Jonna and Alan's trip to southern Turkey

Alan's cousin Heather had been globe-trotting since the Pandemic started in 2020 and landed on the southern coast of Turkey. for January, February and March of 2022. Jonna and Alan couldn't resist escaping the snow of Colorado (and celebrating Jonna's birthday) with a visit Turkey's "Turquoise Coast"! February is a little early for Turkey's tourist season and there were definitely things we couldn't do since places weren't open yet but the plus side was that nearly everything was empty and the locals were happy to have tourists there spending money. We flew into the big city of Antalya, rented a car and then spent 2 1/2 weeks exploring the southern coast while based at Heather's condo in the seaside city of Kalkan.

Here are some of our favorite photos from the trip (each photo is a thumbnail linked to a higher quality picture.):

1) Antalya, Turkey. February 22, 2022 - After 18 hours of air travel we were thankful to have booked a hotel near the airport in Antalya. The room service dinner was mediocre but it allowed us to eat alone in the room rather than risking COVID in a crowded restaurant. Breakfast the next morning proved that we weren't in Colorado anymore! The palm trees filling the courtyard outside was another clue. After filling up on the amazing breakfast buffet we checked out and had a taxi deliver us to the car rental office. After some cross-language translation confusion on what we were paying for insurance we eventually took off to start our exploration of the southern Turkish coast!

2) D-400, Goynuk, Turkey, February 22, 2022 - Right away we were surprised by the Turkish landscape. I think we had a dry, desert landscape in mind but this was very different. Tall snow-covered mountains were just a few miles inland with jagged peaks coming right down to the coast. There were lush forests, rushing rivers and sandy beaches right on the edge of the huge city of Antalya.

3) Arykanda Antik Tiyatosu, Arif, Turkey, February 22, 2022 - Wow, this make have been our most spectacular hike ever. We spent two hours wandering through the ruins of the ancient city of Arykanda. The gate was open so we drove in but the place was deserted. The only other person was an elderly shepherd from the nearby village of Arif grazing his five sheep among the ruins. We wandered up the terraced hillside going into the old temples, administrative buildings, shops and houses.

4) Arykanda Antik Tiyatosu, Arif, Turkey, February 22, 2022 - The highlight was the temple high above the rest of the city and the stadium above that. The views down the valley were beautiful and snow covered peaks seemed so close overhead we could almost touch them. The atmosphere was completed by the tinkling of the collar bells on the sheep and then then the afternoon call to prayer echoing off the valley’s steep walls. Wow!

5) Kalkan, Turkey, February 22, 2022 - The highlight of our first day, and the point of making this trip to Turkey, was meeting up with Alan’s cousin Heather at her rented condo in Kalkan. This area is known as the Turquoise Coast and is a decent spring stop for Heather who sold everything a couple of years ago to become a digital nomad.

6) Xanthos, Kınık, Turkey, February 23, 2022 - One way to celebrate a birthday is to visit something really old in order to get some perspective on aging. For Jonna’s birthday she uncharacteristically slept in an extra hour, then enjoyed a leisurely morning with a cup of Turkish black tea while taking in the panoramic view of the Turquoise Coast from the condo. For the day’s outing we drove to neighboring Kınık where we visited the Xanthos UNESCO World Heritage site. We shared the huge site with one other couple and a very large, attentive pack of semi-feral dogs.

7) Xanthos, Kınık, Turkey, February 23, 2022 - Established around 600 BC the Lycian city-state of Xanthos grew to become one of the most powerful cities of its day but this made it a target which resulted in it being conquered and/or destroyed on multiple occasions including invasions by the Persians in the 400s BC and during the Roman civil war around 50 BC. The site is sprawling but in my opinion not as impressive as Arykanda that we visited yesterday. The most interesting feature was the Roman gladiatorial stadium. It was originally twice as tall as the current structure but the top level was stripped of stone to bolster the city walls during a later war. The other notable areas were a wide paved boulevard/agora and also the ruins of a late Roman Christian church. It lacked the wow factor but it was still amazing to walk through a 2,600 year old cityscape.

8) Kalkan, Turkey, February 23, 2022 - We spent the afternoon relaxing back at the condo while an afternoon rain storm rolled through. Finally, we ended the birthday with a trip to the old town center of Kalkan to see the port and enjoy a nice dinner at a waterside restaurant.

9) Kalkan, Turkey, February 24, 2022 - Among the many things we enjoyed during our visit was the cost of living in Turkey. Food was very cheap. This lunch - a veggie stew, rice, bread and a soda - was the equivalent of $3 US.

10) Kalkan, Turkey, February 24, 2022 - This was a rather somber day waking up to the news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We spent the morning reading the news and hanging around the condo. For lunch we drove to downtown Kalkan to find food and then visited the weekly farmer’s market. We had a tasty and cheap lunch at a cafe that had outdoor sidewalk tables. Just a couple of blocks away was the farmer’s market so we wandered through looking at the "authentic" name brand clothing, the cheap kitchen utensils and the ubiquitous Turkish rugs and many stalls selling gorgeous fruit and vegetables. This region’s climate is perfect for citrus and the fields beside the roads driving along the coast were packed with orange and lemon trees loaded with ripe fruit. As a result the market had truck loads of oranges for sale, as well as a variety of perfect veggies. We bought ingredients for a few future dinners. We also walked through the central cemetery to see the above ground graves with trees, shrubs and flowers planted in them which gave it a wild and overgrown feeling despite being in the middle of a city. We ran a few errands afterwards and then returned to the condo to listen to the amorous local cats serenade each other and to read more on the tragic events unfolding to the north.

11) Saklikent Canyon, Kayadibi, Turkey, February 25, 2022 - After a few days of intermittent rain we finally had a whole day of blue sky and sunshine. We had a lazy morning hanging around the condo but the warm weather meant the private heated swimming pool was open for business. The air temperature was still a little cool but Jonna and Heather both swam for an hour in the late morning. After scrounging lunch from the refrigerator we headed out to spend the afternoon seeing the nearby sights. First up was a visit to Saklikent canyon. Snow melt from the inland mountains have carved a narrow, deep canyon into which numerous streams bubble out of the naked rock to join the silty river. The canyon is 9 miles long and in the summer you can do canyoneering trips through it but this early in the year melting snow keeps the water volume way too high. Fortunately, there is a raised walkway the first 200 meters into the gorge so we were able to get a little taste of it (and still keep our feet dry!)

12) Patara, Gelemis, Turkey, February 25, 2022 - Next up we visited more ruins. Specifically, the site of the ancient city of Patara which was the capital of the Lycian League. The city’s origins go back to 3,000 BC and it was mentioned in historian’s writings well into the 1100s AD so it has a long and fascinating history. In addition to a sprawling area filled with unearthed ruins the original senate house, where the representatives of the Lycian League member cities met, has been partially reconstructed and the massive theater has had some repairs made so it can be used to hold performances. Both buildings were amazing to stand in. We also walked part of the grand harbor boulevard of which the lower section now dips into the water. 2,000 years ago this would have been the main entrance into the city, lined with shops, administrative buildings and temples. As with the other ruins we have visited we had this one mostly to ourselves - we shared the massive complex with just six other tourists and a local lady shepherding her two cows. After a tea/ice cream break at the gift shop we drive to the end of the road to Patara beach. This is the longest beach in Turkey. We went for a short walk but with it now being early evening the wind was picking up and the temperature was going down. Rather than wait around for an hour for sunset we decided to drive to a different, more protected, beach for our sunset viewing.

13) Kaputaş Beach, Bezirgan, Turkey, February 25, 2022 - That beach is tiny Kaputas Beach which is at the mouth of a narrow canyon. We parked on the side of the coastal road just a couple of miles east of Kalkan and then hiked down a long staircase to the bottom of the canyon. From there is was a short, rocky walk to the beach which was a mix of blonde sand and round white pebbles. More importantly the steep canyon walls blocked the wind and held in the heat from the sunny day. Much better! We sat in the warm rocks and talked while the sun sank into the Mediterranean. Once the sun set we hiked back up to the car and drove into downtown Kalkan to find dinner. We happened upon a restaurant called Coriander and it was delicious. A lucky random choice to end an excellent day of sightseeing.

14) Simena, Turkey, February 26, 2022 - This was a big and busy day. We got an early start so we could drive to the port of Demre where we boarded the Nesko, a large tourist boat that we had reserved for a 3 hour private tour. We left the dock at 10am and made a slow cruise across the bay to the north coast of Kekova island. In the 5th century BC an earthquake struck this area which flattened the ancient city of Simena and dropped the landscape as much as 60 feet separating what is now the island of Kekova from the mainland. The ruins of old Simena are still visible on the steep hillsides, along the shore and underwater. We slid along the coast with the boat captain using a handheld mirror to point out features in the ruins.

15) Simena, Turkey, February 26, 2022 - Opposite the island is the new village of Simena, now called Kaleköy, with an Ottoman castle towering overhead. There are no roads so the only access is via boat. We made a short stop and absolutely fell in love with it. When we booked the tour we weren’t all that interested in the stop to see castle ruins but walking through the charming village turned out to be the highlight of our day: The maze of tiny lanes and vine covered houses, the old ladies rolling out philo dough on a stone over an open fire, the jovial young men carrying bags of concrete dust from the docks up to the castle and the flowering fruit trees covered with buzzing bees. The boat ride back was peaceful and scenic drifting through a quiet bay and looking into a waterside cave.

16) Demre Beach, Demre, Turkey, February 26, 2022 - Once we docked we asked about where to find a good fish restaurant for lunch and the captain answered by pulling a bag of fresh fish out of his drinks cooler that he’s just been given by his friends in Simena. He sent one of his crew to the store for salad ingredients then cast off and took the boat just offshore from Demre beach where he served a lunch of fresh bread, salad, fried potatoes and fried fish. It turned out to be more expensive than was probably reasonable but it was still a great experience.

17) Andriake, Demre, Turkey, February 26, 2022 - Once we re-docked we drove a short distance to the ruins of the ancient city of Andriake. We paid to see the site and look in the attached museum of Lycian Civilization. The museum was sparse on artifacts but loaded with information so we learned a lot.

18) Andriake, Demre, Turkey, February 26, 2022 - The highlight of the city site was the agora (marketplace) with it’s vaulted underground cistern.

19) Myra, Demre, Turkey, February 26, 2022 - After a quick break for cold drinks we drove into the city of Demre to visit the ruins of the ancient city of Myra. This was another ticketed national historic site and there were two jaw-dropping highlights. The first is the largest theater in the region - big enough to hold 10,000 Lycians. It was massive and mainly intact after having been covered by a landslide at some point in the past. However even cooler was the wall of rock tombs carved into the cliffs behind the the theater. Stretching over 100 feet up above ground level and with richly carved fronts that imitated wooden buildings. Very different from what we’d seen at the other Lycian cities and amazing to look at.

20) Myra, Demre, Turkey, February 26, 2022 - See, I told you the sights at Myra were jaw-dropping!

21) Church of St. Nicholas, Demre, Turkey, February 26, 2022 - With evening closing in we had enough time for one more tourist stop. The church of St Nicholas - yes, *that* St. Nick. He was the bishop of Demre in the 5th century AD and this church circa 1000 AD was built in his honor at the supposed site of his original church. The church is mainly a gutted shell but there are some original partial frescoes still visible high up on walls and in one of the domes. Probably not worth the entry fee but interesting for a quick walk through. On our way back to Kalkan we hit up an ATM to replenish sorely drained wallets and made it back home just in time to watch sunset from the back patio. A fine way to spend the day though I did feel guilty for being so completely distracted from the harsh reality of world events today.

22) Kalkan, Turkey, February 27, 2022 - This was a down day where we mostly stayed around the house to take care of chores like doing laundry, writing post cards, researching options for the upcoming day’s excursions and just catching up on email, news and such. We made a brief trip into downtown Kalkan to get groceries and to fill up the car with gas but came straight back to make lunch. By the time we finished eating it was starting to rain so our idea of swimming in the heated pool melted away. In the evening we did a short walk around the neighborhood to stretch our legs where we had a good view of Kalkan across the bay (our condo is in a separate satellite cluster of buildings a 1/2 mile from the main city). A slow day without much to report but we now have some good ideas (and some clean clothes) to guide us for the next week.

23) Lime Restaurant, Kalkan, Turkey, February 28, 2022 - Our plan for this day followed that of the past few days. A relaxed morning at the condo then heading out in the second half of the day to see something before the afternoon rains came. The goal was to venture up into the mountains, in from the touristy coast, to see what life might be like for the Turks that aren’t working in restaurants, grocery stores and city shops. Our first stop, once we left the house, almost derailed that plan. We stopped at Lime Restaurant in Kalkan for lunch and ordered their Turkish feast for the three of us to share. Apparently we were supposed to invite another four people to join us because dishes just kept coming out of the kitchen. The meal eventually covered the table and it was all delicious. We ate until we thought our only option for the afternoon was to go back to the house and hibernate like a python trying to digest its meal for the month. Fortunately, the meal also came with a pot of high test Turkish tea so we got enough of a caffeine rush to keep on task though we all felt bloated for the rest of the day. Total cost: $20.

24) Bezirgan, Turkey, February 28, 2022 - After gorging ourselves we pointed the car uphill and climbed about 3,000 ft in maybe 10 miles to the two villages of Saribelen and Bezirgan. We drove through Bezirgan and took in the centuries old stone houses, the dilapidated wooden fences barely containing herds of sheep, the modern farms with shiney marble walls and equally shiney Mercedes, the small brightly tiled mosques with tidy cemeteries, the groves of muted green olive trees and the saturated fields plowed for spring planting but currently muddy messes. We made a big lazy circle and, on the west side of town that butts up to the mountains, we think we spotted the Lycian Way trail. The Lycian Way is a 300 mile long series of trails which winds along the southern coast from near Fethiye to near Antalya. It is considered one of the most spectacular hikes in the world. We didn’t get out to hike some of it since low rain-heavy clouds were practically touching our heads at this altitude but now that we know at least one place to get to the trail we may come back. From the adorably quaint village of Bezirgan we dropped down to the town of Seribelen. This sprawling town is a hybrid. Part farming town with large greenhouses full of tomatoes and cucumbers but also dozens of halal villas - vacation houses with high privacy fences so that devout Muslim families can vacation without the women being seen swimming in the private pools, soaking in the hot tubs or sun bathing on the patios. I think an inland resort town like Saribelen has developed intentionally to be away from the coastal towns like Kalkan which cater to western ex-pats and tourists, and away from the bikinis and alcohol and the male gaze that goes with that. It was very interesting to drive through both villages to see different slices of Turkish life from what we’ve seen thusfar. To return we found an even steeper road back down out of this high mountain valley - one that had me seriously hoping my lack of faith in the Fiat brand was unfounded. It was made even more exciting because the sprinkles that had been happening in little waves turned into a burst of real rain just as we crested the top. Thankfully, first gear and the brakes both worked to get us down some seriously steep switchbacks and safely back to Kalkan. We made a drive through the western side of Kalkan, just to see more of our temporary "home city" and returned back to the condo to wait out the rain. Just before sunset the clouds started to break up. Heather and Jonna jumped in the pool and raved about the warm water in the heated pool. I can now tell you they lied. I couldn’t feel my toes for half an hour despite sitting under a heater the entire time. Also, I still felt like a python digesting its monthly meal that evening so no dinner for us that night.

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Alan Fleming