Day 8: Capadocia/Ankara
While we were all sad to leave Capadocia, it was time to travel on to the capitol city of Ankara. Ataturk made this city the capitol in the 1920’s, in an attempt to draw more focus to the poorer, rural Eastern part of the country. Ankara is a modern city, recognizable as a capitol and very Western in general. Our first stop was to the mausoleum of the famous Mustaf Kemal Ataturk, beloved hero of the Turkish people and creator of the modern republic. A hero of the Gallipoli campaign in WWI, Ataturk quickly rose to prominence as an insightful, modernist leader that was able to pull Turkey into the modern age, even after a near death blow from the Allies when Turkey found itself on the losing side of the war. Ultimately, he took a defeated, demoralized, poor theocratic monarchy and reshaped it into a modern, progressive, democratic secular republic, most of this done by riding town to town on horseback and spreading his vision.
As a hero, Ataturk is revered, and this is none more clear than when you visit his mausoleum. It is an incredible structure, built on the top of a hill overlooking the capitol city. Built from marble and stone, it is a modern Great Building, unlike anything built in recent history to celebrate a man. Gold mosaics line the ceilings, with painted, gilded reliefs high overhead in between the enormous marble columns. It is an impressive structure, and highly visible at night when it is lit up and visible from all over the city.
After visiting such an impressive structure, we headed over to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. The museum contains an impressive collection of antiques, ancient pottery, jewelry, artwork, and stone work from 7500 BC. Much of this work was from the Hittites, amazing artisans with distinctive a distinctive style (such as the curvy toed boots common to their culture).
Late that afternoon we stayed overnight at the modern business-style Radisson SAS Hotel. Offering all the amenities expected by Western and European travelers, this was a great place for us to check email, connect with family and relax in the upscale atmosphere.
Day 9: Ankara/Bursa
Leaving early the following morning, FLO-USA took us to Bursa to visit the ancient city of Gordion, resting place of King Midas. But first, we stopped in at the Gordion Museum, another great collection of ancient pottery, artifacts coins and statuary found in the area. King Midas’ tomb was quite interesting: one of many “hills” created by piling up small fist-sized rocks and hollowed out to house the remains of the King, as well as many of the treasures seen in the museum. Due to common theft, the actual locations of these were disguised, the tomb not places centrally but off to one side to foil attempts at pilfering. King Midas burial chamber was lined with enormous, thousand year old cedar trees, still very much intact and supporting his mausoleum.
Arriving in the Bursa area for lunch, we passed through crumbling old streets and beautiful buildings; many of the streets were so narrow it seemed impossible to pass, but after a few careful maneuvers, our driver dropped us off in the central town square. Seemingly old and poor at first to Western eyes, this is actually a very well-to-do area of Turkey. Lunch was, as usual, delicious, consisting of the local specialty, Iskender Kebap, thinly sliced lamb with tomato sauce and browned butter poured on top.
Here, we had some free time to take photos, shop, look at ceramics and the myriad local cats that are so friendly they come right up and polish your ankles in hopes of a scratch. Our guide, Yesim, has family here: her niece, 8-year-old Gizem joined us for the afternoon adding a bit of spice the trip and a clear indicator of the importance of family to the average Turk (Yesim could not stop talking about her, and was clearly as excited as Gizem). After lunch, we ventured over to the Green Mosque (ca. 1492), so-named due to the beautiful tile work covering most of the interior surfaces. Another beautiful example of Seljuk-Turkish influenced work it is covered in gold inlay and beautiful paintings adorning the domed ceiling.
Later that day, we checked in to the Almira Hotel, a very nice spot with modern amenities and comfortable rooms. Dinner was perhaps not the best tasting of the trip (don’t get me wrong"”it was very, very good, although we did have specialties in other places that bested it in terms of specific flavors), but by far the best presentation and sheer choice; fruits and vegetables were carved into intricate designs, and every dish was decorated like a work of art. It was hard to be the first to disassemble the lovely bowls of rice dishes, lamb and various tasty Turkish treats, but we were hungry after a long day touring the countryside. For dessert, we celebrated the (early) birthday of one of our group, Chris; the moment was very special, and Chris was not only surprised but I think very moved by how tight-knit our group had become, and how affable Yesim was in setting all of this up for her. It was a great way to end the major portion of our trip, as the following day we made the final push back to Istanbul for our final travels in Turkey.
The Last Day
Back to Istanbul, and back to the Akgun Hotel for another night. Anyone traveling with the standard package tour was leaving the following morning; a few extended their stay, as some had planned from the beginning to stay on and catch the solar eclipse or just do more exploration of Istanbul.
I struck out with a group of six others, and we spent the day wandering around the open stalls of the Spice Market, the Grand Bazaar, and the waterfront, where we dined on fish sandwiches and lemon. Returning to the Topkapi Palace, we toured the Sultans personal residence and the harem, where, in over 200 rooms, his concubines (and mother!) lived and plotted. It was a beautiful day, and gave a clear reason to return to Istanbul, and Turkey alike: there is just so much to see and do!
The final morning we all boarded a FLO-USA bus, said our goodbyes to our wonderful guides (all of whom were scrambling to accommodate a group of eclipse-watchers from NASA). Packed and ready for the long trip home, we navigated the somewhat confusing Istanbul Airport, loaded on to the place for our trip home, memories of the landscapes, culture and welcoming nature of the Turks fresh in our minds.
Hospitality in Turkey is very important. The people of this diverse, ancient culture understand the importance of family and readily extend this feeling out to tourists and guests alike. It is a wonderful place to visit and explore, a place I will surely return to. Traveling with leisurely holiday, Flotours made this experience not a but an intellectual cultural experience. I could not have seen as much or learned as much had I done this trip solo, and the price would easily have doubled. The contact we had with our guides families and personalized attention was not only different but truly made us feel like a family, giving a glimpse into the importance of relationships in this unique Euro-Asian culture. In true Turkish tradition, the representatives of Flotours truly made us all feel “Most Welcome.”