Monday, May 15, 2017

A new President for France, Yoigo's last summer party, Suzy home for a wedding, off to Hong Kong and other stories.

Hong Kong Monday 15th May 2017
It's more than amazing to be in Hong Kong
Hi everyone,

Well what a busy week it has been. The amazing thing this week is that I am publishing this post from Hong Kong. What an exotic destination it is, but more about it later as, as always, I have to start from where I left off; last Sunday. 

7th May was Mothers' Day in Spain; not that we have ever really celebrated it. I just wasn't brought up by my own Russian mother to do so in England or anywhere. It seems to get bigger every year and I did get nice messages from both girls. 

Sunday was the day our Colombian Airbnb guests, Paola, her husband Juan and other members of their family, left us to continue on their Spanish and European journey. I look forward to seeing them on television on Monday 22nd May in Oli's now "old" programme, "Mi Cámara y Yo". That will be such a lark. 

Goodbye Paola and Juan, our lovely Colombian Airbnb guests
It was a beautiful sunny day and Eladio and I went for a walk with all three dogs. Here I am holding little Pippa surrounded by fields covered in wild flowers. 

Eladio mowed the lawn that morning. You can spot him in the distance in this photo I took last Sunday.
Our garden - Eladio mowed it last Sunday
But the most important thing about last Sunday was the result of the second round of Presidential elections in France. Of course we all know by now that Emmanuel Macron, the ex socialist minister and now leader of his own party, beat Marine Le Pen, the ultra right wing candidate. Thank goodness for that was the general feeling. He will be youngest French president ever and his wife, Brigitte, possibly the oldest First Lady. I love their story by the way and the example they set of a younger man married to an older woman, his ex school teacher. 
A new President and First Lady for France
All I can say is Vive la France and Vive la Démocratie as well as Long Live the European Union. For the moment it is saved, thanks to Macron.  

Monday was busy. I had to get ready for our new Airbnb guests. Sira, her husband Vicente, daughter Paula, sister Raquel and her one year old baby were arriving that afternoon. They were coming from Victoria and were not to be tourists. Sadly they were taking their one year old baby to be operated on at the nearby hospital to have her adenoids removed and tonsils operated on. I tried to make their rooms as welcoming as possible, putting flowers and fruit in for them. 

No sooner had they arrived, then I was off, dressed up to the nines. I was going to a very special party. The ex CEO and my late boss at Yoigo, Eduardo T. who was also made redundant like most of the management team, was hosting a goodbye party for all the Yoigo staff and many of our partners. In a way he created the last Yoigo summer party. This hit a nostalgic chord with us all but especially for me as it was I who created a fantastic summer party for the staff every year. Of course, since Másmovil bought "us", they scrapped this lovely tradition as well as many others. I dressed in pink for the occasion wearing a lovely imitation Custo t-shirt I had bought in Shanghai on a Nokia press trip there in 2004. I had never been able to wear it as it was far too small. Well, not now it isn't. Eladio loved my outfit and just as I was leaving he took photos of me. Isn't that romantic?

Dressed in pink for what would be the last Yoigo summer party
Eduardo had recreated a Yoigo summer party at his own amazing house in La Moraleja, one of Madrid's most exclusive area. QuintaEsencia, our or my events agency had helped plan it. Just everyone was there and it felt like being at one of our summer parties but it was of course the last one. It was so nostalgic but wonderful to be together again on Eduardo's lawn. I shall not forget that incredible Yoigo reunion which was themed in Spanish "aquellos marivollosos años" (those wonderful years) and wonderful years they were. It's such a pity they are now in the past. The reunion made us all realise that as a group of people, we were much more than just a company, we were a team of very special people who did a very special thing together; create from scratch a brand new mobile phone operator, the coolest in the market. 
Yoigo's "last" summer party. Thanks Eduardo. 
Monday was a new start for Olivia who has just joined Telemadrid's "Madrileños por el Mundo". That night, while I was at the party, her very last programme was being broadcast. It was all about the different markets, flea markets and car boot sales that exist in Madrid and which you can see here
A still photo of Oli during the last programme she made for Mi Cámara y Yo which was broadcast last Monday
She will be travelling one week every month with the new programme. My Father was tickled pink to hear that her first destination will be Norway. Tomorrow, Tuesday, she will be travelling to Stavanger and Bergen and visiting the beautiful Fjords. Her trip will also coincide with the National Day of Norway which my Father knew is on 17th May. You see he was there in WW2, lived there after the War and studied Norwegian as part of his German and Scandinavian languages degree at Cambridge University and of course, loves Norway. 

On Tuesday I worked hard on the PR part of the Hong Kong project for my customer, Genaker, the Nokia Spain R+D spin-off, founded by my ex-colleague Miquel T. That's the reason I am in Hong Kong, to help them with their participation in the biggest exhibition of their sector (professional mobile communications aka walkie-talkies) here this week called Critical Communications World.

I took a break, as I usually do, at around midday and joined Eladio for a cup of coffee and some fruit. We had it on the patio outside our study where my husband had recently installed some of the porch furniture which we used to have at 6 Heaton Grove where my parents lived in Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Fruit and coffee time with Eladio and Pippa on Tuesday morning at home
That day I had a lunch engagement with two ex Yoigo colleagues, Maria and Sonia who had also been made redundant. However they were given worse leaving conditions than I was which is totally unfair. In a way I was lucky as the members of the management team and a couple of others were paid what was our due. That is not what is happening to the other staff being made redundant now and makes me ashamed of the company that bought Yoigo. In any case, we had a great lunch at La Txitxarrería in Pozuelo talking mostly about the past. I also got lots of snippets of the latest gossip. Thanks girls and I look forward to seeing you again soon.
With my ex Yoigo colleagues at lunch last Tuesday
That night Real Madrid lost (1-2) to Atlético de Madrid, city rivals, in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final. However, on aggregate, they got through to the final where they will meet Juventus in Cardiff on Saturday 3rd June. For Real Madrid it will be their 15th final and if they win, their 12th European Cup title. They are the team with most trophies in this competition. However, Juventus will surely be the "hungrier" team. I remember being in Amsterdam at the Ajax Arena when Madrid beat Juventus in what I think was their 7th Cup. May the best team win is all I can say although of course I shall be backing "los blancos". I have to add though that I felt sorry for Atlético on Tuesday as they have gone far many times in the Champions League only to be beaten by their "bête noire" Real Madrid. Annoyingly we couldn't watch it on TV as these days most important football matches can only be seen on pay per view TV:-( 

On Wednesday I was up early as usual. I had lots of errands to do that morning. On one of them in Majadahonda, I bought some very fashionable silver shoes at H+M at the Centro Oeste shopping centre.

My new silver shoes
In the afternoon I was to hold my last mentoring session with Lola who is head of corporate marketing and communications at an American health equipment multinational. I do hope she has found the sessions useful. I have certainly enjoyed passing on my experience to her.  

Thursday came and at about 2.30 pm Suzy would be arriving for a long weekend. She was coming for Tere's wedding, a member of their group of friends they call "La Manada". It was to be a two day affair, from Friday evening to Sunday morning. She had Thursday afternoon and Friday morning free and we would be going to León for her to pay her respects to her Aunt Pili after her husband passed away very recently. Suzy was gutted not to be able to attend the funeral and was determined to visit her Aunt as soon as she could. 

I was up early with lots of things to do before she came. There was time for a rainy walk wtih Eladio and the dogs. I then came home for some last minute work on the Hong Kong project. I also checked in online and importantly got aisle seats for the long flights. I also bought tickets to Paris for a wedding and cousin reunion I will be attending in August. That's going to be great. I really am a long term planner hahaha. Before I left for the airport, I said goodbye to our lovely Airbnb guests. Thankfully their baby's operation was a success. 

I set off to the airport in pouring rain. Suzy's flight was late and we didn't leave the airport until past 3.30. I had prepared sandwiches for us both which we ate on the way. It was super to be with Suzy again. She drove my Mini and enjoyed it. We went rather fast and got to León at 18.40 or so and I hope there will not be any speeding fines coming soon. Pili was on the street outside her house to meet us and we, the 3 of us, hugged so much it hurt. It was a strange sensation to be in her house without my brother-in-law. Soon other members of the family came and later we went for a walk to take Trebol the dalmation around the block.

Suzy in León on Thursday

My sister-in-law had prepared an excellent dinner of tortilla and potato salad with lots of side dishes. We ate until we were full, then spent quality family time together until it was time to go to bed.

On Friday morning I was up at 6 and was soon joined by Pili for a cup of coffee before she had to leave for work at 7.15. After breakfast, Suzy and I left for Madrid, once more in the pouring rain, at about 9.30. We stopped for a coffee at Rueda on the way but not for wine or ham. I had a splitting headache. 

Meanwhile back in Madrid, Eladio had taken Norah our beagle to the vet as she seemed so sad lately and had been throwing up a lot. Unfortunately the diagnosis was leishmaniasis, a rather dreaded and incurable virus that occurs in dogs. Poor Norah. Thankfully it is not life threatening. We are now waiting to see what type it is so that the vets can decide on the treatment. 

We were home on time for lunch and for Suzy to see her Father and Grandfather. I was so tired. The trip to León and back had made its mark on me and my head still throbbed. Even so I had to do the food shopping to leave the family with enough provisions during my absence in Hong Kong. 

Eladio drove me to the airport at around 8 for me to catch the first of two flights to Hong Kong. The first was to Dubai, leaving at 22.05h. On our way I suddenly got an instant booking on Airbnb. 1.5 hours later a young couple from South Korea were coming to spend the night. The next day too a family from Manchester were coming. So I was to leave all the hosting in the hands of Eladio and Lucy. 

The flights to Hong Kong were with Emirates, a great airline I was told and it wasn't bad. I took plenty of healthier food with me; fruit and yoghurt, as I don't like the starchy food served on airplanes. I was lucky that the middle seat was unoccupied as it would be too on the flight from Dubai to HK. Both flights were to last just over 7 hours. On the first leg of the flight I watched Sandeep's "Spectacular Spain" series which has recently been broadcast in the UK and I love it. It is very respectful of the country and shows the British public there is more to Spain than Benidorm!

Watching Spectacular Spain on the Emirates flight
The multimedia "ICE" screen on Emirates was great, similar to the one on Iberia when we flew to Havana in December. The series had me riveted until I fell asleep with the help of a glass of wine and two sleeping tablets.  It was to be the next day, Saturday, when I woke up again. 

There was  a 2 hour transit time in Dubai and here I was to meet up with Miquel who had flown from Barcelona. We had breakfast together at Paul, that delicious French patisserie that is quite abundant these days. 

Soon we had to check into our next flight, again with Emirates.

In Dubai with Miquel
If Dubai was 2 hours ahead of Madrid, Hong Kong would be another 5 hours ahead. We were to leave at 10.05 a.m. from Dubai and reach Hong Kong at 10.30 p.m,  nearly bed time, but of course the middle of the afternoon in Madrid for me. I don't know whether I suffered jet lag or not but I was rather muddled about the time of day and still am really. 

The Emirates plane to Hong Kong was far bigger than the one I travelled on to Dubai. It was two stories high and I had a glimpse of the entrance to First Class which looked like a luxury hotel with its wooden staircase. I don't know what Boeing it was but heard it's the biggest passenger plane in the world. It seemed enormous to me.  I tried not to sleep as it was supposedly day time and watched Good Will Hunting on and off as I dozed in between. We arrived on time at the gigantic and bewildering Hong Kong airport. We had to wait ages for our luggage and my over sized parcel containing the images for our booth walls at the exhibition. We were also carrying lots of bottle of Rioja wine for our Spanish food and wine corner on our booth. 

It was warm when we arrived, some 26º late at night and very very humid. 

Our first lesson in Hong Kong was that visa cards are not accepted in taxis, and in many other places too. We got into a very old red taxi with our huge suitcases on the way to the unknown and feeling shattered.

Getting into the taxi upon our arrival
Our destination was Kowleen, the modern part of Hong Kong and one of the islands. I was learning fast and wished I had had more time to read up more on our destination and what there is to see and do here.
Map of the Hong Kong Islands. We were staying at Koleen
The journey took about 45 minutes and cost 280 HK dollars which is about 33 or 34 euros, quite reasonable. Driving at night, what I saw of Hong Kong seemed like a crazy over populated concrete jungle. Someone had told me to expect a gigantic Asian type of New York and I think that is the best way to describe it. It's like being in a gigantic never ending Pound Land store where there is so much consumerism even I, a shopper lover, am put off by it.  We checked into the BP International Hotel which is actually the HQ of the Hong Kong Scout movement. The hotel is fine if you like modern high raise hotels which I don't. The room is comfortable but on the 15th floor and you can't open the windows. All I can see from my room as I write are sky scrapers and roofs with some mountains in the background. It seems also to be permanently cloudy, a bit like Delhi and I suspect that is because of the pollution. Over 7 million people live cramped together here and it is noisy and crowded and not everyone speaks English. I can hardly understand those who do and in shops where people don't, they thrust their mobile at you for you to write the word or words in English of a product you want and the mobile translates that into Chinese or Cantonese which is what they speak here. It's so funny. People are really kind and helpful and when you look lost they come up and try to help. 

I eventually fell asleep past midnight, although in Spain it was the equivalent of 4 in the afternoon. 

 As I was travelling and sleeping, the girls were at Tere's wedding in Rascafría near the mountains outside Madrid. I have yet to hear about it but I did see some photos. What I can't wait to see is the video of Suzy singing at the wedding; You've got a friend in me. 
The girls at the wedding with some of their friends in Rascafría this last weekend
I woke up on Sunday at about 8.45 local time, totally shattered and disorientated by this gigantic city spread around various islands. It is overwhelming, even for the seasoned traveler I consider myself to be. 

Breakfast was the usual international hotel stuff although with a leaning towards Chinese cuisine which I did not fancy in the morning. At breakfast I read the news and saw that Portugal had won the Eurovision song contest the night before and that, unsurprisingly Spain had come last hahaha.  

I had come for work and that's what we did yesterday morning. Miquel and I had lots of shopping to do, but not for stuff from here, but for our stand. We had to go to Ikea and supermarkets to buy all sorts of things. Miquel, who is a good navigator, led me to the metro where our first adventure began. We had to find out how it worked. We eventually bought an "Octupus" card, like the Oyster card in London. We took the tube at Jordan Station near our hotel and I must say the Metro here is pretty modern and clean although the stations are gigantic and you end up walking miles. Our destination was a mega store fittingly called Megabox where we found Ikea on levels 3 and 4. And here we are with our purchases which we would carry on a practical Ikea trolley we bought too.

Our first task in Hong Kong - shopping at Ikea

We still had more stuff to get such as a screw driver, paper cups, etc and these we found with difficulty at Aeon, but we found them. From Megabox we took a taxi back to our hotel to leave our heavy purchases there.

So, at about 2.30 or so local time we were free to explore Hong Kong. We took the metro again, this time to the Central station on Hong Kong Island. It was so big we didn’t’ know which exit to take but finally went for one of them, the one leading to the Bank of China tower.

The Bank of China tower (I think)
We came out to heat and lots of people camped all over the place picnicking. We were told by a group of Filipinos that it was a sort of passive demonstration of immigrant workers, women from the Philippines and  Indonesia on their one day off a week.
The camping demonstration
We asked the Filipinos where we could have lunch and they directed us to a nice place called Can-teen where of course we had a Chinese lunch. We were starving and it tasted delicious.
Lunch at Can-Teen
The Filipinos had also recommended us taking one of the old trams which would take us by the main sights of the city or rather all along the main street. A local told us the trams were over a hundred year old and they were a pretty sight to see.
The old double decker trams
We did so using our octopus card which is very useful. The views from the tram were always the same, lots of people and lots of sky scrapers. When we got tired of the same view from the top, we got off and walked our way back looking for the sea. We found it and enjoyed a long trek by a promenade with views of Kowleen. The photo illustrating this week’s post is of me there basking in the novelty of being in Hong Kong and by the sea.
The cloudy view of Kowleen Island from Hong Kong Island
We carried on walking and our next destination was the highest hotel and bar in the world, the Ozone bar at the top of the Ritz Carlton. Many people had recommended it to me. Again we went by metro and at the Kowleen station made our way to the luxury hotel. I was bowled over when we got there and that was from the views of Hong Kong by night from Kowleen. It reminded me of Shanghai.
The view of Hong Kong Island from Kowleen Island
I’m not a one for bars, even top floor bars, but the Ozone was amazing. We sat on the closed terrace of the 118th floor and drank gin and tonic and a margarita. It felt just so special.

We wanted to walk back but it was impossible as there was too much building going on. Instead, we took a taxi to the Harbour district near our hotel. I wanted the famous HK dumplings but the place we had been recommended was closed as it was about 10pm. So we just walked along the street deciding where to have dinner. There was only really Chinese, Italian or Korean to choose from. We went for Chinese and had a lovely dinner for 150 HK dollars, the equivalent of about 17 euros. I had fried noodles with beef!  It’s all quite cheap here.

We were back at our hotel and I went to bed past midnight feeling exhausted. I was also exhausted by the sheer hugeness of everything. It’s all so mega and the consumerism is so hyper I am actually put off by it. I have been told to go to all sorts of markets, the Stanley Market, the Jade market, the bird and flower market, etc and there are markets everywhere. The place feels like a mixture of Bond Street with the luxury brands and Pound Land with not much in between. In the end, all I want to do is turn my head away. And that’s funny coming from someone like me who likes to shop. But, no, not in Hong Kong. It’s just too much.

And today is Monday and the anniversary of the passing away of my dear brother George. He was a great traveler and it would have been great to be with him here.

It  has been raining all day so I am stuck in my room. We can’t mount the stand until tomorrow thus I have the day to myself but as it’s raining I haven’t been out yet. But now it’s time to do so.

You will hear more about my adventures in Hong Kong next week.
Cheers till then everyone, Masha

PS here is the link more photos of my trip to Hong Kong

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