Goodbye, Ankara: Here’s what we loved about you most

It has been an interesting two years and they have flown by quickly, due in large part to the charms of our temporary hometown, Ankara. For an international capital, Ankara can seem quaint and bucolic; the word provincial may even come to mind. But that’s not a bad thing. On the contrary, there’s plenty of fun to be found if you’re patient and keep an open mind. Here are some highlights of our stay.

Rainbow seen from our window

Rainbow seen from our window

Lojman Livin’ – Being up on a hill, away from the bustle of Ankara proper, does have its advantages. The view is consistently spectacular – we’ve watched many a storm roll in and enjoyed the rainbows (double, and triple!) afterwards, and waking up to the sun in the window has been a treat every morning. Bilkent has made the grounds very attractive, with plenty of flowers always in bloom and a constant variety of fruiting trees – spring has been a festival of scents and colors. So while we may complain a bit about being isolated in a ‘foreigner bubble’ away from the sounds of ‘real Turkey,’ overall we’ve been happy with our home away from home.

Ulus fish market

Ulus fish market

Ulus – This is the historic center of Ankara, the place where it all began. You can wander here every weekend and never see it all. The Romans were here back in the day, building temples and roads. Later civilizations would add and rebuild until today. Here you can visit an ancient castle, shop in a covered food pazaar, haggle over carpets, buy artisan jewelry, and watch craftsmen work in the metal district. Relax with a plate of the best manti in town, and before you know it you’ve had a great afternoon on the town.

On the daytrip

A rainy daytrip, with a cool waterfall

Hiking trips – Nadide Yildiz arranges some great trips. Some of them are just hiking off in a small town or wilderness reserve. Others are culturaly specific. We saw waterfalls, communed with trees and shrubs, and met great new friends. Either way, Nadide is a great hostess.

Great little restaurants on side streets – If you push out and explore you can find some great restaurants. Our favorite is a little fish place tucked between the Kizilay and Tunuli neighborhoods. It’s called Yesil Cam, named for the movie-making district of old Istanbul. Here the chef grills the fish on the street, and traditional mezes from tomato salad to lamb’s brains are brought to the table on a huge tray. The atmosphere is old Turkey. Musicians serenade you tableside with traditional Turkish folk music. If you’re there on the right magic night, you’ll see the patrons get up and dance on the sidewalk, shaking off the years with the help of the music and more than a little Raki. Akasha left a trail of her favorites on trip advisor if you want to try some restaurants off the main streets.

The Pazaars – foods, fleas, and anything you could want. We’ve been to the big food markets at Yuz Yil, Umitkoy, and many other locations in Ankara. Once a month an antique mall sets up in one of several rotating marketplaces, and you can sift through remnants of Turkey’s cultural history – comic books, movie posters, costume jewelry, vintage clothing, old tin toys – anything and everything. It’s like a pop-up museum, and everything’s for sale.

Game Cafes – scrabble, chess, backgammon, just not a lot of cards. You can play games, drink a cold beer or a hot nescafe, and play games all night long. If you are feeling like a super dork, try playing english scrabble with Turkish letter distributions.  Even without Q’s, it’s not easy – you get way too many vowels, especially u’s.

Ataturk's resting place

Ataturk’s resting place

The Anitkabir – This is a monument to the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He saved Turkey from being divided up by western powers after WWI, and laid the foundations for the Turkey that we know today. His picture remains a fixture in every office, restaurant, shop, and classroom in the country. This complex of polished stone and granite columns features a museum of his life, a history of his military exploits, and his final resting place. A proud, somber site, one of the few must-see attractions of the city he made the capital.

Finding not-Turkish food – Because Ankara really doesn’t have a lot of food that isn’t Turkish. And because Ankara has a big mall culture, with lots of the same chain restaraunts, when you find a unique restaurant it is really exciting. Some of our favorites have been Big Bang Burger, Wu Yang, and Cafe Linz.  Wu Yang is an east Asian restaurant with Chinese and Korean food. it can be great, if your order right.  I love the house made spicy tofu.  It is similar to Sundubu with fluffy clouds of tofu in a spicy sauce. Order a side of rice and kimchi to put yourself in Korea for the evening. Definitely show up with a group of 6-8 to get the circular table, order a variety of dishes, and share family style. Cafe Linz has delicious desserts like a house made chocolate souffle and sachre torte.

Street Dogs – Ankara has them. So does Istanbul and Izmir. Everywhere in Turkey are street dogs. For the most part they’re friendly, well-behaved, and cute, prefering to spend time napping in public squares to begging for snacks. They make for great local color. Several friends adopted them for house pets, and for a sweet friendly dog you couldn’t do better.

We could go on: Cheap taxis, friendly faces, simit carts, dondurma (ice cream), doner shops, walks in the wilderness, endless shopping caverns, crafting supplies, Ankara has it all, and with its own flair. But it’s time to move on.

Thank you Ankara for your hospitality. Now, we’re heading to Wroclaw, Poland next, as you probably know. We are going to continue blogging on this site, and plan to do so more frequently.

Thank you for reading, we’re happy you’ve joined us on the web or on the road.

Remember: Adventure is out there!

Spring in Ankara

We arrived here in August and it was hot, dry, and dusty. There were small, desert like flowers that blossomed in response to rain, but it was overwhelmingly brown.  Since winter ended it has been raining a little bit every day.  Now, spring is in bloom and there are blossoms everywhere.  Unfortunately, summer is coming.  The rain is slowing down and things are drying up quickly.  Here is a glimpse of what we saw this spring.

The cacti are blooming.  Most of the year this cactus looks like a scary cotton ball.  Now it is a beautiful purple flower.

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Remi and I took a hike with Jeff and Mavis last month we saw a lot of beautiful flowers and an amazing creek. We hiked 10K through many villages.  We saw cows out with cowherds. You know me, I like cows.

a cool creek

a cool creek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a lot of rain the last two months.  Our lojman is on top of the city.  One of the benefits is great views of rainbows.

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My classroom is very high up over campus and I noticed a falcon gliding everyday outside my classroom. Mike and I went exploring and we found the falcon’s nest.  I was able to bring my class out to see the nest and the parents were out hunting and bringing bites of flesh to the nest.  One day Mike and I found a fledgling about 500 meters from the nest.  We hope it got home okay.  Later, while walking the dog we saw the birds in flight training.  I had to do some serious zooming and cropping to make the birds visable, but you still need to click on the photos to identify the birds. Enjoy.

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It has been an interesting year getting adjusted to the Ankara environment. I am glad we finally got to see some green. Here is a little slide show of some of the greatness we have seen this spring.

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Flora & fauna

Remi gave us an edge up on exploring in Korea and again, he’s been helping us discover our neighborhood in Ankara.  We walk him at least twice a day and have taken big walks to new places every weekend we’ve been here.

Central Turkey is so different from the plains, deciduous forests, and coniferous forests of Minnesota and the coasts and mountains of Korea. I guess we’re calling it a high-plains grassland. It’s dry but with enough water to support a large variety of plants and fruits we’ve never seen before.

So, we’ve been taking pictures of the cool plants, flowers, and stuff in our new biome.  I am such a super dork that I decided to put together a little photo blog so that you could enjoy late summer in Ankara with us.  All photos were taken before the fall equinox.

Revise

Um, so… we didn’t post this and now it is winter. From our limited knowledge of Ankara weather; winter in Ankara has lots of hoarfrost.

We realize that we haven’t shared our address yet…

If you want to send us a post card, please send it to our home:

us

Bilkent Dogu Kampus Lodjmanlar Blok E-10

Bilkent, Ankara 06800

Turkey

If you want to send us an envelope or package please send it to:

me c/o

Bilkent Laboratory & International School

East Campus 06800

Bilkent, Ankara

Turkey

Sorry, we are behind in our postcard and present sending.

We hear that packages get slowed down at customs, often. It is better to send via DHL or UPS. Just a heads up.

We don know that if you send USPS they will transfer custody to TPT.  TPT took 6 weeks to deliver a USPS 5 day shipping package to us and they ripped the package to shreds.

Markets in Ankara

Stuff for sale

Stuff for sale

Markets in Turkey

You may remember our love of Korean markets – the open air, the fresh produce, the friendly people. Well, Turkey is just as enamored of its markets. And, because we’re in a bigger city, the markets are larger, more numerous, and more varied. So we’ve been having a field day heading out to various parts of town and stumbling on the great farmer style markets of Ankara.

We’ve discovered two large markets so far. One was in Ümitköy , the other in the Ulus neighborhood, just below the hilltop of the oldest temple site in Turkey. Both were bustling with activity. The Ümitköy market is in a newer development and next to two grocery stores, making it easy to finish the weekly shopping.  They have a regular market on Saturdays and an organic market on Sundays. The Ulus site, though was far larger and more crowded with multiple shops of every type. There was an area of bakeries, another of butchers, a section of deli meat, spices, clothes, tailors, all surrounding a central island of produce with every kind of fruit and vegetable you could imagine.

There was also a fish market where the merchants pulled out the red gills of the fish so you could see how fresh they were. Even the streets were full of merchants, in this case street vendors selling doners, breads, and desserts. I really wished I was a lot larger, and had nothing better to do all day but eat.

Outside the food market was the spice district – aisle after aisle of open bins filled with powders, leaves, stems, and rinds; anything that can make food taste better, it was here. And after wandering for a few blocks deep into the heart of the district, we found a quiet, peaceful cafe where we could sit in an open courtyard and have a cup of coffee or tea. We hope to go back every Sunday instead of the relatively sterile Real market, whose produce section can be less than thrilling after a day in an ‘real’as in ‘actual’ market.

Kızılcık fruit

Kızılcık fruit

We’re probably not done discovering new fruits and foods and new ways to cook them. There are the bright red kicilcik fruit, whose taste is tart, sweet, and unique, and there’s the green-skinned mandarin orange, with its delicate, almost flavorless taste. We’ve soaked dried peaches with raspberries for our morning oatmeal, and put fresh baby okra into our chicken stew. We also like the folded up pasta dish Manti and the thin walnut noodle known as köy erışteşi.

We could and probably will go on and on. It’s going to take us a while to get through all the new foods. If we have to finish our plates before we come home, we will be a while, folks.

A month in…

Here we are a month in to our stay in Ankara and one week in to the school year.

We’ve been fortunate to have our Korean and American neighbors, Daryl and Amanda, join us this weekend on their meander back to Korea.  Their visit has helped us to reflect on how much we’ve enjoyed the beginning.

Korean hospitality was fantastic.  Our Turkish neighbors have been bending over backwards to best our Korean experiences.  Daryl and Amanda Flew to Istanbul and caught the first bus to Ankara.  They guessed that they would arrive between 6-8 AM. They caught a bus right after their flight and arrived at 3:30 AM. Problem, they didn’t have our apartment number. They new our building, not our apartment… The campus security gaurds spent 1.5 hours figuring out who they were visiting, calling sleeping people and everything.  The security guys tried inviting them to nap in their home, but Daryl and Amanda were willing to sit on our stoop and wait for us to take Remi to the bathroom at 6:30 AM. They finally tracked us down and rang our doorbell at 5 AM and we tucked them in.

Saturday we took it easy.  We chilled out in the morning, went for a long walk with the dog, and found their guest apartment.  After tucking into their guest apartment we went exploring at the local mall and grocery store.  Finally we went to a neighborhood bbq, where we had burgers cooked on the grill and chips in the local Turkish flavor – yogurt and paprika.

Brunch at  Eğriçimen Restoran

Brunch at
Eğriçimen Restoran

First Thing Sunday, just like America, was a nice bruch. Turkish brunch, however, is a bit different. We had Pide bread, whipped cream, and honey right from the comb – it’s the best combination in the morning, ever. Combined with fruit, an egg and sausage bake, olives, and Turkish tea, and we were ready for the rest of our Sunday adventure. Want to see someone famous eat it? Watch Anthony Bourdain eat the same thing at 3:02 of this video, but watch the whole thing, ’cause all the food here is unbelievably delicious.

Kisilay Monument

Kizilay Monument

We went from here up to the Kizilay neighborhood of Ankara. This in one of Anakra’s old downtowns, where giant shopping centers are neighbor to streets lined with groceries and Doner Kebap places that stretch on for blocks. We found candy stores, cute clothes shops, and a wonderful little bookstore where three generations of men served us tea and helped us find Turkish children’s books. One of them is a writer, and he gave us his book as a business card for the store. On Fridays and Saturdays they have live music, so we hope to go back there soon for a relaxing evening.

Kizilay is a bustling, tree-lined, very middle-class feeling neighborhood. Ankara’s not an especially toursisty city, everyone is very kind about offering samples of the amazing food.

The future, revealed!

The future, revealed!

Later on we stopped at a coffee shop for traditional Turksish coffee. This involves a very finely ground bean that isn’t filtered out before you drink it, which leaves a big cake of grounds in the bottom of your cup that you shouldn’t drink even if you’re just curious about it. If you have the ability and believe in such things, you can tip the cup over and ‘read your future’ in the grounds. So we tried our hand at that as well.

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Examining a mystery fruit

Explorers

Exploring the Chapparal

Later we went for a hike in “the wilderness” that surrounds campus.  We are at 3,000 feet elevation in an arid climate and the closest biome I’ve found so far is chaparral. It definitely isn’t a desert.  We have all sorts of crazy beautiful plants and fruit trees growing around us, including very sour wild plums.   Mike and I have been hiking “the wilderness” for weeks and were happy to explore new terrain with friends.
In the end, we have a lovely, quiet visit exploring the town. Now they are on their way to Korea via southeast Asia.  Hope we get to see them again soon.

Lastly, I am sneaking in a plug for the awesome photo blog our friends around the world have been building with me.  We submit photos of our daily lives in Australia, Mexico, the Ukraine, Korea, Canada, America, Turkey, and traveling S.E. Asia. Check out what we post daily and join us if you’re up to it. Viewmaster365.

 

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