Archive | February, 2014

Mexico and Scandanavia…yes you read that correctly

17 Feb

Sometimes my job requires me drop everything and go somewhere, fairly quickly. Yes, this can be very cool. It can also be very annoying and challenging when you’ve made plans and don’t want to cancel on the same friend for the fifth time. But in January, it was way cool. (I probably could have made it cooler, but then the whole “being a douche to friends” thing would have come into play).

The first place I was asked to drop everything and go (back) to was Monterrey Mexico. In December when I first went out there, the people I worked with were not part of my regular team, and it was awesome! I got really nervous when they emailed the client to book our hotel and the response came back that the Quinta had my reservation. I know this sounds a bit snobby and their commercials are catchy, but the first thing that came to mind was, ‘Great, we’re staying in a La Quinta in a Mexican city fairly close to the boarder.’ What I didn’t know is that there’s a five star chain of hotels in Mexico called Quinta Real. Ahhh ha! That’s more like it. So when I was asked to go back in January, there was no hesitation. While it’s not the most interesting city, the team is great, the people are nice, the food is good and the hotel is relaxing. What more can I ask for on a work trip? Two of the great restaurants we went to were Amalia Gusto & Grill, and Gallo 71.

The very next day, I was asked if I could teach a training in Oslo because one of the trainers had dropped out last minute and they couldn’t find a replacement. Fortunately, one of the other trainers was my career counselor at work who had planned a mini Scandinavian getaway around the training. I had a moment of pause where I hesitated before I snapped out of it and said to myself, ‘Duh, of course you’re going to go, when else will you ever get a paid trip to Scandinavia?!’ At that time it hadn’t quite hit me that I would be going from Mexico to the snowy darkness that is Scandinavia in winter, but oh well! Booking this trip was a bit of a nightmare as I originally planned to go from Mexico to NY, switch suitcases, and then head to the Nordics. That proved to be a really dumb idea, and the chances of missing a connection were very high. I had also packed my carry on luggage (yes it carried on) to include sweaters. So the night before leaving Monterrey, Amex was able to change my flight from Mexico to Stockholm via Atlanta and Paris, which also gave me a lay flat seat in business class. For anyone whose had to go to work the day after 20+ hours of plane travel, you know how clutch the lay flat seat is.

I landed in Stockholm around noon on Saturday and took the Arlanda Express, which is a 20 minute train ride from the airport to Stockholm central station. I checked into the Sheraton two blocks away from the station, had a shower and was ready to hit the town by 2pm. Fortunately, I had done about 30 minutes of research on the plane along with emailing my childhood friend who lives in Sweden. I met up with my work counselor, and we headed to Gamla Stan, the old town, to see the royal palace, along with an exhibit on the king. I’m not very familiar with the Swedish royal family, but they seem like a laid back bunch. We exited the palace around 4pm and it was already dark. During my 10 minutes of plane research I had booked us a 430pm reservation at Restaurant Frantzen. It had rave reviews on yelp and an article I had read mentioned they always make a stop there when they can. However, we knew we might be in over our heads when the concierge at the hotel told us this restaurant had the most famous chef in Sweden, and when we turned the corner to the restaurant and the maĆ®tre D / doorman standing outside, asked if I was Sonya. *gulp* As the article suggested the place was small and homie, and after taking 10 minutes to disrobe, we were seated at a cozy two top next to the window. A piece of paper looking like a prix-fixe menu was set down and both of us gasped. The paper said 2200 SEK aka $340 USD. Oh crap what I have done! After brief discussion, we decided it would look worse to just get up and leave and we were starving, and when else would we be in Stockholm and at a two Michelin star restaurant? We went through a similar thought process when they asked about the wine pairing. All in all we had the most expensive meal of our lives with 15 courses in over 3 hours. It’s been one month since that meal and we still can’t get over how amazing yet costly the meal was. The following morning we took the downtown trolley to the Vasa museum. The Vasa is a 17th century warship which sank after a few minutes after leaving the port on its maiden voyage. The ship was salvaged in 1961 and now sits in an incredible museum explaining its history, including how it was built, insights into the 30-50 people who died when the ship sank, the inquest that followed, and how she was raised. Afterwards, we attempted to head to Zum Franziskaner, which is supposedly the oldest restaurant since 1421. Unfortunately it’s closed on Sundays, so we made our way back to the hotel, and back to the airport via the Arlanda Express for our flight to Oslo.

In the airport we realized how inefficient transportation is compared to the US. Sweden and Norway have bullet trains directly connecting their airport to the center of the city. When checking in at the airport, people knew what to do and weren’t pushing each other in lines. I was able to print my own bag tag at the self check in kiosk and then scan it onto the belt without waiting for some miserable airline attendant to take my bag from a scale to a convey belt. Lastly, they know how to make an awesome mojito.

In Oslo, we stayed at the Park Inn directly next to the airport which was also attached to a conference facility. The only complaint I have about this hotel is the fact there were zero amenities in the bathroom. When a hotel is next to an airport, you expect them to have at least a bar of soap, let alone shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. No sir! The hotel clerk at the front desk proceeded to hand me a bottle the size of a fingernail labeled “hair and body”. My hair turned to straw just looking at it. Needless to say a trip to the airport to purchase some real shampoo was in order. Other than that, the hotel was decent, everyone from the training was a delight, and the food was great. On the last day, training ended early and my coworker and I went downtown via the Flytoget train from the airport. After marveling at the architecture in the Opera house, we went in search of some shopping and food. Since the boots I wanted cost about $500, I settled with a pair of thick wool leg warmers. We then went to dinner at an Indian restaurant and proceeded to once again, pay a lot of money for a meal. In Scandinavia, a roughly 25-50% tax is levied on everything. We paid $140 for two three course Indian dinners with no booze, but 50% of that was tax. After dinner we went in search of a good bar, and found it at Dr. Jekyll’s Pub, not far from the Royal palace in Oslo. Here I learned that the two most expensive things you can do in Oslo is drink a beer and take a taxi. Somehow my beer came out to roughly $20, and I thought NY prices were high! We didn’t dare take a taxi to test out the theory, but we came awful close during our run for the last train back to the airport around 1130pm. I couldn’t believe my time in Scandinavia had come and gone so quickly! I even tried to change my flight again at the last minute so I could travel with my coworker on to Helsinki and Copenhagen, but that’ll have to be another trip.