Saturday, July 01, 2006


The Road to Luhansk

I knew that getting to Luhansk would be a long and tiring journey; I was taken aback by the details, however. It’s a long story, but I’ll try to make it as simple as possible.

Getting to Logan was actually pretty easy. My driver seemed to know the ins and outs of the business, so it was smooth sailing. And despite the formidable line at the Air France terminal, it moved pretty quickly. The only glitch was that the woman could not check me through to Donetsk; I would have to do that in Paris and Kiev. No problem, though, I could check in at the gate. (Keep that statement in mind.) By 5pm I was checked in and ready to go for the 7:50 flight, cold beer in hand, and enjoying a decent French Dip sandwich. All in all, it was not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

The troubles started when the flight was delayed by a half hour, not bad by any standard, but a concern as I only had one and one half hours to transfer planes in Paris. The woman at the gate assured me that one hour was more than enough time to do what I had to do, since I could check in at the gate.

The flight to Paris was rather nice, a bit cramped, but comfortable. I do have to give Air France credit, however. The food was excellent. If you remember the Jimmy Buffet song, “He Went to Paris,” and the line, “French wine and cheeses put his ambition at bay,” you’ll know what I mean. Great dinner and great snacks. And don’t forget the wine and cheese. They were very good.

This was the end of the pleasant aspect of Air France.
Once we got on the ground, we disembarked in the middle of some runway and loaded onto shuttles where we driven to Gate E. From there we had to walk to some point I am assuming was on the opposite side of the building. The signs said that we were going to Terminal B, but what they really meant was that we were going to the shuttle for Terminal B.

Charles De Gaul Airport is shaped like a figure 8, with one end open. It is architecturally interesting and visually stunning. There is a lot of construction and renovation work going on, but it is not destroying the over all effect. But while it is nice to look at, it is a disaster to get around.

The Terminal shuttle literally drives around the outside of the building, in a big circle, picking people up and dropping them off, but only in designated areas, One guy I was standing next to watched his plane board and leave while we were stuck in traffic 10 feet from the drop off area. Needless to say, he was bitter.

Paris traffic is supposedly legendary, and if the example of the shuttle busses at the airport is any indication, it makes the Big Dig and the Schuylkill Expressway look like walks in the park. It took 45 minutes to get from Terminal D to Terminal B and I got to the gate at precisely 10:00, a whole 5 minutes before takeoff of my flight to Kiev, plenty of time, considering I was told in Boston I could check in at the gate.

I suppose it would have been enough time if I could have gotten to the gate, but the “gate keeper” wouldn’t let me near it to check in, and instead told me to go to the Air Algeria counter for reasons neither I not the fellow at the counter could understand. She then told me to go to the main Air France counter and join the other 50 or so people with the same problem.

After quick calls to my wife and Ray (FPC Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies) to inform them of the situation, I stood in line for about one and one half hours, while the friendly, but not particularly helpful Air France people found flights and hotels for people. One poor Bulgarian woman, a nurse working in South Africa, was literally in tears over the situation. Most people were just bitter and angry, as they missed the next connection, and the one after that.

I had thought I had a tremendous stroke of luck when I finally talked to somebody and he told me I would be on a flight that was leaving in three hours. Better yet, my luggage would be there waiting for me. Quick e-mails to Ray and Oksana, my contact in Luhansk, another quick call to my wife and then spent some time hanging out with Tim from Seattle who had the same problems I had. Lunch was a delicious “sausage” (salami) baguette sandwich and a Coke, courtesy of the people at Air France, and a latte. Right on time we were on the way to Kiev and things were looking up.

On the flight I met two interesting folks. Bill is a plumber from New Jersey turned book agent, who just got a deal on a book on understanding eastern European women. I don’t think I’ll be reading the book any time soon, but I did get some good plumbing advice. The other fellow was a NCIS agent who had an assignment in Kiev. I forgot his name, but he was a nice enough guy, though.

I was rather surprised at the size of Kiev airport. It is quite small, but that is a good thing. Luggage claim was a disaster, mostly because my luggage wasn’t there, nor a good deal of the people’s on the flight. Since I only had an hour, I played my cards smart, did not commiserate with the other passengers, and headed right for the lost and found. (First in line, folks!) We found the cases in Paris and since I had a connecting flight in ½ hour, the woman walked me through customs and off I went.

Remember I said Kiev Airport is small, but it is very well organized. I did have to leave the building to walk to the domestic terminal, but after sitting and waiting all day, it was a nice chance to stretch my legs and hustle. The check in was lightning fast and off I was again to Donetsk, where Oksana was waiting for me, apparently much longer than either of us planned.

I had e-mailed Oksana and Ray called, but she hadn’t gotten the message in time so she sat in the car with out driver for an extra three hours. She spotted me right away, and I’m not sure who was more relieved, her or me. The ride to the University was interesting. There was not much to see along the road at night, but it was fascinating to watch the driver negotiate the roads, which ranged from 2-4 lanes.

Oksana took me to the café for breakfast, and I have to say I am now a big fan of Ukrainian food. At some point I will write on this in detail, but let it suffice to say, I will not be losing any weight on this trip.

Most of the morning was spent working on the technology aspect of the class I will be teaching. The computers in the lab and the AV equipment are top notch, so no problems there. The only issue was that we could not load some audio from outside web sites, but we had fun “codek hunting” (and Barbara, you know how much fun that is).

Oksana and Victor, head of the Earth Sciences department (he called it geography, but the English meaning does not do them justice), took me through a tour of the building and grounds. They have a series of natural history museums which is quite fascinating. Luhansk is geologically very interesting, and most of the stuff in the museums is local and all of it collected by students and faculty in the university.

After lunch I had a meeting with the Acting President of the University to exchange greetings and go over some last minute details. The University’s President was elected to Parliament and is in Kiev until his term is over. Both men are well liked and respected and for good reason. It is under their watch that the major growth of the university is taking place. As I learn more about the university, I will write some more on the subject.

I had to go shopping for some cloths to tide me over until my bags get here, so we went to the moral equivalent of a Sam’s Club, called Metro. It sold bulk quantities of things like Sam’s, but did not have the warehouse feel. It was more like a big supermarket where you can buy milk and motor scooters in one place. Oksana and her husband were indispensable in getting me what I needed.

After dinner I took a walk around the neighborhood and checked out the “Russia” supermarket and the beer garden set up in a park. The park has some monuments to WWII soldiers, which are quite beautiful in the severe Soviet style. There is also a broken fountain which must have been absolutely stunning when it worked. But now it is a nice place for parent to take kids to ride their bikes and young people were hanging out playing guitars, which was quite nice.


irena said...

I am glad that you are safe and well overthere. That was some adventure getting there. You will get used to European style of living pretty soon. Good food and people hanging out any chance they have, especially when there is a university, and a guitar. That is something I still miss about Europe. Wherever there is a water fountain working or not there would be people gathering, sitting, chatting...Enjoy

Ray V said...

What a wonderful overview of your trip. 'Sounds like Murphy's law was in full operation.

Bill, could you get into some detail about the food--typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It would be quite interesting to compare with the rest of Europe and North America.

You have a big day tomorrow with the opening of the Institute! We're all thinking of you. Thanks for spearheading this great adventure!