Ankara’s Away

Ankara, what a big surprise. After the clanking, smoky chaos of Cairo, where the cars descend on one another in a cacophonous cascade, where every elegant building seems to be flanked by a slum and every swept sidewalk hides a garbage pile to its rear, Ankara feels like Switzerland. This sprawling city of 5 million in the center of the country, the modern capital that wins no one’s heart amid the romance of Turkey’s past, has broad avenues, neatly paved sidewalks and a sophisticated citizenry that strolls along in jeans and t-shirts. Little yellow taxis (with meters!) zip around the city. Strange as it sounds, Ankara does have the feel of a north European urban center, the cubic shape of the office buildings with glass facades, the pastel-colored apartment complexes tucked into the cliffsides on the way from the airport. People are out at all times of day, shopping and enjoying the balmy summer weather in cafes. But it’s east and west all mixed together. You can buy 2 pounds of cherries for $1.25, while a taxi to the airport runs you $50 (ouch). And for all the talk of Turkey’s conservative bent, in this city you do not see many women wearing the veil.