Istanbul: The city where the East and the West meets

Last year, I started sharing some of my travel pictures on Instagram. It’s been always on my mind to talk about my travels in a longer form via my blog but life has been busy (excuses, excuses!) and I never got around to it, until now 🙂 I don’t know how long this will last or how consistent I will be but it’s my intention to talk about places I visit, conferences I attend on my blog once in a while in order to inspire others to travel and learn.

With that, I want to talk about my latest travel to the great city of Istanbul last week. Istanbul has a special place in my heart because it’s the first big city I ever visited as a kid. I was born and raised in Nicosia, Cyprus. Nicosia is now a mid-size city but when I was growing up, it was quite small and felt like a town rather than a city. My parents took me to Istanbul when I was probably around 10 years old and I remember how amazed I was with the sheer size and complexity of Istanbul.

Since then, I visited Istanbul many times as a tourist. It’s a great city with rich history, fantastic shopping and one of the food capitals of the world. It sits on two continents and it’s a place where the East and the West comes together in a unique way. I don’t know why but food in Istanbul (and Turkish cuisine in general) is so under-rated. In every corner, every street, there is some kind of food in Istanbul and usually, that it is very very good. The Turkish cuisine is so diverse, colourful and it’s so much more than the usual kebab/doner that people think about.

This time, my main reason to be in Istanbul was for Cloud Onboard, a full day training for Google Cloud. Normally, I don’t get involved in Cloud Onboard trainings but I wanted to help with this one because I can speak Turkish (Cypriot dialect of Turkish to be precise) and we thought that it’d be a good idea to have a Turkish speaker as a co-instructor for the course.

The class was on Tuesday but I arrived on the weekend to spend time with friends in Istanbul. I met with guys from Google Developer Group in Istanbul for drinks in Besiktas. I first met these guys at DevFest Ukraine in Lviv a year ago and since then, we’ve been in touch whenever I visit Istanbul.

On Saturday, I spent the day as a tourist. I went to sites that I first went 20 years ago as a kid such as Agia Sophia museum, The Blue Mosque, The Grand Bazaar. Then I took the ferry from Sirkeci to Uskudar and watched the sea gulls follow the ferry to Uskudar. I love ferries in Istanbul, they are quick, cheap and they provide a little escape from the craziness of the city. I met with a long time high school friend for dinner in a traditional Turkish meze place which was nice.

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On Sunday, my mum and sister flew from Cyprus (which is only 1.5 hour flight away) so we could spend some time together. We ended up taking a Bosphorus cruise tour that I highly recommend. We explored Istanbul from the sea and the views were amazing. We ended up having dinner in a steakhouse called Nusret. The owner of this place is a famous chef and an internet sensation.

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I was in Google office on Monday, meeting with the Google Cloud team there and getting ready for the class the next day. Tuesday was the show time with the Cloud Onboard training. I co-presented with Nigel who is an awesome instructor. It was the first time I presented such a long workshop to an audience of almost 500 people. I loved how interested and attentive were people during the class. We received so many questions on Google Cloud during breaks, so much so that I could not have lunch 🙂

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On Wednesday, I was back in the Google office. This time we had a half a day workshop on Google Cloud and running .NET apps on Google Cloud with 20+ customers. Pinar, a customer engineer from the Istanbul office, did a great intro presentation on Google Cloud and I followed with a more specific presentation on running .NET apps on Google Cloud. After the talks, we did a couple of codelabs to finish off the session.

Thursday was my last day in Istanbul and I spent it at DevOps Days Istanbul. DevOps Days is a global conference that happens all over the world. It’s a conference with topics on software engineering and operations as well. This was the first time I presented at a DevOps conference. It was also an ignite talk, 5 minute high speed talk on a certain topic. I presented Stackdriver, Google Cloud’s monitoring/tracing/debugging service. It was quite challenging to present 20 slides in 5 minutes with slides changing every 15 seconds but in the end I loved the adrenaline rush! I will definitely look forward to doing more ignite talks in the future. Ahmet Alp Balkan, another Googler, also presented a talk on building cloud-native apps. Overall, I enjoyed DevOps Days Istanbul, organisers did a good job of putting together an interesting conference.

Of course, no Istanbul trip would be complete without shopping and trying some awesome food. I spent the evening of Thursday doing some shopping and I also went to Sultanahmet Koftecisi. This is a Turkish meatball place in Sultanahmet region. My dad took me to this place once years ago. When I went there, I realised there were 5 other places with similar names, so I had a difficult time remembering which one is the authentic one. Eventually, with some memory searching, I recognised the small two-story building and went in. I had the Turkish meatballs and “piyaz” which is basically a bean salad. I don’t know what they put into that bean salad but it was amazingly tasty. The grilled meatballs were light and super tasty as well.

I had my flight to London early on Friday. As I flew out of Istanbul to London, I reflected on the week. It was a busy and productive week at work with Cloud Onboard, .NET workshop, customer meetings. It was also nice to catch up with friends in Istanbul and see my mum and sister. Istanbul is so dynamic and inspiring, so much so that I decided to start documenting my travels with Istanbul. Rain and traffic jam greeted me when I arrived to London on Friday but hey, that’s the price you pay to live in London 🙂

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