Saturday, April 19, 2008

The London Eye

I am actually on my way to Beijing but am stuck at the Hong Kong airport due to a typhoon with heavy raining and strong winds. I missed my flight yesterday afternoon from Heathrow and was rebooked on another flight 4.5 hours later via Hong Kong. We had a very turbulent landing due to the weather and now the connecting flight is already almost 4 hours late. I have missed a whole day's sightseeing in Beijing with a colleague but was hoping to get there at least before midnight so I could take her salsa dancing. It looks uncertain if we'll even make it out of Hong Kong tonight. Oh well, at least it has given me some time to write about my sightseeing excursion in London last weekend.

It was raining cats and dogs with occasional thunder and lightning last Saturday – typical London weather, some would say, and you will regret if you have left your umbrella at home. Defying the weather, I however decided to do some sightseeing since a French salsa friend of mine, Ludovic, was visiting London. Neither of us had ever been to the London Eye, the huge observation wheel on the South Bank of the river Thames.

The observation wheel is about 135 m high and apparently the largest ever built. Opened in 2000, the wheel was meant as a symbol of the turning of the century according to the married couple of architects who designed it.

I have never been close enough to study the construction of it, but I had somehow imagined it to be like one of the “Paris wheels” you usually find at an amusement park with the cabins swaying in the wind. The London Eye however spun silently around and so slowly you couldn’t even feel its movement from inside the egg-shaped cabins, spacious enough for 20-25 people in each.

You can see quite far in the distance and many of London’s landmarks are clearly visible from up there, including the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey across the river in the City of Westminster. You have a great view over the Thames and several bridges, Victoria Embankment, South Bank with the Waterloo Station and the County Hall.

Westminster Bridge, Houses of Parliament with Big Ben and Victoria Embankment

The view over London from the wheel during its full-circle flight taking ca 30 min was marvellous, but the experience on this particular occasion was dampened by the wet weather. I also thought that the price was a little hefty, almost £14. I wouldn’t rush back in a hurry but on a sunny day I suppose it’s a nice experience and great photographic opportunity for the many tourists visiting London.

Left: Ludovic on Westminster Bridge with the London Eye and the County Hall in the background. Right: Big Ben.

After the London Eye tour, Ludovic and I walked across the Westminster Bridge, passing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, chilled to the bone and in search of a café where we could warm up with some hot chocolate. Westminster however consists mostly of old buildings and hordes of tourists so we ended up walking to Covent Garden via Trafalgar Square. Not that Covent Garden has fewer tourists visiting, but at least you can watch the bustling street life in the square while sipping a glass of wine or enjoying a coffee. We ended our afternoon sightseeing at a small café / pizzeria in the Covent Garden Market.

Ludovic close to Covent Garden

Monday, April 7, 2008

Spring chicken in California

I had four days off before Easter this year and went to California for a week to see my brother and hang out with one of my friends in Los Angeles. The benefit of L.A. is that you can get beach and skiing on the same week! :-)

My brother and his girlfriend live in Studio City in the San Fernando Valley in northern L.A. It’s a fantastic location, quiet and residential but also with some nice restaurants and shops. I spent some time shopping on Ventura Boulevard, the main shopping street and through-fare in the Valley, and also had dinner there at a cozy restaurant one night.

The weather in L.A. is mostly warm and sunny all year round. In the back yard at my brother’s, there is a lemon tree growing, constantly ripe with lemons (as you can see from the picture to the right), just waiting to be picked and used for fresh frozen margaritas!

On the Wednesday before Easter, my brother’s girlfriend, Julia Albert, a talented singer / songwriter, had a gig at Café Cordiale in Sherman Oaks. My brother played the guitar and sang backing vocals. Julia’s mother, brother, grandmother and some other relatives were also there to watch. We all had dinner there before the performance. Julia’s music is wonderful – check it out at It was nice to experience the intimate setting of this gig - see photos below.

I spent one of the days down at Venice Beach with my friend Thomas. For those of you who are not familiar with Venice Beach, this is a stretch of beach south of Santa Monica with a long beach promenade, along which people roller-blade, go skateboarding, biking and running, or work out in the sun at the Muscle Beach Gym, play tennis, volleyball or basketball at one of several courts dotted along the beach. The rather famous Venice Beach Boardwalk is full of quirky street stands, hustlers and weird people, trying to make a buck by making sand sculptures, wearing ugly costumes, juggling, selling their own, home made CDs etc. It’s definitely worth a visit – you’ll have a laugh and be fascinated by all the Weirdness there is in this world.

Since I am a passionate salsa dancer, Thomas took me to see one of his friends, John Davila (in picture to the left), who happens to be an On2 salsa instructor in L.A. We had good fun in the sun at his place for a couple of hours, learning a new On2 routine. Check out Davila's website at

On the Good Friday, Thomas and I went to Raffi’s Place in Glendale for some lovely Iranian food for lunch. I don’t think I have ever tasted Iranian food before, but I liked it. If you happen to be near Glendale, drive to Raffi’s Place and try it out. Nice staff and fresh food.

In the evening we went to Sherman Oaks Galleria for dinner and a movie. Thomas was mistaken for Eddie Murphy (very funny) by one of the visitors to the shopping galleria, who stopped him and almost asked for an autograph. The movie we ended up watching was really bad, not even sure why on earth we would randomly pick a film with such a title anyway… “10,000 B.C.”… If it screens at a movie theater near you, please pick another film for your evening out.

After four relaxing days in L.A., I was off to Big Bear / Snow Summit in Southern Caifornia for a couple of days of skiing with my brother.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

London musicals, concerts and shows

London has a great selection of theatres and jazz clubs where you can enjoy various musicals, concerts, plays and dance performances. During my first 5 months here I have been to several musicals and dance performances, a couple of jazz concerts and to the ballet. There are constantly popping up new musicals and plays so you can always enjoy something new on the entertainment scene in London.

Greased lightnin’!
A salsa friend of mine from Sweden, Camilla Alenstål, and a friend of hers, Luis, came to London for a visit in October last year. We decided to go see Grease at Piccadilly Theatre. This was highly entertaining – if you haven’t see Grease yet, make sure you do! You’ll have a ball! It’s ultra greasy in every way and it’s hilarious. Danny and Sandy were played by Danny Bayne and Susan McFadden, both chosen by the public to play the lead roles in the London production from the finalists in the ITV show Grease Is the Word. My favorite scene in the London musical was the shower scene (does not exist in the film) – very, very funny.

The Magic Flute
I got a free ticket through work once to see a show at the Young Vic theatre between Waterloo and Southwark tube stations, a few minutes walk from the office. A South-African music company performed their own interpretation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Impempe Yomlingo) and got standing ovations from the audience afterwards.

This was a truly colorful, inspiring and entertaining show which left you in a state of shear joy and happiness. I was rather touched and had to wipe a tear from the corner of my eye at one point, although I was smiling broadly throughout the performance. I find it amazing that a European composer in the 18th century can have had such a powerful impact across the world through centuries, in a way that even the most remote country and culture with a completely different set of instruments and way of singing and expressing themselves have heard his music, learned to appreciate it, and been inspired by it to the extent that they have really let in influence their own.

Impempe Yomlingo was filled with colorful African costumes, Mozart blended with African harmonies, African drums and flutes, barefoot dancing, acting and singing with a strong South-African, melodious accent. A truly wonderful and refreshing experience!

Billy Elliot – the musical
When my brother Urban and his girlfriend Julia came for a visit from Los Angeles before Christmas, they wanted to see Billy Elliot. Said and done. I got tickets for the Victoria Palace Theatre on a Monday night. I wasn’t particularly impressed by this musical. The only one in the cast that impressed was the kid that played 12-year-old Billy Elliot. For being so young, he was quite charismatic and good both at acting, singing and dancing. In fact he was the only one that owned the stage when he entered. The rest of the cast was in my opinion rather mediocre on all accounts. Perhaps I was disappointed because I really liked the film and the musical version of it was…well, lame, with amateur actors and really poor dancers.

Katriona Taylor Quintet
My salsa friend Jeff Tarpinian’s ex-wife quit her job as a lawyer and became a jazz singer – well, isn’t that cool? Now she’s given out several CD’s and performs at various jazz clubs and festivals. Jeff invited a bunch of us from the salsa scene to come and see her at the SoHo Pizza Express in January. The jazz club is found in the basement and provides a quite intimate setting for the bands playing with dinner and drink tables close up to the stage. Apparently this club is where a lot of up-and-coming jazz musicians get started and receive recognition. We had dinner and a really enjoyable evening followed by salsa dancing at Bar Salsa after the concert.

The Nutcracker
I have long wanted to see a real classical piece of ballet. Alessia got Martina and me tickets for the Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House in January. It was a fantastic experience. The Royal Opera House is beautiful and of course provides the perfect setting for classical ballet. The Nutcracker was pretty silly in a fairytale kind of way, but there is no denying that the dancing was beautiful with impressive pirouettes, lifts and jumps.

Eddie Palmieri Y Su Orquesta
Earlier this month, the world-famous jazz/salsa virtuoso Eddie Palmieri was in London with his orchestra and performed at the Jazz Café in Camden Town. Born in New York with Puerto Rican parents, he is in his 70’s now so I wonder how many more concert tours he is going to manage. The Jazz Café was packed and it was an awesome concert. I was really impressed by the trumpet player, Brian Lynch.

Many of my salsa friends were there: Mouni, Osiel on a quick visit from Stockholm with his girlfriend, Denis, Steve, Chris, Martina, Jeff, Olu, Floyd, Saher (whom I met at La Isla in Stockholm last year – he commutes between London and Stockholm for work). I stayed dancing after the concert until a quarter past midnight, and then went to Bar Salsa as many other did. Salsa fanatics...?

Bounce – Insane in the Brain
Jessica, one of my girlfriends from university, came to see me for a couple of days earlier this month. After trying the cocktails at Skylon Bar in the Royal Festival Hall by the Thames, we went for dinner at Iguanas, a Latin bar and restaurant by the Hungerford Bridge, and then crossed the river and went further north to Holborn. Bounce, a street dance group from Stockholm, performed an astonishing dance theatre piece inspired by “The Cuckoo’s Nest” (remember the film with Jack Nicholson?) at the Peacock Theatre. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it. With very impressive dancing and strong acting it was depressing and funny at the same time. The performance stayed with us for a long time that night, even after entering the Sway Bar & Nightclub nearby.

Jessica & I sipping cocktails at Skylon Bar in the Royal Festival Hall

Jessica outside Peacock Theatre

London salsa – where and when

After 6 months in London I believe I have come to some conclusion on which the best places are for salsa dancing here, at least L.A. and Mambo style.

MondaysBar Salsa on Charing Cross Road close to Leicester Square. Super Mario usually DJ’s here when he’s in town. Usually a good crowd – the good dancers are there between 11pm and 2am (which is when they close and the bouncers come yelling at you, trying to hurry you out).

Tuesdays – never been out yet; does not seem to be a good club night for salsa.

Wednesdays Bar Salsa, open till 2am.

Thursdays – my friend Jeff has started On2 courses and social dancing at Surya Bar at King’s Cross, open till 12pm. See for more info.

Fridays – MamboCity event in Ealing Town Hall, open till 1am. This is usually jam-packed, hot and sweaty and a lot of fun.

Scala at King’s Cross last Saturday of every month (usually open till 5 or 6am) + the night before all Bank holidays (open till 6am)
Prodigal / Cape on Love Lane (close to St. Paul’s) open till 3am – this is a nice venue with a good salsa DJ and usually there are good dancers. Sometimes this clashes with Scala nights.
– Palladium at Latin Palace in Oval – I have only been there once but it was not good. Irene is trying to build a rep there and get people coming regularly but I really didn’t like the venue and it’s located way off and therefore hard to get home from unless you have a car of your own or can catch a ride.

On Fridays and Saturdays there are also occasional salsa events at Colosseum on Nine Elms Lane in Vauxhall which can be quite nice as a change. These events usually draw a mixed crowd of Cuban, LA style and mambo dancers.

SundaysSalsa On Sundays (SOS) at the Royal National Hotel at Russell Square. This is the salsa social of the week organized by Leon Rose and Tamambo, and usually all good mambo dancers come here.