1. Bilkent Center (Real)
The name Real is already synonymous with all associated with Bilkent. Arguably the easiest supermarket where any student can buy anything that he or she is in need off. To give my own account; in my first year, I lived with my brother in the same dormitory room and we bought all our necessities from under ONE roof: Real. Ranging from school supplies such as pens or notebooks or bags, toiletries, cutlery, crockery, kitchen utensils and also hangers for the dorm cupboards (no matter how inconsequential the item, Real has you covered). The superstore has great restaurants situated in Bilkent Station (bordered with Real) like Pizza il Forno, Quick China and Duble Doner to satisfy your taste buds and fill your stomachs before or after a grocery shopping session and it is located above the Bilkent Prestige Cinema where all your theatrical pop culture desires are well catered for! Bilkent Center is annexed with the Ankuva Mall which has a few decent shops and restaurants but the write-home factor is the RollHouse bowling alley in the basement. Pakistanis always love a good bowling session with friends every other weekend.
I’ve mentioned all the plus points, but now a quick overview of the cons surrounding Bilkent Center. The superstore is quite a walk when returning to dormitories and all those heavy grocery bags in either hand and the uphill incline to face make the return journey a daunting task (I actually ended up hurting my back once carrying things including 6 liters worth of peach fuse tea and other beverages in either hand). The wait at the Nizamiye(/entrance) makes the trip no more fascinating either. The restaurants in Bilkent Station might rank in the slightly higher price range so frequenting them every time you buy your groceries is not exactly a smart economical decision (this depends entirely on you of course). Now, as a Pakistani with little grasp of the Turkish language, I did find it off-putting that all the animated theatrical releases were dubbed in Turkish in Bilkent Prestige Cinema (this is not restricted to Bilkent Prestige so don’t waste your time travelling to another mall with high hopes); the internationals will have to stick it out for the home release to watch Finding Dory it seems. Ankuva is a mall by name but doesn’t offer much variety at all, to be honest, Pakistanis usually visit merely to play a round of bowling or play on the PlayStation’s in the gaming zone and/or visit their respective bank outlets for whatever reason.
2. Misir Cafe, Tunus
Zomato may have given Misir Cafe a 2.8 out of 5 on its rating scale but that did not stop us undergraduate Pakistanis from turning the tiny cafe (located on Tunus Caddesi) into our very own “Central Perk”. The ambiance is delightful, especially at night with the tiny star-lights dangling from the shrubberies bordering the cafe. The food is fairly good (it isn’t a Michelin-star dining experience but it definitely gives you ample value for your lira spent) and the narghile (or sheesha as we’d call it in Pakistan) is closest to the best you will find in the city in terms of taste, expense and aroma. The restaurant has 3 large flat-screens to show football/soccer matches and the kind waiters and servers will change the match to your preference if the majority of the customers are OK with it. I, personally, had a great time sipping a lemonata (lemonade) and casually puffing a sheesha with a whole bunch of friends whilst watching Chelsea beat FC Porto in a satisfying UEFA Champions League match last December (I should iterate that a majority of the Pakistani community is keen on watching and playing good football).
The only downside I can come up with to this cafe is that there is very little seating space for the amount of tables placed on the patio so inability to find a good table (or enough seats) would be a common occurrence, especially during a game night, and during a match between the Turk League’s finest? Forget about it. Now, the cafe itself has a sister restaurant in Kizilay with the difference being that one serves narghile and the other is more of a bistro; unfortunately, neither has a website but if this place strikes your fancy, notify me and i’ll take you there myself since i’m always up for a trip to Misir! To make up for the lack of a website, their phone numbers are as follows: 0(312) 468 32 72 – 0(541) 974 86 71. I would suggest you have a friend who is a decent Turkish speaker to do the talking if you’re not comfortable with speaking the language as yet.
3. Bilka Cafe, Bilkent Dormitories
Whether you are a Pakistani or not, if you live in the Bilkent dormitories, Bilka is THE place for you to hang out and spend time with friends whilst sipping çay (tea) and/or a bazlama karışık (a soft bread sandwich with cheese and thick grilled pepperoni slices known as Sucuk). The latter has become a fan favorite amongst the Pakistanis who visit Bilka. I recall having my first experience with Turkish coffee (locally known as Turk Kahve) in hopes of staying up at night in the cafe-cum-restaurant to complete my English 101 essay on time: at first I was confused as to why the cup was so small.. Secondly, why is there a glass of water beside the cup? Fellow incomers, do NOT ask for a full-sized cup of Turk Kahve. The thick and semi solid concoction in its tiny cup is MORE than enough to keep you up throughout the night as it is very little liquid infused in a lot of coffee. I may make it sound off-putting, but make no mistake, the beverage is very tasty (if taken with sugar in my opinion) and definitely a must try if you have a 2000 word essay due in less than 6 hours!
The restaurant is easily accessible to all dorm dwellers, located under the central dorm 76, and offers ample seating, a nice view of the hill and the rest of the campus, a variety of relatively cheap snacks and dishes along with necessities such as toiletries (just in case you are too lazy to get shampoo or shaving cream etc. from Real) and if you live in the dorms, Bilka delivers your order of groceries to you! Just call “4111” via the dorm telephone. The only drawback I can give you is that the restaurant shuts only once a week at 10:30 pm on a Friday night (till 8 or 9 in the morning) which most of us Pakistanis consider the best time to hang out together either in the inside or outside seating area with our assortments of drinks and junk food to bide the time in a pleasant way. Make your plans accordingly! Should you like to avail of their delivery service, their phone number is: 290 4111 – 290 4191- 290 4297 (or 4191 from the dorm phone).
4. Bilkent Main Campus Football Fields
By now it should be no secret to you that we Pakistanis love the beautiful game. Almost every Pakistani has a favorite club ranging from English Premier League clubs to Turkish League clubs. It should be known to you that Pakistanis will play football at almost any time of the day and at any skill level, i.e. the not-so-gifted players will be seen playing in the grounds just as often as the very-gifted players (I should be walking proof of that) with NO condescension whatsoever. It’s always fun to have a mixed nationality match as each nationality brings a mix to the game and there’s much room for fun and learning new techniques and strategies and is just a great way to have fun and meet new people who have the same love for football.
A message to the newcomers, bring a pair of non-studded football boots and get ready to face the cold like never before because your seniors will play even if the temperature falls to -7 and the wind hurts your eyes and ears (unless you have a gaming PC or a video-game console, you will not have much else to do in your first semester at least). There are more than enough Pakistani football players in Bilkent to warrant the need for a separate group on Facebook named: Pakistani Footballers in Bilkent with 62 active members with many other players who have not yet joined the group. There are 2 grounds; each reserve-able via the Bilkent Sports Hall. It’s always good fun to have a kick off match and exhilarating to play with your team members in Bilkent’s semi-annual football tournament with over 50 teams of 6-aside. The lighting during the night-time games is great. The only drawback is that the ground’s grass is fake with tiny rocks that will fill your shoes up almost as efficiently as sand does during a stroll in the desert. Of course, you will need at least 10 to 12 players to have an enjoyable game and the task of reserving the ground and having enough people to play does prove to be burdensome for one person, tip: make a plan with enough people to play, then find a suitable time to book the ground (though the time you desire may not necessarily be available). On the other hand, if there are too many players on hand, asking to reserve the East campus football ground is a better option since that is a full-sized football ground fit for an 11 v 11 aside match. I’ve included a link to Bilkent’s sports facilities page in case you wish to explore other sport options available in Bilkent, thankfully, the site is in English! Their phone number (for reservations): 290 1993 – JUST 1993 if you call from the dorm telephones.