Hubbly Bubbly with the Melon Heads

Trip Start Nov 05, 2010
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Trip End Mar 27, 2013


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Flag of Turkey  , Ankara,
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ankara, the capital of Turkey is unwisely avoided by most visitors to the country. That gave us an opportunity to see the real Turkey away from the tourist trail. When we arrived we expected to see a very serious city full of government officials and bureaucrats. Sasha and Dasha realized nothing can be further from the truth with lots of help from our Couch-surfing host Mohamed. 

After leaving the otogar we rode a few stops on the metro and got off at a very hip area full of students sitting in outdoor cafe studying for various engineering exams. Mohamed had a dance class and asked us to wait for him at Starbucks. There was one just outside the station and we assumed we are at a correct one. The staff was very nice to let us use their phone and explained where we are in Turkish. That all the information Mohamed and his friend U. needed to find us. That was a wrong Starbucks but that did not matter. We spent the night together, chatting, laughing and eating the best baked potatoes in town. The concept of vegetarianism is foreign to most Turks. Our new friends did not know how to handle that; in fact we were the first people they have met that never eat any meat products. They learned that there is nothing wrong with their kebaps (that each Turk is proud of). We just choose not to have any meat.

Mohamed's place was in a very central area full of parks and low cost street stalls full of cheap clothing. It was a cherry season and fruits were everywhere. Sasha and Dasha walked all day next day. In the morning we got our train tickets to Kars. Then we headed towards the Ataturk mausoleum.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (literally means Father of the Turks) has a special place in the hearts of all Turkish people. Just like Lenin in the former Soviet Union. His pictures are omnipresent. In our hotel in Edirne there was a golden mold of him on the wall. His images portray different stages of his life: a young military officer, a statesman in a suit, standing or on horseback. The mausoleum is a place of pilgrimage for countless school groups that come from the countryside. Many of them have never seen foreigners in their lifetimes and we were asked to pose for pictures with them several times as we explored the garden outside the Napoleonesque tomb

Sasha learned a lot about modern Turkey from an onsite museum. He was fascinated by the language reform. The Turkish language has a large variety of sounds that do not exist in the Arabic alphabet. As a result, Turkish words were spelled differently from the way they were pronounced and most people were illiterate. A special commission was appointed to study conversion to Latin writing that advised on special accents to be used on some letters. If Turkey has adopted Cyrillic instead all accents would be unnecessary; but that option was not seriously considered for political reasons. By the way, Sasha has found Turkish phonetically similar to Russian and he was always understood when reading out of his phrasebook. Additionally, many loan words from Persian, Arabic and French were eliminated to maintain the linguistic purity. Unlike other countries of similar size such as Germany or Iran, Turkish language is fairly standard; a person from East Thrace speaks pretty much the same way as someone from Ordu or Kars. 

Another interesting change under Ataturk - an adoption of surnames. All Turks were required to get one. Often those were derived from someone's father's name, a place or a trait using a suffix oğlu. All needed official approval; last names that considered immoral or obscene were not allowed. The surname Ataturk is unique to the founder of modern Turkey. Nobody else can be named Ataturk. It is the law. 
 
When we came back in the evening our friend Mohamed took us out. Our plan was to find a real Turkish bath. A Hamam that we went to in Bodrum was a tourist establishment and we were looking for the real thing. Unfortunately, the ladies section was closed for a private function. Traditionally, Turkish baths are segregated by gender. Men massage men while women massage women. Unwilling to leave Dasha behind, we decided not to go to a Hamam that time and we settled for the second "best thing" - smoking narghile and playing backgammon. Sasha and Dasha just wanted to try hookah and they did it the way locals do. Our pipe was melon flavored. Sasha learned to play backgammon - it turned out to be much easier than chess. Despite his lucky dice he lost. However, the game is not about winning or losing. No wonder why life in Turkey is so stress free!

Until next time,
SD

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