Sunday, March 02, 2014

To Barcelona for this year’s Mobile World Congress, “free” calls from Whatsapp will not be free, a controversial mockumentary, visitors from Yorkshire, Siberia near Madrid, Suzy in Devon and other stories.

Sunday 2nd March 2014

With our visitors from Yorkshire, Kathy and Phil at the Retiro Park on Friday morning.
Hi everyone,

It’s incredible to think that this time last week I was on the train to Barcelona for this year’s Mobile World Congress and now one week later it is all over.  I have been working on Yoigo’s activities there for months and now it’s over life feels very flat; as it always does after big events. 

So let me tell you all about it, as well as the story of the rest of the week which has been full of activity.  I caught the 10.30 fast speed train last Sunday to Barcelona and on the train I met many colleagues from the Spanish telecoms industry.  My idea was to write my blog on the train but I didn’t get down to it until nearly the end of the 2.5h journey as I was caught up talking to so many people.  I was most delighted to find Jesús and Renata were on the train and we had a coffee together in the bar where we were to find many of the Spanish journalists on the way to the Congress too. 
A large Yoigo billboard on the Ramblas in Barcelona welcoming us all to the MWC
This year’s congress promised to be bigger than ever, with 20% more “men in black” than the previous year, some 80.000 people.  The Mobile World Congress is the biggest telecommunications fair in the world and Barcelona is invaded with the top brass from companies involved in the sector from all over the world.  This year, it was not just about new mobile phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 which was launched on Monday.  Wearable technology, like my Fitbit, had a huge presence here as did the social media giants Facebook and of course the newly acquired Whatsapp.
The fitbit stand at the MWC - courtesy of my friend Juana
 The latter who had just acquired 19 billion dollars from Mark Zuckerberg’s company for a business not worth more than 450 million dollars, announced it would be offering “free” voice calls on top of its very popular instant messaging service.  Facebook too called for “free” access for customers in emerging markets. This caused a stir from operators, including Yoigo who have pointed out that “free” is not free as it is thanks to the huge investments operators make in building networks that these apps work.  So operators are supposed to invest billions of dollars on infrastructure for companies like whatsapp or facebook to offer free services? That makes no business sense.  If operators didn’t spend money on improving their networks, apps like these would not work and people’s messages wouldn’t be sent.  It’s time to rearrange the value chain but that’s not going to be easy.  Just remember that “free” is never free. 

Anyway, I arrived at my hotel The Renaissance Barcelona near Paseo de Gracia which was to be the headquarters of Yoigo’s mother company, TeliaSonera all week.  As soon as I had checked in I unpacked and tried to connect to internet on the hotel’s wifi network.  It never worked and I don’t know why.  However thanks to the great 4G network Yoigo has in Barcelona, I was able to connect using tethering (sharing my mobile phone connection) via the “hotspot” on my iPhone. 

Very soon I was on the street again this time to catch a taxi to Badalona where my great friend Grainne lives.  Every time I go to Barcelona I go to see her and her son Marcel.  She had prepared that quintessential British dish, shepherd’s pie, except that her oven was on the blink and she had to bake it in her neighbour’s oven.  That didn’t matter, as it was delicious.  It was great to catch up on her news and talk about the old days, as well as chat on the phone whilst I was there to her sister Brenda who is a nurse and lives in Manchester. Soon I had to leave and return to my hotel in Barcelona where I finished last week’s blog post and published it.  The evening was going to be busy as I had to attend two events, so I decided to have a nice luxurious bath and rest on the bed watching the BBC World news then go out for an hour’s walk on the to the end of the Ramblas and back before getting ready to go out.

The news this week has continued to be dominated by events in the Ukraine.  With the corrupt President Yanukovych on the run, a new parliament was instated and finally the protests in the Maidan square are over. However, nearby powerful Russia is not happy with what is going on and it seems is getting its troops ready to enter the Crimea.  Some people think we are on the brink of a second cold war; I hope not.

By 21h I was ready to go downstairs to join my colleagues at the TeliaSonera get together which was taking place in the bar of our hotel.  It was good to greet Anna, Linda, Ingrid, Philip, Urban, Peter, Salomon, Soren, Mette and many other colleagues.  Just when Anna was making her welcoming speech in walked my old boss Johan who no longer works for the company.  It was wonderful to see him again as it always is.

I had to leave soon to go to another party. It was for Spanish press and hosted by Samsung.  However I hardly knew anyone and it seemed the place was full of local bloggers so I decided to leave nearly as soon as I had arrived.

I got back to my hotel and started communicating with Eladio on whatsapp! who was watching our favourite programme of the week “Salvados” presented by the a Spanish journalist, Jordi Evole, who is hugely popular in Spain for probing into issues that are largely controversial.  He had promised to broadcast a documentary on the Spanish coup (23F) in 1981 claiming he would “rewrite” the history books.  So some 5 million viewers were stunned to hear that the “operation palace” revealed that the coup itself and the king’s speech had apparently been staged by the Government to save democracy and boost the king’s image.  At the end of the report, Jordi Evole revealed it had been a false documentary and that he had done it to prove to viewers how television can manipulate spectators. Everyone was shocked, me too and felt confused as an audience to have been duped this way. When I spoke to Olivia about it this week, she calmly answered “oh but he just did a “mockumentary”, a TV format that has been used before.  Of course she is right, but maybe in Spain we have never been confronted with anything similar.  The first “mockumentary” was the famous Orson Welles “panic” broadcast, The War of the Worlds.  I for one had never heard the term “mockumentary” and if you didn’t know it either, now you know.

On Monday I decided to have breakfast in bed as I did every morning whilst in Barcelona, preferring to enjoy my favourite meal in my room rather than in the dining room with colleagues. 
Breakfast in bed is what I enjoy most at hotels.
I had to do some work before leaving for the conference and I didn’t get there till midday.  The new conference centre called Fira Gran Vía in faraway Hospitalet de Llobregat is just so enormous finding stands or halls is a daunting experience.  My first stop is always the NSN (Nokia Siemens Networks) stand.  Here I greeted lots of colleagues who I used to work with there, including delightful Cristina and Paloma.
With Cristina and Paloma at the NSN stand at the MWC
Right across the way was the Ford stand and here I enjoyed a short chat with Gustavo who now works for their external communications agency.  He used to head up my team at Ketchum and I still miss him.  Next I met up with Julio, my great friend and ex Nokia colleague and we escaped the hugeness of the exhibition to go and have lunch in town.  It took nearly 40 minutes in the taxi to Plaza de la Villa by the harbour. Getting to the exhibition and back is always a big problem as there are never enough taxis for 80.000 people going to and leaving the fair.  One night a colleague of mine, Linda, told me it took her 2 hours to return to her hotel!  Luckily I never had to go to the congress at peak times which is always a nightmare. Julio and I enjoyed lunch at Cal Pinxo after which I walked all the way back to my hotel where I needed a rest before venturing out for another long walk and coming back to get ready to go to my own party.
Every year we host a Yoigo party for our partners, collaborators, shop keepers, press and anyone close to the company.  This means I get to see so many people I know and have worked with for years.  I was especially happy to see my ex colleagues from Motorola; Jesús, Xavi and Gonzalo and my ex colleagues from Nokia; Juana, Julio, Paloma, Cristina, Miquel, Marc, Pepe, Carlos and Pepe.
With some of my ex Nokia colleagues at the Yoigo party on Tuesday night
The party which took place at Ura Restaurant and Lounge was a huge success and went on until nearly 4 in the morning.  You can see the photos here. I, however, was exhausted and left, the Cinderalla way, unobtrusively just past midnight. 

We had good news that day from Suzy.  She has been made a fixed employee with her company and will now be working full time as a fully-fledged employee as the operations and catering manager at Oxo which is owned by the Concerto Group.  At the same time she had bad news in that the flat in Aldgate fell through as the current tenant decided to carry on living there.  In a way I’m not that upset as I think it was going to be too small with no living area for “us visitors”.  So now she and Gabor are looking for a flat to share with other people and are using what is a called a “buddy up” option to find one.  So watch this space.  I do hope they find something suitable soon and can move out of their ghastly accommodation in Whitechapel which they share with 12 people!

On Tuesday morning I was up at 06.30 as I had to be at the TeliaSonera press conference starting early that morning at a hotel opposite the congress.  I slept badly that night despite a comfortable bed, as I have been sleeping badly for about 10 days now.  The record according to my fitbit was waking up 10 times one night this weekend.  Apart from being stressed with the events I was to execute at the congress I was plagued with a nasty cold and cough which probably contributed to the bad nights.

The TeliaSonera press conference hosted by the new CEO, another Johan, Johan D, went well and the room was quite full of Nordic journalists.  There was no breaking news, more an overview of the company.  I was delighted to see the first slide about Yoigo which was entitled: “Proud owners of the challenger Yoigo in Spain”, which in fact I had contributed to. 
The slide about Yoigo at the TeliaSonera press conference
Not long after the press conference I had another press engagement; an interview by Expansión, Spain’s leading business daily, with the CEO of TeliaSonera.  It was my job to translate which wasn’t easy I can tell you.  It never is and all depends, in my case, on how long the sentences are.  I was exhausted when it was over and in need of rest, but I had to have a meeting with my boss about our press conference the next day. 

My next appointment was a lovely lunch at Neichel with the girls from my events agency, Cristina and Gloria and also with Miguel, the only guy who works at QuintaEsencia. It was great to get away from the busy exhibition and wind down after the morning’s stressful activities. 

In the afternoon I was quietly working in my room when I saw breaking news on Reuters about Yoigo.  After our interview it seems the CEO of TeliaSonera was interviewed by the international news agency.  The problem was it quoted him saying that Yoigo was too small to compete in the Spanish market.  What it didn’t say and apparently he had actually said was that the Mother company was happy to carry on growing Yoigo in Spain.  This of course would have repercussions in our own press conference the next day when we would get questions, once again, on the future of Yoigo.  I was not happy.

That evening we had our traditional end of congress dinner for my teams at our press agency, Ketchum, and our events agency, QuintaEsencia.  We commented on the Reuters article during our dinner at La Venta at the top of Barcelona but soon wound down and talked about other things.

On Wednesday morning I was up early.  I had to have breakfast, pack and be at our press conference venue, Casa Paloma, by 9.  The address on the invitation was 29 Carrer de Casanova but when I arrived I just couldn’t see the venue.  It turned out to be on Carrer de Casanova 209, not 29.  There was a moment of panic when we had to alert journalists to the fact.  Thankfully they were all warned and turned up ok at the venue. 
The Yoigo press conference in Barcelona
The press conference went well and had good turnout.  Thankfully there was only one question about the news in the Reuters article which we answered truthfully that our mother company was keen to grow Yoigo in Spain.  Our news that day was quite big.  We were to announce we had reached 4 million customers as well as announce a new system of financing mobile phones, similar to car leasing.  We also announced 4G roaming in Spain for TeliaSonera customers from Norway and Sweden and more interestingly for our own customers, a new system of accessing premium services to avoid shock bills from these shark like companies who dupe people into signing up to fraud services.

Our journalists all sat on afterwards asking more questions and writing their chronicles but at 12.30 I had to get away if I was to catch the 13h train back to Madrid.  I left with Carlos and Cristina who were catching the same train.  Here is a photo of them – notice Cristina’s huge luggage for just 3 days! at Barcelona Sants Station. Ah and you can see the rest of the photos of our press conference here.
Carlos and Cristina at Barcelona Sants Station on the last day - notice Cris' baggage!
The sweetest moment for me of the Mobile World Congress was relishing the headlines of media coverage after the Yoigo press conference on my mobile phone and PC on the train going back. It is the reward for all the effort I had put into organizing our activities at the congress; some 150 articles mainly online.  So, I could come home feeling pleased if not a little exhausted.  You can see a collection of my photos of this year’s MWC here.

I came home to brilliant sunshine in Madrid.  I also came home to visitors. Phil and Kathy, our friends from Keighley in Yorkshire had come to stay for a few days and had arrived the day before me.  Believe it or not they were sunbathing by our covered pool.  So after greeting them and unpacking I went to join them, over a lovely cup of tea.  Eladio went off to this UNED University tutorial and the three of us went for “our” walk. It was a beautiful evening and a great way to wind down after the stress of Barcelona.
On our walk with Kathy on Wednesday afternoon  - it was a glorious evening.
I was to take the next two days off work to be with them although of course I was always connected.  On Thursday morning we set off to Segovia, that lovely medieval city which has a famous Roman aqueduct.  We were to have lunch at the equally famous Mesón de Cándido and I had asked my ex cyclist friend Pedro Delgado to book us a table.  I knew we would be guaranteed a good table and excellent service if he made the booking.

We went the scenic way, over the mountains rather than on the motorway.  I was eager   to show my friends the snow there but was not sure if there would be any.  We were in for a surprise as the snow was piled up and there was nearly a blizzard when we arrived at the Puerto de Navacerrda (mountain pass) where people from Madrid go skiing. Who could believe that there could be so much snow just 50km from Madrid when our friends had been sunbathing the day before? The mountain pass is 1858 metres high and the highest mountain in the Guadarrama mountain region is Peñalara which is nearly 2.500 metres high.  I can only imagine that’s quite a lot for them as the highest mountain in England, Snowden is just 1.085 metres.  It felt like we were in Siberia not in sunny Spain.
At Puerto de Navacerrada 50km from Madrid on Thursday morning with Kath and Phil. It felt like Siberia
We got out of the car to go for a walk or climb up to where people were tobogganing, but Eladio, who really wanted to get back into the comfort of our car, suggested we go and have a cup of coffee.  In fact we preferred a cup of hot broth to coffee and here Kathy and I spied a winter sports clothes shop where I bought myself a pair of boots for the snow.  We started on our walk and I was happy with my boots but Eladio pointed out that no one else had suitable footwear so we turned back and got into the car.  As we drove down the mountains the snow began to disappear and the rain made its appearance.  We stopped next at the pretty little Royal town of La Granja de Segovia where the summer royal palace is.  Built by Phillip V in 1721, it resembles Versailles as do the gardens.  Here we walked around the gardens and took pictures of the cascading fountains which unfortunately were not functioning.
At The Granja de Segovia Palace gardens on Thursday morning
We drove on to Segovia and parked right by the aqueduct.  We had an hour until lunch so took the time to show our friends the aqueduct, the Cathedral and the Castle (Alcázar).  These are the three main things to see in this lovely and partially walled city.
By the aqueduct in Segovia
We were warmly greeted at Casa Cándido by the original owner’s grandson also called Cándido and led to a table by the window overlooking the square and with views of the aqueduct.  This beautiful restaurant was opened in 1786 and its most celebrated dishes are suckling roast lamb or pig.
Casa Cándido in Segovia
We decided to order both.  Just for us, Cándido’s Father, Alberto, did the suckling pig ceremony for us, wearing a medal which made him look like a lord mayor.  We were duly impressed as were all the other people dining around us.  At the end of the ceremony Alberto cut the roast suckling pig with a plate to show just how tender it was and then threw the plate on the floor to the amazement of the diners.
The special ceremony put on for us when we were served the suckling pig at Cándido
After lunch we drove home as Eladio had to leave for his early evening tutorial.  This gave me time to have tea with my guests and to make our dinner.  For the record I made a delicious broccoli and asparagus soup served with the last of my home made croquettes I had made and frozen for Christmas.  It was wonderful to be joined by Olivia that night for dinner as I had hardly seen her since I came back from Barcelona.

Friday was Kathy and Phil’s last day with us so it was fitting we took them to Madrid. They wanted a walk in the Retiro Park and a visit to the Plaza Mayor.  We drove into Madrid and found it difficult to park by the Retiro so Eladio left us in the street and went off to park.  We presumed he would come back for us but he didn’t. He had us stranded in the street ringing him to no avail.  Finally he picked up the phone and told me he was already in the park by the lake and had thought we would make our way there.  That is my Eladio always presuming things that have not been agreed.  So off we went to meet him.  I have to admit I was a little cross but had to shrug off the feeling as it was such a lovely day and I wanted to enjoy the beautiful ornamental park with our friends.  The Retiro is Madrid’s biggest park and was built in the 16th century by the Royal Family.  It became a public park in the late 19th century.

We were approached by a fortune telling gypsy and as I was now in a good mood I got trapped with her blarney.  For 10 or so euros she told me I was a person who liked to earn money and spend it, that my husband loved me but another man pined for me and that I would have two grandchildren.  Kathy got ensnared too and was told nearly the same things; so she was obviously making everything up.  However it was a bit of fun and added colour to the day.
With the gypsy in the Retiro park on Friday morning
We walked all around the lake, only stopping for a cup of coffee at the far end of the lake.  Showing the park to our friends I noticed things I had never noticed before and was very impressed with the beautiful monument to Alfonso XII which is surrounded by statues of lions and mermaids. We used to take the children to the park on Sundays when they were small and they would climb the lions but I never noticed then just what a wonderful place it was.

From the Retiro we took a taxi to the Puerta del Sol. The first thing we did there was to show our friends the famous symbol of Madrid there, the statue of the bear and “madroño” tree.
By the bear and madroño tree in the Puerta del Sol
The other thing to see in the Puerta del Sol of course is the kilometer 0 from where all roads are measured in Madrid.
Kathy and Phil by the Kilometre 0 sign in the Puerta del Sol
From here we walked to the Plaza Mayor stopping in the street for Kathy to buy a fake Carolina Herrera bag from an illegal immigrant from Senegal who allowed us to take a photo with him
Buying a fake bag from an illegal immigrant on the streets of Madrid.
From the Plaza Mayor we walked to the Cathedral of Madrid, La Almudena and finally to the Royal Palace where we stopped for photos at the Plaza de Oriente.  By then it was time to take a taxi back to the Retiro and pick up our car and drive home for lunch.

Fátima, our home help, had made a delicious dish of stuffed cabbage which was followed by our typical dessert, a sort of Eton mess made with meringue nests, strawberries and raspberries and ice cream.  A siesta was in order afterwards but not for long as we wanted to go for a walk with our friends and the dogs in the woods in nearby Boadilla.

We took the dogs in the car and as they are not used to it they struggled in the back.  Thankfully they behaved better on the way back.  The walk was wonderful as it always is, with lots of footpaths to choose from and not many people around.  What with our walks in Madrid in the morning and the walk in Boadilla in the afternoon my little fitbit registered over 12km walking that day!
On the walk in Boadilla on Friday afternoon
In the evening, Kath and Phil’s last night with us, we had booked a table at our latest favourite place, La Terraza La Escondida, in nearby Pozuelo.  As always we shared the house salad for starters and my friends and I shared a great plate of medium rare steak for our second course. They agreed the restaurant was lovely with its open fire and friendly staff.

And the next day was Saturday and we all had to be up early to go the airport for our friends to catch their 10.30 flight to Liverpool.  Their stay with us was lovely but all too short. You can see the rest of the  photos of their visit here. When we came back home, the house felt flat without them.  Also it rained and we were robbed of our walk, so yesterday was definitely the worst day of the week.

But it wasn’t the worst day of the week for Suzy in England.  She had gone with Chati to spend the weekend in Devon with Sandeep, Oli’s Indian friend from her Erasmus year in Cornwall. Sandeep lives in Plymouth where he works as an editor for a production company.
Suzy and Sandeep at his flat in Plymouth this weekend
She sent me lots of photos of what looked like a day trip to a very beautiful area: Noss Mayo, some 6 miles from Plymouth and apparently one of the most unspoiled and beautiful villages in Devonshire.  She was ecstatic with the countryside which didn’t surprise me.
Sandeep, Suzy and Chati near Noss Mayo in Devon yesterday
Saturday was very quiet as I said but to cheer ourselves up after our friends had left, I booked seats at the cinema to see Philomena.  This is a film starring Judi Dench and is based on the book written by Martin Sixsmith (graduate in Russian and BBC journalist) who wrote the story of Philomena Lee; a single mother in the 50’s in Ireland who was forced to give up her son for adoption.  The story is about her search for her son, the story of many single mothers who were treated so badly in Ireland by the church who considered them sinners and literally sold their children and sent them as far away as America and made them work for years to “pay” for their stay at these cruel residences. 
The poster of the film Philomena we saw last night
The film was very good but towards the end I had a terrible coughing fit and we nearly left the cinema but I did my best to watch the film until the end.  Afterwards we rushed home for me to take some cough mixture and also a hot drink of lemon water spiced with honey and whisky.  That together with some anti-cough pills helped me get through the night thank goodness.

Today is Sunday and it has been another quiet day.  I had breakfast with Olivia but at midday she had to go off to work to do Sunday duty, preparing tomorrow’s programme. She has just sent me a Whatsapp message to say she is very bored together with a picture of a rather empty newsroom.  She’ll feel better tomorrow when her boyfriend Miguel comes to stay for the week.  She will be taking a couple of days off and they plan to go Navacerrada to ski.  Nice.
Oli doing Sunday duty in a very empty TVE newsroom today
Tonight of course will be the Oscar’s.  I wonder if the two recent films we have seen, 12 Years a slave and Philomena will get awards.  I think they deserve them. We will know tomorrow morning.

And now my friends I have come to the end of the tale of this week.  It is now time to publish this post and then go for our walk with the dogs, as always.  I wish you all the best,

Till next time


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