Monday, June 25, 2007

Cam's 30th- St Petersburg

After so long in the planning, I finally celebrated my 30th last weekend in St Petersburg, Russia. I was incredibly fortunate to have almost 50 wonderful friends fly in from all around the world for a wild weekend of celebrations and fun in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.

The weekend kicked off on Friday with dinner at Restoran, a stylish modern Russian restaurant with delicious food, washed down with 14 bottles of vodka, which set the precedent (and the pace) for the rest of the weekend. Alex- having just arrived from Sydney- befriended passers-by on the street, and then promptly jumped out the window and rode down the street on a horse. Jon made an entrance for himself by strolling in, taking a swig of vodka, and then falling on his ass.

The eerie twlighlight as we left the restaurant framed the bridges opening in front of our eyes (almost stranding several of us on the wrong side of the river), as we headed to Decadence, one of St Pete's hottest nightspots. Our group bonded rapidly, and it was delightful to see so many new friendships evolving.

James & Lee had the fabulous idea of immortalizing my last trip to St Petersburg (during which I spent an evening in hospital), so a t-shirt showing a bandaged Cam on the front with one of my reknown Aussie expressions ("We're not here to f*ck spiders") translated into 12 languages on the back, was distributed to everyone on the trip.

Somehow, about 50% of those who'd originally said they would tour the Hermitage actually managed to show up to see one of the world's most beautiful museums. I hear it was a great tour!

Those of us who didn't make it to the Hermitage wandered around the city in search of greasy food (and of course to see the sights). Our prayers were answered in the form of the James Cook pub, whose deep fried breadsticks were like an oasis to a Sahara nomad. Post-refuel, a tour of the canals and river was an easy option for various members of the group to sightsee, snooze, drink, bond, or whatever took their fancy. In addition to the palaces and sights of the city, an unexpected highlight was a Russian nuclear submarine up on drydock as we cruised past.
That evening, we headed to Royal Beach (or "Royal Bich" as the sign out front declared), a spectacular venue on the beach of one of Peter's outlying islands. The scene (and weather) were more Miami beach than Artic Circle, and there was not a cloud in the sky. Excellent company, delicious food and copious amounts of vodka led to some heartfelt toasts and more than a little entertainment, including Alex's impromptu wedding. The upraised bridges ensured that everyone was required to party until at least 5am, and a cadre of us decided to brave Tunnel, a ghetto St Pete's nightclub located in a nuclear bomb shelter.

En route, Christian was regaled by his driver, who felt compelled to distribute gruesome x-rays of his prior injuries, but still felt strong enough to attempt to negotiate a discount on the entry to the club. The 16-year-old, techno-loving crowd was unfazed (but no doubt intrigued) by this impertinent display of business school attitude, but were too cool to want to figure us out, and left Guri untouched power-napping in a corner.

Meanwhile, those who were too timid (or smart) to hit Tunnel were trapped in traffic (and an impromptu dance party) at the on-ramps to the still-open bridges. Channeling her inner podium dancer, Rachel climbed some nearby monuments and almost launched a striptease before being restrained and carried back to the vehicle by James.
Meandering back from Tunnel, Cam was accosted by two inebriated, lost, but highly enthusiastic veterans of the St Pete's scene- Jon & Aron, who promptly doubled the hotel bars' annual revenue in the next few hours, ably assisted by Lee, who had been monitoring the ins and outs of party attendees from her perch at the hotel bar for some hours. (don't worry everyone, your secrets are safe with Lee).

The following morning dawned early, as a surprising number of revelers actually made it to the Astoria for the departure of the Peterhof tour. The regimented Teutonic attitude and previous scolding by the guide the prior day had evidently scared even these hardened party animals into attending. We boarded a boat for a ride to spectacular gardens, and a beautiful palace (with entertaining polished floors), trick fountains, and lots of yummy ice-cream. Peterhof and its trick fountains, replete with screaming children running amongst snarling stray dogs did wonders for the hangover and provided some insights into old and new Russia.

Showing true initiative and a zest for the unknown, Guri took us straight back to the James Cook Pub (bless that deep-fried bread), where we camped out for the afternoon amid passing squalls. The ongoing rain gave us the excuse to quaff several beers and the occasional shot of Jagermeister (shout out to Lee!), as well as ponder the inner meaning of Russian hairstyles and small childrens curious fascination with statues' nether regions. I would like to think it was the heady intoxication of being with close friends in an exciting place that caused us to weave our way back to the hotel to prepare for dinner amid random burst of hysterical laughter, but our bar bill and photos tend to suggest otherwise.

Dinner at Aquarel, a multistory restaurant on the Neva was another mix of excellent company, venue, food, and vodka, as our quest for all of the above continued unslaked. Warm toasts amid great friends and outstanding desserts capped off the events of a truly extraordinary weekend.

To find a place for our group to happen late-night Sunday, we commandeered a minibus and headed to Metro, a 10-year old venue in the suburbs populated by drunken 12 year-olds and Russkie pop music. This created an entertaining platform for each of our remaining group members to indulge their latent desires, as some disappeared to "alternative" venues, back to the hotel bar, or with each other.

As morning broke on Monday, and we prepared to make our way back to our respective corners of the world, I was left with a sense that this had been a truly momentous weekend, that incredibly special people had gone to huge amounts of effort to join me in St Petersburg. My old and new friends had met, and found so many shared traits and interests in a weekend filled with special moments. It was a weekend that despite huge logistical complexities had gone so smoothly, and I am so grateful to everyone who was able to make it. I hope that the many friendships forged over the weekend will last, and we will meet again, collectively and individually, in many places and for many years to come.

A collection of representative photos from the weekend can be found here. A HUGE Thank-you to Rachel for being an excellent and enthusiastic photographer throughout the weekend!

Thank you- to the best group of friends anyone could possibly have.

PS: Some great quotes from trip attendees:
From Rachel:
"To the spectacular courtesans of the Prince Campbell-
-from around the world convened the court; roommates, classmates, friends of friends of friends…
Ladies, gents, jesters and sages; translators, instigators, dancers, and ragers-
Mattered not whether childhood friend or new found sister-
He asked,
They came.
And under the dazzling nightless nights of St. Petersburg, in Lenin’s wake they smiled and shared-
Vodka poured and revelry reigned; Bacchus would be proud.
And under the selective sun they explored the treasures of the Hermitage and Peterhoff-
But the guide books were mistaken.
The riches were in the friendships found and rediscovered, in the laughter spilled, in the diversity amongst us which so swiftly triumphed on common ground;
in insatiable moments which captivated, and commanded, to chase the dawn….relentlessly
there is no mercy in the Campbell jubilee, but euphoria a plenty
and while the revelers devoured the intoxicating ambrosia of joy and music and sumptuous morsels, be they caviar or shared secrets, maybe the gods
of history were enviously watching, wishing this cache for themselves.
Mere mortals we started, scattered as demigods and goddesses,
thank you all for a wonderful trip;"
From an anonymous reveller on Tuesday:
"Best analogy for me today: I feel like the house in teen movies when they manage to get rid of all the evidence from the bender and the house is spotless until the mom finds some stray beer cup in the cupbopard....well, I am showered and dressed for work but never had time to address fingernails which are half eaten (I do that when I am anxious) and covered in the middle third with light pink but polish has disappeared from the ends- needless to say,, they look like a 10yr old whose mom let her get a manicure a month ago and she's just letting nature take its course."

Heliskiing 2008- Kamchatka, Russia

Planning has commenced for the first heliskiing trip of 2008. 11-20 April, 2008, in Kamchatka, Russia.

The Kamchatka peninsula is a spectacular region, geologically active, dotted with enormous skiable volcanos (some active) as well as hot springs to relax the muscles after (or during) skiing, it's a beautiful wilderness area in one of the wildest and most remote regions in the world. It's also a great place for salmon fishing, if you're into that sort of thing. Kamchatka is blessed (for skiing purposes anyhow) to be located where dry, cold Arctic winds meet the moist air of the Pacific, generating the conditions for a LOT of deep, dry powder!

One of the awesome guides from my last trip in Greenland goes there every year, so he knows the region well and has a lot of experience in the area.

This is an amazing opportunity to ski an incredible part of the world with exceptional guides and a great group, so please email me if you're interested in joining!

Moscow June Reflections

While my blog has been a little quiet lately- life definitely hasn't been! I've had non-stop visitors to Moscow lately, starting with a lovely visit from my Mum & a friend of hers, who came to check that I wasn't starving in a frozen wasteland, been captured by the KGB or Mafia, or been kidnapped and married off to a Russian bride. While I think she's now content that none of the above are imminent, I'm not sure if happier or not about the lifestyle her sweet, innocent son is exposed to in a rowdy city like Moscow... ; )

After Mum had left, it was open season on Cam's apartment, as friends arrived in Moscow before and after my birthday extravaganza in St Petersburg. The last few weeks have seen an average of 4 people every night staying at my place, which has been wonderful, if not somewhat chaotic. The entertainment of a crew of Americans/Aussies/Swedes/Brits navigating Moscow's various attractions, nightlife, and logistics has produced no end of entertainment.

After barely surviving my 30th birthday weekend in St Pete's, I arrived back to the office to be presented by my long-suffering colleagues with a (1000-page) Russian slang dictionary, in an attempt to cut down my barrage of questions posed by various Russian text messages and emails. Shortly thereafter, this gift was outdone by a bunch of 20 heart-shaped balloons that arrived at the office, accompanied by a card with a photo of the lovely girl who had sent them- much to the entertainment of my office.

As we all know, the Russians take their drinking seriously. I received a lecture from my office on how to drink properly before embarking on a business trip to rural Siberia. For those who are interested, the recommendation is that 30-40 mins before seriously starting to drink, drink a little to stimulate production of the appropriate enzymes, then eat some serious fatty foods (Russian recommend Salo (pork lard)) immediately before your drinking begins. I have seen people drink an entire bottle of vodka each in less than an hour. If you don't believe, me, you can apparently see it on Youtube.

Seeking a back-up option in case the whole Finance thing doesn't work out, I was invited to revive my flagging modeling career (late night photos on geometria apparently don't count) by a friend who needed a male to stare at her handbag as an accompaniment to a story in a new Moscow magazine, "Sex & the City" (as previously noted, neither irony nor copyright are appreciated in Russia), so stay tuned for that to hit newstands in coming months.

If you're thinking of visiting, I highly recommend coming in the next few months. Moscow is a true delight in the the Summer, there's a proliferation of outdoor dining and drinking venues, the days are long, the skirts are short, and the weather is perfect.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Travelmaps: Where have you been?

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a site where you can check all the countries you've visited, and it will produce a map for you! I think it's pretty cool, and according to its (not super-precise) definitions of countries, I've been to around 45% of the world... ;)

For detailed travel-tracking, I prefer Most Travelled Man, which is one guy's entertaining attempt to catalogue everywhere possible to travel to in the world.

To create your own travel map, click here.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Moscow Nightlife

Since moving to Moscow, I get asked about two topics more than any other.
1) Russian women,
2) Moscow nightlife.
To deal with the women question- Yes, Russian girls are gorgeous. Enough said.

The nightlife? Moscow nightlife is epic. The nightclub scene here blows any city in the world away. The clubs here are wild and nothing can be too big, bold, bright, beautiful or expensive enough that it can't be found or done in a Moscow nightclub. Dancing girls are de rigeur (even at restaurants), and the nightclubs regularly feature acrobats, impromptu stage shows, international DJ's, and big-name acts.

The design of Moscow's megaclubs is opulent, featuring multi-tier extravaganzas with fountains, unicorns, multiple platforms, weird and wonderful design features, and much more. Buying a table (which gives you guaranteed entrance, a place to sit and a bartab) can cost over $20,000 in some places.

A key facet of Moscow nightclub life is dealing with Face Control (Feis Kontrol), the doormen who hold the key to entry, and will arbitrarily admit or deny people, split couples or groups, and will immediately pass judgement as you approach the nightclub entrance.

As to the people, Moscow's nightclubbers are a mix of the beautiful, the rich, the well-connected, and those who want to be them. People-watching in the megaclubs is fascinating, and is much of the reason that a lot of Muscovites are there. Different places attract different crowds, but there's always an entertaining mix of models, hookers, girls looking for "sponsors" (wealthy men who can pay for their lifestyles), and men looking for them.

Moscow's nightclub scene is covered on a number of blogs and websites, a couple of entertaining and informative ones are Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears, and MoscowMaximum. The ins and outs of every weekend's parties are captured on photo websites, whose photographers prowl the nightclubs taking pictures of the action. To see who goes and what happens at these clubs, check out Geometria, 44100, or Mainpeople.

So which club is the best? Hard to say, since they open and close at a dizzying pace (some clubs are seasonal, others distribute flyers for their closing parties at the opening). Currently, my top overall pick is Krysha Mira, top Megaclub is Rai, most "Moscow" club is Dyagilev. You'll have to come visit and decide for yourself!


Moscow Melts in May

Since many of you seem convinced that I live in a frozen wasteland 12 months of the year, you might be interested to know Moscow has been sweltering in a heat wave lately, temperatures haven't been below 30 degress (~85F) for the past few weeks, and have been in the mid 30's most days!

This has brought with it some upsides as well as downsides. The Soviet enthusiasm for concrete means that it's been hotter than hell on the streets, however it's also interesting to note there seems to be a perfectly inverse correlation between increasing temperatures and decreasing length of girls' skirts. It's unclear whether the decreasing skirt length has contributed to the increase in heat in any way. Further studies are warranted.

The Moscow media has been in a frenzy. Suprisingly, the heat wave hasn't been blamed on the Americans, communists, separatists, or facists, but it's not over yet. Of note:
  • These are the hottest temperatures in 116 years;
  • The Russian Emergencies Ministry said that 14 electricity transformer substations began to smoke and/or caught fire in Moscow on Monday- always nice to know;
  • Moscow residents are being warned not to work too hard;
  • Ice cream sales are up 60% from last month