After working in the mental health field for three years, it was time for an adventure. I purged my life of almost everything I owned, packed two old-fashioned trunks, and moved to Antalya, Turkey, with my dog Maya.
I remember that first morning. Starting off going through the original stone wall, Hadrian’s Gate circa 130 A.D., we came into “Kaleiçi,” the old city.
Cobblestone streets wind up and around, hugging seaside cliffs to the background of snow-capped mountains. Remodeled and worn-down classic Ottoman houses are both for living and for business.
Maya and I went for a day of exploring. She made friends with a handful of street dogs and enemies with the plethora of street cats. Shopkeepers prepared for the day, lying out rugs, setting up trinkets. As we passed one worker, he asked me in broken English where I was from, how long I was staying.
I smiled and answered, “California, one year.”
He asked me about Maya and was humored that I brought her all the way to Turkey. By the time I got to the end of the street, all knew our origin and that we’d be staying for a while. From then on, we were no longer strangers in this city. People knew us – or at least of the American girl with a dog.
In the evenings, Kaleiçi comes alive. Live music fills every corner. The smell of börek, kofte and kebabs linger in the air. Some cafés cater to college students with hookah and beer. Others to older Turkish men with tavla and raki. A few are eclectic, offering a bit of everything, including spirits.
Being a regular has its charms. Wednesday’s was Ayyas. Fresh mezzes and wine paired with traditional Turkish music was the catch. Happy hour was always at Otantik. One waiter won a competition that made him the second-best bartender in Turkey. Many spring and summer afternoons I spent there on the wicker chairs, guessing where the tourists were from.
Friday nights, expats go to Adi Bar. The entrance is up a set of stairs that are pulled up and down by a chain, like an opening to a secret passageway: the perfect setting for a scary movie. The bar was filled with furniture that seemed to have been plucked from the side of the road. It’s almost like an ’80s time warp with the acid trip paintings and hard rock music.
Kral Bahçe is nestled next to an ancient stone wall, run by a Jack Sparrow look-alike. Here, expect to socialize with locals and tourists around a small fire. Now closed, Miles was where all the young expats gathered. There was a certain mystical setting, outside with friends in the chill autumn air, listening to bluesy jazz under a full moon with the silhouette of a minaret less than 500 feet away.
So much more can be said about this beautiful place and the interesting characters that call it home. These few words aren’t enough. Go experience the charm of Antalya yourself.
It’s worth it.