Diamond & Stone days

Hello Friends & Family,

Some days on trips are diamonds and others stones!

A rather busy week.

Made a nice change flying very far northeast to Helsinki with Derek next to me, usually I am on-board with 300 strangers! We did have guardian angels on our flights, had exit seat rows or 3/5 seats to ourselves on all flights. Oh my, the difference this makes is extraordinary. First time on Qatar Airways. Very impressed.

First workshop – Helsinki, Finland.

39 Exhibitors from all over Africa and Indian Ocean Islands. At least 38 exhibitors needed visa support documents!!! This was a mammoth task on its own. Not to mention how many times I had to shuffle hotel bookings around.

We were given an upgrade to a junior suite, always delightful, most especially with all the luggage we carry, personal stuff and workshops stuff. Space is paramount.

Nothing stood out for me in Helsinki, wet, cold and dark at this time of year, busy city. Had to really concentrate crossing the street. Trams, buses, motorists, taxis, cyclists by the thousands. Wonderful Christmas lights, amazing shopping, if you earn Euros!

Christmas is everywhere in Finland. Santa Claus is the Ambassador of Finland. Santa’s home is in the Korvatunturi Mountains in the heart of Lapland. On the top of Korvatunturi there are three peaks that resemble “ears” (korva means “ear” in Finnish.)

The town of Roveniemi is the Christmas City of the world and the official airport for Father Christmas. The city’s post office handles all Santa’s mail. It is estimated that to date the post office has received 13 million letters from 200 countries.

Second workshop – Stockholm, Sweden.

Really early start!! 04:00 wake-up and at Stockholm hotel by 08:30am to set-up for the mid-morning workshop. This incorporated taxis, flights and trains – yep all by 08:30. This certainly fitted the “Stone day”.

The self-sufficient system in European cities is a marvel and this most certainly stood out in the Nordic countries. As a citizen, or visitor you do everything for yourself. Carry all your own bags. I did not take Derek’s advice! Once suitcase is packed, take half out. Everything weighs something, from a paper-clip to your shoes. It becomes awfully heavy up and down escalators, stairwells and pushing and pulling your load from place to place. The self-check-in at airports a bit daunting. You also do your own bag drop. Tag bag, place baggage on scale and if the weight is correct, the machine prints your boarding card and your bag disappears down the shoot. Shoot!! Should your bag be overweight, no boarding card issued. The machine declines any further check-in process, that’s it. No person to negotiate that extra kilogram of weight. Move along, next!! Wow!!

Same day much later, workshop done with an excellent turnout from the local travel trade and happy exhibitors, we are back on the ‘fast train’ to the airport to fly to Oslo Norway. Appalling weather delays our flight out of Stockholm. The day had suddenly become long. On arrival in Oslo, I think baggage handling forgot to put our bags on the carousel. After inquiring, our bags arrive. 90% of the daily commuters have carry-on luggage. Unusually long drive into the city. By now it is close to the bewitching hour of midnight. R3,500 for the cab ride!! Get up to room – not bad, nice size. Hotel rooms in the Nordics are very minimalistic. As I begin to unpack, I discover that my entire bag is wet including everything in it. Ah man!!!! Either our baggage stood on the apron for a while in the pouring rain and sleet, or it was not put into one of the metal baggage containers which go in the hold of the aircraft, freezing temperatures and condensation results in wet baggage. ‘Note to self’, only use a hard shell suitcase and not nylon/vinyl bags. Mercifully the room had an iron/board and managed to press our clothes for our morning workshop.
Suffice to say, saw nothing of Stockholm.

Third workshop – Oslo, Norway.

Norway, land of the midnight sun, in summer.

Winter on the other hand, a bit drab, especially as snowfall had yet to fall, grey and bleak. As the northern hemisphere approaches its winter solstice the days have only a few hours of light. Most odd sensation. Still dark at 08:30 and a few hours later dark again by 15:00. Jolly lucky they don’t have any power outs with load shedding !!!!

Workshop very good, lovely conference room and brilliant and interesting food. The Kenyan Tourist Board sponsored the meals at our workshops with interesting Kenyan ‘bitings’ – Nyama & Kuku Choma (beef & chicken) & samosas. (In Kenya they use Goat’s meat! The Nordic chefs used Beef). I survived the week choosing to eat Salmon, morning, noon and night in various presentations. Due to our time restraints we never saw any sights at all in Oslo. Late afternoon, we set off with all our exhibitors to the quay to board the overnight Pearl Seaways cruise to Copenhagen, the wintery sun just peeping out and the weather calm. What a panic time making sure all exhibitors were at the docks in due time. After issuing boarding cards and clearing immigration, we set sail. Lovely sea-view cabin. Beautiful scenery leaving Oslo and cruising through the many water ways into the open sea. At this point I take a ‘motion sickness’ tablet. Good idea. Several exhibitors did not have successful dining on board with poor sea-legs and nausea. The ship carries 2,500 people. On board facilities very impressive, full duty-free shopping, many choices of restaurants, bars, more shops and plenty of entertainment.

Early arrival in Copenhagen, clear and chilly, and an off work ‘diamond’ day.

Fourth workshop – Copenhagen, Denmark.

After check-in we head off on the hop-on-hop-off bus which also includes the waterways by canal boats. We pass the little mermaid statue from the Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale. Lovely afternoon, seeing the sights, terrific Christmas markets which serve gallons of gluhwein and glogg, a mulled wine with blanched almonds, orange peels and raisins, too thick and too sweet for me. Copenhagen is a pretty city, crazy traffic and thousands of cyclists. I cannot digest the fact that cyclists park their bikes outside shops, coffee bars etc. with absolutely NO locking mechanism visible … what … Copenhagen has a one-mile pedestrian street, a serious retail runway. Stylish boutiques, department stores, extraordinary. Last sight-seeing stop Tivoli Gardens. What a happy place, for every age with the most magical amusement park. Restaurants, shops, all very pretty and the Christmas lighting and music. ‘Jingle bell rock’ and all known Christmas songs fill the chilly air with the sound of Christmas, spell bounding. Unfortunately now very tired and very cold which forces us back to the hotel. I love doing the city tours wherever we go, always learn something interesting. The iconic wireless system, “Bluetooth”, (something we cannot live without,) was named after King Harald Bluetooth, a medieval king of Denmark & Norway in about 950 AD. Intel, Ericsson & Nokia’s engineers decided to create a wireless standard, but they were stuck with a codename for this programme. Over a few drinks the engineers were discussing a book about the Vikings in which Harald was mentioned. In Scandinavian runes, the Bluetooth logo is a combination of Bluetooth’s initials, these two combined and dropped onto a blue background gives us our now familiar Bluetooth logo.

Final workshop dawns and we boost another successful event. Good mix of exhibitors, one or two exceptions, always the case. Jingle Bells to Derek’s team, yours truly, Anneli and Hellen, affectionately known as First Lady, second and third wife!! Hard work pays-off.

My homeward bound journey took a total of 27 hours, 2 international flights. According to my iPhone health data, I walked 9.2km and I thought I had two long ‘sits’ on flights!!!!

Love Jan