Turkey - part 1: Ankara to Adana via Istanbul
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
I'm recently back from a 7-week tour of Turkey. I visited 10 towns and cities and learned so much about a country I had never been to before.
During the trip I kept a journal in the form of emails to my family back home in the UK, and below you can read the first installment taken from those emails, accompanied by some of my favourite pictures of the wonderful people and places I encountered on my journey. I hope you enjoy it!
I arrived in Turkey on Sunday 8th after a 4 hour flight from London to Istanbul and then a short hop to Ankara but thanks to my suitcase getting temporarily misdiverted at Ankara airport I didn’t get into my hotel room until quite late. I had a nice hotel, the Divan in central Ankara, and went straight off to work on Monday morning at a music school in West Ankara in a residential district.
I quickly found out about the legendary hospitality found in Turkey. My interpreter, Okan, picked me up and returned me to the hotel each day (about a 45 minute drive) and worked with me all day, plus we also went to lunch together. By the end of the week he and I were getting on famously and we ended up having a ‘night out’ on Friday in Ankara which was great fun. Ankara was pretty cosmopolitan and had a European feel to it. I was there with another colleague and we were invited to a concert one night at Bilkent University of music by the famous Turkish composer Saygun. It was a really interesting and enjoyable concert of music for piano duet, two pianos, three pianos, violin, cello, oboe and clarinet, all played by alumni or professors at the university.
On the Saturday I left Ankara and took a high-speed train to Konya, about a two-hour trip south through endless wheat fields and plateaus. I stayed at the relatively new Ramada Plaza hotel, very swish, a little out of town but with a tram stop outside that you could catch into the centre. Not that I needed it - the local music school owner, Melike, and the interpreter, Cengizhan met me off the train, drove me to the hotel, and then messaged me later asking if I’d like to go out for the evening with them. We had a lovely evening (Cengizhan’s wife came too - they even got a babysitter) chatting and getting to know each other better - mostly them me, though I had clearly been well and truly ‘googled’ before I even arrived in the city. I was quizzed about my family (they knew all the names), my songwriting, my school teaching etc etc. More wonderful hospitality.
The next day I had some time to myself but Melike and Cengizhan picked me up at about 3pm and we went to the Konya air show - an annual event so I was rather lucky that I caught it. Everyone basically parked in the road and got out of their cars to watch from the roadside - first of all a couple of displays from solitary fighter jets (looked like F-16s) and then a 7-jet red arrows-esque display which was breathtaking and took place only 200 feet above our heads some of the time! At one point the Turkish national anthem was played and everybody stood to attention and sang along - even the lorries on the road stopped.
After that we visited Sille, an old Turkish village in the hills outside Konya (the city is in a bowl but quite high - very windy) and took some nice photos and drank tea near the huge and beautiful Lake Sille Baraj. The afternoon was rounded off with a gorgeous meal in a restaurant in the city - breads, yoghurt, salad, kofte (meatballs), fondue-like cheese and re-fried beans. Very tasty. And still they wouldn’t let me pay for anything.
I did three days’ work in Konya in Melike's lovely music school surrounded by gardens and tweeting birds, and the room was light and airy which was very pleasant. One lunchtime my interpreter Cengizhan took me to the tea house that he has recently bought in the old town, and where he works when he’s not interpreting or teaching English. He and his dad run an excellent, friendly place and many locals sit and drink tea (a national pastime in Turkey, consumed out of small vase-shaped glasses and very refreshing). I was welcomed by all the staff and treated like royalty - the tea-house's location in the centre of the old town and near to a major mosque meant that it was always very busy and there was a lovely, friendly atmosphere there.
My last evening in Konya was - predictably - cause for more eating and tea drinking, this time at a tiny restaurant famous for its lamb and liver, which came out to the table on skewers over a foot long. You used very thin unleavened bread to pull the meat off the skewer, then added salad, yoghurt, spices etc to your heart’s content before eating it like a taco, all the time watching out for lurking chillis. Tables had a tube attached for used skewers. This was another lovely meal and I left Konya by car on the Thursday having made many new friends.
The drive to Adana was four hours in the company of a nice driver who spoke no English, resulting in a hilarious conversation via google translate when we stopped for tea midway. Part of the drive was through the Taurus mountains through tunnel after tunnel, and views were spectacular. We passed near the very ancient city of Tarsus.
Adana was a large city, only a couple of hours from the Syrian border and very interesting. Near my hotel was a huge park and the Seyhan River as well as a massive mosque with six minarets that woke me up early every morning. The park was a beautiful place to walk, the hotel room was really comfy and food was lovely - the ‘Adana’ kebab being the most famous dish and no doubt I’ll have one very soon. I did one day of work - Friday - at a busy school there before the weekend - my second in Turkey.
Due to a national holiday I had a three day weekend, and with not a lot to do in Adana I decided to go to Istanbul for a little break and some sightseeing. It’s an hour and a half by plane from Adana’ tiny little airport (just two gates) to Atatürk with Onur Air, and I had a couple of excellent days wandering around, taking in the Basilica cistern, the awe inspiring Hagia Sophia (both built by emperor Justinian) and the Süleyman Mosque (the famous Sultanahmet Mosque or ‘Blue Mosque’ was closed for renovation).
The cistern was quite something; an underground palace of columns and channels, some of which contained carp. The Hagia Sophia was a Byzantine church which became a mosque in later life, and there were some stunning and quite famous mosaics in there, revealing an interesting combination and sometimes clash between Islam and Christianity. I also climbed the Galata tower and was rewarded with excellent views of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
Istanbul is well worth a visit, the metro was easy and attractions were cheap though there are often long queues. I took a free walking tour which was well worth it, and ended up having dinner (more kebabs!) with some of the others on the tour. Sadly the grand bazaar was closed but I managed to see plenty and enjoyed the break.
I flew back to Adana with Pegasus Airlines (a bit like Turkey's Easyjet) from Istanbul’s second airport - Sabiha Gokcen, which was a cheaper option, 20 miles away from the hotel on the Asian side (I spent the weekend on the European side). Avoiding paying £££ for a taxi or a transfer I found a bus that runs from Taksim square to the airport for 10 Turkish Lira and was rewarded with a really interesting journey including, of course, the Bosphorus bridge which links the two continents.
Installment 2 of this travelogue - Adana to Fethiye - is now available. Thanks for reading!