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ACM-ICPC World Finals 2015. Part I.

In 2015, our team from Nazarbayev University participated in ACM-ICPC World Finals for the second time. This is also the second time I write about it, and for sure the last time I share an experience from a contestant's point of view, due to the rule of maximum two-times-in-a-lifetime participation. I hope that this blog post will help people to learn more about ACM-ICPC World Finals, and also, probably, will inspire somebody to work hard and to qualify to the same event next years.

ACM-ICPC

I already described the history and rules of ACM-ICPC last year. Short summary: this is one of the most prestigious programming competitions with participants literally from all over the world. Every university that qualifies to the World Finals is represented by the team of three students, who need to solve as many problems as possible in five hours using only one computer. This year the competition was as big as never before, with 128 best universities in the final round, out of more than 2500 that tried to get there.

Nazarbayev University team

Nazarbayev University team this year. From left to right: Anuar Dikhanov, Nurlan Kanapin, Bakhyt Matkatimov (replacing coach Sergey Makagonov) and Adilet Zhaxybay.

Arrival

This year the competition was held in Marrakech, Morocco. It was hosted by four hosts this time: Mohammed V University, Al Akhawayn University, Mundiapolis University and the Moroccan ACM (the funny part about it is that this long sequence of hosts was repeated in every official event and in any thanksgiving speech — not less than 50 times in total). Also, it was held under the high patronage of his Magesty King of Morocco Mohammed VI (add this to the beforementioned long sequence).

It was the first time in more than 30 year history of ACM-ICPC when the contest was held in Africa. As for us, it was far more exotic and interesting travel destination this year, than the year before. In 2014 when the World Finals were in Ekaterinburg, Russia, we had a single hour and a half flight and didn't even change the timezone. This year we had to take three planes (Astana - Istanbul - Casablanca - Marrakech) and crossed five time zones. And this is Africa, after all!

Marrakech

Top view of Marrakech. All buildings in the city are not very high, and they are painted in the same color as the ground below them.

Marrakech welcomed us with an airport of an amazing beauty.

Marrakech airport

This year all participants stayed in one of the two nearby located hotels: Hotel du Golf and Palmeraie Golf Palace Resort. Moreover, everything, including opening and closing ceremonies, main competition and dress rehearsal was conducted on the territory of these two hotels.

We stayed in Hotel du Golf, which was amazing, thanks organizers! The only problem was with the internet connection, but it seems to be the disease of all good hotels.

Hotel du Golf

Hotel du Golf pool. Hotel territory was very green.

The territory of two hotels was full of really beautiful places.

Hotel territory

The first day seemed to be incredibly long for us. We changed three planes and checked into the hotel the same evening. In addition, since we traveled to the west, our day was lengthened by five more hours, because of timezone changes.

Later in the same day we also had to pass a registration. We submitted all required documents, our team reference and got different goodies from organizers, along with traditional World Finals t-shirts.

Nazarbayev University delegation

Nazarbayev University delegation in our team t-shirts.

Marrakech

The next day after our arrival was free, and we decided to use this time to explore the city.

Morocco is an arabic country, but years of European colonization also had its effect on the place. So, the most widely spoken language here, after native Arabic and Berber, is French. Nobody of us knew French, not speaking of other languages, so we prepared a litle bit (read: learned how to say 'merci', 'bonjour' and how to count from one to three) and were ready for some adventures.

Adventures started from the very beginning. The territory of our hotel was located outside of the city, so we had to get a taxi first. We wanted to get to Jemaa el-Fnaa – the main square of the Marrakech, which promised to be interesting, but our taxi driver couldn't understand what we want. Finally, he seemed to get it, and we started our journey.

Taxi

Our taxi

After some time, the taxi stopped, and the driver told us, as well as he could, that the square we were looking for is somewhere near, so we paid him and left the car.

We started to feel that something is wrong immediately after the taxi left. We were on a crowded narrow street, there were no tourists nearby, and everybody was looking at us. And no square anywhere nearby.

Some people started to try to 'help' us in a strange mix of Arabic, French and English. One guy with a motorcycle followed us everywhere we went and said that he knew where the square that we wanted to get to was located. Unfortunately, for some reasons he always asked to follow him to the dark and even more narrow alleys between the houses.

But the worst part of it was that we didn't have an internet connection or any offline maps, and we somehow managed to forget our paper map of the city in the taxi! So, we had absolutely no idea where we were.

Street

Typical Marrakech street.

After half an hour of wandering around, we found a decently looking cafe with Wi-Fi. Here we checked our location on the map – we were several kilometers from our goal! At least, now we knew where to go.

Sometimes streets of Marrakech remind of the locations from Prince of Persia game series.

Street

There are carpets everywhere.

Carpets

And a lot of places to buy something.

Shop

Despite being located in a desert-like surroundings, Marrakech has some very green areas, like this park.

Park

And there are a lot of historical places to see.

Tower

In about an hour we reached our final destination – Jemaa el-Fnaa square.

Jemaa el-Fnaa

Here you can have a fresh orange juice for just 4 Moroccan dirhams (less than half a dollar).

Orange juice

Closer to the evening the square is full with strange performances. You should be careful if you want to take a photo or record a video – there are special people who demand money for it.

Performance

But the most important reason why we decided to come here is that here starts one of the biggest bazaars in the town.

Bazaar in Marrakech is like a city inside the city. Endless streets are full of exotic stuff. The most popular goods here are leather, local silver and wood, but sometimes you can find really incredible things. Old fossils, rare gems, expensive jewelries – all is here, if you look for it.

Bazaar

Trade here follows all traditions of eastern bazaars. The initial price is at least two times bigger than the final one, and in between there are long conversations with a seller. If you are good at it, the price can drop three or even four times!

Bazaar streets are always crowded and noisy. Riding a motorbike in the middle of the crowd on a narrow street – why not?

On a motorbike in a bazaar

Actually, sometimes bazaar can be quite beautiful.

Bazaar beauty

After several hours of wandering on bazaar streets and making some purchases, we successfully grabbed a taxi and returned to our hotel to have some rest before the next days.

Continue reading: ACM-ICPC World Finals 2015. Part II.

19 April 2016


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