From Russia – With Love

Originally Published 9/29/2014

No, this is not a James Bond novel, though credit for the title does belong to Ian Fleming and/or Albert Broccoli.  This is merely a chronicle of my adventures travelling to Moscow for Autodesk University Russia 2014.  I will attempt to keep this blog up as much as I can but internet may not be reliable.  In that case, I will document my trip anyway, and post when I get back at the end of the week.  Keep checking in for new content.

The start of my adventure was almost the end of the adventure.  All packed, Visa in hand, boarding passes printed…. all set to leave for the airport, I took one last look at my flights.  Only to find that the flight from Paris to Moscow had been cancelled!  I had fallen victim to the Air France pilot’s strike.  Panic mode set it.  Attempts to call Moscow to let the people at Autodesk who had organized my trip know were a disaster.  I found out that my phone was in fact NOT set up for international calling as I had thought.  Calls to Air France took me through a maze of automated call centers.  I decided to head to the airport and talk to the Delta ticketing agents in person.  Ours is a small regional airport and I knew the lines would be short if there even were any lines.

So we headed out.  My wife drove while I got on the phone with Verizon customer service to enable the international features, I might need them for emergencies… not good to be half a world away with no phone!  That call wrapped up just as we were pulling into the parking lot at the airport… perfect timing.  One problem solved!  As expected there were no lines at the ticket counter, so I headed up and pleaded my case.  Unfortunately, Delta ticket agents don’t really have access to changing Air France reservations, and they didn’t see any open flights anyway.  I decided to take a gamble, and head to Detroit.  I figured that was still only a few hours away, but once there I could talk to the Air France gate agent.  Meanwhile, some research turned up a KLM flight leaving from Paris, but a few hours later than the flight I was originally scheduled on.  The agent checked, and there were seats.  He booked me on the flight and told me to check in as soon as I got to Paris.  Problem solved?  Almost.

The flight to Paris was relatively smooth, but that’s a long time on a plane.  I did manage to sleep a few hours, but my body is already confused by the time differences.  Once in Paris I got in a very long line at customer service to confirm my flight to Moscow.  The clerk there told me that the gate agent had not changed the ticket information, so I did not actually have a seat on this new flight.  But before I was even able to groan, she reassured me that there were still 6 seats available, and she was going to be able to get me on the flight.  Deep sigh of relief.  10 minutes later, boarding pass in hand, I headed up to the gate… bought a croissant and a Coke…. and here I sit catching you all up on the fun.  By 9:00 Moscow time, I should be on the ground and heading to my hotel…. can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!  Stay tuned….

Day One:

Good morning  Moscow!

I got into my hotel room around 11:00 pm local time last night.  I’m not sure what time my brain thinks it is.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The flight from Paris to Moscow was nice.  Air France served us dinner… on plates.  With silverware and cloth napkins.  They seemed to think it was weird that I did not want champagne or wine (or both) with my dinner.. So much for the bag of peanuts you get on U.S, flights… I may never be able to eat those again.  Anyway, after landing at Sheremetyevo Airport and enduring one of the most frightening cab rides of my life, I finally got here and checked in.  Now, I know I am in a different country, and there is no doubt that I am the foreigner here.  It took me a few minutes to figure out that I had to use my room key to turn on the lights in the room.  The temperature on the faucets is opposite those in the U.S.  Little things that are new and different, and part of the adventure.  I am thankful that I though ahead and bought some wall plug adapters so I could charge all of my gear.  After plugging everything in…. I was done.  I think it maybe took me ten minutes to fall asleep.  This morning looks grey and rainy and windy.  Still too dark to post any pictures, and I really haven’t had the time to take any yet anyway, sorry.  Later!  Let’s see what the day brings.  Stay tuned….

Day One Recap:

Day one did not end up going as smoothly as hoped.  After spending most of the morning waiting around the hotel in a city where I do not speak the language and hold no local currency… expecting at any moment to be contacted by someone at Autodesk regarding our plans for the day, I was told by a fellow speaker via email, that there was no plan for the day.  We were on our own.  This was very disappointing as we had hoped to be able to see some of the sights of Moscow.  I did not travel halfway around toe world just to deliver a PowerPoint presentation.  So, we ventured out on our own, this other gentleman and I.  Lunch at a small local diner, a drink back at the hotel, and then we decided to check out the local Sokolniki Park.  This is a very large and beautiful park nearby, with plenty of room for bikers, skaters and walkers to get out and enjoy themselves away from the traffic of this very large and busy city.  Fountains and gardens are interspersed with food kiosks, vending booths, picnic areas and even a chess and checkers club.  Under construction now are several future areas that appear to include stages for performances.  The color in the trees added to the charm, making me imagine what it must look like on a warm summer afternoon.

After returning from the park we had made arrangements to finally meet with our Autodesk contacts at 6:00 to go over to the conference venue and make sure our presentations were all properly set up.  We were joined by several other new friends from around the world, and took our behind the scenes tour of AU Russia.  Later, still fighting off the lunch from the diner (turned out to be a big mistake), I retreated back to the hotel, leaving the younger and healthier people to go out and hopefully have some fun.  Not the exciting first day I had hoped for, but now there is a new day to look forward to.  Let the fun begin.  Stay tuned….

Day Two: 

Well,.. day two was full of action and fun.  Started with a quick bite of some bready breakfast items and a coffee, still trying to calm my stomach down after the ill advised lasagna.  Then a bus ride through crazy morning Moscow traffic to the show venue, where my self and some of my new friends got ourselves registered for the conference.

I added my own AUGI bling, and got the ribbon at the Autodesk Community booth, where I met even more new friends.  That’s one of the things I love the most about being a part of the Autodesk Community is all of the new friends I make.  So, after registering we had a look around the venue, which was filled with approximately 1500 attendees and assorted Autodesk employees and even staff.  A very good crowd for this conference which is still growing.  Some more coffee and a few small danishes, and we headed in to the main hall for the keynote address, presented this year by Autodesk Vice President Roland Zelles.  His exact territory is unclear to me, but I know it involves a good portion of Europe.

Roland’s address was in English, and dealt with the challenges facing all of us in the future as we adjust to the way things are made in the world of new technologies, and the disruptions they cause.  Of course, it highlighted all of the ways that Autodesk can keep us ahead of these changes with forward looking products.  Once he was finished speaking and the speakers changed to Russian, we made a speedy escape and went looking for our first presentations of the day.  Along the way we made a stop at the Autodesk Community pavilion, where my fellow Expert Elites were hanging out.  They had put together a CAD workstation from roughly 1992.  An IBM 486, with 16 color VGA monitor, running AutoCad R12 for DOS…. complete with (non working) digitizer tablet.  This really took me back to the beginnings of my CAD career…. I think I had that exact computer at one point.

They had a challenge going throughout the day, to draw your company logo on the CAD system, for a chance to win some sort of prize,,, exactly what got lost in translation. There is a lot of that going on here, but what can I expect… I’m the one who doesn’t speak the language.

So, we sat through some of the English sessions in the morning, and then found our way across the parking lot to the next building, where meals are being served.  I was still frightened to eat anything, but felt I had to, or faint when it was my turn to get up and speak.  As much as I love to type out my experiences in here…. I am deathly afraid of getting in front of people and speaking.  Especially people who probably won’t understand I word I say.  In the afternoon, we did some wandering through the exhibition hall and talking with some of the other international visitors.  Eventually it came time to get into the room where my class was to be held, and get myself in a frame of mind to do it.  4:00 rolled around and it was my turn to get up and speak.  I loaded my English presentation onto my laptop, the Russian version was on the screen above me… and I opened my mouth and words just started flowing out.  I was amazed at how relatively easy it seemed… I know the material so I just explained it in my own words, and let the chips fall where they may.  A few technical glitches, but nothing show stopping… and 50 or so minutes later… I was telling them thank you for coming.  And they applauded!  Now, whether they were able to understand anything at all, I may never know.  But I felt good for having done it, regardless.  I faced a big fear of mine and I believe I conquered it.  I feel more ready now for Las Vegas this fall.

A huge relief flowing in me now, I waited for my friend to finish his presentation in another hall, and with some of our Russian guides, we headed over to the meal hall for some free beer.  What’s AU without free beer after all.  A brass band was performing in the hall, and they were really quite talented.

Now, we have returned to our hotel, and the guides are organizing a trip to for dinner in just a few minutes.  Sight seeing in Moscow got put on hold this evening due to weather concerns.  We will have to figure something out for tomorrow.  I WILL see the sights.  Somehow.  And I’ll post pictures when I can.  So… off to dinner!  Stay tuned…

Day Two Recap… finally.

Ignore the fact that I’m home now, finishing this up.  They kept us pretty busy in a good way, and I just didn’t have time to sit at the laptop and give this any justice.

When I left off we were heading out to dinner.  A group of about 8 or 9 of us, led by our intrepid host Olga, got on a bus that took us deep into the city center to an Italian restaurant called Primitivo.  Why an Italian restaurant in Russia?  Good question.  But as we had an Italian in the group… maybe it was a perfect choice.  Davide sure seemed pleased, especially when he saw the wine list and recognized a vintage from very near his home.  The food was delicious, the wine went down easy, and the company was fantastic.

After dinner we walked several miles around the city center.  We walked across a bridge where we took a group photo…(still waiting for a copy of this one), and ended up in the courtyard outside of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.  Nearby was a building that I remember seeing last on CNN as the Soviet Union was in the process of crumbling.  It’s proper name I don’t know, I always heard it called the Russian White House.  The last time I had seen this building, Boris Yeltsin was making a speech in front of it.

Cathedral of Christ The Savior
The Russian White House
Random Sign near the Restaurant

Several blocks later we finally ended up in front of the Kremlin.  Waiting to cross the street (I missed this!!) a procession of police vehicles with flashing lights, followed by several black SUV’s emerged from the Kremlin gates and sped away down the road.  Was Putin late for dinner somewhere?  We did finally make our way into Red Square to see some of the sights.  It was already around 11:00 pm so there were no crowds.  In fact, the place was nearly deserted except for a few small groups like ours, and several armed military guards.

Wouldn’t you know, that it was then that my phone’s battery decided to go completely dead, leaving me with no camera.  I couldn’t believe it.  When am I ever going to be standing in Red Square, Moscow again.  As an American raised during the Cold War, I never thought I would ever get to see this place, let alone be standing there surrounded by new friends   Luckily one of these new friends, Andy Brahney, from the UK… had a working camera.  he took plenty of pictures, and promised to share them after the trip via Dropbox.  Andy and I spent a lot of time hanging out during this week, I’m glad to have met him.  I feel that I made a true friend, and I look forward to sharing a drink with him in Las Vegas at AU.

The  architecture of Moscow’s city center is a fascinating mixture of the Imperial and the Soviet.  The towers of the Kremlin topped with large red stars that one can only imagine were not an original part of the design.  St. Basil’s Cathedral stands at the back of the square, contrasting the stark red brick of the official buildings with it’s trademark colorful domes.  Opposite the Kremlin wall, a building that had once undoubtedly been an official government building, is now lit up with tiny lights like Christmas lights, and is filled with shops and restaurants.  Surrounding Red Square, other government buildings, belonging to various departments or ministries, still carry the hammer and sickle of the Soviet government.  After leaving Red Square we took taxis back to the hotel and finally called it a night.  I’m not sure how this day could have been any better… but there is still one more day to go! Stay tuned…..

Day Three:

So, Wednesday morning came awfully quick, but I figured I’ll have plent of time to sleep when i”m dead.  Coffee… that’s the key.  Andy was staying at the hotel to finish some last minute changes to his presentation, so I basically wandered around the conference on my own.  Sat in several classes where the speakers were English speaking.  I spent some time sitting in the Autodesk Community area with my new Expert Elite friends.  By the way, my phone recovered, after I pulled the battery out and put it back in.  It must have overheated.  At noon, we sat for a group photo to send back to our EE coordinator in the US.

Expert Elite Group Photo

Here are some other random pictures from the conference that I took that morning as I just enjoyed wandering around the venue.

Breakfast Cookies
Segway Fun!
Hallway with Presentation Rooms
Room 10, where I gave my Presentation
Room 10 Inside, that was me Tuesday Afternoon

After finding some lunch I headed back to the Community area to get some power for my phone.  Andy finally arrived ready for his presentation that afternoon.  After charging up we headed out to his class room.  I volunteered to assist him in his presentation by placing his laptop, with the English version of the PowerPoint on it, where he could see it… and advancing the slides as needed.  He did a very good presentation despite some technical hiccups with some of his videos.  The hard work was over, and now it was time to relax!  Food, beer and wine were being served in the dining hall, so we headed over there.  We ran into one of our new friends from the previous night and enjoyed some good conversation.  Olga had organized a boat cruise on the Moscow River for that evening with the same group from dinner the previous night and some new friends as well.  At 9:00 we boarded the boat, only to find that the Expert Elites and their US coordinator, Olivier Le Pord, had chosen this cruise as well.  Drinks and dinner on the boat as we cruised the river, and even got a chance to take some more pictures… so here we go:

Whew,… this has gotten to be a lot longer than I thought it would, anyone who is still following… thank you!  I promise to wind it up here.  After the boat ride, we headed back in taxis to the hotel, where I was basically already packed for the trip home.  My flight was early Friday morning, and my taxi would be out front in just about 4 1/2 hours.  All attempts to sleep failed, so I finally got up and went down to the lobby.  Loooooooong 26 hours later I finally walked out of the airport in Saginaw and got in the car to head home.

This was an incredible experience, there is no other way to put it.  A sincere thank you to Autodesk for inviting me, to Olga Prokhorova for being a spectacular hostess, and to everyone else who worked so hard to make not only the conference itself a success, but who made sure that us international visitors felt welcomed and taken care of.  I hope to be able to return some day when I can spend some more time enjoying your beautiful city.  Thank you also to all of my new friends from so many varied places in the world.  This is a trip, and you are people that will not soon be forgotten.

All I can say now, I guess, is… Bring on Autodesk University in Las Vegas!



CAD Department Supervisor at Powell Fabrication & Manufacturing, Inc. CAD Designer & Detailer specializing in Inventor Tube & Pipe, Frame Generator, Content Center, Vault Professional. Autodesk Expert Elite member. Blogger. Autodesk University Speaker 2014-2018. Husband and father. Photographer.

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