Sunday, March 15, 2015

The second part of my trip to Finland, Anne’s birthday, reflections on Finnish culture, an ex Nokia get together, the European communications meeting, home again to Spring weather, Pippa’s first walk; mine too, Jill’s 50th birthday party and other stories.

Sunday 15th March 2015
Anne caught me feeling relaxed on camera at her house in Salo last week
Hi everyone,

Here I am writing this week’s post alone in our study at home. Eladio has just left with Olivia to take her to the airport. She and Miguel are off to Cuba for a week.  It will be her first holiday since 2013 and she is in dire need of it. Packed in her case are all sorts of essential necessities we take for granted here but are much in demand in Cuba where everything is scarce.  These are to be given out to some of our family (Eladio has second cousins living there) and of course to Miguel, our nephew who is now living in Havana.  Their trip to Cuba will be very interesting as they will see the authentic Cuba before the imminent Americanization comes along. I look forward to their photos and tales.

Finally on Thursday last week I moved “my office” from my bed back to my desk in the study.  That is because my foot is a lot better.  It’s still swollen, I limp a bit, and I still have to use a crutch. This week when I got back from Finland I continued with my rehabilitation sessions. I am a lot better and have regained my independence.  But I still can’t go for long walks as my foot begins to ache and needs to be rested.

This time last week I was staying with my friend Anne at her house in Salo.  She spent the whole morning cooking for her family who were coming to celebrate her birthday.  They all came at about 1ish and I was privileged to be part of a Finnish family gathering. Here is a photo of us around Anne’s table.
Anne's family birthday party last Sunday at her home in Salo
Later her 77 year old Uncle Pentti who is a farmer joined us.  He was a lovely man who must have been very good looking when he was young.  He spoke to me in Finnish looking at me as if I knew the language but no I don’t.  In fact everywhere I go in Finland people think I am Finnish and talk to me in their incomprehensible language and I sadly answer back that no, please talk to me in English.  Afterwards Anne went off for a walk with her dogs and I was left to look after the fire for my sauna an hour later.  Gosh, I had never done that before. 
Anne's wood fire sauna and open shower
Whilst I was doing so I reflected on Finnish culture and how unique and different it is.  The sauna is part of Finnish culture.  Usually saunas are single sex but bathing costumes are not allowed so women sit naked together even if they don’t know each other and men too of course.  That’s a bit of a paradox in my mind for people who are so shy but on the other hand have no problem being naked together.  A couple of days later I was at the Sonera HQ (main operator in Finland) where there are 3 saunas for both employees and customers.  Apparently business meetings are held in them (all naked!) but my boss Tatu explained that this only happened with Finnish visitors.  I can hardly imagine British or Spanish men wanting to conduct business naked in a sauna.  I adore saunas and had two at Anne’s house and another one at the hotel.  What luxury to be naked in a sauna when I have nearly always experienced them in a bathing costume.  You feel so clean, warm and glowing afterwards as if you had been cleaned inside too.
One of the saunas at the Sonera head offices in Helsinki
Another interesting part of their culture is that everyone leaves their shoes outside on shoe racks and comes inside the house with just their socks on.  Anne even has a basket full of plastic crocs outside her terrace so that if she wants to go in the garden she just puts on a pair on and goes outside, leaving them in the basket when she comes in.  This means that their floors are spotlessly clean. I sort of like the idea and would love to put it into practice here in our house or the house in Montrondo but would probably never get anyone to follow suit. 
I like the Finnish system of leaving their shoes outside and wearing socks inside
Yes, Finns are very clean and could give a few lessons to the Brits and the rest of the world really.  Nearly all their toilets come equipped with a “bidet shower” to wash oneself afterwards.  Even the toilet on the train to Helsinki from Salo was equipped with one!
It seems all Finnish loos come equipped with a bidet shower - as seen on the train from Salo to Helsinki
Finland is famous for its baby box, a maternity pack given to all pregnant women free from the state.  If I were pregnant today I would die for one.  Today I think you can actually buy them on Amazon.  What a marvelous present from the state; the babies even sleep in the boxes.
An example of the famous Finnish baby box and its contents
It’s not just the box they get, it’s a long maternity leave; up to 9 months on full pay I think and then they can extend it possibly for another year with a slightly lowered salary. The best bit here is that when women return to their work they are guaranteed a job.  No wonder “Female Finns are fearing fine”, according to this article in The Economist that shows that Finland is the top spot in the world for women to work.  The article was published last Sunday which was actually International Women’s day.  One Finn I know commented it wasn’t necessary to celebrate it, as if equality existed.  I pointed out to him it might well exist in Finland but it certainly doesn’t in Spain.  Not surprisingly Spain wasn’t even in the table.
Finland the best country for women to work in
Their education is top notch too as we all know, the secret being that teachers are respected a bit like doctors are in Spain or the UK.  They are not famous for their food and if you have never been to Finland you would probably find it difficult to come up with a name of some of their more typical dishes.  Perhaps you would include salmon which is eaten at all times of day. Their rye bread is superb but it is their Karelian pies that I love most (Karjalan piirakka) a sort of flat pie with rice in the middle which you cover with a boiled egg and butter spread. 
Karelian pies are delicious
By the way their best kept secret as far as food is concerned, if you can call chocolate food, are Fazer chocolates.  Belgium and Swiss chocolates are considered the best in the world but that is probably because most people have never tried Fazer.  I stocked up on quite a few boxes and  bars to take home. 

So no, they are not famous for their food but they are famous for their drink which is principally, like their Russian neighbours, vodka.  They are mostly known for the quantity they are able to put away.  Finns are on the whole shy but that all changes when they have had a few drinks and they become talkative.  However once they are sober whatever they have said is not taken into account the next day.  It’s as if they can do or say what they want when they are drunk to no matter.  No way could that be applied here in Spain or in the UK
Finland of course is probably most famous for its nature, its lakes, rivers, forests and snow; its fauna: brown bears and reindeer as well as its wood cabins.   For the record and I am quoting the Finnair Blue Wings magazine, “Finland covers 390.920 sq kilometres of which 9% is fresh water.  There are 188.000 lakes and forests cover 68% of the country”. I love Finland mostly for its nature so the only downside of my trip there was that I couldn’t go on any walks and have no pictures to show you just how wonderful it is.  My comments here on Finnish nature need a photo so here is one I found on the web which sort of sums up what I like best; Finland with its red cabins on an island, surrounded by water. 
Beautiful Finland
I would have loved to go on that walk with Anne as it was after her family left that the sun finally made its appearance.  But I contented myself with a super sauna and open shower afterwards.  Dinner that night was Finnish food: salmon (their staple diet) with vegetables cooked by Anne.  It was to be our last dinner together after which we curled up on her sofas to watch more British TV series.

It was a lovely weekend with Anne but somehow I wished I could be in two places as last Sunday many of my colleagues were celebrating the 25th anniversary of Motorola in Spain.  I am proud to say I was the fourth colleague to join.   I think they had a great time go karting and eating and drinking in the sun back home in Madrid.

That night in bed I started reading yet another book about North Korea.  An article in The Times about its author, the South Korean woman who now lives in the US, Suki Kim who had written “Without you there is no us”, compelled me to download the book on my kindle.  It is about her memories of being a teacher of English of the sons of the North Korean elite and makes very revealing reading.
The book I am reading now
Monday morning came and it brought work of course. Before I could leave Salo for Helsinki I had to finish and send a media report on the coverage in the press from our press conference in Barcelona where we announced the revolutionary all you can eat voice and data tariff, the first of its kind in the Spanish market.  I also had to supervise the issuing of a press release to announce our new head of sales and marketing, a woman, I am pleased to say.

Soon it was time to leave but before I went to the station, Anne wanted to take me to try the best coffee in town at a place called Toinen Keksi which apparently means “another cookie” a play on words on internet cookies and cookies that you eat.  I must say it was superb. 
Last moments with Anne last Monday morning  - coffee at Toinen Keksi in Salo
But then we had to rush if I was to catch the 1 o’clock train to Helsinki.  Thankfully we got there just as it was pulling in.  The journey is 1.5h and I arrived to sunshine in the Finnish capital.  I could have walked from the station to my hotel, The Radisson Royal, as I knew the way but with my crutch, pc and suitcase I just had to take a taxi. I had chosen to stay there for old time’s sake as it was where I nearly always stayed when I worked for Nokia from 2000 to 2005.  For nearly 6 years I visited Finland for work purposes some 6 or more times a year and know the main streets and sights very well.  But I hadn’t been back since 2011 and was keen to walk the main streets again.  As soon as I was settled in my room, off I went with my crutch and money and phone in my pockets so as not to have to carry a handbag and ventured out into a new pedestrian area which used to be the old bus station.  I walked to Mannerheim street, past Stockman, the main Finnish department store (there is a saying if you can’t find it in Stockman it doesn’t exist), delaying my entry there for my return as I didn’t want to carry bags in the street.  It was on the North Esplanadi Boulevard that I bumped into an old colleague, the ex-head of communications for Nokia Mobile Phones, globally, Marianne, who today owns a PR agency with another ex colleague.  I was on my way into Strindberg, my favourite cafeteria in Helsinki, to have a bite to eat and she joined me over a glass of wine and another karelian pie (for me).  It was lovely to see her even though I would see her again that night at the ex Nokia communications colleagues meeting I had organized together with Marika, another comms colleague.

From Strindberg I continued my walk until I reached the Market Square which is always a bit dead in the afternoons.
A selfie in Senate Square last Monday afternoon
I couldn’t resist walking from there to Senate Square to take a look at what is perhaps Helsinki’s most famous landmark, the Lutheran Cathedral with its green dome.  It looked spectacular in the evening sunlight.
Helsinki's most famous landmark, the Lutheran Cathedral in Senate Square
Turku, Finland’s second largest city, used to be the Finnish capital until Tsar Alexander 1 moved it to Helsinki in 1812 to reduce Swedish influence on the country and bring it closer to St. Petersburg.  It was virtually rebuilt after a great fire in 1808 destroyed a large part of the town during the Finnish War when Russia defeated Sweden and annexed Finland as the Grand Duchy of Finland.  The Tsar appointed the German architect Carl Ludwig Engel to construct the heart of the city along the lines of St. Petersburg. In many ways Helsinki is like a miniature St. Petersburg.  Today it has some 5 to 600.000 inhabitants.  If you count greater Helsinki the population rises to 1 million.  I love walking along the old streets of Helsinki and once I had seen the Lutheran Cathedral I had only one thing on my mind, to visit the Russian Uspenski Cathedral.
Uspenski, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Helsinki which overlooks Market Square
It was built between1862-1868 during the reign of Tsar Alexander II.  It is I think the largest Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe.  When you go on a city tour of Helsinki, often this landmark is hardly mentioned nor does not feature in the visit.  This, I think, is because of the Finns’ general dislike of their neighbours who dominated them until their independence in 1917.  Today the city and country indeed is full of Russian immigrants.  You hear Russian spoken everywhere on the streets.  In fact I only saw Russians visiting the Cathedral.  What led me to it of course was my own Russian heritage; my Grandfather was an Orthodox priest and my Mother a great believer.  Just knowing she had visited the Uspenski cathedral made me want to go there to light a candle for her, my brother and my Aunty Masha to pray for them.  Unfortunately it was closed.

From the Russian Cathedral I made my way to the old covered market which has been renovated and is magnificent.  The food on sale is just the best of the best.  It is called Kauppahalli and I always love to visit it.
Love the Helsinki covered market
No visit to Helsinki is complete without a visit to Stockman so I walked there from Kauppahalli back up the Esplanadi Boulevard.  But I was so tired and my foot was aching that in the end I didn’t buy anything at all.  Needless to say I took a taxi to my hotel.  

Once there I got ready for the evening out with some of my ex Nokia communications colleagues.  But the time difference between Spain and Finland played a trick on me. I had created the event on Facebook back home in Spain and had set the meeting for 19h.  Once in Finland the event said it started at 20h – it had automatically made the meeting one hour ahead which was never the idea.  So I ended up arriving half an hour late.  It was great to greet Marianne again and to see Arja, Maria, Marika, Kaisa and Maija (my old boss).  We had lots of fun talking about some of the amazing memories of incredible and glamorous trips all over the globe, over dinner and drinks at one of Helsinki’s most fashionable restaurants, Bronda. None of us ever after has experienced the same kind of incredible projects and trips.  Kaisa summed it up: “it is impossible to explain to anyone else” and she was also right when she said Nokia was very much ahead of its times.  Certainly in communication it was and that is where I learned my trade or rather it was my “finishing school” (sorry for the pun!).
Our ex Nokia comms evening out in Helsinki last Monday
I slept beautifully under a thick white duvet at the Radisson falling asleep whilst listening to the BBC World News and woke up early as always. I had plenty of time before I had to join my colleagues from our European Communications team at the Scandic Park Hotel on Tuesday morning at 12, so I had a leisurely breakfast, dealt with some emails and then decided to have a sauna at the hotel. I had it to myself and thus avoided the embarrassment of being naked with unknown women! At 11.45 I was at the Scandic and happy to meet my Finnish boss Tatu, his local team and our colleagues Peter and Madeleine from the head office in Stockholm as well as Metti from Denmark, my new colleague Henning from Norway, Antanas and Audrone from Lithuania, Elina from Latvia and Kaja from Estonia.  We were to present our best practices and I at least had fun presenting mine.  Here is a photo of the team.
Our team meeting on Tuesday afternoon
After work, at a civilized 5pm we went off in an old tram which doubled up as a bar, to see the sights of the city.  You see trams everywhere in Helsinki; they are part of the heritage of the town and this one was obviously quite antique.  We loved it.
Our tram bar tour of Helsinki 
The trip ended at Market Square where we got off to go and have dinner at Sasso, a restaurant I used to know under another name.  Dinner was great as it always is with my colleagues from the Nordics and Baltics.  I sat between Henning from Norway who is married to a Peruvian woman and who has a flat in Torrevieja (small world) and Timo from Finland who is something of a football fan and we always end up talking about the Champions League.

On Wednesday morning there was no time for a sauna as I had to pack and check out of the hotel and be at our meeting place by 9.  It was to be held at Sonera’s main offices this time.  Sonera which is part of the group of operators Yoigo belongs to, TeliaSonera, is Finland’s number one mobile operator.  The offices are lovely, very Finnish with lots of wood and glass and done in pure Nordic style.  Our meeting was on the top floor in the board room right next to the main sauna.  Unfortunately I could only take photos of it.
The team at Sonera on Wednesday morning
Above is another photo of the team under the Sonera logo in the lobby of the building.  We finished our meeting at about midday.  But my journey to Finland was not quite over.  I had arranged to meet another Finnish friend, Anne-Marjut who came to pick me up and have lunch nearby after which she would drive me to the hotel.  I met Anne-Marjut when she was in charge of selling Nokia merchandising worldwide. After that she left to work for American Express and today is the CEO of Travellink Finland, the Nordic branch of eDreams.
With Anne-Marjut just before I left Finland
We had lots to tell each other and our meeting was short but sweet.  Hopefully her travels will bring her to Madrid soon.  Meanwhile, she helped me check in and this time I did away with the wheel chair assistance as I wanted some freedom to shop at the airport.  Also I didn’t want to be last on and last off the plane and sit together with a group of other people in wheel chairs.  I managed with my crutch and pc and handbag with a small airport trolley which I pushed along with my left hand.  My main shopping was for food at Stockman. Here I stocked up on salmon, brown bread, karelian pies and Fazer chocolates.  Meanwhile I whatsapped Olivia to tell her to make boiled eggs for me to make the egg and butter spread and told her I was bringing Finnish food for dinner.  At a bar next to Stockman I bought two prawn salads and later added the salmon salad I had ordered on the plane but didn’t eat and this is what our dinner looked like later that night.
Our Finnish dinner at home on Wednesday night when I got back
The Finnair flight home was smooth and I spent most of it reading.  But I had another Nokia Connecting people and reuniting colleagues moment when I saw an ex Nokia Spain colleague come on board.  Alessandra who now works for Microsoft had been to Finland for a course.  She told me she had been at what was Nokia House, now called Microsoft, and that it was completely empty.  So different from the memories of my visits there I must say.

It was great to be home and to be greeted by mild temperatures.  I realized that whilst I had been away spring had made an appearance with lots of blossom on the trees.  This is a photo of some of our miniature plum trees with blossom in the garden.  Aren’t they lovely?
There was blossom in our garden when I got home from Finland.
It was lovely to see everybody, Eladio, my Father, Olivia and of course the dogs but I have to admit I was most pleased to see little Pippa. However in the 5 days I had been away she had changed her person of reference from me to Eladio.  I am now a little jealous when in bed at night she creeps out of my arms and snuggles up to him.  She is just adorable.

On Thursday I was up early and after feeding the dogs and having breakfast I decided to install myself in our study again for the first time since my accident.  That morning Eladio took me to Madrid to resume my rehabilitation sessions.  When we came home it was to the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread.  Gema, our home help, had made a batch to last us the rest of the week.
Gema's homemade bread
In the afternoon, I decided it was time for both Pippa’s and my first walk.  The doctor at the rehab sessions said I could walk but not to overdo it. Here is a photo of me and my crutch and little Pippa on her tiny lead.
Pippa's and my first walk this week
It took her a while to understand how to walk with us but as soon as followed Eladio and the other dogs she was fine, only stopping when a car came past or a dog barked.  I had to go slowly and before getting to the top of the hill before you cross the road to the fields, my ankle suddenly protested with a sharp pain.  So I sat on a bench to rest and then we all walked home slowly.  Since then I haven’t been on another walk but have walked quite a lot shopping and going out on errands.  When I finish this post I may well try again to see if I can get just a bit further.

It wasn’t Pippa’s only first that day as she also had her first bath, in our bidet.  I filled it with warm water and I think she loved it.  She is such a little darling.

Friday was of course Friday 13th except that in Spain it is not their day of bad luck.  In Spain it is Tuesday 12th when you are not supposed to go on a trip or get married. Well we didn’t do either of those.  I did go to rehabilitation though.  In the afternoon I went to have my nails redone – I have them done semi permanently once a month and they have become so much stronger since.  Eladio and I did the weekly shopping later and came home with a huge load as usual and commenting as we always do, how is it possible we eat so much. Well it is I suppose because there are 5 or 6 of us at home, 3 dogs and one cat!

Being Friday night we went out to dinner and Olivia joined us.  Once again we went to Zurito in Pozuelo.  Oli was on great form as she was officially on holiday until a week next Monday and looking forward to her holiday in Cuba with Miguel, her first proper holiday since 2013.  She well deserves it.  Here, by the way, is a lovely photo I took of her with her Father entitled Father and Daughter.  See where she gets her looks from?
Father and daughter on Friday night at dinner in Pozuelo
And yesterday Saturday was a busy and enjoyable day.  I got Eladio to bathe Norah and Elsa after which we went into town to buy a new blanket for the dogs.  I insisted on taking Pippa with us in her new cocoon or blanket bag. I would be carrying her in my arms and it was to be her debut in society.  She behaved very well, snuggling up in my arms and looking out over the blanket at so many new things for her.  When people came up to look at her and stroke her, I felt like a proud Mother who is taking her baby out for the first time.  This is what she looked like.

We bought a great big blanket for the two big dogs to share in the kennel at night as well as a small bed for Pippa as she is always grabbing Norah and Elsa’s beds in the kitchen.  When she does that, they obviously smell her on their beds and refuse to lie down in them.  So there you have Pippa now hopping into all three.  It’s a battle I won’t win. 
A great pic of our three dogs
Pippa had visitors in the afternoon, some of Olivia’s friends from the “manada” came to see her; Rocío, Elena, Ana and her boyfriend, Carolina and Dave.  Next week Rocío, Elena, Antuan and Carolina will be going to London to visit Elena’s sister, Chati and Suzy next week and we gave them some things to take to her.

Later Pippa had another visitor, my friend Fátima.  She was coming to pick me up to go out.  We had a date in town, in Malasaña, where we had been invited to Jill’s 50th birthday.  Jill is another ex Nokia friend and colleague.  Also there would be Zenaida, Tapani and Susana.  It took a while to get there, we got a bit lost, parked too far and had to walk along time until we found the bar.  It was one of those nice, happy type of parties and even though we didn’t all know each other, a good time was had by all.  Here is a photo of my ex Nokia colleagues with Jill and myself.  It’s a bit blurred but the only one I have.  Jill is drop dead gorgeous looking and looks more like 40 than 50.  But then again I think 50 is the new 40 and so on for all decades.  Women today look much younger than our mothers’ generation.
With some of my ex Nokia Spain colleagues at Jill's 50th birthday party last night
I was in bed really late for me but was still awake at 7.30 this morning, my latest biological clock being fixed to that time.  It’s funny how it establishes a pattern and then that pattern changes after a certain amount of time.  Or does that only happen to me?

Olivia left with Eladio at about 11.30 and the house seemed empty afterwards.  We shall have a quiet week without her and I will miss her.  Next Thursday is a holiday in Spain (Father’s day) and we had plans to make a long weekend of it and go to Santa Pola. However, the weather forecast is for rain all of next week so I’m not sure now if we will be going or not. 

Meanwhile my friends, I wish you all a great week ahead.  See you next week,


No comments: