13.12.2018 - 14.12.2018 1 °C
There is a plan, that may happen one day, of joining Istanbul and Baku by a high speed train link. It may take some time to come to fruition: at present, it is not even possible to leave Istanbul by train at all, let alone a high speed one. The line has been laid between Kars (in the east of Turkey) and Baku, and the trains to run on it were obtained more than a year ago but the current prediction is that they will not run until late 2019. So the only bit of the high speed line operating is from a station at the end of Istanbul's metro (Pendik) to Ankara, and the train does indeed get up to 250 km/hr. Like many of the metro stations, Pendik station has a number of exits so I am a bit befuddled as to which I am to take. Luckily, a woman starts laughing at me and can eventually explain it is because I look like Santa Claus. Despite her laughter, she is kind enough to take me to the correct exit and point me in the right direction for the 1 km walk to the train station. There, after a quick tea, I go through security very similar to airport security to the train. It is a pretty standard looking thing and the trip is through quite pleasant countryside, with touches of snow.
The last photo confuses me: out in the middle of nowhere, we would come across collections of highrise buildings, no doubt housing, but with no apparent industry nearby and a fair way from the railway line, so a bit awkward as dormitory towns. Some way through the journey, I read a tweet saying that a train just like the one I am on has crashed into a pillar near Ankara, with several fatalities. I am not sure how it might affect my journey: it turns out that the last 30 km are by bus. Downtown Ankara doesn't do very much for me - there's a mosque near the station, city hall and two blokes who want me to take their photo - although they can't speak a word of English and my Turkish only goes as far as çay, so it is a short encounter.
Luckily I had booked a place away from downtown, in old Ankara, which happens to be quite a walk uphill in icy conditions, through a maze of tiny streets. It is worth it, however, and I resolve to not leave the hotel at all that day - there's a bar and a restaurant underneath it. I have not made a habit of taking photos of the places i stay in, but this place is special - it is called Divan Çukurhan and the building has quite a history. It was builtin the 16th century as an Ottoman caravanserai - an inn with a market in its courtyard. Sadly, it was virtually destroyed by fire in the 1950's, rebuilt after a fashion but then abandoned. It has only recently been rebuilt, albeit in a modernised fashion. It has a nice bar area, a wonderful library and a business nook.
Service is a bit odd: the bar was said to operate 24 hours a day, but when I go for a beer, the fellow doesn't seem to know his business. Efes is the major Turkish beer, and it comes in a couple of styles - asking for an Efes Pilsner seems to impose a task beyond his abilities - eventually another fellow shows up with a tray of beers and leaves me to fend for myself (I am not even asked to pay for it). The restaurant, however, is tremendous - big windows all round giving a great view over Ankara - there are too many people for me to attempt a photo. Back in my room, the bathroom is more glam than my house and as big as my office.
The hotel is directly opposite the entrance to the citadel - very little remains apart from the walls. The inside is now taken up with housing and a few shops.
There are a couple of interesting streets near the hotel - one runs along the ridge and has several tea shops, cafes and the like. One cafe is above an antique shop, but I do not realise this, so go in to the antique shop and take a seat at one of the (antique) tables. The shopkeeper must have this happen quite a lot, as he points to the lift - the cafe is quaint and run by a sweet old couple: he wants me to sit by the fire since it is so cold out.
I have another odd tea-related experience: I see an interesting looking tea shop with some street art and a large collection of soft drink, so pop in and ask for a çay. They have to bring it in from a shop across the street so, later on, when it is time for another, I decide to go to the source - a very old looking shop. Yes, they have tea, but have to go across the road for the sugar.
The other interesting street twists its way down the hill, eventually to the station, so I go for a walk - more tea shops and cafes, and lots of little shops. I am a bit tea-d out by now so don't stop until I get to the station - the map says there is a shopping mall there and I have yet to visit a Turkish shopping mall. I'd say the map is a bit aspirational!
There is a food court, with some more terrible coffee and a lot of kebab places, but I also spot my favourite American fried chicken chain so I necessarily indulge.