A Tale in Red: Atatürk, Snow, and Lakes

March 2nd, 2011.

That day, the wind blows cold, the last serenade of winter’s so g. It was March, and my birthday was close as close was the end of the first part of my journey to meet Turkey. There was silence around me; even birds weren’t there. Probably was the mist I found waiting on the road that was keeping animals and people hidden in their shelters, spying the day through cracks or windows. I loved cold days, even the dark grey days when the sun was only a metaphor or a ghost making the skies above the clouds so white, making you wonder if you had left the Earth and were in some alien world.

I wasn’t thinking clearly that day. I was submersed in questions and doubts, hoping to find answers on the road or the music playing in the car sound system. I didn’t want to talk about my feelings; I just wanted to go wherever the road and the guide driving took me. I wasn’t surprised when I saw the road signal pointing to Yalova, a city near the Marmara Sea. What will I find there? The guide told me the town was close to Istanbul, and many wealthy people had summer houses there. Someplace worth the visit, he said, like the Thermal district, the Karaca Arboretum, and The Yalova Earthquake Monument. Still, we visited a particular place, Yalova Atatürk Mansion, a house used by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, when he was visiting the city.

The house was built and used by Atatürk when he went to Yalova to use the thermal facilities in the city. Before the home was ready to be used, he stayed in a wooden pavilion on Baltaci Farm near the thermal facility bath. The pavilion was built in the 19th century by Sultan Abdülhamid I. In 1929 the house Atatürk had commissioned was finished and called Millet Farm Mansion – Millet in Turkish means Nation. Today, the house is a museum; you can see much of his persona.

I visited the place seen in each piece, photography and furniture, part of the character and taste Atatürk h d. It was like visiting his house while he was absent because you could feel the presence of the venerated and adored man in Turkey everywhere. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside the house, but I have one from Atatürk, and I took it in the gardens where a bust of him is marking the place he had spent many summers before he died in 1938.

I walked in the pier’s border and followed the shore of the Marmara Sea while the skies were promising rain and the cold was taking the water and air, making it all more mysterious and sad r. Turkey, until today, suffered the loss of their leader, who did not have time to build a more effective and long-lived democracy. We warm our bodies on the coffee in a pavilion near the museum. While having a hot chocolate,  I could observe the sea kissing the land in soft and continuous waves. 

Returning to the road, the skies continue to show the desire to send water on our way. And half an hour later, the water came, but not liquid d. No, it was cold enough outside the car, and the rain became a snowfall l. Leaving the main road, we entered a secondary one where trees covered in snow and misty guide us to uncertain paths. I loved the experience because I never had the opportunity to travel while it was snow g. The snowflakes danced in the white sunlight, a choreographed ballet by the gentle bree e. It was magical.

Soon, we arrive at our next stop: Gölcük Gölü.

Gölcük Gölü is one of the most scenic sights in the north-western region of Turk y. Created in 1958, when a dam impounded the waters from melting snow, Lake Gölcük covers about 11 acres between heavily forested, low hil s. Only nine miles from Bolu, Lake Gölcük is the perfect spot for picnics, nature walks and cool breezes. At 3957 feet above sea level, Lake Gölcük’s shores are more relaxed on hot summer days than the city bel w. In winter, snow frosts the surrounding pines and occasionally forms ice across the lake’s surface e. Lake Gölcük is beautiful year-round and in demand as a spot for weddings, picnics and scenic photography.

How I enjoyed it, my hour passed the e! The place was empty, covered in sn w, and the once green forest was now sentinels guarding the snow queen domain s. In Summer, however, the lake was a place to enjoy the sun and the wat r. People came there to make picnics, have BBQs, and play games. The area has many facilities, all close in winter, but if you are like me and love snow sceneries – and photograph them – go in winter and wonder at the beauty you will find.

We left the National Park and went to another city: Mudurnu. To Fırat, knowing the city for its mosque and Ottoman-style houses was worth knowing, and he said it would be worth it. On our way to Mudurnu, a military barrier appeared for the first time. The sergeant made us stop and asked for our documents. He opened my passport and was fascinated with the counties I had visited – my Brazilian passport had many visas from different places –  and he was delighted to meet someone who knew so many places. At the same time, he was prone to reassure. I saw the best of his country. He began to suggest places to visit and attractions to see. It was funny because Fırat, the guide,  made an angry comment after we were released: “Now, he wants to teach me my job!” 

Mudurnu is an agricultural town where it lived for a long time, backed by a chicken production company installed there. Then, financial problems threw up another vocation to Mudurnu: tourism. We stopped first at Yıldırım Bayezid Camii, built-in 1374. After that, we walked around the town to see the typical Ottoman houses, and some of them were being restored. Fırat finally led me to Kanuni Sultan Süleyman Camii of 1546. This mosque sincerely touched my heart more than I would imagine. First, for the simplicity of where we were, and then for having been there that I saw for the first time Fırat making a prayer. It was a very intimate moment, and I am grateful he shared it with me.

On the road again, we drive on a secondary road to find another lake. Abant. The way we made it to reach the hotel was beautifully covered in snow and silence. The sky was showing some colour now, but the sunset was close, and we had to find a hotel soon. The Büyük Abant Oteli in which we stayed was disguised in the middle of the tree around the lake. Only those who knew where to look could see it. I could enjoy a view from the lake, mountains and snow falling from the bedroom window. That place was all I needed after travelling nearly 10.000 kilometres on the road, visiting cities, towns, villages,  archaeological sites and meeting people. 

It was a calm and very resting night. The next day, after a delicious breakfast, a walk around the lake, a cup of salep – a thick beverage made with flour from the tuber of the orchid genus Orchis – and playing in the snow closed with a golden key, my time visiting Turkey.

I had all night, while watching Turkish films, to think about how to return to the big city, Istanbul.

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