(For links to Fred's & Carol's travels, click Here)
© 2003-2011 by Author
Sit down, fasten your seat belt, get comfortable and read on. This will be an adventure to remember, I hope. This will outline this past weekend in our old home of Ankara, getting to and returning from there.
It started Friday evening the 26th as we made our way to the local train station to catch the 7:30 pm night train to Ankara. Guess it actually started the evening of the 24th when we went to the train station to purchase the tickets. You see, no one speaks English down there and we only speak Turkish to a small degree.
So, we get to the station, we proceed to the appropriate window for Ankara tickets and we wait for the line to move. Now, keep in mind Turks have no concept of "personal space" as we do, a couple people filled the space in front of us because we weren't tight enough in line, but we got to the window in a few minutes and began the quest for round trip night train tickets to Ankara. It was nearly painless and of short duration. The gentleman behind the glass got the gist of what we wanted; Carol did most of the talking by way of a notebook she had written Turkish words down on. The guy took up a little pad and began filling in the blanks of what turned out to be the tickets. When he was finished he asked for 131,000,000 TL; that's Turkish money equal to $97. He explained a number of things we DID NOT understand, but being the very polite people we are, we smiled, he smiled and we thanked each other and we parted from the window. We had two, two part forms, with enough pictures in little boxes (a train, a calendar, a car, a clock, and other symbols) to convince us we had bought tickets.
We returned to the base and just outside the gate had a Turkish friend review what we had done and he confirmed that the tickets we bought were what we needed to go.
So, it's Friday night and we're off to the station. As is our custom we were plenty early, so we sat on the platform and watched the people. There is no country where people watching cannot be done. After a while the purser came to the platform and unlocked the train car that contained our cabin. He prepared the car to receive passengers as we watched from the bench where we had been sitting for about an hour. He started by raising all the shades in the corridor and shutting all the windows. He then went to each cabin with fresh towels, bottled water, fruit juice and crackers. Once he was satisfied all was in order, he came out to get us. He took our tickets to see which cabin we were to be assigned that evening. As he reviewed the ticket he asked for 4,000,000 TL, just under $3, we had no idea what for as our Turkish is lacking in these cases, but we paid! We found out later our original ticket was not charged properly; the cost was that much more. Anyway, after I paid he took up our bags and motioned for us to follow him into the car, half way down the corridor and into the cabin where we were assigned.
The car we were seated in was built in 2000/2001 and was quite new looking as compared to what we had remembered from the past. It too was painted white with red and blue stripes on the outside, which I thought was interesting because it's called the blue train. The cabin has two wide seats facing front. Immediately in front of you to the left is a cabinet affair about 30 inches high with a small fridge (it didn't work but the water and fruit juice were in it anyway). In the right corner was a fiberglass pre-formed insert that is a trash receptacle, sink, mirror and light. To our back were the two flop down bunks folded to the wall. About an hour after we left the station we walked to the end of our car and into the dining car for dinner. I had chicken and Carol ate a kabob. While we were having dinner the purser put down our bunks so that on our return we could get into bed. I took the top and Carol took the bottom. We decided the ladder climb would be easier for me, so up I went.
The trip is over twelve hours by train since it inches it's way over and through the Taurus mountains. Truth is, there are some considerable mountains between Ankara and us. By car we're told the distance is about 300 miles. Needless to say we saw little leaving out of Adana since it was already dark. I was awakened a time or two as the train stopped at several stations on the trip north, well actually west and north. The stops are not bad but the starts tend to be a bit of a jolt as the cars catch each other moving forward. The rolling of the car from side to side in addition to the steel-to-steel wheels on the track makes sleeping challenging. You do sleep or should I say I did, but it isn't a restful sleep; it more along the lines of a series of cat naps. And to do the train in back to back evenings as we did tends to take a toll on ones body. But then the pillow too left much to be desired, it felt a little like a bag full of rags, some large, some small and some hard and some soft.
I was up by 6 a.m. and roused Carol, at 6:30 we made our way to the dining car for a Turkish style breakfast. The standard is a slice of tomato, a piece of white cheese and yellow cheese, a slice of salami or two, and all the olives (black and green) you could want! You also get bread and tea. You can also get other things but when in Rome; you know the story there. There's a large menu but it says very plainly they may not have everything on it and I assure you they did not.
While at breakfast our cabin bunks were put back up so when we returned we had our seats back. We spent the rest of the trip, until arrival, watching both sides of the track, which is a chore. It was neat, Carol would see something on her side then I would see something on mine and we would run between windows. The sights were quite beautiful as we wended our way through the agricultural breadbasket of this country. Turkey is one of only seven countries in the world that does not import food, and what they grow here is great.
Ankara Railway Station
We arrived in Ankara at 9:30 a.m. and it was cool and beautiful. The old train station had not changed at all. We immediately had to find the line for Adana ticketing, because even though we had purchased round trip tickets we had to confirm our return reservation date to ensure a cabin in the next train back on our scheduled night. That was quite easy since we ran into a Turkish gentleman who spoke English and we took advantage of him (at his request, mind you). He was very happy to help, as most Turks in Ankara were always very eager to assist.
We left out of the station to catch a cab to our hotel. The cab driver knew where we wanted to go; fortunate, since the hotel we were going to was not there when we last lived in the city. We had a vague idea where it was, but not really. We arrived at the hotel at about 10:00 a.m., which is plenty early to check in, but were given a room that had been cleaned early. Again this is the type of thing we remember Turkey for and is what makes the country so hospitable and wonderful. The hotel was quite nice (a three star) and the room was as well. Our cost was 95,000,000 TL or about $70.
After putting our bags in the room we left the hotel. We got another cab to our old pastry shop in our old neighborhood. They were very pleased to see us and there were embraces all around. I had my favorite sweet pastry and Carol had her biscuit like thing. We had our tea as renewed our very close friendships, and they would let us pay for nothing! We also spoke to and renewed our friendship with the owner of the shop next door. We were there about an hour.
From there we walked up the main street (hillside) to our old apartment buildings. On the way up as we walked several blocks we discovered another very old friend whom we thought had gone out of business but was still in the old place. We visited with her for a while and then continued up the hill. Again we were received like long awaited relatives and there were hugs and more Turkish hospitality all around. We visited with our old dry cleaner, our grocer, and Carol's hairdresser. Both of our old buildings were still in place; I mention that only because so many things were not. The neighborhood is very different with many new buildings and more modern streets. There is even a new hotel on our old street that appears to be out of the 21st century. Some of the new architecture in the city goes a little over the edge for me. The city has grown so much in ten years we were hard pressed to find some of our old hangouts. Several of the old eating-places we frequented are simply history.
From this area of the city we hailed another cab and made our way to see our old gold man. More hugs and the usual gifts, he always seemed to give Carol something. This time Carol got a quarter size silver pin, looked like a flower. It was like we had been there just yesterday. Was sad too, as his business was very inactive; I can easily remember those times we could not spent ten minutes in his shop without having a dozen people stop by, we were there 30 minutes and no one stopped and it was Saturday.
We left and moved on to the very oldest part of Ankara, up near to the castle built by the Galatians in 327 BC. The copper and rug merchants are up in this area. You see Ankara sits amidst several large hillsides. It's up and down and up and down as you cross from one part of the city to another. Our cab stopped right in front of one of our oldest friend's shop; a gentleman we had not even expected to see on this trip since we didn't know if he was still around. His embrace of both Carol and I together was overwhelming. The joy on both sides was evident. Fate was more than kind to us this day.
We visited with all our old and dear friends on the hill; it was very much as with the other visits. We sat for tea and talked about the past and our future in the country and how we would not be strangers. We want to visit Ankara every other month as best we can; my job will have a part to play in that of course. I think we will take a bus one day as well since by bus the trip is only six or eight hours and can be done in the day time so we can see more of the country. That way too we can experience more of the people.
After a very full day we decided to return to the hotel and shower and change clothes and do dinner. We again looked for one of our old places and found it closed but the sign was still up and construction was going on so maybe renovation was happening we aren't sure. But since it was not available we walked down the street and into another area of town where we found an old restaurant we had forgotten about. We ate there several times in the past but had truly forgotten about it. The food was great and we ate far more than we should have! No, we did not eat more than we wanted.
After a long and relaxed meal we walked deeper into that area of the city to our old bookstore (bought two books) and looked for other places we used to go. Like other places we had looked for these too were gone. Finally we simply were too tired and returned to the hotel and to bed.
Sunday morning we did breakfast at the hotel. Standard Turkish menu; white and yellow cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, salami and of course the ever present olives, tea as well. All you can eat, and included in the room rate.
After breakfast we went again to the pastry shop to top off our meal and I needed one more of those super pastries I missed for TEN years. When we were through at the pastry shop we went to the cabstand next door. After explaining we had lived in Ankara twice and the years we lived there we asked one of the drivers to take us around the city so we could get more of a feel for how much the city had changed. Ten years is simply a very long time and the city DID NOT stop growing just for us, hahaha.
As the cab driver took us around to several of the old areas we saw more and more progress (change). This once "third world" city has fast become "first world" in every way. Forgive me here; I've never considered Turkey nor Ankara third world in any way at all. Only by definition it was once considered such.
Anyway, it is more than obvious that the big city of Ankara is simply going to get bigger and more modern. That's sad in some ways but perfectly understandable as Turkey is trying to move into the European union. This city dates from 7000 BC and there are traces of each civilization that has lived here. It is said to be one city that has been continuously inhabited for all those years.
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
At the end of our hour-long tour by cab we were deposited at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. This facility records all traces of history in Turkey though the Ages. It begins with pre-history addressing the Stone Age (Neolithic). It has exhibits of Bronze Age, Greek, Roman, Hellenistic, Hittite, Gordian, Phrygian, Lydian and a number of others I can't even remember! I also do not have those in proper historical sequence. This museum is one of the finest in the entire world for its breadth of Archaeological exhibits and artifact preservation. Since our last visit it has expanded by nearly half again its original size by using a lower floor. The exhibits are spacious and tastefully done with most explanations in Turkish and English. While we were walking through the exhibits, there were large Japanese, German and French tour groups moving through as well.
After we left the museum we walked up to and then down through the old castle and saw even that is changing. Renovation is on going; the city is trying to save the castle and buildings within the walls. Many of the older buildings are being converted to restaurants and some are even now hotels. And since it is a touristic area the prices are quite high.
That's the whole of it for Ankara. We now were again sitting at the train station waiting for our return home. Run the train tape backward now and you'll get our return trip. About the only thing I can add is the number of tunnels we rode through as the train came down into Adana. You see our home is on a plain between mountains and they are very very high and in the daylight, as we returned in the morning, each new turn of the train brought us a new vista of indescribable beauty. The sheer rock cliffs I cannot begin to describe, as I cannot tell you the awesome portrait the Lord painted just a few miles above us in this valley where we live.
One final note: while we again were having breakfast on the train returning, a Turkish gentleman came in the dining car and sat across from us with something wrapped in newspaper. It turns out it was a piece of flat bread. He noticed we were nearly out of bread at our table and broke his flat piece and put over half of it on our bread plate! Typical Turkish hospitality, even to total foreign strangers!
*Read Fred's newer articles here: The Moore's Travels