Sunday, January 30, 2011

Spanish sport in the news, a respite for me but lots of hard work, more lunches, dinners and shopping, disturbances in the Middle East and Lina Ben Mhenni, an extraordinary woman.

Lunch with Ketchum, our PR Agency  Monday, to set the scene for 2011
Hi again

As I begin this week’s blog, I can’t help including that Spain has beaten Sweden a few minutes ago to take the bronze medal in the Handball world cup. Spain is now a big player in international sports. However Nadal did not manage to win the Australian Open this week in his particular fight to win all four grand slams in one year, something no one has done since Rod Laver. To be fair he had an injury making the task at hand impossible. Neither did the number one, Roger Federer. In fact the final was won by the Serb and world’s number three, Djokovic who beat Andrew Murray from Scotland (the great British hope who has still to win a grand slam) in three straight sets. On the dark side of Spanish sport, much in the news these days is the case of Alberto Contador, the Spanish winner of the Tour de France who has been banned from cycling for one year after a much disputed doping test when a minuscule amount of clenbuterol was found in his blood. He claims it was because of a piece of steak he ate. The sentence actually mentions that he had done so unwittingly. Therefore I find the sentence hugely unfair. Contador now has 10 days to appeal. His case and that of a recent group of Spanish athletes including Marta Domínguez, have certainly put a question mark on Spanish sport. Spain, though, is not alone in the question of doping in sport. It has happened always and what annoys me is that the stars from the past who probably took all sorts of substances will go down in history as the good guys, whereas people like Contador who either took nothing or really little will go down in history as one of the bad guys because doping in sport is taken far more seriously today than in the past.  Seriously though, can you imagine riding the Tour of France for 3 weeks with stages of over 200km a day and climbing up mountain passes of up to 2.500m, just on pasta and meat? Maybe you could do it just on pasta but I wonder if you would win. Cycling is close to my heart as I was very involved in it in the 90’s and I think I know what I am talking about. I remember seeing healthy young men at the start line in the mornings and some 5 or 6 hours later see those same men cross the finish line looking haggard and some 30 years older, exhausted and hardly able to breathe let alone talk. Cycling is probably the toughest sport in the world.

A very serious Alberto Contador at a press conference this week.
My week has been tough, with lots of hard work, though nowhere near as tough as even the easiest cycling race. However I have my own race, of finishing the Yoigo story on video by 3rd February. On Monday though I was given a respite, i.e. another 2 weeks to finish and you can’t believe how relieved I am, not to mention Bea and Angel, my colleagues in this race. I have spent most of the week working on more interviews and editing but stopped the translation into English for the moment which I am doing myself and which is quite a herculean task actually. Now there was enough time to include more interviews.

On Monday I had a break and went to lunch with the team from Ketchum, my PR agency. It wasn’t any lunch but our annual lunch to thank the team for the year’s efforts and hopefully to further motivate them for the year ahead which is going to be as challenging as ever. This year we went to Casa Paco in the old part of Madrid where they serve the best fillet steak in the world, or so our German friend Alex who used to live in the Cava Baja street nearby, always says. 

Casa Paco, a lovely old Tavern in Madrid where I had lunch with my PR team from Ketchum on Monday
On Tuesday we had a second date, this time at my events’ agency, QuintaEsencia’s premises in downtown Madrid, to interview Jacob Benbunan from Saffron Brand Consultants. As I told you last week it was this agency which created the Yoigo brand. And boy did they do a good job. It was really interesting to hear the thinking behind the creation of this amazing new brand, born to compete with big traditional mobile operators in the very saturated Spanish market in 2006.

The building where my events agency, QuintaEsencia have their offices in Madrid.  I love the Queen on the balcony!
On Wednesday we interviewed Fernando Urrutia, head of The Phone House Spain. I went early to have a coffee with my good friend Carlos who works there now but who was my colleague in our Motorola days. We go back a long time and I have a soft spot for Carlos who was a young trainee at the time. Just after we left Motorola he had a terrible car crash and nearly died. He had burns all over his body and was in coma for weeks. However months later he slowly recovered and apart from a few scars you would never know he had ever had the accident. I will never forget those weeks when I would send a daily report to all our colleagues on his progress and when he was finally on the mend I organised a special party for him. Today he is a top executive at The Phone House Spain, is married and has 2 children, his first daughter being called Olivia like mine. I like to think he chose that name because of her.

We were joined of course by Angel and Bea but also by Marta, the Yoigo account manager for The Phone House. After the interview Marta and I decided to have lunch together at Viancco, the lovely Italian place I went to for the ex Motorola Christmas dinner which is in the Zielo shopping centre round the corner from The Phone House in Pozuelo. Of course we looked in the shops too and I am afraid I bought yet another piece of clothing, this time a tapestry mini skirt from Trucco. Maybe I should mention too that I bought a new black winter coat at the Corte Inglés on Monday too! I can’t stop shopping for clothes. In my fat days whenever I went to Zielo I never looked at the clothes but rather bought food at Le Pain Quotidien or the luxury supermarket Sánchez Romero. On Wednesday I hardly noticed the latter when I went past them. How the tables have turned for me!

The tapestery skirt I bought this week at Trucco, I can't stop buying new clothes!!
On Thursday I didn’t have any interviews but went into the office for a briefing with my events agency. Bea and I then went into Madrid for more editing of the video. Lunch that day was with Cris, Bea’s sister (and avid reader of my blog) who had to perform a miracle to get away for 2 hours and leave her new born baby in good care. Thus the four of us, Angel, Bea, Cris and I went to the very ornate and lovely Café de Oriente in the square where the Royal Palace is. Unfortunately it was my pure protein Thursday so all I could have was yet another piece of steak for lunch.

The Café de Oriente in Madrid
Friday was by far my busiest day and one of those days when you have lots of engagements and have to be punctual for all of them. Friday was also the day after the second pure protein Thursday of the consolidation phase of the Dukan Diet. Similarly to last week, I hardly slept for fear of the scales and worrying that I would have put on weight. I was awake at six and decided to get up and see what my fate was. Lo and behold once again I hadn’t put any weight on, and had in fact lost 200 grammes, despite the 2 slices of bread and a piece of fruit every day, plus the enormous celebration meal, etc. Thus, as you can imagine, I felt on top of the world and ready to take on any amount of engagements or new challenges.

I had two meetings in the morning on Friday which went really well and will set the pace of my work for the next 2 months which I can tell you is going to be challenging. After the interviews, I went with Bea and Angel to ACS, the big Spanish construction company which owns a 17.6% share in Yoigo. We went there to interview another Angel, the GM of the company and President of Yoigo, for our famous video. Later Mica commented on my Facebook: “going up in the world” which made me laugh of course.

Getting ready for the interview at ACS this week. The guy in the chair is Edwin, a charming Chilean photography technician.
After the interview we had to rush to Madrid to have lunch, do some more editing at the studio (Iralta Films) and then be ready to receive Natalia for the last interview of the week. Natalia was our customer number 100.000 and is a sweet young garden designer in her late 20’s. I think she was a bit awestruck about the whole thing but in the end did a great job and came out on the camera quite naturally. She did, however, tell me that the next time I call her she won’t answer the phone!! For the record when Natalia was our customer number 100.000 in February or March 2007, she won a trip to Finland to attend the Eurovision Song Contest sponsored by TeliaSonera. I accompanied her there and you can read about that trip by clicking here. Natalia, it was nice to see you again and thanks for appearing in the video.

Natalia, our customer 100.000 who I interviewed this week.
I didn’t get home till late on Friday night I but really felt like going out and celebrating my good work of the week by having my celebration meal with Eladio on Friday night rather than Saturday. He agreed at once so off we went to Tony Roma’s, an American “joint” and old favourite of ours in Majadahonda. I wanted a photo for my blog and this was the best Eladio could do. Of course there is no make up on me and I look really tired. However I thoroughly enjoyed a shared plate of onion rings, half a portion of Carolina honey ribs, rounded off with a wonderful brownie and all washed down with a glass of Rioja. Needless to say I got a headache that night. But you know what? It was well worth it.

The week took its toll on me as you can see in this picture of me at Tony Roma's on Friday.
And suddenly it was the weekend. I suggested to Angel and Bea that we work on the video over the weekend but they both disagreed. They were right really as we were all exhausted and in need of a rest. So on Saturday I suggested to Eladio and the girls that we have lunch in Madrid. Eladio said yes, on the condition that we wouldn’t go shopping. We told him it was not our intention but of course we weren’t telling the truth. We went to Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world. It was nice for the four of us to be together as it doesn’t often happen and we hardly ever go into town together.

Oli and Eladio in the Plaza Mayor yesterday.  The 4 of us  had a lovely time togther in town.
Botín is near the Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol. I knew Yoigo had plastered the Sol Metro station with outdoor or rather indoor advertising and I was keen to see it. I am no great fan of advertising but actually love the Yoigo truth slogans as they are very provocatibve. And here I am amongst all the outrageous Yoigo billboards at the metro station with the most traffic in Spain.

Me surrounded by Yoigo billboards at the Sol metro station in Madrid yesterday
Of course from Sol we dragged Eladio down the most commercial street in Spain, Preciados, also the street where you are most likely to be pick-pocketed in this country. We couldn’t do much shopping, just glance in the shop windows or buy stuff off the racks without trying them on. But I have seen two lovely dresses in Zara I might be trying on next week in another branch, maybe in Barcelona, who knows.

We came back home in the late afternoon and I sat down to finally finish Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. Did I like it? Well yes but only in parts. I got a bit stuck in the World War 1 battle scenes and actually thought the stories of the main characters were not engaging enough. I have now started on Sarah’s Key, which I wrote about recently when I referred to the film and the author, Tatiana de Rosnay. I have had a busy week but always set aside time, if possible, for our daily walk and for at least half an hour’s reading in the evening. I need both for the good of my body and my soul.

Today Sunday has been another relaxing day at home, in preparation for a crazy week ahead. Tomorrow I will be having an implant, or rather the screw put in for the implant at 11 am and at 16.30 I am off to Barcelona on the AVE (high speed train) with Bea on the lookout for a location for our press conference at the upcoming Mobile World Conference. I will be back on Tuesday afternoon but will be off again on Wednesday, to Stockholm again for a global Management Team meeting until Friday. I am looking forward to both and to a guaranteed week of excitement, except for the implant of course.

Talking about excitement, before I finish, I want to put this week’s blog post into international perspective because something extraordinary is happening in the Middle East which I just cannot omit from my blog. There have been disturbances, demonstrations and riots starting in Tunisia which are having a domino effect in many other neighbouring countries, mainly Egypt but also Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Why are they demonstrating you may ask? They are demonstrating because of the rising prices of food but mainly for democracy and an end to dictatorships. In Tunisia the revolution, because it was a revolution, forced the long reigning President and his most hated wife to leave the country. Will that happen too in Egypt? We will see this week. Meanwhile countries like Morocco, are subsidising staple food even order to avoid similar disturbances. I wonder if that will be enough to keep their people from protesting. In Egypt this week, the authorities stopped internet and mobile phones from working, but that didn’t stop people meeting despite the curfew. People want freedom and democracy and food. Aren’t those the basics to an ordinary existence? I am going to be watching this space carefully and really hope things will change for the better in these authoritarian countries where women are the most down trodden in the world. One Middle Eastern woman has caught the world’s attention and has certainly called mine too. Lina Ben Mhenni, is a young Tunisian University teacher of English. What is extraordinary about her is that she has a blog called A Tunisian girl where she has reported on the uprising in her country, minute by minute as she lived it herself in the centre of the disturbances. I admire her for fighting for her country in this way and will be following her blog closely.  Follow her too!

Lina Ben Mhenni, an extraordinary woman. Read about the Tunisian revolt in her blog, a Tunisian Girl

Cheers my friends till next week. Masha

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Home again, nearly as cold as in Stockholm, on to the consolidation phase and a week of hard work.

At the Ganges Indian restaurant on Saturday where I chose to have the first celebration meal of the
consolidation phase
Hello again and hi everyone,

This week has been far less exciting than the week in Stockholm and actually there is not much to report. It’s nice being home but really I prefer a bit of excitement to my week. I came home from Stockholm and the weather has been nearly as cold here as there so, on our daily walks I have been able to wear all the lovely cold weather accessories I bought in Sweden. It has been below zero most mornings and the thermometer marked minus 3 both this morning and yesterday morning. I felt rather sorry for the homeless person I saw under blankets yesterday in a square in Madrid. He or she must have had a horrible night fighting the cold.

This homeless person I saw yesterday morning in Madrid must have have a horrible night fighting the cold
This week I started on the consolidation phase of the Dukan diet which is aimed at consolidating my achieved weight. For me this will be a phase of 155 days (5 days per pound lost) of eating the same as before with some wonderful differences. Instead of alternating pure protein days with pure protein and vegetable days, I can now eat protein and vegetables every day except for Thursdays which are protein only. I still have to eat 3 spoonfuls of oat bran which I have as porridge for breakfast but the good news is that I can now eat 2 slices of brown bread everyday “lightly spread with half fat butter”. I can now also eat one piece of fruit a day as well as pasta or other types of carbohydrates once a week (with no oil). The best thing is that I can also enjoy one celebration meal a week where everything is allowed including wine. I was worried that I would put on weight and hardly slept on Thursday night (the night after the pure protein day) but to my absolute delight I found I had even lost half a kilo. I am now convinced the consolidation phase is going to work and that I will never be fat again. You may wonder if these are my famous last words. Me too, however I will do my utmost for that not to happen.

I was able to taste pasta for the first time in months when I had lunch on Monday with Ana, a journalist friend who covers telecommunications for the Spanish news agency, Agencia Efe. We went to an Italian place called Il Gusto opposite the agency.  Needless to say the pasta tasted like heaven.  I had been to Il Gusto once before with my friend the ex cyclist Pedro Delgado and his wife Ludi some time ago.  The food was good on Monday but the place was empty.

The Italian restaurant Il Gusto in Madrid where I had lunch on Monday with Ana from the Spanish news agency, Efe
The week wasn’t exciting but I had a bit of negative excitement on Tuesday when I was going to work. My car keys, and I only have one set, were missing. So I rang Susana who was the last person to use it and she had them but was at work so couldn’t give them to me. I couldn’t use Eladio’s car either, as it was trapped behind mine and my only option was to take the 20 year old Lancia I haven’t driven for ages. I am used to driving an automatic car and hate changing to a gear driven one. So off I went in the fog and traffic in this very old car which made funny jolting movements in low gear and kept stalling. Funnily enough the next time someone used it, it broke down and is now at the garage. Everyone of course is blaming me and we are now waiting to hear the worst; that it is at the end of its life. I think I told you, the other old car the girls used, the Alfa Romeo, died also a few months ago and we had to invest in a new second hand one. I really hope we won’t have to buy yet another one.

On Tuesday I had another lunch appointment, this time with Alexandra, the ex Kodak Spain communications director and Blanca from Ketchum. We went to De María in town and had a great time talking about our profession over some wonderful steak and vegetables.

Wednesday was by far the busiest day of the week. It started early as all my days do as I seem to get up earlier and earlier. I went to the Quirón hospital in Pozuelo to pick up my dental scan report in preparation for the two implants I will be having soon. From there I rushed to my dentist in Majadahonda to hand in the report. Then I rushed to Madrid to start on the filming here for the video of the Yoigo story. You will remember we did interviews in Stockholm last week. Well this week we have done nearly all the interviews in Madrid. We were supposed to be interviewing Jacob Benbunan, the CEO and co founder of Saffron Brand Consultants, who created the Yoigo brand. Unfortunately there were repairs going on in the building so there was too much noise and we will have to do the interview this next week.

I was with Bea, Angel and Ramón, my companions on the trip to Stockholm and when the interview with Jacob didn’t work out we crossed the road to have a coffee and a little meeting at the lovely Santo Mauro boutique hotel. I thought as we walked in, what good taste Victoria Beckham had because when David Beckham played for Real Madrid it was at this hotel that they lived.

The lovely Santo Mauro hotel in Madrid.  A great place to have a coffee if you can't afford a room
I had a lunch appointment next but as Bea lived very nearby she took me up to see her enormous flat overlooking the Castellana, the main street in Madrid. The flat is in the typical Madrid style of the 19th century and actually the entrance is used now in a very popular series in Spain, “Cuéntame” of which I am an avid fan. Cuéntame is a series about Spain in the sixties, seventies and eighties and on the pavement outside Bea’s flat you can see vehicles of those times. Apparently also, nearly the whole building is occupied by Opus Dei residents. The Opus Dei is an extremist faction of the Catholic Church and its members abide by very strict rules. Some of them opt out of normal life and live an almost monastic existence in communities, strictly separated by sexes. So far none of them have complained of any noise coming from Bea’s flat, as obviously her style of life is in extreme opposition to theirs.

My lunch appointment was with Víctor and Pedro from my press tracking agency, Perception and Image. I have worked with Víctor for many years as Perception & Image was my press agency both at Motorola and at Nokia. We are also great friends on Facebook and in many ways soul mates. Lunch was at the old ABC newsroom now converted into a wonderful restaurant called Pedro Larumbe.

From Pedro Larumbe I rushed again this time to the Café de Oriente for a coffee with Bea and Cris before going with Bea to Iralta Films where Angel was working on our video. Here we had a tough afternoon editing all the interviews we had done in Stockholm but we also advanced on the script.

On Thursday work on the the Yoigo story video continued with interviews with people from key areas in the company. In fact we worked all through the day. On Friday we continued with the interviews. On Friday we also interviewed Carlos Holemans, the owner and creative director of our advertising agency, El Laboratorio. By the way it was through Carlos that I heard about the Dukan Diet. At last on Friday I was able to have lunch with my family, something I had missed all week. We worked hard all week but time is against us as the video has to be ready by 3rd February, so we knew we would have to work both through this weekend and next.

Thus on Saturday morning I met again with Bea and Angel at Iralta Films where we did more interview editing and script writing. Iralta Films is housed in a lovely old building in a square called Ramales, right next to the Royal Palace of Madrid called  El Palacio de Oriente. It was at the Ramales square that the famous Spanish painter, Diego de Velázquez died and it was also here that I took the photo of the homeless person illustrated above.

The Plaza de Ramales in Madrid where Iralta Films is located and where I have worked over the weekend.
Saturday though was not going to be all work as there was to be some play too. I had lunch with the family and in the afternoon Eladio, Norah and I went for a very cold walk. In the evening we had a dinner appointment for my first Dukan Diet celebration meal. It was to be at the Ganges Indian restaurant in Madrid and we were to be joined by José Antonio and Dolores, Eladio’s brother and wife. I love Indian food, especially the kind you find outside India (sorry my Indian readers but I prefer my curry not too hot) and the Ganges in Madrid is really rather good. One sign that it is good perhaps is that there was a family of Indians on the next table. The photo illustrating this week’s blog post is of me at the Ganges restaurant next to the rickshaw they have there for decoration. I now have to wait another whole week for my next celebration meal. I wonder where that will be?

Eladio (with the bow tie),  José Antonio and Dolores at the Ganges Indian restaurant last night.
Today Sunday was also spent working on the video, but only in the morning. I was able to be home for lunch but no one had bothered to make anything. They were all waiting for me to come home and organise and arrange it. Thus of course we mostly had leftovers. The afternoon has been spent on our walk, of course, and on writing this week’s blog post.

The week ahead is going to be equally hard as we have to finish the video. Also I have lots of meetings to organise our participation in the upcoming telecoms conference in Barcelona in the second week of February. Hopefully though, next week will be a little more exciting.

I hope you all have a great week, me too! Cheers until next week


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Swine flu, mission accomplished and the week I went to Stockholm again, to the land of snow and smörgåsar.

At the Ice Bar with Bea in Stockholm this week
Hi again

This week has been great although it didn’t start well. Monday was the first day after the Christmas holidays and I went into the office with my cold which I just couldn’t shake off. As I wrote last week, we had a cold since the 24th December. I was tired of nursing it at home through Christmas which this year seemed a bit long to me and I was raring to get into some action. So in I went into the office for the first time in two weeks for a meeting with my events agency to go over the script of the prologue to the 20 minute video on the inside story of Yoigo I have to have ready by the beginning of February. And that’s when I really began to feel ill. When I got home I took my temperature and saw that it was nearly 38ºc. I had resisted going to the doctor until then as I thought that all I had was a winter cold. As I was off to Stockholm on Wednesday I decided to go and it was a good job I did. The doctor told me I had swine flu with bronchial complications; i.e. the beginning of bronchitis and she prescribed me antibiotics. She told us that there was an epidemic of a slightly less virulent type of what is known here as “gripe A”. The difference between a normal flu and swine flu, at least the one I have or had, is that the latter is longer than the former. Otherwise the symptoms are pretty much the same. I went back home and straight to bed to sleep off the temperature for which I took a paracetamol. The next day I felt much better, the same as during the rest of the cold, without the temperature. So, being the hyper active person I am, I decided to go into the office again for the first management team meeting of the year which I didn’t want to miss. I wasn’t worried about my swine flu being contagious as nearly everyone around me had had or had a cold anyway. It’s amazing that there is an epidemic of swine flu and that the authorities are not communicating it. As one friend of Olivia’s commented on Facebook; “swine flu is no longer in fashion” and I suppose that is true as no one seems to worry about it anymore. I suppose that’s probably because, in the end,  it is no more dangerous than normal flu.

On Wednesday morning, the day I was going to Stockholm, I got on the scales as I have been doing 2 or 3 times a week since 24th September. And the news was great; I had reached my target weight of 64.2 kilos. In fact I was under at 63.9. It was mission accomplished for me of the cruise phase of Dr. Dukan’s wonderfully effective diet. Now I have to start on the consolidation phase so as to maintain the weight. I will be able to introduce new foods and will only have to do one protein only day per week. The consolidation phase will last some 6 months and will still be quite strict but will allow me to have one celebration meal per week, whoopee. I’m sure that the celebration meal will take place at La Alpargatería on Saturdays.

For the record here is a before picture which you can compare to the photos of me now and to the one below. It was taken just over a year ago before I started the “up and down diet” through which I lost some weight but put some of it back on after our trip to Israel and Jordan. It was after the latter that I started the much more effective Dukan diet.
The before picture: Fat me, August 20009

And here is the after photo, taken on 17th January 2011.

And this is the after picture, 22. 5 kilos later. I've gone from size 48 to size 42, that's size 18 to size 12!!!
There is a difference now of some 22.5 kilos!!!! For my English reading friends, that is the equivalent of approximately 3.5 stone! I am very pleased with myself and feel a different person. I now fit into everything I try on at the shops and that, my friends, is a good feeling. I also intend to keep this weight and the consolidation phase will be the first step in accomplishing the objective.

The day of mission accomplished was the day I went to Stockholm. I was going to film four interviews for the Yoigo video with people from TeliaSonera, Yoigo’s mother company, who had been instrumental in the story of Yoigo. TeliaSonera is a Nordic mobile operator which is the dominant operator in Sweden and Fiinland with operations in all the Nordic and Baltic countries, Eurasia, Turkey, Russia, Nepal and Cambodia, as well as Spain. I was accompanied by Bea from our events agency, Quintaesencia, as well as by Angel, the video editor, who I kept calling César, and Ramón, the young cameraman.We caught the only direct flight there is from Madrid which leaves at just after 10 in the morning and arrives at about 14h. It was snowing when we arrived and there was snow on the ground and it was at least -5ºc. That didn’t stop the airport from operating perfectly. I thought to myself that maybe the Swedish staff running Arlanda airport could teach the British staff at Heathrow a lesson or two in clearing snow for planes to take off and land.

So we arrived in the beautiful land of snow on a great adventure. Our taxi took us past traffic free motorways where we saw many snow ploughs and there were no problems in driving. The secret is that all Swedish vehicles have special winter tyres that they change in the spring for summer tyres. No cumbersome snow chains for the Swedes then.

We checked in at a small boutique hotel called Hellsten, not far from the centre.

Our hotel, the Hellsten.  They were removing the snow from the roof in this picture as they were doing all over Stockholm when we were there.
Very soon we met up to explore the terrain and to buy the boys proper winter coats as they had come with totally inadequate clothing. I have been to Stockholm some seven times before so I knew the main streets and was eager to show my companions beautiful Stockholm, often quoted as the “Venice of the north” because it is located on canals and on the Baltic Sea. I never knew or know which is a canal, Lake Mälaren or the Baltic Sea as Stockholm is divided into various islands. Soon I found our way to the longest and perhaps most famous pedestrian street in the city, which has the unpronounceable name of “Drottninggattan”, meaning Queen’s Street. Here Angel and Ramón found great winter jackets at great prices at Helly Hansen, a Norwegian brand of sports clothing which was new to us.

Angel and Ramón after buying proper winter coats in Stockholm as soon as we arrived.
So now suitably clad, we carried on down Drottninggatan towards the old town called Gamla Stan. Here we walked through a very touristy street which I actually love and find very quaint. It is called Västerlånggatan, another unpronounceable name, which actually means “the western long street” and is full of lovely little shops. Bea walked into one of the tiniest ones to buy some thick woolen socks to line our boots. Later I went back twice to the same shop to buy more socks, some warmer gloves and a winter hat for Eladio for our walks on cold days. We had a table booked for dinner at 20.30 but we were hungry so I took my friends to the oldest square in Stockholm called Stortorget. It means big square but actually for these days it is quite small. Stortorget houses the Swedish Academy and Nobel Museum and here thousands of tourists flock to see the coloured typical houses of the 17th century which are a sight to see. I took my friends to a bar called Misteln where I had been before and which you can see in the picture below. It is in the green house on the left.

The coloured 17th century houses tourists flock to see at the Stortorget square in Stockholm.
Later we would go back to film there and here is a picture of Bea and I outside Misteln which became our centre of operations on Friday.

Outside the Misteln bar in Stortorget with Bea
It was at Misteln that I introduced my friends to the Swedish or Scandinavian concept of open sandwiches called smörgåsar as Mica later told me. We shared the one I like best, made of prawns, hard boiled eggs and mayonnaise as well as a platter of Swedish food including cheese, herrings and salmon. Notice the Swedish flag on the latter, something which would be impossible here in Spain. None of us, I am afraid, were very fond of the herrings, so typical of this part of the world. And here are the marvelous dishes they served us to quash our hunger before going for dinner. I went on, as did Bea, to eat a prawn “smörgåsar” every day for lunch for the duration of our stay.

The lovely smörgåsar sandwiches.  Notice the prawn one on the left, I had one like that every day!
To work off the smörgåsar before dinner, I took my companions to see the Royal Palace and harbour by the Grand Hotel. It was so cold very few people were walking in the streets. It got even colder in the big open spaces and somewhat more bearable in the smaller streets. So we huddled our way back to Gamla Stan and then towards Sluessen, the lock between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic sea, made even more famous by Stieg Larsson in the Millennium trilogy.  Our destination was the Gondolen bar and restaurant, 30 metres above the lock and with some of the best night views of Stockholm. It is also a gastronomic delight and features in all the guide books. The bar is a treat in itself and you don’t have to have dinner at Gondolen to enjoy ti. I love the way the waiters are dressed, in pseudo tartan waistcoats and so we had our photo taken with one of them who was as tall as most Swedes.

The "four musketeers" at the Gondolen bar with a spruce and stylish waiter.
Bea enjoyed a cosmopolitan cocktail and in the picture below she looks like she was a walk on part in “sex in the city”! By the way I got the tip about cosmopolitans at Gondolen from my Swedish friend Mica. If you are reading this Mica, thanks! Once again, to work off the food we walked home in the freezing cold which took some 40 minutes! Hopefully all the walking in Stockholm consumed some of the extra calorie intake as I broke my diet whilst there to celebrate my mission accomplished new weight.

Bea enjoying a cosmopolitan cocktail at the Gondolen bar near Sluessen
Thursday was spent choosing the places to film. The idea was to film the people in  emblematic places in Stockholm to add a Swedish flavour to the video. We had all agreed the day before that Stortorget was certainly to be one of them. So we went to the Misteln bar to ask for their collaboration and they were very agreeing and helpful. The second location we chose was the bridge in between the Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag, and Gamla Stan, the old town. From here there are beautiful views of churches with spires and the Town Hall. Amazingly the water that flows below was nearly all frozen.

Very well clad for the minus zero temperatures at the Riksgatan bridge near the old town
We had lunch nearby at a Swiss café called “Schwiezerkonditoriet” on the tourist ystreet Västerlånggatan and once again we ate a prawn smörgåsar sandwich. We decided that this lovely café I had discovered on an earlier trip with Eladio, would be our other centre of operations for the interview with Cecilia by the Parliament bridge. They also agreed. I must say the Swedes I have known and the ones we met last week were all very accommodating. Below is a picture of the charming café. If you look closely you will see a photograph of the Royal wedding couple. The Royal family in Sweden is well loved and there are pictures of the Royal family in many places, including a welcome picture at Arlanda airport!

The lovely Swiss café in Gamla Stan where we spent so much time. 
On Thursday we also went to Stureplan, the “posh” area of Stockholm full of office buildings and expensive shops. We went to film the outside of TeliaSonera and I particularly liked this scene with the snow and bicycles which employees obviously use to go to work even in the snow. In the afternoon, after a rest from so much walking in the freezing cold, we worked hard on the script. There is so much to do for this video and we have only finished the script of the prologue, so in a way have hardly started.  Help!
TeliaSonera in Stureplan. Notice the bicycles in the snow employees use to go to work even in this weather
Dinner was at a favourite restaurant of mine in Stockholm and one I learned about on a press trip with Nokia some years ago. It's called  F12 and is on 12 Fredsgatan near the Parliament. We were going to have the 11 course gastronomic tasting menu but were told it would take 3 hours. So we went for the smaller 5 mini courses and you know what? It took 3 hours! However we didn’t mind and even got talking to our neighbours, two Americans on our right who recommended the Ice Bar we would later visit, and the exuberant Maija and very Swedish looking Karen on our left. Maija was a wine journalist and Karen a wine importer; a good combination eh? We got lots of tips on what to do in Stockholm from these charming ladies. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to take any of them up but I will certainly try to on other occasions. F12 is great but rather slow but then I knew that.
Guests we made friends with at F12, Maija in pink and Karen.  In the picture too, Angel who I kept calling César
Friday was our big day and it started early. We met Cecilia, the ex Marketing Manager of Yoigo, at Schwiezerkonditoriet. Whilst we were in the café, the most bizarre thing happened; in walked a Japanese film crew filming a scene for a Japanese TV travel show; so we weren’t the only ones filming in the area! As soon as Cecilia and I had agreed on the questions, out we went into the cold and snow to the bridge for the filming. It was snowing whilst we did the interview. Luckily Cecilia was to the point on all the questions and we hardly needed to repeat any. From there we made our way, this time by taxi to take all our gear, to TeliaSonera for our appointment with Andreas at 11. Luckily for Andreas and for us, of course, the interview was held inside, sheltered from the minus zero temperatures, because we wanted to use the great logo in the entrance of the building.

Me looking very colourful in red at TeliaSonera
Andreas is head of Investor Relations and when Yoigo was launched he was an analyst who was skeptical of the company investing in Spain. However of course time has taught us all that the adventure was to be successful and now Andreas believes otherwise. As he was a true professional the interview was over in a flash. My next appointment was coffee with Birgitta at a café in the nearby Sturegallerian where we exchanged information on various projects. She’s always a pleasure to be with.

Our next interview wasn’t until 2 which gave us time for lunch at the afternoon’s centre of operations, the Misteln bar in Stortorget. Here once again I indulged in a prawn smörgåsar sandwich!! Soon we were joined by the dashing Norwegian Arne who had been head of sales and marketing at the start up phase of Yoigo. Arne had prepared his own questions and had rehearsed for the interview; a true professional once again. I think he was a bit dismayed to learn the interview would take place outside the bar. We wanted to get the Swedish atmosphere into the picture, so there we had him sit on a wicker chair with a blanket on his knees and a steaming cup of coffee on the table. I have a feeling Arne thoroughly enjoyed the interview. Well I must say it was quite fun.

The interview with Arne outside the Misteln bar in Stortorget. I look quite the reporter here.
Just as the interview with Arne finished along came Ove for the final interview we had to do in Stockholm. Ove had been head of operations at Yoigo from the start until this last summer. This time the interview took place in the middle of the old square with a view of the coloured houses. This interview was perhaps the most awkward of all as cars kept coming past, even a helicopter flew above our heads and finally there was a very annoying Swedish toddler playing in the nearby snow who was making an awful noise and whose parents couldn’t keep quiet. However I think the footage we got is more than sufficient for our 20 minute video.

It had been a truly long, intense and very cold day but now our work was over and we could relax. It was Friday evening and Bea’s boyfriend, Jordi and his sister Nuria, were coming for the weekend. I was going back the next day but the others were staying until Sunday. Spurred on by the American’s suggestion, we decided to go to the Ice Bar he had suggested. I wasn’t that keen as I had already seen an ice hotel once in Finnish Lapland and thought the whole idea was a bit too touristy for my liking. However, I was wrong, and ended up thoroughly enjoying it and getting tipsy into the bargain! At the entrance they kitted us out with a sort of thermal poncho with gloves at the end and in we walked into this fun and freezing bar. In the ponchos, however, you don’t feel the cold.

All kitted out to go into the Ice Bar in Stockholm.  It was such fun.
Everything is made of ice, the seats, the tables, the bar, the glasses, you name it, it’s made of ice. As the bar is owned by the Swedish vodka company Absolut, the only drink served is vodka. However I didn’t mind as I quite like vodka, maybe owing to my Russian blood, and asked for vodka and orange. Not surprisingly I felt quite tipsy when we left. I’m not used to drinking spirits and hadn’t eaten for many hours, but maybe the below zero temperatures increase the potency of alcohol. It must be that because as we walked to the restaurant for dinner, the feeling slowly left me. I must say it was fun whilst it lasted.

My vodka and orange at the Ice Bar, even the glass was made of ice!
Dinner was at Grodan near Stureplan, recommended to us by a fellow diner at Gondolen, an elegant Swedish gentleman who my companions swore was trying to flirt with me. I promise you I didn’t even notice! His recommendation turned out to be a great success. We all loved Grodan and Bea and I, followed by Nuria, once again had Norwegian lobster (much cheaper than in the rest of the world) and more prawns, this time in a salad. Yes, now you all know that Bea and I love prawns and lobster! And of course, Sweden is the country to eat them.

My flight on Saturday was at 15h, which gave me some free time in the morning. Guess what I did? Go to a museum? Noooo. I went shopping and Bea and Nuria came with me of course whilst the boys had a late breakfast. I took them to the big shopping centre called Gallerian. Here I bought a dress and some jeans at one of my favourite Swedish shops, Lindex. From here we crossed the road to take a glimpse inside the very exclusive NK department store and left rapidly to go to the pedestrian street called Biblioteksgatan, recommended to me on my trip in October by my colleague Belén. Here Bea and Nuria enjoyed Urban Outfitters whilst I bought a long red cardigan and scarf at another favourite of mine, the Danish brand Jackpot. Our shopping finished at Sturegallerian where we all bought fur accessories at a place called Monroe. I bought a very flashy bright pink fur and material long scarf, like Maija was wearing at F12. When Susana saw it she said, “yes Mummy that is very you”. It might be a bit over the top but I love it.

I said goodbye to Bea and Nuria as well as to Jordi, Angel and Ramón and made my way with my purchases to check out at the hotel. I had to fit all the things I had bought in my suitcase which was no easy task. I even
tried standing on it but there was no way it would shut. In the end I decided to take out my favourite pillow (yes I travel everywhere with my feather pillow from home) and carry it in a separate bag. So I had to get in the taxi and travel with a big suitcase, my heavy pc bag, my heavy handbag and a light but bulky bag with the pillow. I can just never travel light!

I was driven to the airport by an Iranian taxi driver, so took the opportunity to “interview” him too. I always find it fascinating to talk to immigrants. He told me what I knew, that oof a population of some 9 million, 1 million were immigrants  with many from Irak and Iran. He told me had come 27 years ago just after the Sha died during the Ayatollah Homeini’s reign of terror. We both agreed on the excessive government of the so called “Peacock king” and he told me that the latter’s family had left Iran wtih 13 billion dollars, which was probably equivalent to all the money of the country. He has never once been back and doesn’t dare to go in case he gets arrested. I asked him how life was for immigrants in Sweden. I again knew the answer, the state takes care of everything and he told me that all his needs were catered for. He said that there was no problem in finding a job, buying a house, keeping a family, going on holiday but that that was not “living”. He said he felt he was not from Sweden as there was very little integration with the local people, but that he didn’t feel as though he was from Iran either because his mentality had changed. He had a sad look on his face and I totally understood him coming from an immigrant background myself, on my Mother’s side.

Once at the airport, everything was easy because I had already checked in and was carrying my boarding pass. I bought some chocolate, a local newspaper, some lingonberry and cloudberry jam for my Father and some smoked salmon for the family. Of course it was lunch time and time to have my very last prawn smörgåsar sandwich before boarding the plane. I slept for at least 3 hours and spent the last hour reading Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants. I was dying to be home and get through all the arrival hassle. I was home just after 19h and happy to greet my Father, Eladio, Susana and Olivia and Norah of course.  I had brought back woolen socks for the girls and the hat for Eladio.

After unpacking, as I felt quite rested, having slept through most of the flight, I suggested going out to dinner and Eladio happily accepted. So last night, I enjoyed pasta at La Alpargatería, as a sort of final concession to my breaking the diet during my time in Stockholm. Today I did a pure protein diet and tomorrow will start the new consolidation phase.

Today, Sunday, has been spent quietly at home. We went for a walk in the morning with Susana and Norah. The girls were out for lunch at Elena’s, so there were just the three of us for lunch at home. This evening we will be meeting our friends Roberto and MariCarmen. And tomorrow it will be back to normal and I will be working hard on the video script with Bea and Angel.

As you can see, this week was great and the trip to Stockholm fun and successful. There is hardly a sign of my swine flu and I'm feeling much better.  Now I must leave you to edit and copy this and add the photos and publish this blog post before we go and meet our friends. I wish you all a great week,

All the best Masha
PS You can see the rest of the photos of my trip here.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The end of Christmas, the girls in Amsterdam, awful colds, bad weather and our Christmas Part 2

The girls and their friends Juli, Rocío and Ana on Kings' day in the morning, 6th January

Good morning my friends.

I have had a break from my blog and didn’t write last week so here you have a bumper edition to enjoy, the story of our Christmas part 2. But as I write, Christmas is over which is very sad as it means we all have to wait a whole year until it comes again.

The girls left for a long weekend break in Amsterdam with Rocío on Kings’ Day (6th January) and have left the house feeling very empty. It felt even emptier yesterday when Olga took all the Christmas decorations down, the most terrible sign of the end of Christmas for me. I always put the decorations up but never ever take them down as I find it just too depressing and sad.

I have been following the girl's travels via Rocío's photos on Facebook and can see they have bad weather too.  However I do not doubt that they are having a great time.  They are staying at a great bed ad breakfast in the Jordaan area called Maes which has some fantastic write ups in the guide books. Here is  picture of my girls in a typical street in Amsterdam.
Oli and Suzy well wrapped up in Amsterdam today. 

The view from the girls attic bed and breakfast apartment in the Jordaan neighbourhood in Amsterdam
The 3 of us left here all have bad colds. Eladio got his when we went to León on 23rd December to pick up his Mother. I then caught the same bug and now my 91 year old Father has it too. The cold just doesn’t want to go and gives us sleepless nights with huge coughing bouts. Eladio wears thick fleeces and sits by the fire and hasn’t left the house for days. The big mistake was not having the annual flu jab he and my Father have been having ever since Daddy came to live with us. This is my Father’s first cold since he’s been with us and I sincerely hope the after effects are less unpleasant than ours.

To top the nasty cold which won’t go away we are experiencing bad weather. The sky is dark and the clouds give way to rain most afternoons. I go for our walk on my own each afternoon and yesterday my lovely rainbow coloured umbrella from the Moma Museum in New York was turned inside out twice because of the wind. As I walked yesterday, I remembered the name of the song “Mad dogs and Englishmen” and thought that I was a bit of a mad Englishwoman, braving the weather over the hill at the top of the street and on my own. I did not encounter a single living creature, not even the usual rabbits who were probably huddling in their warrens. I also remembered an equally famous line or rather idiom: “come rain or shine” as I walked in the rain and wind. It sums up my attitude to my daily hour’s walk which I never give up whatever the weather. It’s one of the staple ingredients of my diet and one of the secrets to its success. Believe it or not I have lost 2 kilos over Christmas whilst most people have put on that much or more. That makes me very pleased as I broke it a lot on the 3 main occasions and even ate chocolate, the most forbidden of “fruits” but still I lost weight. I now have just a few grammes to lose to reach my target of 64.2 and soon will be on the much easier “consolidation phase”. However I am considering losing a couple more kilos before that starts.

Meanwhile I can’t stop buying new clothes and seem to want to wear something new every day to show off my new figure. I have yet to shop in the sales but on every trip out of the house in the past 2 or 3 weeks I have bought something. I now have a huge collection of those very fashionable, and even more comfortable short thick woolen pullover cum dresses which I wear over leggings. They remind me a bit of the hundreds of woolen dresses my Mother used to make on her machine but which I never liked to wear because I was overweight. Before the diet I hated buying clothes as nothing used to fit, except clothes from the extra large section at H+M which I always hated. I now buy size S at H+M and size M at Zara when it used to be XL at the latter if there was an XL and if it fitted which mostly it didn’t. I can now wear my daughters’ clothes and they can wear mine! Now my obsession is with clothes and not food, hahaha. On our walk in the evenings I used to think mostly about what we would eat for dinner and now I think about what I will be wearing the next day. By the way my friends, my New Year’s resolution this year is to stay slim and never get fat again. I can only hope and pray that it will turn out to be true. Those of you who know me well will know that I can have huge or no will power and nothing in between. So cross your fingers my will power lasts me through my New Year’s resolution. I have a feeling it will, but watch this space as they say in modern English these days.

I didn’t put on any weight, rather lost some and Christmas sadly is over. When I was a child it was’t over for me until after 7th January as we used to celebrate Russian Christmas too because of my Russian Mother but that is a tradition I haven’t kept up unfortunately. It is strange how the Eastern Christians celebrate Christmas later than the rest. This has to do with their keeping to the Julian Calendar and ourselves using the Gregorian Calendar, as far as I can remember. So how was our Christmas, or rather Christmas Part 2? You will have read about our Christmas Part 1 in my previous blog post published some 2 weeks ago and if you haven’t, here is the link.

I left off last time on Boxing Day. On Tuesday 28th I had lunch with a new found Swedish friend, Mica, who sadly will be leaving Spain to return to her home town in the South of Sweden in the middle of January. We had a great lunch at one of my favourite restaurants in La Moraleja, “Aspen”. Unfortunately it will be our last lunch together in Spain before she leaves and I know that I will miss her a lot at Yoigo. Her leaving, reminds me of my dearest Finnish friend, Anne, leaving Spain in 2005 after working together so happily at Nokia before things turned sour. Mica and I are in a way soul mates, with similar bubbly personalities and an enormous “joie de vivre” so I will miss her dearly. In the old days when you parted from friends, after a few letters, the odd visit or phone call, in the end you lost touch as each one took a different path in life. Thankfully today because of mobile phones, email and Facebook that no longer happens. Mica and I will therefore be able to continue our friendship, albeit virtually. I’m sure too that she will return often to Spain, a country she has fallen in love with, the same as Anne. So I look forward to hosting her here as often as possible. Meanwhile I wish her lots of luck upon her return to her native Sweden, a country, which like my Father, I admire enormously.

Bubbly Mica with her happy family at the Yoigo children's Christmas party this year.  I will miss my new friend
The week after Christmas was full of social engagements and continuing celebrations. They had all been pre arranged and I was damned that our colds would halt any of them. On Tuesday 28th December we had Mar, Mariano and their Chinese adopted son, San, aged 8 for dinner. Dinner with Mar and Mariano, both of whom are journalists, has been a tradition we broke for no particular reason a few years ago. So it was great to renew the tradition and to welcome them back to our house. For San the dinner was even more special because Suzy is his coach and private teacher and he did not remember coming to our house. For us he was the star of the show, and you will understand why when you look at this charming picture of him with my beautiful girls.

Oli and Suzy with beaming San when he came to dinner with his parents, our friends Mar and Mariano.
They were very late and didn’t get here until nearly 11 in the evening, owing to La Vanguardia’s late closing hour. I made vegetable soup with perushki followed by filet steak, potato salad and grilled mushrooms. Dessert for them, not for me (haha) was fresh red berry fruit with Häagen Dazs ice cream. By the way did you know that the name is completely made up and does not come from the original Polish immigrant creators of the company and brand who are actually called Ruebben and Rose Mattus and set up the company in the Bronx (New York) in the early 60’s? I always thought it was a nice family Scandinavian name but apparently it was completely made up. This sort of practice is called “foreign branding” and is done to make brands more desirable. In any case, their ice cream is probably the best mass produced ice cream in the world. I’m sure San agrees as his disappeared from his plate in seconds. Suzy went to bed early leaving our guests as she had to get up at the crack of dawn  for work the next day. It was funny to see how San’s behaviour worsened as soon as she left and to understand the respect he has for her. He is not an easy child to teach and Mar and Mariano say she has done wonders. When she first took him on, he always failed at English. Now over one year later, he gets high marks in this subject. His other subjects are improving too and Mariano thinks Suzy should become a teacher. She has obviously inherited her teaching skills from Eladio but prefers to concentrate on her own field which is not teaching. In the meantime Suzy only teaches to make some extra money but she’s obviously very good at it.

Mar, Mariano and San who came to dinner with us this Christmas
On Thursday we had more guests and were to be 12 for dinner when Javier, Ana and their lovely grown-up children, Ignacio, Laura, Cristina and María visited us. They had never been to our house or met Suzy and Oli so the latter had strict instructions to be with us that night. They protested strongly, arguing that Javier and family were our friends and not theirs, but did as they were told. In the end they enjoyed the evening thoroughly and fell in love with this great family, so close to our heart, as I knew they would. I have written about this family before on our visit to New York where they are living now and where they were great hosts and on our trips to Peñacaballera in Salamanca where they have a house and spend their summers. They have always hosted us so finally on Thursday it was our time to host them and for them to meet our daughters. Unfortunately they did not meet my Father, “Grandpa” or my Mother-in-law, Ernestina, who, being elderly, go to bed very early. For this occasion I made a prawn, salmon and avocado salad, followed by my famous meat loaf and potato pure, finished off with one of the best desserts in the world, home-made apple crumble with vanilla ice cream.

Javier and family who came to dinner to our house this Christmas too.
After dinner we drank one of the two wonderful bottles of Moët Chandon champagne our guests brought us. Ana collects the corks from special occasions, so of course we gave her ours and look forward to seeing her collection one day, including the cork from the lovely dinner last week. I have to add we drank the after dinner champagne in the sitting room with the fire place. Eladio had put so many logs in that the room was near boiling temperature, a lesson we have learned for the future. I hope it didn’t send our guests off earlier than they had planned.

The next day we were heading off to León to spend New Year’s Eve, as always, with Eladio’s family. My Father and the girls stayed at home, so there were just 3 of us in the car, Eladio, myself and his Mother. That day I was to break my diet for the second time this Christmas which meant we could stop off at the Palacio de Bornos winery in Rueda, the area where the best white wine in the world comes from. Here we enjoyed a glass of wine with a plate of ham and half a plate of chorizo with delicious freshly made bread sprinkled with olive oil.

Eladio and his Mother when we stopped at Palacio de Bornos in Rueda on our way to León for New Year's Eve
That was at midday which meant that when we arrived in León I was not really hungry for the lunch my sister-in-law, Pili, had prepared. Nor was I able to drink the wine or eat the tapas my brother-in-law, Andrés invited me to at the bar near their flat. In any case it was lovely to be with them and their grown up kids, Paula and Mario and of course their very special dalmation, Trébol.

Andrés, Pili and Trébol on New Year's Eve in the afternoon at their flat in León.
I have to admit here that I actually prefer animals to babies. It’s something I’ve always known but only really realised on this visit. I had plenty of opportunities to take photos of the newest offsprings in the family, Diana, Roberto and Ana’s one year old daughter or Bea and Alvaro’s toddlers, Liam and Noa. I admired them at a distance but never once offered to hold them and of course took no photos, whereas the rest of the family was queuing up to do both. On the other hand I must have taken a dozen of Trebol. Does that mean that I’m not maternal? Well maybe not as much as other mothers. Of course I adored my own babies but for some reason other people’s babies don’t do much for me. It’s not that I don’t like children, I do, but they have to be at an age I can engage with them and have normal conversations. I’m sure of one thing though, that I will adore my grandchildren from day one. Meanwhile whilst they are nowhere near on the horizon, I continue to enjoy Trébol and of course dear Norah.

Trébol, Andrés, Pili, Paula and Mario's lovely dalmatian dog who I am completely in love with.
In the afternoon, whilst Eladio tried to sleep off his ever worsening cold, I went for a very long walk with Andrés and Trébol on the banks of the Bernesga river. I soon learned that Trébol is a much better behaved dog than Norah. He enjoyed most of the walk off the lead, something which would be impossible with Norah who would run off to chase rabbits and probably never come back. The walk was to work off the food intake at the Bodega in Rueda as well as Pili’s lunch but also to work up a new appetite for the New Year’s Eve dinner which was to take place at Yoli and Isidro’s house, Isidro being Eladio’s youngest brother. Yoli and Isidro live in a big house on the outskirts of León with their daughters Laura and Alicia (our god daughter) and have recently converted their garage into a party room which was perfect for the 24 of us celebrating the New Year.

Eladio and I on New Year's Eve in León.
Eladio’s family is a family who love to dance and at most family events they dance to the accompaniment of another brother, Alejandro, who learned to play the accordion as a child. He is probably pitch perfect but never ever had music lessons.
Alejandro, Eladio's brother, always provides live music for dancing at the family events, as he did on NYE this year.
 Unfortunately neither Eladio nor I are any good at dancing, although we did try one slow dance so as not to let the side down, but soon returned to our seats. We were the first to leave, at about 1.30. We seem to go to bed earlier and earlier these days and of course I get up very early, often at the crack of dawn, so at 1.30h we were yawning for our sleep. Never a good sleeper, especially in a bed which isn’t mine, I was surprised to actually get a reasonable night’s sleep. On New Year’s Day I was also to break my diet, so breakfast was a luxury and I enjoyed toast and butter for the first time in months.

Before leaving we had a date for a coffee with a couple in the centre of León, José and Mari José. They had been Eladio’s pupils when he was a priest in the village of Valderas many years ago. Marí José recently found Eladio on internet and they have been corresponding and now was the time to meet. I had met them once at their wedding nearly 30 years ago, so of course did not recognize them. It was funny to witness and be part of the reencounter after such a long time. For them it was very special, probably more than for us, as they had been the pupils and not the teacher which is normally the case. Here is a picture of Eladio with his old pupils who I think in part married thanks to the fostering of their relationship with events put on by Eladio for his young pupils at the time and for which they seemed forever grateful.

The reunion in León with Eladio's ex pupils, Mari José and José, a happily married couple.
After the amazing encounter, we hit the road again to drive home. Lunch was to be on the way at the Parador in Benavente where we nearly always stop on our way back. Here I was able to enjoy the superb chickpeas (garbanzos) from nearby Fuentesauco, where the best chickpeas in Spain are supposed to come from. If you know Spanish you may well have heard this famous saying: “el buen garbanzo y el buen ladrón de Fuentesaúco son” (roughly meaning the best chickpeas and the best thieves come from Fuentesauco!). I must say they were amazing, not only because of that but also because I hadn’t tasted chickpeas since I started my diet in September. Just look at this plate. Talk about home cooking at its best.

Chick peas with spinach at the Parador de Benavente, wonderful.
The next day, still being the weekend, was spent celebrating the New Year with the girls. As I had decided to break my diet for the whole weekend, we celebrated by going to the cinema and then to dinner to one of our all time local favourites, La Alpargetería where we were joined by Suzy’s boyfriend Gaby. The film we saw was “Sarah’s Key” a remarkable story about the round up of Jews in Paris by the French and not the Nazis during the second-world war but then handed over to the latter of course.  I have since ordered the book as well as another by the same author. As I read a resume of Tatiana de Rosnay’s own biography I realised just how similar it is to my Mother’s or even my own background which made me immediately interested in this author who was new for me. . For those of you, who like my Father, won’t be able to read the link, this is her background: “Tatiana de Rosnay was born on September 28th 1961 in the suburbs of Paris. She is of English, French and Russian descent. Her Father is French scientist Joël de Rosnay, her grandfather was painter Gaëtan de Rosna. Tatiana’s paternal great-grandmother was Russian actress Natalia Rachewskia, Director of the Leningrad Pushkin theatre from 1925 to 1949. Tatiana’s mother is English, Stella Jebb, daughter of diplomat, Gladwyn Jebb and great great granddaughter of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the British engineer. Tatiana is also the niece of historian Hugh Thomas”. Tatiana, curiously for me, obtained a Bachelor’s degree in English literature at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich in the 80’s, a place I spent many a summer and where my parents and Aunt taught. Who knows, we may have crossed each other on Norfolk Terrace or in the quadrangle on our way to the refectory. I think I would like to meet this lady with whom I would have much in common. Meanwhile I shall be enjoying her books and I may even drop her a note one day.

Tatiana de Rosnay, the author of Sarah's Key and with whom I have so much in common.
I haven’t read either yet as I have embarked on the enormously fat new book by Ken Follet, Fall of Giants set in the First World War in England, France, Germany and Russia. I am enjoying it thoroughly except for the battle scenes. That’s a bit like saying you like War and Peace apart from the war scenes, which is actually my case, hahaha.

Monday after the New Year’s celebration, was back to reality. One good thing that happened that day was that I got my hair style and colour back to how I like them after last month’s disaster. Tuesday was another shopping day as I went to our nearby shopping centre, Centro Oeste, to get some small presents for the Spanish Kings’ day on 6th January. We were to be doing the “invisible friend gift” with the girls and their friends, Juli and Rocío who would be joining us for “Reyes” as it is called here. Most Spaniards give their gifts that day so Reyes is really important for them. As neither my Father nor Eladio would be involved in buying the invisible friend presents, I, of course, did it for them. Actually it turned out to be a very good excuse to buy even more clothes at Zara, this time a red sleeveless knitted dress, a long white pullover and a short red cardigan. Of note too on Tuesday we had Oli’s friends Laura and Ana for lunch. Olivia had suggested them eating separately after us but I insisted on us all eating together as a family, pointing out that our house was a home and not a hotel.

Wednesday, the day before Kings’ day, I was up early to go and do a tac scan to make sure my mouth is in the right condition for 2 implants I need. I was very impressed with the Quirón hospital in Pozuelo, which seemed more like a hotel than a hospital. My test took place as soon as I arrived with no hanging around and if I had wanted I could have picked up the results the same day. As I also needed a gyno check up, for me and for Suzy, I went to make an appointment eagerly awaiting more efficiency and was rather disappointed to see that the earliest they could fit us in was the 1st April. So, yes efficient, but overcrowded like most hospitals here. Tuesday was a very medical day as I also had an appointment with my wonderful chiropodist in the afternoon at the Cemesur clinic in nearby Villaviciosa de Odón.  I cannot understand why people have pedicures when you can get this amazing treatment included in your health insurance. So once again, my feet are in great condition for my one hour daily walk.

In the evening, known as “Noche de Reyes” (Kings’ night) Suzy had decided to make the traditional roscón (Kings’ cake or bread, a bit like brioche but in the shape of a ring) which is eaten on Kings’ day for breakfast She got the recipe from internet and the difficulty degree was “difficult”. This recipe, like bread, needed fresh yeast and the dough had to rise several times before going in the oven. The recipe said for 8 people but turned out to be for many more. The outcome was extremely successful, 2 huge “roscones” which Suzy was extremely proud of. I witnessed each and every stage as I was taken on as her kitchen help for the occasion. We had also bought one in case the home made effort didn’t work out so ended up with 3. Luckily we were having guests the next day. Apart from Rocío and Juli, Eladio’s brother, José Antonio and his wife, Dolores and their grown up kids, Miguel, Sara and Juan would also be coming as they do most years on Kings’ Day.

Suzy and the giant Kings' "roscones" (cakes) - delicious
We toasted the roscón for breakfast and ate it with butter and jam (and some of us with Nutella!) and it was delicious. And I know that as I also broke my diet yesterday for the last and final time this Christmas. Breakfast was a lovely affair as we were joined not only by Juli and Rocío but also by Ana. The invisible present arrangement worked out fine too. My Father especially the enjoyed the last and final celebration of Christmas yesterday which he was not expecting.

Soon José Antonio and Dolores arrived and caught me in the middle of making their lunch, a truly British one too. I was making, as I had done on previous years, roast beef from the finest cut, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, peas and home-made gravy. You can guess what the dessert was. Yes, you’re right it was “roscón” but this time filled with thick whipped cream. And this is what the table looked like yesterday.

Lunch at home for 12 on Spanish Kings' Day was truly British, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings
We were 12 happy people for lunch enjoying Reyes (Kings’ Day) together, 2 united families and friends, as you can see on this photo below. The day was made easier for me as Olga was at home and so I didn’t have to do the clearing away or washing up. A home help is surely one of the best domestic investments available.

Lunch for 12 on Kings' Day
We all enjoyed coffee together but soon the party was broken up as the girls and Rocío had to leave for the airport. Also José Antonio and family were in a hurry to leave too which left the house suddenly very empty after the big lunch party. Christmas ended really when they left although it wasn’t until the next day that the decorations were taken down.

As I come to the end of my blog post on the second half of our wonderful Christmas, I can see how bad the weather is through the French windows in our study. It is raining hard and although I said at the beginning of my blog that I go for my walk “come rain or shine”, I think only a really mad person would venture out today and I’m not that mad an “Englishwoman” to brave the torrential rain coming down this early Saturday evening.

Let’s hope the weather gets better next week and that our bad colds abate too. Also now that Christmas is over, I am raring to get out for some action and a bit of a change of scene. I have worked through Christmas but haven’t once been to the office. We have spent most of our time nursing our colds and spending the afternoons in the lounge with the open fire reading or watching films when we haven’t been entertaining and now it’s time for some action, or I will go mad. If I didn’t say it last week, I wish you a great year, and if I did say it, then I wish you a great year once again. 2010 was a good year for me, so all I ask is that 2011 be just as good, if that’s not asking too much.

All the best my friends, till next week.

PD the full set of my Christmas photos can be found here on Facebook