What We Will and Won’t Miss About Ankara

In the city

I’m not the type to look for signs, but I don’t ignore them either. The recent coup attempt in Turkey may or may not have been a sign, but it certainly caught our attention. As a lone incident, it was an unfortunate shock, but as a climax following series of attacks and incidents in Istanbul and Ankara, it was our cue to exit stage right. Coming here was written for us without a doubt, but staying here doesn’t seem to be. In spite of the hiccups and challenges, our year in Turkey has been an enriching experience. We’ve befriended wonderful people, saw breathtaking vistas and experienced a refined culture of genuine hospitality. We are a bit disappointed about our early departure but definitely not sad. We’ve been traveling long enough to know that some souls never really part and reunions happen in the most unforeseen ways. As nomads, you never know where we’ll turn up or return to, so this is definitely not a goodbye but moreso a “see you later”. While prepping to depart, we’ve been reflecting on the sum total of our stay and came up with the following.

Coast

WHAT WE WILL MISS:

The people: Generally speaking, Turkish people have been refreshingly hospitable to us. Their interest and curiosity about us has always seemed sincere and polite. They are endearing to children, respectful to elders, and welcoming to strangers. Other than being incredible hosts, our Turkish friends have taken cleanliness to a whole other level. At times we felt like they caught crumbs and dust before they even touched the floor and maintained impeccable homes in spite of having young children. This standard might be unattainable for us but it was pretty impressive to witness.

The country: Turkey is a really beautiful country with a variety of landscapes and geographic features. Endless mountain ranges, dense green forests, and the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean Sea are all etched in our minds vividly. Sights of interest are abundant and have been well-maintained and accessible to us. Our only regret is that we didn’t have a chance to see more and that some very religiously significant regions are challenged by instability.

The food: Oh, the food. The simplicity of fresh herbs, cold-pressed olive oil, fresh lemon juice and salt have forever changed our approach to salads. Though we generally don’t love cold foods, we’ve become smitten with a genre of dishes that are slow cooked in olive oil and served cold. Eating seasonally has introduced us to new foods like fresh figs, quinces, celery root, and a variety of vegetables grown locally. Some of our favorite food finds here were black rice, pomegranate syrup, fresh dill, dried organic apricots, and leblebi (dry roasted chickpeas).

Aegean Food

The mosques: I’ve yet to see an unkempt mosque or a substandard women’s prayer hall in Ankara. From large congregational mosques to the tiny prayer rooms in shopping centers, I’ve consistently seen efforts to maintain the beauty, cleanliness, and awe that a place of worship merits.

The fashion: While I can’t describe a traditional, Turkish style of dress, the sisters here definitely have their own flavor and unique expression of modesty. A few years ago, I made a decision to no longer buy clothes that were not designed with my customer profile in mind. So, online shopping in Turkey has been a wonderland for me. I can easily find a wide variety of suitable clothing articles that are fashionable, modest, and affordable.

Domestic production: When shopping, I prefer to buy items from as close to my locality as possible. From toothpaste to clothing to sugar-free jams, I love the plentiful opportunities to support the local economy and region.

Village Pride: Almost everyone I’ve met in Ankara mentions a “back home” where grandparents live, where parents grew up, and where they visit elders for Eid holidays. Even in the supermarkets, there’s an emphasis on foods sourced from a köy, or village, and I’ve grown to equate them with traditional, homemade goodness.

Fethiye

WHAT WE WON’T MISS:

The politics: We’re totally over the politics, the tension, and the drama. It was frustrating at times to be misunderstood when our everyday choices about diet, faith practice, and dress were seen as political statements or stances. We are on the side of piety, integrity, and humanity, wherever it is represented.

Learning Turkish: Learning the language hasn’t been easy but was essential for our day-to-day survival in Ankara. Yes, there are many words from Arabic, even French and English, but Turkish grammar was burying us alive. We absolutely loved our Turkish teacher, but we’re glad to not go any deeper down that rabbit hole for now.

The social culture: Being a fairly liberal capital, smoking and drinking are quite common in Ankara. We especially hated seeing people smoke so liberally around children or drunk in public. Similarly, the very secularized expression of Islam that we regularly encountered here lacked the soul of the faith that captured our hearts over a decade ago. The religious community here seemingly functions here as a minority, though being in a Muslim-majority country. Again, Twilight Zone experiences were common for us.

Time to go

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Turkey Adventures: Day Trip to Eskişehir

Turkey's Happiest City

Now that spring has sprung, we’re getting out and exploring again. For a quick and easy day trip from Ankara, Eskişehir had all the right ingredients: accessible by train, pedestrian-friendly, learning opportunities for children, and vegan food. We all but flew to this colorful university town and were eager to explore.

Cafe de Kedi in Eskişehir

We traveled with another family from Ankara by high-speed train for the short, one and a half hour journey. Our first stop was Café de Kedi, a vegan and vegetarian spot not too far from the train station. True to its name, it seemed more inviting to cats than people, but their vegan Turkish breakfast begged our patronage. Instead of the typical offerings of cheese, eggs, and meat, alongside fresh bread, jams, tahini, olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers; our feast included lentil salad, tofu cheese, sautéed potatoes, oat cereal with soy milk, lentil soup, tahini stuffed pastries, pickled green tomatoes, cut apples, and a variety of sauces and jams. The combination of our smorgasbord seemed dissonant but was beautiful in its confusing variety. To have so many options for breakfast instead of just bread, olives, and jam was a great treat for us and at only about 4 USD a serving, we couldn’t miss it.

Sazova Park in Eskişehir

After walking along the broad walkways and painted bridges, we took a taxi to Sazova Park to visit the Science Arts and Cultural Park. Bilim Deney Merkezi is a modest museum that is engaging and fun for everyone from toddlers to grandparents. Hydraulics, mechanics, acoustics, and physics were all presented as interesting and fascinating activities. Lil’ Z and I attended a science show displayed on the dome-shaped ceiling of their science center. We didn’t understand the dubbed over Turkish narration but enjoyed watching scenes take us from the ocean floor bottom to outer space.

Unique rock in Eskişehir

With much left to be explored, we decided to move on to Odunpazarı, the Old City, where glass and craft artisans showcase and sell their wares. We noticed a lot of white clay products and later learned that it’s called meerschaum and is unique to this particular region of Turkey.

Veg Food in Eskişehir

For our next meal, we stopped at Café Rasta. We were hopeful that the eatery would have vegan and gluten-free options for our entourage already on the menu but instead, they prepared a custom-made meal for us. It was tasty but surprising that the red, green, and gold branded café didn’t serve more Rasta-friendly fare.

Custom-made vegan food at Cafe Rasta in Eskişehir

As the day drew to a close, we tried to slip over to the Çağdaş Cam Sanatları Müzesi to see glass-blowing in progress but it was after 4pm and the demonstrations were done for the day. Instead, we retreated for some tea and fries while waiting for our returning train to Ankara. After more than an hour delay, we finally got on board and all agreed that the day was enjoyably well-spent. Both of our families traveled well together and we hope to plan another short trip soon.

Odunpazarı Manhole

Review: La Flamme d’Istanbul in Casablanca

La Flamme

Casablanca has a strong consumer culture.  If you love shopping and food, you can have your heyday in this city.  New restaurants are the talk of the town, and the opening of La Flamme d’Istanbul was no different.  Plastered on billboards, delivery trucks, and Facebook, the new Turkish restaurant was well-marketed and their Turkish chefs became local celebrities.  We stumbled on its location during a morning stroll and I couldn’t help but grab a menu.  With my limited French food vocabulary, I successfully identified a handful of vegan dishes and was anxious to try them since I’ve always enjoyed Turkish cuisine and hospitality.

One very special friend of mine was in the neighborhood, so we planned to meet at La Flamme for lunch.  We both were riding high on anticipation and couldn’t wait to add our impressions to the growing list of rave reviews.  The sleek modern décor with colorful, hanging lanterns was inviting.  Our waiters didn’t don their red Fez hats that day but they were cordial and attentive.

Before placing our order I had two inquiries to make:  Was the lentil soup of the day vegan?  Can I have my hummus without Turkish yogurt?  Disappointingly, the soup had chicken in it but the hummus didn’t have yogurt as the menu indicated, so I proceeded to order the latter.  Lil’ Z had her heart set on French fries—a rare treat– and I added baba ghanoush to our order.  For meat-eaters, the offerings are abundant but the plant-based options were limited.   Nonetheless, I looked forward to tasting the familiar staple dishes I’ve always enjoyed.

Fries, Hummus, and Baba Ghanoush

The French fries were served in the cutest little fry basket with small dishes of ketchup and Dijon mustard.  Both the hummus and baba ghanoush looked appetizing alongside the warm, baked rounds of bread.  Once my friend’s meal arrived, we started eating and casually chatting.  As usual, our conversation was rich but at some point I realized that the food was lacking in flavor.  I would taste again and again searching for the familiar delight of Turkish cuisine but found it absent.  Though we haven’t made it to Turkey yet, we’ve enjoyed their cuisine as one of our favorites in Oman.  How could La Flamme be so off?  My friend agreed that the hummus was bland but assured me that the meat she ordered was pretty good.  “Perhaps their specialty is all things meaty”, I suggested to her while debriefing our visit.  The most satisfying part of my meal was their baklava which was lightly sweetened, filled with cinnamon and walnuts, and topped with ground pistachios.  It was the best I’ve had in a while and the only dish I would return for in the future.

Baklava