Our hosts, José Serrão and Carlos Amaral, welcomed us on then evening of 21st May with a delightful welcome cocktail event, followed by a buffet dinner, which gave all the members, conference participants and guests an ideal opportunity to exchange ideas and opinions from the very beginning, all within the friendly, family-like atmosphere that characterises BGI's meetings and conferences.
The Sixth BGI Conference began the following day, taking place in the "Los Angeles" Conference Room at the Marriott Hotel. The General Assembly was opened by our hosts, Mr. José Serrão and Mr. Carlos Amaral, as well as by our President, Mr. Juan Luis Balmaseda de Ahumada, who welcomed all of the conference participants. Mr. Iñaki Diez de Oñate then presented BGI's accounts for the year 2002 and the budget for the year 2003, both of which were approved unanimously.
The General Assembly focused in particular on the development of referred activities among BGI members, based on an exhaustive analysis of their progress between the years 1996 and 2002. Our President, Juan Luis Balmaseda de Ahumada, then presented his report, which focused on the development of BGI, communication among the network's members and the BGI web page. He also announced the official incorporation of a new member of Balms Group International: Freeman, Haber, Rojas, Stanham LLP from Miami.
The traditional working-group sessions took place within a very relaxed atmosphere, with a number of new matters and ideas being raised. It was also suggested that BGI's corporate image should be enhanced, a question of vital importance. The BGI Intranet was also discussed and it was concluded that this type of work was both necessary and positive for the international network. It was suggested that the amount of time devoted to the working-group sessions should be increased at future conferences.
In the afternoon, an excursion was organised to Cascais. We visited the harbour and the old quarter of the town. From there we departed for Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in Europe, where we were presented with a certificate testifying to the fact that we had been there. We later went on to the incomparable town of Sintra, which was quite fascinating.
After strolling around and admiring the marvellous town of Sintra, we headed for Quinta da Regaleira, where, accompanied by our guide, Antonio, we had the opportunity to visit the palace and its enormous gardens, which were built in the early twentieth century in the "Manueline" style by the Brazilian millionaire, Carvalho Monteiro, and the Italian architect, Luigi Manini. We began our visit via the secret entrance of the "Initiatic Well", which contained a spiral stairway lined with moss that led to a tunnel that ended with the "Guardians' Entrance". The guardians consisted of two stone dragons standing sentinel over the entrance to the cave. From there we were able to admire all the sculptural and architectural delights of the area.
After our cultural visit we headed for the restaurant at the Hotel Lawrence, the second oldest hotel in the world, where we sampled some port and enjoyed an exquisite dinner. As throughout the whole conference trip, we missed those that were absent. In view of the occasion, some fine words were offered during the meal that moved all of the participants present at the dinner.
On Friday 23rd we continued with our conference. The second set of sessions took place in the "New York" conference room at the Marriott Hotel.
The room was packed with visitors, in addition to BGI members. We enjoyed the presence of various Portuguese authorities, as well as a number of renowned speakers, such as the following: Dr. Maria das Dores Meira and Mr. José Manuel Aranha Figueiredo, a Town Councillor and the Vice-President of the Municipal Chamber of Setúbal, respectively; Dr. Róbalo de Almeida, a Member of Portugal Telecom; and Dr. Santiago Freitas, a member of Prisma-Consultores, Lda., among others. The Portuguese Minister for Justice, Celeste Cardona, sent us a telegram apologising for her absence.
The conference sessions addressed a number of different matters and the Protocol Signing Ceremony was staged for the creation of an Iberian Centre for Arbitration. This protocol was signed by the Spanish and Portuguese members of BGI, Serrão & Amaral and Mr. Juan Luis Balmaseda de Ahumada.
Once the conference sessions had concluded and our guests had departed, BGI's members needed more time in which to continue discussing the matters and ideas that were left pending the previous day.
In the late afternoon we went by bus to "Pateo Alfacinha", which is part of the Palace of Ajuda, a former royal palace, where we were welcomed and accompanied by a Portuguese folklore music group, who performed various typical dances. We sampled various aperitifs, featuring a number of typical specialities, and enjoyed the local dances.
Various members of BGI demonstrated their dancing skills. The "Pateo" has a large balcony from which we were able to admire the landscape and the 25th April Suspension Bridge lit up in the distance.
On 24th May we strolled around Lisbon. We went by tramway from Praça do Comercio to Belém. From there, we headed to the world-renowned patisserie-café known as Pastéis de Belem, where we ate "pastéis de crema", whose recipe is only known to four people in the world.
We then visited the Monastery of Los Jerónimos, a marvellous building featuring stone sculptures in the Manueline style, which is where the BGI family posed for the now traditional group photograph. We then went on to Fátima. On the way, we had the opportunity to visit and eat at the wine-cellar/restaurant of Mr. Ricardo Viera, a client of our member in Portugal. There we sampled a number of wines, visited the wine-cellar and, over a bite to eat, chatted about our stay in Lisbon. After coffee, we visited the ceramics factory belonging to Mr. Ricardo Viera, where we were able to admire a number of items in his exhibition. After the visit to the factory, we went on to the Sanctuary of Fátima, which was built a little after 1917, the year in which the Virgin Mary appeared to three female shepherds.
After our visit to Fátima, we travelled by coach back to the hotel. Some of us sought to rest a little during the trip back, given that we did not wish to miss a single detail of what awaited us on our last night in Lisbon.
In the evening we went to the Palace of Queluz, a former Royal Residence, where we enjoyed the traditional Balms Group International Gala Dinner. The dinner took place at "Cocina Velha", the Palace's former royal kitchens, and the meal was enlivened by a Fado group, whom we were able to accompany in the chorus of certain songs.
Bouquets of flowers were presented to our hostesses, Isabel and Fernanda, and various members offered words of thanks, including the President of Balms Group International, who perfectly expressed the sense of gratitude that we all felt towards our hosts, Serrão & Amaral, to whom a BGI commemorative plaque was presented accordingly.
Furthermore, our member, András Réti from Réti Szegheo & Partners, confirmed that the next BGI Conference would take place between 5th and 8th May the following year in the beautiful city of Budapest.
On Sunday morning, various members of the group got together in order to say a fond farewell and "until next year".
In this respect, we look forward to seeing all members of BGI, as part of the grand family we are, in May of next year.