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.
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.
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.
|Truck stop salad bar
|Truck Stop Food?! Wow!
|The outskirts of Ankara
|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 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.
|The museum started with implements from the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages.
|Early tools from bone
|Side view of the earth mother goddess
|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
|Kultepe ceramics - around 3rd century B.C.
|Inandik cult vase depicting marriage scenes - Hittite era - 17th century B.C.
|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.
|Limestone relief of the God of War
from the city walls of the Hittite capitol, Boğazköy
|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.
|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.
|One of the many statues of Ataturk we saw in Turkey.
This one is in downtown Ankara.
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 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!
|The Ceremonial Plaza and Mausoleum of Ataturk
|One of the Guards
|The ceiling of the Ataturk Mausoleum
|The ceiling of the entry hall
|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 İnönü, the 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.
|Shepherds mind their flocks
|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
|This is a truck stop restroom!
|The ladies of our Tour
|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!