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A Walk in Ankara

 Untitled Document

The following is Birsen Karaloğlu's walk in Ankara with her guests in May 2004.

This weekend I was attracted by a tour of the capital, benefiting from the various alternatives Ankara offers.

I could not run after the different tastes this beautiful city where I live offers me and I could not discover the surprises it hides, due to the rush of daily life. I had two young guests last week who didn't know Ankara. They have been living in a mountain village in the eastern Black Sea region and came Ankara for an examination. I immediately arranged a program to introduce the city to them, and I was as excited as them when we left home early in the morning.

We had breakfast at one of the "simitçi" cafes in the pedestrian-only area near Kızılay Square, covering Yüksel Avenue and surrounding streets. The breakfast was made of a warm simit, poğaça and tea, and we witnessed the awakening of the city and its getting ready for the fast running of the day.

Anıtkabir and its museum was the first goal of our walking tour. Reaching Tandoğan from Kızılay by "Ankaray" (the subway of Ankara) and leaving the station behind, we climbed a slightly sloped road. As we walked on the pedestrian road between the green grass, colorful flowers and bloomed branches of the trees in the big and well-kept garden surrounding Anıtkabir, the humming of the city had already disappeared. This open area is a secret garden in the heart of the city offering surprises.

We passed through the groups of statues and the towers and reached the main square and the mausoleum. The area where we were standing enabled us to have a wonderful city panorama.

Anıtkabir Museum was renovated and opened as "the War of Independence Museum" in August 2002. Audiovisual effects and objects such as rocks, cannons, rifles, guns and shells have been added in order to allow you to perceive the war scenes on the walls as if they were three-dimensional, and it has been converted into a living site among the best in the world. It is possible to purchase albums of various sizes prepared with the exhibits.

The walls of the main hall of the museum, covered by compositions of figurative war scenes and pictures of former commanders, were are specially commissioned to famous artists by the General Staff for this museum.

There are many interesting details in the museum. I couldn't hold back my tears while wandering in the museum where such an important part of our national history was brought to life. I was happy to notice the crowd visiting the museum. Although it was not a special day, there were many visitors of all ages, social groups and nations wandering the museum with great interest.

I'd also like to mention that the lower floor of the museum offers a cozy café and very clean toilets.

Following the visit to Anıtkabir, we reached the only covered ice-skating rink in the capital, in Bahçelievler, after a ten-minute walk downhill. We were tired and rested at the facility's café.

If you are interested in ice-skating, you can immediately rent a pair of skates and spend some time skating on ice. Who can ever stop you? We made an agreement with a tutor, who would show the first steps to my young friends. They had not even tried roller-skates, yet they wished to try ice-skating. They showed admirable courage for forty-five minutes. They couldn't find their balance, and their backs were wet from uncountable falls and finally they completed their first trial. I tried ice-skating once in my life many years ago and left the rink running after the first five minutes.

Our program was full. We planned to visit the museums in Ulus and rushed to Ulus Square. It is possible to breathlessly follow the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence, the establishment of the new Republic and the birth of the State from a few buildings surrounding the Square

Our first stop was the first Turkish Grand National Assembly building, located in the old Committee of Union and Progress building and set up with desks borrowed from a school. The second Turkish Grand National Assembly Building is just next to it and is known as Cumhuriyet Müzesi (The Museum of the Republic). In order to bring those days alive, current live presentation techniques are used, the natural environment is preserved and wax statues with original costumes have been made. They were so real that it seemed as if they had come from history to tell you how they revived this country and created the Republic.

We couldn't resist the attractiveness of the park belonging to the old National Assembly Building. Nobody believes that one of the secret gardens of Ankara is hidden just next to the dolmuş and bus stops behind those walls. While the youngsters were drinking cold beverages, I preferred a cup of well-brewed tea. This hidden paradise deserves a private visit with its ponds, man-made cascades, a thousand and one kinds of flowers and trees as old as the Republic.

Another magnificent garden is on the slightly inclining hills rising towards the Ayrancı district in the garden of the Turkish Grand National Assembly; however, it is not open to the public for security reasons.

We were already halfway through the day; it was hot and we were hungry. Gençlik Park, which is a few steps away, was quite attractive with its fountain. We entered the park from the back gate and, walking among the trees and over small bridges, we reached the restaurants lining the longer side of the second pool. We chose Divan Restaurant and sat down at a table with a white tablecloth near the pool. We left ourselves to the skilful hands of the veteran smiling waitresses, and they prepared a plate with grilled chicken and meat for my guests to try different tastes. I have always loved Gençlik Parkı. It has lost its popularity among the bourgeois, and now it hosts visitors from the provinces and outskirts or young men spending their day of leave while completing their military service. Only 20 years ago, this beautiful park was a favorite and frequently-visited place among the middle and high-class people, who now only use the gate to reach the wedding reception hall.

After lunch, we climbed Namazgah hill with a short walk. This hill is where Bayram namaz prayers were performed in the old days, and it hosted important meetings during the Turkish War of Independence. Today two adjacent buildings grace this hill. One is the Ethnographic Museum, where Atatürk was temporarily buried until the building of Anıtkabir, and the other is the Painting and Sculpture Museum. The ground floor of the Painting and Sculpture Museum is used as an opera and concert hall. The attractive inner decoration of this hall reflects the philosophy of the first years of the Republic.

The Ethnography Museum was renovated in a modern frame of mind and opened to the public in 2003. The museum presents the colors and motif of Anatolia together with details of the daily life of traditional Turks. The "Bride Room", several-century-old wooden doors with engravings and kilims woven with authentic designs and colored with natural dyes, reflects the past and reminds us how colorless, careless and monotonous our lives are today.

The Painting and Sculpture Museum did not attract the attention of the youngsters, so we did not visit it. We took a taxi and reached Ankara Citadel and the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. We had limited time as closing time of the museum was approaching. Thus, without hanging around the attractive and mysterious streets surrounding the Citadel, we hurried to the museum.

The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is my favorite museum in Ankara. The environmental plan is perfect. Five touristic tour midi buses carried visitors to the Museum just while we were there on Saturday between 16:00 and 17:00.

Each time I visit this museum, where the most important archeological heritage not only of Ankara but also of Turkey is exhibited, I find new tastes. The museum, which was used as a covered bazaar in the Seljuk period, takes you in from the garden and invites you into a different atmosphere and another time with its high domed halls.

The written rocks, sphinxes and reliefs on the walls of the grand hall, and countless statues, ornaments, pots and pans and vases in the showcases at the other halls all together tell their stories. The museum has a shop with a wide variety at the entrance. After this long tour you can have a break at the museum's café on the upper floor.

The basement was opened to the public last year and offers a new and rich collection.

The concerts performed in the grand hall from time to time fascinate the audience in combination with the magic of the environment.

When we left the museum, evening was approaching but the sunlight was still bright. My guests had had enough of museums and historical places and wanted to visit Gençlik Park again.

We greeted the Citadel, theater, and Temple of Augustus next to the Hacıbayram mosque, and the column of Julianus in front of the governor's office while walking towards Ulus. The doors of the Roman Hamam were already closed. A young man was serving tea to the minibus drivers from a thermos and we sipped the tea he served and ate newly baked simits in the Hacıbayram Mosque square. And we continued our walk.

The youngsters were right; Gençlik Park was preparing for the night and the ferris wheel and carousel were turning fast to the accompaniment of a mixture of popular songs. I couldn't resist the temptation of the "Gondola". The moment I took off screaming, I got rid of the frustration that had been following me for days.

I am crazy about fairgrounds and funfairs. It wasn't me that set my husband Murat's head spinning, it was the arms of an octopus that I'd forced him to ride in an Athens funfair, and we decided to get married when we returned to Ankara. My last funfair adventure took place in the summer of 2003. During a wonderful weekend spent in Oylat spas, Cumalıkızık - an old Ottoman village - and a city tour of Bursa, we convinced one of our male friends to accompany a group of women who thought they were young enough to go to Kültür Park. When the group leader asked if there was anybody wanting to ride on the attractive rides, I immediately yelled, "Yes, me!" We spent an unforgettable half hour with one or two of my friends who shared my excitement. Murat has only purchased the tickets and followed my screams ever since our funfair experience in Athens.

As you may guess, my young guests and I got the utmost enjoyment from the park. We also enjoyed rowing before it got too dark; however, since none of us can row properly, we asked a worker for assistance.

The mist of the water from the fountain took me years back. I remembered a night left in an old fall: It was almost midnight and most of the lights were turned off. I was on an old boat wrapped in a damp blanket. It is not possible for everyone to sail on the Bosphorus.

We were sick and tired and hungry. Moreover, one of my cousins, who is a perfect cook, had invited us to dinner. We hurried to the metro station at the other end of the park and got in the first train heading towards Batıkent.

You can add to your tour the Museum House that Atatürk used as a house in the garden of the Presidential Mansion in Çankaya, the Railway Station Museum and the MTA Natural History Museum.

Altınpark, located on the way to Esenboğa Airport, is an excursion area unto itself. The park deserves at least a half day tour, with its swimming pool, delicious gözlemes in the nomadic tents, applied science center for children, botanic garden, bird exhibition, playgrounds, concert and show areas. The shows, open-air cinema and concerts color the spring and summers nights of Ankara. In addition to traditional food, you can try the tastes of Italian and Chinese cuisine.

I also love the zoo at Atatürk Orman Çiftliği (AOÇ) in Ankara. It is a little bit far from the city center, but it is easy to reach the Gazi Çiftliği district via suburban train. While you are there you can pay a visit to a replica of the house where Atatürk was born in Salonica, Greece, which was converted into a museum in 1981. Also, you should take a break at Çiftlik Merkez Restaurant - its su böreği and fırın sütlaç are delicious.

You can also choose the small, cheap fast food sites around the station. The favorite food is Ankara döner and Çiftlik Ayran.

You have yet another alternative: the old station building was restored and converted into a restaurant last year. They offer first class Ottoman and Turkish food, although alcoholic drinks are not served. Rich open buffet brunches are available on Saturdays and Sundays.

Some weekend, you should go out early and take a similar walk. Although you may have seen some of the sites, you would still notice some differences. I wish you beauties discovered by walking and people to share them with.


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