I really liked Ankara. It was so beautiful, and the people were mostly friendly, except, regrettably, for the staff at our hotel. There was some good shopping to be had, though I didn't find everything nearly as cheap as I had been led to believe. You bargain for everything there, which I did a bit, but I'm not really good at getting deals the way my husband is.
The streets were narrow and leafy. It reminded me of Paris, but without the dog poo. I never saw any houses. Most people seem to live in low-rise apartment buildings. Every single block in the suburbs has a hairdressing shop, a corner store, a cafe, and an internet place. You can't get a decent cup of coffee there. It's all instant! I was shocked, because I thought Turkey was famous for being a coffee-drinking country. There's a real cafe culture there. Everywhere you look there are beautiful little cafes and bistros with outdoor patios. Everyone is drinking tea from little glasses, coke, or lemonade. About every tenth one serves alcohol, but even at the ones that serve beer and wine, people still seem to be drinking tea. The cafes were expensive. There's no such thing as free refills, 'to go' cups, or decaf coffee. The coffee cups are small, too. The cafes can be quite expensive. Two instant coffees and a piece of cake cost me 14 YTL, which is about $10 or $11 Canadian. At another place, one instant coffee and four tiny cookies cost me 5 YTL. That place was more reasonable. Another place advertised cappuccino. I thought, thank God, finally a place with an espresso machine. Then they brought me one of those INSTANT, sickly-sweet cappuccinos! When I landed in Heathrow airport, the first thing I did was hit Starbucks.
Apparently there's one Starbucks ( so far) in Ankara, but I never saw it. It's a big place. The population is over 4 million people. I found the people very friendly, open and lively. Even if you don't speak any Turkish, and they have no English, they will try to help you and communicate with you. For example, at one point my husband wanted to take me downtown and show me the hotel he had stayed at last time he was in Ankara. None of the taxi drivers in our new neighbourhood were familiar with the name of that hotel. A bunch of them all joined in the discussion, pooling their knowledge of English and international words. One of them ran across the street to one of the ubiquitous corner stores, and returned dragging a young man with him. The young guy asked hopefully, "Sprecken zie Deutsch?" (We didn't) Then they shouted up to a woman who was cleaning her windows on the second floor, who went and fetched her roommate, who could speak a little English! Finally, through teamwork, we got a rough location established, and one of the drivers took us downtown. This sort of thing happened every time I had a question. Shopkeepers call their neighbours over, then they drag people off the street whom they think might be able to help. It was a lot of fun.
I'm really sick of bread, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. That was the free breakfast at our hotel, which cost 20 YTL per person per night. That was a good deal. I really like all the aforementioned foods, but not necessarily for breakfast, and not every day. The breakfast was quite substantial, and held us for hours. We mostly ate donairs if we got hungry again when we were out. They were very cheap. You got a huge sandwich of chicken or lamb for 2.50 or 5 YTL. That's hard to beat! We often ate more bread and cheese or pizza for dinner in our hotel room, or on the hotel's terrace at dinner time. I had one chicken salad at a restaurant, called "Green Chicken". It cost 7 or 8 YTL, and it was practically the only time I ate lettuce during my stay.
We went to the Anatolian Museum of Natural History and Attaturk's mausoleum. I can't say that the museum was particularly interesting, because I hate all museums! ( Yes, it's true. I've never been to one I liked, not even the Louvre) However, we went there on a special evening when there was some sort of celebration because a famous Italian artist was donating one of his paintings to the museum. So at least there was a nice concert and some free traditional food and tea at the end. Attaturk's mausoleum and its grounds were very impressive. The poor soldiers have to stand outside in the blazing heat in dress uniforms and helmets, without moving, especially the unlucky one at the entrance.
With regards to transportation, there are buses, a metro, and zillions of yellow taxis everywhere. The driving style is very European in that everyone drives fast, aggressively, and very close to other vehicles with no particular regard for lanes, signals, or life and limb. Pedestrians stroll across the road without fear, even though cars whizz past them at high speeds with inches to spare. Several times while we were in taxis, I just had to close my eyes and pray. I did eventually get used to it, but I sure wouldn't want to drive there, myself! One has to be a very skilled driver to succeed in such an environment, and while my driving skills are fine for North America, I don't think they're good enough for Turkey.
I'm still not clear on what the metro cost, because the price was different on the two days that I took it. On one day, it was 1.50 YTL and on another day, it was 2.50. I don't know why, unless weekends and weekdays have different rates. One thing I must warn you about: when the train stops, you have exactly 30 seconds to get off. If you're not quick enough, too bad! So, know your stop, and be standing near the door when it's time to go. If you try to hold the doors open, an armed security guard walks over and yells at you. I bet slow moving elderly people get carried past their stops all the time.
All in all, I recommend Ankara. It's green and beautiful, with parks and fountains everywhere. It's an exotic mix of Islamic and secular life. You see women wearing hejab ( headscarves and long light coats) walking arm in arm with bareheaded girls in T-shirts and tight jeans. I loved hearing the call to prayer that echoed through the city at intervals. I would love to go back there again.
If anyone has questions or would like to see pictures, just email me.
Right now it's 2 a.m. and because I have jet lag, I can't sleep. Unfortunately, I will still have to go to work tomorrow, regardless of how much or how little sleep I will have gotten. Maybe I should go back to bed and at least try to sleep.