Ankara and Aksaray, Turkey

Middle-Eastern Magic ..


8/17/20237 min read

Ankara. Turkeys' capital, and home to over 5.4m people. Wow!

I arrived in the middle of the night on an Emirates flight that I can only describe as a dream come true... for reasons known only to Emirates and the Universe, I got a last minute upgrade to first class - meaning that instead of trying to get some sleep in an akward position and zero leg room, I had the real deal bed situation that I could have easily slept in, but instead chose to sit in half-reclined comfort, grinning like a cheshire cat, while eating gingerbread french toast topped with warm spiced apple, and trying all the Bvlgari samples in my complimentary toilet bag.

Arriving at a foreign airport in the middle of the night, without sleep, is not a great time to discover that a/almost no one speaks a word of English and b/my national telco-provider "unfortunately doesn't provide roaming services to Turkey" ... say what now?. Fortunately a lovely Turkish man about my own age must have noticed my concerned look and offered me assistance. He showed me to the atm inside the terminal, advised me on how much to get out, then helped me to the taxi stand where he proceeded to give the non-english-speaking driver some instructions to my hotel, and warned him not to overcharge me. Bless him! By the time I got to my hotel in the city - Gordion Hotel - Ankara Tunali - I was well and truly ready for a fresh shower and a good sleep. Thank goodness this booking was yet another win. Situated right next to a street filled with delicious looking eateries and some shopping, the hotel also had an indoor pool, sauna, full gym, and massage services. The room was generous and had a little balcony overlooking the street, and with an underground bar, and a rooftop dining room serving my complimentary buffet breakfast while here, I was sorted. $230 NZD all up for 2 nights thank you very much - and that included the 1hr massage I took advantage of on the 2nd night (performed by a lovely Balinese girl!) - that had me sleeping like a log and feeling refreshed again and ready for more adventures.

I was up early to take advantage of my only full day here - and headed off in a taxi to the Anitkabir. It's the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk - the founding father of the Republic of Turkey and the first ever president for the country. Outside the building - at the opposite end of the expansive courtyard, lies İsmet İnönü - a Turkish army general and the 4th president of Turkey. The views of the city from the hill there are beautiful - and I was so lucky with my timing, in that I was there for the changing of the guards on duty.

From there I headed to the Ankara Kalesi (pics below), then the Archaeology and Arts Museum, then into the local markets in that part of the city to find some lunch. The views from the top of the castle area were breathtaking, to say the least. What a beautiful city! Less modern metal skyscrapers and more history, as far as the eye could see. At the archaeology museum I struggled to comprehend just how far back some of the treasures date. It's so different for us in NZ, as such a young country, without the history that Europe and other parts of the world have behind them.

Wherever possible, in each country I visit, I try to buy food from either the street vendors, or the local markets. I think you get the most authentic experience that way (plus it saves a bundle of money!) I was drawn to this market by the smells of fresh bagels baking in a woodfired oven, kebab meat slowly roasting, and fresh grapes that I could literally smell from halfway across the market. I settled on something I don't know the name of, but it was like a large roti-bread stuffed with fresh spinach and cheeses brushed with oil and toasted on an open grill. In the absence of other English-speaking humans, fortunately it's pretty easy to point to something and hold up one or two fingers to indicate how many you want. As I wandered around eating it and taking in the markets, the stallholder from the fruit stand reached out with a handful of fresh green grapes and insisted I take them for free, and as I wandered around in the hot sun, with my delicious lunch and the generosity of a stranger, I had another one of my moments on this trip where I found myself grinning from ear to ear at how fortunate and grateful I am for this amazing experience. After lunch I walked a few kms to Central Park, and had a walk around there, then to the newly built church and courtyard area that is the site of the ruins of the Ankara Augustus-Roma Temple.

Every place I have traveled to since leaving home has been hot and I've discovered one of my favourite pass-times now is to sit somewhere shady to rehydrate with a cold bottle of water and do some people-watching. What I quickly observed in Turkey as follows; firstly, I was struck by the fact there are groups of men everywhere! They sit at tables in the shade playing cards, they stand outside shopfronts talking, they lie under trees to sleep in the afternoon heat, and they do the majority of the cooking and serving in the restaurants and shops. And almost all of them smoke!! Always in groups. Always without any women. With my long blonde hair, tanned skin, and short summer dresses in lieu of the burka that the Muslim women wear, it's safe to say I stand out in the crowd here, and with safety in numbers on their part, they're not afraid to stand and stare. I've quickly learned to ignore the attention and confidently go about my sight-seeing, but I must say that Turkey is the first place I have felt it might not be safe for me to wander down a too-quiet side-street, or to go out at night on my own. I feel justified in feeling like this, given both the man I met at the airport coming in, and the young lads that stood next to me at Anitkabir and advised me "not to smile" while we watched the guards changing - advised me to take care and not go out alone. That said, I had no trouble here.

So the smoking - yes. I don't think these guys are working towards 'smoke-free' status like we are back in NZ - and it's even allowed in bars and restaurants. Eww. Next observation was the Turks' apparent immunity to the heat! Despite the fact the temps here were almost as high as in Dubai, there was barely an air-con unit to be seen, and trips in cars involve high-speed with the windows down, in lieu of conditioned air. The city - though not as pristine as Singapore or Dubai - was certainly not dirty. And instead of the sometimes 'funky' smells of Asian food or rubbish in the streets, the aromas of freshly baked breads and kebab meat fill the air. Turks are big tea drinkers (often something the 'man groups' are partaking in on the streets) - and another observation was the overwhelming number of elderly people (again - mostly men) that are still out amongst it. Some still working their stalls - all looking sprightly and as though they have many years still ahead of them to enjoy. Perhaps it's the mediterranean diet? Or perhaps it's the tradition of hanging out with friends all day (in their 'man groups') that keeps them young.

The next day involved a work-out in my well-equipped hotel gym, followed by the delicious traditional cold meats, cheeses and yoghurt at the buffet breakfast, then I hit the road to Aksaray, then on to my final stop for the day at Guzelyurt. My BFF found Akinci Konagi Hotel - Guest Reservations for me online and it looked too novel to pass up. A sprawling hotel offering 'cave rooms', in a very quiet rural village, it looked like an option that would provide a very different experience to the city - and with a population of only 2,500 (spread over a very large rural area) - there was peace and tranquility in spades. An on-site restaurant provided delicious a la carte meals and I got a complimentary buffet breakfast each morning with my booking. All for the price of $207 NZD for 3 nights this time. The room was definitely different, but I'm leaving here feeling pretty tired, as I struggled to sleep in the heat that didn't dip much overnight, and the lack of any cooling systems in the room. On the contrary, I think the room was cooler in the day - as the stones stored heat throughout the day then released it all night.

I spent a good part of the time here exploring the surrounding caves, the abandoned underground cities, the Monastery in the valley, and the beautiful historic churches (one of which - the Sivisli or St Anargirios church, dates back to the 10th century!) As Turkey is a very hilly country - and this area is certainly no exception - all the walking and the heat of the day meant afternoons were spent lazing under large umbrellas on the rooftop area, overlooking the valley.

Because of the peace and natural beauty here, it's apparently a popular destination for small weddings, and I discovered a bride and groom having photos taken, as I checked in. Another popular activity here as I understand it, is hot air ballooning, and I imagine after seeing the stunning landscape, that from the air it would be even more beautiful, but ballooning is not for me I don't think.

My final note on Turkey speaks to their patriotism. There are Turkish flags everywhere! And with the extremely limited English I mentioned previously, I find wherever you go in the world, most people can say "please, thank you, yes, no and where are you from?" When I answered "New Zealand", I was surprised at how many still looked puzzled and didn't seem to know where that was. So when I offered "Anzac" as an answer, I was welcomed with open arms.

An Assortment from Ankara...


Ankara Kalesi (meaning fortress) - Castle views ...

Erimtan - Archaeology and Arts Museum...

Aksaray and on to Guzelyurt...