Night Train to Ankara
by Fred Moore - November 2007
It's the second of November; we leave Adana for Ankara on the night train at 7:30 p.m. We have two cabins in the center of the sleeping car at the end of the train. There is one other car behind ours but it's dropped somewhere along the route because it's not there once we reach Ankara. I tried to look into it from our car before leaving Adana; it looked to be very dark and unoccupied. We discover too that our car has our friends from Cappadocia, Julie and Jane riding along, so there are other people on this ride we know. It's so nice to see others adventuring in this country; but these two are always on the go same as we are.
Our train this trip has a dining car (other trips in the past haven't had one) and after we are well on our way we take full advantage of it. We get seated and begin to review the menu. When the waiter greet us, a gentleman named "Mutlu", from a couple tables back, comes to assist us but discovers we have the Turkish Language necessary to order our own dinner. We learn that Mutlu works for the pipeline company in Ceyhan, a city just east of Adana. We thank him so much for his kindness and he reluctantly returns to his own table, but keeps an eye out to be sure we don't need his help. Once again we find the wonderful hospitality and gracious assistance we've come to enjoy living in Turkey. Carol believes the dinning car is a concession now; it appears to be a restaurant and no longer a railroad employee operation. After we have soup (excellent esogelin - spicy lentil with rice and tomato base) and dinner, we collectively conclude the food is quite good. I believe the portions are a bit small (my dinner companions don't really agree) but still we enjoyed the dining with a small exception, we all had trouble with the smoking in the car. An environment this small and confining should simply NOT allow smoking. I fully realize, we're in Turkey and those smokers have rights but I find it so hard to tolerate a small smoke-filled space while having dinner.
This is a special weekend get away for Carol and me. We met 26 years ago and decided to get married; I proposed on this same weekend back then. We also are taking our friends Scott and Glenda to visit our old 'home' city. They have wanted to see some of Ankara (Scott has visited briefly before) with someone who knows their way around. Glenda isn't real sure she wants to experience the night train but we convince her it's a great adventure. Scott takes no convincing at all; he's ready for the adventure. We think once Glenda's 'been-there-done-that' she will be a convert much like we are.
After dinner, we retire to our cabins and take down our bunks. It quite simple really, just get hold of the draw strap and pull toward you. Carol sleeps lower and I get the upper once I get the ladder in place. The train of course is in constant motion as it rocks side to side and then jerks on occasion, as it stops for stations along our route. There's a rest room at either on of the car and we were given water and juice before leaving the Adana station. It's a very slow travel mode but we enjoy it the trip none the less.
Morning comes with a sliver of sunlight forcing itself into the cabin at the fringes of the drawn window drape. I sit up in my bunk and lean forward toward the window to peer out. We each sleep with our head toward the sliding door. I move the drape slightly to see if I can figure out where we are and we're on the plains a couple of hours outside Ankara. Carol and I dress, freshen up as best we can and head down the corridor to the dining car for breakfast. This is a typical Turkish breakfast with slices of tomatoes, cucumbers and white cheese. There are a number of olives (black and green) and packets of honey, jam and butter along with fresh bread. Our waiter asks about drinks and then moves off down the car. In a short while he's back with fried eggs along with our drinks. Carol eats both eggs because I simply don't care for them. We must have spent an hour enjoying the meal and the view from this car; it's always relaxing to sit and watch the country slip by as we have breakfast.
We arrived in Ankara at 8:07 a.m.; the trip has been very comfortable. We make our way out of the train, down the stairs, under the tracks, up the other side and through the station to a waiting cab. I tell the driver where were headed and we're off into the Saturday morning traffic. Once we reach our hotel, 'The King Guvenlik' we pay the cab driver and go into the lobby. Tuna Cullu is at the front desk; he has taken care of us several times in the past and we ask if rooms are available because we know we're very early. Tuna makes a call and moments later, we have our rooms. After we put our things away, we're back down the stairs and at the front desk asking Tuna to get us a cab.
The cab arrives and we're off on our first visit of the day, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. This museum is housed in a restored Han/Caravan facility from I believe the 15th century. We enter the grounds and pay our 10 Lira each for access. The grounds are full of antiquities but we go directly inside to begin our discoveries. Carol and I have visited this museum so many times but we never tire of the opportunity to explore the newest exhibits. Just inside the entry, there's a plethora of sale items, reproductions of many of their most famous ancient objects and literature in multiple languages. To the left up a series of steps you can have refreshments and sit watching the fish in several well-maintained aquariums.
Turning right just inside the entry, you begin your travel through time. You begin in the Paleolithic era (50,000 BC), then move into the Neolithic era, on through the Bronze Age; from the Hittites right on through to the Greeks and Romans where the main exhibits end. The central hall is filled with pictographs on stone walls extracted from numerous sites throughout Turkey. There are benches placed so you can sit and contemplate the ages, as you stare at these awesome blocks of ancient art. I continue to wonder as I sit among these great works of antiquity, what would it have been like to talk with the people of these times and places. Life was far from easy so many centuries ago but the carvings before me tell of a person or people who had tremendous talent for capturing the gods of the day in stone. The sheer grandeur of some of these language pictorials is mind boggling; what does this one say, what about that over there, who does it speak to and why is it still untranslated (as some remain)? There are hunting scenes, there are soldiers, there are scenes of birth and death as well as victory and defeat in war and there are statues of gods, kings and lions.
Carol and Glenda are surrounded by hordes of children as they make their way through the exhibits. I'm never surprised any more as we travel throughout Turkey; Carol continues to be a magnet for kids. They're always anxious to practice their English and Carol is always more than willing to let them. They banter back and forth and both get a real thrill from the exchange. The museum seems to be ageless; we've come many times over the last twenty-five years and it's always a privilege to walk among these ancient treasures and thrill at the civilizations that have gone before us.
Our friends spend nearly three hours absorbing this vast collection of ancient artifacts. There is so much here and so much more behind the scenes. We were told many years ago, on our first visit with an inspiring tour guide, that this museum has untold amounts of relics cataloged and un-exhibited due to space constraints. What an asset to world knowledge is simply stored just steps away from where I sit today. Every time I come within these walls, I remember the world I live in the wars that surround me; I think what an awful tragedy this would be if destroyed by war. I also think of the museum in Iraq that lost so much that can never be restored as a result of pilfering in the midst of war.
We leave Scott and Glenda to search the shops at the entry for a memento of their visit while Carol and I talk of our next stop on this tour we're leading. It's not long and they have chosen their souvenirs, a book and a replica. We leave the museum and take a couple photos out in front of the building before escaping the grounds. Just outside the grounds now, we head up the hill that rises above the museum to the castle (built by the Old Testament Galatians in 327 BC) and outdoor market area. We're making a very serious ascent here; in just a half a block we can see right over the top of the museum building. We have a very nice view of the city from here too. This is Samanpazar a famous old market area above Ulus in old Ankara.
It's mid-day now and we opt for lunch. We want to drop by and see our old and dear friends, Fatma and Yetki Tuna; they own Galeri Z. Carol noticed as we rode by earlier today they now have a café along with their regular gift shop. We figure by checking in with them, we can do both an introduction of our friends from Adana and see what's on their menu for lunch. As usual, it's like old home week; we're greeted warmly and introduce our friends Scott and Glenda. Carol asks about the café and Fatma whisks us off there for lunch. We learn the café is also the gallery and there is a current exhibit; watercolors primarily, lovely works. We're taken up the stairs for lunch; we start out with an unusal specialty soup, one of Fatma's old family recipes. This soup is fabulous, we all proclaim unanimously. We continue to get one course after another; I protest but the food continues to come from the kitchen. We've ordered nothing, it simply appears and we consume it all. What a wonderful lunch we happened into on this beautiful day!
After lunch, we walk down the steepest hill in Ulus, stopping to go through a few shops and on to Ihsan Geredeli's copper shop - our old and dear friend who transforms copper into household treasures. Ihsan is so pleased to see us and we him that we feel like we're home in his presence. We introduce our friends and Ihsan offers us refreshment; we sit to reminisce of old times. We meet his son Mehmet who speaks better English than we do Turkish and have a wonderful visit. Scott and Glenda marvel at so many things and purchase several pieces of Ihsan's work. One piece in particular Glenda has chosen needs polishing; Mehmet tells us it will take about an hour, so we leave and go to visit another of our old friends further down in the shopping area.
I know I've mentioned it before but can't help saying it once more; this 'new' copper alley just has no character. Twenty five years ago, copper alley was alive with coppersmiths pounding away on all kinds of work; today the pounding is sporadic - no longer a cacophony of busy work. New construction is going up all around us and it makes me very sad to see the 21st century consuming our ancient shopping center. Forgive my trip down memory lane, I realize progress must come but at what price?
We make our way to Attila Bey's shop now, A-Z Bazaar. Attila is famous for his incredible black and white photos of Turkey in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Attila's shop is filled to overflowing with all things Turkey. He is also very pleased to see us and we introduce our friends. We spend a good while talking with him while Scott and Glenda prowl the shop for more treasures. After an hour of friendly banter and great exploring, we bid him farewell and promise to return sooner the next time. Attila has had a heart attack and is just getting around again; we wish him the best of health as we wave and walk away.
We go back to Ihsan's shop and pickup the polished item, along with the other
treasures; then we walk down the hill to get a cab. It's getting late now too
(the wind is coming up as well) so we need to be getting back to the hotel with
all our things. At the foot of the hill below Samanpazar, we manage to squeeze
into a cab with all our purchases and head back to the other side of the city.
The older I get the smaller cabs seem to get but I suppose middle age spread
is a factor in that too. In just fifteen minutes, we're back at the hotel; traffic
was pretty light. We go to our rooms and promise to meet back in the lobby in
30 minutes; I want to take our friends to Tunali to a very fine book store.
Once more, we ask at the desk for a cab; in just minutes we're back on the street headed for Tunali. This is a very modern part of Ankara; if the language weren't foreign to you, you would not think you were in Turkey. The main thoroughfare through Tunali is a flurry of humanity on both sides of the street. Here you find boutiques, pastry shops, music stores, cafes, souvenir shops and fast food places. There are a few malls; not like the states, but simply a collection of shops under one roof, on several floors. Our cab drives nearly the length of the street; I'm shocked to see the book store is GONE! The book store in question has been at the same location for over twenty years and now it's gone! We stop the cab now and simply walk back in the direction we've come as I try to scan the urban landscape in search of my book store, hoping it only moved a door or two away. Sometimes I get so annoyed by progress; where is my book store? It doesn't matter; we're walking along the street window shopping. I continue to look out for the book store in case it's here but so far, nothing. The evening is brisk as we stroll up this breezy sidewalk. We dodge one couple after another and then a group of people, the sidewalk is alive with activity; everyone going somewhere or simply wandering as we are now. We stop at the Flamingo, a wonderful sweet shop (it has been here a very long time) to have coffee and deserts; none of us has any desire for dinner with that huge lunch we consumed.
We leave the Flamingo and continue up the street looking in windows and dodging more people on the sidewalk. There are a lot of people out tonight but then this is a very busy shopping district and most shops are still open, but then it's only 7 pm. We come to Pasabachi Glass shop and have to stop to browse. This is Turkey's premier glass manufacturer and always has some beautiful things for sale. We aren't disappointed, we find many lovely things that would brighten any home, but we choose not to get anything this time because it may simply get broken on our trip home. I find a beautiful collection of vases; these are fluted glass in multiple colors and several differing heights. Visualize this lovely flowing glass just pulled from the fiery glow of a blast furnace and put out in the strongest wind; the glass seems to bend forward from the direction of the wind, very artistic. The color appears to be layered within the depths of the vase and from one direction you see crystal clear glass and from another the amethyst, sky blue or even the most striking aquamarine of the Aegean Sea.
We're back on the street passing one shop after another; dress shops, shoe stores, toy stores, restaurants and yes, even McDonalds now. We pass the Tunali Hotel and more designer dress shops, until we come to the old mall we used to shop at. We slip inside and walk around to some of the silver shops; Glenda is looking for pasta server. Many of the shops are closing or are already closed as we walk around. Glenda looks at several lovely pairs of servers but strikes no bargains. We wonder a few more minutes but decide; it's late and time to retire. We're all very tired from our long day and we want to return to the hotel. Out on the sidewalk again now, the wind has really picked up; leaves and other debris are filling the air, we hail a cab and in ten minutes, we're back in our hotel. Scott and Glenda opt for a glass of wine at the bar, inviting us to join them, but Carol and I simply beg off and retire to our room. We've had a full and a most enjoyable day.
I'm up for breakfast at seven and nearly crash the dining room because it's not fully ready for anyone; the lights aren't even on yet. I slip away to the lobby as the dining room staff prepares for breakfast and read the paper. After the paper, I return to the dining room and have a very substantial Turkish breakfast. The King Hotel has a very nice breakfast spread and the staff is eager to please. Scott comes down after while, Carol follows a little bit later and finally Glenda makes her appearance. We talk about our day and what we'll do with it; it's COLD (1 degree Celsius) and windy so we won't spend a lot of it outdoors. I'm very pleased to have brought my winter coat, scarf and gloves!
We have to pack and stow our bags in the storage closet at the front desk because we leaving on the evening train and want to vacate the rooms for cleaning and preparation for other guests. We decide on 9:00 to start our day; we'll visit Ataturk's Mausoleum first this morning then decide on our afternoon adventure. We all go to our rooms and collect our things; it takes only minutes to pack and get our bags down stairs. We take everything to be stored in the guest closet while we're touring the city and then we check-out of the hotel. Tuna calls for a cab and we're off for the day.
In just a few minutes, we're at one of the mausoleum entry points and get in line to go into the grounds. It's very cold out here in the wind; we're pleased we thought to bring our winter clothes. The line moves fairly quickly as we pass through the security check point (nearly the same as airport security) and now we're inside the compound. These grounds were christened "Peace Park," in honor of Ataturk's famous quote: "Peace at Home, Peace in the World" and it has trees from 24 foreign countries. We have to walk up a curved incline sidewalk to the mausoleum; it takes only minutes, but the wind is bitter. Once we've ascended the steps and are standing on the magnificent parade ground, it's even more windy and cold. The complex is situated on a hill and we take the wind full force up here. As we stand beneath the flag of this memorial to our left is a u-shaped covered colonnade housing Ataturk's boat, cars and the caisson that bore his body to this resting place. Also, at the apex of the "U" the second president of Turkey, Ismet Inonu is interned. On our right and far above us is the majestic 'Hall of Honor' housing the symbolic crypt of modern Turkey's founder, Ataturk. We turn our attention to the hall and ascend twice as many steps as we had already risen to reach it. Inside this stately edifice, centered in the back, is the marble crypt. It's a massive block of marble designed to resemble a sarcophagus. The actual remains of this most honored leader are well below where we currently stand.
We have no monument of this magnitude to any leader of our country. We have many monuments of great significance but nothing on this scale. We're standing at the entry; there are two gates, one on the left to enter, one on the right to leave. The ceiling is thirty, maybe even forty feet above our heads. The ceiling is adorned in mosaic design much like that of a carpet covered in gold leaf. We enter the 'Hall of Honor' a remarkable space of great significance with a roped off center gallery used for special memorials, we move toward the back and close to the symbolic crypt. On the platform at the foot of the crypt is a brass wreath; we've rarely ever visited when there hasn't been a floral wreath laid atop the brass one by some dignitary or high ranking government official from this government or someone else's. Today we see that same thing but then yesterday was the 69th anniversary of Ataturk's death. There are always photos in the main entry to the museum portion of this monument reflecting those who have come to pay homage to this great leader; one notable this time is the Pope; he visited some months ago.
This complex was laden with all matter of government dignitary, military and admiring populous yesterday. Photographs abound in the museum lobby of those who came to pay their respects to this incredible leader. The Turkish Military maintains this compound and there isn't a blade of grass out of place. At the foot of the steps just below the flag and across the drive from where we ascended is a map of Turkey done in live flowers and painted gravel; red, blue and white. I never visit here without getting a sense of the awesome leadership and love of country this man left 'his' people. There are those who will not agree with my assessment but of all those leaders who have gone before us there isn't one I'd rather have met aside from Ataturk.
In the bowels of this majestic monument to this dedicated leader is a museum adorned with his gifts from foreign leaders and personal belongings. It also includes the documented history of this country's fight for independence. There are three dioramas with moving sound affects depicting the many battles fought. There are mural paintings fully documenting those battles and framed paintings of soldiers and civilians all responsible for the country we currently reside in. One can not visit here without coming away with a sense of the sacrifice these men and women offered today's generations of Turks; Turkey is what it is today because of these who have fallen in the cause to create the republic. Ataturk was the leader of this initiative but we must never forget those who fought at his command. Where we live today is not the country built by a single man but by words from him, such as these which inspired the masses: "This nation has never lived without independence. We cannot and shall not live without it. Either independence or death."
Our visit is simply a cursory couple hours; this tribute to Ataturk and Turkey can't be seen in only a few hours. We reluctantly move on though; we have other places to visit and other things to see. We leave by walking out across the long lion's road (symbolizing the might and power of the Turkish Nation) out the opposite side from which we entered. We descend another flight of stairs and begin our long walk out this far end of the Peace Park. Through this opposite entry gate we find cabs waiting, we squeeze into one and head for Ulus once again. It's mid day and we collective opt for lunch; Carol and I know this wonderful place, it's cafeteria style dining and excellent food.
In just minutes, we're inside the restaurant out of the wind and cold. We go directly to the glass enclosed kitchen to see what's been prepared for lunch. We each in turn point out our desires and retire to a table in the back. The soup is a welcome dish in this climate and I opt for a second bowl. We spend an hour talking about the food, the mausoleum, and what we'll do next. Scott and Glenda both have been great traveling partners; enthusiastic participants in our entire tour thus far. As we conclude our lunch with some excellent Turkish sweets we decide find Scott a hat like mine.
We leave the cafeteria behind and walk along the deserted street back toward
the center of Ulus. We dart into one shop and out again, no hat there. We descend
a great staircase to the old caravan stop pausing at a number of street vender
tables but still no hat. The old caravan is not open today, it full of shops
but we really wanted to show Scott and Glenda the building. No matter, we'll
dash into the market across the street; here we find a covered open air fruit
and vegetable market. There are enclosed shops on either side but open air stands
down the center. Scott and I walk two thirds of the way through and come to
the meat markets, no hats this way, we turn and rejoin the ladies.
With no success finding a hat for Scott, we abandon the idea and hail a cab. We instruct the drive to take us to the castle entry atop Samanpazar. We ascend the hill, passing the outer walls of the castle, then the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations from yesterday's trip and finally to the main gate of the outer castle wall. We pay our fare and begin our walk through the gates and into the cobblestone interior of the castle fortress. Think now, we're inside a fortress built in 327 BC by the Galatians of the New Testament! This is the 21st century; these grounds we're traversing today have been trodden by generations for 2,000 plus years. I can't truly get my arms around that concept but then there are so many places in Turkey like this it just continues to highlight for me just how fragile our existence really is.
The surrounds are far different today then even were when we first stepped into this fortress community. Today the place is filled with upscale restaurants, artistic boutiques of jewelry and clothes, tourist shops and yes, homes of those who have lived within these walls for generations. We stop at a shop just a foot step inside the gated wall; this is a tourist shop filled with pottery, art and souvenirs. I notice a cane display in the back; these are Deverek canes, famous in Turkey for their superb quality and artistic design. One catches my eye right off; it's a carving of the famous Ataturk walking the hillside at Polatli. I have a small cane collection and must have this one.
Back onto the cobblestone lane we walk on toward the inner gate; once through it we ascend the rather steep incline to the stairs and restored upper castle walls. Carol has stopped short of the top but Scott, Glenda and I have conquered the peek and stand with 360 degree view of Ankara. The wind atop the wall is stiff and biting, I get a photo of Scott and Glenda with the Turkish Flag in the background and we descend to warmer interior wind-breaking walls. There are the usual hawkers selling handmade purses, scarves, crocheted works and other things but we decline all offers and move on.
I pointed out the northern edge of the walls to Scott and Glenda while atop the castle and we walk toward that goal. The cobblestone lane has been paved over here, sad to see that happen. We reach the far end of the castle from where we entered and look out over Ulus and out toward the ancient temple of Augustus. Carol has once more been enticed by a lady selling scarves and decides she must have a couple; she selects those with the most beautiful crocheted and beaded edges. While lingering here we meet three young people out for the day; they ask where were from and about our visit. We talk about how much we love Turkey and how we are showing our friends some of Ankara this weekend.
Our afternoon is quickly slipping away and we want to get back to a couple shops Glenda wanted to look into. We stroll back, Glenda stops and finds nothing she really wants and we make one more stop at the shop where I bought my cane. Scott has decided he must too have one of these beautiful works of art. Scott works his way through the collection and contemplates several different canes; the owner ascends the interior shop stairs and reappears in a moment with one additional cane. Scott has two now and he weights the quality and design of each one very carefully and then makes his choice, we're once more on our way.
We descend the street past the closed shops that were all a buzz yesterday. We go into a carpet shop and look at several lovely Moldavia Kilims but leave empty handed. We're into and out of a number of shops as we continue our descent of the Samanpazar shopping district. Finally, at the bottom of the hill we get a cab and head off to our hotel. The city is fairly quiet today, the traffic is far less than yesterday and we get back in no time. We settle in the lobby of the hotel and have refreshments. We talk about our day and how wonderful it has been even with the cold. After a period of relaxation, we once again request a cab and go for dinner at the highly recommended Iskenderun restaurant. As we have come to know, the food is superb and the service fast. We eat, we relax but we pass on dessert.
We walk back to the hotel and collect our things. We thank the staff for all their help and hospitality; then take our cab to the train station. We're nearly an hour early but I'm trashed! I've not been very well all day (sneezing/nose running) but have had a great time and appreciate the opportunity to simply sit and wait for our train. I see we've not arrived too early though because our other friends Jane and Julie are just coming in to catch this same train back to Adana.
Time marches on, the train is in and we make our way across the platform, down the stairs, under the tracks, up the stairs and across another platform to our train car. Once the train is under way, we're ready to retire. Scott and Glenda are going for a glass of wine in the dining car but Carol and I are simply going to bed.
The next thing I'm at all aware of is the sunlight around the edges of the drape; I peer out and notice we're on the Kayseri Plains just outside of Nigde. It's six in the morning and Carol is also awake; we push the bunks back up and against the wall to sit in the bench seats. I open our cabin door and we watch the landscape melt behind as we enter the city of Nigde. I expect a stopover here but we're moving again in just minutes. We weave our way through the countryside and in no time begin to enter the mountains. There are more than twenty tunnels between us and Adana now so as we get further into the mountains and begin our descent I take the camera and head for the back of the train. Since we're the last car, I can watch the tracks shrink into the landscape behind us.
There's our first tunnel, then another, then another and now a really long one; I watch the tunnel entry fade and enclose us in darkness like the aperture closing on a camera lens. This tunnel lasts quite a time, well over ten minutes as I feel the train turn first one way then the other even as it too falls slightly down the mountain. Now we begin to pass through a number of short tunnels with simply a wisp of sunshine between exit and the next entry. There's no time for a camera shot and the magnificent mountain panoramas simply register in my mind's eye.
Here the train is slowing, we must be coming to a village station. We've stopped
in Bucak; oh, that was fast, we're moving again in less time than it took for
me to write this sentence. More tunnels and a beautiful valley floor stretches
out behind us. Then again we're stopping; what an absolutely gorgeous scene
surrounds us here. The trees are fall colors and the leaves are gracefully falling
on the gentle breeze. As we pull away from this stop, all I see below me are
two silver rails cutting through the piles of leaves that have collected on
the ground. The further we move away, the more the trees seem to grasp arms
across the track and it appears to be a naturally created tunnel of forest.
We're picking up speed now and the leaves around the track are dancing in our
wake. It's wonderful to see this incredible beauty of nature as I conclude this
article. We've had a great time and look forward to the next sleeper train adventure
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