Fred´s Weekend in Ankara
Once again we’re off to visit Ankara and old friends. This could be our last visit ‘home’ before returning to the United States. We must leave our adopted Turkey in the next twelve months; sometime before July 2010.
As is our usual mode of transportation to Ankara – we have tickets on the night train (201 Lira round trip for two). Our dear friend and Turkish son, Kenan Ay, got our tickets and takes us to the train station. Our train is scheduled for departure at 7:35; we’re a little early but we love to people watch so we sit on the platform and await our train’s arrival. A number of trains come and go while we wait; they’re headed for Mersin, Diyarbakir, and other points east. We’re actually waiting for the Cukurova Mavi Train; Cukurova is the name of the region we live in (the plain around Adana) and Mavi is the color blue. Interestingly, the train itself isn’t blue at all but mostly white with red and blue stripes.
Here’s our train now; we find car five (It’s at the end of the train) and our porter comes to get our bags – we’re in compartment 11/12 (numbered by berth NOT cabin). We’re in the center of the sleeping car and we’re told the best place to be in the car; I’m not certain I know why that is, but I do not debate advice from my Turkish friends! I surmise it may have something to do with sway of the car or noise created by the doors between cars opening and closing constantly.
In our compartment now, we simply get comfortable; our train will leave shortly. I lean over and open the cabinet in front of us; I’m looking for snacks, there are two of each refreshment/snack inside: water, peach juice, crackers and candy bars. These are actually in a refrigerator, but it doesn’t function as such; it’s simply another cabinet within the cabinet in front of us. I no more than close the cabinet and straighten back up when our train begins moving out of the station; we’re leaving five minutes early.
Our porter stops by to ask about putting down our bunks and we tell him we intend to have dinner in the dining car and to wait until we go; while we’re there he can set up our compartment. He drops off two pairs of disposable train slippers and two small hand towels. We wait for the train to get well out of the station and then make our way into the next car for dinner. It’s only 20 minutes out of Adana and we’re stopping in Yenice as we get to our seats for dinner.
Carol asks for coke and I order mineral water to drink; we get the drinks almost immediately. Before our order is ready, I order another drink. I begin to wonder if our dinner was ordered; it seems to take forever. You must remember, I’m not a very patient individual and it doesn’t get better with age. Finally, here are our meals; along with them we get a basket of bread rolls (no Turkish bread) and a chopped salad with peppers that are way too hot! Our food is quite good and it’s hot, so it hasn’t been sitting out waiting on delivery. We enjoy it and spend nearly two hours in the dining car.
We’re not only enjoying dinner, but also the panorama of landscape slipping by the train making this a wonderful evening riding experience. We’re moving through countryside covered in crops; the last several fields have been corn and potatoes. Many fields of grain have been harvested and we’re passing burning stubble. We’re told they aren’t supposed to be burning fields anymore but they continue unabated. We now travel along side a stream meandering through the fields and the banks are covered in massive blooms of pink from oleander bushes. This is a lovely accent to the sun flower fields stretched out to the horizon.
There’s an olive grove with hundreds of trees and then a vineyard full of vibrant lush green vines; it’s a little past eight now and we still have plenty of light to admire the landscape as it slips by our window. We’re beginning to come into the foothills of the Taurus Mountains and more burnt stubble surrounds us. Here’s a flock of sheep just off the track, they must have just gotten across before the train and then more and more sunflowers fill our windows with bright yellow splendor. Here are more grapes reaching for the sky as the vines climb the surrounding hills. Oh, there goes our view; we’re passing a freight train on a siding. As quickly as it blocked our view it’s gone. This reminds me of all the folks behind the scenes working to keep eight, ten or even twelve trains moving on the same tracks constantly without any crashing into one another.
Our porter is walking around in the dining car now so we trust he’s completed his work in our compartment. The dining car is filling with evening dinners as well. Boy, the peppers in our salad seem to get hotter with each bite; my tongue is not real happy, we decide to simply eat around them. We're still enjoying our dinner as our day fades away and our car is consumed by darkness. The lighting in the car makes any further views outside next to impossible.
I’m watching the cook in the kitchen as we gently sway on the tracks; he’s throwing things out the window just above his workspace and it doesn’t seem to matter what it is. There are large windows on the train and they are divided horizontally about ¾ of the way to the top. That small top portion of window pulls in toward you; he’s using it for a garbage disposal. He has disposed of vegetable peelings, packaging from boxes of ingredients (instant soup envelopes), used napkins and other things he simply wants to discard. We’ve just changed tracks and we’re stopping; ah ha, there’s another train, this time passing us. It’s too dark now to tell what kind of train but it sounds like freight. I know, you’re thinking how does he know that; well after a number of years riding the trains here, the different ones have distinct sounds as they hurl past.
That was a long train, we’ve waited nearly 20 minutes here and now we’re slowly moving on. The dining car is so bright with the four banks of lights above that seeing outside has become increasingly difficult. We’re climbing now though and I can hear the strain on the engine as the massive diesel groans to keep us moving. We’ve finished our dinner and ask to settle our bill but the waiter brushes me off and suggests I simply pay at breakfast. We head back to our compartment for the evening.
We slide the door open to our compartment and decide to sit up for a while to watch the world go by. We flip the bottom bunk back into its place against the back wall and sit in the seats below it. We’ve turned the lights out inside and there’s just a hint of faint glow outside so we can see shapes and some landscape. There are a few stars but the moon, if out there, must be on the other side of the train because we can’t see it from our window. We sit and talk and enjoy the gentle roll of the car and the hiss of the steel below our feet as the train makes slight adjustments on the tracks. After another hour we flip the bunk back into place and I climb above as Carol reclines below, good night.
It’s 6 am; the sun has burst into our compartment around the drawn curtain, trying desperately to fill the space with our new morning. Carol is still out and I let her sleep while I simply crack open the drape to peer out into the new day; we’re on the central plain still several hours from Ankara. OK, that was too much, Carol is awake now and since she is we freshen up and head for the dining car. Several passengers have gotten here ahead of us. We order Turkish breakfast as we pass the bar outside the kitchen and take a seat.
We continue our breakfast as the train once again begins to move. Just out of the village we begin to see this beautiful river snaking through the landscape. First we’re next to it then it’s moved off well across a field. It’s a lovely addition to our visual spectacle of nature’s rural generosity of living murals. The water is placid, creating a mirror finish that reflects the surrounding landscape back toward us and doubling the number of trees we see. The hillsides along here are blue/green with copper deposits and then there are outcroppings of rock that’s red with iron deposits. Now the riverbank is silver/green with olive trees so thick we can scarcely see the water.
Here’s the four-lane highway, the main road between Ankara and points south. The highway has come between the river and us. Stopping again now, this is Irmak and now we’re an hour and a half out of Ankara. Moving on, we come to Kiricer and then Kurbagali and finally Elmadag; love this last one (elma is apple and dag is mountain). It’s 8:30 now and the porter says we’ll be in Ankara at 9 or 9:15. As we descend from Elmadag, the landscape is awash with wildflowers in a spectrum of colors, brilliant yellow, soft pink, royal violet, sky blue and radiant red poppies dominate. There is field after field of grain devastated by rain; the crop is going to be a challenge for harvesters as it has been beaten down.
We’re approaching our goal now, first we pass Kayas, then Topkaya, Uregil, Bagdersi, Mamak and yes; Ankara station is just ahead, we arrive at 9:25. What a wonderful adventure thus far and we’ve so many visits to make in Ankara. We collect our bags and depart the train, giving our porter a tip; he looked after our needs while we were aboard. We walk down the platform and descend the stairs to the tunnel under the tracks and ascend the other side to the station.
Once through the station we get a taxi and head off to our hotel; we stay at the King Guvenlik. The King staff has always been extremely hospitable and the location is perfect for us. Their brochure says “a central but silent location,” very true; we’ve enjoyed each of our visits here in the past. It’s only ten o’clock when we reach the hotel and inside our friend Tuna stands to greet us from behind the counter. He immediately picks up the phone to check room availability since we’re early for check-in. We have a reservation, but being early Tuna wants to be sure there’s a room clean and ready for occupancy. (If not, we will simply leave our bags in their cloakroom and start our visits in the city.) Tuna hangs up the phone and reaches for a key from those behind him; he hands the key to the porter (we thank him) and off we go to the elevator and up to our room.
We thank the porter verbally and with a tip as he departs our room. We decide to freshen up since we have a room and also take the time to unpack and hang up our clothes. After about an hour we descend to the front desk and ask for them to get us a taxi. We step out of the hotel and wait on the sidewalk for the cab. In minutes we’re on our way to Saman Pazaar, the old city market area. Our first stop is A & Z Bazaar to see our old friend Atilla Torun. Atilla insists that we sit and he orders tea, we talk about children and grandchildren and what our lives have been and what we hope they will be. Our conversation takes us back in time, talking about the 1980s and Atilla’s old shop and then into the future as we tell Atilla this will probably be our last visit to Ankara while we’re still living in Adana. After tea and wonderful reminiscences, Carol begins looking through the pottery in a case at the front of the shop. I have found some lovely new canes and decide I have to have one – my collection must have twenty by now but one more can’t hurt, HaHaHa. Carol has selected eight of the small pottery bowls and we pay for our pieces. We decide to get a couple photos and we wish Atilla the very best in the coming years – we talk about aging as we leave but insist we’ll see each again!
I can’t help but loose myself, as Carol and Ihsan talk together of children and grandchildren. My mind wonders back in time to the old shop when we met Ihsan that first time; his shop was across the street from this one and it was a quarter the size of this shop. It was very sparsely stocked with old copper plates, bowls, colanders, teapots, samovars and brass pieces. He still has many of those same kinds of things but his shop now is flooded with them; business is going well. Ihsan brings me back from my dream with a question; I tell him, yes, Adana is very hot and I still prefer Ankara. Our drinks come and we sit talking, as we enjoy the whole idea of being with a good old friend and remember the old days. Well, again, we must be off to visit other friends in the neighborhood, but before we head out we get a neighbor shop owner to take a photo. Ihsan has a photo of the three of us from the eighties under the glass on his desk; we repeat the same pose and we’ll be sure he gets the new photo later.
We’re off up the stairs just outside of Ihsan’s shop to visit one more place further up the hill; Gallery Z. Our friends Fatma and Yetki Tuna own the gallery and like Atilla and Ihsan we’ve know each other for over 25 years now. We step into the gallery and Yetki meets us half way in; Fatma is in the back somewhere and Yetki shouts back to her, come see who have come today. Yetki motions for us to sit down and we join him in a corner in what looks like a living room. Minutes later Fatma comes out and we stand to greet and be greeted; she immediately insists we’re staying for lunch. We protest to no avail and are told it’s wonderful that we’ve stopped just now because lunch was just beginning and we MUST stay to join them. We have a very lovely salad, grilled chicken breast and ayran to drink.
As with our visits to Atilla and Ihsan we talk about family and business. Yetki tells us of the city's restoration project in the area – he’s very pleased the city has taken an interest in restoring old Ankara and looks for more to come. We noticed all of the restoration immediately after we got out of the taxi; fresh new paint and new shutters abound. We realize how important all this is but at the same time it truly detracts from the old character of the place. Now when you have to pay those higher prices you look around and acquiesce because you know the cost of restoration is twofold; you get to pay more and the ancient buildings get a new lease on life. Very little of the 1980s still exists in this part of Ankara; I believe it all began with the fire we witnessed in the 1990s. After that fire devastated a goodly portion of this area, progress and modernization moved in with a vengeance.
Here’s Fatma with plates and a pitcher of ayran; she fills each plate and hands one to Carol and then one to me. We enjoy both the lunch and the conversation. Yetki asks when we met originally and we think back to the first shop they had on Cinnah Caddesi in Cankaya in the early 1980s and decide it must have been 1983. Fatma tells us we must have been among her first customers. We simply remember how wonderful the old shop was, how we used to stop by and be drawn in for refreshments. Every new gallery exhibit was an adventure in leaning; we enjoyed the social atmosphere and how we would meet many of the artists. Much of our watercolor collection is from their old shop.
Old friends make for a wonderful visit and walking away is always difficult but we never say goodbye because fate has a way of bringing us together again. We had no way of knowing back in the 80s that we would live two more times in Turkey; fate brought us that reality. There’s a wonderful Turkish word for fate; kismet – we leave from each of our friend’s visits and we think – kismet. We spend several hours with Fatma and Yetki but must get going; we want to visit the fairly new Koc Museum up the street.
At the top of the steps we begin to see the displays; we move into the first room and find glass cases of model trains. Some of these are meticulously engineered replicas of the old jewels of train travel; others are simply boxed commercial toys. We move from room to room around the upper level; from the train models to other toys, then radios, televisions, typewriters, cameras, projectors and a multitude of other inventions moving from the early 20th century through today. From trains, to boats and ships; all the way through jet air travel. Everything is well displayed and has English subtitles for us ‘single’ language speakers. HaHaHa
We’ve made our way completely around the upper level and return to the stairs that brought us up here. We descend and once more the guard lady directs us – I’m not sure I like that, but go as directed. This is the level where we entered and we circle it in the opposite direction from what we did above. There are large industrial pumps and other equipment to begin these displays. We round the first corner and come into a room filled with dental equipment, the next medical/pharmaceutical displays. Across the hall from these outer rooms is a replica of Mr. Koc’s general store. Then we see vacuums, a small delivery truck and other displays. The one item that especially catches my eye is the 1918 Model T Ford. It appears to be in very nice shape and obviously runs or at least appears to be in running condition.
We come to the back of the building on this side and have to retrace our steps; once back to the entry stair we head down this other side to see the exhibits. Here we find many examples of the bicycle from old two wheelers with the huge front wheel to sixties model Germany bikes. There are baby buggies in the next room and other wonderful old era displays. Again, I would highly recommend a visit here if your time permits; we enjoyed it. After reviewing the brochure more thoroughly later in the day, we learned of a basement exhibit. I was a little disappointed in that revelation because this lady guard kept directing our movements but never made any indication there was a lower floor to be seen – apparently we missed a carpet display!
Carol and I go to our room and drop our purchases and then spend some quiet time on the hotel patio having refreshments. Carol and I talk about our day with friends and talk about how we would love to buy a flat right here around the corner and simply live forever! There’s a wonderful cool breeze coming across the patio and Carol goes off with the camera – she’s snapping photos of pigeons as they fly into get water from the pool. One after the other, there must be six, eight, or ten landing and then flying off again. Carol brings the camera over and she has some lovely shots of the birds dunking their heads and preening about the edge of the pool.
As time for dinner approaches, we go to our room and freshen up; as we come out of the elevator and round the corner toward the front desk; Nur Bey is sitting in the lobby. There are warm greetings all around and we leave to walk the short distance together. At the restaurant we get a table by an open window and wait for Cengis Bey to join us. Our wait is short and we stand as Cengis comes into the dining room – again warm greetings all around. We order dinner and have a wonderful conversation about families and work and our futures. We draw out dinner as long as we dare enjoying every minute in the company of old and dear friends. On the walk out front of the restaurant we bid each other good evening and talk of when we shall meet again. Carol and I walk back to the hotel and call it a night.
It’s morning, I’ve slept later than Carol, that’s quite unusual but no matter; I pull myself together and we go down stairs for breakfast. This is a plentiful display and we both graze as we wish. After our leisurely meal we decide to walk the streets into our old neighborhood. We walk for well over an hour from our hotel up nearly to the top of Cinnah Caddesi to Kirkpinar, our old apartment street; we lived here in the 1980s. The old neighborhood continues to evolve, we don’t see a whole lot that we remember even though all the buildings are the same many of the shops we used on a daily basis (vegetable shop, hair dresser, dry goods store) have gone. The dry cleaner appears to be all that’s left of our little shops. Life does move on, doesn’t it?
We drop down from Kirkpinar to Burumcuk and look at our apartment building from the 1990s; interesting, our old apartment has a ‘for rent’ sign in the window; maybe we should think more seriously about living here again. I decide to go to the door and look at the names on the buzzers; sure enough our old neighbor Guler Phillips is still listed. Guler is an English professor and taught for many years for the University of Maryland. When the American population was high here she taught at the American air station. I press the buzzer, I wait, nothing, I press once more and again wait; Ah, there, the door latch snaps and we enter the building.
We begin the climb to the head of the stairs, Guler’s flat is at the very top. When we lived in the building we lived a level below Guler on the other side of the building. Here, finally, at the door I knock gently and in a moment Guler is staring out a crack in the door. I seconds she recognizes her visitors and throws the door open and stretches her arms out wide for a hug. We’ve not seen Guler in fifteen years and we all have changed, me most of all. We visit with Guler for nearly three hours and go over lost ground until we’re fully caught up on all the years; it’s truly fascinating, once we sat down it’s like our conversation simply started where it ended so many years ago. Before we leave we get photos and talk of phone calls and keeping in better touch.
We’re out of the station at 8:10 and we go only a short distance and are stopped. There’s the hold up; we were waiting on a commuter to clear from our track. We make our way to the dining car now for a late dinner. My lack of language skills has gotten me into trouble now, it seems we wait forever to be served and Carol gets frustrated because I get frustrated over the wait. The waiter ask about drinks and I thought I’d asked for soda but Carol believes the guy heard sonra (that means later) and he is simply waiting for us to call him back.
Oh well, it gets sorted and Carol orders korfte and I get a couple different salads and a bowl of soup. These tracks must be new, the train is jumping around on them and it makes the ride quite rough. The other challenge I see with getting dinner is that the kitchen is not prepared at all for orders; one would think the set-up would be taken care of BEFORE the train pulls away from the station. Minor irritation, we’re on our way and all is well. We’ve finished our dinner and head back to our compartment -–good night.
I wake up just outside of Ulukisla and peer out the window; it looks to be a beautiful morning. I roll back over because Carol is still sleeping and as I do the train stops. Once again I peek out and we’re at the station in Ulukisla. We’re stopped only a few minutes and off again. It feels as though we’re really flying down the tracks now and then we slow to stop again; this time in Gumus. This stop brings Carol to consciousness and we make our way to the dinning car. This is June 21st, the longest day of the year. We make ourselves comfortable and order Turkish breakfast; in minutes we have our meals and relax to eat and watch the landscape.
The countryside along the rails here is filled with wonderful views of orchards, patches of brilliant red poppies, massive stands of popular trees and a stream. We’re tucked into a valley now between two ranges of mountains within the Taurus Mountain range. Without craning one’s neck it’s quite difficult to see the peaks to our west but the jagged rock outcroppings to the east are crying out for a canvas. It’s panoramic views like this valley offers that make me envy anyone who can put brush to canvas and capture the magnificence of it all. Here’s our first tunnel, there will be many now as we wind through this valley and crisscross the road and the stream.
Here we have one tunnel after another; we get a momentary glimpse of mountain valley and sheer cliff and then back into the next tunnel. The glimpses I describe cannot be fully imagined with my words alone and a photograph is extremely difficult to achieve. Once we’re out of the mountains we’re rolling down onto the plains of Adana and before we know it we’re pulling into the station; another wonderful weekend on the train; visiting friends and enjoying life in an awesome country. Thanks for joining us; we’re glad you could share a little of our adopted home with us!
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