Castles and Consulates in Ankara

/ By Josh

So normally I would be excited to start writing about a trip to some amazing place off the beaten track where we saw and tried things that would be totally new to us even after four years of exploring the country. But instead I went to Ankara.

Ankara has a pretty bad reputation in Istanbul. The saying is that “the most beautiful thing in Ankara is the road back to Istanbul” and “it doesn’t even have a sea!” Everyone, even many Ankara locals, mocks it for being an ugly and boring city of grey suits. As the capital of the country and home to countless government offices the grey suits part is totally true and I was headed to Ankara to meet with a bunch of these grey suits.

The residence permit requirements changed (as they seem to do every month) so I was headed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office to get some fancy stamps. I bought a ticket for the first train out of Istanbul and a return for the last train back to Istanbul thinking it would only take a few hours. I was oh so wrong. The office opens at 9:00 AM and I got there at 10:30 only to find myself the 120th person in line. They were only going to take eighty people that day. So I decided to spend the night and come back the next morning at 6:00. I got to the office before the sun was up the next day, waited outside in the 5°c weather, made some Iraqi, Chadian, Cameroonian, and local friends, then, once I finally got into the office, had my papers rejected.

And so I had the privilege of visiting Ankara again a couple of weeks later!

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When I went the second time I was much better prepared; I brought clothes with me, for one, and to top it off I brought Fred with me! The most positive person in the world!

Ankara Castle Gate Turkey
The old citadel of Ankara

Prepared with a few changes of clothes in my bag and a Fred at my side I again boarded the medium-speed train to Ankara (they call it a high-speed train but when I look out the window and see the cars passing us I’m not convinced!).

We arrived a day early so that we could explore the city a bit and see if we could find any little treasures hidden in the city of grey suits.

Ankara Aslanhan Camii Mosque Mihrab
The mihrab of Aslanhan Mosque, a beautiful Seljuk era mosque with a magnificent wood ceiling

Our first stop, after evading a hilarious old lady who was trying to adopt us, was the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. This is my favourite museum in Turkey. The focus of the museum is much narrower than most other archaeological museums and basically only has displays of stone-age to early iron-age finds from the Hattian, Hittites, Urartu, Phrygian, and other lesser known civilizations; in other words, items from peoples you won’t find anywhere else in the world. If you’ve been to a number of the ruined cities of Central Anatolia and Eastern Turkey, then this is a great place to stop and see what was uncovered in Turkey’s numerous digs.

Ankara Anatolian Civilizations Museum Orthostats
Some beautiful orthostats in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations

Before heading to the Canadian Consulate the next morning we made a quick climb up to one of Ankara’s most famous sights: Ankara Castle.

Ankara Castle Gate Turkey
Definitely the most touristic of the castle gates
Ankara Castle Walls Citadel
The citadel with some of the old neighbourhoods below

It was better than I expected. This ancient hill in the middle of the city is heavily fortified but the citadel at the peak of the hill has an astounding view of the city. The neighbourhood within the walls is an odd mix of semi-abandoned slum and tourist village. The buildings along the main path leading from the lower gate to the citadel are quaint, well restored, classic Turkish homes that are now used as cafes, art galleries, museums, and boutique hotels. Just a few hundred feet away similar classic homes are in crumbling disrepair and house many of Ankara’s poor population.

Ankara Castle Citadel Roman Ruins
Much of the current castle is made from recycled Roman and Byzantine buildings. Its not uncommon to see script like this, pillars, or statues used in the walls.

Turkey Ankara Castle Street

The Canadian Embassy is on a long steep hill that we had to walk up because we got off at the wrong bus stop. After that appointment we went to the notary who told us to go to the translator first. From the translator we went to the notary again which was closed. Then again to the notary, then back to the translator, back to the notary, then we headed back to the hotel only to get a call saying there was an issue and had to go back to the notary! We walked that stupid hill so many times!

Finally it was all over and we got to go back to the fun stuff.

Ankara Anitkabir Turkey Ataturk
The massive Mausoleum square of Anıtkabir

Ankara Castle hill

After a long day of hiking we decided to go visit the local Turkish Bath. This was for a couple of reasons. Mostly we just like them, plus had heard great things about the Turkish Baths of Ankara. Not to mention that our hotel was SO bad!

When we arrived in Ankara we picked a cheap hotel in a central location. We looked at the room before booking it (highly recommended) and it looked bad but not terrible, so we went for it. Later we realized the bathroom was horrific! There were burn holes in the toilet seat lid (how?), it didn’t flush (the parts were sitting on the windowsill), and there was no shower. To top it off, it became clear that night that the hotel was little more than a brothel.

But as bad as the hotel was the Turkish Bath was fantastic.

Ankara Karacabey Hamam Turkish Bath
The interior of Karacabey Turkish Bath

The next day (after a terrible night in that hotel) there was a miracle! I got to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 5:50 AM, got my name on the list, and tried to stay warm. I failed at staying warm but getting there early meant I was the second person through and had all my work done by 10:30!

After getting return tickets for Istanbul and booking a significantly better hotel (complete with toilet, lid, and shower), we had the whole day to explore Roman Baths, ruined temples, charming old streets, and maybe even another Turkish Bath.

Ankara Hacı bayram Temple of Augustus -
The ruined Temple of Augustus
Ankara Roman Baths Lion Statue
Is this the worst statue of a lion ever made?

So while Ankara may not be nearly as beautiful as Istanbul and not have a ton to offer considering it’s a city of 5.5 million people it’s just like any other place in Turkey; chock full of history, culture and interesting things to do and see.

Still the road back to Istanbul was pretty great.

Just after writing the above post I found out I had to go to Ankara yet again and added another trip to the consulate, six trips to the notary, three to the translator, and two to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ankara at its finest!