Turkey has always been a favourite country destination for foreign tourists. Istanbul with its rich history as Constantinople, adventurous ballroom rides in Cappadocia, or beautiful coastline of Bodrum. Due to the visa-free requirements for Thai passports, many of my local friends have joined package tours to Turkey. Last October, my husband and I also chose Turkey for our annual vacation. We decided to venture out by ourselves despite the forthcoming language barriers. Having our own itinerary offers the opportunity to blend in with the local people and experience the real side of Turkey.
Ankara is the capital of Turkey and the heart of administrative and policymaking of the government. It is also home to many foreign embassies, international institutions and companies. We took the road less travelled from most tourists to Turkey, and spent a couple of days there. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, and explored a few fascinating places.
Ankara Castle is one of the Turkish capital’s oldest sights, dating back to the Roman, Seljuk, and Ottoman Empires. It is quite a high point of the city. Even though the exact date of its initial construction is unknown, some people believe the Hittites (an ancient empire that ruled over Nnorth-central Anatolia in 1600 BC), who had a military garrison in Ankara, built the Ankara Castle. The place is full of souvenir shops and cafes around.
The Anatolian Civilisations Museum
Located in two Ottoman buildings located near Ankara Castle is the Anatolian Civilisations Museum. It was elected as the “Museum of the Year in Europe” in 1997. The museum, being among exceptional museums with its unique collection, has Anatolian archaeological artefacts and artifacts some from the Pala eolithic Age to the present. We benefitted from a great history lesson.
Anıtkabir, the eternal resting place of the Great Leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, is located in the heart of Ankara. The Ataturk Mausoleum is a massive compound, comprisinges of four main parts: the Road of Lions, the Ceremonial Plaza, the Hall of Honour (location of Ataturk’s tomb) and the Peace Park that surrounds the monument.
Kocatepe Mosque is one of the largest mosques in Ankara. The commanding mosque is an impressive combination of contemporary and traditional Ottoman architecture. It was built during the 20th century with a specific 16th century touch. During our visit to the inside, we felt such peace and tranquility observing the devout worshippers at their prayers.
Ethnography Museum of Ankara
Ethnography Museum of Ankara is a small museum but very intriguing with rich displays of folkloric artefacts. Most of the collections are donated objects and they give a strong idea about Anatolian life. It was also the first resting place of Atatürk until the completion of his mausoleum in 1953.
The Roman Baths of Ankara are the ruined remains of an ancient Roman bath complex in Ankara, Turkey, dated back to 3rd century. The remains were uncovered by excavations carried out in 1937-1944, and have subsequently been opened to the public as an open-air museum.
The Lake Mogan (Golbasi) Lake is located near the city of Ankara. The natural lake is a favoritefavourite place for domestic tourists to spend leisure time at this natural park. The area is under natural conversation and environmental protection. After a relaxing lunch by the lake, we took a long stroll along the wooden lane, breathing the crisp fresh air like the locals.
How does one set about conquering a city that is approximately three thousand s years old? Istanbul straddles between Asia and Europe with the stretching BosphorousBosphorus Straits. With its ancient history, colourful culture, grandiose architecture and spectacular scenery, Istanbul is truly a world-class city. Following the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the old city name “Constantinople” was officially changed to Istanbul in 1930. It is impossible to cover all the “must-see” places in Istanbul, but here we attempt to render a few commanding highlights.
The Mosque of Sultanahmet
One of the remarkable landmarks in Istanbul is Sultan Ahmed Mosque. A historic mosque constructed between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. It remains a functioning mosque, while attracting large numbers of tourist visitors on a daily basis. Commonly known as “Blue Mosque” by foreign tourists because of its hand-painted blue tiles adorning the interior walls. At night, the mosque is bathed in blue lights. In 2006, it received the papal visit by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Turkey.
Hagia Sophia is the former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, later an Ottoman imperial mosque and now a museum in Istanbul. The Emperor Justinian built the new Hagia Sophia, meaning “Holy Wisdom” as the world’s largest cathedral. The construction began in A.D. 532 and completed in 537, a period of five years. It was famous in particular of its massive dome. We were impressed with the magnificent interior, and could not agree more that it is one of the most important monuments of the history to have survived today.
Constructed between 1460 and 1478, the Topkapi Palace was built by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, and expanded upon and altered many times throughout its long history. In addition to being the residence of the Ottoman sultans, it served as the administrative and educational centre of the state. The compound is huge with various courtyards and gardens. Topkapi Palace Museum houses numerous displays of artefacts.
Hagia Irene Church
Hagia Irene Cchurch is located in the first courtyard of the Topkapi Palace, behind Hagia Sophia. Hagia Irene means “Divine Peace” in Greek. The first church, believed to be built in the 4th century with wood structure. Burnt in A.D. 532 A.D., it was restored several times through earthquakes and fire. Although now serves as a museum, there is no much remained from the original mosaics.
Basilica Cistern is the largest surviving Byzantine cistern that is beneath Istanbul city. Built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I as big underground water reservoir. Historical text claims that 7,000 slaves were involved with its construction. A forest of 336 columns, with height of 9m each, supported the dome. The underground area is massive with an area of 9,800 square metreers. It was featured in the famous old school James Bond movie “From Russia with Love”. It was also referred in Dan Brown book “Inferno”.
The Turkish and Islamic Art Museum
The Museum is in a palace that was built for Ibrahim Aga in 1524, who was the grand vizier of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. Our most admired collections are the Damascus Documents and Sacred Relics displayed at the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum. Other collections includes notable examples of Islamic calligraphy, tiles and rugs, together with ethnographic displays on various cultures in Turkey, in particular nomad groups. The displays separate dwellings from different time periods and regions.
The Grand Bazaar Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with over 60 covered streets and 5,000 shops in a total area of 30,700 square metreers. With the long history of Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar is often regarded as one of the first shopping malls of the world. Despite it no longer being the commercial centreer of the city, it nonetheless offers visitors a taste of life in the Ottoman-era Turkey. Products cover from jewelleryries, carpets, ceramics, spices, and scents, coffee, tea, Turkish delight, souvenirs…, and the list goes on. Many shoppers probably are liked me who enjoy the thrill to bargain.
The first thing my close friend recommended me to do in Istanbul is to enjoy the night cruise. The Bosphorus, which connects Marmara Sea and Black Sea is one of the most exquisite places in the world. It was a very valuable advice. Disregarding the usual commercial Turkish performance and bland food, admiring the beautiful Ottoman architecture lit up in radiant light offered some bewitching sights. Daytime cruise offers an opportunity to get away from the main city and see how residents live along the river, from the humble to the ultra-rich.
New Istanbul Airport
Impressive new airport and I could feel the vision that it is built to last for the next two decades or more. The hall in the international transit lounge is filled with numerous shops and restaurants. Business lounge is spacious with high ceiling, equipped with pool table and full bar.
Often people who have visited Istanbul often share that once you arrive Istanbul, you do not want to leave. I totally echo this sentiment. There are so many amazing places and experience there we have yet to cover with this trip, namely Dolmabahce and Beylerberyi Palaces, The Mosque of Suleymaniye, Turkish baths and so on.
I cannot wait for our next visit!
Turkish cuisine offers variety of healthy options for both meat-lovers and vegetarians, as “clean food” is the hot and trendy way of food indulgence. As Istanbul is more westernized, single plates are more common. In Ankara, by looking up online recommendations, we stumbled on a huge local and hygienic restaurant for an incredible feast of kebabs with a handful of different compliments and fresh salad for 40 Turkish Liras (USD 7). There are so many different kinds of mezes (hors d’oeuvres” or appetizers), meat (in form of kebabs or doner kebabs), vegetarian dishes, and soups. Turkish coffee and Turkish tea are the popular national drinks. Delicious desserts include Turkish delights.
I found the Turkish people very friendly and hospitable. Two incidents that left me filled with genuine warmth and friendship. On one occasion, I was at a national park in Ankara. When I asked permission to take a photo of a local family enjoying their simple home-packed picnic by the lake with fishing gear, the father offered us to share their food. Another occasion was my first night ride on the metro in Istanbul; the husband of a Turkish couple offered his seat to me with a big smile, under the approving glance of his wife.
With the long-standing history and rich culture of the Ottoman Empire, the Turks are very proud of their country. Everywhere I go, especially in Ankara, I see their national flags draping from buildings. As foreign visitors, I found it entirely endearing!