One of the founders of my company was scheduled to make a presentation at a conference in Moscow, but had to cancel. He sent out the call for someone to fly to Moscow on short notice, and I was goaded into volunteering. It didn’t actually take much goading.
Of course, one does not simply walk into Russia. The visa process was paperwork-intensive and fraught with bureaucratic peccadilloes, and involved a one-day trip to San Francisco, but I managed to complete it in time for the conference. The timing was too short for Becky or the kids to join me, so I was on my own for this one. I boarded a half-empty plane, and watched movies for 12 hours.
This isn’t my first rodeo, so I knew the best way to push through jet lag: don’t go to sleep until it’s dark. I was on airplanes from 7am to 11pm Portland time, but that turned out to be 10am in Moscow. I had a lot of staying up to do.
Since Becky wasn’t on this trip with me, I hadn’t done any of the usual homework, scanning guidebooks and planning itineraries. Also, not only are the signs not English, they’re not even in the Roman alphabet. I set out on foot, watching for interesting things, not knowing what I was looking at.
Okay, this one is the Kremlin. That one isn’t too hard.
And I’m sure I’ve seen this one on postcards.
I did manage to stay up until 8pm, but I was awake around 3am. At this point, I gave up on getting over the jet lag, and decided to just sleep less. My travel plans only had me in Moscow for a little over 48 hours, and it’d be easier when I got home.
The next day was the conference, which was attended mostly by Russians. What was different about this conference was that it was primarily in Russian – out of 27 talks, only three were in English. I’ve gotten used to English as the lingua franca of technology, but here about 10% of the attendees needed live Russian translators to understand what was going on.
My talk was attended by maybe 200 people. It was a lively crowd, and they asked lots of great questions. I did have to adjust to holding a microphone; I usually do lots of typing during these things, and I had to keep setting the microphone down. “This is where you type this—” BFF “…and then…” Headset mics work much better for this.
As the conference was winding down, one of the organizers took myself and the other two foreigners (a San Franciscan and an Italian) on a walking tour of downtown Moscow. We walked for hours (which was good, because otherwise I would have just been sleeping), rode the subway, and ended the evening with a delicious dinner with sparkling conversation.
The following day, I had to make my way back to the airport. My cab ride into downtown had taken about an hour, but the conference organizer (Екатерина) advised me that the return trip could take as long as 4 hours depending on traffic, and that I should take the Metro. I packed my things, and set out for the unknown.
On the way, I spotted a familiar face.
I only had to ask for directions twice, mostly because the Google Maps app crashed and I lost my transit directions. Two Metro trains and an Airport Express later, I was passing through security, and waiting at the gate for my flight home. After a 10-hour flight, I was eating a guacamole burger at JFK.
This trip was a challenging one. I spent 32 hours in airplanes, and only 36 waking hours in Moscow. The language barrier, and not knowing anyone or anything made me feel pretty isolated. Still, I’m pretty proud of how my presentation went, and I have a really cool full-page sticker in my passport.