Turkey: Near the End of a Long Road Trip

The Road to Ankara

Leaving the rocky, archaic and lunar-looking terrain of Cappadocia we took to the road for Ankara past beautiful snow-capped mountains and green valleys. I looked forward to seeing the sheer grandeur of the mountains and the immensity of the sky again from the Silk Road we passed on our way to Cappadocia a few days earlier – a landscape whose purity gave me such a feeling of being alive. However, we took a different route. Past the beautiful snow-capped mountains, the road lead to flatlands.

We drove for hour after hour, passing empty spaces of land before reaching a nomadic village. I saw men laying carpets out on the dusty road (our guide said that they did it to make the carpet look antique). Had our guide not said that it was a nomadic village, I would not have been able to tell the difference where people lived in that nothingness, walking, trying to make a carpet look antique - an honest living for them -, I guessed. We visited an elementary school where the children behaved like any schoolchildren. They were no foreign to smart-phones and iPads and loved taking ‘selfies.’

Every two hours, we stopped in store-cafes. Since we were nearing the end of the road trip, I ventured to eat out of my usual lunch fare of eggplant and rice and chicken kebab. I ordered lamb shank for lunch. It was very good and safe.

We passed Salt Lake, the second biggest lake in Turkey, a very colorful lake with a shade of pink.
Salt Lake (Lake Tuz) - aptly name for its salinity, was declared a specially protected area

After what seemed like eons of travel, we arrived in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. Approaching the city, I saw high-rise apartment buildings. For a city with a history that traced to the Bronze Age, it looked very modern. We passed the historic part of the city, literally called, “the Old Town” perched on a hill. We visited the Anadolu Medeniyetleri Muzesi (Anatolian Civilizations Museum), supposedly the biggest museum in Turkey, but 80% of it was closed for renovation. We saw some Roman statues, old artifacts found in the area, jewelry and coins from the Bronze Age.

The feel of a capitol and modern city was apparent everywhere. A memorial to its first president ,Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is the biggest I have ever seen, bigger than the Lincoln Memorial. The memorial building has a large museum underground dedicated to Ataturk and the country’s history. The highest skyscrapers were of familiar company brands: Sheraton and Hilton. We stayed at the Hilton where I felt at home (upgrade) with my hotel membership.

There was not a great deal to do in Ankara for me. I went with my tour mates to go shopping (for some reason I felt the need to buy a pair of earrings). I was convincingly reminded that we were in a foreign country while ordering dinner at a restaurant where the staff did not speak a word of English. Although the restaurant staff tried to accommodate us the best they could, we ended up ordering sandwiches for dinner.  Another reminder that we were not in the US was the cab ride back to our hotel. The cab driver allowed us (five passengers) to squeeze into his cab that was good for three passengers.


All Roads Lead to Istanbul

The following morning, we took the road for a seven-hour drive to Istanbul. I slept almost throughout the whole trip, partly from fatigue and partly because of the soporific atmosphere: Inside the bus, the topic changed from politics to soap opera; outside, a snowy hillside and a soft and mellow landscape that I glimpsed through mist and rain.

Approaching Istanbul, the topic changed to politics again. Our guide's mentioning the fact the Turkey will never become an ‘extremist radical countrypiqued my curiosity so I joined in the conversation and cited a country that was so pro-west and turned to hate the US. He repeated what he said and added, "In my opinion...Turkey will never become an extremist radical Muslim country because we have an 800 number that people can dial in directly to speak to the highest spiritual advisor.” I did not totally understand what he meant and wanted to leave it at that. I was content that, after almost 2000 miles of travel, I saw what I came to see in Turkey – UNESCO World Heritage sites and famous sites and then some as the beautiful landscapes in Antalya, Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Istanbul. But culturally and politically, the country is worth a second look. He mentioned that the prime minister is up for re-election…Although the country is rooted in Islamic Tradition, Turkey is a secular republic and said that he has high hopes for Turkey. If I were to judge the people of the country by one person (that of our guide), I would totally agree with him.

Our guide was very knowledgeable and forward thinking and showed interest in the global world. He read us the newspaper headlines from each newspaper of different political leaning. He hoped that the ban on Twitter will be lifted soon, but not too sure about the ban on You Tube (You Tube was banned because someone criticized the president), which seemed about as plausible as curtailing the freedom of speech. I then began to understand the reference to the 800 number (I thought).

In my early years of travel, I was drawn to the appeal of cities (people, museums and culture). I traveled to and blogged about Madrid, Paris and New York and talked about how I longed for urban energy. But somewhere along the way, I came to gravitate towards the natural world: the woods, jungles, oceans and mountains. So it was only natural for me to get excited talking about the natural landscape on this road trip. However, we also passed towns and cities where I saw what seemed to be unfinished buildingsthe top floor frames were all exposed and sticking out while the first and second floors seemed to be lived-in. Our guide said that it was a way to avoid paying property tax because taxes are not levied on unfinished buildings. We passed a relatively big city where every building seemed to have a solar-panel decorated rooftop, which I found unusual for a country that borders with oil-producing countries like Syria and Iran. This got me thinking about the role of cities in affecting our environment and about the role of politics in affecting the future of our planet.

NOTE:  All photos by the author

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