Friday, 6 June 2014

Van, Ankara and Safranbolu

Day 6 (29th May 2014): Continuing our journey through Turkiye and stopping over at Lake Van, Ankara and Safranbolu for the sights. 

We stopped by Lake Van on our way to Ankara. I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t see a single Turkish Van cat there. I had thought that they would be all over the place, swimming like otters. Guess I hadn’t realised how rare these cats are. Lake Van is basically a huge salt lake, and the mineral-rich salt is believed to have healing and health-enhancing properties. This isn’t sand I am walking on but salt crystals.

Glorious salt plains as far as the eyes could see. But not a single Van cat in sight.

We had lunch at a colourful, flower-filled restaurant in Ankara named Pisirme Evi. Don’t be fooled by the name, though. They serve more than just fish. Their vegetarian options are excellent. I had lentil soup, salad, pide (Turkish pizza), a filo pastry roll thing, fruits and churros soaked in syrup. I took a photo of the little pots of multicoloured pansies and roses outside the restaurant.

I should have taken more pictures of food but I guess I just am not Asian enough. Hardly any selfies and only one food photo in my entire trip.

When we got to Ankara, we did what every visiting dignitary would do ;) and visited Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He was a great leader and reformist. It is thanks to Ataturk that Turkiye is the prosperous, progressive, secular and democratic country that it is today. Shame that we can’t say the same about the current administration.

I walked along the Road of Lions in the Peace Park of Anitkabir. The 24 stone lions represent the 24 Turkic ethnic groups. The paving stones were a real pain to walk on, though. I kept tripping and falling over, thanks to the canyon-like gaps. 24 lions, 24 bruises. Game, set, match, Anitkabir.

The statues of 3 men in the outfits of a soldier, an academician and a farmer/peasant.

The statues of 3 women in Turkish national costumes, displaying the virtues of courage, determination and solemnity in the face of grief and hardship. Not a very accurate portrayal of Turkish women, in my humble opinion – they are so much more beautiful in real life. 

Inside the very grand Hall of Honour, where Ataturk’s tomb is located.

Our coach overheated and broke down on a mountain highway between Ankara and Safranbolu. I asked Ahmet and Hakan if I could be of help but they told me they could handle it. I took photos of roadside Turkish wildflowers for identification to help me pass the time. Thankfully, Ahmet and Hakan got the bus engine purring again within minutes but we lost our on-board wifi connection for the rest of the day.

We finally arrived in Safranbolu and checked into our hotel, an 18th century Ottoman mansion.

Safranbolu is Turkiye’s most thoroughly preserved Ottoman town, and this is just one example of the old Ottoman mansions along the cobblestone paths.

During the 17th century, the main Ottoman trade route between Gerede and the Black Sea coast passed through Safranbolu, bringing commerce, prominence and money to the town. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Safranbolu’s wealthy inhabitants built mansions of sun-dried mud bricks, wood and stucco. Safranbolu owes its fame to the large numbers of these sturdy Ottoman mansions that have survived.

Green plums are a sour and tart delicacy in Turkiye in early summer. These hard, marble-like fruits never get ripe, and fall off the trees just as they are if not plucked. I ate hundreds of these during my stay in Turkiye.

“Kedi Evi”, or Cat House. The Safranbolu Municipal Council had very kindly built these tiny Ottoman houses for the community cats that live in Safranbolu so they could keep warm in winter. The locals put out food and water for the cats. Since it is early summer, the cats prefer to sleep outdoors during our visit.

An old-timey kitchen fireplace in the Kaymakamlar Muze Evi, a Safranbolu Ottoman house that has been converted into a museum to show us how Safranbolu residents used to live in the 18th century.

Agricultural tools used by the residents of Safranbolu in the 17th-18th century on display in the entrance area of Kaymakamlar Muze Evi.

The rear garden of the Kaymakamlar Muze Evi.

The commercial area of Safranbolu, with its quaint little shops and cafes along cobblestone paths.

Most of the streets in the commercial area are divided by trades and professions. This is a little lane leading to the area where ironworkers and metallurgists live and work.

A quintet of young buskers outside the shops. 

I stopped to buy sweets from the SafranTat sweet shop in Safranbolu. It was like a sweet shop right out of a storybook.

I returned to the inn for a bath and met this lovely tiny kitten in the courtyard of our inn. The innkeepers are cat lovers and are caring for the resident cats.

The kitten climbed straight onto my lap and made herself at home there. Her mother turned up around 10 minutes later and asked for head skritches. The kitten then climbed off my lap and went to her mother, after which she began to suckle contentedly. Bliss.

Exploring the picturesque streets of Safranbolu on my own again at night.

The SafranTat sweet shop looks even more inviting at night.

The Safranbolu town mesjid at night.

Exploring the streets of Safranbolu alone at night, trying desperately to get lost, to put my navigational skills to the test. Friendly, curious locals stop me for a chat, and green plums, cherries and lokum are pressed into my surprised hands. I order a Turkish coffee at a street café, and the lady, unbidden, hands me a small towel to dry my rain-saturated head with, making wild rubbing gestures with her hands, an expression of concern on her face, convincing me yet again that kindness is a language everyone understands. When the shops and inns I had relied on as landmarks turned out their lights and closed their shutters for the night, the warm glow of light from the town masjid guided my way back.

Oh, Türkiye, it's going to be so hard to say goodbye.


A Big Kid with an Old Soul... said...

Erhmehgerd!!! Soooo pretty!!! When anyone mentiones Turkey only ppl know is the Blue mosque, not much known of their pretty, quaint Countryside and rich History! I would find it hard to leave too! I love the little Cat house they have for their Strays!! Awwws! :)

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks for coming over, Bestie! Yes, more people need to realise that Turkey is more than just mosques and carpets! It's an amazing and stunningly beautiful country with kind and hospitable people!