Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ankara, Turkey


My third stop in Turkey was Ankara, the capital of Turkey. A lot of tourists stop by here in transit, for a day or two, but there's not a whole lot to see here on the tourist trek, so most folks don't stay too long. I was here, basically, for 3 days. It was enough to see all the important landmarks of the city.

Here, I couch surfed with three roommates. Two Turkish girls and their German roommate. It was fun to stay with another foreigner because she was really interested in doing some sightseeing while I was in town. The first thing we did after I arrived was get on a bus and head up to the citadel, which is an old fortress on the top of a mountain in the city. It looked far away on the map, but after just a 10 or 15 minute  bus ride, we found ourselves right at the bottom.

I'm not sure what I expected to find inside, maybe a museum or a park, but instead I realized that the fortress was still inhabited by local residents. The houses up there were amazing, avid readers of my blog will know I'm obsessed with old things, and these houses sure fit the bill as to what I was looking for.

We wondered around inside the citadel for a while, then made our way out. There are some souvenir shops here, probably more than in any other place in Ankara, but it's nothing like it was in Istanbul. Which, is generally good, but I hadn't done all my Christmas shopping in Istanbul, not wanting to lug it across the country, but now in Ankara, I was it was a little more difficult to find good gifts. Note to those going to Turkey... do all your shopping in Istanbul (unless you're buying baklava!) because there's so much more selection!

We made our way down from the citadel and passed through a market. It was interesting to see an average market here, it actually felt a lot like Namdaemun Market here in Seoul in some ways... they just sold more hijabs and traditional Turkish wedding garments and fewer hanboks.

After our adventure around town, we headed back to the house to prepare a big meal with the other couchsurfers. I helped them make all sorts of traditional Turkish food... if only it were something I could make here! We had so much fun cooking this meal! Cooking was half the fun!

This is peynirli börek. It's got layers of flaky pastry bread, and in between the layers, there is yogurt, oil, eggs, baking soda and cheese. And sprinkled on top are sesame seeds. We baked this in the oven for a while until it was golden brown. Quite tasty!

Here is more Cig Kofte, like what I had in Eskisehir. Vegetarian, since they didn't eat meat. We got this at the store and we brought home to make our own wraps with vegetables and these added. So delicious!

After dinner, my hosts serenaded us with some traditional Turkish music played on their Baglama which is a three stringed traditional instrument from the region.

The next morning, I went over to the Anıtkabir, or Ataturk's Mausoleum. The mausoleum is immense and can be seen from any hill around the city. Turkey, and Ankara in particular, has a serious obsession with Ataturk. Throughout Ankara, you can see his effigy hanging from buildings (see first photo of this post) and see his name written here there and everywhere. The obsession is so intense that it is in fact illegal to insult his legacy. The mausoleum, and the adjoining museum are free admission, and probably worth checking out while in Ankara. The museum gives you a good history of modern Turkey plus you can see Ataturk's pajamas, too.

We also made a stop at Haci Bayram Mosque, a mosque dating back to the 15th century. This mosque was built in honor of Hacı Bayram-ı Veli, The founder of the Bayrami sect of Islam and a sufi poet. The style of this mosque was quite different from the grand Blue Mosque in Istanbul or the Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara. It doesn't have the grand domes and high ceilings. In fact, once we found it, we weren't even sure we were at the right place because it was a rather modest looking brick building, or at least modest in comparison to every other mosque I had visited thus far in my trip.

Here is Kocatepe, the biggest mosque in Ankara, and one of the biggest in the world. It can hold up to 100,000 worshipers. Though the style looks old, similar to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, this is actually a very new mosque, construction was completed in just 1987. The architecture style is called Neo-Ottoman for obvious reasons, but reading the history, it seems that this mosque could have been quite different. There were several different plans for this mosque, dating back to the 1940's. Previous designs were considered too modern and therefore never made it through. Finally, this design was accepted in 1967 and today tourists can enter and see this massive mosque during non-worshiping hours.

The thing I really liked about this mosque was that you could go up stairs to get a better view. This photo was clearly taken from the ground level, but it was also possible to walk up to those balcony levels you can see in the background. These areas are also worship areas as well, and you can easily imagine that 100,000 people could fit into this massive space. 

The last image I'll leave you with from Ankara is the famous İskender kebab. The idea of this kebab is that you take pieces of lamb marinated in tomato sauce, pour it over chunks of hot pita bread, then cover with butter and yogurt. It could be one of the world's most amazing food inventions, and a must try while in Turkey. While this dish is originates from the city of Bursa, I was not able to go to Bursa to try the original, so a reasonable approximation in Ankara had to do. I was quite satisfied with this meal!!

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