Budget travel is not synonymous with convenient travel. The trip to our first stop, Antalya, was as a never-ending journey. We departed New York at 2pm and arrived twenty-four hours later. And there were no flight delays or cancellations in any of the 3 flights we took!! I originally planned on taking 2 buses to get to our rental apartment, but at this point I was only thinking “shower”, “food”, and “bed”, so I forgot about being a budget traveler for a moment, and ditched the bus idea for the taxi. Well that, too, wasn’t easy. Three taxi drivers had to debate amongst themselves to figure out where this apartment was. One of them ended up calling the apartment owner to get directions. This was NOT comforting. Where the hell was this apartment?
As we blissfully sat in the cab, we allowed ourselves to soak in city. Antalya is pretty amazing – mountains hovering over the sea, earning this southern Turkish city the moniker of the gateway to the Turkish Riviera. Our apartment was actually right at the base of the mountain and literally a 20min walk to the beach.
However, first things first – after a lovely introduction from the owner’s parents to the 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment we had rented from Airbnb, we hit the showers. There is no better feeling to me than scrubbing off travel grime. At this point, we were nearing evening and needed to proceed to our second most valuable mission – food. We called the owner of the apartment to find out and this is when we realized how inconvenient this apartment location was. He told us that there were no nearby restaurants and the closest source of food was in a shopping center 6 kilometers away (about 3 miles). The distance wasn’t initially a big deal since the apartment came with two bikes, but it became a huge deal when the elevator decided to malfunction at that very moment. It would be bordering on impossible for Humpty to carry the bicycle down the six flights of stairs, and I was not too keen on carrying two bikes down and, worse, carry them up six flights. No thank you. So we walked towards the town of Antalya, a mere 13km away (just under 8 miles) and hoping that this “shopping center” would appear…. So we walked. And walked. Humpty helped lighten the mood by asking whether our rabies vaccination was updated when we walked past the stray dogs (mine was, hers was not). Magically, we stumbled upon a lovely, random restaurant, had a lovely dinner, at the lovely price of 19TL ($9.50) for the two of us (for the duration of the Turkey portion of the blog, I will use the simple $0.50 = 1TL conversion, although I realize it is actually $0.553 – its just a lot easier for me to do the simple math in my head than doing more precise calculations). Let me repeat – dinner for two including a big bottle of water, an adana kebab plate with side of rice and salad, and a beef kebab plate also with a side of salad and rice, for under $10. My love affair with Antalya officially began at this moment (the mountains and ocean were when my lust for Antalya began).
We decided to spend Friday as tourists, choosing to do a walking tour of Kalicei, the old town within Antalya. After spending some time trying to figure out the bus schedule (two points here – 1) the bus system is extremely convenient, 2) the bus system unfortunately is not the most user friendly), we made it into the city center (bus was 3.5TL for two, or $1.75). You know that point in a relationship, after the amazing first date or two, when you start to notice flaws? We noticed our first flaw with Antalya. Perhaps it was our late arrival the prior evening that prevented us from noticing then, but Antalya in July is FREAKIN HOT! I mean, we are talking 43-45 degree Celsius hot (for our America friends, that’s about 109-113 degrees Fahrenheit). I was starving so we made our way to this extended patio area overlooking Antalya’s marina. Lamb sausage sandwich, fresh orange juice, and Turkish tea (14TL, about $7 US) later, I was ready to roll. Humpty decided a lamb sausage breakfast was a bit much so she wanted to wait. Literally two minutes later, Humpty announces she is now hungry. Argh. So we sit to eat (again), where she has an obviously much “lighter” chicken kebab and salad (along with Fanta and big water, again 14TL, or $7 US – we had found the tourist zone). Now, we were both ready to roll.
We wandered the streets of the old town of Kalieci. It was not so much that we did not find the city charming; it was that oppressive, scorching heat that tempered our enthusiasm. We drenched in sweat. We enviously watched the seasoned tourists joyously splashing in the water while we trekked through the old town. Finally, we allowed ourselves to be taken on a 45min harbor tour by boat (10TL, or $5 for 2 people). Sitting in the shade and looking back upon the city, I could not help imagining what it must have been like thousands of years ago when European conquerors (mostly Greek and Roman) approached the shores of Antalya to see its amazing rock cliffs, turquoise waters, mountainous backdrop, and say to themselves, “Hey, guys, let’s check this place out – looks pretty sweet.” Or something to that effect.
It was now 2pm and we were crushed from the heat. I wanted to tough it out and tried reminding myself that with Pakistan and Thailand still on our near term agenda, we had better acclimate quickly. No luck. We decided to join our European brethren and head for the beach. This, of course, required getting back to our apartment. I thought I had a good game plan – return to the spot where the bus dropped us off (a one way street), backtrack until we got to the where the traffic was two way, and hop on the same bus heading the opposite direction to that where we came from. Simple, right? Well, after 40 minutes of standing and waiting, we concluded the bus was not coming.
So in our embarrassingly broken Turkish – which consists of about a week’s worth of Pimsleur audio courses and what must be bizarre hand gestures – we tried asking for help. We got two answers: 1) not here, 2) over there. The only problem was we could not exactly figure out what “over there” was referring to. So we wandered. This time, with ice cream in hand (10TL, $5, obviously tourist pricing but we could care less). We found a bus. We hoped on. We asked if it went to our stop. Multiple people said yes, probably, we think so. So we went for it. Things were looking good – I was recognizing landmarks. And then, when we seemed to be pretty close, our bus driver told us we had to get out as he was not going to where we needed to go – rather, we needed to walk across the street and wait for another bus to take us to our bus stop.
Now, I consider myself a fairly intelligent guy. I can read a bus map. This bus was supposed to go past our bus stop and end much further down. But as Humpty and I were sitting on this bus, alone, for the past five minutes, perhaps the bus driver decided it was not worth finishing his route. OK, no big deal, we can get out and wait. Or perhaps walk. In the heat. I opted for walking against Humpty’s clearly more logical plan of waiting for the next bus. So we walked. And walked. We looked ahead and saw those mountains. But this time, they were not majestic, they were ominous. I swear I saw the eye of Mordor seething at us and I certainly felt the volcanic-like heat increasing as we approached. And then, not an eagle, but a bus – turning the corner, heading towards us, to save us. We were at the beach in no time after that and the eye of Mordor turned his gaze elsewhere as we splashed in the Mediterranean Sea.