This is less a travel anecdote but more of a memory lane type of rumination. As I’ve been repeating ad nauseam, my best years were my Ankara years. I lived in the Gaziosmanpasa part of Cankaya and life revolved mainly around 2 roads – Arjantin Cadessi and Filistine Cadessi and all of its accompanying sokak. Outside of my home country, it was one place on earth where I felt some sense of kinship with my daily life. The streets, the shops, the nooks and crannies, the green ‘ring-a-taxi’ button on a yellow box that kept emerging in every street corner (see below – how is it doing in the Grab and Uber generation, I wonder?)..
It all felt so warm, pleasing and comforting to me. I remember every little detail of the very first moment of my arrival in the spring of 2011, the semi prehistoric phone I had back then, the driver that picked me up from the airport, arriving at the hotel, walking into my hotel room, realising that I needed to get closed shoes to protect me from temperatures lower than I expected… I could continue to give a blow by blow account of at least the first three days of my life there, and sink into those delicious memories again of being relatively young but still a full grown up, carrying a fresh history of India in the pockets of my thoughts, feeling almost immediately infatuated by this East meets West culture in her aesthetics, her language, her temperature, her people…. ahhh dear Turkey, it will be awhile yet before I can fully leave you in my past.
Surprisingly or maybe this is just how life worked before smartphones (hard to remember) I have the least photos of this time period of my life which pretty much confirms that people who take less photographs of their daily life are probably too busy actually having a life. The photos below are mainly those of friends and family’s who were kind enough to share it with me for this post or some I picked off the internet (usually from its own website). In an effort to stay true to this category of posts (Travel Anecdotes, not Old Lady Rambling), here’s a run down of memorable eating, staying and shopping spots.
Cafe Miz (click here for website)
My first brunch was at this dining institution. Still vividly remember that weekend morning in the spring of 2011 (almost 8 years ago now). The ambiance was just so beautiful in that very fresh, white flowers, English garden way. The property is converted from what used to be an old family bungalow with a huge garden and an oak tree. Tucking in their seafood salad or vegetarian pizza as we giggled about office dramas and future plans under gorgeous summer clouds was the best that life had to offer to me back then. It’s located on Arjantin Cadessi, up the road from one of the main high streets of Cankaya (Tunale), so consider it as a resting spot after a day of shopping.
Recep Usta (click here for website)
Another dining institution of Ankara. The cuisine is supposed to reflect the best of Diyarbakir and many say the lamb meat here is to die for. I can see their point. We didn’t come here as often especially as it was sort of outside of our little triangle of coziness (orientating around Filistine Cadessi) but every time we did, it was definitely an ‘event’ worth getting excited about and the minute the first bite of their lamb doner kebab washes over your palate, you sort of fall into this dreamy ecstasy dimension where nothing else matters but the next bite. Even this photo gets that saliva gland into motion…
Swissotel (click here for website)
One of their four stars hotel situated at Turan Gunes. Service was professional, rooms were big and spacious, food was good and the gym and spa was the best I’d experienced in Ankara (better than the Hilton). Location wise, while it is central, you would still have to take a ten minute taxi or a forty minute walk if you want to go to the shopping and dining street in Tunale or Filistine Cadessi – in this way Hilton and Sheraton sits right in the middle of these hot spots. Still a great experience though. (A great anecdote – this was the chosen hotel for our office to have a meet and greet with Angelina Jolie circa 2012 when discussing of the Syrian crisis management and the first time I laid eyes on her in real life).
Panora Mall (click here for website)
The first mall I went to. It used to be like a 20TL Taxi ride of over 20 minutes from Filistine Cadessi. It’s nothing special but the staple mall with global brands. A good place to go if you have various things to get from Pasabahce souvenirs, Zara/ Mango clothes, Nine West shoes, Adidas sportswear, L’Occitane skincare and Laura Ashley homewares. Also houses the higher end designers like Burberry and Ralph Lauren. If this interests you, it’s the only place in Cankaya that has KFC.
Pasabahce (click here for website)
The Turkish version of ‘Goodearth’ in India. A marriage of contemporary lines and a native core. Mirrors, coasters, tile pieces, vases, door charms. The two main stores I usually frequented were in Tunale (the main shopping street of Cankaya) or Panora. I bought countless items here and was lucky enough to receive countless items here as presents. Also the place I frequent to get special Turkish pieces for family and friends. The website doesn’t do it justice so don’t be disappointed when you click on the heading above, these are some of my prized pieces..
Turkuaz (click here for website)
More Turkish classics but this time without the contemporary touch. It’s situated at Turan Gunes in one of the side streets (the hyperlink on the heading is not it’s official website but rather photos of the store on foursquare). It was closer to the office so this was where we usually dropped by for last minute gifts before leaving for the airport. Vases, Turkish tiles, mirrors, ceramics and calligraphy. They custom make mirrors for you too, and this is one I chose.
Kalesi – Ulus
The place for a Saturday morning stroll to see the Old City of Ankara. Once the main centre point of the capital, Ulus is where the Citadel is and where you can get a panoramic view of the city. Walking around the Citadel area (Tell the taxi driver you want to go to Kalesi) is also where you will stumble into the best antique shops selling Ottoman-era type mirrors and lamps, Turkish kilims, Persian carpets, cushion covers, all manner of fabrics etc. There are also quaint Turkish restaurants set in 18th century townhouses and the historical 16th century property converted into a four star hotel Divan Cukurhan. It’s a must for all first time visitors of Ankara.
If there was a wand that permitted me to return to any portion of my life, I would jump back to April 2011 till November 2013, no hesitation. But so much of my adoration for this city is strongly intertwined by my positive professional and social experiences and my age at the time. I’ve also heard of people describing it as the most uninspiring place on Earth, so it’s hard to know how each individual will respond to a place. It is an administrative capital, with embassies, parks, cafes, one main high street, a sprinkling of high end hotels and one major mall in the Cankaya area and with the main Old Town comprising of historical sights and shops in the Ulus area.
In terms of vibrance and excitement it can never hold a candle to Istanbul (not many cities in the world can compare itself to Istanbul though). If you are in Turkey only for a short time, then probably there will be many other cities that should rightfully occupy your time (Istanbul for it’s obvious majesty and historical prominence, Bodrum and Izmir for that Mediterranean Sea-town vibe, Cappadocia for it’s unique landscape, Konya if you want to absorb the ambiance of whirling dervishes). But if it’s on your way, then sure, do stop over. Stay in Sheraton, Hilton or Swissotel if you want a nice contemporary outfit close to modern shopping and amenities or Ulus if you prefer Old City living and make sure you take a walk around the Citadel area to get a gist of this Anatolian world. As for me, if I returned, I hope it would be to live there again, for some years…