Friday, December 28, 2007

How to spike your web traffic

As a general rule, my blog gets about 15-20 visitors a day, many of these searching for random terms like "nightlife moscow", "kiev tourist", "nightlife odessa", "ski kamchatka", etc., not to mention a bunch of people from all around the world who are hopefully my loyal friends & family checking in on me (you know who you are).

Some of the search terms that end up at my site are truly random, and some downright disturbing. I'm not quite sure these poor lost souls were looking for who were delivered unto me via Google searching for "owl sex", "flying crocodile", "siberian salt mines fun" and "horny Putin" but I hope they found whatever they were looking for (perhaps professional help?).

In recent days, however, traffic to the site has increased 10x, with literally hundreds of people searching for "sexy snegurochka", or "sexy santa". Lingerie designers of the world- there is obviously a massive opportunity for you to plug this gap (so to speak).

For the rest of you- a quick internet search turned up a wide range of sexy santa, elf, and snegurochka outfits at Leg Avenue, else you can always wait and hope that Agent Provocateur brings out an Xmas line. In the meantime, I put another photo at the top of this post for you.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Slavic Santa and his Sexy Sidekick

The Christmas season is upon us, and there are several peculiar customs of this season in Russia, compared to the West. Some are ancient, and some more recent interpretations on the celebrations of pagan, roman and christian rituals around this time of year.

The first oddity I found upon my arrival is the focus on New Years, rather than Christmas. The traditional greeting is "с новым годом", (Happy New Year), rather than "Merry Christmas!" There are New Year's trees and New Year's presents. December 25th is a typical working day.

The reason for this, it appears, is that shortly after the revolution, the Soviets banned Christmas celebrations and moved the comparatively safer celebrations (no nativity) to the more reliablty athiest New Year's date of December 31. More recently, with the ascendancy of the Orthodox Church, Christmas has been making a comeback, with the Russian Orthodox Christmas celebrated on January 7th in 2008.

The central figure in all of this is Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost. He is a Santa-like figure (although don't mention this to Russians), and according to local press, Santa is derived from Ded Moroz. The two are similar in appearance, elderly with long beard, white hair, long robes, although the Russian figure tends to be slimmer, walks with a staff, and can be seen in either blue or red robes.

Like seemingly every elderly man able to give gifts in Russia, Ded Moroz is constantly accompanied by a svelte young girl, in this case known as Snegurochka. This gorgeous young maiden is historically derived from a snow sprite, and it's unclear exactly why she got paired with Ded Moroz, but it is Russia, after all, so there has to a be a beautiful girl around someplace. Those pictured here are wearing a "sexy snegurochka" outfit sold online for girls to wear to New Years parties.

According to the Moscow Times, the increasing wealth in Russia is increasing demand for Ded Morozes and Snegurochki to appear at New Years parties. Demanding Russians are apparently hard to please (really?). "Wish lists include Ded Morozes who arrive by parachute, recite rap, perform tricks and help Snegurochka take off her clothes.

"Agencies get requests for Ded Morozes who have dark skin, can play the accordion or can impersonate famous Russian politicians.

"The Snegurochka provided by the Ded Moroz Agency promises to put on a striptease. She travels with Ded Moroz and a company of jugglers with burning torches and fairy-tale characters.

"Not to be outdone, the Moscow Father Frost Service promises Ded Morozes who can parachute, scale high apartment buildings to surprise guests through the window, and perform acrobatic tricks in gigantic inflatable suits. The agency's pride is a rather un-Russian Ded Moroz who turns into Elvis Presley. Snegurochka turns into Marilyn Monroe. "
Apparently it's not all fun & games for these Ded's for hire. "A tough challenge for Ded Moroz are corporate parties with drunk clients who try to get the pair intoxicated and sexually harass Snegurochka, Solodov said." [Really? In Russia? Shocking Surprise #1]

"Nina, a Snegurochka and phone operator for New Year, said low-budget, all-female parties were her least favorite. The women at these parties tend to be "bitchy," she said." [Shocking Surprise #2]

In Today's Ironic News from Moscow...

German rock band the Scorpions played their popular hit "Winds of Change" to a packed crowd of FSB (KGB) officials and politicians (including Putin & Medvedev) on last week's 90th Anniversary of the founding of the KGB.

The only problem was that the song was written about the inspiring changes that were bringing about the demise of the Soviet Union (which the Russians didn't realise), and the band wasn't told about the occasion at which they were singing. Oh well...

The lead singer did think, however, that audiences at the group's concerts typically tend to be livelier than Thursday's crowd.

Apparently, other joyful festivities on the day included offering a two-for-one special on interrogations, random jumping out of alleyways at passers-by, and a discount on Polonium. Once the agents had had a few more shots (vodka, not firearms hopefully), they randomly went door-to-door kicking them down for old times sake.

In other political news, "Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who attended Friday's congress where Putin accepted Medvedev's offer of prime ministership should Medvedev win the Presidency, told journalists that "99.9 percent of North Caucasus residents will support Dmitry Medvedev for the post of the president and Vladimir Putin for the post of Russia's prime minister." Chechnya reported a jaw-dropping turnout of 99.5 percent in the Duma elections on Dec. 2 -- the highest of any region. It said 99.36 percent of the voters chose United Russia (Putin's party). [Moscow Times]

Great to see democracy taking root in Chechnya.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Since Christmas in all its forms (Dec 25th in the West, and Russian Orthodox a couple of weeks later) is upon us, I wanted to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday period! Since Dec 25th has no significance here, I'll be working through to the end of the year (although I'll be celebrating my 1-year anniversary in Moscow on the 25th!), missing family Christmas (again)... : (

The last few weeks have been a mix of sporadically hectic work, and some great quality time not travelling and spending time in Moscow catching up with friends, as well as the latest on the nightlife scene. Finally, my language has had another "step-change", and I'm now tackling increasingly complex stuff ("complex" is relative when I speak this language like a 5-year old).

I'm looking forward to a true vacation in the next couple of weeks, I'll be in Tel Aviv for New Years, then travelling around Israel for a week with an Israeli mate from Moscow, then on to Chamonix for some skiing (the snow has been awesome so far!)- serious training for the upcoming heliski trip to Kamchatka in April!

All my thoughts and best wishes to all of you around the world, and especially thanks to those of you who seem to regularly return here- you're either enjoying my coverage of my world, bored, seriously concerned about my well-being, or hoping for some juicier gossip!

Ukranian Army Recruiting Advertisement

OK, so I promise this will be my last post for a while about Russian/Ukranian girls, however this particular video clip is too good to miss.

It comes to my attention courtesy of the Exile, a local irreverent English-language newspaper, which is worth a read if you have some time on your hands. I can't confirm it's authenticity, but having seen some of the television over here- it's probably likely.

Although it's in Russian, the message is pretty clear: "Join the Ukrainian Army, and beautiful girls will want you". As per usual, the poor Russian conscript soldiers (& their dodgy equipment) look nothing like that in the advertisement.

As the Exile said "It's not quite the puritanical "Be All That You Can Be" ad for the US Army, an ad whose success says a lot about what's really fucked up in American culture. "

Friday, December 14, 2007

Panties for Putin?

In the latest bizarre twist to the Putin-mania running rampant around Russia (both state-sponsored and apparently spontaneous), Kremlin-sponsored youth group Nashi staged a fashion show in Red Square this week to demonstrate their support for Putin.

As MDBIT put it "nothing says slavish devotion like stripping down to your panties in sub-zero weather".

The writing on her panties says "Vova! I'm with you!" (Vova is an affectionate form for Vladimir)

At least she's wearing gloves to keep her fingers warm.

Thanks to MDBIT & her sources for the pics & quotes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Russian Girls: The Song & Video

OK, I couldn't resist, this video has to be seen that parodies and showcases some of Russia's best assets.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

An Observation or Two...

Since my driver is currently out of action (apparently sick on his deathbed, but since he's just started dating a stripper & her girlfriend, I suspect he may be skulking elsewhere), I have to take advantage of Moscow's efficient (if somewhat unorthodox) taxi system to get around.

After flagging down a random gypsy cab last night, my initial suspicions that my ride was a little rickety were confirmed when the back door refused to close. After several good whacks, the driver got out, lit a page of newspaper, and held it under the (admittedly greasy) latch. Once this had melted the ice buildup, the door closed fine.

Unfortunately, several corners later, the rest of the door fell off- and although the valiant hinge managed to stay its course for a few more metres, eventually the whole door hit the road and was left in the gutter.

Undeterred, our new quasi-convertible headed back to the city, where my Uzbek driver regaled me with graphic details of the benefits of his multiple wives and the condo he was building for both of them (and his six children) in PodMoskovia. The chill breeze and swirling snowflakes in the car added a certain poignancy to both the tale and his sincere inquiries as to why I was still unmarried and childless at the advanced age of 30.

Meanwhile, in other unimportant news, we have been blessed with the appointment of both our new President and new Prime Minister in the space of two days. Our esteemed President, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin made his long-awaited announcement (well- technically it came from his party of stooges, United Russia) of his "supported" successor, the Chairman of Gazprom (and coincidentally the First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia).

The markets breathed a sigh of relief, the siloviki worked themselves into a frenzy, and the reactions from those on the street ranged from "Who?" to "Who cares", but thankfully, the following day, our new President nominated none other than Mr Putin himself to be the Prime Minister in his new administration (please keep in mind that "elections" don't take place until March), so at least we can be assured that nothing's likely to change.

Now that this mystery is solved, back to the beautocracy...

Monday, December 10, 2007

NY Times: From Russia with Luxe

Entertaining article about Moscow life from the NY Times. Published yesterday, it's already out of date (Bar 30/7 closed last month and Bon has already been renovated), and out of touch (the "Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" is a student hangout), but you get the idea...

NY Times: From Russia with Luxe

I love the line: "welcome to the new beautocracy"

Seven Countries in Seven Days

One of the more glamourous and gruelling parts of the job is the notorious IPO roadshow. This is where you drag a poor management team around the world, putting them in front of 6-10 investors a day (plus group lunches and sometimes dinners), and make them do a presentation and answer questions on their business in every meeting. In between meetings, there are precision-timed conference calls and investor follow-ups. This is all with the aim of helping investors understand the deal we're all trying to sell and invest in the Company. The bankers job is to make this process go as smoothly as possible (not easy), keep those pesky investors from asking questions they're not supposed to (even harder), and ensure the management has as comfortable a time as possible (impossible).

I just got back from a roadshow that encompassed seven countries in as many days. We had Moscow on Friday, Monday in London, Tuesday to Rotterdam, Wednesday to Zurich, Thursday in Stockholm, Friday in Frankfurt, then flew out to the US, before returning to Moscow by the following Thursday.

There are some upsides to this schedule, we get to fly around in private jets, eat at the best restaurants, and stay at the nicest hotels, but you don't get much sleep...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cocktail Chatter- Things you never hear in the US

Some longterm expat friends of mine were kind enough to invite me to Thanksgiving Dinner last week, whereupon this valuable gem of information was uncovered:

Did you realize you can rent an entire flock of sheep (complete with shepherd and dog) for under $30/day in the Armenian countryside north of Yerevan?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Miss Finance 2007 Beauty Pageant

Just when you thought improbable occurances on a daily basis were so routine to become almost unnoticeable, The Miss Finance Russia beauty pageant comes along.

No, I'm not kidding. Check it out for yourself at

According to the website, the purpose of the pageant is to "find the most worthiest representatives of the financial world to the public". Competition organisers added "We want our customers to understand that financial services are available to everyone, that finance is not just about numbers but can be sometimes be a very beautiful girl", and the press release stated that the co-hosts (one a beautiful girl and one a male businessman) "personified the two sides of the contest, on the one hand-an excellent representative of the female sex, and the other, an elegant businessman, a representative of the financial sector".

In addition to the obvious "Miss Finance" crown, girls had the ability to compete for such prestigeous titles as "Miss Pension Fund", "Miss Asset Manager", and "Miss Banker". This year they added a new category called "Miss Sympathy", presumably for the poor girl who actually has financial skills but who's aesthetics aren't quite up to scratch.

To earn these noble titles, girls had to do such varied things as singing, dancing, dressing in random Asian outfits and wedding dresses and submit writing samples. To the best of my knowledge, there were no swimsuit competitions (pity), and nothing whatsoever that had anything to do with actual finance. To the right is a photo of the unfortunate "Miss Sympathy".

Viva Russia, and their dignified Finance representatives!

Not to be outdone by "Miss Finance", other noteable upcoming professional beauty pageants include "Miss Advertising", and the dubiously titled "Miss DIM" (a local fashion house).

Contest participants can been seen here.

Russian Election Fever

Russia is currently gripped in election fever, or at least that's how the government is trying to portray it. In a country with with virtually no political freedom, it's extraordinary how much money and time is spent trying to convince people they actually have a real choice.

These photos are taken from around Moscow this afternoon (it's only about 4.30pm but it's already dark ) and show some of the thousands of billboards sprouting pro-Putin slogans. Putin has graciously agreed to head the United Russia political party's ticket for the parliamentary elections on December 2nd, which positions him for pretty much whatever he likes once he leaves office as President following presidential elections next March.

The four-story United Russia poster shown here, located adjacent to Red Square, suggests that "Moscow Votes For Putin". The one below, located over a nearby street says that "Our Choice- Vladimir Putin". This photo also shows another of Moscow's favourite things- traffic at a standstill.

In a slightly more unsettling news, apparently Kremlin-sponsored youth group Nashi ("Ours") has been training with the Moscow police and military to flood the streets during the elections to eliminate any possible chance of a Ukraine-or-Georgian-style "Colour Revolution" during the elections (a remote chance at best in this tightly-controlled country). Apparently they have also been flooding regional schools, bars, and clubs to inform people that it is their national duty to vote for Putin. Opposition parties are banned from most media and their demonstrations (when permitted) are tightly controlled.

While I was out on the streets with my camera, I also took the chance to take some pictures of Moscow now that it's covered in snow again. Isn't it pretty?

The More Things Change... Metro Madness

It's nice to know some things never change in Russia.

I was turned away from the Metro today because none of the cashiers had change for a 500 ruble note (~$20), when I was trying to purchase a 17 ruble (~70c) ticket...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Back to Reality

So I arrive back to Moscow, and this is the weather report for the next few days... On the bright side, the city looks beautiful in all the snow!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Churrascaria & Caipirinha’s in Rio

After a particularly successful recent transaction, the management team and their advisors decided to celebrate with a long weekend in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This extravagant weekend of suites on the beach in Copacabana, yacht trips, sightseeing, ginormous delicious meals (and the delicious churrascaria), aborted helicopter flights, and trips to a long-remembered Gelateria made for an experience to remember!

An intrepid group of 12 of us made the trek from Moscow, and the Company’s local representative put a huge amount of effort into making sure we were well-taken care of and coordinated some fantastic events. After arrival on Friday morning, a leisurely breakfast by the pool at the Copacabana Palace, including the first (of many to come) Caipirinha’s helped settle us into the tropical mood.

We then set off sightseeing, heading (eventually- our group was anything but punctual) to Corcovado (statue of Christ), and Pao de Azucar (Sugarloaf), which was of particular interest to me, since I hadn’t been able to visit on previous visits. That evening, we gorged ourselves on succulent churrascaria, never-ending skewers of every type of meat imaginable continuously brought to the table… Despite limited sleep and an inability to move after practically ingesting an entire cow, I felt compelled to investigate how Rio’s nightlife had evolved in the previous five years. I’m happy to report that although not exactly known for its nightlife, Rio now boasts some pretty chic and lively lounges and bars, although the club scene leaves a little to be desired.

The next morning, our armoured convoy (complete with security detail) headed for a helicopter tour of the city, however after strong winds made this infeasible, we headed to the marina, where a delightful 75-foot yacht awaited our crew. We spent the next few hours swimming, feeding, tanning (OK- burning) and drinking endless amounts of caipirinha’s moored among some island’s off Ipanema beach.

That evening we headed for a more haute-cuisine meal (personally I was looking for more churrascaria), followed by an authentic samba school, where the locals were samba’ing up a storm, and the local bateria (Brazilian percussion groups) were practicing for the upcoming Carnavale! After several ear-splitting and entertaining hours of this (assisted by 3Real full glasses of vodka/cachaca) we were again feeling the urge to hit some “real” nightlife, and hijacked one of the vans, and went looking for a club, accompanied by a somewhat intoxicated and enthusiastic local friend of one of our group.

Upon arrival at the next venue, things took a turn for the more challenging. Our local Company representative stated the area was too dangerous and wanted to leave, our security guys called for reinforcements, a member or two of our crew were looking for some alternative intoxicants, the police were hanging around the area, and it was pretty difficult to find a bathroom. This complicated mix of affairs led to us bouncing back & forth between the club entrance (without actually going inside) and the van for a full hour, until we finally called it quits and headed back to the hotel. The police weren’t done with us though, ordering us out of the van and resulting in extensive negotiations with our security detail. We were ultimately sent on our way, negotiations concluded and tail between our legs. There is a reason I generally prefer travelling incognito.

Our final morning was spent lounging on the beach, before an enormous final churrascaria at Porcao, the most famous of Rio’s churrascaria’s. After dispatching more caipirinha’s, what seemed like 37 cows, several lambs and pigs, not to mention an innumerable number of chicken hearts, we staggered to the airport and onto our flights back home. A highlight of the flight back was an impromptu tour of the new megajet Airbus 380, one of which was open for inspection at Paris airport.

A wonderfully decadent weekend in Brazil- admittedly a long way to go for a weekend, but what a weekend!

The photos are here.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Adventures in Albania

My recent excursion to Albania could hardly have been more surprising. With warnings from Russian friends and colleagues to exercise extreme caution (amid preparations for our non-return), and memories of President Bush's recent timepiece-losing antics in the region fresh in our minds, we were prepared for an ordeal. Instead, we found a bustling, prosperous nation offering exquisite food, fabulous views, wonderfully warm and hospitable people, and virtually everything available for investment, with ample success fees to be shared between all.

Seriously, you want waterfront property? Shares in a Club Med? To build a power station? A conference center high in the mountains replete with deer & an indoor pool? A marina (only 12mm Euro)?, a boat-shaped house? It's all there- Albania is ripe for investment with upside for all.

Admittedly, some of this slightly particular viewpoint is due to our wonderful host Denis, a business school mate of mine, Deputy Minister in the Albanian Govt, and the CEO of Albinvest, the foreign investment arm of the Albanian Govt. He welcomed Ariel, Guri (without watch) & I to Albania with open arms, and took us travelling for four days throughout his wonderful country.

I suspect most of you reading this know as much about Albania as we did before we landed there, so to give a bit of background, Albania is a comparatively large Balkan country that's basically been treated like a hot potato over the last 3,000 years by the Romans, Greeks, Turks, Italians, and other assorted vacationing barbarians. Its prime coastal location sandwiched between Montenegro and Greece should have afforded it some great post-Colonial opportunities, but a crackpot dictator decided Communism was the way to go for most of the 20th Century, caving only in the mid-90's. His paranioa went so far as to declare that every Albanian peasant should have their own bunker, resulting in indestructible concrete Artoo-like mushrooms decorating the countryside pretty much everywhere you look.

Apart from the beautiful countryside (bunkers aside) and coastline, the exquisite food (take the best of Italian and Greek with a dash of Turkish), and the warm and friendly people, Albania seems to have a couple of odd ideosynchrasies. For example, they appear to have a passion for half-completed concrete structures (maybe a legacy of the bunkers), as well as ridiculous over-capitalisation in everything they construct (think a 4-story boat-shaped house, concrete castles in the middle of nowhere, and bars & restaurants in small villages that would not look out of place in Manhattan).

Our journey began in Tirana, and our first indication that we were on a path less travelled was that immigration were so surprised we were here for tourism that they gave us a discount on our visas. Upon leaving Mother Theresa airport (who knew she was Albanian?), we entered a world of benign chaos, where apparently the only vehicle permitted is a Mercedes, and Russian road rules apply, whether it's being forced off the road by a quasi-official convoy, or sitting in traffic for hours.

Denis met us at lunch, and we explored Tirana, the afternoon power outage cutting short a tour of Albinvest's premises. That evening, after another another heart-stopping meal (we were SO happy to drink reasonably-priced good wine), we explored the local nightlife... Until this point it had escaped my attention that Albania is a predominantly Muslim country, but a local girl's "I'm here with my cousin and can't leave without him, please don't cause problems" to one of our teams' amorous advances rapidly brought this point home. The rapid music shift from country line-dancing to greek circle-dancing to arabic belly-dancing music in another establishment was a gentle reminder that Albania isn't quite as culturally homogenous as Moscow.

The following morning we headed to the coast, our government saloon affording us the best police attention affordable. We spent the day eating, drinking, and meandering down the coastline, spending the evening staying under heavy guard at the President's summer dacha in the town of Vlore, hosted by one of Denis' gracious oligarch-like friends at his restaurant.

A beautiful sunrise and Communist-era dining experience later, our convoy took to the mountains, heavy cloud lending a mysterious medieval aura to the dramatic mountain vistas and hair-raising hairpin bends. Apparently Denis' friend was so influential he was able to break the Mercedes-only law of Albanian vehicle ownership (or at least possession). We visited a lovely hotel, had a delicious meal of local goat & other delicacies, and headed to the south coast (where Cam was thrilled to receive Greek GPRS access for his blackberry).

By early evening we had arrived in Berat, an ancient fortified town dominated by the castle in which people still live. We explored the castle (partially by braille in the fading light) but were disappointed that the frog we found living in the castle would not turn into a beautiful princess despite a piss, er, I mean a kiss.

The late-night rally back to Tirana left haunting images in my dreams as donkeys, small children, potholes large enough to swallow our car, and misplaced bunkers swept past in our headlights and reminded me of computer games in days gone by. Thankfully there was enough Raki (although not enough cities beginning with "E") to distract us.

After such a gastronomic, cultural, and entrepreneurial weekend, we collapsed onto the plane back to Moscow, with just one question remaining... What was that strange Chinese transistor thing in the back of Denis' car? I guess it's a question that will remain unanswered.

In the meantime, anyone who can rustle up a busload of unsuspecting & adventurous tourists who are willing to hit the mountains of Southern Albania, there's a success fee in it for both of us...

The photos, as always, are here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

First Snow of Winter

The first snow fell and stuck to the ground today. On one hand, it was really pretty, on the other a reminder that I live in a country that has 6+ months of winter. Oh well, it was a gorgeous summer...

Edit: [Monday] It hasn't stopped snowing since. This is going to be a long winter.

Friday, October 12, 2007

New Career?

For those of you in Moscow, pick up an October edition of the magazine "Sex and the City" (basically a Russian version of Cosmo), where you can see me launching my new modeling/acting career on p166-167.

On second thoughts, maybe I'd better stick to finance.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


After years of promising, I finally joined my great friend Bernd, who lives in Munich and is one of the most fanatically German people I know, to celebrate Oktoberfest with him. Armed only with a pair of lederhosen and the knowledge we would drink a lot of beer, I set off with Bernd early Saturday morning to the Munich fairground to see what the fuss was all about.

It was quickly apparent that about a billion people were bent on the same course. Thousands of people squished together into seething beer halls to drink, sing, and sway to drunken german Oompah music and strange incarnations of "YMCA" (email me for the video- it's terrifying). Those who couldn't make it into the tents (barred by large teutonic feis kontrollers) were left to mill around the fairgrounds or throw up wherever they please.

Back inside, the serious business began. After lining our stomachs with Spatzle, Knudel, Wurst, and other heavy Germanic dishes, we began downing litre steins of beer. Our talented fraulein kept them coming as fast as we could drink them, and her abilities to carry up to 12 steins was a source of fascination for the Aussies, who could only wish that our beer wenches back home were as competant!
Lots of eating, singing, and about 5-6 steins each later (not to mention Bernd befriending a rather curious-looking English guy in drag), we staggered back out to what was left of the sunshine, braving surging mobs to make it inside another popular venue. Dave (who happened to be in Oktoberfest coincidentally the same weekend) attempted to show us how to scull a litre stein with much theatrics, while Cam & Bernd managed to talk our way inside to the hallowed upper halls.

Having found a warm haven from which to befriend locals and continue drinking, we stayed there for some time until we failed to convince security that were in fact permitted to be there, and rapidly found ourselves jettisoned into the back alley. Picking ourselves up, we decided that some fairground games to determine the ultimate lederhosen champ were in order (Cam lost, so next time Bernd visits Moscow- get ready to see me hit the nightlife in lederhosen), followed by the crazy idea to do the "Olympic Rings" rollercoaster.

What may seem obvious to the reader occasionally needs to be spelled out. After drinking ~9 litres of beer, doing 5 upside-down loops on a rollercoaster in quick succession is not the best idea on the planet.

After this feat of gastro-intestinal fortitude, we dizzily stumbled our way to the nightclub P1, a fantastic nightclub complex with some of the best pizza we'd tasted all day, and hordes of pretty German girls in their dirndl's (think peasant dress). These, combined with the menfolk in their lederhosen and everyone's dazed expressions from 14 hours of drinking made the place look like the 1606 population of Freising had been abducted and transported to modern-day Munich (only with better deodorant, dentistry, and hair dye).

The night became a little blurry (like some of my photos) shortly thereafter, but somehow I made it back to Bernd's, out of my adopted lederhosen and onto my plane the next day, eventually making it home to Moscow.

The photos are here.

Monday, October 08, 2007

September Musings

OK, so it's October already and I somehow managed to get through all through September without posting. I'm blaming my work/travel/party schedule, but the reality is, without new & exciting photos, I don't tend to write as much.

September kicked off with a bang with an old Aussie mate of mine Adam in town for a weekend. Once again, we learned why taking a camera out at night in Moscow is a really bad (although entertaining) idea.

The following weekend a close college friend of mine was married in Denmark, so I enjoyed a comparatively civilised weekend in Copenhagen which was delightful and once-again rekindled my longstanding love affaire with Scandinavia, although disappointingly managed to not end up swimming in the canals...

The next couple of weeks were a blur of work, as several new deals kept me trapped in the office before I managed to escape for 3 days to NY to renew my Russian visa. Upon arrival, I was told the Russian government wouldn't let me back in the country for a week, keeping me prisoner in NY for a few more days (as you can imagine I was really upset). Apart from the constant work interruptions, the joys of seeing close friends, NY's incredible restaurant scene, and some new clothes to prepare for another Moscow winter kepy me busy.

After another week in Moscow, it was time to head to Munich to meet a close friend of mine for Oktoberfest, but that's the topic of my next post...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cruising the Greek Islands

Just got back from a magical week of cruising the Cyclades, a spectacular group of islands a few hours southeast of Athens. Our crew was a tight group of b-school friends who have regularly sailed together over the last five years. It was a trip of spectacular sights, great sailing, wild partying, amazing destinations, and the occasional wonderful surprise (Congratulations to Will & Jen on their engagement!!)

Our trip began in Paros, where an advance crew of Cam, Will, Nic & Jen attempted to pick up the boat and sail it to Mykonos to meet up with James & Dennis. Unfortunately, we failed to adequately plan for Greek efficiency, which makes Mexico look positively industrious, and Cam fumed as our promised 10am pickup time stretched to 6pm and beyond... Thankfully our first tastes of the excellent Greek cuisine kept us from exploding. Undeterred, Nic & Cam jumped on a ferry to Mykonos to sample its legendary nightlife, leaving Will & Jen to their own devices (which are pretty efficient, considering they were engaged upon our return!).

Our first night in Mykonos introduced us to a mix of overtanned Greeks & Italians, obnoxious and entertaining Aussies, backpacking 15-year-olds running amok, and a host of other stereotypes. As you can imagine, our motley crew fit in just fine!!

The next morning we staggered out of our hotel to catch an early ferry back to Paros, assisted by Dennis' gentle encouragement & vocal talents. After realizing Will & Jen's new status mid-sailing briefing, we set sail for Schinoussa, a small island south of Naxos. The initial seas were a little feisty, causing some to wish they'd taken the sea-sickness pills, but that evening found us in a gorgeous secluded bay, with nothing to disturb the splendid isolation except Will's yelp as he trod on a sea-urchin, and our swearing as our outboard engine failed. A huge repas of lobster pasta, fresh fish, and more Tatziki & Taramasalata than we could jump over made the initial trials and tribulations of our journey fade away.

The next morning we sailed south for Santorini (Thira), and the splendour of arriving in Santorini's volcano caldera under sail is an experience I will never forget. We were fortunate to tie up directly to the quay underneath the main town of Fira, where we stayed for the next couple of days, hiking, eating, partying, admiring the sunsets, and just drinking in the splendour of Santorini. Will & Jen left Dennis, James, Nic & I to enjoy some time alone, and apart from James sending his blackberry and camera for a swim, and more encounters with Donkey crap than we care to recall, we passed the time very pleasantly. When it came time to leave, we inadvertently took a souvenir- a large rock came up with our anchor, requiring some gymnastics and effort to dislodge it!

On our fifth day, we sailed from Santorini to Ios, where we again managed to luck out with an ideal mooring, with a position right on the quay. We rented a car and careened around the island, skillfully ending up in a swimming pool bar on the beach at sunset. The night was spent in the debaucherous back alleys of Ios, where we tried to remember whether we'd acted like that when we were 16 (and generally agreed), since that seemed to be the average age of the rest of the crowd.

The following morning, high winds in our protected bay, and reports of an impending meltemi (a strong seasonal northerly wind) led to desertions, with Will & Jen claiming they needed more "couple" time on the beach, leaving the four of us to brave the high seas. Under jib alone in 35+ knots of wind, we slogged our way upwind to Naxos, which despite the challenges was a fun sail, and contained one of my highlights of the trip as a pod of nine dolphins surfed, jumped and played around the boat for part of our journey.
That night we spent under a blanket of stars in some of the clearest water I've ever seen in a secluded bay in the south of Naxos. The four boys proved we could indeed feed & water ourselves, and we had the ever-present meltemi (heated to steel-melting temperatures from its journey over Naxos) to keep us company.
Our final day of sailing found us working northwards along Naxos to pick up Will (and some all-important gyros) in Naxos town and make the crossing to Paros, through the washing machine seas, spurred on by DJ Cam's Moscow club music mixes. Overnight the meltemi strenthened, causing all sorts of carnage for yachts to windward of our marina, making us thankful we'd reached the safety of our mooring the night before.

Exhausted, sunburnt and happy, we disembarked our boat (and its myriad technical failures- but really- who needs a working fuel & water gauge, outboard motor, or wind/speed/depth readings anyhow?) and boarded the Ferry back to Athens. Unbeknownst to us, Athens was in the grip of serious bushfires, and dozens of people had been killed. Athens was covered in a thick pall of smoke and ash was falling from the sky. While this put a slight damper on our final day, we headed for a delicious modern greek meal at a trendy local restaurant, and then Jimbo & I met some friends and partied the night away before crawling back to Moscow late Sunday night.
A wonderful trip with wonderful friends. The photos are here.