Monday, March 31, 2008

Mobile World Congress 2008 in Barcelona in February

I’m a little behind on my blogging, it’s just been crazy lately with too much work.

I was in Spain on business in February for a week to attend the Mobile World Congress, a big tradeshow, held at Fira de Barcelona. For all my years in the telecoms & wireless industry I have never been to this show, not even when it was called GSM World Congress and then 3GSM and was held for many years in Cannes. It was interesting to finally get a chance to attend this event, which is huge for all network infrastructure, service and mobile phone providers and carriers / operators to gather and discuss new industry trends and requirements. The event is typically attended by some 50-60,000 key decision-makers in the mobile industry.

A nice panorama photo taken at Fira Barcelona by one of my colleagues

I had meeting after meeting and walking around the tradeshow for four days... I didn't see much of Barcelona other than the conference facilities, restaurants and the inside of a few salsa clubs.

Symbian was there with the theme "Tomorrow's technology - today's phones". We had a booth in Hall 8 with good technology demos, a couple of speaker / panel opportunities, and a Hospitality Suite on the Fira Avenue to nurture and meet with customers, important partners and press. I went to visit my old colleagues in the Sony Ericsson booth and checked out some new phones. Symbian also threw a big party at an off-site venue with about 800 guests with local DJs and a live band called The Pinkertones, one of Barcelona's hottest new acts.

Symbian booth
Panel discussion
Symbian Hospitality Suite
Senior Product Manager, Lars Lindström, demonstrating some new smartphones in Sony Ericsson’s booth

The Fira entrance / exit gates

I found three fairly descent salsa clubs, which I visited on different nights. I managed to get a couple of colleagues to tag along to Antilla Latin Club on a Saturday night. The place was quite busy but unfortunately there were not many good dancers. I spotted one tall guy with long hair (kind of reminding me of the famous Swedish tennis player Björn Borg back in the days when he had long hair) that seemed to be the best there that night and invited him to dance which turned out to be a good move. Funnily enough, he showed up at the other two salsa clubs I tracked down while in Barcelona on other nights.

On Sunday night I went out on my own to Mojito Club. They celebrated their 10th anniversary on the night I was there, served champagne and handed out gifts. They also had a dance performance by some local dancers and a salsa band playing. I saw someone at the bar looking exactly like Ricky Martin but since he and his lady company seemed to enjoy the evening without much extra stir around them I assumed it was just a look-alike.

I met up with a salsa friend from Stockholm, John, who works for IBM and happened to be at the MWC as well this week. On the last night in Barcelona, or Barca, as many people call it, we had a long dinner catching up on life in the fast lane and then went to Agua de Luna, apparently the “place to be” on a Wednesday night in Barca if you’re into salsa.

Sure enough, there you could spot all the famous and good dancers that travel to international salsa congresses around the world, and I had the pleasure of dancing with the world champion of salsa 2007, Adrian (saw him compete with his partner in Puerto Rico last summer – see separate blog post about the Puerto Rico Salsa Congress 2007), and another quite well-known performer, Ramón, who took turns dancing with me to a couple of super fast Mambo songs...! Lots of fun but it resulted in me getting sore ribs and abdomen from dancing like crazy. I am apparently in poor shape these days! ;-)

Very pleased but beat after an activity-filled week in Barca with too little sleep I returned to London with the last night of great salsa fresh in my mind and body, and a big smile on my face.

I am hoping that next time I will have time to actually see more of Barcelona.

Finally some snow! Customer visit to Finland

In early January I flew to Helsinki in Finland with a few colleagues to visit Nokia headquarters. We arrived on a Tuesday night in time for dinner with some marketing and communications people at Nokia at the Loft Restaurant & Lounge on Yrjönkatu 18. This turned out to be a very good restaurant with Scandinavian cuisine, located in central Helsinki between Bulevardi and Uudenmaanaktu. Since we were supposed to have a whole-day meeting with Nokia at their offices in Espo the day after, we did however not stay out very late.

We stayed at the Hilton Helsinki Kalastajatorppa hotel which had convenient rooms in Scandinavian clean design and a huge lobby with a nice bar and lounge area. The hotel also gave guests access to sauna, Jacuzzi and a pool area, which we unfortunately did not have time to take advantage of.

This was the first time this “winter” that I had seen snow. When I was home in Sweden for Christmas, the temperature was rather mild and it was raining. London has not even come close to snow. And believe it or not, I have actually missed the white coat of snow on wintry streets and trees, and feeling the cold bite your cheeks!

When we came back from dinner with Nokia the first night, I felt very upbeat when we got out of the taxi at the hotel because it had been snowing and there were still some snowflakes in the air. I bent down, took some snow and made a snowball and threw it at my British male colleague from Sales. I giggled happily, but he did not look amused at all. Ooops, culture clash? Perhaps my childish and spontaneous action was not considered appropriate. Or he was just tired.

New Year’s salsa in Birmingham

The single excursion outside of London I have done since I moved to the UK was to drive up to Birmingham from London with my salsa friends Steve, Eva and Gormack over New Year’s.

The LatinMotion team of salsa instructors and promoters every year arrange a big New Year’s salsa bash attracting people from all over the country. We arrived after dark so I did not have the chance to see much of Birmingham except for the street where the Paragon Hotel, where we were staying, and St. Anne’s Club were located on Alcester Street, next to St. Anne’s Church.

When we arrived, there was a big Rueda workshop going on. As soon as the free classes for the night had ended, the actual party slowly started picking up. About 200 people attended the party this past New Year and it was a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

Sadly, very few people had really dressed up, despite being New Year’s Eve. On the other hand, dancing comfortably and sweating like a pig hardly go hand in hand with a tux or an evening gown, so it’s understandable. I was however quite surprised to see a few locals in jeans, polo shirt and leather vest… It did seem a little out of place.

Eva and Gormack gave a performance, as did another London couple called Mauro and Aiste, and a pale couple dressed in white, Lisa & Mark from SalsaOxford.

Left: Eva, Mauro and Aiste. Right: Steve & I

Eva & Steve dancing

At midnight LatinMotion had a balloon drop with gift vouchers for dance shoes, salsa classes and more. There was also a Limbo competition at some point during the night into which a few of our brave London salsa friends entered - didn't know Simon was such an agile Limbo master! The winner got 1 year's worth of free Latin Motion nights & classes. It was a quite fun night with lots of good music spinning, and the party lasted till 3am.

Salsa dancers always get starved by a full night’s workout, so when a big group of us had finally made our way down the street to the Paragon Hotel, we had the good fortune of finding an Indian food delivery guy in the hotel lobby. The poor man was service-minded enough to come back with a huge delivery of rice and curry dishes, and probably didn’t even get tipped enough. The New Year’s bash in Birmingham came to an end with a huge yawn and ours of after-sweating in an over-heated hotel room.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dash to Brussels

Since I moved to London I am behind on my blogging. Below you'll find a post I meant to publish in December 2007.

After having lived in London for 2.5 months and getting sick of the dreadful raining, in December I discovered one of the definite perks of living in one of Europe's largest hubs. The new St. Pancras International train station at King's Cross, only 15-20 min on the Piccadilly Line from where I live at Earls Court, hosts Eurostar with fast direct trains under the English Canal to Brussels and Paris.

I made a spontaneous last-minute decision to dash to Brussels to see my good friend Alex. I got a return ticket for £139, left my apartment one hour before the train departed, and the train ride to Brussels took less than two hours. Great!

We went for dinner with a bunch of Alex's friends and a drink after dinner at gay Olivier's fabulous 3-storey apartment. On Sunday Alex and I went to see a piece of land on which he and his girlfriend are going to build a house.

We also went to see the Atomium, Brussel's response to Paris's Eiffel Tower, or so they say. Built for the 1958 Expo and Brussels World’s Fair, the Atomium was a quite cool construction. As you can see from the pictures, the Atomium was built like a huge molecule. There were escalators and an elevator inside the "molecular bindings" and different exhibition displays inside each of the atoms.

The sunny weather suddently turned into pouring rain so we had to run back to the car, and it put an effective stop to our sightseeing.