Apologies in advance for the long post!
January: A familiar red cup to warm up the spirits
I was still adjusting to the Turkish way of life. Tomatoes for breakfast were still a complete mystery to me although I was quite enjoying the other aspects of Turkish cuisine. Since there is nothing much to do in Ankara other than food and shopping, I was exploring the culinary delights of the city and indulging myself in buying whatever I wanted but certainly did not need. Now, I regret that but it was my way of coping in a city where nothing was familiar other than Starbucks. I was happiest when I was sipping my filter coffee sat in one of the comfy sofas at Starbucks – what’s best (or worst) about international food chains, they are the same everywhere you go, down to their playlist.
Still struggling with Turkish, I could barely make a conversation with anyone (unless they were the few foreigners I had met) beyond the basic greetings. Actually, I had almost given up on learning this bloody language and was regretting my whole decision of moving here. I didn’t think I’d suffer from culture shock but I was. I just didn’t know it.
February: Be my Valentine, London.
After four months of non-stop Turkish classes amounting to 30 hours a week, I was in dire need of a break and my winter holidays in February came just in time for that. I spent my week off gallivanting around the streets of London reminiscing about the good old times when I was not busy snogging the ex-boyfie whom I hadn’t seen in over eight months. Coincidentally, Valentines’ Day ended being during that week which meant extra chocolates everywhere I went. That week, as short as it was, was the just the thing I needed to recharge and get my shit together. Throw in an amazing dinner whilst catching up with old friends who shockingly all turned up – this never happens – and it couldn’t have been more perfect. Although none of us can even remember what the restaurant was called other than it was a Caribbean restaurant serving overly sweet cocktails.
March: A whirlwind spring
Overnight, the winter chill was left behind giving place to the velvet-like morning spring breeze. Not even that could cheer me up from my freshly broken heart. I needed a distraction so I reined in a friend – I didn’t particularly want to be alone with myself -, packed my bags and got on a train to one of the only two destinations available then: Konya. A weekend was all I could afford given everything else that was going on but that was enough to put me back on track again. If only for a while, I forgot that I was grieving and learned to breathe again. That was all I needed.
April: Don’t be an April fool
It certainly stroke a chord when I boarded my flight to Munich for my birthday weekend, which was also supposed to be our romantic getaway. Not that I was going to let anything ruin my trip and it ended up being the best birthday I had ever had – and cake wasn’t even involved. What else could go wrong really between polar bear babies, art galleries and German beerhouses?
A week later, I was off bound north to Amasra, a small town by the Black Sea. I’m always up for a relaxing day by the coast with good food and some history – that wish was definitely granted. The Black Sea is definitely a region I want to explore more – which I hopefully hope to achieve in the coming year.
The weather was also good enough to be out and about in Ankara so it was time to ditch the indoors for a little walk around the old district in Ankara. Just a tip, do not venture there alone.
Before I knew it, I was up north of Ankara having a little Hittite adventure up north of Ankara visiting Hattuşa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It looked quite easy, on paper at least, to go there but since when do things go according to plan? We had quite a long detour which ended with the best baklavas I’ve ever had in Turkey. Perfect ending I’d add.
May: Summer is finally around the corner
May came just in time for another city escape. I hopped on a train and went to Eskişehir, clearly the happiest city in Turkey. I really loved just walking down the streets of Eskişehir, without any care in the world. I didn’t even use public transport; map in hand I attempted exploring every nook and crook.
But the highlight of the month was definitely my long weekend in the southwest of Turkey starting from Kuşadası to Pamukkale. We immersed ourselves in the beauty of Ephesus, an ancient Greek city as well as the little town of Selçuk where what’s left of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is found. That was when we were not busy having cocktails by the pool.
Pamukkale, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, was all that we expected we were and crowded with Russian tourists who had come for the magical properties of the water at the Cotton Castle as did Cleopatra back in the days. I did some solo travelling when my travel buddy left early to go to Ankara. I realised that I was more than ready to be alone with myself as I explored the ruins of Afrodisias and Laodicea. I also poured my heart out to a stranger I met at our hotel just before I left to get my bus to Ankara. No he was not tall, dark and handsome – I wish. Everything that had been bothering me, I bared it all out. It was quite refreshing to talk to someone who was not involved in my life, in any capacity. I came back to Ankara with a lighter heart and at peace with myself, for sure.
June: When will this nightmare be over?
The last climb is always the hardest. I spent the whole month stuck indoors preparing for my final Turkish exam and it was depressing. Wandering about Turkey for the past few months had definitely improved my conversational Turkish, I still wasn’t as confident. Hell I still am not confident and I’d definitely fail that exam if I had it right now, although I didn’t fail it then – with more than a little help from my teacher. The relief from knowing I wouldn’t be stuck in Ankara for the coming two months catching up for yet another exam and that I would be finally able to start my masters after summer was heartfelt. It was more the “I won’t be stuck in Ankara for summer” than anything else.
The end of June also marked the beginning of the month of Ramadan, the beginning of the annual month-long of fasting Muslims around the world observe. I was looking forward to Ramadan in Turkey which was bound to be different from any experiences I’ve had before. It wasn’t as hard as I thought but it wasn’t easy as well.
July: Journey to the East
It was time for a big Turkish adventure before we all said goodbye for the summer break, this time to the East. Southeast Anatolia must be might favourite region of Turkey, although I say that every single time I go somewhere in Turkey. I still cannot get over what a beautiful country this is, Ankara being the eyesore I have to put up with everyday. We took the choo-choo train to Malatya, the land of apricots where we were staying over at a friend’s for the night while exploring the city – and stuffing ourselves with anything that came our way.
We were quite excited to be close to the legendary Euphrates river so went to visit the lake formed by Atatürk Dam on the river as soon as we put our bags down in our hotel room in Kahta. We couldn’t get enough of this rich azure blue although that wasn’t the reason why we had stopped in Kahta. We were looking to take on the mighty Mount Nemrut, rising up to a height of 2150 m in the Anti-Taurus Range, stands between Malatya and Kahta, yet another UNESCO Heritage Site in Turkey. It was an incredible feeling to stand and watch sunrise at the East Temple on the mountain and were definitely grinning despite our shivering selves – we were told it would be cold, not bloody freezing.
The adventure didn’t end here. No time to rest as we packed again and headed to Göbekli Tepe, believed to be the world’s first religious site. Renovation work is still being carried out and if you’re like us and thought it wouldn’t hurt to visit there in the middle of the day during peak summer, think again. All we could think when we got to our hostel in Şanlıurfa was to get hydrated and sleep. Another night, another city. Or rather, should I say, THE city. Wandering through Şanlıurfa felt like wandering through an old traditional town in Morocco. The colours, the smell and even the language – everything had the Middle Eastern feeling (or I suppose to be geographically correct, North African). This city is a place where many pilgrims come to pay their respects as this is believed to be where Abraham, the founder of the Abrahamic religions was born. We also made a quick stop at Harran, a city where Abraham was said to have lived before catching our bus back to Ankara.
Two days later, I woke up in Istanbul and wandered around Sultanahmet, more specifically, the Topkapı palace before boarding for my flight to Mauritius.
August: Home and Away
It was nice to be finally back with family (and be the spoiled brat I am). It was also nice to escape from the sauna-like weather of Turkey. When I wasn’t lazying around at home, I was exploring the island, as much as I could, which means I either ended up at the beach or hiking. I also got to attend the engagement party as well as the wedding of my best friends who have been putting up with me for half of my life now – and counting. I wasn’t supposed to be present, I was supposed to be in the south of Turkey working on a conservation project for turtles. But life has a way of working things out, when we least expect it to. It was also the last time I’d ever see my grandma and I’m now so grateful to have been able to fly back and spend time with her.
Five weeks in Mauritius and I was already getting restless, begging my cousin (who works for Emirates and therefore my hero) to rearrange my flights and put me out of my misery. And there I was, on a flight back to Dubai where I spent a week and a half mostly splashing out on whatever I felt like. I’m pleased I got to see the other emirates as well including Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
September: Reality check
The summer holidays were nearly over and it was time to go back to Ankara. I had been postponing it as much as I could but that was it. I did however spend a week south of Turkey on an organic farm for about a week though, as part of a workaway experience before coming back and sorting out everything all over again. Paperwork, and more paperwork.
October: Chasing the sunshine
I was not ready to say goodbye to summer yet so as soon as I got the chance, I hopped on a bus heading south of Turkey, to the Mediterranean region. I spent a week exploring Olympos and around with extremely good company, if you see what I mean. Just the little boost I needed before I (finally) started my masters – the very reason I moved to Turkey a bit more than a year ago. A week later, said extremely good company came up to Ankara for some days and I was glad to have a reason to go out and explore the city again.
November: Is it time to get the winter coat out yet?
Half of the month was spent getting excited about tennis and the other half was spent watching actual tennis at the O2 in London. I was back in London Town although I never saw anything other North Greenwich where the tournament was held. And I can’t wait to do the same thing next year.
December: When the clock strikes twelve
Where on earth did time go? I’m nearly done with a semester at university and currently getting ready for my upcoming trip to Nuremberg, Germany visiting the current romantic interest in my life for (late) Christmas and New Year celebrations. When I say I’m getting ready, I mean, I’m thinking of the shopping I have to do and will only get around to a few days before I fly. Whilst I’ll be having the last of my assessments for university on Christmas Day, it’s nice to know I won’t have anything to worry about when I fly two days later.
Season’s Greetings from me to you!
Note: I initially wrote this to simply summarise my travels during the year. It ended up being something more personal.