Kaleici, the old citadel of Antalya, is a warren of cobbled lanes and restored buildings, now taken over by high end restaurants, discos and sports bars. Somewhat familiar of the Latin Quarter in New Orleans, architecturally it feels authentic, but today it’s predominantly about tourists. We’ve tried to remember when we’ve stayed in such an up-scale area, and perhaps we haven’t. At night it’s noisy, but during the day at this time of the year the streets are quite empty and sleepy. Our hotel overlooks the bay – we were assured an ocean view, but a noisy sports bar blocked most of the view so the proprietor offered us a quieter room in back looking towards nothing but a blank wall. There were plenty of walks with sea views. It’s a long time since my first hitchhiking trip alongside the Mediterranean in Italy with Gerard and I’d forgotten how blue green the water is. I was overwhelmed then, and I still am.
Dragging our suitcases and looking for our hotel, just inside Kaleici’s walls I noticed a quaint little restaurant with a few tables on the street. As I checked the menu and found vegetarian mousaka, a cheerful waiter assured me he and his brother cooked the meals – all fresh food. “Come back later!” After checking in, and finding all the surrounding restaurants focused on fish, Gerard eventually agreed to go back to my find. It was perfect – affordable with veg-only options. But best of all were the owners – two twin brothers probably in their 50s. And this time the twins are almost identical. Wiry and witty they seem more like Greeks than Turks. One of them traveled and worked abroad since he was young until a few years ago. It’s easy to imagine him as a hippie. He’s not really changed that much – except for the hair loss. He immediately recognized us as kindred spirits and encouraged our return. “I enjoy your company.”
There’s not a huge amount to see here but it’s pleasant to walk the streets, stop at overlooks of the bay and so on. I especially like watching the elderly locals passing the time of day in a garden beside Hadrian Gate while a vendor comes by with her tray of little glasses of Turkish tea. Down the street an artist cum antique dealer invited us into his overstuffed 800 year-old house, smelling like Gerard’s childhood when he went round with his father, who was also a dealer. Maneuvering through room after room of his many paintings and treasures (he was particularly fond of kilims) was more entertaining than the nearby Cultural Museum. He told us that his son has little interest in inheriting the shop while his wife has no idea what to do with the mountains of inventory should he die. It all strikes a familiar chord – what would I do with Gerard’s collections? Marbles…CDs…trinkets…not to mention the paintings…
I’m not terribly interested in ancient antiquity whether its ruins or archeological museums, but a friend recommended the Antalya Archeological Museum, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Antalya is peppered with excavation sites dating from the Neolithic period – pottery designs of 2,500 BC looking like the kilim designs we see today, and jewelry beginning in 1st C AD looking remarkably contemporary. The artifacts were laid out in chronological order everything labeled in English as well as Turkish, unlike most public places here. Numerous times a relic was described as being finally retrieved after it had been illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country. In recent years, the Turks have brought lawsuits against prominent museums in Europe and the U.S.
On the long walk back to Kaleici, we passed a crowd in an open square gathered around a speaker. Beside him were two young people, one on all fours, the other straddling him, obviously symbolizing servitude. Accompanying the passionate speaker were musicians. Something for everybody! Even though we don’t speak Turkish, it’s apparent there’s an active student movement here pushing for political reform.
On our last night in Antalya it poured with rain. As we went out to eat dinner, lights from restaurants and shops shone on the wet cobblestones.
For the first time we ate inside our little restaurant offering an intimacy we weren’t previously aware of. Four or five young people huddled around a woodstove, playing music and reading, periodically breaking off to feed logs into the stove. Romanticizing a scene out of Communist Russia, I imagined they might have been plotting a revolution. The two brothers prepared a special last supper for us. So much good food, for once we couldn’t eat it all. On our walk back the old town showed a new beauty reflecting off the wet pavement.