** This post has been imported from Raga’s old travel blog
** Dated: 02/2011
Well, its been a while since I traveled to a not-so-frequent-destination and could not update the blog. (Also I’ve been lazy and did not write about my final leg of the European tour, Bruges in Belgium). But the dry run stopped when I got a chance to visit our customer in Ankara, Turkey. I spent about five weekends and apart from customer issues and a hectic schedule, I did find some time to go around.
Let me start with Ankara, the capital of Turkey. Its a city with roughly 5 million population of the total 70 million in Turkey. Turkey is a developing country with strong economy and I could see the widespread apartment culture. The roads were dusty with construction dirt and there were way too many malls and apartments being built round the clock. I would say Ankara is very westernized and the whole country is very secular, even though 99% of the population is Muslim. Unlike the Arab countries, Turkey is very liberal and democratic. The young people dress very well and the beautiful Turkish women wear fancy clothes.
The malls were always filled with people and especially during the weekends, the whole Ankara was on the streets. Being a liberal country, Turks smoke as if they were born only to smoke. I am very sure that you will become a passive smoker if you live there for a while. However, the major issue with most of them is the language. A very small percentage of the Turks speak English and I found it hard to communicate with them. Their language (Turkish) does have few similar words in hindi (Dunya, adalet, chai, annals etc…).
Speaking of chai and annals, I can still remember the way I struggled for vegetarian food. Turkey is a kebab country and they have variety of meat dishes all over the country. The popular ones are Doner kebab (Turkish dish made of lamb meat cooked on a vertical spit and sliced off to order) and Şiş kebab (prepared with fish, lamb or chicken meat on thin metal or reed rods, grilled). It was hard to find vegetarian food and I lived off of pastas and pizza, packed with cheese (and thereby putting on few extra pounds).
Tasty food is something a human always craves and I was pushed to the limits of depression when I had to eat the same kind of food all the time. Lesson learned: If you are a vegetarian and planning to stay for a while in a country like this, carry a small electric cooker, rice and ready made paste so that your taste buds wont die. However, I simply enjoyed the portakal (Oranges), Ayran (buttermilk) and a channa-like dish which kept a tab on my food-boredom. The fruits and vegetables are so very fresh, I have never had such a wonderful orange juice in my lifetime. I must have gulped down liters of OJ at Turkey.
Now comes the favorite part; the original Turkish Coffee! Its served in a very small coffee cup that looks little bigger than a shot glass. Its very thick, strong, bitter and flavorful espresso made in a small machine and pretty much keeps you jolted for a few hours. I also enjoyed the famous Turkish delight and baklavas. Summing up, Ankara was not a very lively place compared to Istanbul , a city where the “east-meets-west”.
Istanbul is a very lively and happening place and a perfect example of a big party city. Its a blend of both European and Asian culture and even the landscape is in such a way that a part of the city is in European side and the rest in Asian side. Both these sides are connected by the mighty Bosporus bridge. The city is inundated with tourists and sprinkled with mosques. The most famous mosque is the Sultanahmet, popularly known as the Blue Mosque sits close to the sea of Marmara. The mosque was built during the Ottoman empire and the interiors are well decorated.
The courtyard is huge and the enormous mosque speaks for itself. I toured around and got to see the day/night time sight of the mosque and it was absolutely delightful. There are many shops around the mosque where you can purchase souvenirs. Right across the mosque, you could see Aya Sofya, once a church, then a mosque, now a museum. Aya Sofya looked beautiful with its orangish tone but I could not spend much time to admire its beauty. Once you are here, you can go around the neighborhood and visit Topkapi palace, where the Sultans of Ottoman empire spent around 650 years.
The palace is very huge and they have preserved the emperor’s clothes, utensils, treasury, imperial council etc and you get a very good view of the Bosporus from here. This was one of the highly recommended sights and it surely lived up to the name. You can also visit the spice market that is just a few kilometers by tram, the best way to get around Istanbul.
Like with any big city, Istanbul is known for various scams like taxi scams, where the taxi driver swaps a 50 lira bill to a 5 lira and demand excess fare from tourists. I fell into the second category but luckily I did not have enough money to pay the excess fare. This incident made me very conscious and helped me escape the next scam, namely “how about a drink”, that involves unsuspecting people outside the blue mosque looking for single men. They try to sweet talk and lure the tourist into a night club and make them pay thousands of liras for few beers. Life and limb will be threatened for people that refuse to pay :).
The historic cities, warm people, wonderful baklavas and the flavorful coffee does make this country a must-see destination. I had a great time experiencing a different culture and I am sure there is much more to Turkey than this little blog where I tried to sum up my short experience.
Until my next visit to a not-so-frequent-destination, its good bye from me!