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."

1 comment:

Christian and Michelle said...

Cam, your birthday celebration was legendary... Never before have I consumed so much vodka, worn another man's face on my chest (apart from Spiderman at age 5) or had an Aussie inhebriated guy bite my chest in public... what a blast!