Thursday, April 26, 2007

Stockholm 155m from above

We have just finished a two-day quarterly conference with our department at work. It’s been a productive team meeting but we also got the opportunity to visit the hub of all TV and radio transmission in Sweden, the Kaknäs Tower (brief info in English here) and get a guided tour by Teracom, the state-owned company who manages all the terrestrial TV and radio broadcasting in the country. The reason for the visit was a presentation on Mobile TV so it was good to see how “regular TV” is distributed. The Kaknäs Tower also has a restaurant and café up there and we had a nice dinner with the whole team there last night.

No – we’re not sisters! The red-haired lady to the right is my colleague Agnes :-)

The Kaknäs Tower was built in the 1960’s and is located on Gärdet, part of the Östermalm area in Stockholm. It is a 30-story high (155 meters) building with a fantastic view over Stockholm City and its surroundings – see photos below. The tower has its name after a medieval village called Kaknäs which was located here once.


Lovely Lovisa

This past Sunday I visited my friends Malin and Jesper and my god-daughter Lovisa at their home in Vasastan in central Stockholm. Lovisa is such an adorable baby! Please note the red hair - I wonder if this was the reason I was trusted with the honor / responsibility as god-mother...? She could have been my own. Time will tell if she's as strong-willed and temperamental as me. ;-)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gabriella's birthday mingle

I'm at one of Stockholm's most popular Schlager bars, Lemon Bar, on Kungsholmen. I've been to a fabulous mingle party at Gab's apartment with incredible and successful women (where were the equally successful men?!).

I heard great stories from Gabriella's ski friend Pernilla who just came back from three weeks in the Swiss Alps which were much different from my own Engelberg experience this year. She had the most fantastic time with great puff powder, so now there is a plan for next year's skiing. I must convince Eva - who's currently bumming around in Australia for 3 weeks sending me SMS reports from Sydney and Surfer's Paradise - and our Kittelfjäll friends to go for a long weekend in Verbier (apparently good for partying after skiing) and then a week in Andermatt, lots of snow guaranteed! :-)

Gabriella - Thanks for a fab night!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Birthday lunch for Henke

Today I had lunch in the Kista Center foodcourt with my friend Henrik to celebrate his recent birthday. We ran into Camilla, one of our very good university friends, her two kids Signe and newborn baby Anton, and her parents from Gällivare. The baby was a real cutie!

Henrik and Camilla

Camilla, new-born Anton and Signe

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Salsa party in Älvsjö

I've just been to a very nice salsa party arranged by Octave and Elisabeth with 30-40 people in a residential area in southern Stockholm. The photo shows Lena, a South-African lady, Fredrik, Helena, Pernilla and Enrique.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter visit in Värmland

Testing mobile Blogger... The photo below shows my Mom and her dog Wilma, taken with my K810 Cyber-shot phone.

Mom in black and white

Monday, April 9, 2007

Miami South Beach – salsa y playa!

I decided to spend last weekend in Miami after the business trip to Orlando. It didn’t start off well. My morning plane with American Airlines from Orlando to Miami got cancelled without explanation so all the passengers were forced to go claim their baggage and go back to the check-in counter again. After spending two hours waiting in a line with surprisingly cheerful co-passengers – it must be all the sunshine that makes them so happy and relaxed so that no stress or let-downs can affect their good humor – I was rebooked on another flight in the afternoon. This one got delayed 1.5 hours due to an overloaded plane – one of the engines wouldn’t even start before they had offloaded six of the passengers and their luggage! Once we finally got on the runway, we had to wait for a thunderstorm to pass... ‘Thunderstorm’ sounds scary to Europeans but the captain said it like he had a slightly annoying fly in cockpit. A poor French (or French Canadian, perhaps) woman sitting next to me and who didn’t speak English, must have been afraid of flying because she was noticeably worried over the engine issue and the thunderstorm and was fiddling about in the seat. I was mostly irritated that my whole first day of only 2.5 days’ weekend vacation in Miami was getting ruined.

Six hours later than planned, I finally landed in Miami and took a cab to South Beach. My brother’s girl-friend’s mother (the cat rescuer) has an apartment on Washington Avenue, on the 15th floor with a marvelous view of a good part of South Beach. She had been kind enough to let me borrow the apartment over the weekend while she was in Los Angeles. This turned out to be only a few minutes’ walk from the beach (poor me!) and a couple of blocks up from Lincoln Road, so I was all set.

South Beach area
Washington Ave.

Lincoln Road is very good for shopping and has plenty of outdoor restaurants and cafés on the boardwalk. It looks a lot like Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica (CA). After dropping my luggage in the apartment, saying hi to the one remaining cat residing there (the rest are now all in Los Angeles), I went straight down to Lincoln Road, sat down at a café and ordered a cold beer. I let the irritation wash away and started enjoying watching people, the fact that I was in flip-flops in late March (usually winter with snow at this time of year in Sweden) and that I was going salsa dancing that night.

Lincoln Rd

The first night I had dinner on my own at a Thai restaurant on Lincoln Road. The second night I met up with some Canadian and Swedish colleagues at Ocean’s 10, a very popular and happening outdoor restaurant with live music performed by two musicians playing paso doble, salsa, merengue and Gipsy Kings songs with a female dancer basically doing the same moves regardless of music genre but in different costumes. I liked the atmosphere here, though. It was nice to sit outdoors with a lot of people around you, rhythmic music, good company and absolutely fantastic food. This place served delicious pasta!

Rob, Fahrad & I at Ocean’s 10

Johanna, Rob, Christian, Fahrad & Andreas

The South Beach area was a funny place with lots of gay people with wimpy dogs, fancy people going out at night along the fashionable and nightclub dense Collins Avenue (next time I’ll try this; it looked fun as I walked north after dinner at Ocean’s 10), tourists and local originals like the patriotic old man on the photo below with the dog. Common for all the locals in Miami seemed to be that they spoke Spanish first, and some of them didn’t even know English.

I mainly had two objectives with this trip: to unwind at the beach and to go salsa dancing.

Salsa clubs
Salsa Mía is a social event that happens every Friday and Sunday at Yuca Lounge. You can take classes and then stay for Latin nightclub. Yuca Lounge was conveniently located on Lincoln Road, so it was very easy and close for me to walk there. This was a quite decent place with good music and a mix of beginners, intermediate and some more advanced salsa dancers. I met two nice fellows, Hiram and Juan, who invited me to dance and then we started talking. It turned out that they go out dancing regularly so they know the best salsa places.

For Saturday night, Juan and Hiram had actually recommended Bongos, a club owned by Gloria and Emilio Estéfan in downtown Miami, which apparently has an outdoor patio where people dance salsa, whereas inside they play a mix of reggaeton, merengue and rock en español. Since I didn’t have a rental car, and the mixed music description didn’t sound too great to me – it usually means “Latin disco” type of crowd, not salsa dancers – I however decided to stay in the South Beach area and try my luck with Café Nostalgia on Collins Avenue and 34th Street. I had read on the web that this "plush little club [...] draws crowds with guayaberas and tight glitter tops while sipping mojitos next to A-listers like J. Lo and Marc Anthony. It's business as usual with top-notch live bands (regional and national acts) until 1:30am or so. After that, the dance floor fills and the DJs spin latin-tinged hip-hop and salsa." After this description, I thought that this would be THE place to go and I anticipated a good salsa crowd.

I arrived to Café Nostalgia fashionably late, after midnight – and after spending $12 instead of $7 because the cab driver couldn't find the place and ended up driving around the nearest blocks 5-6 times ‘til I told him to just stop and let me out and I would find the place on foot. Café Nostalgia was a hole in the wall on 34th Street but when I walked in it revealed a very dark but decent-sized and authentic Cuban place. I immediately saw that there were only a few people, spread out in the bar and at tables waiting for the next set. I considered leaving again but thought I needed to give the place a chance. The Spanish-speaking only waitress asked me if I wanted a table and I sat down, ordered a Mojito and waited for the band to start. The band for the night sounded more or less horrible the first 10 minutes until someone in the band helped the keyboardist find the right buttons on the electric piano. Then all of a sudden something clicked into place and it started grooving. The singer was quite good. A few more people arrived but nobody (!) was dancing – the waitress admitted that this was more of a “sitting down and watching the band” place than a place for dancing – so after a second Mojito I gave up and left.

The waitress recommended me Mango's Tropical Café on Ocean Drive and 8th Street for best salsa dancing. Since she was Hispanic, I figured she should know. I guess the place would have been fun if you’re into watching scantily dressed girls dancing on top of the counter. I am not. Mango’s was a two-story nightclub with Latin hiphop and disco played in the front room and a salsa live band playing at the back. Upstairs was a small room where they played salsa and merengue. There was also a walkway, like a balcony, along the walls so that you could look down on the crowd and the bar in the bigger room downstairs. I met Johan, a nice Latin guy with whom I had also danced at Yuca Lounge the night before, and who actually knew about Sacuye (a well-known dance company from Stockholm and salsa friends of mine). He was about the only decent dancer there that night, so I ended up dancing with him almost all the time until the place closed at 5am.

Miami Beach
I went to Miami Beach for a few hours both on Saturday and Sunday to enjoy sunbathing, reading a book and watch people. The weather was beautiful the whole weekend and close to 30°C. As I stood in line to buy a lunch salad from the kiosk on the beach, I was rather amused by the gay guy in a thong in front of me. I pretended to type an SMS and then slid open the lens cover on my Cyber-shot™ phone and took a photo (see below). I didn’t dare snapping a picture from the front but what he wore was just a fabric pouch – well, the best way to describe it is really a cotton condom! It wasn’t the beach wear I would have chosen but to each his own…

I was left alone most of the time – perhaps because I was probably snoring loudly in my sleep out of sheer exhaustion after many travels – but there were two men approaching me. The first was probably not more than 16 or 17, who walked by, looked down and tried starting a conversation with the opening line, “You’re very cute.” He noticed my disinterest and commented, “So you don’t want to talk to me?” I started laughing and had to tell him “I’m way too old for you!” to which he replied, “I like older women!” Hmpf!

The second man who approached me simply sat down in the sand next to me and started talking. He was an old, semi-alcoholic Cuban who had gotten his American citizenship by joining the American army. He gave me a very long lecture on war history and politics, from Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba, to the long US presidential line-up since the Second World War. He was clearly a Republican and mostly talked about the presidents who had taken the nation to war, from Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan to Bush Senior and Junior. He was of the interesting opinion that the best (or rather only) way to win a war was to go in and make sure you wipe out everybody in the enemy population, otherwise the survivors will spend their life retaliating. Since I didn’t know if he was on drugs – on the whole he seemed rather harmless, but you never know – I didn’t dare arguing too much with him. Granted he had more experience of warfare and politics than I do, I therefore took the opportunity to listen to his opinions, historic analysis and conclusions from all the wars – World War II, Vietnam, Cuba, the fights over the Suez Canal, the Gulf War, Iran/Iraq, etc. Quite interesting but a tad longwinding for a tired Swedish girl in need of rest.

Me on the beach

Beach walk

Although Miami turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment from a salsa perspective, I thoroughly enjoyed the weather, the beach, shopping and restaurants. In this Hispanic Mecca, I had expected to find the same class of dancing as at international salsa congresses where you really find the crop of best dancers from around the world, but maybe I just didn’t find the right spots. Downtown Miami is perhaps the place to go to find the best local dancers and salsa clubs. Next time, I’ll give Bongos a shot. There will definitely be a next time. I have only begun to discover Miami.

Tradeshow in Orlando, Florida

Last week of March I went to Florida (US) for the first time in my life. The reason was a business trip to conduct press interviews and talk about the next-generation Java™ umbrella standard for mobile during the three-day tradeshow CTIA WIRELESS 2007 on March 27-29th at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. CTIA is supposedly the world's largest convergence marketplace with over 50,000 attendees (I don’t think it draw that many), 20% international participation from over 100 countries, and representing a global industry with 2.3 billion subscribers worldwide. However, those who have been to this show before said it seemed much less busy and had less product announcements and news compared to previous years. The location, i.e. city and state, has varied over the years. It seemed that CTIA had been overshadowed by 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona this year, and many American companies had chosen to go there.

Straight off the plane from Europe, hardly getting any sleep after the ski trip to Kittelfjäll, I went to work at a big press event at the Peabody Hotel on Monday night. There is a company called Pepcom that arranges Mobile Focus cocktail receptions for press and analysts the night before all the major tradeshows in the US where various players in the wireless industry book a table and showcase their latest phones and applications. This is a good way for media to be updated on the news of the show and meet the key players in one focused place for a few hours. When the event was over I must confess that I was glad to go to the hotel and sleep. I met my boss at 7am the morning after to finalize presentation material for an analyst session, and then I had a number of press meetings at the Sony Ericsson booth during the show.

The second night I attended a Sony Pictures Television Mobile Entertainment party at the Hard Rock Hotel’s Lobby Lounge & Velvet Bar. It was a nice mingling party but I am pretty sure that the house/techno DJ was disappointed that noone was dancing. I met Art and Gerardo from a former partner company and had a really good time.

I stayed at the Portofino Bay Hotel on Universal Boulevard. This was located on the Universal Orlando Resort properties and you could actually take a boat ride for free from the hotel ‘harbor’ to Universal Studios. I must say that the Portofino was a rather nice hotel – granted artificial, reminding me of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas but with a more relaxed style. The Portofino properties were big and everything was built to imitate an Italian fishing village with the same name. The hotel and restaurant staff greeted you in Italian, all the signs were in Italian and the architecture was ‘Mediterranean-looking’ with colorful facades (not that old buildings normally are very colorful in Italy, but I suppose that different shades of pink, yellow and orange are prettier at sunset). I love Italy so I thought the concept was great! It helped you relax after a hard day’s work at the tradeshow and feel like you were on vacation.

Hotel entrance
Portofino Harbor

Every night after sunset, there was a Musica della Notte show on the balconies overlooking the Harbor Piazza. A spotlight was switched on to highlight the singers as they performed old romantic Italian serenades, pieces from operas or Dean Martin songs in English. I’m a romantic fool so I wished I could have danced on the piazza with some dark, handsome stranger… ;-)

Harbor Piazza

I visited four different restaurants located around the Harbor Piazza at the Portofino, mostly together with colleagues:
  • Bice – high-class Italian restaurant with good service, excellent food and wine; a place where people dressed up to eat.

  • Mama Della’s Ristorante offered a more family-style dinner with incredibly good pasta dishes and live entertainment at the table.
  • Trattoria del Porto – excellent pizza and a good place to sit and listen to the Musica della Notte with a view of the whole harbor at the outdoor tables.
  • The Thirsty Fish – nicely located with outdoor tables next to the water in the harbor but with terrible service and only “nibbles” to eat.
The weather was beautiful and sunny. Coming directly from skiing in Kittelfjäll, I found Orlando quite hot, 25-28°C, and humid. The Portofino had three different pool areas. On my last afternoon in Orlando I spent a few hours at the Beach Pool where all the families with small kids had gathered. I laid down on a sun bed, ordered a beer, read a book and within minutes fell asleep…I wouldn’t mind more work days like this.

Beach Pool

I took a walk round the hotel properties and passed also the Villa Pool which I would imagine is used by adult parties and older people who want a little more piece and quiet. This pool area also offered a hot bath and Jacuzzi.

Villa Pool

Everyone I talked to in Orlando, from the limo car driver to the hotel cleaning lady, the waiter at the pool, the Trattoria bust boy who brought me a double espresso without even charging for it (just said, “Don’t worry about it!” when I tried asking), the store clerk at the Universal Orlando Resort gift shop – whom had taken a cruise with her husband in Scandinavia last summer and “loved Stockholm” – to the female janitor with bad teeth at the Convention Center who complemented my high-heel Betsey Johnson shoes, were very down-to-earth friendly and laid-back. To me they appeared sincere in their happy politeness and seemed content with their lifestyle no matter where on the social ladder they found themselves, and who can blame them when they get to live in a piece of paradise with sunshine every day.