Going off the map // Ankara, Turkey

Going off the map // Ankara, Turkey

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Have you ever visited somewhere kind of off the map? A place you never thought you’d find yourself. I did. Despite being the capital of Turkey, Ankara surprised me more than any place I’ve ever visited. I lived in the DC area for 5 years, I know what constitutes a capital: regal buildings, thought-provoking statues, and wide streets good for fast-moving motorcades. Ankara, though, wasn’t this way. Ankara was a tangled, dusty, city, somewhere on the brink of growth or decline. 

Within five minutes of landing, I was uncomfortably cornered by what appeared to be an airport employee in an elevator. Nothing happened, but I elbowed my way out before anything could. I didn’t have a good taste in my mouth but did my best to work though it. Ankara gave me a comparison for what a capital could be. My normal isn’t everyone’s normal.

One hazy afternoon we made our way to the city center to the Citadel, a 3000 year old structure that formerly acted as a fortress (yes, that’s three 0’s). From the Citadel we were told we’d see stunning panoramic views of the city. I was delighted by the narrow alleys en route selling traditional handcrafts for next to nothing.

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With the unmarked roads, we had missed a turn and found ourselves traveling downhill again. The views here though were marvelous. The dust and setting sun caused a hazy ambiance. The air was still and nearly silent as we walked.

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Standing on top of an electrical shed to prove that I’m agile… or because I’m still a kid and enjoying climbing things. (I know you like it too!)

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Despite strict rules against the burning of coal, this is still one of the most common methods for residential heating in Turkey. Coal can cause serious illnesses as it releases carcinogens when it’s burned. For some, this is the only alternative, especially with the spotty electrical service. Aside from the health impact, coal is horrible for the environment and certainly a large contributor to all the haze. With Dan getting his Master’s in Sustainability and Environmental Management, it was quite a shock to see firsthand an city heavily rely on a limited resource.

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After a child offered to give us directions (for a fee) we found our way to the Ankara Fortress and hiked to the top. The sprawling structure is perched at a high central point in the city, offering spectacular views of the evening cityscape.

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From my position on the far side of the fortress I could capture the other side, connected by a narrow barrier wall. The entire complex appeared to be in the midst of collapsing. Despite the city views, the the neighborhood surrounding the fortress seemed to have been forgotten. I was happy to be there, but I wasn’t comfortable. I found the silence eerie and concerning. Despite my hang-ups with tourists in Venice, it was too quiet here. I wanted to surrounded by fellow travelers.

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You’re not going to believe me, but I swear I’m not photoshopped into this picture. Swear.

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With the sun dipping below the horizon we quickly trekked down into the open streets of the nearby market area. Back in the warmth and hustle and bustle of shops and restaurants my sentiments improved.

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With the blare of the Call to Prayer, we tucked in to a cozy restaurant for Turkish feast. Munching down menagerie of grilled eats, I adore Turkish cuisine. Sometimes, off the map is a good thing, sometimes it’s not so good – but this is why we travel. We travel to learn. To grow. To gain perspective. Isn’t it?

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The world is a book, those that do not travel read only a page.

-Saint Augustine