Come on guys, I am married man. So it is not about the beautiful Ukrainian women, it is about my last week’s trip to Ukraine for the Ukrainian and Russian FUG meeting. They organized some kind of summer camp in a remote location in Crimea peninsula, near Kerch town at Azov seaside, and I was lucky enough to get an invitation to present a session. I need to thank my boss, Enrique :)
The guys were simply amazing! I only wish that I could have stayed longer with them. The location was beautiful and the mix of good programmers, interesting projects and topics with the wild scenery, good beer and wine is a combination hard to beat! I had some time to talk with Rost, and the guys from AlternativaPlatform showed me their Flash 3D engine – awesome dudes! I am sure if I had more time to spend with them, I would have had the chance to get acquainted with everyone. Well, maybe next time. Guys I don’t want to hurt your feelings with this story, as I met you and other good people in my trip to Ukraine. But this is too funny not to tell :) So forgive me.
It seems I am in Ulysses shoes sometimes when I am going to some of our FUG meetings (maybe you have read my previous journey to Holland FUG). This one I think is my best, although I am little scared of what the future can bring :D
So, on 10th July I took the first plane from Bucharest to Budapest. Everything went sweet, in Budapest I had the time to drink a beer and smoke a cigar, stretch my legs, and make some tweaks to my presentation (I presented SwitchBoard, LCDS/BlazeDS and AIR API). After this I jumped on the next plane to Kiev. Two hours later I was in Kiev and the show started. Basically, I was a transit passenger, because I needed to take another flight to Simferopol, the capital of Autonomous Crimea Republic. So I asked an officer where should I go and he showed me a glass door. I went there, and the door was closed with no handle to open it. After 15 minutes of staying there and looking at the odd door I began to lose my patience, but the officer was looking at me with a disgruntled face. So I stood there hoping. The clock was ticking and the departure time was coming fast. Another officer came and asked for my papers, and with a disappointed face said to me that I need to get the Ukrainian visa and go to Terminal A which was in another building.
The only problem was the line for getting the visa was really huge, but this doesn’t seem to impress the guy. So I stayed in line and after a while I presented my passport to the custom officer. I swear it is the first time when two officers looked so carefully at my passport for 7 minutes. They scratched at my picture, looked at me, again scratching the passport and after this asked me about my purpose and for how long I intend to stay and where. At that point I really felt that it wouldn’t be a good idea to tell that I am an Evangelist. Finally with the visa, I ran to Terminal A. Of course, outside was raining and I was in a T-shirt. I arrived to the boarding gate and I waited for the four Ukrainians in front of me to stop argue. I only had 25 minutes until the plane was supposed to take off and the guys before me were not going anywhere. So I tried to catch the attention of one of check-in ladies and I managed to show my e-ticket. She said I am late and the gates were closed and I need to take the next flight (20.00).
It was 16.35. So I went to the Aerosvit office and asked them to change my ticket for the next flight. The lady smiled at me and said there are no tickets for the next flight and I should change for the next day flight. I went back to the check-in desk and I told her that I really need to get to Simferopol that very day. “It is your fault mister, why were you late?” Well you know lady although I am a transit passenger, I still need a visa and so how come is my fault? “It is your fault mister, wait for the next flight maybe someone is not showing up”. So, I decided to stay and wait. Fortunately there was an ATM and a small boutique so I got some money and bought water. The time passed quickly and I took my place at the same check-in desk and no wonder, the four guys were already there and pretty soon some more, all hoping to get a seat. Unfortunately there was no luck for me that day, and the same for the other four guys. So back to Aerosvit lady to ask her to give me a ticket for the next plane. She asked for fifty euro because it was my fault!!! As I wasn’t able to change her mind, I pulled out 50 euro bill and I said “OK, give it to me please!”. Well, Mr., you can’t pay with euro, you need grivnas. So I gave her my credit card and waited patiently. It took her 30 minutes to give me the ticket and the receipt. In all this time some scalper or something was entering in her office with money and went out with tickets.
You know what they say: Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst! So I’ve already asked my wife to find me a hotel in Kiev which can send me a taxi, so I wouldn’t have to haggle with the airport taxi drivers. I phoned the hotel, and I booked my room and asked for a driver. Forty minutes later I was still there waiting for the driver. It was almost 10PM. Of course the driver was waiting for me in the other terminal. Finally I met him and went to hotel. After talking with the concierge I had a warm sense a normality for the first time in a while. But I was wrong again. She said because I am leaving at six o’clock in the morning I can take the breakfast in the evening because the kitchen would be closed that early in the morning. I went to my room and ordered the breakfast. Some tough discussion on why now and not tomorrow but I got the impression I was making myself understood. 12 PM and my food was nowhere and man I was as hungry as a lion. Phoned again the room service, and he said to me that there will be no problem, I will get my meal in the morning!!! Again I explained the whole thing and I got the promise in ten minutes I will have my meal. Almost 1 PM and my food nowhere. At that time I was so sleepy that I couldn’t care less about it. So quick trip to concierge to tell them I am very honored to be their guest but I really don’t need any food. But the lady wouldn’t let me go without trying to solve the mystery. It seems that room service sent my food to 713. My room was 613. I thanked her and went to bed. I was dreaming of a big tasty stake when my phone rang: “Mr your meal is ready!”. “I don’t need any more, I want to sleep. Thanks!”. It was well past 1 PM.
5.30 AM day two, my alarm waked me and the whole room was dancing around me. I think my blood sugar level was really low. No time for eating, just one big bottle of water and jump to taxi, and I was on my way to airport. I was really scared that I could lose this plane too. I was the first in line with 90 minutes before the closing time :D When I received my ticket I small tear shined in my eyes. I was so happy :) And on my ticket was writing: “Boarding is closing 10 minutes before the flight time”. So in the end it wasn’t my fault at all. Damn check-in lady!
The flight to Simferopol was a little more than one hour. A small plane, but at least it was a jet airplane. When we approached Simferopol airport, the pilot I think just remembered his Afganistan days in army, because he dove the plane really hard. Funny thing, I think I flew with him back in 2002 when I was working in Abu Dhabi and I needed to exchange my Visa using Tadjekistan airlines :D. Only at that time, they stuffed so much people in the airplane, that some of them stayed with the pilots. I remember some Chinese guys couldn’t stand the view from the pilot cabin and the quick dives and turns so they went out to the aisle pretty pale. And all this time all the Russian ladies were cheering like you would do in a montagne-rousse. I miss those days :D
9.30 AM I was in the airport looking for my driver. As I said, the meeting place was somewhere near Kerch more than 200 KM away and I didn’t have any other alternative to get there. So I get in the Volga and for four hours I admired the view. The driver didn’t know English, I didn’t speak Russian so neither spoke for all this time. Nor drinking water or eating. At least I didn’t need to use a restroom :D. After Kerch the road disappeared, the last portion was really a safari. We found the small village and we started to look for the bed and breakfast, the FUG headquarter.
We found them, and the guys were so welcoming that all my bad memories were washed away and I felt energized to make my presentation. But first I needed to tell them to not let the driver leave as I am not feeling brave enough to risk tomorrow’s three flights to stay there overnight. We drunk some beer and ate some very tasteful Ukrainian food and then minded our business. A girl was kind enough to give me some hand-made badges with Flash, AIR and Flex.
At 6.30 PM I said good bye and went back to Simferopol in our Volga and took one guy with us. He really needed to get to Kiev. Although he didn’t speak English, he could understand me and his sister knew English very well, so he called her and then he talked to me. I hope he managed to get home safe. After a few miles, the car stopped with some engine problems. The car was working on both petrol and methane gas, and it seems we didn’t have any more methane gas. We found a place to fill-up the tank. The procedure seemed to be dangerous, because they asked us to step out of the car and wait some distance away. Back on our way and after a few more miles, we got a flat tyre. Come on dear God, what have I done wrong?!
At 11 PM I was in my hotel in Simferopol. Unfortunately the hotel didn’t have any food or beverages and the lady didn’t speak English, so I guess when I tried sign language she thought probably I want to drink some vodka. So I got to bed and wait for the next day to eat and drink.
9 AM Day three. In the morning I used again sign language to get a taxi and to get a receipt. I was the first in the airport so no more emotions. At 2PM I was in Kiev airport. This time I think the ex army pilot was on his day off, so we had a smooth landing. Again the custom officer stayed and looked at my passport for minutes and asked me questions. Of course my plane to Budapest had a delay of two hours. But I couldn’t care less as my connection to Bucharest was at 11 PM.
18 PM, and I was in Budapest drinking a beer and having the first meal on that day. I felt almost at home and very serene. But not for long unfortunately, in a second couple policemen evacuate me. They just found a suspicious package. I started to laugh and I couldn’t stop (you know the laugh Paul Newman has when Robert Redford says he is not jumping in the fall because he doesn’t know how to swim?). Come on God! The whole package of dogs and bomb squads went in. I took my beer and left my food with tears in my eyes. And I sent a loving SMS to my wife (don’t worry, I’m fine. Love u!).
Fortunately it seemed to be an false alarm, and I did get to finish my meal. The plane to Bucharest also had a delay and it took off at 12 AM. At 2.30 AM I was in my bed too tired to say anything to my wife or to take a shower or to give a damn about any bombs, earthquakes. It seemed to me I had been gone for weeks and not three days. I am really looking forward to my next adventure, although I can’t think of a bigger adventure than this and still be able to tell the story after :D
PS Flying so much in few days, I couldn’t fail to notice that the flight attendees while explaining the procedures are doing an elaborate modern dance. Come one, I mean when you see Natasha and Natalia and Svetlana showing the front exits, the middle exits and rear exits, this is like a ballet. They are synchronized but somehow each one gives her own interpretation to the simple gestures and they are smiling although they are probably doing this countless times. Man if this is not art, I don’t know what it is.
But this artistic side of their personality is only kept for the “take off dance” (this is how I call it). Otherwise they tend to be pretty obtuse. Let me give you some examples. I am standing in the aisle. She is blocking my way with the food carriage and the fasten seat belt is blinking. She says to me: “Please Mr., have a seat!”. “I want but I can’t” and I show her my place. She keeps repeating me and I keep saying that I can’t because she is blocking my way :D. Or I have my earphones in my ears, with the IPod switched off. “Mr. you can’t listen music during take off”. “I know Miss. It is switched off”. “I know Mr. but you can’t wear the earphones!” “But I have sensitives ears, and I don’t like the noise!” “I know Mr., but you can’t hear the captain’s instructions!”. “To tell me what?! That the plane will crash and I need to stay calm?” well that last line I only said it to myself.