I couldn’t believe I was finally heading to Turkey! It’s always been one of those countries on my bucket list — I mean, who wouldn’t want to fly on a balloon over stunning landscapes, swim in a white cotton castle, and visit some of the ruined cities that I’ve only heard of in stories. I was super excited!
Traversing Turkey with Parlo Tours (Pt.1 of 4)
I was traveling on a 9 days 7 nights group tour in Turkey with Parlo Tours (click here for the detailed itinerary). Ankara was the first stop of the tour upon our arrival in the country; and the first part of this four-part series of articles on my journey around Turkey. The other places that we (my Mum and I) visited were Cappadocia; the ruins of Hierapolis-Pamukkale, Ephesus and Troy; and Istanbul. As with all group tours, entrance tickets and fees are included; but my articles will include the prices to some of the local attractions. To find out more about Parlo Tours and the other different tours this Malaysian travel company offers, click here.
Arriving in Turkey (Journey to Ankara)
Our direct overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur arrived at the Istanbul International Airport in the early morning. From there, we were picked up by bus and immediately whisked off to the capital city of Ankara — 5 hours away! On the way, we crossed one of the three main bridges of Istanbul that led us from the European part of the country, into the Asian portion; and then we traversed the coast along the Marmara Sea and into the Turkish region of Central Anatolia. It was a really long journey, but our local tour guide, Gunes, did a great job in keeping us interested the entire way with his detailed introduction of Turkey. We had two short breaks in between the trip to stretch our legs, and arrived in Ankara just in time for lunch.
Ankara, the Capital City
The capital of Turkey, Ankara, is the second largest city in the country (after Istanbul, the former imperial capital before the fall of the Ottoman empire). Ankara became the Turkish capital upon the establishment of the Republic of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (founder and first president) in 1923 — and was chosen because of its location inland. Formerly known as Angora, it is situated in the northwestern part of Turkey in the Central Anatolia region.
We were only exploring Ankara for a day. Though the city may not be as glamorous as Istanbul, or as popular a tourist attraction compared to many other places in Turkey; it is still an important commercial and industrial city. Ankara reflects Turkey’s long varied history — archeological evidence from the stone age, the many temple ruins of the Roman era, the ancient citadel from the Byzantine period, the buildings from the Ottomans, and now… monuments dedicated to modern Turkey. A great first day introduction to what Turkey is all about.
Our First Lunch in Turkey
It was straight to lunch upon our arrival in Ankara. Our tour guide Gunes, told us that our very first taste of Turkey was going to be fish — Bluefish, or in Turkish, Lüfer. It is one of the most common seasonal dishes in the country (so we had it almost everyday of the tour). Upon our arrival at the restaurant, we were served bread and soup for starters; and then on to the main meal of the fish with rice. Some of my tour members enjoyed the fish (Mum did too), but unfortunately, I was not a fan because of the amount of bones I had to pick out. I think I have to be completely honest here — all throughout my trip, I just couldn’t get used to the Turkish food. Well, perhaps except for kebab. I like kebab.
After lunch, we headed to the most significant monument in Ankara, and all of Turkey — Anitkabir. The Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the commander of the Turkish War of Independence and the Father of modern Turkey took 9 years to build, and was completed in 1953. The vast compound not only consists of the mausoleum; it also has a museum, a massive ceremonial plaza, and a long entrance walkway (lined with 24 stone lions) amidst lush parkland.
We spent almost two hours browsing through the museum that showcases Atatürk relics, as well as exhibits on the War of Independence; witnessed a small ceremony happening on the grounds; and then visited the “Hall of Honor”, the huge marble hall that houses the leader’s sarcophagus (tomb is below it). I learned so much about Turkish history here. Entrance is free.
And then it was back to the past. Our last stop in Ankara was the ancient Byzantine citadel in the historical center of town, on top of a 150m rocky hill — also known as the Ankara Castle. Though believed to date as far back as the 7th century; the current structure was constructed in the 9th century.
Our bus parked a little down the hill, so we had a make a short walk uphill to reach the main outer gate of the citadel. Upon entry, we were greeted with rows of ancient shops and run-down houses — people still stay here, and there are small souvenir shops around too. We followed the street and walked up a flight of stairs to reach the top of one of the ruined towers of the castle. From there, we could make out the extent of the citadel ruins, with sweeping views across Ankara. Admission is free.
The Bera Ankara
It was late evening by the time we were done with our afternoon tour of Ankara (and pretty exhausted from the non-stop traveling), so it was off to the hotel for check-in. Our accommodation on our first night in Turkey was at the Bera Ankara Hotel — just a few minutes walk from the bustling downtown area of Kizilay. For a 5-star hotel, our room at the Bera was pretty basic (but spacious enough); and had a pretty view of Kurtulus Park from our window. Buffet dinner and breakfast the next morning at the hotel’s restaurant were commendable (not much variety, but with a good Turkish selection). Some of our tour members walked out to Kizilay for a look see after dinner — but I was completely beat, and called it a night.
Tuz Golu Salt Lake
Second day in Turkey and straight after breakfast, we left Ankara. About a little more than an hour from the city, we had a quick pit stop at the Tuz Golu — and it literally translates to Salt Lake. Lake Tuz is the second biggest lake in Turkey, and one of the biggest salt lakes in the world. Most of the time, the lake is pretty shallow; and only dissolves in the fresh water during winter. We were visiting in the tail end of summer, so large parts of the lake were pretty dry for us to walk on — I took off my shoes and felt the roughness of the salt beneath my feet. There are a couple of mines operating around the lake, and they generate more than half of the salt consumed in the country. We entered the salt lake through one of the tourist stops along the way, and entrance was free.
… And Up Next on the Tour!
After the stop at Lake Tuz, we continued our journey away from Ankara. I have to say that it was an educational and inspiring visit to the capital city, and I am so glad that I got to learn a little more about the history of the country. Albeit only being in the city for half a day, we got to experience a little bit of the old and ancient, and a little bit of the new and modern — just enough for that first taste of Turkey.
And the next stop and second part of the tour is Cappadocia! Land of hot air balloons, underground cities, fairy chimneys and cave hotels. Read all about how I spent my two days in the rocky plains of Central Anatolia here.
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*She Walks the World was a guest on a trip to Turkey with Parlo Tours. The city of Ankara was one out of the many city stops on the group tour. And as always, all opinions stated here are my own.