Ok. So I'd have to say most people that I know have no idea where Belarus is. Many Europeans don't know where Belarus is. That's one of the reasons I really, really wanted to go there.
I met @sharepointby Ivan Pedabed on Twitter over a year ago. When I found out there was a passionate SharePoint guy living in Minsk, this really large spot on my map that I hadn't visited and new very little about, I knew I had to find a way to get there. I had heard of Minsk. He was a very strategic piece in the game of Risk, and I love that game. Minsk has a very mysterious ring to it. It sounds like a Dr. Zhivago cold place.
So, Ivan seemed like a really nice guy, I told him if he put together an event, I'd find a way to get there. Working through the course of over a year, with one previously cancelled event was a consequence of switching jobs and having to give up my Copenhagen trip, I finally made it… And what an event it was!!!
Belarus isn't the easiest place to get to for an American. First you need a visa, but getting there… you obviously are going through other places first. Speaking in Berlin helped out. I met up with Paul Swider in Estonia and we drove through Latvia and Lithuania, even picking up a hitch hiker at one point. Best decision we made on that trip. She was awesome and ultimately gave us an incredible tour of Vilnius and helped us negotiate with the taxi to the border of Belarus.
Victory Square in Minsk, Belarus with Michael Noel, Paul Swider (in the middle with the cool hat)
I've jumped through the hoops in the past to speak in Moscow and met up the Quest developers like @IliaSotnikov. Ilia is awesome. Really enjoyed hanging out with him in the cold north, and taking the Nevsky Express to Moscow was a *very* memorable experience. Navigating Russia at night in the Rain, and understanding nothing of Cyrillic and no Russian to lean on, but it's amazing what you can accomplish.
Quick story. I arrive in Moscow, get off the train and go over to the subway and ask the lady at the window for a ticket to Red Square. She doesn't speak any English and passes me to the next desk, still nothing, next desk nothing, last desk points over at a sign. I walk up the sign and it's all in Cyrillic. Totally different alphabet. So I ask the guy standing next to me if he knew which one was red square. No luck. I was already at the main central station so it wasn't going to get any easier. I figured out how to get a ticket and someone had pointed to a platform through the course of me figuring out that the Kremlin was a good local Russian word that would describe a building near the onion domed building (St. Basils Cathedral) I was looking for. I finally found someone near that platform who spoke 2nd grade English and was very helpful in me getting to the right spot. It's amazing how these always seem to work out… minus Paris with Shane in 2008 on a week where Paris was going through traffic strikes, what a painful memory. You'll have to ask Todd, Nicola or Shane to give you that story some time.
While I Moscow in met up one morning with Oksana Prostakova
@prostakova and another guy from the SharePoint user group in Moscow. I visited the Kremlin, Lenin (Yes, I saw the mummy of Lenin) and a bunch of other things. Can you believe they have a Starbucks in Moscow? The SharePoint community in Russia is really growing.
with Marat Bakirov, Oksana Prostakova, Tatiana Smetanina, Joel Oleson, Michael Noel, Yulia Belyanina, Ivan Padabed, Paul J. Swider, Sergey Slukin and Alexander Romanov.
SharePoint Saturday Belarus was incredible. Over 200 attendees including all the speakers you see above, plus DJ and live band for SharePint! Well done EPAM, Ivan and Amina! Great community. Thanks for the Banya. Keep up the great work. I hope to get back to Minsk sometime. Still need to find a way to get to central asia J SharePoint Saturday Uzbek anyone?