My Last Destination: The Capital Of Turkey

Ankara Travel Blog

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El Nazar

I did a quick hike to El Nazar rock church in the morning before checking out of the pension and luckily catching a free ride to Ankara with three people who were going back to Sakarya. It was a 4-hour ride, including a lunch stop near beautiful Tuz Göl (Salt Lake), where the sun was radiating through clouds and streaming across the large lake. Bakan, Imajo and Satori were great and dropped me off at a city bus stop that took me to a meeting place in Kızılay district, where I waited for my host Mehtap to arrive. She is Güneş's friend from İzmir and they had communicated a few weeks ago about my arrival. She is in the midst of studying for exams but has graciously offered the flat she shares with her boyfriend Cemal.

Sunshine over Tuzgölü
It is a very clean, modern place in a central district and has nice hot water and other conveniences I hadn't experienced since Bursa.

Ankara is Turkey's capital city and second largest city with about 4.5 million and growing. Because it is inland there is a continental climate and it is now cold. Actually it was snowing when I arrived, despite the fact that it had been a mostly sunny drive up from Göreme. I made myself at home at Mehtap's place and later enjoyed a fresh cooked meal of köfte, broccoli with garlic-yogurt sauce, mashed potatoes, rice pilaf, grilled peppers and salad. I had brought a bottle of wine from the Turasan winery in Ürgüp and we had that as well as another kind of wine called Cumartesi, which means Saturday. Cemal had come back around 7:30 and his friend and fellow tattoo artist Hakan also stopped by after we had finished eating.

Anıt Kabir
We enjoyed the evening hanging out and having intelligent discussions about politics, philosophy, serving in the army, music and movies.

On Monday I woke up around 9:30 and eventually Cemal, Hakan and I went to his cafe and had a good breakfast. I tried a special kind of simit that was shaped like a pide and contained cheese, olives and sausage. I also had a Turkish apple tort. Then they drove me to Anıt Kabir, the mausoleum and museum park of modern Turkey's great leader Atatürk. Born Mustafa Kemal in 1881 he went on to serve as a military commander and was especially important during the battle of Gallipoli. He eventually persevered through several battles to gain independence for Turkey and became its first president.

Lion statue at Anıt Kabir
In the 15 years he was president he enacted significant reforms in the country on all fronts, including the adoption of a new alphabet, system for surnames, advances in education and much more. Most homes in Turkey proudly display a photograph of him. He died in 1938 and is buried beneath the mausoleum. The museum on the premises was quite impressive, highlighting much of Turkey's modern history and detailing the major battles for independence with graphic dioramas equipped with sound effects of flying bullets and soldier's voices. There was almost too much information to absorb at once but nonetheless fascinating. Admission was free, making it an added bonus. It was clear to see why this was the number one tourist attraction in the city.

I took my time walking through the city from Anıt Kabir back to Kızılay.

Atatürk's car
The heart of Kızılay is a frenetic shopping district with more shops than would be possible to enumerate. I did a little shopping and lunched on a kumpir, which I hadn't had since İstanbul. From there I walked to Cemal's tattoo studio on Tunelı Hilmi street, about 15 minutes walk from where I was. I browsed through his collection of inked body parts and also got to see a girl who had just gotten a cover-up from Hakan. Cemal and Hakan invited me to go to their friend's for dinner and not having any other plan, I gladly went along. There were about 3 people there when we arrived and a few more arrived later.

Petek has two dogs, Roxanne and Roseanne, who are very excitable but sweet. Roxanne at first tried to eat our dinner but finally settled down on my lap, which wasn't easy since she is a big dog.

Bustling Kızılay
We ate some kind of fish that resembled sardines but with crunchier little bones and I had beer, although some of the guests had rakı or wine. Later in the evening I made mention that I had not tried kokoreç, the sandwich of spiced small intestines. This caused everyone to start talking and within no time they had placed an order for delivery. They also added another delicacy to the order: kalla. Now I had actually avoided this throughout my entire time in Central Asia, past and present, but this time I had to suck it up and try. Kalla means "head" in Turkish and the special order was none other than a boiled sheep's head wrapped in cellophane and delivered fresh to the door. The thing still had teeth! I first ate the tongue, then the brains and then the cheek.
Turkish pride on a street in Ulus
I have to say that it was really not revolting but I did not find the flavor particularly good. The kokoreç, however, was quite tasty, but I was too full to finish it so they gave it to the dogs.

My last day in Turkey was spent partially sleeping in after the late night of drinking and sheep head-eating. I did have time to visit the award-winning Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in the Ulus district. Though the admission price was a bit steep, it was another interesting museum filled with historical information about Turkey from the earliest Paleolithic settlements to present-day Ankara, complete with amazing artifacts like Neolithic goddess statuettes, cuneiform clay tablets, Bronze Age jewelry and Phrygian pottery.

Clock tower and entrance to Ankara Old City
Exhibits included quite a lot of objects from archeological sites like Çatalhöyük, Alacahöyük and Gordion to name just a sampling. I spent a couple hours just browsing before I got tired and wanted to move on to explore more of Ankara before sunset.

From the front of the museum I walked up the steep hill, past a small vegetable market and through the old city gates. Even more steep winding streets further, I reached the top but could not access the actual fortress with the Turkish flag flying high. Still there were some smoggy views of the city from the angles I could glimpse from. I snapped another self-photo and realized it was probably the last photo I would take in Ankara. The sun was getting heavy in the hazy horizon and because I had not had lunch I knew I needed to go eat something.

Sweeping views of a part of Ankara
Besides with it being the last day, what more could I see that needs to be seen? I felt closure to the trip on that hill, and as I looked down over the miles of houses and into the smoky distance, I felt ready to go.

From a restaurant called Kebabistan I ordered my last mercimek and a mushroom pide. Around the corner I spotted a blind man sitting on the pavement begging for change with a tiny blue pail in front of him. I dropped a few coins in and heard him say "Allah" as I walked away towards the large statue that presides over Ulus Meydanı. I must have been tired because I fell asleep in the bus going back to Mehtap's and missed my stop. Several nice people at a grocery store helped me get a cab and when I arrived, Mehtap was waiting outside her apartment building and paid for my cab fare again.

The citadel tower and an end to a wonderful journey
She had also gone to the store and bought me a bunch of gifts like Turkish delight, sahlep mix, herbal tea, spices and chestnuts, not to mention fish that she said she would be cooking for dinner tonight.

I cannot underestimate the generosity of Turkish people. From new friends to strangers on the bus, I have been helped time and again. A free glass of tea from a restaurant, someone pays for my bus fare when I don't have a bus card, nice gifts from my hosts who have already been paying for meals and transportation. Turks have a saying, "a few lira won't make you rich and won't make me poor," and with this philosophy they just don't worry about it. In fact most people seem to enjoy life and live by the golden rule. I can be sure I will be back to Turkey someday. Türkiye'yi seviyorum!

As I spend my last hours in Turkey, my emotions are a little mixed.

Ulus Meydanı on my last night in Turkey
I am really sad to leave such an amazing country, as if it were a friend. No doubt I have made many friends here and know that I will always have friends in Turkey. Everyone has shown me such kindness and I have to thank CouchSurfing for making this one of the most enriching travel experiences I have had. In one month I covered significant ground, yet never felt rushed and often lingered a few days longer than I had planned. But one month in Turkey is like a half day in New York. I will be back. Linking Turkey with Central Asia happened to augment the trip with added meaning and I will soon have a chance to reflect on all this when I get back. Ankara'dan iyi geceler!

adastra23 says:
I've enjoyed reading about your trip and I hope you make it out to see us sometime!
Posted on: Jan 14, 2009
Eric says:
Great blog and some spectacular photos! Was just in Turkey but didn't make it to Ankara.
Posted on: Jan 13, 2009
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El Nazar
El Nazar
Sunshine over Tuzgölü
Sunshine over Tuzgölü
Anıt Kabir
Anıt Kabir
Lion statue at Anıt Kabir
Lion statue at Anıt Kabir
Atatürks car
Atatürk's car
Bustling Kızılay
Bustling Kızılay
Turkish pride on a street in Ulus
Turkish pride on a street in Ulus
Clock tower and entrance to Ankara…
Clock tower and entrance to Ankar…
Sweeping views of a part of Ankara
Sweeping views of a part of Ankara
The citadel tower and an end to a …
The citadel tower and an end to a…
Ulus Meydanı on my last night in …
Ulus Meydanı on my last night in…
Ankara
photo by: hardyrom