 20 people from different countries in the Nordic and Baltic regions.  They were coming to see how we work at Yoigo and I gather they were quite impressed.  My job that evening was to host them for a very Spanish dinner together with the local management team.   I chose the unique Café de Oriente restaurant in the beautiful square of the same name overlooking the Royal Palace.

The unique Aljibe private dining room at the Café de Oriente

Dinner started with an olive oil tasting and was followed by what I called “a gastronomic tour of Spain in small helpings and large gulps”.  The gulps referred to the tasting of wines chosen from the menu by my dear friend Julio who knows a bit about Spanish wines.  I think our favourite was Pago de Carraovejas, a cabernet sauvignon from Ribera de Duero, an exceptional red wine, best known to connoisseurs.

The table was livened up towards the end of the dinner by a group of student medieval minstrel singers known in Spain as La Tuna (not the fish as they explained to our guests). They were from the Tuna Universitaria de Madrid. Tuna singers are all-male musical groups from different University faculties who play string instruments and sing Spanish folk songs.  The name Tuna apparently comes from the French name given to the leader of the vagabonds: Roi de Thunes.  Their clothing is from medieval times and the typical attire is composed of a shirt, tights, baggy breeches, a doublet or tight fitting jacket and when it’s cold a cloak.  Often pinned to the cloaks are colourful ribbons given by friends in sign of affection.  They sing in harmony and have wonderful rich voices, filling the room, such as the Aljibe room in the Café de Oriente, on Monday with colour and the sounds of popular well loved folk songs such as Clavelitos or La Malagüeña.

The Spanish Tuna who sang for us on Monday

Afterwards some of us went out for a drink and we chose the fashionable Ramses in Plaza de Independencia where we sat outside, believe it or not.  I think our colleagues from the colder parts of Europe enjoyed the temperature.  It is very rare for me to go out for a drink after dinner but this was an exception.  For the records my night finished off with tonic water, after so much wine tasting.  I didn’t get to bed until past 3 in the morning.

I really can’t remember what I did on Tuesday except for work from home and nothing special was cooking that day.

Wednesday though was a highlight as it was the day I was travelling to Stockholm for the third time this year and it was to attend the bi annual global communications meeting where all the communications professionals in TeliaSonera get together, some 80 people from the Nordics, Baltics and Euroasia and of course Spain, me being the only representative.  That is because I am a one woman show in PR in Yoigo as you probably know.  It’s a long haul from Madrid to the Scandinavian capital so I chose to take the only direct flight, run by Iberia which leaves just after 10 in the morning and gets you to Stockholm at around 2.  The weather forecast on my Samsung Galaxy was for sun and mild temperatures, but of course I was leaving +20c Madrid and found it awfully cold upon arrival.  Later it rained and I thought to myself, this is a wonderful country to live in but I could not stand the climate. 

I took a taxi to the hotel where the conference would be taking place the next day and Friday morning.  It was the Elite Marina Tower, an impressive red bricked building on the outskirts of Stockholm, in a place called Nacka, just next to the ferry harbor and overlooking the Baltic Sea.

The Elite Marina Tower where we stayed for the conference

 I made sure I had room with a view and was very pleased with room number 308, big and spacious, immaculately clean and of very Nordic design.

The view from my room at the hotel

I had soon unpacked and of course my next task was to set up my computer and see what mails I had and catch up on some work.  Last week we sent out three press releases, so there was also news to send to the staff.  I was disappointed with the internet connection.  You always expect technology to work to perfection in a country like Sweden but actually that isn’t so.  The hotel signal was very weak and outside the mobile signal on offer from the long list of operators in the roaming list was equally limited.  This was all very frustrating for me who likes to be connected permanently.  

The next item on my agenda was a trip to downtown Stockholm for some shopping.  The hotel was too far out to walk and I was also disappointed not to be able to catch the publicized bus boat (or whatever it is called) as the time table had very limited service.

The boat bus from the hotel to the centre of Stockholm

So I had to make do with an expensive taxi. The people in reception recommended the new Mood shopping centre but I found it full of luxury shops I would never shop at.  So, umbrella in hand, I made my way to Gallerian, a more mainstream shopping centre nearby which houses the typical Swedish makes I love and which you can’t find in Spain.  These are Lindex, KappHal, Vero Moda, Solo and others.  Here too I found a branch of Abercrombie and Fitch but could hardly see inside because of the dark discotheque atmosphere they have created.  
At KappHal I bought a red and white striped long sleeved t-shirt and red jumper to match.

The red and white striped t-shirt I got from KappHal

The red jumper I got from KappHal to go with the t-shirt

By now you will know that stripes are right up my street.  So at Lindex when I saw this sailor type jumper I snatched it up.  I love shopping in Sweden as the sizes are bigger than in Spain so all my labels from here are generally size “s” which is a great morale booster I can tell you.

The striped sailor jumper I got from Lindex

At Lindex too I could not help falling in love with this pink and white checked shirt, similar to the green and white one I bought at H+M last week.

The pink and white checked shirt I got from Lindex

By now I was feeling guilty about buying so many clothes and all for me.  So I popped into Solo just off Bibliotkasgatan and found a unique multi coloured shirt for Eladio.  Here I was a bit stuck with which size to get.  I asked for a neck size 16 or a 5 in a polo shirt and the assistants had no clue.  In the end I got an L which actually turned out to be very long and rather narrow.  After all it was probably made for a hunk of a tall and slim Swede, not exactly for a Latin physique.

After buying something for Eladio, it was time to get something for the girls and it had to be Scandinavian.  I love the style but also the fact that I won’t see anyone wearing the same clothing back home in Spain.  I went into a couple more stores until I found this lovely chunky off white cardigan at Peak Performance.  I loved it so much I wore it twice during my stay, only putting the label back on when I packed to come home.

The chunky white cardigan I got for the girls and which I shall be wearing too.

Again I took a taxi back and the next item on my agenda was a visit to the spa to swim in the pool and enjoy the Jacuzzi.  Unfortunately it was under renovation, so there was no dressing room but worse, there was no sauna.  Si I made do with the big indoor pool and Jacuzzi where I was joined by an overly tattooed man and his delightfully and thankfully non tattooed baby.  It was relaxing but I didn’t like the fact that there was no window to the outside and found the place a little claustrophobic.

Next I got ready to go out to dinner.  I had a dinner date with an English colleague from Brussels, Phillip who is based in Brussels.  He comes from my “native” Yorkshire so we have lots in common.  Dinner at the delightful Skeppsholmen hotel restaurant centred first on mobile termination rates and then on roaming policies.  However there was lots to talk about apart from talking shop, such as our common interest in Yorkshire and our respective careers. 

The Skeppsholmen hotel where I had dinner on Wednesday night

I have written about this hotel before, my favourite in Stockholm and where I always stay if I can.  One of the reasons is the fabulous open prawn sandwich they have on the menu which I ate on Wednesday night.  Phillip had already had the same for lunch so chose another fish dish.

They make a great prawn open sandwich at the restaurant at Skeppsholmen hotel

The next day saw the start of the conference which started off with a pep talk from our CEO, a larger than life very big Swede.  We spent most of the day around tables doing hands on work after presentations from our HQ colleague and it was good.  The downside for me was the lack of coverage in the room which meant I could not keep up with my emails or FB friends, a little frustrating.  We finished at the most civilized time of just after 5 and weren’t to meet again until 6.30 for drinks followed by a dinner at the same restaurant.  I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and get some fresh air and went off for a walk near the hotel on the path by the beautiful sea.  There were some great views but it was awfully cold.

I managed a quick walk by our hotel on Thursday evening

Once back from outside I joined my colleagues Oyvind from Norway and Mette from Denmark for a drink before going into the dinner.  The entertainment that night was karaoke, not really up my street as I posted on FB. Our table, headed up by Kaisu who loves singing chose to sing a song I had never heard of, “I Love Rock and Roll” which meant I had to hide at the back looking enthusiastic whilst some of the others sang.  Although I didn’t like the singing, I must admit the food was superb, including similar prawns to those I had the night before.

My dinner table on Thursday night at the conference with my colleagues from Brussels

That was how Thursday developed for me.  Meantime in Spain a general strike had taken place.  People were protesting about the recent cuts and labour reform by the conservative PP party who have been governing now for just 100 days.  I wasn’t there to judge but from what I have seen in the media, it turned out to be a luke warm affair and the country did not really come to a halt.  In my mind we will just have to get on with it and accept the cuts and labour reforms if we are to combat the economic crisis.  Meanwhile it gave Spain a pretty bad image internationally.

There was a general strike in Spain on Thursday while I was in Stockholm

That night when I returned to my room I connected to my pc to find an email from my best friend Amanda.  You will know by now that we go back a long way, having met at St. Joseph’s College when we were just 11.  We went on to be as thick as thieves for ever after.  Amanda had been having a clear out and came across a letter I wrote to her in March 1990, a letter from the past, from 22 years ago.  I read the letter and reread it, thinking back to the time when we had just moved into our previous house in Río Tajo and when the girls were just 4 and 5.  Now they are 26 and 27 and about to have their birthdays this month and next.  This is what I wrote about them at the time! 

Part of the letter from the past where I write about the girls.

I was up bright and early on Friday morning as we were starting at 08.30 and I had to pack and check out.  There was more interactive conversation around the tables which were changed for the second day.  On my table I realised there were representatives from Uzbekistan, Moldova, Finland, Sweden, Latvia and of course Spain, so quite an extraordinary cultural mix I thought.  Here is a photo of Davron from Tashkent and Rodica from Chisinau.  My geography of the area is so bad, I have to admit I had to look up the capital of Moldova which in fact I still thought was called Moldavia!

My colleagues Davron from Uzbekistan and Rodica from Moldova at the conference

I had to leave early before the conference finished if I was to catch the 14.50 only direct flight back to Madrid.  I had time to enjoy wonderful Scandinavian tapas at Arlanda airport, as well as to stock up on some Swedish fare for home, including cloudberry jam for my Father and smoked salmon for Suzy.  As I had 4 hours to face on the airplane I went in search of a book that would keep me from being bored on the journey.  I chose “The Facebook Effect”, the inside story of the fascinating company that is changing the way we connect by David Kirkpatrick and boy did it keep me engrossed throughout the flight.  Whether you are a FB fan or not, it makes excellent reading.

This book makes fascinating reading

I was home relatively early, around 8, as there was hardly any traffic on the motorways, possibly a sign a lot of people have gone away for the Easter holiday week.  As soon as I had said my hellos and unpacked, Eladio and I went out for our Friday evening dinner out.  He chose De Brasa y Puchero where we always enjoy the “patatas revolconas”.

On Saturday, finally we were all together, at least for breakfast as Suzy had to go into work.  Thus we were one member missing over yesterday’s lovely lunch, cooked by me for a change.  There was no food in the house for Olga to leave us anything prepared, which is what she usually does, so Eladio and I went to do the weekly food shopping and I was in charge of lunch.  We always buy freshly cut Iberian ham and cured beef to have for our evening meals.  Well yesterday, dear Norah enjoyed all 300grammes of both as we had left it on a low shelf of the cupboard which someone had left open.  That was more than 50 euros down the drain but I can only imagine how Norah enjoyed the feast!

Today is Palm Sunday and also April Fools’ day.  The former marks the official beginning of Easter and processions will be starting all over Spain.  I have been waiting all day for jokes on the internet and in the news but have not come across anything worth mentioning which I think is a bit of a waste, considering today is 1st April.

Next week many people will be away on holiday.  We hadn’t thought of going anywhere, mainly because Olga will be taking a holiday from next Thursday.  Out of the blue, Eladio suggested we go away on Monday and Tuesday and suggested we use up some of our Parador points and go to the not so far away Oropesa. 

The Parador in Oropesa where we are going tomorrow.

I wasn’t much attracted by Oropesa itself, but when he also suggested we have dinner at the Hotel Valdepalacios, I immediately agreed.  In 2008 we had a day in Oropesa with our friends Julio and Fátima and visited the hotel and I have always wanted to return, although if I could have my way we would book the suite at this amazing Relais and Chateaux jewel of a hotel. 

Hotel Valdepalacios in Oropesa

Whatever your plans next week, I wish you all a very happy Easter,

Until next week

PS You can see the rest of the photos of my trip to Stockholm here.

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