Sunday, September 28, 2014

Suzy moved flats in London, Eladio’s birthday, a trip all the way to Lithuania, my impressions of Vilnius, an awful trip back thanks to Lufthansa and other stories.

In Vilnius this week
Hi everyone,

Well it has been an exceptional week and there is lots to tell you. 

On Monday Suzy, her boyfriend Gabor and their Italian flat mate Stefania moved from the house which they shared with 5 people in Canada Water to nearby South Bermondsey where the 3 of them will be living there in a new flat on their own.  Suzy is delighted with the new accommodation which seems bright, clean and modern and which has a large kitchen, lounge, terrace, two bedrooms and a bathroom.  It is apparently just one stop on the train from Tower Hill.  Here is a pic of Suzy the day they moved in.
Suzy in her new flat
Tuesday was Eladio’s big day.  He turned 70 which seems quite amazing to me.  I met him when he was 35 so we have been together now for approximately half his life.  I didn’t do anything spectacular but the day was full of magic. First we had chocolate and churros for breakfast with my Father when we gave him his presents and birthday cards.  Unfortunately Olivia had to go to work so would miss the birthday breakfast and lunch.  But she was to join us in the evening for a surprise birthday dinner in Madrid with all the members of his family who could make it that night: José Antonio, Dolores, Juan, Cristina, Sara, Paula and Pedro.
Eladio's birthday breakfast
For the record he got a wonderful set of men’s fragrance from Olivia and from my Father and I he got a kindle, the latest version, the touchscreen Paper White. His first ebook was by Richard Dawkins, the British scientist. 

Lunch was fish and chips followed by a super strawberry birthday cake bought at my favourite cake shop, Mallorca.  Here is the birthday boy with his cake.  He doesn’t look his age does he?
Eladio and his birthday cake
The birthday dinner in Madrid at El Escondite de Villanueva was to be a surprise.  Eladio thought we were having dinner on our own with Olivia and kept asking if we really had to drive to Madrid and wouldn’t it be better to have dinner at home.  So I had to force him to go.  Once we there, he was delighted to see all the family waiting to greet him and celebrate his birthday.  It was a great evening and a superb end to the day. Thanks to all for coming and for keeping the secret.
The surprise family birthday dinner 
The next day I was up at 6.15 to catch the 10.15 flight to Helsinki where I would get a transfer flight to Vilnius. In my headline I write “all the way to Lithuania” because really it is a hell of a way away from Spain and there are no direct flights from Madrid. For the record Lithuania is the geographical central point of Europe. It would be my first time there and I was going for a day-long meeting with my communications colleagues working for TeliaSonera in the European countries where the Swedish Finnish mobile telephone operators are present. In Spanish the capital of Lithuania is called “Vilna” and whenever I told anyone I was going there, nobody knew where it was which surprised me.  But after all it is a tiny country in the Baltics very far from Spain, so maybe that is the reason. In case you didn’t know, its neighbouring countries are: Latvia, Belarus, Poland and Russia or rather the Kalingrad landlocked region which used to be part of Prussia.

First I had to drive to work to leave my car to be serviced whilst I was away.  It was raining that morning and took me 2 awful hours in the traffic to get there.  Thankfully I was just on time at the airport and worries of missing the plane were over once I was sitting on the Finnair flight which would arrive in Helsinki 4 hours later; or 5 if you take into account Finland is one hour ahead – Lithuania is also one hour ahead. As you know I love Finland and Helsinki so it was frustrating to have just 45 minutes there.  Soon I was on my second Finnair flight which took just over an hour and at 17.30 or so I landed in Vilnius where unbelievably the sun was shining.
Lithuania and the countries that it borders with

I took a taxi into the city which took just 20 minutes and soon I was being driven into the old town where I would be staying at the charming Shakespeare hotel just a stone’s throw from Vilnius’ most famous street in the old town; Pilies Street which means Castle Street.  I was keen to stay there and get to know this Unesco World Heritage centre. Once settled in my room called The Coach Room, I ventured out into the street to start my exploring.  The following day I would be given a walking tour of the town with my colleagues and would then find out what all the places I had seen were all about.  But for the moment I contented myself on enjoying walking around the beautiful old streets and passed countless number of churches.  The Lithuanians are mostly catholic as are most of their beautiful churches but so too there are quite a few Orthodox churches and even one Uniate church, the Holy Trinity.
Pretty Pilies street in the old town of Vilnius
I carried on walking from Pilies Street to the Town Hall square, through the Gate of Dawn and outside the old town, I spotted a sign to the “panoramic view” so in in need of a proper walk, I decided to follow the sign.  I was not disappointed as it was still light when I got there and the view of the old and new town was magnificent.  A kind young Lithuanian couple took a photo of me, the one illustrating this post. Very noticeable here were many padlocks which they explained were put there by couples, as in many other cities, to represent their being “locked together” in marriage.
Vilnius as seen from the panoramic view point
From there I walked back to the old town and walked along Pilies Street in the other direction.  That took me to Cathedral Square and a magnificent Belfry both of which stood out very well in the floodlit courtyard.
Cathedral Square Vilnius

Before I returned to my hotel I was determined to find some shops, as the ones in the old town were either touristy or the Gucci type.  I wanted to find Lindex, that lovely low cost Swedish fashion shop.  And I found it in a small shopping centre as I walked up an important looking street called Gedimino.  Unfortunately it was about to close so I walked back to my hotel and decided to come again in the morning before I had to go the meeting which would start at 12 midday.

Once back at my hotel I was pleased to see that my fitbit registered 12km of walking that day.  By 9pm I was tired so decided on a hot bath and room service.  By 10 with the BBC World News on the TV I fell asleep until 7.30 the next day.

After an early breakfast I walked to Gedimino street in the sunshine and found some lovely items at Lindex; a black dress with lace, a shocking blue cardigan (to match my blue Clarkes shoes) and a long sleeved black and white striped t-shirt.  I also got a thick furry white scarf as it was much colder in Vilnius than I had thought and I would need it in the evening when we went on the guided tour of the town. While I was there I took photos of clothes I thought Olivia would like but she only answered later so I had to go back the next day.

At just before 12 I was outside the building of TEO, TeliaSonera’s fixed operator, which was one of the few sky scrapers in the town.  Our meeting was on the top floor with some amazing views.
The view of Vilnius from the offices where we had our meeting
Soon we were all together; Antantas and Audrone, our hosts from Lithuania, Severin from Norway, Elina from Latvia, Tatu from Finland and Madeleine, Anna and Peter from Sweden.  We were joined by Mette from Denmark via video conference as she couldn’t be with us in Vilnius.  The first item on the agenda was lunch.  12 is very early for me but really it was 11 am.  But I tucked in quite happily into the salmon and rice as I talked to my colleagues.
Some of us during our meeting

Our meeting ended at about 6pm, after which we all went to our hotels.  I would meet my colleagues again outside the St Ana Gothic church for the start of our guided tour.  Our guide explained to us that the architecture of the old town was a mix of Gothic, Classical, Baroque with some Renaissance. The Saint Ana church was beautiful, made with red brick and lovely spires, as if the church were on fire.  She also told us that Napoleon loved it so much when he arrived in Vilnius that he had plans to take it piece by piece to Paris.  Thank goodness that never happened.
The beautiful Saint Ana church in Vilnius
From the church we got on the bus and were taken to the panorama view point which I had seen the day before.  Here, being good PR people, we subjected our guide to questions about Lithuania.  We were told the population used to be about 3.2 million but was now 2.9 owing to emigration – lots of Lithuanians living in London.  I was more shocked to hear that the average monthly salary is only 290 euros.  That sort of seemed to contrast with how well the women look and dress in Vilnius as with the apparent modern and progressive life they seem to live.  Everything works there, the mobile phone network is superb, everything in the hotel was perfect and the building we had our meeting in could have been a building in New York it was so modern. People speak Lithuanian – a difficult language which is similar only to Latvian (well they are their neighbours) but you hear a lot of Russian (some 30% speak it).  I knew before I went that the Lithuanians hate Russians because of their history.  It was once the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and later merged with neighbouring Poland and afterwards formed part of the Russian Empire until the 20th century.  In February 1918 Lithuania gained its independence until the beginning of the Second World War when it was occupied by the Soviet Union.  It was then briefly occupied by Nazi Germany and then again by the Russians for 50 stifling years.  Lithuania became independent for the second time in March 1990.  Today it is a member of the European Union and despite the low average salary it looks quite prosperous with not many vestiges of Communist times although some buildings do look in dire need of renovation. During the Soviet occupation and influence, religion was frowned upon and the churches closed. The Soviets even wanted to do away with the beautiful old town.  Thankfully the Lithuanians defied the measure saying it represented their history and the old town is today as it was hundreds of years ago.  The ghastly looking communist blocks of flats are there of course on the horizon but they are few and far between.

The next item on our tour was a visit to a funny place called Uzupis which is actually the Republic of Uzupis, just next to the old town.  It is a neighbourhood similar to Montmartre in Paris or Christiana in Copenhagen with a similar bohemian and relaxed atmosphere and spirit and on 1st April 1997 was declared an independent republic.  It has its own constitution which is written in many languages on one of the walls of the area.  Some of the articles are downright funny such as “People have the right to be happy”, “People have the right to be unhappy”, “People have the right to die but it is not an obligation”, etc.
Uzupis even has a constitution
We then returned to the old town and walked from the Gate of Dawn, through the Town Hall Square, up Pilies street to the Cathedral Square and from there to the University and Presidential Palace.  We then ventured into what was once the bigger of the two Jewish ghettos in the war.  When it started there were some 60.000 Jews living in Vilnius and when the genocide finished there were only 2.000 left.  We were to have our dinner in this area and it felt a little disloyal.  However it was cold and we were all very hungry so we soon forgot the history of the town and ate and drank merrily together.  Our first course was the Lithuanian national dish, “zeppelin” because of the shape.  It is really called “Didžkukuliai” and is a sort of potato dumpling stuffed with meat and smothered in a lovely dill sauce.  This is what it looked like.
The delicious Lithuanian national dish, "zeppelin" or really Didžkukuliai”

After the dinner our Lithuanian colleagues presented us with a box each containing their country’s most famous cake or sweet called “sakotis”.  Later I saw it in many shops and at the airport.
Our Lithuanian colleagues, Audrone left and Antanas right, presenting us with a box of "sakotis".
It was quite late when we all said goodbye.  It was raining a bit but I decided to walk back to my hotel. I was sad to read that night that the second Spanish born victim of ebola, Manuel García Viejo did not survive the virus.

The next day I would be in no rush to get up early as my flight wasn’t until 3pm.  In fact I overslept and didn’t wake until 9.30 am (actually 8.30 for me) and rushed to get ready for breakfast as it closed at 10.  Later I packed and checked out, leaving my luggage at reception.  I had an appointment in Uzupis at 11 with my ex colleague Indre.  I walked there and as I was early decided to walk into a Russian Orthodox church on my way.  Inside I prayed for my Mother and my Aunt who were staunch Russian orthodox believers.  It was a funny nostalgic spiritual sort of moment for me but I loved it.
The Russian Orthodox church I went into on the last day
At 11 I was at the Picerija cozy café where Indre and her two little boys, Ignas aged 8 and Lukas aged 6 were waiting.  It was great to see them.  Indre and I caught up on our respective lives since we had last met some three years ago.  She is looking good, has set up her own marketing and communications consultancy business and even bought a couple of flats in the old town which she rents out to tourists.  I had to leave at 12 if I was to get to Lindex on time to buy the skirt and trousers Olivia wanted and get back to my hotel to pick up my luggage and take the taxi to the airport.  Dear Indre and her lovely football mad boys drove me to Gedimino where we said our goodbyes.  I invited them to visit us in Spain and hope they come. 
With my ex Lithuanian colleague Indre in Uzupis on the last day
Soon I was in the taxi on my way to the airport.  When I paid the taxi driver and got my luggage out he flattered me and amused me by saying “thank you beautiful woman!” That was a nice ending to my visit of beautiful Vilnius.  I wonder if I will ever go back; possibly not.  But I am glad to have added Lithuania to the long list of countries I have now visited.

Once inside the airport I heard my plane to Frankfurt would be delayed.  That worried me that I would possibly miss my connection leaving at 17.05 for Madrid but thought  the Lufthansa flight would wait especially because I was arriving and leaving from the same terminal.  So I sat down at a café where I was joined by a very interesting fellow traveler, an American of Greek and Polish origin called Damian who spoke many languages including Czech and Russian!  He was a very interesting chap and we had a great conversation about the main worries of the world: Isil, the Russian Ukraine issue and of course Ebola.  This man told me he was ex-military and now worked in a military advisory type of role.  From all the things he told me, it seemed to me he may have had links to the CIA or something similar. It was Damian who pointed out an American airplane on the tarmac which was entirely unbranded.  He himself was moving to live in Vilnius this weekend and would be here for a year.  He hinted at US help in the Baltic area re what was going on in the Ukraine. It was Damian who told me too that Lithuania has a feisty woman President called Dalia Grybbauskaite who is very outspoken against Putin and who said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal recently that Putin is terrorizing his neighbours and that he will go further than the Ukraine and that the international community was not doing enough to stop him.  Damian also assured me the US and UK special forces would catch the jihadists who were beheading western hostages.  He also told me the US predicted there would be 1.400.000 deaths due to Ebola.  Can that be true? He certainly seemed to have a lot of information.
The plane left 45 minutes late and thus I arrived in Frankfurt at 16.50, just 15 minutes before my next plane was leaving. I thought I would make it and that the plane would wait but I learned later that Lufthansa seems to prioritize bureaucracy and punctuality rather than poor passengers like me missing my plane. I was directed to a gate very far away where I had to queue with many other people in similar situations.  It seemed we had to queue to get a number from a man and once we had a number we had to queue again. In the end German or Lufthansa efficiency took more than an hour to issue me a ticket on the only next flight to Madrid which wasn’t leaving until 9pm.  I was so cross I even refused the so called meal voucher compensation for 10 euros. I mean what could I do with 10 euros in Frankfurt!!  To make my return journey even more uncomfortable I was assigned a middle seat right at the back.  Then when I boarded the strict looking Lufthansa air hostess threatened to take my cabin luggage and put it into hold as the plane was full. I was not taking any more bull **** from Lufthansa and refused point black telling her the last two times I had flown Lufthansa they had lost my luggage.  I just didn’t want a long wait so late at night in Madrid waiting for my cabin luggage. 

Meanwhile I had 3 hours or so to kill at the airport.  It was here that I learned that the British government had got the backing from Parliament to join the coalition and attack Isil in Iraq.  I was pleased to hear that, I’m afraid to say but I am one of those people in the world who, although I detest war, know that we have to eliminate the threat of these fanatical terrorists.  We have seen what they can do and I don’t want to see any more of it.  Just this week they beheaded another western hostage, a French tourist.  So I spent my time reading the news on my phone and continuing to read Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett. I also had a meal accompanied with a delicious glass of Reisling wine.

That night it felt like I would never get home.  I did in the end of course but it wasn’t till about 1 in the morning that I got into bed.  The next day was Saturday and I was able to “chillax” (chill out and relax) at home with my family, Eladio, my Father and dear Olivia who has been here all weekend.  She came food shopping with me in the morning and joined us for lunch.  In the afternoon Eladio and I went on our second walk not thinking about the weather.  We had no raincoat or umbrella when it started to rain so we had no option but to continue it and get completely drenched.  It was like having a shower fully clothed.  However I didn’t mind as I wanted a shower anyway before going out to dinner that night.

We went to La Txitxarrería in Pozuelo and were joined by our friends Javier and Ana. We had such a good time, talking nonstop and eating that I totally forgot to take a photo for this week’s blog. As we left the restaurant it was pouring down again, quite a contrast to the sun and high temperatures of last week. 

And today is Sunday and it has been very quiet.  Sundays for me are about walks, meals with the family, writing my blog and hopefully time for reading.

Next week won’t be exceptional; no birthdays, no trips.  It will be a quiet week I think but sometimes I like the quiet after the rush so to speak.

Wishing you all a good week ahead, cheers till next Sunday


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Autumn is here, consolidation in the Spanish telecoms market, Edge of Eternity, the United Kingdom continues to be united, a fox on our walk and other stories.

Sunday 21st September 2014
All ready to go to the office on Tuesday morning
Hi again another Sunday in September.  Today is the 21st and the beginning of autumn.  We have had autumn type weather most of the week with intervals of showers but today it is sunny and I am sitting by the pool writing my blog.  Olivia is sitting next to me learning French.  She always manages to surprise me.

Let me start from last Sunday where I left off. That day after I had published my blog, Alberto Contador won the Tour of Spain in a spectacular finish in Santiago in the emblematic Plaza del Obradoiro.  It his is 6th great tour (3 Tours of Spain, 1 Giro and 2 Tours of France).  I was happy to hear the news but between you and me my love of cycling has diminished over the years and this time I didn’t even watch a stage on the television although I followed the results in the news every day.
Alberto Contador celebrating his 3rd win of the Tour of Spain last Sunday
Olivia was back from Valencia with Miguel that night but too late to join us for dinner I am afraid.

Monday of course was my fasting day.  It was on Monday that I finally had my long telephone conversation with my dearest and oldest friend Amanda.  It had been her birthday on 13th September and we had agreed to call each other.  We hadn’t spoken for such a long time so it was great to catch up with her news.  We haven’t seen each other either for at least 3 years and I hope soon we can put a remedy to that.  I wonder when.  Amanda suggested when our house is finished in Montrondo.  Well that would be marvelous. Meanwhile Eladio was off to the hospital in Móstoles for an appointment with my Father’s urologist after his recent operation.  Thankfully he is fully recovered from his operation.  He will be having a scan in December as part of a routine check-up.

Monday was a busy day in the Spanish telecoms market.  There had been rumours in the press about consolidation.  Yoigo, the company I work for, as I pointed out last week, is on sale again for the 3rd time and the papers were speculating that the Spanish fixed operator Jazztel was interested in buying us.  They also said Orange was interested in both operators.  That day I got many calls from the press and was only able to give the standard answer that we would be happy with whatever decision our shareholders made and that meanwhile work continued as usual.

The next day I woke up to a start.  I was making my breakfast at about 7.30 and saw many messages.  It seemed the night before, just before midnight, Jazztel had announced that Orange was buying it and that one of the conditions was for the latter not to buy Yoigo.  I was astounded. At very short notice I had to organize a staff meeting at midday as some members of the board were in town and it seemed appropriate to address the staff who would only have read the news in the media.  The photo illustrating this post is of me ready to go to the office. 

I was home for lunch and on time to watch the midday news with Eladio.  The item that interested me most was the news that Ken Follett’s third book in the saga and trilogy about modern history beginning with World War 1 as seen and lived through the eyes of families in England, the US, Germany and Russia was out that day.  It is called “Edge of Eternity” and follows “Fall of Giants” and “Winters of the World” both of which I loved and devoured. I decided there and then to order the kindle version rather than wait a week or more for the huge hardback to arrive.  I was also considering that there really is no more room in my library of English books so probably better to have the e-book version.  Of course it arrived immediately.  I started reading it that evening and have been reading it most of the week.  The only drawback about reading it on the kindle is that it is difficult to go back and consult the front pages listing all the characters and there are so many of them.  And do I like it?  Well yes but maybe not as much as the previous books.  Edge of Eternity starts in the early 60s and is all about the Cold War and human rights for negroes in the US with the characters living out events again in England, the US, Germany and Russia.  I love the parts where some of the characters work closely with Kennedy and Khrushchev but I am not too keen on all the events surrounding Cuba as that is not my favourite part of history.  No doubt Vietnam will be central to the book but I haven’t got far enough yet to know. 
I am enjoying reading Ken Follett's Edge of Eternity on my kindle
Of note on Tuesday my Lakeland online order arrived.  It contained 3 rotary whisks and 4 toast tongs to be used at home, our flat in Santa Pola and Montrondo of course. Both are items totally unavailable in Spain.  Lakeland is a great English kitchenware store I discovered with Suzy when I was in London in August.  My very old rotary whisk which we had had at home in Bradford finally broke and I needed a replacement.  A rotary whisk, if you don’t know what it is, is a manual whisk which is great for whisking small things quickly such as eggs for a fluffy omelet. 
My new rotary whisk from Lakeland
The magnetic toast tongs are just the trick for getting toast out of a toaster without burning your fingers or having to use a knife.  If you are interested here is the link.  You will see they are very cheap but I can tell you they are incredibly practical.
Lakeland's magnetic toast tongs

The highlight of Tuesday was dinner at home on the terrace with Olivia and Miguel.  I made delicious mini fillet steaks with wonderfully tasting tomatoes smothered in thick dark green olive oil.  I got full marks for that meal that night from Eladio.

Wednesday was a quiet day with not much to report.  It rained and the temperatures went down and I found myself reading in the evening by the pool with my dressing gown on.  Gone I think are the days when I come back from my walk in the evening to swim and take a shower outside.  I haven’t yet removed the towels and shower gel but I might have to soon.
Thursday was a big day in the history of the United Kingdom.  The referendum for independence in Scotland was to take place that day. It was the biggest news in Europe I think and everyone followed it closely, myself included.  I had mixed feelings. I love Scotland but didn’t really want it to disunite from England for various reasons.  And neither did the British government nor the opposition in England. Even the Queen told people to think carefully before they voted. It must be said the British Government allowed the referendum never thinking that Scotland would vote for independence.  However as the time came closer polls were forecasting a narrow win to the Yes camp so the British government rallied round in a last minute panicking mode to campaign for a No vote, promising all sorts of autonomous measures which they will now have to keep to.  The Yes group called Better Together made last minute efforts to swing the result in their favour calling on ex PM the Scot Gordon Brown to campaign and he made the speech of his lifetime.  Andy Murray, like the Gasol NBA Catalonian basketball players, via twitter showed he was in favour of independence.   We wouldn’t know the result until the next day.  What we did know was that the turnout would be very high.
There was a lot of tension around the referendum leading up to the day of voting
Meanwhile in London, Suzy, totally unfazed about the referendum was at a birthday party in their house for one of their flat mates, Luana, an Italian girl who I met when I stayed there in August.  Poor Luana has a tiny room which she described to me as a cage. I was furious to know she paid 400 pounds a month for what really is smaller than any prison cell I have ever seen, albeit only on television.
Suzy with flat mates and friends celebrating Luana's birthday this week

We woke up on Friday to know the results of the Scottish independence referendum. Thankfully for a lot of people the No voters had a majority, not that big, but sill a decisive result.  The final tally was Yes: 1,617,989 (45%) No: 2,001,926 (55%). Glasgow was the area which voted mostly yes whereas other parts of Scotland, notably the Shetland Islands, as my Father had predicted, voted predominantly against independence. So it can be concluded that the United Kingdom will remain united, although a new chapter in UK history is about to unfold as David Cameron must honour the devolution pledge he made to the Scots and which he has also offered now to Wales and Northern Ireland.  The issue continues and tension is definitely in the air as the West Lothian question continues to be unsolved and which refers to the debate in the United Kingdom over whether members of parliament from outside England – from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – can vote on matters that affect only England whereas English MPs cannot vote on their matters.

The Scottish referendum results.
This week when following the news of the referendum I came across a great video explaining the referendum and its history.  It’s supposed to be for non-Brits but for me it was a learning experience.  This is the link if you are interested.

That night Eladio and I went out to dinner as we always do on Friday nights.  This time our choice was the quasi Italian restaurant Ginos where I devoured a plate of delicious pasta.  Against my urologist’s recommendations I had a small glass of red wine.  Since he banned alchohol from my diet I have tried it a couple of times only to find out that it doesn’t seem to affect my OAB at all.  On the contrary it helps me sleep better.  I am looking forward to telling him that at my next appointment, hahaha.

Saturday came.  After my walk I spent part of the morning making a typical Madrid winter dish, “cocido”.  I left everything cooking and to be switched off by Fátima at the appropriate time and left the house with Olivia to go shopping.  We went to Centro Oeste for Olivia to buy Eladio’s birthday present.  I have already bought mine and my Father’s.  Naturally whilst we were there we ventured into Zara.  Amazingly for once I didn’t buy anything. 
What Madrid "cocido" looks like
In the afternoon we spent some quality time sitting, reading and chatting by the pool where we were joined by Olivia for once.  It was the perfect occasion to call Suzy which we did.  She told us she is moving out of Canada Water to their new flat in South Bermondsey this Monday coming. Later she sent us a photo of the beginning of their packing.  I recognize the striped towels in the picture which I bought many years ago at the market in Santa Pola.
Suzy is moving house tomorrow
Later Olivia joined me on our new walk.  It was on our way back that a beautiful fox crossed our path stopping at a short distance to stare at us.  We were so taken aback we didn’t react in time to take a photo. It is the first time we have seen a fox on our walk.  I remarked to Olivia that so far on my walks I have seen the following fauna: eagles, vultures, rabbits, sheep, snakes and even the odd wild boar.  Then just a few minutes later it crossed our path again and once more stood looking at us. This time we had the presence of mind to take a photograph before it disappeared. Oli’s photo was better than mine and this is it.
The beautiful fox Olivia and I saw on our walk yesterday evening
Later Eladio regretted not having joined us and this morning when the three of us went on our walk with the dogs, we hoped to see it again but we didn’t.  I do hope it appears again. 
And today is Sunday and as I said at the beginning of my post autumn is here. That always makes me sad as there is only the winter to look forward to now.  You probably all know that my favourite season is the summer and I just hate to see it go. 
The news today in Spain is that a second Spanish citizen has contracted that deadly virus Ebola.  You will remember the first one was Miguel Pajares a 75 year old priest working in Liberia who later died.  Manuel García Viejo, aged 69, working in the same order as Miguel Pajares is a priest too but also a doctor and as I write he is being repatriated to Spain from Sierra Leona to be taken care of at the Carlos III hospital in Madrid. No doubt Olivia will be reporting on the case tomorrow on TV. Meanwhile Ebola continues to be a deadly threat in Africa with more people dying every day and no known cure or vaccination available yet.

Next week is going to be exciting.  On the one hand it is Eladio’s birthday.  This year he changes decades and amazingly he will be 70 on Tuesday and lots of exciting things will be happening that day. I can’t really begin to believe that my husband is going to be 70 when for me and many other people he looks much younger.  This is him today with Olivia and the dogs on our walk this morning.  He doesn’t look his age does he?
Eladio, Olivia and the dogs on our walk this morning.
On the second hand I have an exciting trip coming up this week.  On Wednesday I am travelling to Vilnius for a meeting all day Thursday with my communications colleagues from other countries in Europe.  I shall be returning on Friday so have just two nights in the Lithuanian capital of which I know very little.  The Lonely Planet guidebook of the Baltic countries my Father has lent me will come in handy and make great reading on the flights out.  Naturally there is no direct flight to Vilnius from Madrid.  Going out I will fly via my beloved Helsinki but very frustratingly I will be at Vantaa airport for less than an hour – so near yet so far.  Of course I shall be writing about my impressions of Vilnius in my next blog post.
Meanwhile I wish you all a great week ahead.  Also I wish lots of luck to Suzy in her moving house and early happy returns to my wonderful husband Eladio.

Till next week my friends,

Cheers Masha.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Visit to a new doctor, Suzy moving house, goodbye Emilio Botín, a gift from Brittany, the difference between the Scottish and Catalonian independence issues, Olivia reporting on the Madrid Fashion Week, ISIL beheaded English Aid worker David Haines, and other stories.

Sunday 14th September, 2014

On one of our morning walks this week still wearing shorts.  Photo taken by Olivia.
Hi everyone,

How has your week been?  Mine has been quiet.  Even so there’s lots to tell you, so let me start.

Last Sunday was quiet and the weather not quite as warm as usual.  In fact there was a 55% chance of rain so when we went on our second walk in the evening we donned raincoats.  In the end we never needed them.  It still feels like summer here and I am still wearing my shorts on our walks. Sandra, my friend who lives in Brussels where the weather is not so benign was very jealous when I posted a photo of Eladio and I on our walk one day this week and commented “still in bloody shorts!” The photo is the one I have chosen to illustrate this week’s blog post.  I think we look quite good for our age.  I still marvel that I can now wear shorts and not look too bad.  This is because in my “fat days” which represent most of my life until about 2010 I wouldn’t have been seen dead in them.

Olivia was home from Valencia on time to have dinner with us, the only time we spent with her last weekend.  This weekend she is in Valencia too and we are expecting her back tonight accompanied by her boyfriend Miguel. No doubt we shall all have dinner together again which I am much looking forward to.

On Monday I went to my much awaited appointment with a new doctor, an urologist, for the record with an English surname, Litton, although he explained his family left England for Spain in the 16th century and the surname still survives.  The appointment was important for me, a sort of last chance to treat my OAB (overactive bladder).  I have written about this very seldom in my blog but it is a condition which very much affects my life and is a huge pain.  I have never allowed it to dampen my spirits and I get on with life despite it but when I heard that this doctor is a specialist in the field I decided to go and see him.  He was very understanding and we had a long chat.  The worst part was the exploration of my urethra which hurt so much I ended up crying.  It turns out it is both narrow and very irritable and is part of my problem.  OAB is a condition much affected by the mind but by certain foods too. There and then he made me quit coffee, tea, alcohol and fizzy drinks.  Thankfully I can have decaf.  But no more alcohol ever!  OMG!  He also prescribed tablets which I started on Tuesday morning.  Maybe I shouldn’t have read what the side effects were, so when I got a migraine immediately after taking it, I realized the cause.  I rang the doctor who told me to suspend the treatment.  Meanwhile I have to make a bloody diary of my visits to the loo during the day and at night including the quantities.  If the mind affects this important organ, just imagine how much the issue of going to the loo has been on my mind this week.  The issue continues to be a pain.  I can only hope and pray this new doctor has something else up his sleeve which might help.  I debated whether I should include this subject in my post this week and in the end decided I should as it has so much importance in my life. 

Tuesday was dreadful because of the migraine; thus I spent at least 5 hours in bed.  Eladio was a darling and I always need him and appreciate him so much when I feel so bad like I did on Tuesday.  Thankfully by the evening the pain was receding and I was able to talk to Suzy.  She was delighted to tell us the landlord had accepted their offer (hers, Gabor’s and their current Italian flat mate Stefania’s), to rent a new flat in South Bermondsey.  To judge by the photos it looks lovely, two big bedrooms, a super kitchen, big lounge and bathroom. They will be moving in this month.

Tuesday was also the date of the Apple launch of its new iPhone and watch.  But you know what? I was not really bothered at all or even very excited.  I am an Apple user – I love my iPad – but far prefer Samsung mobile phones.  It seems to me that the new iPhones don’t offer anything the Samsung smartphones don’t already offer.  As to the watch, well I’m just not into smartwatches basically because I think they only do the same things a smartphone does, so why would you need one?  If it’s for measuring your sports activities, well I far prefer my fitbit which is hidden away for no one to see, whereas if I used a watch I would have a fashion issue.  I mean smartwatches can’t be worn with elegant clothes.  So for the while, unless they come up with some gadget like my fitbit, I won’t be considering Apple for measuring my sports activities. 

On Wednesday we woke up to the news that the Santander Bank chief, Emilio Botín, had died on Tuesday night of a heart attack aged 79.  It’s funny I wrote about him in last week’s post, explaining that he had called the bank after his home town, the beautiful seaside town in the north of Spain called Santander.  His daughter, Ana Patricia Botín, aged 53, will take over as the bank’s CEO, leaving her current role as CEO of the Santander Bank in the UK.  He had planned for her to take over when he retired (if he was ever going to do so) and I have read since that she may not have all the support she needs in her new role.  I, for one, am happy that a woman will be at the helm of the Eurozone’s biggest bank.
Ana and Emilio Botín 
Thursday was the 13th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in the USA.  This is a date none of us will ever forget. The date is so ingrained in our minds that each and every one of us knows exactly what we were doing when we heard the news.  I was 44 and working at Nokia, when a colleague walked into our open office space to tell us the news and to ask if there was a television in the office.  We all scrambled to find one and were just on time to sit and watch aghast the attack on the second tower. No, I will never forget and nor will you.  13 years ago we found out that the biggest terrorist threat to the world was a group called Al-Qaeda lead by Bin Laden.  Today we all know that it is the Islamic State group of terrorists.

This was on my mind of course last Thursday but what was foremost in my mind was the fate of the company I work for, Yoigo, since our mother company, the Swedish telecoms group of operators, TeliaSonera, announced it was for sale at the beginning of the summer.  On Thursday there were rumours that Jazztel, a Spanish fixed operator, was in talks to buy Yoigo.  The press is and was full of the story; never have we been so much in the news since our startup in 2006.  The other company interested is Orange. I got many calls from journalists but this is a subject only the owners may talk about.  Then I heard that the latter had issued a press release to confirm initial talks with Jazztel and “others”.  So right now we are very much in a waiting mode.  It seems to me that we have been on and off sale since we launched nearly 8 years ago.  The outcome is not clear. Meanwhile we all just get on with our job which is what is expected of us.

What brightened up my day on Thursday was the arrival of a parcel.  I thought it was from Amazon, but no it was from France.  My dearest friend Adele had sent me a blue and white striped t-shirt from Brittany.  She had given Sandra and I t-shirts when she came to stay in May.  Mine was multi coloured and Sandra’s was the blue and white one which afterwards I asked Adele to buy for me.  I had completely forgotten about my request when it came on Thursday and was delighted.  I put it on immediately and this is what I looked like.
Wearing Adele's t-shirt from Brittany.  Thanks darling, love it.
I commented on Facebook that Sandra and I would be twins now to which Adele replied we would be triplets as she had ordered another one for herself.  I can’t wait for the three of us to be together again and what fun it will be when we all put on the striped t-shirts. 

In the afternoon on Thursday there was bad news from Montrondo. José Antonio, Eladio’s brother, wrote to tell us their lovely mongrel dog Nuba had been run over by a farmer.  Her paws were badly damaged and the vet wasn’t sure whether there was any internal damage and she was to be put in observation for 48 hours after being given a dose of fendramin (urbason in Spanish).  So far so good I think but she must have given a huge scare to José Antonio and Dolores.  The accident was her own fault as she has a tendency to bark and run after cars.  Hopefully she won’t ever be doing that again.  I wish her a speedy recovery.
Little Nuba recovering from her car accident in Montrondo this week.
Meanwhile on Thursday Olivia was attending the Madrid Fashion Show reporting on the new trends for her TV programme, Aquí en Madrid.  One of the brands on show was Desigual which both Olivia and I used to love, however I think their clothes are actually far too similar, despite the name of the company meaning “unequal” or different in Spanish.  These days the Madrid Fashion Show is sponsored by Mercedes Benz.  I well remember when I was marketing Manager of Motorola Spain being the first commercial sponsor of the event.  It certainly gave me an insight into the fashion world and made me feel short, dumpy, badly dressed and unattractive next to all those beautiful people
Olivia reported on the Madrid Fashion Show this week
11th September was also the “Diada”, or Catalonia Day where Catalans celebrate their culture and customs.  These days the occasion has become politically charged as the local government there, led by a man called Arturo (Artur in Catalán) Más, have decided to call a referendum for a vote on independence on 9th November.  This week too Scotland has been in the news as the date for their referendum approaches this month and polls were showing a lead for a yes vote, something the British Government never thought would happen.  There have been articles in the British and American press comparing the two independence issues; some even writing that the Spanish government is less democratic because it won’t allow a referendum in Catalonia.  However, they are not explaining why, so let me tell you the difference.  In the UK, a referendum in Scotland which some 300 years ago was an independent country, is allowed under UK Law.  In Spain, where Catalonia has never been an independent country (remember that), a referendum would be illegal.  This is because the Spanish constitution only allows a national referendum.  So if a referendum were to be called the whole nation would have to vote. Of course if the whole nation voted, Catalonia would never get its independence.  For that to happen the 1978 constitution would have to be changed and a new constitution would have to be voted for in a national referendum.  Meanwhile Arturo Más continues his battle threatening to go ahead with the referendum.  Today I have read that if he does so, he could be sent to prison for prevarication, disobedience and sedition.  As you can appreciate the political tension between Barcelona and Madrid couldn’t be worse.
People lining the streets on the day of the Diada (Catalonia day) dressed in yellow and red to form a V for Victory and Vote along the Diagonal and Gran Via streets
Friday was quiet, the last day of the working week and generally my favourite day of the week.  That evening Eladio and I went out to dinner to our latest favourite place, La Txitxarrería where I always order steak and chips.  They have the best beef in town.  Afterwards we came home on time to watch a film called The Green Mile with Tom Hanks.  Tom Hanks is a prison warden on death row in an American prison where an enormously big black man with healing powers is sent after being wrongly accused of killing two little girls. I had seen it before but didn’t really remember the script.  This time I watched it riveted from 10.30 until it finished at 1.30 in the morning.  It is a superb film.
The Green Mile, certainly my film of the week
On the news front Friday will be remembered as the day Ian Paisley died. If you are my age and lived in England or Northern Ireland in the 70’s you will remember this fanatical Protestant firebrand preacher turned politician whose arch enemy was the IRA.  Later he was reconciled with them and had a big role in the peace process but back in the 70’s he was not a popular figure.

Friday was also the day of the sentence of Oscar Pistorius, the South African para Olympic champion who shot his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, supposedly in self defence.  He was charged with “culpable homicide”; i.e Judge Masipa, believed his story that he never meant to kill her.  I think we will never know the complete truth as the trial has been long and complicated with very unreliable witnesses, including the athlete himself.  I haven’t followed it so therefore can’t judge.  But I mean to begin with, why did he have a gun, and why, oh why, didn’t he check to see who was in the bathroom before shooting?  I mean where did he think his girlfriend was if she wasn’t in the bedroom with him?   

Saturday was quiet after Olivia left for Valencia.  We spent the day reading and walking and I also swam after my walk in the evening as I do every day.  Saturday was my dearest and oldest friend Amanda’s birthday.  We haven’t seen each other for such a long time that when I wrote to send her birthday greetings we whatsapped to agree on a phone call time which will be this evening.  I am much looking forward to talking to her and catching up on her news which I hope is good.

Meanwhile in London Suzy was entertaining her ex Whitechapel flat mates as well as her friend María’s family, Ele and co.  From the photo she posted on Facebook it looks like they all had dinner at Suzy and Gabor’s place. 
Suzy far left in the big denim jacket partying with her ex Whitechapel flat mates and the De La Fuente Family last night
And now I’ve got to Sunday, the last day of the week.  I was stunned to read at breakfast this morning that the deadly terrorist group ISIS, IS or ISIL or whatever you want to call it had gone ahead with their threat and beheaded David Haines the 44 year old UK aid worker they had kidnapped in Syria some time ago.  They told the world in the same way they showed the beheadings of the 2 American journalists, through a vile video posted on internet where once again the perpetrator was the English accented ex musician named John.  This time it was in retaliation for the UK government allying with Barack Obama who has started attacks on the group in Iraq.  The beheading is vile, atrocious, disgusting and in my mind does not tally with any Muslim teaching or beliefs; as for Muslims, the same as Christians and many other religions, it is a sin to kill a person.  Can the maniac or maniacs who beheaded this lovely man who only wanted to help humanity, really think he or they will be rewarded with whatever debauched ideas they have of what heaven promises for them?  At the same time I was delighted to read that many young British Muslims who went out to Iraq to fight with the group are now disgruntled and want to return, hardly believing that part of their tasks was to kill other Muslims in the area, not to talk of Kurds and other religious minorities. I sincerely hope David Cameron and Barack Obama’s special forces find and punish the perpetrators of these ghastly beheadings and that they do it soon, to spare the other hostages who may be next on the list.

After reading the story, I was much happier to read a whatsapp message from Olivia a bit later on this morning.  She told me Miguel had come third in an open sea swimming race in Javea on the coast near Valencia. To take part I think he got up at 5 in the morning. Well done Miguel, we will celebrate tonight.
Miguel came third in today's open sea swimming race in Javea this morning.  He certainly has the winning spirit

My Father's day will have been brightened up today by an email that arrived just before lunch from the Mother of an ex pupil of his at Bradford Grammar School.  Apparently her son whose surname is Crookes had read my blog (must have been the entry on my Father) and wanted to write to him.  It seems my Father taught him French maybe 30 years ago. It's so nice that past pupils want to reach out to him.  For me that is a sign that they must have considered him a good teacher.  Of course he was but many years have gone by so it's still very touching to know there are ex pupils out there still thinking about him. Thank you Mrs. Crookes for writing to me. 

I was just about to sign off and say goodbye until next week when my phone bleeped and one of my news clipping services let me know of the death of another 79 year old high profile Spanish business man.  Isidoro Alvarez, Chairman of El Corte Inglés died a few minutes ago.  El Corte Inglés is Spain’s equivalent to Selfridges or any other up market department store, with branches all over Spain and some in Portugal.  Despite this and other crises El Corte Inglés has always fared well in this country.  I am a frequent customer of this wonderful store which has the best service as far as shops go at least in Spain.  RIP Mr. Chairman you did a good job.

So that’s it from me for this week.  Wishing you all the best, till next Sunday,