A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring Stockholm for Scenes (Sweden Part I)

Trip to promote my thriller "Tranquility Denied" and research for the sequel

View Sweden & Denmark 2009 on AC Frieden's travel map.

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (May 21, 2009) -- This entry is a work in progress, but here are some pictures for a start and at the bottom a special entry on scene development...

The City








THE DEFECTION - Researching and creating a realistic espionage scene

The following is an example of the research taken to develop a scene for one of my upcoming books. The setting is downtown Stockholm, at around noon. An important military officer from [undisclosed] intends to defect by walking a few blocks from his hotel and at a key moment "lose" his security agent (an unarmed staff diplomat). In position are two operations teams from [undisclosed country] that have been positioned to observe and facilitate the defection and enable the safe-passage of the target to a safehouse near Arland Airport. The pictures show the location of the spotters and other agents, the coordination post at the Radisson SAS Strand hotel and the intended path of the defection target. Encrpyted communications are maintained amongst each of the spotters, the team in Normmalstorg square and the command post at the Strand.

Above: This image shows the target's intended path (red dotted line); the main observation vantage (green); the spotters and their field of view (blue); the tag or "catch" team's location and field of view (yellow) at the Normmalmstorg Square (top left). The pictures below are taken along the route.

Above: North view from the main ad hoc command post, established by the operatives in room 609 of the Strand Hotel. It offers excellent views of the Nybroviken Harbor, the harbor-front street and the south end of Berzelii Park. The image shows the first two spotters and their field of view, offering uninterupted observation of the target's path (red, dotted line).

Above: Eastward view of Spotter 2 (blue) in the cobble-stone portion of Berzelii Park. The image also show the planned path of the target.

Above: Northwest view of the target's intended path (red, dotted line) along the west end of Berzelii Park, toward Berns Restaurant.

Above: Spotter 3 (blue) is located in the northeast end of Berzelii Park with near-perfect visibility of the target northward path.

Above: Berns restaurant and night club on the east side of the target's path (red dots).

Above: The target's intended northward path from the Berns restaurant to the large square known as Normmalstorg (background).

Above: Looking back south at the Berns restaurant area.

Above: At the crossing of Hamngatan street, the team leader will have made a small chalk mark (red arrrow) to indicate to the target the status of the impending plan (a horizontal line means proceed as planned, a vertical line means action is suspended for non-security reasons, and no mark at all means that the operation is off because security has been compromised).

Above: The team leader moves to the other corner of the street after marking the concrete fence post so that he can have a better vantage of the tag team in the square, the van further west on the street, the path from the Berns restaurant, and also Spotter 3 in direct line of sight.

Above: Normmalstorg square offers sufficient movement and distractions for the target to lose his security (something to the effect, "I'll just go in that store over there... I'll be right back"), at which point the tag team would assist with the following:
- tag agent 1 carries an extra coat and cap
- tag agent 2 walks behind target to help impair guard's line of sight (team leader may also assist "brush" guard -- physical contact distraction -- if he's too close). If rain, then umbrellas are ideal additional obstacles.
- when line of sight is broken, tag agent provides clothing to target, both walk out of store's auxiliary entrance and proceed 20 feet to the waiting van.

So this scene, as researched above, will find its way into my manuscript very soon.

----- Travel Essentials Summary (and Ratings) -----
Hotels: Radisson SAS Strand Hotel***** (8.5)
Restaurants: Pontus (9); JT Restaurant (8.5);
Bars/Night Clubs: Club Opera (9);

All photos and text Copyright © 2009 A.C. Frieden. No reproduction permitted without prior written approval by A.C. Frieden. For reproduction rights and higher resolution images, send email to afrieden[at]avendiapublishing.com.

Posted by AC Frieden 07:55 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

Investigating Uruguayan Politics

Researching a key election campaign for my upcoming political thriller

View Uruguay 2009 on AC Frieden's travel map.

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (Feb. 10, 2009) – I traveled to Uruguay to continue researching political issues that have a connection to my upcoming novel set in Latin America. As in my prior trip to Uruguay in early 2008 and to other destinations in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela since 2007, I've interviewed key politicians, officials and authors as well as investigated sites relating to my story. For this particular research trip, I spent some time in the capital, Montevideo, and in the trendy resort town of Punta del Este. And it's exciting to see it now, because in this tense election year, Uruguay may be on the verge of a significant political change (to the right). This may be a indication of things to come, especially on the sustainability of current leftist movements throughout Latin America.

Above: The Palacio Legislative (Uruguay's parliamentary or capitol building).

Above: The east side of the Palacio Legislative, facing the newer parliamentary annex building.

Above: Inside the main atrium of the Palacio Legislative, with the ceremonial guard standing at attention in the center.

Uruguay has a mixed history of dictatorship and democracy, coupled with frequent overt and covert foreign intervention. This makes the country a good example of the paradox encountered in my novel, the manuscript of which is now more than half completed. So, during my visit, I met with Senator Francisco Gallinal of the National Party (aka, the Blancos) at the senator’s offices in the Palacio Legislativo (the parliament building) in Montevideo.

The building is beautiful, inside and out, but it needs some renovation. I was surprised to see that security was quite passive, with few guards and a metal detector that didn't pick up most of the metalic items I carried (cell phone, pens, change, camera, etc.) -- was it even plugged in? Anyway, it was a sharp, pleasant contrast to my visits to government offices in Washington, D.C., where security is thorough and annoying. Once inside, the similarities reappear. Hallways and offices this capitol building resembled so many others. I arrived at Senator Gallinal's office a bit late (the taxi driver took me to the parliament annex, even though I had told him the correct address). And there I was, with my notepad and about 20 questions for the Senator, who greeted me warmly in his office (which also needs some renovation and better lighting -- a result of budget cutbacks, I'm sure).

With his legal background, Senator Gallinal has been instrumental in recent legislative developments, particularly with reforms in health care, education and telecommunications. He has served in the Senate since his election in 2000 and has become a vital ally of Dr. Luis Lacalle, the National Party’s leading presidential candidate for the October 2009 elections. This makes him particularly knowledgeable in the structural/institutional development of the country, both from an economic and social aspect. However, his allegiance to the Blancos party and his constituence cannot be questioned. He sees the future of Uruguay very differently than many others I've spoken to in the country, particularly leftists.

Above: Senator Francisco Gallinal standing next to me after our hour-long meeting.

I also interviewed Alfonso Lessa, chief editor of Teledoce (Channel 12), Uruguay's leading television station, where Mr. Lessa hosts a popular weekly current events program. Mr. Lessa’s career in journalism includes being an editor at the country’s top selling paper, El Pais. He has also authored several books, including the acclaimed Estado De Guerra, relating to Uruguay’s legacy of dictatorship and the country’s political developments since the restoration of democracy.


The interview with Mr. Lessa focused a lot on politically important topics relating to Uruguay in particular, and South America in general. Of special interest to me were Lessa’s perspectives on reconciliation with Uruguay’s past dictatorship and the Tupamaro terrorist group, since the press is often a fragile pillar of democracy. It was very interesting to hear first hand the evolving roles of journalists during and after Uruguay’s dictatorship. Mr. Lessa also gave me a tour of the station and let me see the live midday newscast from the studio floor.



During my stay in Punta del Este, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Augusto Durán Martínez, a law professor and legal advisor (Prosecretaría de Presidencia) to former Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle (who is now running in the 2009 elections). Dr. Martinez has extensive experience in international law, human rights and constitutional law. We talked at length (mostly in French, which Dr. Martinez speaks very well) about Uruguay’s political problems and issues facing the continent as a whole, among them complex matters relating to MERCOSUR, the OAS and relations with Argentina and Venezuela.




I also had an extensive discussion in Montevideo with Dr. Alphonse Max Emanueloff, one of Uruguay’s most experienced journalists and political observers. With his background as editor of the daily Ultimas Noticias and other publications, and with his insights into the turbulent years of the dictatorship, Dr. Emanueloff shared his candid views on the Uruguay’s historical left-right political struggles and the failures of the current governing leftist coalition, the Frente Amplio. He has authored numerous books on politics and international relations since receiving his doctorate in political science in the U.K., after which he moved to Uruguay and served as a foreign correspondent for various publications in South America, the U.S., Africa and Australia.







more info and pictures will be uploaded soon.

----- Travel Essentials Summary (and ratings) -----
Hotels: Hotel Casapueblo (8.0)
Restaurants: Bungalow Suizo (8.0); SOHO (9.0); Napoleon (8.5)

All photos and text Copyright © 2009 A.C. Frieden. No reproduction permitted without prior written approval by A.C. Frieden. For reproduction rights and higher resolution images, send email to afrieden[at]avendiapublishing.com.

Posted by AC Frieden 13:25 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

The Panama Canal (Panama Part II)

Researching a marvel of human engineering.

View Panama 2008-2009 on AC Frieden's travel map.

PANAMA CITY, Panama (Jan. 3, 2009) -- Part of my trip to Panama was focused on the Canal. It serves as a setting for my third novel, The Serpent's Game, as well as an aerial photography book that is about 30% complete. More info soon...







----- Travel Essentials Summary (and ratings) -----
Hotel: Bananas Village Resort Isla Grande (8.0); Radisson Decapolis (8.5)
Restaurants: x (x); x (x); x (x)

All photos and text Copyright © 2009 A.C. Frieden. No reproduction permitted without prior written approval by A.C. Frieden. For reproduction rights and higher resolution images, send email to afrieden[at]avendiapublishing.com.

Posted by AC Frieden 12:41 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

America's Cold War Legacy in Central America (Panama Part I)

Extending my literary research to former U.S. military bases in Panama.

View Panama 2008-2009 on AC Frieden's travel map.

Colon, Panama (Dec. 30, 2008) -- Well, some people prefer a white Christmas and New Years, sipping egg-nog and watching tree lights flicker, while others opt for blistering heat-filled holidays loaded with literary research objectives. Just as I did last year, I headed south. I arrived in Panama at 3 a.m. to start my research for two novels and focused part of my time on collecting information on the country's former U.S. military presence, a footprint that remains quite evident throughout central Panama today, even after all the U.S. troops have gone.


My first stop was at the former Fort Gulick, near the northern town of Colón. Fort Gulick used to be the home of the infamous School of the Americas (Esquela de las Americas), known best for its anti-communist training programs and sometimes referred to as the "school of the assassins." Today the base is a refurbished residential area and hosts the Melia Panama Canal Hotel, in the same building as the former school, where I stayed two nights for my research.

Above: I'm standing in front of an abandoned barracks at Fort Gulick, a former U.S. military base in the Panama Canal Zone, just south of Colón. Other barracks nearby have been renovated and turned into multifamily residences.

Above and below: The former Fort Gulick's main building that once served as the School of the Americas, and prior to that, as a hospital.


Located near the Quebrada Ancha portion of Lake Gatun, Fort Gulick was built to accommodate increased troop levels in the Canal Zone during the Second World War. Between 1949 and 1984, Fort Gulick became the home of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, where 29,000 military personnel, mostly from Central and South America, underwent training in various fields, including jungle warfare, counterinsurgency, interrogation techniques, and combat communications, among others. The former hospital served as the School of the Americas' headquarters building (Building #400). A U.S. Army Special Forces Group was also stationed at Fort Gulick since the 1960s.

Above and below: Inside the former Building #400, the main building of the School of the Americas, as it appears today -- as a luxury hotel (today the hotel is in need of additional renovations).


On September 7, 1977, the U.S. and Panama signed the Panama Canal Treaty that governed the gradual transition of U.S. territory in the Canal Zone to Panamanian control, which would be finalized in December 31, 1999. Under the Treaty, the U.S. retained control of various defense-related sites, including on the Pacific coast: Corozal, Albrook Air Force Station, Howard Air Force Base, Rodman Naval Station, Camp Semaphore, the Cocoll housing complex, Forts Clayton and Kobbe; and on the Atlantic/Caribbean side: Galeta Island, and Forts Davis and Sherman. There were other installations that were shared during much of that transition period, including on the Pacific side: Quarry Heights, Fort Amador, Curundu residential complex, Gorgas Army Hospital, Naval Station Rodman-Fort Amador, Summit Naval Radio Station, Chiva Chiva, the Empire Range, and, on the Atlantic/Caribbean side, Fort Gulick.

In the mid-1980s, control of a portion of Fort Gulick was turned over to the Republic of Panama, which renamed it Fuerte Espinar, and the School of the Americas was moved to Fort Benning, Georgia. The U.S. retook control of the base following its 1989 invasion of Panama. At the time of the invasion, Panama's security forces based at Fort Gulick were made up of the Octava Compañía de Infantería (Eighth Infantry Company), with 175 troops.

Above anb below: The pool and carefully manicured foliage was added when the building became a hotel.


Above: Aerial view of the former School (now the Melia Panama Canal Hotel) as I flew over the area on January 4, about ten days after staying at the place.

Above and below: Aerial views of the base.


Above: The west entrance linking Fort Gulick to Colon was controlled by this U.S. military checkpoint (Building #330). The north entrance (not pictured) led to the Boyd-Roosevelt Hwy.

Above: The former residence of the base commander and other top officers (four buildings in all in the area known as Cronkhite Loop). The homes have stunning waterfront views on the other side.

Above and below: The base's former theatre, which along with the nearby bowling alley and adjacent oversized pool, offered military personnel a luxury not available to the average Panamanian in those days.


Above: View of the main base road leading to the former School.

Above: The principal power and engineering facilities for the former base.

Above: Former military housing has been transformed into residential units, some as single-familiy and others as duplex/triplex. Most of the inhabitants are upper middle class, given the cost of these refurbished homes.


Above and two below: An aerial view of Howard Air Force base, including its aircraft hangars, maintenance buildings, housing facilities and other installations. I took the photo while flying directly above the former Rodman Naval Base.



With the conclusion of the Cold War, highlighted by the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the United States military was trying to redefine it's role in Latin America while attempting to preserve it's former influence. Many in Congress and in the military were crafting a new primary focus to maintain influence over the continent: counter-narcotics. It is no coincidence that at a time when U.S. voters were increasingly looking for a peace dividend, the United States launched Operation Just Cause, to invade Panama and overthrow former ally General Manuel Noriega. It has only recently become clear that part of the long-term objectives of the invasion was to legitimately initiate renegotiations of the Panama Canal Treaties. Senior U.S. officials wanted to keep their military bases from transferring to Panamanian control, as the agreement had stated. In particular, U.S. officials wanted to maintain Howard Air Force base as a center of power projection for the region, albeit publicly calling its mission an anti-narcotics campaign. However, the political establishment in Panama was able to thwart U.S. policymakers by soliciting the support of human rights groups, other Latin American political bodies and, to a lesser extent, discouraging any U.S. support from neighboring countries.


Above: The Panama Canal Administrative Building sits atop Balboa Heights, at the foot of Ancon Hill. This picture was taken during my final approach to Galebert Airport (formerly Albrook Air Force Station).


Above and below: The Panama Canal Administrative Building.





amador and causeway

in amador






Above: The former Rodman Naval Base (below, right) was a key U.S. military facility until it was turned over to Panama in 1999. This picture was taken as I was flying south past the Miraflores Locks.




Above and below: The Panama Canal Zone Penitentiary was operated by the U.S. military until 1999.




----- Travel Essentials Summary (and ratings) -----
Hotel: Bananas Village Resort Isla Grande (8.0); Radisson Decapolis (8.5)
Restaurants: x (x); x (x); x (x)

All photos and text Copyright © 2009 A.C. Frieden. No reproduction permitted without prior written approval by A.C. Frieden. For reproduction rights and higher resolution images, send email to afrieden[at]avendiapublishing.com.

Posted by AC Frieden 12:38 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

The Atlas Mountains and Pre-Saharan Plains (Morocco part II)

Stunning mountains and arid plains are perfect for movies... and books!

View Morocco 2008 on AC Frieden's travel map.

AIT BEN HADDOU, Morocco (Nov. 26, 2008) -- The journey began by leaving Marrakech at dawn and heading along route P31 towards the High Atlas and the pre-Saharan city of Ouarzazate some 200km east. Route P31 was completed in 1936 by the French Foreign Legion and passes by the full range of Atlas environments, from the Haouz plains, through the verdant foothills of the Oued Zat, to the barren peaks of the Atlas and the arid regions around Ouarzazate. The Tizi-n-Tichka mountain pass half way along the journey offers spectacular views of snow-covered peaks, but the mountain road is dangerous, with sharp turns, few safety barriers and steep drops, all of which is even more precarious during the drive back at night.

Above: Dangerous curves and steep drops.

Above: Heading to the mountain pass.

Above/below: Driving up the Tizi-n-Tichka mountain pass at an altitude of 7200 feet.


Above: A small mosque near the village of Aguim.

The village of Ait Ben Haddou is a ksar (a community of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls) along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. It is situated in Souss-Massa-Draa on a hill along the Ouarzazate River and has been used for filming scenes in various movies, including the Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Most of the town's inhabitants now live in a more modern village at the other side of the river, though a few still endure a more traditional life in the ksar. Ait Ben Haddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

Above/below: Standing by and crossing the rather dry bed of the Ouarzazat River.


Above: Climbing the narrow alleys and footpaths of Ait Ben Haddou.

Above: Resting at the top of the hill overlooking the village, plains and two valleys.

Above: Camels for hire.

Above: Heading toward the pre-Saharan city of Ouarzazat.

Ouarzazate is located about 200 km east of Marrakech and borders the Al Mansour lake. Its name comes from a Berber phrase meaning "without noise", and the city has long been a crossing point for African traders seeking to reach northern Morocco and Europe. Ouarzazate is also home to the famous Kasbah of Taourirt. The nearby Atlas Corporation Studios and have been used as sites for filming many films, including Pope Joan (to be released 2009), Prisoner of the Sun (2008), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Astérix & Obélix (2002), Gladiator (2000), The Mummy (1999), Kundun (1997), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Living Daylights (1987), The Jewel of the Nile (1985), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), among others. Could there one day be a movie made here based on one of my novels?? Okay, okay, maybe I'm dreaming...

Above: The Kasbah of Touirirt in the old quarter of Ouarzazat.

For the first part of my Morocco journey, click here.

Posted by AC Frieden 16:13 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Marrakech: A Mystical City (Morocco part I)

This city is a perfect setting to spice up a mystery novel.

View Morocco 2008 & France 2008 on AC Frieden's travel map.

MARRAKECH, Morocco (Nov. 24-27, 2008) -- I arrived in Marrakech from Paris and was instantly seduced by the city's charm, its history, its pleasant weather and the friendly people who call this magical place home. These are the photos that capture some of the city's flavor. My goal was to find scenes for a crime novel that I am writing, as well as scenes and settings for an anthology contribution (also a mystery). So unlike many of the places I've visited over the past year, I arrived with a clean slate, no existing chapter that needed to be tweaked by the in-person visit. This was all about gathering the environment and writing something from scratch.

Above: Aerial view of the Medina from my plane (which did one missed approached before landing).

Above: The ancient walls around the Medina.

Above: One of the gates into the Medina.


Above: The alleys of the Medina are tight and busy.


Above/below: The vast Jemaa El Fna square.


Above: Snake charmers in the Jemaa El Fna.

Above: Selling olives, nuts and dates.

Above: Horses waiting for tourists.

RIAD CAMILIA (where I stayed)

This was a spacious, magical residence of just four rooms, managed by an efficient French expatriot. It served as an excellent "HQ" for the day-long journeys to explore the city and region.



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Above: The Royal Palace is close to the Badii Palace, and is heavily guarded (no photos...oops!)

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Above: The Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech's most famous landmark.

Above: The Koutoubia Mosque at sunset.



----- Travel Essentials Summary (and ratings) -----

Posted by AC Frieden 13:07 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)