Sunday, June 14, 2015

Oli in Valencia, Suzy barbecuing in London, greengages in our garden, meetings and more meetings, David and Goliath, Iker Casillas Real Madrid legend to leave the club, a site inspection trip to Huelva to visit Doñana and El Rocío, the King of Spain strips his sister Cristina of Duchess of Palma title, Manuela Carmena communist ex judge new mayor of Madrid, Oli and Suzy in Barcelona and other stories.

Saturday and Sunday 13th and 14th June 2015

Walking up the steps from the beach to the Parador in Mazagón
Hi everyone,

This week I am writing my blog from the Ave high speed train which left Seville a short while ago.  It should be pulling into Madrid Atocha station at 20.15 and thus I have 2.5h on my hands, the perfect time to write this post. 

Spain has changed into another country since I first started coming here by train in the late 70’s often by inter rail.  There were no high speed trains then, although the Talgo did exist.  The stations were smelly, hot, dirty and full of flies and the shops and food on sale not at all attractive.  These were my thoughts as I waited at Seville’s smart Santa Justa station whilst waiting for this train.  In fact the shops are so nice I had a little look around and came across these dresses at a boutique called Ale Hop. 
Pretty summer dresses at a boutique at Santa Justa train station in Seville
I wonder which one you would have chosen.  I chose the pink one.  It’s supposed to be for the beach but it will be perfect for everyday use too if I wear a petticoat underneath.

But let me start from the beginning, where I left off last Sunday.  Whilst Eladio and I were returning from a wonderful long weekend in Montrondo, Oli was in Valencia with Miguel.  They had a great weekend too and most of it was spent on the beach.  On one of the nights they even had dinner on the Patacona Beach not far from the centre.  Here is a photo of them enjoying the dinner with friends of Miguel. 
Oli and Miguel living it up in Valencia last weekend
Meanwhile in London, it was a sunny day.  Suzy and her friends had a barbecue together so finally I have a photo of my older daughter to include in this blog – they are scarce.  She looks so happy in the photo with her friends, including Chati, the Spanish nurse who was her partner in crime leaving Spain for their London adventure two years ago.
Suzy enjoying the sun with her friends in London last weekend
Monday was a difficult day.  I fasted of course which in the end would give me an almighty headache that night.  I had two meetings in Madrid in the morning after which I met up with Miguel and Gloria from my events agency.  We were sight inspecting Madrid roof terraces for a big summer staff party at the end of June.  It was so hot on the top of them that I felt like fainting especially because I hadn’t had anything to eat.  Not a god idea.  I had another meeting as soon as I got home too so was not able to get a moment’s rest in the day.

Olivia and Miguel were back in the evening and we had dinner together.  We then decided to ring Suzy.  I have to admit we hadn’t spoken on the phone since she left on 24th May. It turned out to be a good thing.  Knowing both girls were going to Barcelona this next weekend that was the first thing I said to Suzy.  She replied, that I was wrong, that it was next month. That’s when the fun began.  Oli’s idea was for them to go in June and Suzy understood July.  Thankfully the next day, for an extra 100 pounds, Suzy was able to change the ticket.  It was a lesson for her I’m sure as it was for me too.  It’s easy to make a mistake and buy a ticket for a wrong date.

I woke up on Tuesday after a dreadful headache which had kept me awake most of the night.  Thankfully it went away after breakfast.  We have been observing the fruit growing on our greengage tree outside the kitchen.  The tree is getting heavier and heavier and it looked as if it some of the outer branches would break.  To remedy that Eladio has tied many of them up but even so it looks dangerously heavy.  This was the photo I took on Tuesday morning. The fruit won’t be ripe until the end of July and I suppose that the birds will eat more than half as usual. I love greengages.  When I was small we had a couple of trees in our garden in Ruskington.  In Spanish they are called “claudia reina” which really means the queen of plums which for me they are.  The French call them that too.  For the moment we will have to wait a month or so until we can eat them.  Last year the tree produced more than 30 kilos of fruit most of which we took to Montrondo to give out to Eladio’s family.
Our greengage tree heaving with fruit
Tuesday was better than Monday.  I only had one meeting that morning.  For the record, I am not a meeting fan nor a conference call person.  I far prefer to contact people via email, phone call or whatsapp but sometimes meetings cannot be avoided.  I arrange as few as possible.  Frankly experience has taught me that probably 75% of meetings and conference calls are a waste of time as most of the tasks at hand could be done by more efficient means; i.e. phone calls, email or whatsapp.

On Tuesday afternoon I fell asleep after lunch watching the midday news with Eladio.  Normally I never take a siesta but these days I seem to be waking up at 6.30 in the morning and am in need of more sleep.  That at least was my conclusion when I woke up two hours later feeling completely disoriented.

Wednesday was my busiest day of the week.  It was also my dearest friend Sandra’s birthday.  I consider her my soulmate, my surrogate sister and wish I could have been with her.  No doubt her partner Jeffer will have made sure she had a great day. Happy birthday darling.

I was very happy with the press clippings that day.  Some media had leaked the regulator (CNMC) portablity data for May.  The good news was that Yoigo had of course gained new customers.  On the flip side, all the other mobile network operators had lost customers.  Sometimes it feels like being David (Yoigo) against Goliath (Telefónica, Vodafone and Orange) but here is the picture to prove that this particular battle was won by Yoigo. It makes me very proud of our efforts.
Portability numbers for May.  Yoigo (purple) is the only operator to gain customers.  Blue (Telefonica). Red (Vodafone) and Orange lose them.

I was travelling to Seville that afternoon with Bea and Cris, the two sisters who own our events agency, QuintaEsencia, but before I was to catch the 17h train I had to fit in countless tasks.  I had an early meeting in the office for which I had to get up at 06.30.  Then I had an important meeting in Madrid with our PR agency Ketchum.  It dragged on for too long which meant that my colleague and I were one hour late for our 12.30 meeting in Yoigo.  I didn’t leave the office until 14.45 and hadn’t had any lunch.  I had to go home first to pick up my luggage then drive into Madrid to catch the train.  I was worried about the traffic but was lucky that I made it home in just under an hour.  I had to leave more or less as soon as I had arrived, managing to shove a couple of spoons of rice and fish in my mouth before leaving.  Then OMG I realized I was running out of petrol on the way to the Atocha train station.  I really thought I wouldn’t make it on time but luck was on my side and I did; albeit by the skin of my teeth.

It was on the train when I could finally calm down and relax that I read with surprise a report by TVE that Iker Casillas, the Real Madrid goalkeeper, was to leave the club of his life.  He has been under a question mark for some time now and I suppose this move is one of the results of having lost the Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League to eternal rivals Barcelona.  For me, and most of Real Madrid fans, not to mention the Spanish squad, he is a legend.  I remember meeting him when I did an event for Nokia when we launched a FIFA (yeah that organization which is riddled with corruption and scandal) game for the ghastly games phone we had called the NGage.  Iker Casillas was our star persona at the event.  He was very young and shy at the time but already the club’s goalie.  He went on to become the team captain and a very respected one at that.  I for one am extremely sorry to see him leave.
It's sad to see Iker Casillas go
Thanks to my new 4G Alcatel PC modem I caught up with lots of work on the train journey out.  We arrived in Seville where it was much cooler than we had expected.  Normally at this time of year Andalusia is a boiling pot.  We were to be staying at the Parador in Mazagón, a 1.5h drive in the province of Huelva.  It is located on a cliff looking over a stretch of unspoiled beach which is supposedly the longest of its kind in Spain – more than 30km.
An aerial view of the Parador de Mazagón
Being on top of a cliff and overlooking the sea, the temperature was much cooler than in Seville and I regretted not having brought more than a cardigan to cover my shoulders in the evenings. 
The buildings of the Parador itself are nothing special it is the grounds and location that make it so special.
Over dinner at the Parador Bea, Cris and I discussed our plans for the next two or three days.  We were on what you call a “site inspection trip” in events jargon.  Really we had come out to inspect the terrain and places for a big three day event at the beginning of October for our staff and partners.  We have decided to take them on a short pilgrimage to El Rocío (a pilgrimage as famous in Spain as “El Camino” but more intense and far shorter which brings together more than a million pilgrims on the 2nd day of Pentecost) and to visit Doñana, the Spanish nature reserve which is the biggest of its kind in Europe. 

The area of Huelva is famous for strawberry growing.  It has the biggest produce in Europe or even the world.  The strawberries are finishing now and surprisingly for me, the fruit pickers will now be picking the next crop of fruit; raspberries, bilberries and blackberries.  We heard from Paco one of our guides that most of the fruit pickers are Romanian and Moroccan and in the past Polish or from the Ukraine and that women from these countries have integrated well into the society.  There are many mixed marriages and some of these beautiful, blonde young women caused local men to divorce.  Things seem to have settled down now.
A Rumanian or Ukranian strawberry picker in Huelva
These berries, together with big black cherries are my favourite fruit but the first three are not as popular in Spain as they are in other countries.  I suspect that until recently most of them were exported.  However these berries are creeping into the Spanish diet and the fruit growers of Huelva will now be growing more.  Fish is very popular here too as in any coastal part of Spain.  For dinner on our first night we had this dish which comes from Huelva.  They call it “prawn omelets” but they looked more like fritters to me.  Call them what you may, they are delicious.
prawn and asparagus fritters - delicious
The next morning my biological clock woke me up at 06.30. Too early for breakfast I made a cup of decaf in my room – that was all there was – and decided to walk down to the beach for my morning walk.  You have to think about walking down and up the steps as they are steep and there are many of them.  Made of wood there are 150 up and 150 down of course. The photo illustrating this week’s post is of me at the top of the steps after walking all the way up. To get an idea, this is a picture of just half of the steps as seen from the beach below.
The rather daunting steps from the beach up to the Parador which I climbed many times during my stay
I just have to share a photo of the beach I walked along that morning as I did every morning until I left today.  It’s a marvel to walk along a beach with no buildings, just cliffs and that seems never ending. The sea here is the Atlantic, not far from where the Guadalquivir River flows into it.  I had expected it to be very cold but it wasn’t. 
The beach in the morning.  I had it all to myself
We had an early start that morning and left for Doñana Visitor Centre at 08.30 where our guide Jerónimo was waiting for us with one of the park’s green jeeps. The Doñana National Park is a natural reserve in Andalusia spanning the provinces of Huelva and Seville.  It spreads some 543km2 of which nearly half are a protected area.  You can only visit a small part of this area which is made up mostly of marshland and sand dunes – Las Marismas where the Guadalquivir river flows into the Atlantic Sea.
By the marshland in Doñana on Thursday
Apart from being a stopping point and breeding area for birds migrating from Africa, one of Doñana’s missions is to protect endangered species such as the Iberian Imperial Eagle – we saw one! – and the lynx.  There are some 20 to 30 of these wild cats but they are difficult to see.  The lynx is the queen of Doñana, like the lion is the king of the jungle.  Unfortunately we didn’t see one.
By our jeep in Doñana
The biodiversity at Doñana is unique in the world or so we heard.  The most exciting part for me was the beginning which starts with the dune area near Matalascañas.
A stop in the dunes. Cris and Bea forever on their phones
This area, as with the rest of Doñana, cannot be entered without a visitor’s permit and unless you are on an official visit, no cars or motorbikes can enter.  The beach can be walked on by anyone and also reached by bicycle. Some fishermen live on the beach as their huts belonged to them before Doñana became a Nature Park.  We were lucky to see them bringing in their catch of the day.

fishermen on the beach at Doñana
The catch of the day at Doñana
We were lucky on our tour to see wild boar, unusual cows, reindeers, fauns and their offspring, as well as learn about the flora, the names of birds in English and Spanish and to hear that English ornithologists got very excited when then see a red billed seagull for example.  People come from all over the world to see the extraordinary flora and fauna of Doñana.  It really is a magical place. 

The visit was interrupted on the Castilla Beach – now called Doñana beach when we were to cross the Guadalquivir river to the pretty town of Sanlucar de Barrameda which is actually in Cádiz.  It is famous for its horse racing on the beach.

With our guide Jerónimo on the beach about to cross to Sanlucar de Barrameda.
We crossed on our own on a ferry which was just for us. There are some 4 or 5 and it costs 8 euros each way which I think is a robbery for such a short ride – not much more than a minute or so.  I wonder why they don’t build a bridge.
On the boat crossing the River Guadalquivir to Sanlucar de Barrameda
Once in Sanlucar, we went on a horse and carriage ride around the town.  It turned out to be not as pretty as we thought and the drive too long.  Our driver, a young teenager, and his mother who I think were gypsies disappointed me because they did not give us a guided tour, so we spent an hour driving around a town without knowing what we were seeing on the way.  We had lunch at one of the possible locations for our event, El Bigote, one of the best in town we were told.  We took the boat again after lunch where Jerónimo was waiting for us. The tide was down and he was to drive us along the sea all the way to Matalascañas, some 30km.  It was a terrific ride.  What I didn’t like was seeing a dead whale, a dead turtle and a wounded alcatraz on the way. Thankfully Jerónimo warned one of the guards as we exited Doñana and I hope someone went out to help the bird which had got caught in a fish hook.

Once back at the hotel I was able to catch up on my work.  It was that evening that I got a phone call from a Spanish journalist, Antonio. He was going to write an article about Yoigo and wanted my comments. I could hardly believe what I was hearing when he said he had heard from reliable sources that our Mother company was in talks with Virgin to sell Yoigo. I told him I couldn’t comment and immediately alerted both my boss and the group head of communications.  The next day out came the article and I of course got lots of phone calls from journalists hoping we would confirm or deny the news. I’m a bit fed up with living with these sorts of rumours which started practically from the day the company started business in Spain, now nearly 9 years ago.

On Friday it was time to visit El Rocío, a beautiful white village located in the middle of Doñana. As I was being introduced to Manuel, Miguel and Fátima, our guides, I could hardly appreciate the beauty of the place as I was answering calls from the press about the “possible sale of Yoigo to Virgin”.  It was most frustrating. Still I managed to get a photo of the Church of the Virgin of the Rocío, an object of devotion by all “rocieros” and of course the pilgrimage itself.
The beautiful church in the village of El Rocío
Soon we were in another jeep, this time to explore the possible route we would use for our own “Rocío” pilgrimage in October.  The pilgrimage is part devotion, part good time.  The people travel on foot, on horseback, on horse driven tractors and carriages.  Every now and again they stop for a rest, to eat, drink and dance – called “rengue” in this part of Spain. Some may pray but many go along for the fun and dance.  We were in for a surprise when the jeep stopped and we saw a horse and carriage.  It was for us and we were delighted.
Our horse and carriage on the Rocío path
We were to travel on it for a while and then stop for a “rengue”. Indeed we did stop and it was all prepared for us; a guitar player and two women dancing flamenco.  There was also a table with the local wine “manzanilla” accompanied by ham and chorizo. Wow it was great and we shall do just the same for our party of people in October.

The "rengue" that awaited us after our horse and carriage drive
Our last “rengue” was at a typical Andalusian “finca” or estate.  Here I was in my element stroking all the dogs and seeing horses and bulls.  The thatched roof house in the centre was beautiful.  But most beautiful of all was meeting this adorable Labrador puppy.
I fell in love with this little chap on an estate near El Rocío
I fell in love with it immediately.  When I posted the photo on Facebook I got many comments from people thinking it was a new member of our family.  It wasn’t of course as it has an owner, the owner of the “finca”. 

Once back in the village “la aldea de El Rocío”, we inspected houses for accommodation. We had to see quite a few as we will be some 250 people.  The houses belong to the “hermandades” or brotherhoods of the different towns that do the real Rocío each year.  They are all similar, with shared rooms and it’s going to be a challenge to organize the accommodation.

Friday afternoon was mine for the taking.  I had decided to stay until today.  So I was able to relax a bit and enjoy the hotel and beach.  It was not very warm but even so I went on a long walk on the beach. 

It was yesterday afternoon that I heard that the King of Spain had stripped his sister Cristina of her Duchess of Palma title.  It was quite an astonishing move to take and was interpreted by most as a punishment for her and her husband the ex-Duke of Palma, Iñaki Urdangarín for their involvement in corruption and money laundering activities for which they are both on trial.  Cristina who turns 50 this weekend and who now lives in Geneva, shunned by society, will still be a Princess or Infanta as they are called here but she no longer forms part of the official Royal Family. Meanwhile, her Mother, the Queen Mother Doña Sofia, has gone to visit her in Geneva to celebrate her birthday.  The King’s sister must be feeling embarrassed, humiliated and above all repentant of her involvement in the events that lead to this most astonishing move by her own brother. There is not much loss of love between myself and the Spanish Royal family nor with any Royal Family really. I believe the institution is archaic for our times. 
The King with his now estranged sister Cristina 
Coincidentally that very same afternoon, there was an announcement from the Madrid Town Hall where we learned that Manuela Carmena, the political icon of anti- corruption, had reached an agreement with the PSOE socialist party to become the next mayor of Madrid.  The 71 year old new mayor who is backed by Podemos, was a labour rights activist during Franco’s times and is a leftwing former judge.  It was a historic day for politics in Madrid as this agreement put an end to 24 years of conservative rule (PP) in the capital. Her first moves are to make sure poor families get enough food to live, reduce house evictions, create employment for the youth and clean up the city.  I am interested to see how she carries out her manifesto and wish her lots of luck.
The new mayor of Madrid Manuela Carmena, set to change many things
As I was having dinner that night my “girlies”, Olivia and Suzy were on their way to Barcelona.  They were going to stay with Laura, their great friend from their girl guide days (scouts here – no division between the sexes).  They were keen to spend time with her before she gives birth to her firstborn baby next month.  The next day, Saturday morning, I got a lovely photo of the girls together in Barcelona. They had similar weather to me in Huelva – 20c, not much more – which is unusual for this time of year in Spain.  There have been terrific storms all week and even flooding in Madrid. I suppose the fault lies with global warming. Who knows?
The girls with Laura in Barcelona this weekend.
I got more photos during the day and this is probably my favourite.  Laura sent it to me and it is of “my little girlies” walking together along the streets of Barcelona hand in hand with their backs to the camera.  Isn’t it sweet? I wish I could be with them.
My little girls walking together hand in hand this weekend in Barcelona

Saturday morning was my last in Huelva. As usual I got up early and went for a walk on the wonderful and nearly deserted beach.  Here is the photo to prove it.
On my early morning walk on the beach yesterday 
I wasn’t leaving until midday.  It was during breakfast that a small PR crisis erupted.  I was sent a link to an article on a news site where Yoigo was accused of a breach in security with its voicemail service.  According to the article the breach comes from using the factory set pin code and not changing it.  That was rather a stupid explanation as the same happens with all sorts of services and it is up to the user to change the password.  The worst part of the article was a totally false explanation that because of this breach, hackers could access people’s whatsapp.  I was furious to see our name damaged in this article.  Only our company was mentioned when all operators in Spain use the same practice.  It took me all morning to sort the whole thing out, getting the correct information from our head of customer care, making a statement, etc.  Finally the owners of the portal who I know very well, edited the article to make it more general, removed our name from it and thankfully did the same with the story about hacking whatsapp. 

Instead of dealing with this PR crisis, I would have loved to enjoy my last morning at the Parador by the sea which had been my objective for staying an extra night but that was not to be.

Now it is Sunday and I am writing from home.  There is no place like home and it was great to come back last night. Pippa was the first to greet me.  She had missed me whilst I was away as had Norah.  How do I know? Well, they wouldn’t eat. Thankfully this morning, things are back to normal and both of them ate their breakfast whilst I enjoyed mine in the kitchen; orange juice, kiwi, 2 crumpets and a cup of coffee.  There is nothing like breakfast at home.

And so my friends, I have reached the end of the story of my week which as you can see has been very busy but also quite exciting.  Next week will be busy too and I look  forward to the visit of Peter who heads up group communications with our mother company, the Swedish Finnish operator TeliaSonera.  He has visited all the group’s operations and Yoigo is the last on his route.  I hope we will not be the least and that he gets a good impression from his visit.

Cheers all till next week

All the best Masha

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