Thursday, January 31, 2008

Moscow Nightlife #2

In response to everyone's continued fascination with Moscow's wild nightlife, I stumbled across this article again the other day by a journalist I know over here who wrote it for Vanity fair a year or so ago.
Even 18 months after it's written in this fast-moving town, it describes the Moscow nightlife we party in better than anything I've seen before or since:

As a friend of mine here famously comments: "What the rest of the world calls MTV Wild, we call Thursday".
See my earlier article on Moscow Nightlife here.

Model Bodyguard Killed in Moscow Carjacking

OK, so this is a very sad story, and the poor woman is dead, but it's WAY too Moscow not to highlight from the Russian news this week.

Russia's most famous female bodyguard Anna Loginova was killed after failing to prevent her own Porsche being carjacked. The glamorous 29-year-old died after clinging on to the door handle of the Cheyenne and being dragged along the street at high speed as the car screeched away.

Loginova ran an agency for female bodyguards, some trained by the ex-KGB, to give discreet protection to Moscow's billionaires and their wives and mistresses.

Loginova was a famous Russian model before venturing into the security business and had shot advertising campaigns for BMW, Chanel and other world-known brands. She took Jujitsu lessons and mastered sword handling. Afterwards, she opened her own security firm staffed exclusively by beautiful women.

In a recent magazine interview, she insisted that she and her team of glamorous bodyguards gave better protection than the more traditional beefy male security men.

"I do think that a girl should be a girl, not a Terminator," she said. She posed semi-naked for a Moscow men's magazine to make it clear that she was feminine as well as good with a gun.

She was highly respected for her bodyguard skills. "A normal man gets sick and tired of male bodyguards around him all the time," she said.

Source: Daily Mail,, and other media sources.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Air Force Bombs Moscow Dacha

Yesterday, during "routine" minefield-clearing exercises near Moscow (since when are there minefields near Moscow?), a couple of missles apparently "drifted trajectory" and went 3.5km off course, into some poor guy's Dacha (holiday house), on the outskirts of Moscow.

The military initially disavowed the incident, firstly denying all knowledge, then saying it was bombing from a paraglider, then mentioned it was dropping flares, then suggesting it was bombing from a helicopter, before admitting in the face of journalists who had witnessed the exercise that in fact a bunch of missiles had flown off course and headed towards Moscow. Apparently, the post-Xmas sales at TsUM aren't only attracting minigarch's wives these days.

The owner of the dacha was notified by the media, but was yet to visit to see the damage for himself. His only comment was that "It's a very good dacha", which contradicts somewhat with the military's assessment that the damage was "insignificant" and shouldn't amount to more than 60,000 RUB (about $2,500). Personally, if a missile came through the window of my "good dacha", I'm thinking there might be a little more than $2,500 of damage. Watch this space.

To date, nobody has blamed Chechen separatists or Kasparov, but it's early days yet.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chamonix: Skiing and Scenery

After a week of intense cultural, historical, geographic and nocturnal sights (not to mention the amount of food consumed), it was great to have a week of fresh air and exercise (and some more nightlife) in Chamonix.

For the non-skiers amongst you, Chamonix is an ancient and famous ski resort nestled in the French Alps below Mont Blanc. It is close to the Italian border and is about 45 minutes from Geneva.

Ariel & I headed there from Israel, and spent a week skiing Chamonix's four resorts, having a great time. While the weather alternated between perfect sunshine and miserable cloud/rain/snow, this at least gave us fresh powder on the sunny days and a couple of magical days on the slopes. Cam was keen to get back into skiing shape in preparation for heliskiing in Kamchatka in April so spent most time off-piste, but it turns out Ariel was the gnarliest skier- he so badly damaged one of his skis that he actually had to purchase it at the end of the week!

Off the slopes, Chamonix was a mix of great food (fondue, baguettes, patisserie), and typical ski resort nightlife (super casual, 300:1 guy/girl ratio, 2-stage Apres & After-Party scene), which was a change of pace from Moscow and Tel Aviv! Ariel was keen to maintain the language advantage after Israel (he speaks fluent French), but it turned out that 90% of the people in Chamonix were either Swedish, Russian, or Aussie, so Cam staged a little bit of a comeback!

Our final evening was spent in Geneva, just to confirm that there is, in fact, no reason to spend any time in Geneva (although we had an entertaining time doing our best to prove otherwise).

After 2 great weeks of travelling (hurray for Russian New Year/Xmas break, not hurray for conference calls & work interruptions), I am excited to head back to Moscow, although not quite certain I'm ready to go back to work!

The photos are here.

Israel: Journey to the Promised Land

It's impossible to visit Israel without some preconceptions of what it's going to be like. The epicentre of the most media-covered and debated region in the world raises spectres of heavy security, repressed Palestinians, manifest religiousity and life practically under seige.

Israel manages to possess all ofthe above, yet strangely, they all represent very small minorities of this diverse and wonderful country that has been fought over for millennia (the poor Palestinians aren't exactly a minority, but you don't see them in Israel anymore).

Despite seeing Hassidic Jews, lots of guns, and increased security, Tel Aviv feels more like a beachside city like Sydney than a city under seige. There's a relaxed beach & cafe culture, and even though while we there rockets were being fired from Gaza and military responses less than 100km south of Tel Aviv, life goes on as normal, with no hint of these increased pressures (although the vaunted security barrier is seriously imposing).

I spent a week in Israel with Ariel, a good Israeli mate of mine from Moscow, and was subsequently adopted by his large and wonderful family. Throughout the week, we drove the country from South to North, saw the major historical and religious sites of most faiths, put Tel Aviv nightlife to the test, and managed to eat more than I had previously thought humanly possible.

The first couple of days were spent exploring Tel Aviv, celebrating (and then recovering from) New Years Eve, and allowing Ariel to reconnect with family and friends- all of whom were determined to force-feed us delicious Middle Eastern food until we were both ready to produce fois gras.

For those who claim Tel Aviv has the best nightlife in the world- while I applaud the city's ability to sustain great nightlife every night of the week, as well as the range of well-designed and lively venues, it ain't quite Moscow- 'nuff said. (If you want details- email me, or just look at the photos).

Our first major road trip was to the South, where we drove through (but were unfortunately unable to visit) the West Bank, visited the ancient fortress of Masada* (where 1,000 jews sacrificed themselves rather than surrender to the Romans, who spent almost a year building a 20-story siege ramp up to the Fortress (those Romans don't f*ck around)).
*Ariel wishes to state for the record that it was my idea to hike the 500 vertical metres to the fortress in the middle of the desert, rather than take the cable car. I just wanted to be authentic.

From Masada we continued south past the Dead Sea, into the Negev desert. Apart from random signs warning of military activity and firing ranges, I don't have much else to comment about the Negev- it's big, dry, and rocky (but very pretty).

The second road trip was to the North, we visted Caesaria (Roman ruins), Haifa (pretty gardens & great falafel- Yum!), Acco (what old town?), the Sea of Galillee and the endless churches that commemorate where Jesus walked on water, produced loaves & fishes, slept, paid his taxes, and had his hair cut (I'm not much for religion, so I zoned out at some point). From there we went to the Golan Heights, which Syria adamantly claims is part of Syria, but given it's so green & lush, I don't see them getting it back anytime soon! Still laced with trenches, minefields, military bases & tank crossings, Golan was fascinating. We skirted both the Syrian and Lebanese borders before heading back to Tel Aviv.

Our final full day was spent in Jerusalem, the holy city. Jerusalem is truly an experience, containing the most sacred sites of Judaism (the Western wall is actually just a wall, but it's still a spectacular sight), Christianity (I never knew they actually knew the place where Jesus was crucified and buried), and Islam (they definitely have the biggest and coolest temple, even if the dome is actually copper and I'm not allowed inside). I was personally disappointed that I didn't contract Jerusalem syndrome, whereby people are so struck by the city, that they actually believe they are a prophet, the Messiah, etc. I guess I'll have to leave it till later to found my own religion...

This blog (or at least this post) is not the place to cover the myriad of complex issues surrounding Israel and the Palestinians, or Israel and it's neighbours. Suffice it to say that most Israeli's I spoke with do not expect a final settlement within their lifetimes, yet all perceive it to be inevitable and necessary.

On a final note, I must pay respects to the family traditions of Israel. Ariel's family genuinely made me feel part of their family, and I was welcomed and force-fed at daily family events throughout the week. This wonderful hospitality contributed greatly to my enjoyment of this fascinating country.

The photos are here.