I went to Ankara the first time because I found a cheap flight from there to Lebanon and it was close to Capadoccia. As the bus got closer to the city I felt like I was riding through the suburbs of an American town in the Midwest. So strange!
Ankara has seen lots of growth in recent decades and new apartment buildings are springing up all over the place. The metro has been extended to help bring people in from the suburbs to the city. There are several universities there, making the city feel quite young in a country with an already young population.
Between the metro and buses, Ankara was an easy city to traverse. All roads lead to Kızılay, the center of the city named after the Red Crescent/Cross office that is in the area. While I was there, many protests were still going on. Kızılay is the epicenter of any such protests and riot police sat by idly as protesters exercised their right to voice opposition.
Ankara has some ancient history, but its story is more of a modern one. Istanbul was always the capital under the Ottoman Empire, but when you look at the geography of Turkey it’s a bit exposed to the east and off in one of the corners of the country. Ankara is a natural location for a capital. It’s surrounded by mountains, somewhat near the center of the country, and had special significance to the Turkish Republic’s founder Atatürk.
The star of Ankara’s tourist offerings is Anıtkabir. It’s the final resting place of Atatürk as well as a museum. It’s on a raised hill so you can see it from other parts of Ankara quite easily. The gardens are beautiful and the day I visited there were many kids on field trips visiting. It was a nice atmosphere. The museum does a good job of preserving relics of a bygone era while also teaching a bit about Atatürk’s life and that of the Turkish Republic. He really had to fight to preserve a homeland for the Turks after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War One. Also buried there is İsmet İnönü, Turkey’s second president.
I also got to visit Turkey’s first and second parliaments. They were modest looking and reflected the times they were used – very uncertain and impoverished times of great social and political change in Turkey. It’s hard to imagine a leader demanding so much social change today (going from a religious to a secular state) and even changing from the Arabic to the Latin script for written Turkish.
Ankara has a castle atop a hill in some of the oldest neighborhoods of the city. I found it difficult to figure out how to get up there among the narrow, winding streets. Along the way I found mosques over 1000 years old still being used today.
Since Ankara is the capital city, all the embassies are there. I spent a day getting extra pages for my passport since I only had a few empty pages left and I’d need visas for most of the countries I’d visit in Africa. My passport is now 96 pages, which is a bit absurd but getting a new passport would have required 10 business days. It wasn’t an option.
Ankara was the kind of place that I felt was nicer to live in than to visit. But if you visited Istanbul as a tourist and hated the noise, the crowds, and abundance of tourists, you’ll find Ankara relatively free of tourists and much lighter crowds. It’s a great stepping off point to explore the east of Turkey, Capadoccia, and heading west to Ankara is just a 45 minute flight or 5 hour bus ride away.