The itinerary for our tour has changed because of the Eid Festival—instead of seeing Istanbul, we are leaving for the rest of the country first. If we stayed in Istanbul, we couldn’t see many of the sights because they would be closed, so we are turning things around a bit.
Our guide is a tall, stocky man who is probably in his late 20s or 30s, but it’s hard to tell. He speaks very good English, but with a bit of a German influence. I ask him and he says that he guides tours in English and German, which explains things.
We bumble onto the bus, sort of jostling and figuring each other out. We will be close companions for many days and I can sense the sort of determining the hierarchy and relative ranking that always occurs when you put a group of people together. We drive through some of the city that I saw on the tour and park at Taksim Square. People get off the bus and go exploring, but I elect to stay and watch the people. Of course, having been to Taksim Square twice before might have something to do with it. It actually was a good choice. The bus driver and I go down a sidestreet away from the city and park on a steeo incline. Of course, all the inclines in Istanbul are steep…and uphill. I’m glad to have a few minutes to be alone, to collect my thoughts and get ready for what lies ahead.
I hate to admit starting the trip tired, but I am. I have been somewhat jet lagged and haven’t slept well so I stare for a few minutes at the hillside to regroup, marveling at how well the driver manages a huge bus with a clutch on such a steep incline.
A generic tree, I can’t tell what it is, but then I’m not particularly good at identifying trees in North America, much less Istanbul, is turning gold in the autumn chill. Its leaves shimmer slightly in the breeze, making it look like it is shivering. Some sort of industrial complex with cement grey buildings tumble down the hill. A small patio with chairs and an octagonal building with bright red-orange windows shows that sometime humans do occupy the space. I look more closely and one of the more distant walls is almost completely covered by the Turkish flag—its vivid red background with the white star and crescent a sharp contrast to the grey buildings.
We return to the Square where the rest bound up the steps laden with treasures from the East—you’d think they were spice merchants from their gleeful expressions—postcards, Evil Eyes, shawls, tapestries are held up for admiration. I think to myself that they will need new suitcases if they continue to purchase at this rate for the rest of the tour.
We head out of city toward the Bolu Mountain range. It’s a highly mountainous area. The trees are gilt, covered with gold coins. Rows of poplars appear planted in what appear to be almost orchards and later we are told that they are grown in that fashion in this area of the country,
It’s a very wooded area and it looks like fall anywhere in the world that I’ve been. Most of the trees are gold, with a few reds and a great deal of green. I am surprised by how cold it is here, but it is a very large country and the climate varies as much as it does from Colorado to Southern Florida. The roads are very good, new and modern. We are on our way to Ankara, the capital, traveling alongside a large lake which is a water source for Istanbul.
We stop for lunch at a truck stop, unlike any truck stop in American, with a huge buffet filled with unknown foods and a market with spices, fruits, cheese and many other unidentified foods. I ate an egg buried in yogurt sauce (I thought it was going to be cheese), some sort of beans, olives and what tasted like corn bread drenched in honey. With a sour cherry drink. Here, along with orange juice in the morning, they serve sour cherry juice. It’s not terribly sour, more tart than sour, and I’m beginning to be quite fond of it.
People on the bus are saying how the people aren’t very friendly, but I find them about the same as anywhere else. Some are friendly; some are not. But most of the time when I smile, I get a smile in return.
Back on the bus, racing the fading daylight, I spot my first animals other than dogs and cats—black and white cows. I’m waiting to see sheep since lamb and mutton is served extensively, they have to grow the animals somewhere. Perhaps not in this mountainous region, however.
We travel for about an hour and then our guy says we are going to stop to “open our legs.” The bus erupts in laughter, and his command of English is good enough for him to realize he made a direct translation from the Turkish and he immediately corrects himself to “stretch your legs.” But the damage is done!
It is late when we arrive at our hotel but even in the dark it’s obvious that Ankara is a political city. It’s that odd blend of austerity and pomposity that one finds in many capitals where bureaucrats gather to determine the fate of others. It also has horrible air, smoggy and smokey. Most of Istanbul is heated with natural gas, but obviously not all of Ankara is. It’s also smotheringly hot in the hotel. They must think that tourists are all from hot climes, because it must be 95 in the room. My roommate and I agree that it’s too hot to sleep with the window closed, so we open the balcony doors.
From our window, which is up about 7 stories, we can see an amusement park with an illuminated Ferris Wheel flashing multi-colors into the sky, making a rainbow of illumination on the night sky. It’s almost like fireworks celebrating the first full day on the tour.