Another great year is about to complete its course. I can hardly believe that 52 weeks have passed since I posted a similar message at the close of 2005.
In many ways, 2006 had a strong challenge to beat 2005, the year which I never described as anything other than "magnificent" and "remarkable". Less of a student's light-minded chirping, more everyday worries, less travelling, far less free time to roam about - and yet, a year bringing some amazing milestones. I would be happy if you could share some of these moments with me – as summarised below. Apologies, it is going to be long!
► 14 January: I return to Riga from a four-month internship at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Return from arguably the best time of my life, having said tearful goodbyes to multiple friends, excellent community at Christ-the-King church and the choir whose voice spectrum I complemented with my useless tenor for the entire stay in Frankfurt. Once again, thanks to everyone who made my stay so special - I will not exaggerate by saying that I think back on my German experiences almost every day and hope that I will be able to return one day, to visit or to stay. Heart-broken and completely knocked-out by Latvia's -28C winter weather, I take some two weeks to get back to life...
► 26 January: ... just when I think life can have a fair stab at dragging on, it is time to head further - to Helsinki. My studies won't wait, and my Hanken Professor is very keen to find out the progress on my Master's Thesis. Oops - the answer is none at all. On to Tallinn, cut across the Gulf of Finland, in heavy snowfall, with freezing hands, taking pictures in the wind, entering a dark tunnel, at the other side of which, Helsinki is waiting. I never thought my return could be filled with this hopeless gloom. Let's wait till morning...
► January-February: Thanks to being so perfectly (and annoyingly!) emotional, I almost immediately come to absolutely loving Finland. Reuniting with dear friends at St. Nicholas' Church in Helsinki, rejoining my old Swahili choir (as a tenor, my soprano attempts successfully scare birds off the trees), spending hours walking in the snowy, sun-lit Helsinki, crossing the icey bay between Helsinki and Espoo, sleeping in friends' wooden hut in the middle of a forest, attending lectures again, babysitting my lovely "double-trouble" twins Katie and Alec and a new child, adorable Canadian 1-year old (Theo, you stole my heart). Everything I used to do in Helsinki before - with the sizeable addition of cash from my London internship. I really think some money does not hurt in life!
► March: The saga continues – flying between Riga and Helsinki in an attempt to economise on rent (romantic forests aside, wooden huts can be expensive in Finland). The twins and their parents are away and I enjoy a week in a superb flat in the heart of Töölö in central Helsinki - where Swedish is so often heard. What a contrast to East Helsinki (watch out for those Russians). Daddy leaves for the sea - we say goodbye not knowing when another chance might be to meet. I get my first introduction to an all-day drinking session Finnish-style. Good Heavens. I demonstrate my survivor's spirit by walking for 2 hours in -15C cold, loaded heavily with old stuff, in the absence of taxis, 3 am in the morning. And oh - my ferry is first thing the day after. Never again...
► 5-6 April: I am back in London for the UBS Graduate Conference 2006 which brings together new UBS joiners from every corner of the world. The event is meant to help us to get to know each other in the course of a day loaded with team-building exercises and a black-tie dinner in the evening. I get to hold a square slogan shield during the first part and sit next to an eloquent German during the second. Overall, great fun - also great to see the colleagues from my future team.
► Mid-April: half-Riga, half-Helsinki - for a change, huh. (Looking) busy working on my Master's Thesis, whose number of pages somehow expands without any substance added – go, Anna. Babysitting a *very* loud trio of boys aged 3-9. Flying to Helsinki makes such a difference to that booze-cruise, er, ferry crossing from Tallinn, which I must have done some thirty times in the last two years (crossing, not booze). Round of applause to AirBaltic's supercheap ticket offer - little Fokker 50 (with real external propellers!) is a very, very special experience, too. Not recommended for the faint-hearted.
► End of April: I defend the final draft of my Thesis, which brings me onto the finishing line to submission. Finally getting hold of a bicycle - the key to freedom! Helsinki is still very cold - luckily, so is my blood, and I enjoy over 50 km of cycling daily, crossing the city from Pohjois-Tapiola to Vuosaari, from Puistola-Viikki-Malmi-Vanhakaupunki-Pasila to central Helsinki, over and about Eira and Punavuoro, up to Vantaa, east to Mustikkamaa and Kulosaari, past Itäkeskus to my darling swimming pool and back. Ladies and gentlemen, I officially declare Helsinki my favourite urban location for cycling. Not to forget the refreshing wind, hot coffee under those Northern skies and that sea air making one feel drunk. Many, many warm thanks to Peter K. for lending his bike and making my stay in Helsinki ever so bright. Unreserved thanks also to Melanie for hosting me - I enjoyed our farewell "berries in brandy" dessert!
► 1 May: off to a great start, have you heard of Vappu which Finns celebrate on 1 May? It is also known as Walpurgisnacht in Germany (been mentioned by Goethe in Faust) and Valborg in Sweden (Swedes like to burn massive bonfires on that day). Finns are not too sophisticated and contend themselves by wearing funny student hats (reminiscent of sailor's caps) and overalls covered in myriads of sloganed badges and illiterate memoirs. Sweets and oddly-shaped balloons are sold on every corner. People even tell jokes (!) in public transport, which, for Finns, is super-brave!... Anyway, the point of the day, hats and sweets aside, is to get drunk to distraction. The overalls, ladies and gentlemen, help to ensure a comfortable night's sleep, should this result in a muddy (and cold) pit just behind the sauna in your friend’s mökki (Finnish for summer house). Joking, joking :-) the point is certainly to remember one's school days, and no other nation does it better and in more inspirational spirit of unity than Suomi! Kippis!
► 2-11 May: Back in Riga, the World Ice Hockey Championship 2006 kicks off. My country has the honour of hosting it this year, which involves taking care of numerous supporters from participating countries. Ever since Torvill and Dean, England's been rubbish at anything to do with ice, so England fans are absent - but we get the Finns instead! They can easily be recognised by fake horns (as if they're real Vikings) and familiar sounds of Maamme (Vårt land, Finnish National Anthem). There are also Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, etc, walking about the city - the atmosphere is great. Latvia's absolute profane in ice hockey, so I end up supporting Finland. Choosing to skip the horns, I do learn Maamme by heart. Soi, sana kultainen!
► 12-23 May: Final days in Helsinki. My Thesis is submitted, and I officially become an MSc. Finland loses to Sweden in ice hockey – oops, pure luck, Sverige - and, the same day, goes on to ROCK at the Eurovision Song Contest in Greece, represented by a band of hard-rock beast-like monsters - go, Lordi! Hard! Rock! Hallelujah!!! The nation rejoices and Lordi are welcomed back as national heroes... meantime, my plane leaves Helsinki on a bright (but very chilly) 23 May. We pass over Kulosaari, into the Gulf, and Helsinki disappears behind. Goodbye, dear country. As much as I have critised you, you have won my heart forever.
► 26-30 May: Visit to Norway. Ole and Marit in Horten and their lovely children, Live and Sindre, are doing great. As ever, Norway seems like paradise. Swimming in refreshing +10C Oslo fjord, cycling for miles around Horten and down to Tønsberg, visiting Åsgårdstrand and the little hut of Edvard Munch, enjoying the relaxing lifestyle of a Norwegian family, fresh air and stunning views over the Oslo fjord, and - above all - the incredible Norwegian food. As much as I love Suomi and Deutschland, there really is no place like Norway for re-gaining strength.
► 4 June: Manage to escape to Vilnius, Lithuania, for a day of catching up with dear buddies. Thanks to Aneta for coming all the way from Kaunas (incredible distance!), as well as Jonas and Saulius for their time, but especially to Gintukas for making the day so special :-) please come and see me in London soon!
► 8-13 June: off to Frankfurt on a special Weltmeisterschaft 2006 (FIFA World Championship 2006) mission - my camera and I. Having safely avoided England supporters in Riga, I have the pleasure of witnessing them envade Frankfurt. They fly St. George's crosses at the Zeil and Römer and flood every cafe. Overall, though, there is fantastic spirit not only in Frankfurt, but all over Germany - this Weltmeisterschaft really manages to boost the internal mood in Europe's largest economy. Personally, I catch up with old Frankfurt friends and ex-colleagues. Many, many thanks to everyone who found time to meet me - Eileen, Liz, Margaret, Allan, Gretchen, Claudia, Linda but especially Wim and Veerle for giving me such wonderful welcome in their outstanding Taunus home - I swear one day my windows will overlook the "Bankfurt" skyline and Taunus hill range, too.
► 21-27 June: For the first time ever, I visit Poland. Warsaw seems nice and cosy (shame none of the historic old town remains); Nowy Sącz is peaceful and relaxing; Krakow is touristy and offers stunning views at night. I love Poland and hope to revisit one day – many thanks to Tapani and Marisza for giving me accommodation and to Tomek for giving me a lift to central Krakow! Highlight of the trip: bringing home a palm tree in a pot. So what? Oh well, you should have seen me stuffing the plant into the security X-Ray at F. Chopin airport in Warsaw…
► 7 July – End of August: Massive personal milestone, moving to London to join the UBS Investment Bank as an analyst! The programme kicks off with a two-month training programme with courses in accounting, financial modelling and more teambuilding. The analyst class this year are some 120 outstanding individuals from various parts of world – thank you, guys, for making the experience so special. Unreserved thanks to those who attended my 23 birthday drinks at the Smiths bar in Smithfield! Totally appreciated. Anyway, I will never forget the social events - including a boat trip on the Thames, management dinner at the Haz and drinks at several locations – enjoying the London musicals (Spamalot is stupid but great), taking hundreds of snaps with my camera, attending formal dinners and joining my future UBS team – European Utilities – for a go-carting session in Mile End park. On a personal side, I find a reasonably priced flat in Stratford, begin to settle into the busy London life, join a swimming pool in Queensway and catch up with friends long-not-seen. Many thanks to Cyrille for putting me up in the first days and Diane/Magnus for helping out with the first deposit ahead of my first salary! I also pass some FSA – Financial Services Authority – exams, the last hurdle on my way to professional life.
► 4 September and on: The fun is over. I begin full-time employment at the European Utilities team at UBS. Same faces - different combinations - the hours seem to get longer every day - I soon get into routine. This is certainly not the European Central Bank... professional highlight of the month: chasing a colleague departing for the Middle East from Heathrow with a bunch of freshly printed books. I stupidly search in economy class and get told off – lesson one, Anna, we don’t travel economy here. Understood, sir.
► 26-27 September: Non-professional highlight of the month, recruitment event at the Helsinki School of Economics, yippie! Business class flight (lesson one obviously learnt), a few free hours in Helsinki, absolutely random photos on my new Nikon D70s (may professionals forgive me for abusing this beautiful creature). The evening event is a discussion panel featuring (a very keen, etc) first-year analyst Anna, potential candidates ask many questions, I am reminded how sought after my position is. Long live investment banking!
► 14-15 October: Augsburg in 2004, Worms/Heidelberg in 2005 – this year, many thanks to Andrea L. for organising our yearly Kalmar reunion in Munich! (we were all exchange students at the Baltic Business School in Kalmar, Sweden) Thanks also to Diether, Marit, Anthonia and Andrea R. for attending in person and Virginija, for conferencing on the phone :-) Absolutely outstanding to be in Germany again, taking more pictures, visiting the Englischer Garten and Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich, taking the train to Starnberg and failing to meet all those celebrities who apparently live there. Liebes Deutschland!
► 18-19 November: Absolute nightmare: after a week of no sleep, travelling to Riga to catch up with mum and labouring through an all-nighter on a model. Poor mum is terrified to see what her little girl’s job is about. Lots of stress, back to London. Mind you, it is not the norm (some hope!)…
► 5-6 December: Promises, promises, my first proper business trip is to St. Petersburg! Nostalgic to be back in Russia and especially a place so close to beloved Helsinki. Northern climate, that mysterious twilight and short but enjoyable walk. Omitted are some details on working in my hotel room, but it is raining outside and the hotel is the Grand Europe Hotel, anyway. I enjoy a lonesome dinner (enough food for two though – no complaints). The client meeting is extremely exciting (honest!), and I meet some Finns (maybe next time they will even be single).
► 11 December: The initial intention was to put in a detailed description of the UBS Christmas Party held at Planit Embankment, Embankment Gardens, an event for UBS Investment Banking Department. However, for some obscure reason, my memory has not kept any records of this special night after 9 pm. I remember that the food was rubbish, so let’s leave it there. Also, some unidentified Italian colleague wrote to thank me for the "amazing dinner" the day after suggesting a "follow-up" over a "coffee", but, embarrassingly, neither his face nor name rang any bell. Oops.
► 19 December: My introduction to the glamorous side of London continues – my team enjoys a long and delicious lunch at the Pulpit followed by drinks at the Blue Bar / Berkeley Hotel and a dinner at San Lorenzo in Knightsbridge. What a Christmas miracle to be out of the office for the entire afternoon and evening, privileged not to respond to that desperately vibrating BlackBerry. Hush, baby, hush.
► 23-26 December: The year is nearly over, and I am finally home in Riga, with the prospect of celebrating the New Year in magnificent London! 2006 has been an amazing year, filled with eye-opening and educating experiences, and I would like to thank every single individual who has contributed towards making this time so special. I look forward to 2007 and hope for more exciting professional responsibilities, exotic travel experiences that I can finally afford and, most of all, seeing as many of you as I can. Please forgive me for the blackout of enduring silence in the past few months – my work life has been extremely demanding, but I do commit myself to catching up with as many people as possible in the coming year.
Many thanks to Rupert, Hanna and Dennis, Peter J., Peter K., Arthur, Kristiina, Anna W., Andy and little Birgitta, Tracy, Niklas and little Katie and Alec, Wanjiku, Joan, Ron, Dan, Anya and little Yessenchik, Helen P., Pasi and little Nadja/Edvin, Arne and Dagrun, Allan, Gretchen, Margaret, Liz, Claudia, Mona, Aneta, Saulius, Magali, Sharoni, Charlotte, Eddie, Matthew, Sara, Jo, Thomas N., Fredrik, Luis, Chiara, Joaquim, Clemens, Thomas B., Mikkel, Josh, Rach, Tomoko, Jane, Alessio, Letizia, Svetik, Natalija, Ssneg, Sirota, and all my other LJ friends, Kristine, Marina, Dermot, Marton and Dimka.
Special thanks to Allisa, Damian and little Theo, Melanie, Sarah, Paul and Pirjo, Tapani, Jonas, Gintukas, Diane and Magnus, Cyrille, Jerry, Jackie, little Matthew, Zachary, Aaron and Sophie, Thomas Z., Alberto, Slava, Wani, Emilia, Anna Z., Sasha, Christopher, Andreas, Joerg, Elizabeth, Elisabetta, Henriette, Nandini, Avi, Olga, Eileen, Wim, Veerle and little Caroline, Marisza, Asia, Tomek, Inna, Julija, Darja, Marit B., Andrea L., Diether, Virginija, Anthonia, Andrea R., Ole, Marit L. and little Live and Sindre - for *making this year so memorable*. Thanks to everyone I have forgotten - it is entirely my fault.
A very special thanks to my mother and father!
Praise the Lord for yet another great year.