We awoke before dawn on the train. The clacking of the rails was a comforting noise as we woke up slowly. We watched the sun sneak over the golden hills under a clear blue sky. The air is much dryer in the interior, and we felt surprisingly well-rested.
After availing ourselves of the toilet conveniently located in our car (you think squat toilets are challenging when they’re STILL…), we walked up one car to the dining car at the insistence of our porter. Breakfast was incredibly good: the bread fresh, the cheese tasty, the olives given to Steve. Also, it was included in our fare — even better! Travelling by train is something I could become accustomed to. We were amazed at how civilized it was! Virtually all the patrons of the breakfast car were foreign — not Turkish. We realized that the reason the sleeper cars weren’t booked full is that they are probably too expensive for local people. That said, we found it incredibly good value for a good night’s sleep, a delish breakfast and a trip to Ankara, all for about $40 per person.
We went back to our car where the porter had put the beds back up. We drank our free water from the fridge and watched the countryside roll by. Ankara’s suburbs started miles and miles out of town. There is something like four million people in Ankara, which makes it the population of BC; Istanbul alone is some 12 million — three Istanbuls have more population than Canada! We arrived at the scheduled time of eight in the morning.
The train station in Ankara was nice though not nearly as impressive as Hydarpasa. The first-class passengers trickled sleepily out of the train cars and dribbled out the front door, where every single one of them (except us) got into a waiting bus, car or taxi. We were literally the only foreigners to leave the train station on foot.
Walking up to Ulus, the area in which our hotel was located, was remarkably easy. The boulevard was broad and clean, and we walked past a football stadium which had seen recent use. The Turks love their soccer! They had the ride-on vaccuum cleaners here as well.
At the first intersection, we found that looking at our Lonely Planet map in a rather gormless fashion prompted not one, but two simit sellers to come to our rescue. Simit was three for a lira in Ankara, and the sellers used some helpful sign language to direct us to the hotel. Too bad it didn’t really work: we turned in the appropriate place, and walked down the right road, but completely overshot the turnoff to the hotel. Realizing we were not in the right place, we asked a traffic policeman which way to go (new word: nerideh, meaning ‘where is’). He guestured us onward with perfect confidence, but it only took us a half block to realize we were even further from where we should be! We turned around and got us within a block of where we should go, when another passerby (recognizing gormless from across the street), told us exactly where to go. Again, street signs would have been Very Helpful Indeed. The hotel would have been only a kilometer from the train station if it hadn’t been for our roundabout route, but it was still only nine am.
Checking into the Hotel Ogulturk, we were asked for the first time for our passports in exchange for the room key. We were told by the nice lady at the front desk that we could do the reverse trade if we wanted to carry our passports on our way out. We were escorted upstairs by a porter, who introduced us to their very peculiar elevator: you opened a door, walked into the elevator, pushed the appropriate button, and watched the wall slide by on the door end of the elevator! When you reached your floor, you opened the door and went out into the hall. We spent a lot of time over the next day standing in front of that elevator waiting for the door to automatically open.
The room was very nice, and we see why it gets good reviews in the LP. Interestingly, the overhead lights wouldn’t turn on unless you stuck the key fob in a little slot. The bathroom had a tiny sit-down bathtub which frankly was a nicer than the shower stall at the Hotel Anadolu in Istanbul, where the shower head shot straight over the top of the stall into the sink.
We promptly crashed out for a nap and didn’t really wake up until noon. We decided to wash some clothes in the bathtub, and used our Campsuds to good avail. There was no plug for the tub, but the Nalgene bottles I bought for shampoo fit perfectly. The water became so filthy that I changed it twice… Istanbul is dirty! We laid everything out to dry in the warm breeze that came through the windows and hoped a pair of pants wouldn’t end up on the sidewalk below!
The street the hotel was on felt like an alley, but still perfectly safe. Ulus is described in the LP as ‘seedy’ and it definitely isn’t classy, but we didn’t feel even a little bit unsafe.
Feeling a little peckish, we decided to go to another Lonely Planet recommended eatery, the… well, I’ll have to look it up. Miraculously, it was just around the corner from the hotel. Despite there being a cooked sheep’s head in the front display case, we decided to give it a try (the cook in the window surrepticiously pointing at the sheep’s head and giggling made it seem ok). We were directed firmly upstairs to the ‘salon’ where we got a table that looked down over the restaurant. I ordered an ‘Iskender kebap’ which turned out to be lamb in tomato sauce over croutons, and was exquisitely delicious, especially for a fast food joint with a sheep’s head in the window. Steve had ‘pide’ which is turkish pizza — very thin flat bread with spiced ground meat on top. It was good, but mine won. The raw banana pepper they used as a garnish was much less delicious and my hurredly spitting it out caused great amusement with both Steve and the waiters.
After lunch we braved the streets to head up to the museum, but this involved first crossing the road. Ordinarily this shouldn’t be such a big deal, except that traffic lights have no meaning in Turkey, at least for pedestrians (and considering I saw a jeep actually drive the sidewalk in Istanbul, I’m guessing cars don’t pay attention either). The official signal to cross the road as a pedestrian is a little green man light. The unofficial, and correct, signal to cross the road is when the locals cross, so do you. We navigated the roads up to a cross-street absolutely full of people: we realized it was a market road, and headed up it. Initially we thought it was pedestrian-only given how clogged the street was with people, but every so often a car would inch down, proving us wrong.
The market street was incredibly vibrant, with people of all ages and walks of life: simit sellers, little old women in shawls and headscarves, smoking men, candy sellers and of course teenagers, dressed in fashionable clothes and too cool to care. Unlike in Istanbul, where the tourist is the goal, we were completely ignored in the market in Ankara. Even when I picked something up to look at it, nobody appeared at my shoulder to tell me the price and implore me to purchase. I did spend some time pawing through a clothing bin looking for a long-sleeved garment that was neither a sweater nor covered in sequins. I did not succeed.
According to the LP, this street should have a turnoff that would lead to the museum; typically, there were no signs. We wandered all the way through the market with no turns, and found ourselves in the antique district that is below the Citadel at the top of the hill. We knew if we could find the Citadel, we could reverse engineer our way to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, which was the lone comfort to this surprise stopover in Ankara. Frankly, we thought Ankara was a modern city, full of diplomats, and the one good museum was not a big enough draw to have us want to go there. However, with the vagrancies of holiday travel, this was our best chance to get to Goreme before Seker Bayrami, and we were taking it. After heading up the market and then the antique shop roads, which were narrow and cobbled and truly lovely, we were actually glad we had ended up in Ankara! Such a wonderful surprise!
I did see something I liked a great deal in Ankara, and that was a shop that had taps just like the ones I saw in the Baths of Lady Hurrem and the ablutions areas of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The problem was that they were large, and solid brass, and I couldn’t quite justify buying a pound of metal, however pretty, and hauling it around for the next month. *sigh*
Just in front of the Citadel, which is a 9th-11th century walled city which sits right at the top of the hill in the old area of Ankara, a tiny little women with two children (almost as tall as her), stopped and told us ‘gold moaning’. We told her good morning back, and she rattled off a string of Turkish we did not understand. Finally we told her thank-you in Turkish, and waved bye-bye. She and the girls all bye-bye’d back to us and off they went. Need more vocabulary!
We walked down a very steep street from the Citadel and went to the museum, which was fantastic. We got ‘little object overload’ in the first few minutes, but the Roman stuff downstairs and especially the huge stone relief panels in the main room were incredible. The building itself is a medieval ‘bedestan’ which is the secure centre of a marketplace. I’ll write more about the museum when the photos get uploaded, but it really was amazing.
We sat out in the courtyard for a few minutes to decompress, and talked to a group of American tourists who were on a package tour doing some eight cities in twelve days — it sounded exhausting! There was also a very cute orange & white cat lounging on the steps to the museum: the first cat I’d seen in Ankara.
After our rest, we headed back up the slope to the Citadel, and this time we went in. The area seemed very poor, with houses mostly in ill repair, but the walls were very thick and the streets were very narrow. It looked a lot like the shambles in York, where the upper stories of the houses are built further into the street. We went all the way up onto the top of the hill, where the houses became poorer, the broken glass more frequent, and we began to feel a little uneasy. The dead pigeon stuck to the side of a tower convinced me I didn’t want to go further, so we headed back down through the Citadel. Our feelings of unease were increased by a white van which seemed to have a deathwish for Steve. It kept barreling up and down the tiny streets, just missing Steve on every pass! Actually, in the lower area of the Citadel, the locals seemed quite nice (one woman joined me in rolling her eyes at the murderous van) and some of the houses had been restored to a beautiful condition.
When we left the Citadel, it was a good thing we were tired or I might have gone back for that tap! As it was, we walked down past the museum again and took the little street back onto the market street. Reluctant to have had so many shopping opportunities and not bought anything, I found a nice yellow facecloth for a lira. Funny thing is that none of the hotels we had seen had facecloths — lots of towels, but no little ones. Well, now we had our own!
We stopped for dinner again at the same restaraunt (and I’ll remember the name someday). We didn’t argue about being shown to the salon, as it was obvious there were no women at all downstairs. Steve had the Iskender Kebap and I had a regular lamb (kuzu) kebap, both of which were very good. The total for each meal was about 20L, including tea (chai) and water (su).
The restaurant was packed. There were a number of families who ordered food and just left it sitting on their tables. We didn’t understand until we heard the sounds of hte muzzein coming in the open windows, signalling the end of the fasting day of Ramazan. As soon as the lovely tones of the imam stopped, the families tucked in with great delight!
When we left the restaurant, we decided to help celebrate the start of Seker Bayrami (literally, sugar holiday) with a few sweets of our own. We crossed the street to a candy seller and had him help us pick out a handful of chocolates and chewy fruit candies (called toffe). With a bag full of sugary delights for about 2L, we walked the half-block down the alley (I mean street) to the hotel. After indulging in a few candies, we turned in for another early night, knowing we’d be up reasonably early to catch our bus to Goreme at 11 am.