Debconf11 - the arrival and Debcamp
Short version - arrival was quite easy, the arrival wiki page is now up-to-date and my photos are uploaded every day to this Flickr set.
I had a small problem departing from CDG to Zagreb - after scanning my suit twice and complaining that it had too many electronic devices, they had me remove my Nexus S, Nokia N950 and Kindle 3 from the suit pockets and then scanned that all lot again. After that another security guy asked me to open my suitcase and started squishing my 'Ligo' cheese and declaring in a grave voice that it was 'too soft to be legal'. As I kept calm and explained the DebConf cheese party to him, he looked around, put the cheese back in the bag and said 'ok, ok, off you go'. So I still have that softness for the party.
I heard an even better anecdote from our next years hosts - when they were travelling trough Germany, a border official asked a typical 'so, what are you here for?' question. They answered that they were in transit for an IT conference and gave him the invitation letter. He read the letter, nodded and then said: "DebConf, huh? So, who was the author of the Linux kernel?" and when after the initial shock they gave the right answer, they were immediately waved trough. Now that's what I call good border security. :)
I met up with the guys in the Zagreb airport café, which was immediately after exiting the secure zone. We waited for dkg to arrive and get his baggage. The passport check too a couple of minutes, but the baggage claim looked to be taking almost a half an hour.
After that was sorted out, we took out some local money in one of the 5 ATMs around and went to the bus. We were waived to just put our bags into the bus luggage space and get on, the driver went around to sell us tickets just before we drove off. It was one of the most comfortable and well air-conditioned buses I have been on in a long time. We were in the Zagreb bus station in less than half an hour.
Then a funny part started - an old man came up to dkg and immediately asked - 'Are you going to Banja Luka?', and when he said yes, the man started dragging us along to the bus station saying that there is a bus to there that will leave in a couple minutes, but we were in luck, so we should follow him right to the bus. Driven by curiosity, we went on. The man dragged us to the far side of the bus terminal bus stops where there was a minibus with Bosnian number plates, but no official designation as a passenger transit bus and no other passengers. They asked a reasonable 120 kuna for the trip, but they looked very shady to me, so we refused. I think that if we agreed and we were lucky enough that they actually did get us to Banja Luka, the price would have risen along the way, for example using the highway tolls as an excuse.
After getting cursed at by the old man and being demanded to buy him a beer for his efforts, we went upstairs to the real bus station where we were told that there were two buses to Banja Luka: one at 15:00 and another at 16:30, but that those two buses arrive in Banja Luka almost at the same time, so we got us tickets for the latter bus and went to a local bar to get some food and drinks. I somehow managed to get sausages in deepfried bread that for some reason cost almost triple of a hamburger and fries that others got, but it sure helped to pass the time and after all those 9€ was not a bad price for a good meal.
We were a bit surprised by the bus drivers asking us to pay 1€ (or 8 kuna) for bags to be put into bus bag storage, especially as we for several minutes could not quite understand what they want of us as neither of them spoke either English, Russian or German.
I don't remember when was the last time I crossed a real (i.e. non-Shengen) border in a bus, so getting out of the bus and walking one-by-one to the border official was a new experience. On the other border of two bus drivers collected the passports an then brought them back later, so that was less painful. And by then we were in Bosnia! And of the things that greeted us was a billboard for the casino in Banja Luka Hotel Bosna. :)
By the time we got to Banja Luka, dkg had already made friends with an official from Croatian ministry of regional development that sat behind us on the bus and knew English very well (after living in Canada for some time). The bus station in Banja Luka looked almost abandoned - like the bus stopped in the field with only a few taxi drivers and a bunch of buildings some distance away showing that this was indeed part of civilization.
The taxi drivers would take you to the venue for 8-10 KM 5€ or 50-100 kuna (if their meter is 'broken' and you look to be really ignorant of the exchange rates). If you walk on a bit, there is a bus station with an ATM taking Visa cards and a bit further on a bus stop that will take you to the centre of the city for 1.5 KM. The train station looked fully abandoned when we went there, only a news kiosk was working there. The bus driver reacted well to the name 'Hotel Bosna' and wave toward it when we passed by it.
It is hard to miss, especially the blinking 'Casino' sign or the white pillars with black letters 'Hotel Bosna' on top. You just get off at the bus station 'Central' and walk back a couple hundred meters. Then see all you Debian friends drinking in the cool bar and walk around the corner to the main entrance of the hotel to check in.
The rooms are looking really great - this is the best DebConf location that I have been to (I was not in Argentina). Soft beds with linens changed daily, nice air conditioning, towels (changed daily, if used), good shower, ... It is lacking in the speed and power of its free WiFi and in some place there is a clear impression that the hotel was built as a top of the line hotel a couple decades ago, but somehow has fallen into a disrepair since. Or it is simply used much more than expected.
So far I would say that the DebCamp is running full steam - two hacklabs have desks, chairs, power and network connection, one of them even has sufficient air conditioning. The network works great for me so far, at least in the venue. The hotel wireless is barely usable to read a blog post, preferably without photos.
The food is being served well and on time. So far for lunch and dinner you walk up to the reception and get a food ticket based on your room number and go to the 'M' level for the food (the 'M' level is between the ground floor, labelled as 'PR', and first floor) where for breakfast and dinner there is a buffet, but for lunch you sit at a table and they bring you food. Vegetarians should clearly say 'vegetarian' while pointing at themselves to get the special vegetarian option. So far food has been very good, except that that they often run out of popular items, such as fries, in the buffet. You can also ask for beer and other extra drinks with your food, but know that they cost extra - up to 2.5KM for a beer, for example.