Hidden Treasures: A Pharmacist in the Turkish Capital

Joel Carillet's picture

Sitting near the back of the Greyhound-sized bus, I looked up bleary eyed as the steward tapped me on the shoulder and indicated it was time for me to disembark.  It was 7:21 a.m., and we were in Turkey’s capital, Ankara.


I had been on the bus for twelve and a half hours.  When I had boarded in Sanliurfa, a town located not far from Turkey’s border with Syria, the sun had just set.  In Byzantine days Sanliurfa (known then as Edessa) was a center of learning and commerce.  For me, however, it will always be the place where I was the last to board a bus packed full of Kurdish peasants, the average age of whom seemed to be three.  Never had I traveled overnight on a bus full of so many screaming children.  We were a traveling nursery.


Because we were a traveling nursery, I didn’t sleep very well – or at all – as rattled down the several hundred miles of highway to Ankara.  And so now, at 7:22 a.m. as I stood alone on a sidewalk and watched my bus pull away (all the other passengers were continuing on to Istanbul, six hours away), I was both relieved to be free of crying children but also unhappily aware that tiredness would taint the day ahead.


I had gotten off the bus not because I didn’t want to go to Istanbul but because I wanted to go there by train.  Istanbul’s Hydarpasa Station is one of the most stunning railway terminuses in the world.  Built in a neo-renaissance style by Germans and inaugurated in 1909, it is an attractive building.  But its phenomenal location is what makes it superb.  After you step off the train and walk into the station, you then exit through the opposite side of the station and come face to face with the Bosporus Straits.  You are now standing at the end of Asia; a mile or so across the water is Europe.  It is a stunning sight.  (By contrast to this, the bus terminal, enormous and lacking any view whatsoever, is a real let down.)


Though tired, I was refreshed by the freezing December temperatures outside.  A ten-minute walk brought me to the train station, where I purchased a ticket for a train that wouldn’t depart for another three hours.  With time to kill, I pulled out a map and began to walk into the city.


The walk was largely uphill, and after 20 minutes my 80-pound backpack had worn my tired body down.  My back was hurting, my shirt was wet with sweat, and I was hungry.  In addition, I was walking too slowly to be able to see much of the town, and my pack was too bulky to navigate some of the busy sidewalks with any sort of grace.  With all these things in mind, I began searching for a place to ditch the thing, at least for an hour or two.


It was not yet time for it to open, but across the street a person was washing the windows of a pharmacy.  I approached and asked if it would be possible to leave my backpack here for an hour.  The employee went inside to get the manager.  The manager not only said yes, he also insisted I join them for breakfast.


Sliding the pack from my back and sitting down to a table of fresh eggs, bread, vegetables, and coffee, I felt welcomed.  The manager was excited to practice his English which he explained had gotten rusty over the years.  “Many years ago I worked on a U.S. military base near Izmir,” he told me.  “I had a good friend there from El Paso.  I miss him.  Do you think when you return to America you can find him for me?”


After breakfast, without my backpack, I went for a lighthearted walk through Ankara.  My back was free, my stomach full, and my heart warmed.  An hour later when I returned to the pharmacy to retrieve my pack before catching the train, the pharmacist gave me his friend’s full name and last known address in Texas.  Though more than 30 years had passed since they had seen each other and I was doubtful I’d be able to locate him, I certainly wanted to try.  It was the least I could do for a gracious pharmacist, whose shop you’ll never find in a guidebook.


Joel Carillet

Inside the pharamacy; the pharmacist is second from left 



Joel Carillet

Train station in Ankara 

Joel Carillet

The train I would take from Ankara to Istanbul's Hydarpasa station 



Joel Carillet, chief editor of wanderingeducators.com, is a freelance writer and photographer based in Tennessee. His most recent project is 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia, due for release in June. To learn more about him, visit www.joelcarillet.com.