When opportunity knocks, you should, of course, answer, but also accept it with all your heart. Some opportunities are more than you would have ever imagined they could be. They bring you gems that are far better than any diamond on this earth. They are more than you could have even dreamed for yourself. You get the idea, right? So, sometimes you just have to accept opportunities with all your heart, even when your mind tries to deter you. Although I didn’t have a trip to Turkey planned a month ago, just less than a week ago I found myself in this beautiful, peacefully safe country, on a mega high. The experience was like no other. The people were some of the kindest human beings I have ever met. And even being from a country that does not get much respect around the world today, I never felt uncomfortable…Well, maybe only when I was randomly stopped and asked to take pictures with locals, or random school children would just say “hello, hi, how are you doing?” out of the blue, as if they were thrilled to be practicing their English. And oh yeah, that one time the woman in charge of cleaning my hotel room decided to hug me and pinch my cheeks while calling me “guzel” (English translation: beautiful). Yeah that was totally unexpected. Lol And still it was just a feeling of being shocked and caught off guard, rather than being uncomfortable. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by my visit to Turkey, my experiences while there, and especially that it was all a product of an essentially unplanned adventure. Sometimes those are the best eh, the ones that are unplanned. The ones that come with no expectations, but bring wondrous satisfaction.
My first night out on the town I came across a speak easy sort of joint, named Siyah Beyaz. But not by accident. I had researched the place on a popular “locals spots” site beforehand, but was halfway expecting it to be a tourist trap because of that….However, my expectations turned out to be, fortunately, unmet! If I hadn’t asked a local whether I was in the right place, I would have mistaken the place for a college dormitory basement and passed it straight. But alas, I learned that good things can definitely come in unusual packaging! I walked down a flight of stairs to be greeted by the typical lounge greeter and bouncer type dude by his side. Paid the entrance fee and entered a small, but lively, room full of what seemed to be mainly chicly-dressed locals listening to a live band and drinking well-crafted cocktails. The bartender spoke English well (something I didn’t really come to appreciate until a couple of days into my trip and heavy use of my Google Translate app), so there was no issue with ordering drinks. However, the best drinks were not those found on the menu, but instead those recommended by this fashionably cool gentleman who almost seemed to have made it his life mission to serve and satisfy his patrons. I could tell he took his art seriously when he created the perfect drink (masterpiece) for me as a result me telling him that I liked “fresh, with a little spicy”. And when I signaled that I would take a second of the same, his face lit up as if he had won the game. Well, yes sir, you were definitely a winner in my book!
The next few days I resorted to visiting some of the usual sights, as recommended to typical Ankara tourists….
I took a cab (from one of the city’s many “Taksi” stands) to the famous mausoleum known as Anitkabir - the resting place of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the leader of the Turkish War of Independence and the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey. It is also home to the Museum of the War of Independence. Amidst the groups of tourists, school children on field trips, graduates taking photos in their caps and gowns and an army of soldiers who performed a formal military-like show in the courtyard every so often, I breathed in rich Turkish history and witnessed the extreme respect of the country by its Turkish citizens.
I veered off the historical path a bit and made my way to CerModern, a cool modern art museum, which hosts exhibits & events in a former railway workshop, and where the cafe seemed to be more popular and poppin’ than the museum itself. Yeah, it was an entire scene - women with oversized shades and European-styled men taking smoke breaks. I felt pretty lucky to catch the three interesting exhibits being displayed at the time: “Afrika Magic” by Büyülü (photos and artifacts), Kadin (Woman) by Arzum Onan (Sculptures) and renklerdir patlayan by Hande Firat (paintings).
I climbed a manageable hill, through the cobblestoned streets of the “Kale”, to stand on top of the world, well more appropriately the city, at Ankara Kalesi (Castle).
I maneuvered my way through the slightly crowded Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, with some exhibit pieces dating back as far as the second half of the first millennium BC.
I eventually returned to the Kale to shop (and successfully bargain) for some meaningful souvenirs, shopped at the upscale mall (Armada), which offered a great mix of American, British and Turkish stores, went to Starbucks (where my app was NOT accepted for payment!), ate sushi and drank hot wine that tasted like warmed sangria. I found a delicious Asian restaurant (Kardeşler Uygur Mutfağı) near the Kocatepe Mosque, which had the best homemade noodles I’ve ever tasted. Walked to a blues bar where the modern art-type photo of Ray Charles was impressive, but not so much the drinks. But luck would strike again when on the way to a highly-rated Trip Advisor nightlife choice, I stopped in an awesome coffee shop for Çay (Turkish tea) to warm up, and was given much appreciated local advice by some awesome baristas and patrons. With this advice I detoured to Horoz Kuyruğu, a real treat of a place, where the cocktails were the highlight of the establishment, and not only tasted delicious, but were a whole experience!
On my last full night there, I started my evening with a visit to the largest mosque in the city, which sits in the city’s center and can be seen from almost every point in Ankara. I removed my shoes, entered the holy place, admired my surroundings and then knelt to pray to my God. I thanked Him for life in general, for His continuous blessings…I prayed for those blessings to continue, for me, my child, my family, my friends. I prayed that He would continue to cover me in this world where life, and health, comes and goes in the blink of an eye. My visit to the Kocatepe Mosque was one of the best experiences I had while in Ankara, and a memory that will never leave my thoughts. If there’s one warning I’ll give to anyone wanting to visit, it’s “read carefully and prepare yourself well!” So, apparently women are not only supposed to cover their heads, but also wear long skirts to enter the mosque. I showed up in jeans, and did not realize the rules until I had left the mosque…..sigh. Although no one made me feel out of place (yet another sign of how accepting the people in this country are), I felt awful for probably seeming like yet “another disrespectful American”.
I went to Ankara with small expectations, and left feeling as though I had fallen in love, as I tend to do when I subject myself to a new experience that leaves a warm feeling in my heart, and a longing for more. I sat on the plane as I returned to the States, wondering when I would be able to explore the rest of this amazing country. I guess when opportunity comes knocking again….My heart will surely be ready to accept it.
From my heart to yours: Life is short. We must cherish and seize each moment. Sometimes you don't have time to think about it. You just have to feel it in your heart and act on the feeling. Allow your heart to guide your mind as you answer opportunity's calling.