Sunday, June 02, 2013

Family barbecue, off to Stockholm, Eladio in Montrondo, Suzy and Olivia in London and home again.

With the group of journalists at TeliaSonera's HQ in Stureplan, Stockholm.

Hi everyone,
This week has been very exciting indeed.  I have been in Stockholm on a press trip, Eladio was in Montrondo and Olivia went to London with Miguel to see Suzy.  So let me tell you all about it but first I must start from last Sunday when we had the first official barbecue of the season.
José Antonio, Dolores and their youngest son Juan and his girlfriend came for lunch on Sunday.  It was the perfect day for the first barbecue of the season. 
Dolores, Cristina and Juan by the table laid for the family bbq last Sunday
Eladio and José Antonio took care of grilling the sirloin steak, lamb chops, hamburgers and Spanish sausages and I did the rest: jacket potatoes, salad and our favourite dessert, a variety of Eton mess made of meringue, fruit salad and ice cream, preferably pistachio, coconut or white chocolate or a scoop of them all.
Eladio and José Antonio grilling the meat for the barbecue
Olivia and Miguel joined us and again we all missed Suzy who is living her unique adventure in London. In the afternoon we lounged around by the swimming pool terrace which we had spruced up for the occasion.  Later we went for a walk with the dogs which Nubah especially enjoyed.

On Monday I was up at 04.30 in the morning and was to pay for it later as it would take me nearly a week to recover.  It was difficult to get up so early but worth the effort and I was happy to do so to go to Stockholm, a city I love so much.  I was taking 8 of the most senior Spanish telecoms journalists to try out 4G for the first time and to get to know our mother company, TeliaSonera and to bond with TeliaSonera and Yoigo as well as Ericsson. Unfortunately there is no longer a direct flight to the Swedish capital so we chose to go via Barcelona, the only connection that gets you there at midday and allows you to return late enough in the day to make the most the most of it and be home by midnight. 

We arrived at about 13.30 and a bus was waiting for us to take us to my favourite hotel, the Skeppsholmen on a small island of the same name, just 10 minutes walk by the beautiful Baltic Sea to one of the main squares.
The Skeppsholmen Island in Stockholm - the long building in the trees is the hotel
The hotel is surrounded by the sea and other small islands. It is just across the way from both Gamla Stan to the right and to the famous Vasa Museum on the left.  The little island is green and leafy and has glorious views all round but above all gives you a feeling of peace and quiet and staying at the hotel is like staying at someone’s country house.
The Skeppsholmen hotel close up
We had a very late lunch for Swedish times but oh did we enjoy the lovely Scandinavian bread and butter followed by plaice and new potatoes and rhubarb, something my Spanish journalists were not at all familiar with.  In fact I don’t think it exists in Spain or if it does it is probably eaten by pigs in Galicia.  Later Miguel, our guide of Mexican origin, who is married to a Swede, took us on a city tour and then on a walking tour of Gamla Stan, the heart of the old city of Stockholm and a must on any trip to the city. 
The buildings of Dutch inspiration in the main square at Gamla Stan
I had provided all the journalists with a 4G phone (the amazing Samsung Galaxy S4) and a sim card from Telia and very soon they were all trying out 4G, the new network technology that has existed in Sweden since 2009 and will soon be coming to Spain.  Its main advantage is the speed with which it works and the lack of latency (delay) in downloading anything from the internet, be that a web page, a video, music or whatever. So throughout the city tour and indeed throughout their visit, they concentrated most on experiencing 4G. 
4G works really well in Stockholm
We came back from Gamla Stan by the water taxi; another good experience and soon we were back at Skeppsholmen.  The alternatives were a siesta before dinner or a walk into town and the latter is what most of us did.  We enjoyed the walk across the bridge with its golden crowns, past the Grand Hotel and up Kugstradgarden where young boys were playing football in their shirt sleeve, shorts and bare feet and eventually found ourselves at an outside terrace bar just off the Hamngatan street where I usually visit the shops.  There was to be no shopping on this trip, a big first for me.  Here and it’s funny to think we were at TGI Friday, my journalists enjoyed the local beer whilst I had a glass of orange juice.  For the Swedes this time of year is officially Summer and even though it was only 15c everyone was wearing summer clothes and sitting outside.  Thankfully most outdoor bars and restaurants provide blankets and heaters, so we felt quite cozy.
The beautiful Skeppsholmen bridge
We walked back to our hotel in the cool of the evening and joined the other journalists who had stayed behind, for dinner at the same table as lunch.  It began to feel like it belonged to us. My boss who was already in Stockholm joined us for drinks afterwards but it was so late and my day had been so long, I just had to turn in for the night. I slept fitfully but well on the comfortable mattress with a white down duvet and pillow and was interested to see how it was light from very early on in the morning.  At this time of year in Scandinavia the sun sets very late and rises early, making the days very long. I think it is the best time of year to enjoy this part of the world.

Tuesday was our longest day. Back home Eladio would be leaving for Montrondo with José Antonio his brother.  They would enjoy their time together at the family village where it was much colder and darker than Stockholm.  The purpose of the trip was to see two builders who would be giving Eladio estimates to renovate the old house.  This is something that has been on our mind for a while, but who knows if and when we will start.  The idea is to conserve the rustic look but smarten it up inside and make it much more comfortable and warm.  The “boys” spent their time on this and on cutting the grass, going for meals to nearby Senra instead of cooking.  There were no wives there to be telling them what to do or what to wear and the opportunity gave them some quality time together which is quite rare these days for the two brothers who were packed off to a seminary before they were teenagers, to a hostile and cold world where they only had each other for comfort.  That would bond them forever. Unfortunately they didn’t send me any photos so I have nothing graphic to record their time this week in Montrondo.

Our day in Stockholm began just as I like it with a not too early breakfast in the charming dining room of the hotel.  The bus was ready at 9.30 to take us to Stureplan where the HQ of TeliaSonera is located.  Here we were greeted by Anna and taken up to the meeting room where we would be given presentations on 4G.  Later we were shown how the Telia Mobile TV service and tariff work in the reception area before going off for our leisure activity.

I call it a leisure activity but there was nothing leisurely about it.  We were going on a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) boat around the famous Archipelago and would be wearing special suits and goggles to protect us from the wind and the speed.  We were told this speedboat could reach a maximum of 55 knots/ the equivalent of 100 km per hour.  Here is a photo of us all kitted out and ready to go.
All ready for our RIB boat experience on the Stockholm archipelago
I sat on the second row and was to regret it as when the throttle was on and the RIB boat at full speed and zigzagging across the Baltic Sea, I literally prayed for my life.  My hat and goggles were falling off and I had to take one hand off the handle to try and sort it out; not an easy feat.  The monitor had warned us that if anyone was having a bad time to put up their arm and the speed would decrease but how could I do that if I was the supposed organizer and team leader and with my sea loving boss in the boat too? 
And some experience it was too
Thankfully the speed reduced and we changed places and I went to sit at the back where it was not as rough and in the end I actually enjoyed some of the fast parts, but certainly not the zigzagging.  Our destination was the little island of Svartso, some 80km from the city and here we ate alone at a little restaurant on the shore.  The sun was shining and a few mosquitoes were around and we were told that our speedboat experience was happening on the best day of the year.  Lunch was salmon, as usual and again everyone enjoyed the local beer. 
Lunch with my journalists on the island of Svarsto

Here at lunch I was able to get over the slightly frightening but exhilarating experience of the journey out.  I was worried that on full stomachs any zigzagging on the way back would make us feel ill.  Thankfully the boat went straight which made it more pleasant for me to experience the speed. I enjoyed the views of all the islands on the way back with their lovely wooden summer houses and dreamed of a summer holiday on one of the more than 30.000 islands on the Stockholm archipelago, some of which can be reached by car but most by boat.
A typical sight on the Stockholm archipelago
Our next appointment was a presentation at Stureplan from the TeliaSonera CEO Per-Arne Blomquist.  We all commented he had the same surname as the detective in the Millenium trilogy novels.  Per-Arne’s presentation was the most interesting to my journalists as he gave the business view of 4G and he has been quoted most by them in the articles they wrote during and after the trip.
During the presentation from the CEO of TeliaSonera
The last presentation of the day came from Ulrika, the CEO of the group operator in Sweden. Here we learned about some of Telia’s revolutionary 4G tariffs.  And soon the working day ended and we gave our journalists free time to write their articles whilst Carlos, my boss and I had a drink in the garden of the Skeppsholmen hotel.  I was in dire need of a rest and shower after the RIB boat experience and smell of mosquito repellant if I was to look my best at dinner that night.  

Dinner on Tuesday night was hosted by both Ericsson (our network partner who is building the Yoigo 4G network in Spain) and TeliaSonera.  They chose a beautiful old Swedish restaurant located in the island of Djurgarden (game park) officially called Kungliga Djurgården (royal game park) which is in the centre of Stockholm.  I fell in love with the Ulla Winbladh restaurant as soon as I saw it.
The picturesque Ulla Winbladh restaurant in Djurgarden
The food was good too, although my recommendation not to include cheese which I and three of my journalists hate was not heeded to.  However the perch fish again with the typical new potatoes was delicious.  We ate in a private dining room on the first floor and this is what the table looked like.
The private dining room at the Ulla Winbladh restaurant in Djurgarden
Afterwards we went for drinks to a nearby place called Josephine, a very funny name. Here I had a mojito which was my downfall as it gave me a headache during the night.  Again we sat outside covered in blankets and warmed by outdoor heaters.  Not one for being out late or after dinner drinks, I was happy when someone said it was time to go back to our hotel at around 1 in the morning.

On Wednesday morning, our last day in Stockholm, the sun had disappeared and was replaced by the more typical rain. We didn’t mind though as it was important for there to have been sunshine on our RIB boat experience.  It was sad to leave the Skeppsholmen Hotel which had been our home for two days but if I am lucky I will be staying there again in September.  A bus was waiting to take us to the Ericsson worldwide HQ in what was described to us by the Yoigo Key Account Manager, Reine, as the Swedish Silicon Valley.  When I asked who else was there besides Ericsson, he replied just small fry!  The name of the area is Fisk meaning coffin in Swedish but Reine did not know why it has that name.

We all behaved like excited children when we got off the bus and saw the group’s company sign and there and then got Reine to take a picture of us all next to the sign.
The group of journalists with me outside the Ericsson world wide HQ in Stockholm
I was curious to see how the building or buildings compared to the Nokia HQ I know so well in Helsinki.  There are similarities in the décor inside; all very Nordic, sleek and clean, but the outside is different and Nokia House is the clear winner as far as the architecture goes.  Maybe if we had seen at close hand what is called the Ericsson crack, then I might have been more impressed.  The building we visited was ok, very large, very clean, lots of corridors but you could have been in any blue chip company in the world.  What really struck me was the security once inside and I joked to our escorts that it seemed like a prison with doors having to be opened with special passes and codes every few metres, both to enter and to exit.  In fact we got stuck with Reine once and the alarm went off and I had visions of security guards arresting us but thankfully that didn’t happen.
The Ericsson "crack" building we only saw from the bus
Here we were greeted by Ilyana the Comms manager for Iberia and the head of communications of the group, a delightful Japanese woman called Minako.  I sat next to her at lunch and was surprised to learn she doesn’t like fish. That must be difficult both in Japan and Sweden I imagine. 

After some interesting presentations about Ericsson and 4G, one from a person with the surprising job title of “Evangelist of the Networked Society”, we went on a tour of the building.  Here we saw a little bit of the company’s history in the evolution of telephony – what else would you expect here? - and were suitably impressed with their showroom.  In a way I had seen most of it before as their pavillion at the Mobile Congress in Barcelona is a replica of the HQ showroom.  Thus I was not surprised to see the Ericsson Connected Tree again.  Ericsson believes that anything that can be connected should be connected, so why not a tree?  This tree talks to you when you touch it, tweets and even expresses its feelings with a particular tune. 
With Ana by the Ericsson connected tree - a technological marvel
Our last meal in Stockholm was at Ericsson in their guest dining room called Erico Dine.  Here at last we had meat, duck, not the proverbial fish, but again there was no dessert as seems quite typical at business lunches in Sweden. 
At Erico Dine, Ericcson's private dining room for guests
At around 15h the bus was waiting to take us to Arlanda airport for our long haul home, via Barcelona again.  This was my one opportunity to shop but somehow I didn’t feel like it and also because I was carrying my allowed 10kilo piece of baggage onboard the Vueling flight, I had no extra room for any purchases.  I did buy a book though to entertain me on the way home on the very long flights.  Unsurprisingly I chose a second world war novel called “The girl who fell from the sky” by Simon Mawer about an Anglo French girl who joined the SOE (Special operations executive) and helped the French Resistance.  It kept me riveted throughout and I even carried on reading it when I finally got to bed at two in the morning.

We arrived at Barcelona at just before 9pm, said goodbye to our two Catalan colleagues and promptly looked for somewhere to get a bite before catching the 22.30h flight to Madrid.  Luckily both planes were on time and we touched down just before midnight.  My colleague from El País commented that airlines should advertise getting out of the airport door times rather than touchdown times and he certainly has a point here as I don’t think I was out of the door until well after midnight.

I had a bit of an adventure when I arrived home. Eladio and the girls were not at home and my clicker was not on me.  I had asked Oufa to hide it outside the gate which she did and I found it behind a tree in a piece of silver paper wet from the rain – for the record it was raining in Madrid on arrival and certainly not warmer than Stockholm.  So I could get in the gate but not into the house as if I did the alarm would go off.  That was because I had run out of battery on my iPhone from where I usually work the alarm.  Thankfully I had some battery left on my Samsung Galaxy S4 but I don’t have the alarm application there. My only alternative was to ring Eladio in Montrondo and hope he would answer and get him to switch off the alarm for me to enter the house.   Thankfully he answered and I was able to get into the house without the alarm sounding and waking up my Father and Oufa.

It was a huge relief to get in but it was a while before I would be in bed as I always have to unpack when I return from a journey.  In order to sleep well I put all the blinds down and switched off my phones after leaving them to charge of course. Thus the next day, very unusually, I slept until nearly 10 in the morning.  I felt good but washed out.  It being Thursday I did a fast day and throughout I felt tired and lethargic.  

Eladio and José Antonio arrived around midday to find me working furiously on projects I had to catch up on after my days away in Stockholm.  It was a lovely sunny day and as Eladio had someone to help he decided to remove the swimming pool winter cover.  I caught them at it as you can see in the photo below.  I remarked that it would be sometime before we took our first dip.  It has been the rainiest and coldest month of May since 1985 and June looks like being cooler and wetter than usual too.  However it is much nicer to sit on the swimming pool terrace without having to contemplate the dirty and leafy cover that protects it in the winter.
José Antonio helped Eladio remove the winter swimming pool cover on Thursday this week
It was strange coming home to a quiet house.  Olivia had gone on Tuesday with Miguel to visit Suzy.  It was her birthday present to him too, his first visit to London.  Of course we had been in contact via the usual channels: whatsapp, Facebook and Line and more recently Skype too on my mobile – not a great fan.  

Suzy is enjoying London immensely.  She looks so radiant on all the photos.  She is busy getting to know the terrain, going to interviews, getting her national insurance number and finally opening a bank account.  When I asked her which bank it was she laughed and said Lloyds (our surname).  She also applied for a part time job with a company called Off to work that supplies staff for all sorts of events.  She had to look up the word “grooming” in the advert; a word we’ve never used at home: “It is essential that you are able to demonstrate exceptional customer service skills, a very good understanding of the English language, well developed communication skills, excellent grooming and above all, a big smile and a desire to help people”.  I was not surprised they snatched her up in the two interviews, one on the phone and one in person, as I think she fits the description above. Don’t you?  Now she will be able to sign up for the events she wants to work for, earn some money, get to know people, improve her self confidence but, more importantly, have lots of time to look for a proper job in her field.  For this casual job, this is the uniform she has to wear.  Doesn’t she look funny and sweet and happy?
Suzy looking the part for her part time job with Off to Work
Suzy and her friend Chati surprised Olivia and Miguel by leaving a birthday cake and presents in the room Oli had booked at the Whitechapel Hotel just 10 minutes from where they live. They took a photograph of that moment.
Suzy (left) and Chati (middle) had prepared a birthday surprise in the hotel room for Olivia (right) when she and Miguel arrived on Tuesday evening in London.
Whilst Olivia showed Miguel the sights of London during the day, they would meet in the evening and of course all through this last weekend.  Most of the photos they took were of them jumping or seemingly flying, the poses Oli loves so much.
Oli and Miguel "flying" in Trafalgar Square
On Friday, Oli’s Erasmus Indian friend Sandeep who lives in Cornwall, came to London to spend the weekend with them.  OIi and Sandeep are very close and they hadn’t seen each other for a couple of years.  You can see the moment they met in this touching video Miguel took.  The emotion of it brought tears to my eyes.  What a wonderful guy Sandeep is and his “mate” Sumit too who I know would have loved to be there on Friday too.

Here is a great photo of Suzy, Oli, Sandeep and Chati walking near St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Of course they live or are staying not so far away as the East End is just a stone’s throw from the South Bank and the famous bridges over the Thames with St. Paul’s being on the other side of the river.
From left to right: Oli, Chati, Suzy and Sandeep walking near St. Paul's Cathedral
Of all the pictures they have posted, perhaps this one of Sandeep and Olivia by Buckingham Palace is my favourite.  Olivia looks Indian next to him with her long dress which, by the way, was the birthday present she found in her room.  Suzy and Chati who are wearing similar models above say they are all the rage in London.
Sandeep and Oli walking by Buckingham Palace
In a way I am living Suzy’s adventure and Oli’s visit from afar, avid for news from them and wishing to be there too. Soon we will go to London too but maybe we will wait until she is more settled.  

Whilst Oli was meeting Sandeep on Friday in London, I was having lunch with Alexander a German friend I met through Andy and Amanda.  Alexander heads up a division of Bertelsmann in Spain called Arvato Services which employees some 8.000 people.  I hadn’t seen him for a few years, since before he got married to his brain surgeon wife Diana and had two little girls and became the CEO of the company.  He really has done well and it was great to catch up.  We had lunch at El Buey in Boadilla and here is a photo to record the moment.
Lunch with Alexander on Friday.  I wish Andy and Amanda could have been with us.
On Friday we went on our first walk of the week, something I had missed as had our dogs I’m sure.  Friday was a very “foody” day as we went out to dinner that night as we usually do on the last day of the week.  I asked Eladio to choose and was not surprised to hear we were going to Ginos where we would be having a pasta feast.  Eladio is not very keen on pasta but enjoys a meat dish served with the green and white thin spaghetti called “straw and hay” (paglia e fieno in Italian). I adore it so just order the pasta. This is what it looks like.
My favourite pasta dish at Ginos: Paglia e Fieno (straw and hay)
Saturday was quiet and sunny and I spent some of it cooking but also reading outside by the pool with my new varifocal sun glasses.  I finished The girl who fell from the sky and have now started on Colditz, The Full Story by Pat Ried.  We also washed the dogs which were in dire need of their now monthly or so bath.  Elsa protested a bit about being led into the bathroom but Norah sauntered in and nearly climbed into the bath herself which leads me to suspect she rather enjoys the rubbing and the warm water.  

And today Sunday is pretty much a repeat of yesterday, just the three of us for meals and no girls.  I am now at the end of this week’s blog post and my idea after this is to continue reading my book by the pool, after which we will go for our walk.  It is certainly a relaxing end to a very exciting and tiring week.  

And that my friends, is it for this week.  Cheers till next time

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

No comments: