First Impressions: Ankara

No one ever writes anything particularly special about Ankara. Guidebooks don’t dedicate many pages to the capital. And, when I mentioned to people that I was moving to Turkey, their faces lit up:

They: “Istanbul?!”
Me: “No, Ankara.”
They:”Oh, too bad. Istanbul is great.”

My first impressions of Ankara had been quite favorable, up until this past Tuesday, when a bomb exploded in Ulus, killing six. I’m now a bit loathe to go to the old city, as you can imagine. Nevertheless, not even London, Madrid, New York, or Washington is immune to these types of things. For what it’s worth, three days on after a bombing, this city is unshaken. Turkey knows how to handle these situations, it seems.

On the whole, I feel very safe here. I don’t know if it’s that community feel, where everyone knows what the other is doing, or the fact that there are tons of police, military, and armed guards all over the city. It’s not uncommon to see men with large guns (AK-47s, maybe?) outside of some apartment buildings. I think they’re on detail for some government minister, but who knows for sure.

Ankara gets a bad rap, if it gets any rap at all. I’ve heard it called a “butt ugly capital.” Others have called it boring. I even overheard that Turks from Istanbul like to refer to Ankara as “Yava?ington” (Yava? means “slow”). But I guess if I can love Washington, that other slow “second city,” then I can learn to love Ankara.

In recalling conversations with Turkish people about Ankara, however, no one ever mentioned what a hilly place this is. Or, at least, they never emphasized it. Ankara is in a wide valley surrounded by mountains, and it is topographically not unlike San Francisco or Hong Kong. Going out for a walk, one way or another, you’re going to have to climb a steep hill or two. I’ve lost about five pounds just from the daily workout. Ankara is also extremely dry. We arrived during a verdant spring, but I hear that all of the vegetation is brown and withered by summer’s end.The weather is unbelievably lovely now, with days in the high 70s to low 80s and nights in the 40s and 50s. I imagine this is one of the ideal times of year to visit here, as well as nearby Anatolian towns like Cappadocia.

Speaking of visiting…Ankara is one of those towns, like Mumbai, that is more pleasant to live in than to visit. Save for a few monuments and museums, Ankara is not long on sights. But it has the types of things one needs from day to day: coffee shops, bookstores, outdoor vegetable markets, friendly neighborhood supermarkets, parks. Despite the inevitable tension (which is just as palpable in the U.S.), I think I will like it here. For starters, there’s the food…

Your Thoughts?