A week in the capital of the Turkish Riviera

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Middle East » Turkey » Mediterranean » Antalya
September 25th 2011
Published: April 10th 2012
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It’s amazing how much a little bit of sun can change your mood and make you see the world in totally different colours. Clear, blue skies, sun slowly setting on the horizon adding a beautiful glow to the buildings we were passing by… You don’t realize how much you have missed the sun when you actually have the chance to experience it again. Having lived in Ireland for the last couple of years, makes me truly appreciate every ray of sun I can get, that’s for sure!

On the way to our hotel we got to see a part of the suburbs of Antalya, I was actually very surprised how clean and new everything looked like. It seems like the city must be doing well as we were passing by a few development projects on the way. Antalya is still expanding...

Our hotel was situated in the middle of the old town of Antalya – Kaleiçi. All around you could see narrow and winding cobbled streets, old houses and hotels built in Ottoman style and little cafes offering cold drinks and a little bit of shade for wandering tourists - simply charming… The hotel itself was a renovated Ottoman building with a tiny swimming pool just in the middle of the courtyard and dinning tables set all around it. A few tall candleholders were set around the pool, adding atmosphere to this adorable place… Our room had a charm of its own as well - not very big, but cosy, decorated in Ottoman style with antique-looking furniture – apparently all the rooms in the hotel were decorated individually so you wouldn’t find two that would look alike. The windows weren’t letting in a lot of sun inside as they were facing other buildings, but then once you spend the whole day in the sun, it might be actually nice to come back to a darker place, besides the rooms seem much cooler that way also.

After leaving our bags in the room, we wanted to explore a bit, but since it was close to dinner time, we decided to have a drink at the hotel and explore a bit afterwards. I was slightly shocked by the prices of drinks at the hotel as they were very close to Irish prices, so we quickly checked what time exactly happy hour was starting each day to take advantage of it in case we were around the hotel around that time. In general the staff in the hotel wasn’t too friendly, a few more smiles and more info here and there would be nice, but then I wasn’t really bothered by it as we weren't spending much time in the hotel anyway. There was one waiter though that definitely should've been thought a few manners – one sunny afternoon we ordered 2 lattes and he brings us 2 beers, not that I was complaining cause I could do with that also, but simply that wasn’t our order, so I politely mentioned it to the guy and he just started waving his hands in the air, mumbling something in Turkish (his English wasn't good at all), took the beers and after few minutes basically threw the coffees on our table without saying a word… Nice! And the next few days was giving us fake smiles… but then maybe somebody said something to him afterwards as it seemed that he started paying a little bit more attention to our orders after that incident, and once even said ‘Yes sir’ to me when taking the order! Hmmm… and to think I always believed I was a girl! My sister just wouldn’t stop laughing! 😊

A dinner in the hotel was included in our package, so we had an opportunity to try different kinds of Turkish dishes there. There would usually be two meat dishes and a wide range of side dishes to choose from. I was trying to taste a little bit of everything to experience different flavours of Turkish cuisine but there were so many different plates of food that it was just impossible to taste it all and then I have to say that many things were quite similar in flavour with usually one or two ingredients changing, at least that's how it seemed like. In general they do love fresh spices in their food here – parsley, fresh mint, cumin, pepper and many more. Although the food was good and there were a couple of things that I really enjoyed, I have to say that in general some flavours were a little bit too dominating for me, for example I do like mint in food but once it’s added to almost every salad it’s simply taking away from other flavours. But then maybe I’m just not used to this combination...

What I really enjoyed was having breakfast in the hotel. I totally forgot what a nice feeling it was to sit outside in the fresh air with a cup of coffee in your hand, enjoying the warmth of the sun rays gently touching your skin. I would have a lovely bread roll (or even two) with beyaz peynir (white cheese made from sheep milk, very similar to feta cheese), fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and all sorts of olives, followed by some fresh fruits and even more lovely coffee - a truly Mediterranean feast! There was also a wide range of cereals and teas to choose from in case anyone would prefer that.

We had some food outside of the hotel as well. It would’ve been a shame if we left without trying some real kebab and Turkish pizza. When I was living in Holland I really enjoyed having Turkish pizza there. It’s been quite a while since I had left Holland, so it was a great pleasure to taste it again here – as not only it brought back the flavours I once knew but some memories as well… Also we had a chance to try different kinds of Turkish desserts while we were here – our hotel always had a wide choice of pastries and cakes, including baklava. Most of them were nice but not exactly my type of desserts, sometimes the texture was a little bit strange or they were simply too sweet for my taste.

We spent the week in Antalya, strolling around Kaleici, relaxing on the beaches and taking tours to the surrounding places – Perge, Aspendos, rafting in Koprulu Canyon and scuba diving near Kemer.

We almost went to Side as well... We asked at the hotel how to get there and were told to walk to the bus station (Otogar) and it would be a 2-hour bus journey from there. Sounded easy enough, so one day after breakfast, we set off looking for the bus station. Since the signs were everywhere, we just followed them. After one hour of walking through some residential areas, we started getting a little bit worried. We decided to stop somewhere for a cold drink to think what to do next. There was a young guy working at the café, I doubt they have any tourists around these parts of town, cause he looked very surprised to see us. There was a college nearby, so he asked us if we were students, pointing at the place. It cheered us up a lot, as college days are long gone now, so not even knowing about it, he gave us a big compliment! We also asked him where the bus station was, but he couldn’t understand us – his English was very basic. So not wasting any more time, we decided to move on. We asked for a bill and he just said ‘half past two’ with a big smile. It totally made our day! Fair play to him for trying! We paid 2.50, left a bit extra and continued on. We walked another hour until we reached the highway and at this point just gave up and went back to Kaleici! Normally I would have checked the map before going somewhere, but this time just trusted the girl from the hotel. Lesson learned!

Beaches and shopping in Antalya

On the first morning we woke up at 5am to the sound of a prayer coming from the nearby mosque. And it seemed as if the speaker was located just outside of our window. I was able to sleep after that without any problems and it actually didn't disturb my sleep the next days at all, but my sister wasn't that lucky. After lovely breakfast we decided to check out the beach, as Konyaalti was closer than Lara, we set off to Konyaalti. We took a tram to the Museum station and then walked to the beach. Konyaalti beach with its darker sand mixed with pebbles stretches for a few kilometres, you can find bars, cafes, aqua park and some hotels all along. Since at this time of the year it was low season already, there were very few tourists around and the beach seemed very peaceful and quiet – apparently during high season Antalya, being very well known and popular in the Turkish Riviera, doubles its population, so there is an additional million people in town drinking and partying all day long around that time. We chose a good time to come here then!

Once back in the old town, we decided to walk around and check out some shops. As fun as it sounds, it turned out to be a pretty draining experience... First of all almost every seller tries to make a small talk with you, trying to say hello in different languages to see which one you’ll respond to, to find out where you are coming from (strangely everyone thought we were Russians – probably due to increasing numbers of Russian tourists coming to this region), then say one or two sentences in your language to create an illusion that he is really interested in you as a person and then sometimes it could go even further as they will say their brother or sister or some other member of their family live in your country – in our case it seemed as if all their relatives lived in Warsaw... hmmmm... So at the beginning you politely answer the same questions over and over again, but then at some point you realise that the purpose of this conversation is only to get you to buy one of their products, so you do get tired of this game and just keep on going without stopping, hoping that you will come across a shop where you will be able to just walk around and look at the goods without being disturbed. Let me just say that you do have to walk for
my sis :)my sis :)my sis :)

sadly the day after the lovely graffiti was gone...
a while to find that place. Then there are times when the sellers are simply rude! One guy clearly had a problem with concentration as while inviting us to check out his shop, he could concentrate on everything but our faces! Creepy fellow... Even though he was the creepiest guy around, he wasn’t the only one that was giving us dodgy looks or some nasty comments! Not sure what some guys are trying to achieve behaving this way as they definitely won't get customers by treating them like that! And do they really think they will make girls intrested in them by giving them creepy looks??? Some strange way of thinking going on there... Thankfully not all the guys around are like that and you could also find some decent people, who would give you space and who were simply trying to make their living without pushing you to buy their goods. While some people need a little bit of encouragement to buy something, many just don’t like being rushed and will buy more when left alone to browse. And there is a lot to choose from that’s for sure – from jewellery, leather products, clothing and shoes (fake labels anyone?), handmade wooden and ceramic items to typical Turkish carpets or wide range of spices.

Some sellers do have a great sense of humour as well. One day my sister was looking at some shoes and after asking for a price, she got an answer that normally the shoes would be 40 euro but he was willing to give her a very special price of 200 euro! We laughed a lot and got the shoes in the end (clearly not for 200 or even 40 euro but less than that). There were actually two guys working in this shop and the owner clearly spoke no English, slightly shy but always had a genuine smile on his face, so hired the other one to do all the talking for him, which obviously worked well for him as his partner did a pretty good job chatting up his clients!

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to have a drink in one of the restaurants next to the marina and there we discovered a little private beach. Although you had to pay a bit to use it, we didn’t mind as it was really close to our hotel and totally worth it. It was funny when one day we saw a Polish couple taking the umbrellas next to ours, after a small chat it turned out that they were from the same town as us! And even more - the girl attended the same high school as we did! It was really nice to look back at some old times... Funny how small the world has become these days!

Perge & Aspendos

You can take many tours from Antalya to the surrounding places. Even though a trip to Pamukkale sounded very tempting, the idea of sitting in the bus the whole day and spending probably only an hour at the site put us off a bit, so in the end we decided to go a little bit closer and booked a tour to Perge and Aspendos. The first on the list was Kurşunlu Nature Park. Set in a beautiful pine forest, it seemed like a lovely place for a trek, to sit by the waterfall or just have a picnic with your family. At this time of the year the waterfall wasn’t really that impressive but in wet season it must be stunning.

Next stop was the ancient town of Perge. It was originally a Hellenistic settlement, one of the richest and most beautiful in the ancient world. Alexander the Great stationed here during his conquest against the Persians. Later on it developed into a thriving Roman city. Now you can walk around and only imagine how life must have been like at these times. You can see two round towers guarding the entrance to the city. Then walking through the courtyard, you reach the ruins of the bath complex, in one spot you can see that once it was covered with marbled floors. Next you can view the remains of the agora, on some of the stones there are still the symbols of the craftsmen that used to work there so many years ago. And then at the end you reach a long colonnaded street with a canal in the middle of it, imagining it bustling with life in the ancient times as this is probably where socializing took place. Outside of the main site, you can also see the ruins of the stadium and theatre, which are said to be preserved quite well, however we moved on to our next destination – Aspendos. There are many parts you can visit here as well, but the one that attracts everyone the most is the theatre. It is one of the best preserved theatres in the world and famous for its magnificent acoustics. There is a legend that the king of Aspendos held a contest to see who would do the greatest service to the city. The winner would get his daughter’s hand in marriage. After examining the work of many artisans, the king chose two candidates. The first of them set up a system that enabled water to be brought to the city via aqueducts, while the second built the theatre. Clearly the king was more impressed with the work of the first candidate, when he was asked to have one more look at the theatre. While he was walking about in the upper galleries, he heard a deep voice saying "The king's daughter must be given to me" but he couldn’t find its source. It was, of course, the architect himself speaking from the stage. Impressed by the acoustics of the theatre, the king in the end gave the prize to the architect and the wedding ceremony took place in the theatre. I can definitely understand his choice as the theatre is simply breathtaking and I am truly amazed that it survived all these years and is preserved so well. Apparently some concerts are being held here even now.

Rafting and diving

There are many activities you can do in the area of Antalya. Apparently it’s a good place for water rafting, so we thought we would give it a try. We definitely weren’t disappointed! We were positively surprised by the organisation of the tour – first we were picked up from the hotel, and then dropped off at a gas station where we joined some other people from the tour and changed the car for a bigger one. After driving a bit, we stopped again where we joined even more people and boarded onto the bus. It would definitely be cheaper for them to have one bus pick everyone up, but this was definitely more efficient! Well thought, I say!

We arrived at the Koprulu Canyon National Park and were divided into three groups – they tried to put us in the Russian speaking group and even after we said we don’t speak it, they didn’t seem to believe us, but eventually they let us join the English speaking group. We picked up our helmets and life jackets and were ready to start our adventure. Our team was the most numerous one – 11 people and the instructor. We got some basic tips from Mustafa, our ‘captain’ and set off down the river. Since it was the end of the dry season, the river was very calm in general with only a few slighlty exciting spots – still we had a lot of fun the whole day. We had a great group of people on board and were joking and laughing all along the way, while our instructor was shouting that we were paddling all wrong! Loved it!

Another day we went on a scuba diving trip. The bus took us to Kemer – it’s meant to be a good spot for diving with some wrecks to explore around there. Again they tried to put us into a Russian group, this time though they really weren’t giving up and it seemed as if they thought that by speaking louder, they would make us admit we are Russians after all? I really wish I could speak Russian, but I don't! Anyway... After a short, but pretty rough, boat trip we arrived at the diving site, were given a brief instruction on what to do and were sent in the groups of 5 to water. We were surprised that we didn’t get the wetsuits, especially that they were hanging all over the boat, but the first dive was meant to be a shallow and short one, so were told not to worry. It was absolutely freezing in the water though! The first dive was nothing more than getting used to breathing and an under-water photo shoot. We were basically crawling on the sea floor while they were taking our pictures. We did get some nice shots, that’s for sure, but it wasn’t exactly a diving experience we were hoping for. Especially my sister was disappointed. She did some scuba diving before in Barbados and she said it was way more professional there than this. Well, we hoped the second dive would be better, so after lunch we were ready to go under water again. This time everybody asked for wetsuits – that’s what they were there for right? It didn’t seem that obvious to the staff as they were kind of reluctant to give them to us... We did get them anyway! The second dive we were meant to go deeper, strangely though we were diving in the exactly same spot? They weren’t taking pictures this time, so I guess that was the only difference - that you could move around on your own. Whoever did the scuba diving for the first time here, like me, enjoyed it, but then there were a few which did some diving before, and let’s just say, they weren’t too happy about this experience – my sister was one of them. Still we met some really nice people on the boat, I tried something I never thought I would (slighlty afraid of open water) so it was a great day out after all! And I will definitely be doing some proper scuba diving in the future!

I really enjoyed the week spent in Antalya and I believe that everyone could find here something that would suit their needs...

Additional photos below
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10th January 2018
Aspendos, simply breathtaking!

It's awesome
You are right, it is awesome. /Ake
10th January 2018

I have actually seen it
But now that I think of it, I have actually seen it once. But that was about 20 years ago... /Ake

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