30.04. – Bittersweet goodbye

It’s always funny to see the contrast between the people who are enjoying their breakfast, and the ones who clearly aren’t, for obvious reasons.
After packing our bags, some nice naps in the train back to the airport and getting scammed at the Burger King, we boarded for a swift flight back home.
It feels good to be back home, in a place where cars don’t park in the middle of a big intersection. Where there are actually some trash cans to be found in public places. Where there is water everywhere, but streets don’t flash-flood with the first few drops of rain. Where we live right next to our very own Dutch mountains, that protect us from the rivers and the sea.


But it will have been a journey we’ll never forget. We left a piece of ourselves behind in those beautiful Russian metro stations – some of use more literal than others – where the people actually only stand still on the right of the escalators so that those in a hurry can pass on the left. Where they hire men and women to sit in small cubicles just to watch the human traffic flow, in case something goes wrong. Where the grumpiest faces are home to the kindest people, while in Holland even folks that seem the happiest may very well be the biggest pricks.


Goodbye Moscow, the Big Marble, the city that never sleeps. You may have ruined our digestive systems, but you won our hearts.

29.04. – Cultural heritage

In a last attempt of doing something cultural, a few stood up early to visit Lenin’s Mausoleum. The rest of us could only imagine the horror on their sleepy faces when they found out the thing was closed.


Luckily we all still had one more thing to look forward to. A nice stroll through the now much more sunny streets of Moscow brought us to “The Bunker”, a more than 60 meters deep complex of hallways and rooms that – if supplied – can keep 3000 people safe for 90 days. Or at least, that was the idea back in the days of the cold war, when it was built.



Nowadays, it houses a large collection of old junk that was used for communications and such, back then. We could touch everything, walking through the walls of a museum that itself is part of its collection. Two people got to “launch” a nuclear missile, and we were even shown a 15 minute video about the cold war that could be classified as propaganda. Just to quote: “At the end of World War II, the USA decided to use Japan as a nuclear testing ground.”
After a nice lunch, some people went to buy souvenirs for their loved ones at home, while others decided to take a nap back at the hotel.
For this last evening in Moscow, we finally found a great, not too expensive restaurant. Dragging ourselves from the hotel to the nearest metro station where we were going to meet, all of us walked to this cozy little Georgian place. Guess where it was. Correct! It was right next to the hotel.
Since we would only leave at noon the next day, a few went out for a last night in Moscow city. After all, who wouldn’t recommend flying tired and with a slight headache?

28.04. – Lightning visit

Our program for today: Deutsche Bank and Yandex. DB was a nice surprise, and we’d been looking forward to Yandex all week, so the day was promising. The late breakfast also helped.




Deutsche Bank had their office at three middle floors of one of the lesser skyscrapers of the city, but the view was still amazing. They also understood very well what our visit was about: after a short introductory presentation, we got enough time to interview some employees for our research. We got a small tour of the work floor and took some nice birds eye view pictures of the city, followed by a late lunch in the company canteen.
There we got some bad news. Yandex had a scheduling problem. They were unsure if they could still accommodate us. We decided to just go back to the hotel and wait for updates.
Back at the hotel, we changed into some more comfortable clothes, and suddenly received a text from Simone: “Get downstairs ASAP.” We hastily put on some good clothes again, and hurried to the metro. A wet and rainy trip later, we finally arrived at Yandex.

We’re pretty sure they use agile, because they can sprint like pros. The woman that came speeding down the stairs to give us a tour, could hardly catch her breath. We held stand-up meetings throughout the company, hearing a few comments somewhere in the distance about some interesting facts and figurines, we and got shown out again not even half an hour later.
Gasping for breath, most of us went to get some buckets and beer at the KFC while some of us were having fun at the hotel.

27.04. – Starving for knowledge

Like we said, it was going to be a busy day today. We didn’t even have time for lunch, as traveling from one company to the other took about 50 minutes.


We went to FORS first, a company that builds Oracle based systems for sports, health care and insurance companies. They are 25 years old, which makes it a very mature group by Moscow standards. “Fitness data” wasn’t regarded as sensitive information. To the question “don’t you think that insurance companies would find that information very interesting?”, they responded: “They do! They are our customers, after all.”
We did have some very interesting interviews and conversations, with people that were very passionate about their work.


The second company, Luxoft, was a big player. They build industrial applications for large commercial organizations, and found delight in flaunting their huge statistics at us. It was when a guy from marketing had a talk when we actually got some nice stories. We got some good information after all, and the host was a friendly guy who seemed genuinely interested in us too.
The overall image we got today, was that these larger companies have a much stricter hierarchy. One could argue that it gets harder to run a business without such a pecking order, but Kaspersky seemed to prove the opposite.
Dinner at Pizza Hut today. Since we were all starving and struggling to survive on a few sultanas and a small bag of pretzels, we all thought we could finish a 30 cm pizza. The result? One full leftover pizza. To try and forget this tragedy, we finished the day with some drinks at our shady bar.

And as if the scare we got yesterday wasn’t enough: right after leaving for the hotel, an actual tank drove through the street, followed by a few military vehicles and some more tanks on trucks. Only in Russia.

26.04. – Kaspersky Lab

We saw a lot of metro stations before we finally got to walk to the headquarters of Kaspersky, the well known security and antivirus company. The location was a big surprise. They had a very modern building, with a well designed interior and lots of awesome utilities, like their own gym and their own sauna. They even had a private beach by the lake the higher floors look out over.



After the expected presentation about their company and general operations, we got a small tour of all this glory. It was a real revelation and felt so luxurious that some of us started to envy the employees.
We got a Q&A session with Dimitri, a 19 year old junior analyst who researches new samples of malicious software. We were again surprised by how knowledgeable some Russian students are at such a young age. Dimitri was a very captivating speaker and told us many interesting things about how he and his colleagues work. He even joined us for a relatively late lunch at the company restaurant, which served some of the best food we had yet.


Since we had the afternoon off, some of us decided to visit Moscow’s World War II museum, which is supposed to be the biggest in Russia. Or Europe. Or something like that, depending on who has the loudest voice. When we arrived, we got the scare of our lives. There was a huge military parade going on, consisting only of school kids. And almost nobody was actually watching. No parents. While impressive, it was chilling to see that this kind of thing is still apparently a big part of Russian upbringing.


The museum itself was certainly… overwhelming, but most of the facts were in Russian. Luckily, one of us had a large amount of facts about battles and weaponry readily available, which made the visit a lot more interesting.
We took the metro to a small restaurant near the Red Square. The contrast with the afternoon couldn’t have been bigger: the food varied from uninteresting to positively terrible. At least the drinks were good. It was also where we had the first evaluation of the progress we had made in our research.
Afraid for the nasty consequences bad food can have, we all went to bed early, since the next day had an early and rather full schedule.

25.04. – Official business


Today we had a talk with the vice-president of the university we visited Friday. Being a very busy man, he unfortunately had to leave rather quickly, but luckily he brought some very knowledgeable people to educate us. First subject: Russian history. Did you know that Tatars are actually descendants from Mongols, who used to assimilate the cultures they conquered? After that, we listened to some information about studying in Russia.

We had lunch in a very nice place, called something like “the Food Market”. Each of us got this card that we could use to place orders at the various locations where we could get different kinds of food.

We got to visit the embassy this afternoon. Meeting the ambassador was a really unique experience. She told us the most interesting facts about what she and her colleagues do, and how the embassy operates. The head of the economic department also told us some nice things about the relations and hardships between Russia and The Netherlands.


Following the directions of a really friendly guy that worked at the embassy, we went for dinner at a restaurant in Old Arbat, a very lively street.

You know those shady doors that you can sometimes find next to banks, the glass plastered shut with some big commercial? Well, as it turns out, some of those doors are actually open, and behind it you just might find an equally shady hallway, together with some dark stairs. Only if you’re lucky enough, there will be a great bar at the top of those stairs! We had a drink at such a place, with our indeed very lucky group. A Russian friend of one of us even joined us for a beer and some good laughs.

24.04. – Parrots and programmers

Since we didn’t really have a program for this morning, we had some free time. Some of us decided to visit a park, which was actually not unlike the rest of Moscow: lots of concrete and buildings under construction. It even had a completely empty, pretty spooky fairground. To be fair: it was nice and even had a great rose garden, but it still needed some time to reach its full potential.

Others wanted to act like true tourists and visit the Red Square yet again, this time to gain entrance to St. Basil’s Cathedral. They turned out to be in luck: there was a men’s choir performing in the center church, singing medieval counterpoint music. They were great, and sounded like they were amplified, but the music was actually fully a capella. Fun fact: the back of the cathedral is even prettier than the front.


In the afternoon, we visited the Institute for System Programming, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Their director gave a great presentation about their mentality, goals and overall way of operating. We interviewed some of the people who work there, which benefited our own research greatly. It was a successful afternoon, especially considering most of us didn’t have any experience with interviewing whatsoever.

Afterwards, we had a great dinner at the most inconspicuous restaurant, despite their very loud parrot continuously screeching in the background.

23.04. – Sunny(?) sunday

Guess what? Buying tickets for the Kremlin online is just horrible. It’s the most complicated process that involves security emails, captchas and a time limit to top it all off. We left around noon for the Kremlin, with our hard earned e-tickets. We were joined by Sonja, our Russian guide for the day. On our way, we again stopped by the Saint Basil’s church to take some pictures in the better weather.

Since we paid close attention to the tour yesterday, we knew exactly where the entrance was. We didn’t really know what to expect, but what we saw upon going through the gate definitely wasn’t. The buildings on the other side were unreal. There was actually a lot of open space, cradled by many gold-topped churches.


After taking a lot of pictures, while almost having our phones and cameras blown out of our hands by the strong, freezing gusts of wind, we visited the Armory. It’s a sort of museum within the Kremlin walls, which houses a large collection of valuables and an even larger collection of more or less interesting information in the form of an audio tour. After an hour of facts about who gave what golden dish to whom, we left the Armory again. With our stomachs filled to the brim, some of us decided to go shopping, while others just went back to the hotel. And where else to go for some drinks and a late night snack, than the KFC? We had a great time.



22.04.2017 – Whitestone city

Late breakfast seemed to be the consensus today, as we got ready for a long guided tour through the impressive city of Moscow. We were led through the rainy streets by the great Ilena, who told us a lot of interesting things about some of the history, structures and architecture of the nation’s capital.

After the tour, around 5 PM, we went to a coffee bar to hide from the rain and warm ourselves with some hot drinks and some desserts for the hungry people. A metro ride, some brand new Russian SIM cards and an actual dinner later, we arrived at the hotel around 8 PM.

Metro Stations




The metro stations in Moscow double as bomb shelters, and are therefore actually military areas. Taking photo’s is prohibited in some places, but we managed to get some anyway. We visited the most beautiful stations in the city, decorated with intricate mosaics and gilded ornaments. These stations were built in the time of Stalin, symbolizing “palaces for the people”. They contain porcelain with gold accents, marble from siberia and onyx and rhodonite from the Ural mountains. There are even entire statues in these tunnels, from a simple bust of Lenin to three huge Belarusian partisans.

Red Square

On our way to the Red Square – where all tourists will sooner or later find themselves – we were taken past some very impressive buildings. On the Plaza Teatralnaya we had a view of the big late 19th century, art-nouveau styled Metropolitan Hotel, and the even more impressive Bolshoj theatre that houses operas and Russia’s world-famous ballet dancers.


Right before entering the Red Square, on Manezhnaya Square, we encounter the double headed eagle, the main element of the Russian coat of arms. Its one head looks to the east, its other to the west, neatly symbolizing the influences of both Europe and Asia on Russian culture. We also see the big Four Seasons Hotel, of which the left and right side don’t match. It is said that when the architects proposed two versions of the design to Stalin, he signed them both. The designers were too afraid to ask why, so they just built each side of the building in a different style.


The Red Square isn’t actually red. Surprising, right? The Russian word for “red” could also mean “beautiful”, so a better translation would have been “beautiful square”. It used to be called the “great market”, but after St. Basil’s Cathedral got built, they changed it. And with good reason, even though in real life, the colorful cathedral is a bit small. Legend says that Ivan the Terrible asked the architects if they would ever be able to surpass its beauty. When they told him they could, he blinded them. This is probably not true though, since other buildings were designed by the same people after that. It almost got destroyed by Stalin, who wanted more room for his tanks in their military parades, but luckily he was thwarted by some big architect. The latter had some shady accident afterwards, of course.


Apart from St. Basil’s, the Red Square is home to some other very notable structures. In the corner, we find a tiny orthodox church (Kazan Cathedral), the first one that was built after the revolution of 1917. Its construction was only completed in 1998.

There is also a nice view of Lenin’s Mausoleum, with behind it the very obvious Kremlin Wall. The one that surrounds the current government is the third version. In the very beginning, before the princes of Moscow turned it into the capital of all Russia, it was made of wood. Then it got replaced by a white stone wall, only to be rebuilt into what we see now with the help of Italian architects brought there by the new Italian wife of the tsar. It has 20 unique towers, each with a different name, but still very harmonious. Fun fact: president Putin usually doesn’t work in Moscow, and that’s a good thing, since the roads get closed when he does, resulting in total gridlock.


The immense Gum department store fills almost the entire opposite side of the square. It houses some of the most expensive stores in Russia, but also has some surprisingly affordable and quality places to lunch. In Soviet times, entire villages would flock to this store, since it was about the only place where you could actually get something. Imagine queueing up for a pair of shoes for 3 to 4 hours…


Strolling further

Passing the Grave of the Unknown Soldier – built to commemorate the many who died and never got an official grave – we get to the Alexander Garten. In the times of tsar Alexander I, right after the war against Napoleon, big parts of the city had to be rebuilt. They laid out new gardens, channeling the Neglinnaya River (tributary of the Moskva River) underground. There is still a patch of water to remind citizens of the river that used to flow there. Down the road, a bridge that used to cross this river leads up to one of the two entrances of the Kremlin. The gate is located in the largest of the 20 towers.

Up next is the big Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It was demolished in soviet times to make room for the huge 400 meter high Palace of Soviets, which was never built: the seepage from the river made such a large structure impossible. The pit that was dug for the foundation was turned into a swimming pool, and eventually the cathedral was rebuilt and finished in the year 2000.


Our last stop, the bridge behind the cathedral, gives a stunning view of the river. There is an odd structure of Peter the Great, who “Europeanized” Russia and stimulated economic and technological growth back in his time. Funnily enough, the statue was probably designed as a tribute to Columbus for some American city, but turned down. Some Muscovites think the architect just changed the head and sold it as the statue we now see here in Russia’s greatest city.

21.04.2017 – Different, but the same

And “relentless” turned out to be the perfect word for the breakfast. The grumpy face of the girl who served it, was trained into perfection, and the menu was a bit too complicated at such an early time in the morning.

Freshly showered and shaven – for those of us who have to – we took the metro to the university. The Russian students gave presentations about research results of algorithms for the Chinese Postman Problem and other graph traversal hardships. In our turn, we told them everything about our country and our waterworks.



After lunch, we proceeded to interview a group of students to get some answers for our own research. As it turned out, our research topics are oriented more towards employees of software companies than they are toward students, so the “interviews” quickly turned into nice conversations. We learned that the educational system in Russia focuses greatly on performance, and getting good grades or winning olympiades can save you a big part, if not all, of your tuition fee.


It was also nice to hear that they use the same tools and IDE’s that we do, except when they have to look for something specifically Russian: they use Yandex for that. One student even told us that, when programming, it was bad form to use Cyrillic writing for variable names and such. Programmers who do this are apparently called “буржуа кодер” (pronounced something like “bourgeois coder”), which translates roughly to “shitty programmer”.

On the way back to the hotel, we decided to grab something to drink and a small snack, even though it was only about 5 PM. We were going to get some proper dinner after we went to the hotel. This resulted in us trying to find a restaurant around 9 PM, which was not the best idea: the last three got their desert as late as half past 11 PM. We left the restaurant at midnight. Luckily, we only had plans for the next afternoon, so we could sleep in for a bit.

20.04.17 – First impressions and second security checks

It’s an early rise when you have to get the train of 7:28 from Nijmegen to Schiphol. Some of us even went so far as to leave an hour earlier than that. Anna, our specialist on all things Russian, told us that Russians see people who laugh easily as fake, so we spent our time on the train trying to perfect our grumpy faces.

After a quick check-in, a nice snack and the occasional purchase of an SD-card for an otherwise useless GoPro camera, we got onto our slightly delayed flight. And what a flight it was! Smooth takeoff, nice food, super-friendly attendants and a somewhat bumpy but safe landing. We arrived at Moscow SVO around 4 PM. After surviving the crowd of taxi trolls, we met our very friendly contact from the HSE of Moscow.


Fun fact: a guard makes sure nobody enters the train station until exactly 15 minutes before the train leaves. Some of us picked new hobbies on the 40-minute train trip from the airport to the city centre. A few guys were trying to teach themselves the Cyrillic alphabet, attempting to read every Russian word they saw out loud. Others felt the urge to buy way too many expensive bottles of water. The lady with the cart didn’t know what hit her, after she received the vast amount of rubles for some simple H2O.

Another fun fact: there is a security checkpoint where they scan your luggage when you want to get out of the train station. In the possession of our brand-new unlimited one-week tickets for the metro, we arrived at hotel Agios around 8 PM. After the nice lady at the reception scanned our passports and helped some of us with missing bedlinen and towels – all while talking Russian rapidly – we met up to grab some dinner. Who knew that Borscht and Blini taste so good?

Some of us decided that a lack of sleep could not stop us from having some more fun and went out for a drink. The smarter ones stayed in though, as the next morning would bring a relentlessly early breakfast.

мы едем в Москву!

This year’s destination is Moscow! We are excited to go there to dive deep into the Russian culture and explore different (or maybe also similar) work and study environments.


Right now, we are primarily working on our sponsoring and preparing ourselves for field tasks and research.



the students of ICT in a different culture