My last stop in Turkey, Antalya, is a popular local vacation destination along the country's southern coast. I knew next to nothing about the city prior to my arrival, but Antalya came highly recommended by my fellow travelers and all it took was Google image search to sell me on this idyllic paradise. The pictures reminded me of the ever-intoxicating Croatian coastline, but I assumed the pictures online were either heavily photoshopped or taken at the most beautiful time of the year. It is the middle of December and so far Konya (my previous city) was depressingly rainy, Göreme was insanely cold, and Istanbul was both! I spent hours trying to lower my expectations of Antalya, but much to my surprise it is a spectacular city with easily the best weather I’ve experienced in so far in Turkey!
Technically, Antalya is in Anatolia.
I departed Konya on a dreary, cold, and overcast day that was sadly the norm during my short visit in the city. I hoped the weather would improve over the course of my bus ride to Antalya, but things only went from bad to worse. From the light rain in Konya, my 5-hour bus ride took me through a torrential downpour, terrifyingly thick fog with less than 10 feet of visibility, and an intense snowstorm with hail. This did not bode well for Antalya in my mind and, disheartened by the ever-worsening weather, I tried to sleep off my sadness. An hour later I awoke covered in sweat with the sun bearing down on me in full force through the window. During my brief nap, the temperature spiked from 1°C to 22°C (33°F to 74°F for the folks back home) and it went from completely overcast weather to not a single cloud in the sky! Looking around, the domineering, inhospitable mountains I last saw before dozing off were replaced with happy palm trees swaying in the breeze. Where am I? I couldn’t believe this was still in Turkey; surely the bus took a wrong turn and I ended up back in Croatia by mistake.
I don’t know why I wasted time in Konya; rainy, religious, conservative towns are not my thing.
Antalya is where I should have been the entire time!
I exited the bus and immediately had the insatiable urge skip all the way to the tram stop. Words cannot describe the excitement I felt to finally be in a city that was bright, sunny, and warm! I didn't need for my jacket anymore! When I arrived, Antalya was flowing with locals and Turkish vacationers in every direction. Since December is a time when most westerners return home for the holidays, I came across only a handful of foreigners and didn’t see another American the entire week I was in town.
While I was exhausted from my bus ride, I wasted no time in exploring the city. I quickly dumped off my things in the hostel and I was off to the races. I am constantly amazed by how invigorating the sun is and how remarkably intoxicating the warmth of its rays are on my skin - it feels like a big, embracing hug. I can’t help but smile. I meandered through the old city to Karaalioglu Park and I swear to you my mouth dropped.
The pictures I saw online were not misleading - Antalya really is gorgeous!
Along the southern edge of the old town the small park overlooks a vast expanse of beautiful, turquoise-blue water in the Gulf of Antalya and Kaleici Marina. To my right, the rust-red cliffs flanking the marina appear to prop up the city above the gem-like water. Off in the distance before me, the powerful mountains sit calmly; their snow covered peaks creating an impressive skyline that puts even the greatest cities of the world to shame. Below me, small boats retrofitted to look like pirate ships ferry tourists back and forth while blaring "Party Rock Anthem" from their decks. Thankfully, the sound of rustling palm leaves in the light afternoon breeze muffles the music. I sat along the cliff for over an hour dumbfounded by the stellar view before me - it felt like an illusion.
This was exactly where I was supposed to be in the world.
I spent my days in Antalya exploring every single street I could find simply for the sake of walking. As a traveler, it would be a cardinal sin to let such amazing weather go unappreciated. Thanks to my arbitrary wanderings, I stumbled across such attractions as the fluted minaret of Yivliminare Mosque, the Old Bazaar, and Hadrian’s Gate without even realizing what I found. Just like in the Hagia Sophia, the instant I laid eyes on Hadrian’s Gate, memories of my old art history class and random facts about the historic structure flooded my mind.
The old port of Antalya is quite a sight to behold. Located in the heart of town, the port is outlined by the old city walls that once served to protect the city from attackers but now acts as a glorified flower pot for numerous little shrubs. Behind the port, on the opposite side of the walls lie hundreds of little homes covering the rolling hills peppered sporadically by palm trees. Coupled with the bright sun and red terra-cotta roof tiles memories of Lisbon dance through my head.
During my week in the city I walked around the old town, trekked to Konyaalti beaches, and even made the 12-mile excursion to see the Düden Waterfalls (don’t be an idiot like me; take a taxi), but the best part of my visit to Antalya was the evening sunset. Much like in Croatia, I find myself once again planning my entire day around sunset. This is partly because the days are so short and I want to enjoy ever single moment of sunshine, but the last flickering rays of light over the jagged mountain skyline is something I will never tire of watching no matter how many times I see it.
I can speak endlessly about how wonderful Antalya is, and I can definitely understand why this city is the vacation destination for locals. Most backpackers I know venture only as far as Cappadocia before returning back to Istanbul, but if you have even a few extra days make sure you visit Antalya - you will not be disappointed, I promise. I can’t imagine a better last stop in my tour of Turkey than the radiant city of Antalya and I'm so happy I got to spend a week of my life here, but sadly I must now take my leave. I’m off to visit the Middle East for the first time in my life before heading to the Indian subcontinent. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover in the next few weeks, but I absolutely loved my time in Turkey.
Israel, here I come!