Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kaleici: A "Steamy" Hamam Tale, Ancient Maze of Streets and the Best Ever Sarcophagi Collection

Posted by Melissa
Evening in Antalya - Hıdırlık Tower on the right
September 29 - October 3, 2010

Kaleici is a small, walled, tangle of ancient, narrow streets surrounding a natural harbor in use since Roman times.  It is the original Antalya and has been inhabited since the 2nd century BC.  Modern Antalya has grown up outside the city walls and is now a sprawling city of over 1 million. The ancient city walls are still in place however, and are still protecting the old quarter, now called Kaleici.
Hadrian's Gate
The difference in architecture and tempo between the new and the old cities is quite distinct.  Outside the gate and walls, modern Antalya moves at a quick pace with scooters, cars and trolleys zipping past.  Modern buildings and large sidewalks line the street.

We even spotted this Mickey D's built right up against the wall - that stone wall on the right side of the picture is part of the ancient city wall. No, we did not eat here.

While inside the quarter, ancient Ottoman style houses with secret courtyards line the pedestrian only streets. We understand that just a few years ago, this area was not desirable and that some of the houses were abandoned and left to the wind and rain.  That has changed recently with many of the old houses newly renovated and turned into upscale hotels and restaurants. As you can see though, there are still plenty left to be renovated, but they are no longer inexpensive. 

We've learned that we need a good amount of "down" time on our extended travels.  We have learned to take it easy and see the sights on our schedule.  That means quiet walks on cobblestone streets with stops for fresh squeezed pomegranate and orange juice from sidewalk vendors like this.

And checking out the goods at the local carpet store (although this also required that we learn the art of rebuffing the sales people). 

And strolling through town just to enjoy the view!
Harbor in Kaleici, Antalya
And discovering new sweets like acibadem, my new FAVORITE, an amazing almond, macaroon, meringue type cookie.
Photo from Wikipedia
Or this nifty invention - the flip top beer bottle.  Generally here in Turkey, beer means Efes.  You order a beer, you get Efes.  We rarely found anything else.  So it was with a little bit of excitement that we ordered Tuborg.  When it arrived we discovered this cool pull top.  Efes is decent, but it was nice to have something different.
Tuborg at sunset
And enjoying a dreamy hour or two at the 700 year old Balık Pazarı Hamam where I was turned into jelly after a steam room, rough scrub to remove dead skin, soapy scrub, hair wash, and oil massage.  All this for only 40 TL ($28 US)! - sorry no photos allowed.

Just picture an ancient, domed stone building, a maze of marble tiled rooms edged with marble benches and a steamy fog which blurs everything. Naked ladies stretched out on low marble benches, light streaming in through multiple small round holes in the dome roof, each sound echoing loudly off the marble walls. The women are resting their heads on upside down copper bowls, periodically dowsing themselves with cool water, relaxing in the steam and waiting for the bath attendant. This is a traditional hamam with men and women in different areas, in case you were wondering.

After steaming sufficiently, the attendant commands me (she doesn't speak English) to lay on the central, elevated marble slab where she proceeds to rub me down with a kese (a coarse cotton mitten) and scrubs away a good amount of dead skin. This is followed by a full body wash. This is no ordinary "grab a bar of soap and wash" wash. This feels like being washed by an Angel. The attendant puts olive oil soap into a cloth pillowcase, blows into it filling it with air, then twists it shut and presses this giant air pillow onto me so that warm soap bubbles smother my body. She then massages/washes the soap over me from head to toe. An enchanting experience. The rest went by in a blur, shampoo, rinse and an oil massage. All in all, a wonderful experience and my favorite hamam so far!!

And of course, there is always time for good food.  This is part of the mezze buffet at our hotel.

We stayed about a block from the water at a small, family owned hotel.  We usually prefer to choose our own dining options, but when we checked in to this hotel, the manager offered us a half board option for just 30 additional lira for the both of us ($20 US).  The dinner included the self serve mezze buffet above plus the chef's choice for dinner. Since mezza's typically cost 4-5 lira each, this proved to be a great deal, AND delicious! We are so glad we chose this option. 
Pool side dining area
Pool side relaxing - almost finished with this book.
Although we spent most days wandering through the old quarter and talking with fellow travelers at our hotel (we met a great young couple traveling the world for a year - hi Bart & Sarah, and another couple on holiday from London), we did manage to find our way to the Antalya Museum. As many travelers know, museum and "ruin" burnout settles in after a few weeks/months of travel and we are no exception. Something about the description of this museum caught our attention though so we took some time off from wandering, reading and sunbathing to check it out.  We soon decided this was our favorite museum of the trip so far.  The collection is amazing and it only takes an hour or two to see most of it. 
Saint Nicholas relics
Glass items in the Hall of Small Objects
The Hall of Gods had an amazing collection of perfect, larger than life size, marble statues. We found ourselves alone in this gallery and quietly strolled from statue to statue. As we approached each statue, an individual spotlight lit up the white marble - our own private show.
Statue of the Emperor Hadrian in the Hall of Imperial Statues (117-138AD)
From the Marble Portraits Hall
And finally we arrive at our favorite room - The Hall of the Sarcophagi.  There were maybe 20 or so unbelievable carved sarcophagi.  Simply incredible!

As I mentioned earlier, this is our favorite museum. I haven't even included photos from the Pre-History hall with its neanderthal remains and stone age artifacts, the Byzantine Icon art, or the Ethnographic Hall with still life sets showing a typical Anatolian house and a Yörük tent.  This gets a "don't miss" in our book.

Well 'tis time to bid Hoşçakal to Antalya.  We splurged on drinks at a nearby rooftop cafe for our final night here.

And because Thane is always the one behind the camera, I am slipping in this photo of him up on that rooftop.  Did you enjoy your Tuborg?

Up Next: A night in Fethiye and a 3 night "Blue Cruise" sailing the Mediterranean on a gulet.

1 comment:

Bob and Rosemary said...

How absolutely incredible!! A truly unforgettable experience!