Atatürk, Snow, and Lakes

March 2nd, 2011.

That day, the wind blows cold the last serenade winter’s song. It was March, my birthday was close as close was the end of this first part of my journey to meet Turkey. There was a 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 on their shelters, spying the day thought cracks or windows. I loved cold days, even the dark grey days when the sun is only a metaphor or a ghost making the skies above the clouds so white making you wonder if you had left the Earth and was in some alien world.

I wasn’t thinking clearly that day. I was submersed in questions and doubts, hopping find answers on the road or the music playing in the car sound system. I didn’t want to talk about what I was feeling, I just want to go forward wherever the road and the guide driving took me. When I saw the road signal pointing to Yalova, a city near the Marmara Sea I wasn’t surprised. What will I find there? The guide told 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, The Yalova Earthquake Monument. Still, we were there to visit 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 house was ready to use; he stayed in a wooden pavilion in Baltaci Farm near to the thermal facility baths. The pavilion was built in the 19th century by Sultan Abdülhamid II. 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, and you can see much of his persona in the house.

I visited the place seen in each piece, photography and furniture, part of the character and taste Atatürk had. It was like visiting his house while he was absent because you could feel the presence of the man who is venerated and adored in Turkey everywhere. It wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside the house, but I have one from Atatürk and me took 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 border of the pier and follow the shore of the Marmara Sea while the skies where promising rain and the cold was taking the water and air, making all more mysterious and sadder. Turkey, until today, suffer the loss of his leader who did not have time to build a more effective and long live democracy. We warm our bodies on the coffee in a pavilion near the museum. There, 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, no, it was cold enough outside the car and the rain become a snowfall. Leaving the main road, we entered in 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 snowing. The snowflakes danced in the white sunlight, a choreographed ballet conducted by the gentle breeze, 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 Turkey. Created in 1958 when a dam impounded the waters from melting snow, Lake Gölcük covers about 11 acres between heavily forested, low hills. Only nine miles from the City of 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 cooler on hot summer days than the city below. In winter, snow frosts the surrounding pines and occasionally forms ice across the surface of the lake. Lake Gölcük is beautiful year-round and in demand as a spot for weddings, picnics and scenic photography.

How I enjoyed, my hour passed there! The place was empty, covered in snow, the once green forest was now sentinels guarding the snow queen domains. In Summer, however, the lake was a place to enjoy the sun and the water. People came there to make picnics, BBQs, and play games. The area had lots of facilities, all close in winter, but if you are like me and love snow sceneries – and photograph them – go in winter and wonder with the beauty you will find.

We left the National Park and went to another city: Mudurnu. To Fırat, it was worth knowing the city for its mosque and the Ottoman-style houses. He said it would be worthy. In 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 clearly 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 that for a long time lived backed by a chicken production company that was 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 took a little walk around the town to see the typical Ottoman houses. Some of them are 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 the place 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 very grateful that he had shared with me.

At the road again we drive on a secondary road to find another lake. Abant. The way we made 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 int the middle of the tree around the lake, only who knew where to look could see it. From the bedroom window, I could enjoy a view from the lake, mountains and snow falling, that place was all I needed after travel nearly 10.000 kilometres on the road visiting cities, towns, villages,  archaeological sites and meeting people. 

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

I had all night while watching Turkish film, to think about how would be returning to the big city, to Istanbul.

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