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The Adventure Continues – Ankara

My first experience on Turkish Air, and it was great.  On time departure, an hour flight, a meal was served.  Once at the airport we tried to figure out how to get to our hotel in central Ankara, and settled on the bus.  A cab would have been faster, but it was interesting taking the pulse of the city as we made our way deeper into the haze of pollution and the hundreds of multi-colored  apartment buildings thrusting into the grey sky like strange stalagmites.

At the central bus stop we took a cab to our hotel.  It looked like a mid-1960’s hotel.  You could picture Sinatra strolling through, but we were told upon arrival that the water wasn’t working.  The manager was an energetic man who was very excited about Obama’s impending visit to the capital.  (We had found the same enthusiasm in Istanbul), and he was eager to help us arrange our outing to Hattusha on Sunday.  We had thought we’d make the trip out to the Hittite capitol on the day we knew Obama was arriving.  

We discussed renting a car, but the traffic and the driving habits of Ankara killed that notion.  Signals and lanes — definitely just a suggestion.  The manager arranged for a cab driver to take us to Hattusha and spend the day with us.  It was a little expensive, but well worth it.  When the manager returned from making the phone call he told us he had told the cabby to “wash the car, shave, and dress well.”  We thought he was joking.  He wasn’t.

We had the afternoon to begin our explorations of Ankara.  We started by walking up the hill toward the Byzantine fortress, but we paused at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.  Which is wonderful.  They have an ancient clay mother goddess figure, a city planning map from one of the oldest city in the world.  It was a fresco painted on the mud walls of a house in this city.  Best guess the city dates to 7000 B.C.  The reason the archeologists know — the volcano that is erupting behind the squares representing the city last erupted in 7000 B.C.

There were these great bronze age deer figures, another fascinating treaty, this one written on bronze.  Some great wall figures from Hattusha that made me even more eager to reach the site.

It’s a small museum so once finished we continued up the hill to the fortress.  Walter was explaining that within the walls there is a community of people.  They’re very poor, but they have the right to remain there.  Here is a photo of rugs being aired on the walls of the fortress.


We walked in the wrong way, and found ourselves in a warren of tiny streets, and lopsided houses that looked like they dated from the middle ages.  There was no way a car was driving through this area.  On top of many of the houses were satellite dishes, and one house had a minaret thrust through the roof.  It had apparently been retrofitted as a mosque. 


A little boy took us in hand, and guided us to the tower which is the primary tourist attraction.  There were a lot of people lounging on the top of the walls, one young man was taking fashion photos of his beautiful girlfriend.  There are no guards, no handrails, and it’s probably a four hundred foot fall from some of the parapets.  Here are some photos. 


At the other end of the fortress there is a matching tower that is difficult to reach.  Scattered inside it is a microwave tower, and numerous cell phone towers.


  It was such an incredible juxtaposition of ancient and modern that I knew I had to set many of my scenes in book three at this site.  I walked along the stone walls already choreographing a fight sequence in my head.
As we started out of the fortress we were reminded again of how many ancient temples and buildings were cannibalized.  Here’s a photo of a piece of frieze from a temple embedded in the bricks.

We started down a narrow little street with the houses that overhung the cobbles.  Later we learned that many of these houses dated from the 9th century.


 We passed through the gate and into a market area.  Spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, nuts.  The smells seemed almost visible.  Down another street were shops selling wool ready for carding and spinning, and shops with wooden farm implements.  There were also tourist shops, but it seemed much more like an area where the citizens of Ankara came to shop.


It was late afternoon, and suddenly the call to prayer erupted from all sides.  Based on the different voices I would guess there were at least six mosques on the fortress hilltop.  The words may be the same, but it seems that each muezzin can create his own… song?  I’m not sure that’s the right word, but this is music weaving, spinning, dancing and blending into a harmonious whole.
We tried to walk back to the hotel, but the city is vast and we were eventually lost and footsore.  We grabbed a cab and headed back to the hotel.  Then we went in search of dinner.  The location of the hotel was great for what we wanted to see, but not great for convenience.  We were in a business area — lots of banks.  We walked and walked and walked, we cut through a shopping center, went up some stairs onto another street and found ourselves standing outside our hotel again.  That was the first time I was seized by giggles.  Pat and Walter learned that I have a silly sense of the absurd, and when something tickles me I just lose it.  We we finally found a single restaurant.  Kabobistan.  They have branches all over the country.  I was still gulping, giggling and weeping with laughter when we walked in.  The wait staff was startled to see three American tourists, but they tried to meet out needs.  Walter kept smiling and nodding when they would ask us something, and he kept getting a second salad, a tea he didn’t order, more couscous.  Despite being a chain and having all the atmosphere of a bus station the food was, as always, excellent.  I had chicken wings with a spiced couscous that was absolutely delicious.

Back in the room we discovered that while we had water it was the color of urine and it never got any warmer than tepid.  We went to bed early because we were leaving for Hattusha at 8:00.

When the driver arrived he had indeed washed the car inside and out.  It was about two and a half ours out to the site of the Hittite capitol.  We approached and went over mountains, through valleys, the one thing of interest were the giant stork nests on top of power poles.  It looked like the poles were wearing straw hats to protect them from the sun.  The other interesting fact was that we were in the middle of nowhere.  There are not a lot of cities outside of Ankara in this part of Turkey.  But I had incredible cell coverage.  Every bar was lit up.  I can’t coverage like this in New Mexico.  Yeah, American infrastructure really needs an upgrade.

We reached the small village that sits at the edge of the ruins, and pulled up to the entrance to the ruins.  It’s a gigantic site, running some 7 kilometers with a loop road that winds through the ruins.  A man came out to greet us and offered to act as guide.  We took him up on it because we were overwhelmed by the size of the place.  His name was Abdula, and he was wonderful.  Turns out he’s worked for the past 12 years on the archeological digs, and he knew so much.

We hopped back in the taxi and followed Abdula’s car deep into the site.  First stop the site of the great temple and the market (agora).


  In the temple you could see where a great wooden door had scraped the stone lentil.  It was amazing.  Another cool thing was a square cut green rock.  Legend said it had come out of Egypt, and if you placed you hand on it and made a wish it would be granted.  There were the faint imprint of fingers and a depression for the heel of the hand.  I neglected to snap a photo.  Hopefully Walter will have a picture.  He also made the suggestion that this rock could be useful in my third Edge book.  It’s was a great idea and I’m going to use it.

There are thick, red pottery shards everywhere.  Out in a field we saw some intact and gigantic amphora of the same pottery that had been excavated, but left in place.


There are also men selling stone carvings of the various Hittite hieroglyphs, and carvings.  They are beautifully done, but it’s like being swarmed by bees.  It was too much so I walked away without buying anything.  Pat, our indefatigable shopper bought a couple of small pieces.

Next stop, the lion gate.  The figures are worn and chipped, but you still have a sense of the grandeur and it was so eerie to stand on this hilltop listening to the wind rushing down from the mountains and harmonizing with the rumble and rush of water in the river in the canyon far below.

There was a old man and his grandson waiting at the gate to sell their carvings.  The old man had the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen, and the boy had raven wing’s black hair, and liquid brown eyes in which you lose yourself.  But there was still that lurking melancholy.  I bought a carved lion from them.  It’s a beautiful little thing, cool to the hand, and an rich shade of green.  I wish I knew the stone from which it was carved.

The foundations of the walls of the city are still very visible, and this one strange place on the wall that is built like the side of a pyramid with a staircase running up through it.

  Just around the corner from this there is a tunnel, and the archeologists think that Egyptian engineers assisted in designing and building the tunnel and this part of the wall.  There is debate about the reason for the tunnel.  Some archeologists think it was for processions, but others think it was a hidden tunnel that could be used to disgorge troops in time of war.  You place a convenient stone staircase on your wall, wait for the enemy to use it, and send out troops to come in behind them.

We visited the sphinx gate and the kings gate, thought now they think the kings gate is actually the gods gate because of some translations of Hittite hieroglyphs.  There is one area where the hieroglyphs are very well preserved, and which tell the tale of the last king of Hattusha.  According to the recent translation a plague swept through the military that guarded the capitol, and under attack from barbarians the royal family fled the city.   It’s strange to think that this vast complex only endured for three generations, and then it was abandoned.

We were taken up onto the hillside that held the royal palace and looked back over the valley and the ruins.

  There was a escape tunnel that ran from the palace across the valley and into the military fortress that could be used for escape.  Walter has a picture of my climbing down into the tunnel.  One thing I can say — these were not large people.

Throughout the tour our little cab driver stayed with us.  He always hung to the back, but he was wide eyed with interest, and he and Abdula spoke frequently in Turkish.  I think he was fascinated to see this part of his country’s history.

At one point Abdula and I were walking alone tother as we climbed another steep and rocky hill.  I learned that the village was Kurdish, and that the people were preparing to go into the mountains with their goats and cattle and summer in the high pastures.  As we were talking a shepherd and his flock of angora goats passed in the river valley below.  As we walked Abdula brought up Obama.  Once again that sense of hope, and a statement of how much he liked our new president, but there was a more fervent wish — that Obama would help people have “democracy”.  Now that I knew Abdula was Kurdish I could easily replace the code word democracy with freedom, a homeland.  All I could think is how many hopes have been pinned on our new leader, and how no man can satisfy all these competing dreams.

After our tour it was time for the obligatory visit to the carpet cooperative.  It would have been churlish to refuse, and as we were driving to the building we saw they women sitting in the fields and cutting the herbs that they use for dying the wool a particular shade of green.  Actually the shade of green depends upon where the wool rests in the large jar.  Toward the bottom the wool will be dyed a very dark green, as you move up through the jar it becomes lighter and lighter.

None of us wanted a carpet, but Pat spotted some saddlebags tossed over a couch.  We drank tea and looked at carpets, but I was drawn to this particular saddlebag.  Turned out if was 60 years old, made from camel’s hair, and had clearly been used.  There were pistachio shells deep in the pockets, and the faint smell of horse still hung on it.  I decided this would be my one relatively large purchase in Turkey.  As always cash was preferred so we went into the village to eat lunch, and for me to hit the ATM.

After lunch I paid for my saddlebag, and we headed to the final stop of our tour.  Another cliff face that was apparently a ceremonial and temple site.  Here are some of the rock carvings from the site.

  And here is a picture of the amazing Abdula and our driver turning away shyly.

  Despite him saying there was no charge we all pitched in and gave him a very good tip for his time and the wealth of information he had imparted to us.

There is a much more permanent set up for the crap sellers in the parking lot.  Scarves, jewelry, the rock carvings, etc.  One young man demonstrated how me did the carving and I bought a piece from him.  Then it was time to say farewell and start back for Ankara.  The drive back was uneventful apart from seeing a pair of mating storks in their nest on a power pole busily feeding their babies.

We were still on a high when we got back from the trip, and so we went out to dinner at a restaurant in the citadel that had been recommended by Walter’s guide book.  It was a wonderful wooden medieval building.  The food was only okay, but the atmosphere was great, and from the windows on the third floor we could look out across the city and see the spotlights on the Atta Turk mausoleum as the city lit up to welcome President Obama.

There was a small trio playing music — violin, lute and small drum, and they were performing for the party across the room.  Clearly a celebration was underway, but what was fascinating was how the diners would suggest a song, the trio would play and everyone would sing.  That sense of music as a part of life has been lost in our country and I think it’s a shame.
Back in the room we had water and it was hot and only a little discolored so I took a long soak in the big bathtub.  It’s a luxury to find a tub rather than a shower in Turkey and I took full advantage.

Monday was our final day in Ankara.  We spent the morning visiting a pillar commemorating Julian the Apostate, a Roman Emperor who tried to take the empire back to paganism after Constantine.  He led a campaign against the Sassanids and it didn’t turn out well.  He got killed either by the enemy or his own men.  Here is a picture of his pillar with a stork’s next on top.

We went to the tomb of a famous dervish who had predicted the fall of Byzantium to the Ottomans.  There were large numbers of women in the long coat-like garments and head scarves praying at his tomb.  And here is his turban in a place of honor on his sarcophagus.

  We also toured the mosque next to his tomb.  The mosque is built right next to a temple to Apollo constructed by Augustus.  Unfortunately we weren’t allowed inside.

Pat wanted to wander through a local market.  Walter wanted to rest and read a bit, and I wanted to walk back up to the citadel.  We parted company, and Walter and I agreed to rendezvous at 3:00 pm to visit Atta Turk’s Mausoleum.  I walked through a park, and up the stairs and steep paths to a restaurant at the foot of the fortress.  Here I had my first Gozlema (pancake) and it was delicious.  While I was eating Pat came strolling up, and helped me finish my lunch.  We then went up the street of wool, spice and food sellers.  I bought a bag of dried apricots (apricots are also native to Turkey).  I left Pat still shopping and went back to the hotel to meet Walter.  

As I was walking down the hill it began to rain.  It was really pissing down when Walter and I emerged to grab a taxi.  We say our driver from our Hattushsa outing, and we jumped the line to ride with him.  We had to pass through a check point where the soldiers checked under the car with a mirror and in the trunk and x-rayed out bags and checked our passports.  Then we were permitted to drive up the hill to the Mausoleum.  It’s an impressive place if somewhat Germanic in feel. 


Turns out it was built in the early 1930’s and designed by a German architect.


We arrived to watch the changing of the guard, and got soaked just reaching the actual tomb.   Much of the decoration is inspired by the Hittite sculptures we say in the museum and at Hattusha.
Beneath his large plaza is a museum devoted to the life of Atta Turk.  It has paintings of his great victories, personal items, photos, portraits.  Interestingly he had intense blue eyes. Through it all patriotic and martial music was playing.  What’s interesting is one man’s great victory — Gallipoli — is another man’s horrible defeat — Gallipoli.  Of course I’ve only heard about Gallipoli from the point of view of the British.

In addition to the man’s life there were large sections devoted to his legislative agenda.  He really did remake the country.  He granted rights to women, pushed for universal education, took them away from Arabic script to a western alphabet, secularized the entire country.  In Turkey the muezzins and Imams are paid by the government, hired and fired by the government.  Again, all of this plays so well into the framework of my Edge books.

We took a cab to the university area in search of a restaurant that had been recommended in a guide book.  We never found it so we settled on an upstairs dining room overlooking a pedestrian mall.  Walter and I had pizza (terrible).  Pat had a strange pasta dish, but we were more interested in the atmosphere than the food.  No head scarves, boys and girls walking hand in hand, very chic clothes, and when we left at 9:00 to return to the hotel the place was just coming to life.  Young men were setting up planks on boxes and laying out purses, cell phones, jewelry, etc.  I was tempted to linger, but we had an early flight to Izmer the next morning.  We returned to the hotel to find there was once again no hot water.  It was still raining, and by this point we were eager to leave Ankara.

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