We saw a sign in the lobby of our hotel in St. Petersburg (the Nevsky Forum, which I highly recommend for travelers...incredible location, as well as a five minute walk from Moscovskiy train station, the rooms were gorgeous and the staff were so helpful and welcoming) for a Thursday night "Russian hospitality" evening.
All it took to spark our interest were the words "free vodka shot" and "complimentary blinis." Yep, we're classy like that.
Being the freeloading tourists that we most definitely are, my parents, Rhea, her dad Mike and I planned our day accordingly so that we ended up back at our hotel just in time. The first shot went down smoothly, and the blini were delicious. And then my dad had The Idea.
"How about we get a bottle of vodka?" he suggested.
By "we", he meant that he would sit and wait in the hotel's sitting room while Rhea, my mum and I ventured out to the street in search of the Russian national drink. But that was ok, because more vodka seemed like a great plan. But oh how good ideas can so quickly become bad ones...
We picked up a bottle as well as some various zakuski, the Russian word for appetizers that you use to chase shots with. They tend to be pickled or dried/salted foods - we bought pickles, strawberries, rye bread, a lemon, and some dried herring, aka fish jerky, which Rhea loves and I had always thought looked revolting. Then we skipped back to our hotel, where my dad and Mike were waiting in a cosy little table overlooking Nevsky Prospekt.
One of the hotel employees saw our supplies, guessed what we were about to do, and offered to wash the strawberries and get us some shot glasses. Oh, this is why I love Russians...in Canada I doubt the hotel would have ever been cool with us drinking and eating our own stuff whilst hanging out in their lobby (and getting louder and more obnoxious as the liquid in the bottle dwindled), but here it was just like, "Awesome. Let me help you get drunk!"
He returned with chilled shot glasses and our zakuski neatly laid out on platters (so nice!) and we got down to business. I remember the first hour or so quite pleasantly. We made some eloquent toasts to Russia, to friendship, to traveling...and then things started to get a little hazy. The toasts started to get a little more random.
"To puffy shirts!" we toasted, clinking our glasses together merrily. (And yep, that was a total Seinfeld reference...)
"To the Blasdels, the pre-Mayflower family that's pronounced BLAZE-del not Blahz-del!" (that would be Rhea and her dad, whose last name is Blasdel which I had been mispronouncing these past eight months).
"To...what's your name? Pavel? Like Pavel Datsyuk? Can we call you Pasha? To Pasha!" (this said to the hotel employee who kept coming back to check on us every now and then).
"To nude walkers and Holy Fools for Christ!" (don't ask...just trust that it somehow made sense at the time)
And so on and so on. I started to forget what else we toasted around the eighth or ninth shot. We finished the bottle, placed it immediately on the ground (its bad luck in Russia to put an empty bottle on the table after you've finished it) and then someone - we're really not sure who to blame here - suggested getting another bottle.
Somehow I ended up in a grocery store with Rhea giggling hysterically to myself and taking random pictures of alcohol and baby food side by side in the shelves while we debated over which brand of vodka to get (should we go cheap or cheaper?). I remember thinking to myself how clever and normal I was acting and how none of the passersby in the street could possibly detect how drunk I was. It all seemed like a hilarious secret to me, although I'm fairly sure that pointing to a janitor cleaning the floor in a store and screeching, "She's riding a seg-way!" when in fact she is pushing a bucket of soapy water is a bit of a tip-off that I was not totally sober.
Somehow Rhea and I made it back to our hotel with the second bottle of vodka and the shots re-commenced. The dried herring that had previously looked so disgusting to me now seemed...well, appetizing. As appetizing as brownish-gray pieces of fish jerky can possibly look.
Sometime after the fish jerky episode, I knew I had to get back to our hotel room. I'm not going to get into what happened next, because a) it's embarassing, and b) I don't completely remember anyways. Let's just say Rhea is an awesome friend for holding my hair back and getting me into bed somehow.
My parents got back at some point in the night, and before you think it was just me who couldn't handle their alcohol, in my defense I was not the only one completely smashed. To preserve their dignity, I won't go into details here...but I think its safe to say that my parents won't be touching vodka for a while...
The parting shot of the night, courtesy of my mum
as she tried to figure out how to work my camera
Around 7am, the three of us woke up, still drunk, and my mum started talking about how we had to get up in half an hour to get on a boat to Peterhof. "Uhh, there is no way in HELL I am getting on a boat," I mumbled, and thank God she dropped that idea, that's all I can say. My dad and I stayed in bed until 1:30pm, when I finally forced myself to go into the hotel lobby to meet Rhea and her dad (who, by the way, had smartly stuck to beer and Dr. Pepper!).
Who did I run into immediately but Pasha, our ever-so-helpful friend/hotel employee from the night before, who had probably been laughing at the stupid foreigners who couldn't handle their vodka. He grinned at me and asked me how I was doing.
"Dobrye ootra - good morning," I said, turning red as a Russian beet. I've always prided myself on being able to handle my alcohol, and not being one of those girls who only drinks fruity little cocktails, but here I was, the morning after making a complete fool of myself in front of him and the entire Russian staff...!
My mum joined us at 3, and we all swore never to drink again like you always do the day after, and then eventually I forced myself to go to a museum I'd been hoping to visit, and my parents forced themselves to go for a walk. It was a gross day anyways weather-wise, so we didn't feel too bad about the day being a total write-off. My dad got some good hangover food in the form of Pizza Hut, and then we all had a very early night.
But you know what they say - when in Russia, do what the Russians do.
Or at least make a valiant attempt!