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Published: October 22nd 2015
The Ex-Wives Club
Ayse, on the right, was my couchsurfing host. Great lady who introduced me to her friends at a dinner held in Ayse's home. I found the Ankarans, as a rule, to be extremely friendly and open-minded. I never came away from a conversation with Ayse without having learned something new.
I bought the plane ticket to Ankara mainly because it was so inexpensive. $40 round-trip direct from Canakkale to Turkey's capital city. Get out of town. I think I pay that much in airport tax back in Florida. I figured I would do a solo recon mission for future reference. That was on the 7th of October. At 10 AM on October 10th Ankara suffered, what its citizens simply refer to as; The Event.
Canakkale's airport terminal is a simple, square, pre-fab building. My bag was run through an X-ray machine under the watchful eyes of a dozen blue-uniformed security people because in Turkey, as it is in the States, it's all about the jobs. Inside I found a simple 3-table cafe where I had a glass of tea and a cellophane wrapped biscuit for 4 Lira or $1.33. An elderly Turkish gentleman sat down next to me, worked a small wreath of black worry beads through his fingers while staring out at the tarmac.
The ID I presented at check-in was good enough to get me a bump to an exit row where I had 3 seats to myself. The plane was a Boeing 737-800. Turkish Air operation.
The most revered man in Turkish history. An intellectual giant amongst 20th century political figures. He single-highhandedly changed Turkey forever.
It seated 189 and we ended up carrying a third that number. 90-minute flight through gray-clouded skies. Ankara airport is a big, glassy, modern affair and when I got there it was nearly devoid of passengers. Security people sat in corners intent on their Smart phones. I took the Belko bus from the domestic terminal to the Ankara 'ASTI' bus terminal in the city center. The bus station is huge. Part transportation hub and part department store selling everything from food to clothing to electronics. The 8 Lira ride took about a half hour to complete. We passed numerous government buildings guarded by twitchy soldiers with automatic weapons. Giant portraits of Ataturk on scarlet-red banners hung from every government edifice.
The outskirts of the city were a collection of scruffy hills littered with small homes and trash. Men sold neon-colored brooms and brushes along the roadside. As we came into the city proper I saw Maple treed public parks and more vehicular traffic than I have ever encountered thus-far in Turkey. My Couchsurfing host was waiting for me at the bus station. Her name is Ayse (pronounced I-Shay). She is a retired mathematics professor. As soon as I got
Art Museums in Ankara
Ayse took me to a wonderful exhibit of Steve McCurry's photographs at the CerModern art museum in central Ankara. McCurry is best know for his National Geo cover foto of an Afghan girl with stunning blue eyes.
in her car she remarked on the amount of time I and Karen had chosen to spend in Turkey and asked me what we liked about it. I told her that we loved the people and the food. She looked at me and threw me a big smile. We were going to get along famously.
Her three bedroom flat is in a trendy Ankara district. The streets near her place are lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. Ayse provided me with a city map and a city guidebook and with that I was off.
My first stop was the tomb of Ataturk. Ataturk means 'The Father of Turkey'. His actual name was Mustafa Kemal. He was a Turkish army officer who had been born in Thessaloniki which is located in today's Greece but back in the day it was part of the Turkish Ottoman empire. The Turkish Ottoman empire fought against the British in the first World War, lost the war and was then carved up like a turkey with a drumstick going to the Greeks. The Greeks arrived for dinner and acted wretchedly. Not satisfied with a turkey leg they decided to munch their way through more
His image is everywhere in Turkey. This is a central square near Ankara's old city.
of the bird with British encouragement. The Turks fought back with Mustafa Kemal leading the Turkish army. The Greeks were rolled back into the Mediterranean like a cheap rug. The British renegotiated the armistice and modern day Turkey was born. Mustafa Kemal was made leader for life. A political genius; He separated religion and state, gave women the vote, completely revamped the educational system and transformed Turkey into a modern country. His image is in every Turkish home, on every Lira note, in every Turkish classroom and imprinted upon every Turk's mind. He is remembered fondly and every November 10th at 9:05 AM, the date and time of his death, most vehicles and people in the country's streets pause for one minute in remembrance. He was one of the truly great men to emerge from the 20th century.
His memorial is located near the city center on a huge square of park land. Walking around the walled perimeter would take a long time. The memorial itself has a weird Egyptian architectural buzz about it. Arcade halls supported by tall square columns and friezed walls. Military personnel decorate the site like mannequins. Standing at attention in picture-perfect uniforms. The changing
of the guard is a drawn out affair with stomping boots and barked commands. The flag stoned central plaza is broad and sun-baked. There were few folks around when I visited at 2 PM on a Tuesday afternoon. Admission is free. You will be forced to leave your bag with the gate guards who were a jovial bunch of dudes quite excited at the presence of an American on their watch. Everybody wanted to practice their English. And did.
Ankara is a city of hills so walking around can really get your pulse rate up there. Plenty of shops and trees. The downtown area reminded of Tbilisi in old Soviet Georgia where big Maples do a great job of shading sidewalks. The weather was cool, sunny and the leaves were turning a bright autumn orange. Plenty of traffic and honking horns. For some reason finding a cafe with WIFI was impossible on my route. I ended up in a computer gaming place where I accessed my e-mail on an old Compaq machine while a hundred or so 12-year old Turkish boys played soccer on-line around me. An hour on the computer cost me one Lira or about 33-cents US.
The people are extremely friendly. I bought some pistachios from a guy who has a sister living in Patterson, New Jersey and she's an engineer with two kids and in the end I got her entire life's story as well as the nut guy's. Ankarans love to talk as I quickly discovered. If I stopped to look at my map I always had a couple of folks shuffling over to see if I needed help with directions. Just really nice people. It's a bustling town. Crowded sidewalks and everybody seems to be going somewhere important. Felt a lot like D.C.
I walked by the train station; The site of the 'Event'. The bomber or bombers were top notch; Timing and placing the explosives in a manner that guaranteed maximum loss of life. Impromptu memorials consisting of photographs, red carnations and hand-written notes lined the curb. The Turks who would discuss the 'Event' with me would only do so in whispered tones. I saw a few police officers and a single camera news crew. Other than that it was business as usual. Nobody paid me any mind while I took some photos.
I visited the Old City where
Ankara Fruit Market
Just one of the hundreds in the city. This week Pomegranates, Apples and Grapes were on sale.
vendors shouted out their offerings just as they have for centuries. Entire stands dedicated to Parsley. Bales and bales of sweet smelling Parsley or Rosemary or Basil. Syrian refugee women in frayed black robes begged along the lanes. They were usually surrounded by three or four smudged up kids who were wrestling around with each other like skinny kittens.
Ankara is filled with parks and ponds and amusement areas. The bus system is excellent. There is a subway but I never saw it as I found the city easily walkable and pleasing to the eye. I visited the Museum of Anatolian Culture. A spectacular collection of artifacts going back to the stone age. The museum is set in a 15th century building. Recently renovated, the museum is one of the best that I have ever visited on the road. Beautiful displays, perfect lighting and large interactive terminals in English. I ended up staying there for four hours and I could have easily done four more. Admission is 15 Lira or $5 US. Generally, I found the prices for food and goods in Ankara to be comparable to those in Istanbul.
My couchsurfing host's flat is near the University
2500 BC; Bronze Age 'Sun Disk'
The sun disk is the symbol of Ankara. This one was recovered from a local dig in the 1940's.
of Ankara. The local cafes are filled with happy students making small talk and watching amusing videos on their Smart phones. There seemed to be a taxi stand every two blocks. The one time I availed myself of a cab the 15-minute ride cost me all of $3 US and the driver refused a tip. I kid you not.
I ate dinner with my host and two of her oldest friends. Both were women and both spoke some degree of English which made my life a lot easier. We discussed travel, life in the States and Turkish culture. A pleasant evening filled with lots of laughter, fresh grilled fish and caviar of all things. I could not remember the last time I had partaken of caviar. I was blown away by the friendliness of the people in Ankara and their sedate lifestyle. Very intelligent, open minded and well educated as a rule. They were always eager to help me with any questions and they always pointed me in the right direction when I got off track.
I only spent two nights in the city but I liked what I saw very much. I plan to return with Karen
ASTI Bus Station
A huge bus hub offering transportation to places all over the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe as well as Asia Minor.
our next time in-country as I know that I barely scratched the surface of Turkey's capital city in the short time I was there. It blows me away how every place I visit in this land shows me a different face but all of them have proven to be wise, caring and thoughtful. Thank you Ayse for making a place in my heart for your hometown. I owe you big!
Shouts out to Jane and Brad. How goes it? To Noah who is becoming bored with life back home after a mere three weeks back from Germany. Go figure kid. To Dina in sunny England. To our friends in Florida. We wish we had your weather now. Turkey is cool and rainy at the moment. To all of our friends around the world who are kind enough to read this drivel, thank you. One of our neighbors here asked us how many countries we had been to and we couldn't tell them but when I use my mind's eye and see all of those people we have been blessed with on our travels I know that it must be quite a few with quite a few more coming. We
Hittite Friezes; Museum of Anatolian Cultures.
The capital of the Hittites was located in Turkey. They generally ran things between 2,000 BC and 1,200 BC until the Assyrians rolled into town and kicked butt. The end of the Hittites marked the end of the late Bronze Age. These stones are from Hittite temples.
leave Turkey soon. Heading to Luxor Egypt, a Nile cruise, a Red Sea swim and after that we have not a clue.
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