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Mingling with millionaires and partying among politicians: My nights in Davos

By Nina dos Santos, CNN
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN's Nina dos Santo was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland
  • She interviewed business and political leaders and went to parties with millionaires
  • No trip's complete without the Piano Bar, where the atmosphere is inclusive

Editor's note: Nina dos Santos is a news anchor and correspondent based in London. She is the host of CNN International's twice-daily global business show World Business Today. Follow her on Twitter.

Davos (CNN) -- Day 1 - Wednesday: "Now you remember the rules, don't you?" cautions my colleague Richard Quest, a long time veteran of the prestigious World Economic Forum. "What happens in Davos, stays in Davos."

"And the Piano Bar," he continues, referring to the notorious late night haunt for the hardcore high-flyers. "Well, let's just call that a sort of no-man's land."

And so, armed with my crash course in elite etiquette and clutching a coveted, access-all-areas, white badge, I make my way to the lavish surroundings of the Steigenberger Belvedere Hotel -- the epicenter of the Swiss town's corporate party scene during "WEF week."

Doing business on ice in Davos

First stop, Steve Forbes' do, where the man himself is on "meet and greet" duty by the door with his children -- reinforcing the importance of family business.

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Inside: The very people who make his magazine's eponymous rich list a must-read.

After a chance encounter with one of those Forbes list stalwarts, steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, at another Indian tycoon Niraj Bajaj's party downstairs, it's off a Jazz soiree, hosted by insurer Zurich, where Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Terence Blanchard strikes a balanced note as CEO Martin Senn works the room.

Before calling it a night, I stop by Munich-based events firm DLD's do where I have a photograph with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer in the corridor.

On my way in I cross Nouriel Roubini -- aka Dr Doom -- who, judging by the smile on his face, seems remarkably unruffled by the bout of economic optimism at Davos this year.

"I'm so busy. So many meetings," he flaps before scuttling off to another nightcap and away from the comical Swiss mountain accordion band about to strike up in their folkloristic costumes.

Day 2 - Thursday: Two days of sobering talk on inequality, Iran and Syria certainly haven't sapped the mood.

If anything, with 40 heads of state and government now gathered in Davos, the captains of industry have even more swagger, hobnobbing with the creme de la creme of G-20 politicians.

After picking the brains of Russia's deputy Prime Minister on Sochi's security during an ice hockey game he was participating in in the Davos arena, it's time to shed the snow boots and dress to impress.

At drinks laid on by CNBC and the Financial Times, I spot former EU Trade Commissioner and one-time New Labour spin doctor, Peter Mandelson rubbing shoulders with JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon. The latter is smiling broadly, a day before the world learns of his $20 million salary for 2013.

"What's been your highlight of Davos this year?" I ask another senior banker. My mouth falls open when he, in all seriousness, replies "the new Intercontinental. At least we have a decent hotel to stay in with a proper shower."

"And the sessions?" I venture. "Oh no we never go to any of those," he chuckles.

Day 3 - Friday: Russia's Farewell party brings the usual clutch of glamorous girls and moneyed men. The band is brilliant even if, as a non-Russian speaker, I can't understand a word of what they are singing.

The champagne flows fast, as if it's as plentiful as the nation's oil and gas, while the cloakroom fills up with some of the most ostentatious fur coats I have ever seen.

Power dressing for Davos

Carl Bildt and his MEP wife cut dashing figures as they head towards the bar. I deduce the Swedish foreign secretary must be the most sociable politician present at Davos this year for I have run into him at no fewer than five evening events already.

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Next, it's off to McKinsey & Co's bash where Standard Chartered's Peter Sands is mingling among the crowd unaccompanied after his firm's sudden management reshuffle last week.

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Networking doyenne Carole Stone is in fine form and -- in the absence of any Google glasses- - is game enough to have her picture taken wearing pair of the joke neon ones handed out.

Having recently collected a $1.3 million windfall from the sale of her business, Stone has shunned the usual extravagances afforded to most Davos millionaires and informs me she's moving back into the Covent Garden bolt hole where her business originally began.

Financial Times columnist Gillian Tett and Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group gather for a group photo and everyone bids the bar goodbye.

Day 4 - Saturday: Davos goes out with a bang as more than a thousand guests gather for a black tie dinner.

En-route to the venue I'm lucky enough to share a shuttle with an upbeat Avie Glazer, the American chairman of Manchester United, who expresses concern about wage inflation in the market for Premiere League players today.

John Kerry's fiery Davos speech seems to have been the talk of the town among four young American biotech entrepreneurs I dine with, each of which it turns out has floated their firm on the Nasdaq this year while markets enjoy all time records.

Among other notable movers and shakers: The former head of the UK financial services authority Adair Turner and Columbia University's Spanish economics guru Xavier Sala-i-Martin.

As I ready to leave, I remember no trip to this alpine enclave would be complete without catching CNN's own Emerging Markets editor John Defterios striking up a natty tune at the altogether more inclusive atmosphere of the Hotel Europa's "Piano Bar."

I'm just in time, as it turns out, to catch the crowd singing along to Bryan Adams' "Summer of 69."

Boy, I think, things must have changed since then, before the World Economic Forum rolled into this pleasant little place.

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