Travel is about experience, about people. Throw away that guidebook and follow these steps to know the friendliest, most hospitable people on earth. The Turks have been invaded, rarely conquered, and always admired for thousands of years. Living on land that has long been the crossroads of civilizations they have always dealt with visitors from around the globe. Modern day tourists can’t help but trip over these remains of ancient cultures. Famous people such as St. Paul, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and even Barack Obama have come here to conquer or court this country for its supreme position. Ankara has been the capital of Turkey since 1923, and it is here that great people still come to meet the Turks. So how can you do it?
First, you must know that tea and coffee are integral in Turkish lives. To visit a pastane (pastry shop) or café to just sit, watch, catch someone’s eye, and be friendly will provide you with a good start. Ask the waiter or the customer at the next table a question, and you will be surrounded with people who want to help you and give you advice. The conversation will take off from there and in the meantime you will be tasting some of the best çay (tea) or kahve (coffee) that the world has to offer.
Next, you should visit a traditional Turkish bath, or hamam. Don’t be intimidated as you undress and amble into the steamy marble room to wash, be scrubbed, and pampered for at least 30-40 minutes. Nothing can make you forget the aches and pains of travel or jet lag better than a hamam. For more info on how to hamam, click here.
After your hamam experience, it’s time to hit another café. This time it should be at one that serves Nargile (hookah) as well as food and drink. Turks love to sit and drink tea, play backgammon, and smoke a water pipe to while away the afternoon. Challenge anyone to a game, and you will be on your way to making some friends for life.
At this point, you might want to head to the center of the city, up to the citadel to take in the view and do some shopping. In Ulus, you can wander through a part of the city that hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. From the mud and timber houses that hang out over the tiny alleyways, to the spice market right outside the gate, there are plenty of traditional artisans and wares to view. As you wander through the streets you hear the coppersmiths working and the çay sellers carrying their clinking tray of steaming glasses to all the shops and shopkeepers. Sit in a carpet shop sipping some apple tea as you gaze at textiles from all over the country.
The last thing to do in Ankara is to try some delectable Turkish dishes. As you walk through Ulus, you can try some savory cheese or meat börek pastry or a gozleme which looks like a tortilla filled with potato or meat. At any restaurant, you can try world-famous Döner Kebab or a lamb stew with a hunk of thick bread to soak up all the luscious gravy. Engage with the waiter or even a customer nearby. Have a question about where to buy that special carpet or kilim? I’m sure they’ll be willing to help.
No matter what you do in Ankara, don’t forget to ask questions and talk to the people. They are open and friendly and will do anything for you. You may not remember every artifact in the museum, but you will never forget the people of this city.