Istanbul Travelogue

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Prologue…

I did M.Tech. from IIIT-Bangalore in 2012-2014. In the last semester at IIIT-B i did thesis on the effects of entrenchment on cooperative behaviour. It is based on Multi Agent Systems and Game Theory. Had the best time of my academic life so far doing research in an area which i found very interesting. I successfully defended my thesis and graduated. My dream was to get the paper based on my thesis accepted in a good conference. And as they say, if we try hard enough, our dreams do come true! 🙂

We submitted our paper in one of the tier 1 conference in the domain of multi-agent systems. And then one day we got the mail informing about the acceptance of the paper 🙂 I was on cloud nine! It is the best thing that can happen to one’s thesis.

With the acceptance came lots of things and planning to do.. Had to submit the final camera ready paper, create a poster and most importantly look for funding for travel to attend the conference. I would like to thank my employer for funding my trip and giving me the opportunity to present my work and attend the conference. It made things a lot easier. With a tatkal passport, tickets and visa, i was all set to fly to Istanbul, Turkey, the world’s fifth-most-popular tourist destination. 🙂 My first foreign visit! Luckily the Prof. under whose guidance i had done my thesis was also coming with his family 🙂

The Trip…

We boarded Boeing 787 Dreamliner of Qatar Airways! One of the most hi-tech planes of today. And for a window seat lover like me, the huge electrochromism-based smart glass windows were the coolest thing! There was a small stopover at Doha and then we headed to our destination, Istanbul. In the first look itself, Istanbul looked beautiful. Clean roads lined with lawns and trees and with an amazing view of sea, fast moving cars and a pleasant weather just like Bangalore.

We checked in at the Zeynep Sultan Hotel. It had been recently renovated. Had a nice, small and cozy room at a reasonable price in the heart of the city. Major landmarks like the Blue mosque were at a walking distance from our hotel.

We were mainly busy at the conference. It is the first tier 1 conference i have attended. And the difference was obvious. Met people from all over the world. Had interesting discussions during breaks. Our presentation was good. Also attended many other talks and presentations. Saw many posters and demos. So many tracks went on parallelly that sometimes i wished i could be in multiple places at the same time! It was a great learning experience. It was cool to meet so many people from around the world who are all excited about a particular subject (MAS). Also got to see the amazing high quality work that gets accepted in a top conference. I hope i will do more such quality work and present in similar conferences in future 🙂

We also visited the SoSLab of the Boagazici CS department. The university is beautifully located with a wonderful view of the strait. It has a lush green campus situated uphill. Had interesting conversation with the Prof. and students of the lab. Talked about topics like topic modelling, annotations, social semantics, sentiment analysis etc.

Did some sight-seeing in the evenings and over the weekend. Istanbul is a huge city with so many places to see that even a week will be less. The two major highlights of our tour were – the Bosphorus cruise, a two hour cruise with a breathtaking view! We saw wild dolphins! It was awesome 🙂 There were a lot of jellyfishes in the strait. The view on both sides was beautiful with lots of mosques, high end houses with there own yachts, huge suspension bridges and deep blue water and sky! The second highlight was our visit to the Galata tower, one of the oldest towers of the world! Its like the Eiffel tower of Istanbul. The view from up the tower just cannot be described in words! I could stand there forever. The blue strait, houses on slopes with orange slanted roofs, the European and the Asian side and the cool breeze! Enjoyed snacks in the cafe at the top of the tower 🙂 We descended via stairs and saw the tower’s built from the inside with the stony walls and small openings for natural light. We travelled by the world’s second oldest tram which was literally pulled uphill using huge automatic pulleys! Also went to the blue mosque and the gulhane park which were close to our hotel. I promise i will wake up early morning everyday and go for a walk if i have a park like gulhane park close to my house 😉 Huge trees, blooming flowers, chirping birds, lush green lawns, Turkish tea and an amazing view of the strait!

We thought food might be a problem as we are vegetarian. However we mostly found something good to eat 🙂 The breakfast at our hotel was good. I have never tasted such juicy strawberries before. One must try figs and olives in Istanbul. Also tried turkish bread and pizza which was yummy. Our plain Indian dal is called lentil soup in Turkey 😛 which was also good. We found a pure vegetarian restaurant and had delicious falafel! Tried so many new dishes. For food connoisseurs like us it was fun 🙂

The grand finale of our trip was the idyllic time we spent at a cafe in the gulhane park overlooking the Bosphorus. It was a calm and peaceful evening. The sky was slowly changing colours and slowly it was getting dark. And then gradually the Asian side lit up! The view was fantastic. Ships and yachts were sailing across the Bosphorus. We had a yummy HUGE baked stuffed potato (which we craved for since day one :P) and endless cups of turkish tea over interesting discussions. If only time could be paused, i would have paused it then… forever.

Overall, this trip has been an amazing experience. Its a treasured memory for a lifetime 🙂 Rarely things turn out to be better that what we imagine (atleast for me) however this Istanbul trip is an exception, it turned out to be much much more awesome than what i had dreamt 🙂

Bag of words…

Blue. Water. Fishing rods. Selfie Sticks. Reflections. Huge bridges. Speeding cars. Trams. Dolphins! Jelly fishes. Sea Gulls. Birthday. Cruise. Chilly winds. Galata tower. Sloping orange roofed houses. 2 and 4 engine jets leaving streaks in sky. Long walks. Useful pre-trip advice. Turkish music which sounded same. Blue mosque. Huge grand bazaar. Byzantine ruins. MG Road. Full moon background and mosque minarets. Blue symbol which wards off evil. European windows which open from all sides!  Royal shoe polishers. Cats. Lots of cats. Extroverts. Sufi round-round dance 😛 Pide. Strawberries. Olives. Natural Jams. Honey. Huge bread loafs. Vegetable salad. Hot chocolate. Cakes. Different varieties of cheese. Copper tea pots. Mini rice cooker. 3 course rice meal. Fast trams on road. Ice cream vendors. Turkish delights. Baklava. Dry fruits. Spices. Saffron. Sumac. Aryan (buttermilk). Kurus fasulye (white beans cooked in tomato gravy).  Geeky jokes 🙂 Asterix and Obelix. Morse code. ᗅᗺᗷᗅ. Big Bang Theory. Skype Watsapp Viber.  Greenery. Blooming flowers. LOTS of pics. Memories. HAPPINESS.

Some key takeaways…

  • A line which makes us happy when we are sad and sad when we are happy – “This too shall pass!”.
  • Buy experiences, not things. It may seem to be counter-intuitive, but its true!
  • Never give up. Even in case of failure, make the corrections and try again!
  • Sometimes things may not seem to be perfect immediately, but in hindsight, they mostly do!
  • All the hard-work, perseverance and tons of effort seems to be worth it and more when we visit places and attend top conferences.
  • A tier 1 conference is actually number 1 in the quality of work and diversity of gathering!
  • Well maintained water bodies and/or historic relics within city can boost tourism.
  • If the people have basic civic sense, even a city of 14.4 million people can be spotlessly clean.
  • Cats looking like statues may actually be real. 😛 Cats and dogs can happily coexist! Cats actually do not care! 😀
  • Traffic woes are the same everywhere!
  • Trip hangovers can last reallllly long. Even after a week, sometimes i feel i am in Istanbul!

Thanks…

  • Thanks a lot to my Prof. under whose guidance i did my Masters thesis. I look upto him. I have learnt a lot from him, about the interesting courses he taught in college and more importantly about philosophy of life! Thanks a lot for being my guru and mentor!
  • Thanks to my employer for funding my trip and giving me this amazing opportunity of presenting and attending the conference.

Epilogue…

Istanbul is a beautiful city. An amazing conglomeration of people, religions and cultures. Hope i get an opportunity to visit Istanbul again! My first foreign visit is like a cluster of happy memories! I have enjoyed each and every moment of the trip. Hope to have many more such experiences in future 🙂 Life’s good ! 🙂

Book Review – Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love is a true story of Elizabeth Gilbert or ‘Liz’. This book motivates us to face all the challenges of life boldly, not to give up, to listen to one’s heart and most importantly to make ourselves content and happy. The book has been written in a very beautiful way. No doubt it is a bestseller.

Liz is married and has everything in life one can dream of. But she is not happy. So after struggling a lot she ends her marriage. After divorce she is filled with sorrow. She can’t see what is happening in her life. And thus she goes into depression. It is one of the most difficult phase of her life. She loses a lot of weight and thinks of self-destruction. Finally she realizes that no one else can make her happy. So she will have to make the efforts herself.

She always wished to learn Italian language. It had no specific reason but she just wanted because she liked it. Secondly through a friend she came to know about a spiritual guru whom she made her guru. She wanted to visit her ashram in India. Finally a few years back a medicine man had read her hand and told her that she would come back to Indonesia and he would teach her everything.

108 is considered to be a good number. So this book has 108 chapters. The book is divided into three parts each of 36 chapters. So Liz decided to take a one year break and spend 4 months each in Italy, India and Indonesia (3 I’s).

EAT
This part describes her stay in Italy. She learns Italian from a person there and teaches him English. She has a great time in Italy. She make a lot of friends. She spends most of the time eating 🙂 in Italy. Every day she visits new restaurants and enjoys a variety of sumptuous food like pizza and pastries etc. Slowly she starts feeling good and regains the lost weight.

PRAY
The next part of the story leads to India. She stays in an ashram near Mumbai. She learns meditation. In the beginning it is very difficult for her to meditate and concentrate. But slowly she learns everything. She discovers tranquility and peace within herself.

LOVE
The last part leads to Indonesia. There she again meet the medicine man. She helps a lady to buy a house for herself by asking all her friends to contribute. And finally she finds love again. She meets Felipe and both fall in love with each other. Since both are divorced they are not ready to marry immediately however both are ready to lead a happy life together.

To know more what happened after Eat Pray Love the author has written the book Committed. Overall EPL is a good book. You will enjoy reading it. And at some points you can easily relate with Liz. Happy Reading 🙂

Here’s the trailer of the Eat Pray Love movie –

 

Do you talk to strangers ?

I often get a chance to travel by myself. Sometimes I get to sit all alone with nobody on my side whereas sometimes I have to sit with strangers. And believe me one gets to see a variety of people while on the go. The person sitting across you may be elderly or young, rich or poor, simple or stylish, sleepy or awake :-D.

It’s so fun to observe these people. But I like to observe them from a distance; usually I don’t start a conversation or interaction with them. I like the “my time” which I get while traveling.

Every time we have a new experience and something new to learn. Sometimes there are talkative aunties who are ready to tell you everything, yes literally everything 😉 about themselves and their families to you and they may share even the deepest secrets with you if you show a little bit of interest. They just go on and on. They don’t care whether you are interested or not.
And if you are lucky enough you may get an opportunity to travel with intellectuals who may share their wisdom with you if provoked.
It’s also fun to see gizmo friendly people who are busy with their mobiles, iPods and laptops. It’s almost as if the whole world is invisible for them.
It gets very irritating when the sleepy guys start snoring loudly and disturb everyone. Some even rest their head on the shoulder of a stranger :-).
Bookworms find their heaven while traveling. They usually read a book from beginning to end without any interruption (if the journey is long enough). For them time just flies.
And then there are the nature’s beauty observers who just keep looking out of the window all the while. I have even seen some, who look out in the dark all night.
Which type of person you are? If you ask me, I get bored very easily so I do all the stuff for some time!

Travelling is a lot fun. Next time you are on the go observe the people around you. I am sure you will enjoy a lot and if you a lucky enough then you may spot someone who is strange or funny. Can you easily interact with people who are strangers? Or you also observe them like me. Either way you can enjoy yourself and be amazed by the variety of people created by the Creator.

Have fun!!! 😀