Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Turkey Tour - Part 4: Adventures in Ankara

Wednesday, April 1

After spending a fragrant morning shopping in Istanbul's famed Spice Market, our tour group crossed the Bosporus Strait and stepped off of our boat and into Asia.  We had a long bus trip ahead of us - six hours to Turkey's capital city, Ankara.  The commuter traffic was heavy as we drove along the attractively decorated highways of the Asian side of Istanbul, but soon we were out of the huge city and looking at the agricultural valleys and high mountain ranges that make up much of the landscape.
Floral designs along the highway out of Istanbul
The Turkish Tulip

The Turkish countryside from the bus window

Our tour guide, Mert, gave our first bus lecture, his "Turkey 101" talk.
Our fearless leader, Mert, gives his Turkey 101 lesson.
As with all his very informative lessons, there was simply too much to remember all of it, but here are a few interesting tidbits - (and, no, I don't have a great memory.  I took notes!)

Turkey has a population of 80 million people, which is made up of 24 different ethnicities - with 24 languages spoken here!  These include Kurdish, Arabic, Assyrian Christians who still speak Aramaic, Russian, and many more.

Although this is an ancient land, the modern republic of Turkey is a young country, both in age and in the age of its population.  65% of the people are under 35 years old, and 50% are under 25 years old.  There was a big baby boom in the 1990's when the country experienced especially good economic growth.

Agriculture is the biggest industry of Turkey.  (We saw lots of evidence of this in our travels through the country - huge fields of cultivated crops, including cotton, pistachios and other nuts, olives, and much more.) Turkey has the capability of growing enough food to feed its entire population without relying on any imports.

The education system is excellent, with compulsory education for 12 years.  (You can be jailed for not sending your children to school.)  80 to 90% of the schools are state-run, so education is available to everyone.  It costs $180 per year for a university education at a state university if you pass the entrance exams and have good high school grades.  60% of university students are female and many women have entered the business work force in the last 20 years, although there are still few women serving in the government.

Students in Turkey spend two years focusing on learning English, as it is the international business language.  92% of Turks are literate - by far the highest percentage of all Islamic nations.

Turkey has a huge military budget, in part because of their radical neighbors and all of the unrest in countries that touch their borders.  They have the fifth largest military force in the world with two million active soldiers.  Service of eighteen months is compulsory for young men at twenty years old.  Men with a college degree serve as officers for fifteen months.  Mert said something that I have often thought myself...It is wonderful to love your country, but strong nationalism can be a dangerous and divisive thing.

Is there anything Mert doesn't like about his country?  Yep!  He says that 80% of the adults are "walking chimneys."  To this California girl, it was rather astonishing to see the number of people smoking.  It is a rare sight back home any more.

Mert also related an amusing story from his own life.  He was a guide for several companies.  One day, as he was giving a talk in front of some building, his tour group was joined by a tall, "goofy looking" (Mert's words - not mine!) red haired guy.  Mert was thinking to himself, "Great...another freeloader trying to get in on my tour without paying," when some of the people in his group noticed the newcomer and started whispering and pointing, "Rick! Rick!"

"Who is this Rick?" thinks Mert.  Well, it turns out that Rick Steves was eavesdropping on the lecture to see if Mert was up to the job of being a tour guide for Rick Steves Tours.  Yes, he was - and he has been working for RST ever since.
Rob and I met Rick Steves several years ago at the Los Angeles Travel Show.
My narrative doesn't convey well how fun and fascinating our bus lectures were.  The information was interspersed with anecdotes, jokes, and Mert's signature phrases, "That's an important thing," and "That's an interesting thing."

After our lesson, there was plenty of time for napping and for interviewing our "buddy,"  We each partnered up with another tour member to get to know them and introduce them to the others, and to be prepared for a "buddy check" whenever we departed to a new destination.  I enjoyed getting to know my buddy, Ben.  He and his wife Sharon are fellow Californians, and Rob and I hope to get together with them again in the future!
Susan and Rob nap on the long bus trip.
During the long drive, we had two breaks at Turkish truck stops along the very modern highway.  Wow!  The truck stops here put ours at home to shame.  The lunch buffet was a beautiful sight - a long counter with a very fresh salad bar, homemade soups, a variety of hot dishes, and desserts.
Truck stop salad bar

Truck Stop Food?!  Wow!
My first impressions of Ankara were not particularly great.  It is a big sprawling city, with modern buildings, but the landscape is not lovely.  Apartment buildings cover big brown hills with few trees or other greenery.
The outskirts of Ankara
It seemed surprising that Ankara, rather than Istanbul, should be the capital city of Turkey, but this ancient city stood along the trade routes of the middle ages - and was populated for centuries prior to that.  Mustafa Kemal Ataturk led the Turkish War of Independence from here following World War I, and chose this as the site of the new republic's capitol in 1923.  The city now has a population of over four million.  We arrived during rush hour, and it felt as if most of that population had joined us on the road as we slowly crawled through the city to the Otel Tunali, a nice modern business hotel in the heart of downtown.

Ankara rush hour traffic seen through the curtains of the back of our bus
We would see the original of this sculpture in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations the next day.

Otel Tunali and the first of two Starbucks on our tour.

We were on our own for dinner, so Rob and I went to a kebab restaurant just across the street from the hotel, and then settled in for a good night of sleep after our long day.

Thursday, April 2

We woke to very grey and drizzly skies.  After the hotel's breakfast buffet, we loaded our bags on the bus and set out for our Ankara adventures.  The morning's excursion turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.  We drove into the hills, past a very old neighborhood, and came to our first stop, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations - and what a marvelous museum it is!

The old neighborhood on the hills surrounding the museum

Entrance of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
The building itself is historic and beautiful.  It is housed in the Kurşunlu Hanone of the covered markets of the 15th century which served as one of the inns or caravanseri along the Silk Road.  Under the huge vaulted stone ceiling were thousands of artifacts gathered from archaeological digs representing every era in Turkish history.


The interior of the museum

Jean, one of our tour members, is Korean.  Ankara is a sister city with a city in Korea,
and this young lady had a chance to practice her Korean with Jean as we were waiting
to enter the museum.
Mert gave us an orientation talk, then we had ample time to explore the museum on our own.The photos below highlight just some of the many artifacts on display.
The museum started with implements from the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages.
Early tools from bone
One of the great treasures of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations -
This terracota earth mother goddess comes from the excavations at Çatalhöyük, the second oldest city in the world!
It dates from circa 5750 B.C.  She is associated with both agricultural and human fertility.
Side view of the earth mother goddess
This mural painting, also from Çatalhöyük and dated at 6,000 B.C., is believed by some to depict
Mount Hasan, the tall volcano that sits behind the ancient city.  If that interpretation is correct,
then it is considered to be the world's first city plan!
Diagram of the mural painting above
There were many bronze and gold artifacts from the Bronze age and the Hittite Period
Hittite Sun Disk from Alaca Höyük
Bronze ceremonial standard of the Hittites.
This was the original sculpture of the huge statue we saw as we entered the city.
Hittite bronze ceremonial standard from Alaca Höyük
Female figure in gold
The museum also held ceramic work from many different eras.
Ceramic vessel

Kultepe ceramics - around 3rd century B.C.
Inandik cult vase depicting marriage scenes - Hittite era - 17th century B.C.
Ceramic vessels
Bowl and vessel with a pouring lip and a strainer.
From excavations of Gordion, 9th century B.C.
A shoulder pitcher.  We saw colorful versions of these being sold as tourist gifts all around Turkey.
The museum also held a large collection of massive stone sculptures from the Hittites and the Assyrian Trade Colonies.
Limestone relief of the God of War
from the city walls of the Hittite capitol, Boğazköy
Stone Lion

This Assyrian statue of King Mutallu (1200 - 700 B.C.) dwarfs my very tall husband.

Hittite era sphinx pedestal

Sphinx pedestal from the side

Assyrian stone relief
Cybele - the earth mother goddess who may have arisen from the earth mother seen earlier in this post.
There were more artifacts displayed on the grounds outside of the museum.
Eagle sculpture near the entrance to the museum



The columns were covered with Greek and Roman inscriptions.

These huge urns filled the gardens of the Museum

Yes, this is what it looks like - a phallic symbol.

Cats continued to greet us in every part of Turkey.
This pretty cat was sitting in the gardens of the Museum.
By the time we left the museum, the rain was coming down in earnest.  As we headed for our next stop, Anitkabir (the Ataturk Mausoleum), Mert provided a short history of the life of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first president of modern Turkey.
One of the many statues of Ataturk we saw in Turkey.
This one is in downtown Ankara.
Ataturk was a remarkable man.  He had been a military officer during World War I and led his troops to victory in the Battle of Gallipoli. The Ottoman Empire fought on the losing side in the war, but when the allied forces tried to divide up the nation following the war, Mustafa Kemal led the Turkish War of Independence, successfully defeating the allied forces and serving as the first President of the new Turkish state.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this man to the development of modern Turkey.  As president, he established a secular nation and abolished the caliphate.  He instituted universal education and set up museums to protect the archaeological treasures of Turkey.  He championed equal rights for women.  He encouraged his people to adopt western clothing and to embrace the modern world.  He adopted the Latin alphabet for the Turkish language.  His foreign policy motto was "Peace at home, peace in the world."  In 1934, he was honored with the name Ataturk, or Father of the Turks.  He continues to be highly revered here.  We saw his statue and various memorials to him all throughout our Turkey travels.

Our bus arrived at Ataturk's Mausoleum, which sits on Rasattepe, or Observation Hill, a high hill that can be seen from all places in the city.  Under our canopy of umbrellas, our group walked up the stone stairs past two groups of statues.
Our group approaches the Ataturk Mausoleum
On our left were the statues of three men, representing a Turkish soldier, a Turkish student, and a Turkish peasant.

On the right, the women of the nation are represented.  The women hold a wreath symbolizing the abundance of the country.

The long approach to the mausoleum is the Lion Road, an impressive walkway lined by statues of lions carved in the style of the Hittites.
The Lion Road

and a rainy walk along the way!
At the end of the road, we emerged into the huge Ceremonial Plaza and the Hall of Honor, which is the site of Ataturk's tomb.  A wall along the stairs to the Hall of Honor is carved with reliefs echoing the art of earlier people of the region. The honor guard soldiers stood at attention inside waterproof compartments.
The Ceremonial Plaza and Mausoleum of Ataturk



One of the Guards
The enormous interior of the mausoleum reflects the arts of Turkey with a beautiful decorated ceiling of red and gold.
The ceiling of the Ataturk Mausoleum
The ceiling of the entry hall
The ceiling above the large sarcophogus is decorated with a gold mosaic replica of a Turkish carpet.  The huge stone room provides a sense of solemnity, and the visitors walked silently past the tomb, paying their respects to Ataturk.
The ceremonial sarcophagus of Ataturk.
His body actually rests below this.
Over the tomb is a mosaic of a Turkish carpet

Just as in the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials in Washington, D. C., there were engravings of some of the most important speeches of Ataturk, as well as a tribute from İsmet İnönüthe man who replaced him as president after his death in 1938.

Transcription of Ataturk's message
Inonu's message upon the death of Ataturk

The afternoon was filled with another long bus trip with more time for napping. We had reached the high flat steppes that cover much of central Turkey.  The mountain water above the plains flow inland with no place to go, so they have formed huge salty lakes.  Several times we saw shepherds herding flocks of sheep along the shores of the lakes.
Lake Van
Shepherds mind their flocks
Our dinner was at Kebabistan, a little restaurant overlooking one of these lakes, where the waiters presented trays of various kebab selections.

It was hard to choose a kebab from these tasty selections!

Rob, Sharon, and Ben (who was my tour "buddy.")

Kathy, Eileen, Patty, and Allen

Jane and Jim (Rob's tour buddy) and Ted and Pat

Bobby and Peng, Debbie, and Jean

Cindy and Matt, Susan, and Judie
Our final rest stop of the day was another great truck stop with the most gorgeous bathroom.  In fact, it was so glamorous that we ladies decided this was a great place for a group photo!

This is a truck stop restroom!

The ladies of our Tour
This seems like the best place to talk about the Turkish bathrooms.  All of our hotels during our tour were equipped with modern plumbing, although even the hotels asked us to put any and all paper products into the waste basket.  Most public restrooms for women offered a choice of a modern toilet or a "squat toilet."  And a few of the smaller towns offered only the latter!  Another cultural adventure.
A frequent request in both public restrooms and hotel rooms!

Sometimes this was the only option!

At the end of our long day, we arrived in the magical landscape of Cappadocia, my favorite region of Turkey.
A camel of Cappadocia

Rob and Joan looking forward to their Cappadocia adventures!
Stay tuned for the next episode!





5 comments:

Matt said...

Im so glad you took notes! Thanks to your writing and Robs photos I am reliving that wonderful trip. Thank you.

Sarah said...

Another amazing post!! Why was the statue of the woman (the three holding the wreath) covering her eyes? And even though the squat toilets are tough, they're actually better for your body, if your joints can handle the squat! Heehee. Thanks for all your detail and great photos, Joan!

Joan Lindsay Kerr said...

Sarah, here is the statement from the Wikipedia entry on Ataturk's Mausoleum regarding the statue of the women:
"In front of the Independence Tower, there is a statue group of three women in Turkish national costumes. The two women at the sides are holding a large wreath reaching to the ground. This wreath, made up of grain sheaves, represents the abundant country. The woman on the left with a cup in her stretched-out hand is asking for God's compassion. The woman in the middle, covering her face with her hand, is crying. This group represents the pride of Turkish women, and their solemnity and determination even in grief and hardship."

And yes, I have been told that the squat toilets are better for you! Just takes a little getting used to!

Tina Welter said...

Another great post Joan! I loved the story about how Mert met Rick Steves. We didn't have time to go see the Ataturk Mausoleum, so I really appreciated your pictures and descriptions.

I had to smile at seeing the squat toilets. We had to take a picture too, I can only imagine what the Turkish folks must think of our obsession of photographing their toilets ;0!

Dreena Lindsay said...

Joan, loved the photos and comments. I am in awe that you had the presence of mind to take photos as you traveled and the memory to relate their importance or meaning! Thank you for sharing. ~~ Dreena