Ankara: 'Gray' capital offers more than what meets the eye

AYŞE BETÜL BAL @bal_betul
Published 20.10.2017 19:42
Updated 20.10.2017 19:45
Ankara is surely a city of politics and diplomats but it is never boring with its parks, cafes and a highly active art scene.
Ankara is surely a city of politics and diplomats but it is never boring with its parks, cafes and a highly active art scene.

Turkey's capital city of Ankara has always been the ugly duckling and stayed in the shadows of the mighty Istanbul; however, an outsider who has made Ankara her new home is here to change that idea

"It is impossible not to love Ankara or call it colorless when you can tilt your head back and look at the leaves changing color on a chilly autumn day while inhaling the spectacular earthy smell only found in this city," Hacettepe University's Pınar Akyol, one of the many university students enjoying their life in the capital, said when I asked her about life as a student in Ankara while trying to dispel the myth that "no one could possibly enjoy life in Ankara unless they were born there."

Indeed, there is a classic tune claiming that Ankara is a boring, gray city afflicted with rainy skies and lifeless state offices. Albeit, the first things that catch one's eye in Ankara are the grayish, cold buildings and the suits buzzing around them. Everyone seems to be in a rush to keep up with some formal business. Even the buses often suddenly stop in Kızılay Square, not really breaking news since the police stop traffic for the convoy of an important statesman almost daily. Likewise, the capital's aura sometimes overpowers you and, before you know it, you are immersed in a debate about the politics and the future of the country. However, it is not like that for everyone living in Ankara, especially the students. For them, everything changes once they walk onto their calm campuses or while wandering the capital's streets with friends, immune to the formal business life of the city.

"It is impossible for Ankara to be gray, especially in autumn, even if people want to see it that way," said Akyol, an English language and literature student. "In autumn, the city becomes a place full of yellow and orange leaves, and when it rains, it is a sight to see."

Ankara Castle

Sharing her opinions on the capital as a foreigner to the city, Pınar continued: "If you love watching people go about their daily lives and have some free time, one of the best places to go is a little cafe called Kitapça Bayındır. If you are hardy enough

to cope with the frosty weather of Ankara — everyone should know what I mean when I say 'frosty' because it can indeed be freezing cold in this city — the best place for you to go is Kurtuluş Park when it is covered with fallen leaves on one of those autumn days. For us students, we warm up on the cold mornings of the city with special bagels famous in Ankara called "Ankara simidi" that we buy from sellers in front of Kurtuluş Park while listening to Vega [a popular Turkish band] with headphones. Life is just simple here. It is easy to be happy and appreciate the place where you spend time."

As she explained her adopted city, it became clear that, apart from its grayish hue, there is actually a much more colorful side of the city where young people, like university students, can find things to do. The large grass oasis of Hacettepe University is an excellent place to sit for hours accompanied by the laughter rising from passing students. The roads between the yellowish leaves that overlook Eymir Lake on the campus of Middle East Technical University can be a perfect spot for outdoor activities, such as biking or picnicking. The university campuses are not the only places full of laughter in Ankara. You may also come across pedestrians smiling and chatting on their way to Tunalı Hilmi or Kızılay Square.

Akyol kept talking about the impression that Ankara had left on her: "Actually, in my opinion, what most people assume about Ankara is not accurate. There is no sea to gaze upon, no scenery to look at and no city center to visit, as a result, one always looks into the face of the person next to him/her, listens to what they say, and I think that is the reason the best friendships or the closest relationships are founded in this city. She added, "Around midday, one of the best places you can spend your time with your loved ones is either at Seğmenler Park, where you can buy roasted chestnuts in the cold weather, or Dost Bookstore, where you can lose yourself looking in books, on Karanfil Street located near Kızılay Square."

The third-wave coffee shop trend has also hit Ankara. Designed for students, these cafes have become very popular recently. Tiny escapes hidden in the capital's narrow streets, new little coffee shops seem to spring up every day, providing the perfect place for you and your friends to escape Ankara's frosty winter weather.

Though the formal nature of the city is often seen as a downside, it sometimes provides some very interesting activities. For instance, the capital hosts numerous embassies that offer interesting cultural events. One week you can try traditional Korean food accompanied by ancient East Asian music, while the next you may be enjoying a Latin dance performance.

The cultural and art activities are easily accessible and frequently held in the capital, from the art galleries exhibited in Kızılay, the heart of the city, to the street music performances in Ulus, Ankara's historical center. The theaters of the Municipality of Çankaya offer a variety of plays every year across the city. Likewise, the performance houses of the state conservatory of Ankara also offer plays or musicals, including Tatbikat Sahnesi, one of the first theater communities to bring contemporary theatrics to Turkey. Theater is not the only form of art to reach its peak in Ankara. There are also exhibitions on local or international levels. Established in 2014-2015, Müze Evliyagil, with its exhibition area, statue garden, movie room and library, is open to art lovers who want to spend time away from the city's bustle. The more well-known centers, such as Gallery Çankaya and CerModern, also host exhibitions from various disciplines every year.

It is clear that Ankara has so much more to offer than its stereotypical boring, gray facade. Though partly a serious and businesslike city, its authentic nature and spirit is waiting to be discovered in its narrow backstreets and peaceful open spaces.

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