Taking the Train to Turkey

One of this year’s goals is to tick something off from the bucket list, another of this year’s goals is to try and see as many new countries as possible. What better way to do so than by taking the train to Turkey?

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This trip has been some months in the planning and after many different iterations of the route we’ve agreed on taking the more traditional route from London to Istanbul, via Belgrade and Sofia instead of Bucharest. This is the route that the 1920s Orient Express would have taken so should give us a real feel for the Balkans while also taking us through some counties neither of us have been to before. The exception to the traditional route is that we’re going to travel via Brussels and Cologne instead of Paris, because, well, the beer is much better in Cologne.

In addition to the Cologne detour we’re going to start the trip in Penzance, Cornwall because Cornwall is Owen’s home and starting in London sounds really rather dull. We’re also going to end the rail trip in Ankara, Turkey, that way there’s no disputing that we made it to Asia (the other side of the Bosphorus may be considered Asia, but only just), it should give us a chance to really experience Turkish railways too. To top the trip off we plan to fly home via Kiev, Ukraine with time to briefly visit the city and have a celebratory lunch (it was also the cheapest flight home).

Since we’re going to be trapped on a train for many, many hours during our trip I hope to photograph and blog as much as possible, so do stay tuned and expect updates. We’re both very excited and can’t wait to get going.

Something a bit Different!

Keeping with this year's theme, The Year of Smart, I participated in my first non-technical training programme. The course was run by the Centre for Creative Leadership, a US-based non-profit organisation who focus on leadership development. CCL run the Maximising Your Leadership Potential course only three times a year at their Europe HQ in Brussels, so after booking in March I had to wait a while before attending.

The wait was absolutely worthwhile, while I was a little apprehensive I really enjoyed the course, met a lot of interesting people and learnt more about myself than I could ever have possibly imagined. The programme is very well structured and split into three components:

  1. Pre-work, this includes employee 360s, surveys, questionnaires and feedback. This information is used to build a picture of the attendee's personality, role, approach, etc.
  2. Course, this included 2.5 classroom days spent reviewing the pre-work results, as well as many breakaway sessions, social events and even a personal 1:1 coaching session
  3. Follow-up, this will consist of applying the tools and techniques learned and a 6-week post-course coaching session to review progress.
Brussels Town Hall, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels Town Hall, Brussels, Belgium

While there wasn't much time for sightseeing I managed to spend some time walking around the European Quarter with one of the other course attendees, Steve. I had visited Brussels before but I don't remember much more than the Grand Place so was eager to see more, the European quarter is an interesting place, with many buildings signposted as to their purpose, many I recognise from News/TV. As a remain voter, it was striking just how large the EU organisation is and brought home the reality of what how different things could be if the UK opts for a 'Hard Brexit'.

European Commission, Brussels, Belgium

European Commission, Brussels, Belgium

We also walked around the beautiful Cinquantenaire park and stumbled across The European Sport Climbing Youth Championships and a lovely little pop-up bar. The combination allowed for a nice relaxed beer while watching children fall from a climbing wall, very entertaining!

European Climbing Championships, Brussels, Belgium

European Climbing Championships, Brussels, Belgium

Istanbul, Turkey

This was a rather epic trip. It started off fairly normal, I headed over to Heathrow T5 to catch a flight to Istanbul. The flight took off as usual all seemed fine, I set my tablet up to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel and got ready for a spot of breakfast. It got a bit different near the English Channel when the pilot decided to rock the aircraft's wings.

A few moments later we had performed a 180 degree turn and were heading directly back to Heathrow. Heading west when your destination is due east is isn't really a good sign, especially when you're 20 minutes into the flight. Most passengers didn't really notice until the pilot told them over the intercom. We were assured all was fine and that there was a minor technical problem and we needed to land to get it checked out.

The landing into Heathrow was astounding, we were straight down on the ground within meters of runway. The plane was met with a landing party of police, fire engines and emergency crews - to our complete totally unknown to anybody on-board and despite my best efforts to check twitter while on approach.

That was the interesting bit. We then sat on a remote stand for four hours while British Airways messed around and pretended that we would actually get back on our way. After we offloaded I was rebooked on to a Turkish Airways flight the same day at 22:30 (12 hours after original take off).

https://twitter.com/airlivenet/status/484642904338890752

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Above - One of the fire engines that met us on the North runway at Heathow.IMG_0056

Above - LAN Ports on the back of the seats! This plane loads of buttons, even in economy.

The Turkish flight wasn't too bad, I managed to nab a row of three seats at the back, find an unopened pack of flight socks and ear plugs and do some mild napping. The landing at Istanbul was pretty cool, the plane (Airbus A333) had a camera so you could see the approaching runway. However the experience at the baggage carousel wasn't quite as good, seems they don't treat my pelican case as a suitcase and it's brought up on the back of a truck. Longest hour ever, thought I'd lost my peli case for good!

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The following morning wasn't too bad, managed for get a few hours of sleep in the hotel before brushing up and meeting my colleague downstairs. Missed breakfast by some distance though!

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Above is the view from the old office near Taksim Square, it was really quite stunning.

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There was of course some downtime, the guys in Turkey are incredibly hospitable. Here I am standing in Taksim Square, below is Gezi Park where the 2013 protests began with an occupy movement. The protests were still fresh in the memory of many locals, According to Wikipedia some 8,500 people were injured.

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the park itself was surprisingly small, but is significant in it's location. There aren't a great deal of other parks around this particular area.

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Of course, the 'selfie' - This particular picture was taken near Ortaköy, you can see the Bosphorus Bridge (or First Bridge) in the background, behind the Ortaköy mosque. The Bosphorus is a fascinating waterway because of it's location between the Black Sea and the Sea or Marmara. It is the narrowest straight used for international navigation. There is simply loads of shipping traffic. The Queen Mary was docked in Istanbul for one day while we were there.

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Above - one of the historic trams that run along the street from Taksim to Tunel (below). I got the impression the trams were more of a tourist attraction than a practical form of transportation - although I could be wrong.

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Above - This is Tunel. It is the oldest underground railway after the Metropolitan in London. It's a fairly short track that has two cars with a passing place in the middle. The lights inside the tunnel made the journey very interesting, the original brickwork is still visible.

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This has become a small tradition (which is probably the whole point of Hard Rock). It wasn't amazing but a Hard Rock Cafe none the less! It was a bit of a nightmare to get to, the taxi driver was literally following my iPhone's google maps. Turns out in the end that it was right next to where I took the picture of the tram - doh!

IMG_0124The flight back to London was painless - although the same aircraft that had landed back at Heathrow. I look forward to visiting Istanbul again, it was much safer than I had anticipated, people were friendly and surprisingly it wasn't too expensive.

Bucharest, Romania

This week I got the chance to travel to Bucharest, Romania to visit our Global Service Desk. We had a an issue accessing a firewall remotely and it was causing some unexpected routing behaviour so on the advice of TAC it needed to be rebuilt. Here is me standing in front of the enormous Palace of the Parliament, this building is very impressive. Many of the locals told me that the building is even larger underground than it is above due to Ceaușescu's fear that there may be a revolution.

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