Sunday, August 1, 2010

In Ukraine for Network Science Conference

Yesterday I flew on Austrian Airlines from Vienna to Kiev, Ukraine. One of my seatmates was a Japanese lady who had graduated from Cornell University in regional planning and who works for the UN (UNICEF) in Kiev. We had a delightful conversation. The other seatmate was a lady from Donetsk who for years has been working in Italy although her husband and children live in Ukraine. I talked politics with her and it was so interesting to get a female perspective.

I was met at the Kiev airport by a colleague in operations research from the University of Pittsburgh who then took me out to lunch since I had a 5 hour wait until my flight to Yalta.

The lunch at the Kozachok restaurant was one of the best meals of my life -- delicious borshcht and varenyky (which are like dumplings) which were filled with cabbage and carrots and sauteed onions. We ate outdoors at a covered patio.

This trip to Ukraine has special meaning for me since it is the first time that I am visiting the country of the birthplace of my parents. The people are warm and very kind, and it is wonderful to hear my first language spoken and even announcements made in it.

I must say that the organizers of the Yalta Optimization conference with the theme of Network Science this year have been treating me royally.

My flight on Ukraine International Airlines from Kiev to Simferopol was excellent and my seatmates were gentlemen from Dubai (who amazingly ended up checking in at the same hotel just before me in Yalta). As for this airport, let me say that it is out of another era.

I was met by a taxi driver named Igor (this was preplanned and I was very grateful for this particular attention to detail) who wore a white cap and who had a sign with "A." We talked nonstop for an hour and a half during the winding taxi ride to Yalta. I had a great time conversing with him in Russian (he did identify that I had a Ukrainian accent).

The conference hotel is fantastic with views of the Black Sea on one side and mountains on the other.

Today I have a day of rest before the talks begin tomorrow.

I will be giving another keynote talk (different from the one I gave in Vienna last week).

There is nothing like international travel to enlighten one.

By the way, the gentlemen from Dubai had spent several days in Kiev and loved the city which they told me has a very special spirit.