Here we are, slowly transitioning into the Spring season. More and more sunny days are popping up, giving us some slight reprieve from the bleak grey skies that come with November-February in this country. Many will argue that this is being generous and these gloomy days occur much more frequently than bright sunny ones, all year-round, but call me an optimist. I’m choosing to look on the bright side (pun intended) and I honestly don’t think the weather here deserves the horrible rep it gets. But anywho.
This winter seemed particularly sun-less in Nottingham, so I’ve been daydreaming of a sunny vacation even more so than usual. Like the time I headed to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast with my bestie for a sunshiny split in the winter months.
This trip was unlike any trip I’d been on since moving to the UK. Mainly because this was my first stay at a resort outside of the Caribbean, but also because it was a very relaxing and restorative kind of trip; one where I didn’t make a list of things to do and try to tick off as many as possible in a few short days. No, my friend and I booked this trip for one specific reason: we both were in desperate need of a week to chill out and reset our systems whilst soaking up all the vitamin D possible.
So, we began our search for places to stay, ultimately settling on the Side Premium – a five star resort in a town called Side (pronounced more like see-day than side), roughly an hour and a half away from Antalya. If, like me, you’re from Canada and tend to head south to the Caribbean for a sunny winter break and have never heard of most places in Turkey outside of Istanbul, you likely haven’t ever heard of this ancient port city.
Side is situated on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast, known for its long beaches and Greco-Roman ruins. Founded by Greek settlers way back in the 7th century BC, the name in local dialect translates to “pomegranate”; although researchers still haven’t been able to fully understand the language… So, who knows what it means really.
We had planned on having the most chilled-out vacation possible – our itinerary consisted of nothing but relaxing, stuffing ourselves full of food alongside plenty of drinks. But, after a day and a half of basking in the sun, I needed to get away from the resort and do something. (Yeah, I’m not great at the whole relaxing thing…) So I started Googling things to do near us and came across the Ancient City of Side.
There was a bus stop just a few steps away from our hotel, so we made our way down and waited for quite some time for one to come along. We never did spot a bus, but there were a fair few little old vans slowing down by the stop, so we finally pieced it together and assumed they were some sort of public transport.
When the next one slowed its roll near the stop with its sliding door wide open, we hopped into the van rammed full of other people heading in the direction we needed to go, and hoped for the best. Luckily, they took us exactly where we intended, dropping us off in a parking lot with some camels resting there. The ancient city is closed to any car traffic – another feature I loved about this place – so it’s nice and peaceful when moseying around.
I’ve been so lucky, seeing plenty of ancient things since moving to England, including Roman columns from the 2nd century in Milan… But there’s something different about wandering into a city and seeing tonnes of ancient ruins just scattered about.
And by scattered about, I’m talking being greeted with ancient ruins immediately upon arrival to the ancient city. I mean, obviously we were expecting to see some impressive monuments, but what I didn’t anticipate was just walking out of a parking lot directly into ruins of Nymphaeum – a fountain with a three-story façade once supplied with water via aqueducts from the Taurus Mountains… for free.
I suppose it’s just that I’m used to living in a place where you have to pay exorbitant rates to see such things, like £20 to see Stonehenge or Tintagel Castle – both of which pale in comparison to an entire city of ruins in better shape. But I digress.
Potentially my favourite ruins here had to be what appear to be a 2nd century hospital. Being a healthcare professional, it piqued my interest and had me slowly strolling through it, visualizing what could have been an early ER…
In the centre of Side are remains of a 2nd century Ancient Theatre – the “jewel of the city”. This is the largest ancient theatre in Antolia, with a seating capacity of 17 000 people over three floors for the battles between gladiators and beasts.
The Side Museum is worth a visit not just for the inventory, but for the building itself. The archaeological museum is housed in a restored Roman bath complex. We wandered our way through myriad sculptures, jewellery, glassware, coins, and sarcophagi, marvelling at everything… In my mind, I couldn’t believe that all these ancient bits were even real. It’s just mind-blowing to me this collection from Roman, Byzantine, and Hellenistic periods has lasted for thousands of years.
We were having such a pleasant prowl through the historic remnants… until we reached the real touristy street with plenty of souvenir, clothing, and jewellery shops. One thing to note about Turkey: the shop owners are quite pushy. Similar to Marrakesh, but not nearly as intense; typically a polite ‘no thanks’ said with confidence will suffice to deter the badgering. One fellow did successfully persuade us to go into a restaurant on the water, where we enjoyed some very refreshing beer and snacks though…
After our pit stop and ambling around the remnants of the city gate and walls and the colonnaded main street, we made it to the picturesque harbour where the white marble columns of the Temples of Athena and Apollo stand tall. The area is known as a place to flock for spectacular sunsets, but it’s beautiful at any time of day, really.
Speaking of beauty, not only is this place full of awe-inspiring ancient ruins and artifacts, but it has gorgeous natural scenery as well…
We spent the afternoon exploring the rest of the 2800-year-old city (the ruins seem to be never-ending, with more excavations still happening) and enjoyed it so much that the next day, we decided to check out excursions we could book from our resort. Another morning spent Googling led us to book a tour to Antalya to check out an impressive waterfall, followed by going up a hilltop gondola, then using the afternoon to take in all the best bits of Antalya’s Old Town.
So our first stop was at the Duden Waterfalls, which are actually two separate sets – an upper and a lower set of falls. The upper set, a series of small cascades, can be found within the park as you make your way down to the real showstopper, the Lower Duden falls. These are the result of the Duden River coming to a sudden end, tumbling over the cliff into the Meditteranean Sea.
I’ve seen plenty of waterfalls over the years – I mean, Nova Scotia is riddled with them – but these were the first ones I’ve seen flowing directly into the ocean. It was well worth the short stop on the way to the cable car – Tunektepe Teleferik. The views here were stunning and the only downside was that we only had an hour to take it all in; I would’ve loved to try the restaurant at the top. Nevertheless, the panoramic scenes of the Taurus Mountains and the Gulf of Antalya are spectacular.
After our hilltop cable cruise, we ventured into Kaleiçi: the Old Town of Antalya. Previously known as Attalia, the city was founded around 150 BCE by King Attalus II of Pergamon, the likes of which can be found as a statue in the main square. This square is also home to the Saat Kulesi, a clock tower that can be used as a marker for the entrance to the old town, as the busy street, Uzun Çarşı Sokak, sits just opposite it.
At the end of a street full of various vendors and colourful umbrellas, we found the ruins of Hadrian’s Gate – Üçkapılar – meaning “The Three Gates” in Turkish. The impressive entrance was built way back in the year 130 to celebrate Roman emperor Hadrian’s visit and is now the only remaining gate through the ancient city walls.
Once you enter Kaleiçi, you can easily get lost in the maze of narrow streets full of cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. We wandered around until we came upon a park, discovered this quiet little area overlooking the Gulf of Antalya, and then meandered into the Ancient Harbour area.
The Ancient Harbour was once the main artery of the city, but is now home to plenty of yachts and unique tour boats. If you’re in the city without being on a bus tour that stops at Duden Waterfalls, or if you just want to see the waterfalls from an alternative angle, you can book tickets and hop on the boats here in the marina.
One of the great features of the Ancient Marina is the free panoramic glass elevator that shoots you back up to the New Town, saving you from navigating through the winding streets again.
Once you’re back up at the top, there’s a cat sanctuary nearby where you can volunteer to play with and/or take care of rescued cats. It’s free to walk through but I would’ve spent all day there if the kitties were out of their little huts and we had the time. Instead, I made friends with all the cats near our hotel…
We had debated doing a third adventure out of the hotel, to check out the Manavgat Waterfall and Canyon, but ultimately ended up spending the rest of our time doing what we went to Turkey for – resting & relaxing in the sun.