Friday, April 18, 2008

The real Antalya

After two nights eating in the Adam & Eve, a few of us decided that we just couldn't take it anymore. So we hired a taxi to take us into the old town, or Kaleici, of Antalya. This was a 45 min ride each way and cost us an exorbitant 90 euros round trip. But it was well worth it to get away from the all white asylum that we were stuck in!

Antalya's old town was lovely - an all pedestrian area that reminded me of the walled towns in Tuscany. We walked out to a beautiful overlook and saw the sweep of the coast and a small harbor. The sun was setting and it was gorgeous.

We then walked down to the harbor and had dinner at Ekeci, a nice fish restaurant. 5 of us shared a 1.5 kg grouper that was extremely fresh (bright red gills!) then filleted and grilled to perfection.

It was a wonderful outing that allowed us a brief glimpse of what Antalya really had to offer.

A case of too much style, waaay too much style

I flew from Istanbul down to Antalya, a famous resort town on Turkey's Southern coast, on the Mediterranean, where my conference was taking place. However, we were actually staying in Belek, approximately 60 km east of the town of Antalya itself. Belek is a newly developed resort area, with a series of mega-hotels along the coast, 10 golf courses built in the last few years, with 10 more scheduled to be completed in the next few years. And construction taking place everywhere.

We had been forewarned that the conference hotel, Adam & Eve, was very modern and highly stylish. However, that in no way prepared me or my companions for the hotel itself, which had only been open a year or so.

The exterior of the building is green, covered with vines (fake of course) and the interior is uniformly white. Everything is white. Or clear. Or covered with mirrors. Except for the spa. Which is all black. The only color that you can see in the decor is the square apples which light up at night on the fake trees situated all around. Words cannot describe this place.

My room overlooked a large construction site next door, but the balcony was mirrored so the mountains and sea were reflected. The balcony was the best part of the room, with a metal curtain that could be raised and lowered by remote control.

The notable feature of the room (besides being all white) was that there were three beds - one nice and relatively normal bed, one large lounger for the balcony and the last was a Kamasutra bed (or so I was told) that consisted of a platform mattress (vinyl?) and many interestingly shaped wedges and pillows. Oh and a large jacuzzi bathtub in the middle of the room, right next to the desk. Apparently one of the taxi drivers called it the "sex hotel". Yes indeed, this is where a 1,000 person Oracle conference was taking place.

The room was quite stark and I spent some time looking for a brochure that provided a guide for the hotel. Instead I found 4 remotes and some limited instructions. As I've mentioned, one remote operated the metal balcony curtain, the second was for the TV, the third was for the A/C and the last and best one was for the room lighting options. There were 8 settings. One was for standard white LED lights, the rest were various colored options - I especially liked the rainbow option (where the lights cycled through the spectrum). This was particularly impressive since all the room walls were mirrored. Oh and the jacuzzi tub? Underwater changing lights as well!

The hotel had a huge Atrium level that was 5 storeys high, with the upper walls and ceiling covered with the same small mirrors used to cover disco balls. In the middle was the "longest bar in the world" and flanking the bar on either side were lounge beds, where I guess you could lie down and have a drink. At night, the Atrium had its own DJ, spinning one indiscernible house track after another, from 10 pm til midnight. I know this because I could hear the bass beat in my room. When the DJ was in session, the Atrium was also flooded with a colored flashing light show.

This is only a small illustration of the bizarre nature of this hotel. I've enjoyed the new modern boutique hotels like the Mondrian, Paramount etc in the past, but this one was just insane. It actually turned into an uncomfortable environment because it was so unnatural. Three nights here was way too long...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Visit to the Hamman

I woke up bright and early yet again, and so arrived at the Cagaloglu Hamami right after its opening time of 8 am. The first thing I noticed was that the main entrance (for men only) was a lot more impressive than the much smaller Ladies' Entrance around the corner.

Men's Entrance

Ladies' Entrance

After I picked and paid for my service, I was shown to a small, utilitarian dressing room that doubled as locker, and changed into my pestemal (a large cloth) and slippers. I was then taken to the hot room - it's a large marble room with basins and taps all around the walls and a large raised platform in the middle, lit by rays of sunshine coming through openings in the domed roof. The older lady helping me did not speak much English, but instructed me to "Wash" then gestured towards the platform and "Sleep". She left the room, saying she'd be back in 15 mins.

I followed her instructions and found the platform a lovely warm temperature. I was completely alone in the large marble room, lying in a drowsy, warm stupor, listening to the slow drip drops of water and looking up at the domed ceiling.

The lady returned as promised and washed herself and changed into a swimsuit. Then she sat next to me on the platform and using a small soapy mitt (called a kase) proceeding to rub and exfoliate my entire body. It was a slightly odd sensation, but still pleasant. We had a limited chat - I learned in our time in Egypt and Jordan that with women who don't share very much in common with me (including language), the conversation invariably centers around children. She has 3 children, 12 grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way!

After that, she motioned for me to move over to the marble basin and she washed my hair and gave me a soapy neck and shoulder massage. The only part of this I didn't like was the washing part where she would dump bowl after bowl of water over my head. You have to understand that I don't usually get my face wet in the shower!

After this, I was done - I returned to the locked dressing room, dressed and was ready to go. I felt extremely refreshed and happily walked down to the Grand Bazaar to watch all the shopkeepers set up shop for the day.

Monday, April 14, 2008

One Day in Istanbul

We started the morning off by visiting Basilica Cistern, a mere few minutes walk from the hotel. The Cistern was quite cool, with lots of carp swimming around in the water. After a number of trial efforts, I figured out how to capture the ideal shot in low light.

Then we wandered across the square to the Blue Mosque - this is the most beautiful mosque I've ever seen. The architecture is magnificent both inside and out. It was certainly more impressive than any of the mosques I saw in Egypt and Jordan. Istanbul seems to rival Holland in terms of tulip plantings, and luckily for us, they were in full bloom. So we got to see all the iconic monuments surrounded by gorgeous beds of flowers everywhere.

After a visit to Topkapi Palace and its impressive Harem, we wandered over to the Grand Bazaar for some shopping. I'm quite sure I overpaid for many items, but it was a fun experience!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople...

I landed at Atuturk International Airport late last night and am now in Turkey - my third new country for the year. It's been a good year already!

I love the anticipation of arriving in a totally new place, especially a brand new country. I love breathing in the air, looking at all the signs, listening to the locals chatter in a strange language. And getting local currency in the ATM - I like looking at different money!

My driver from the hotel, Sirkeci Konak, was waiting for me with a huge sign. He seemed a little surprised that I was female (happens a lot!). I realized Turkey was a very different type of Muslim country (from Egypt and Jordan) when the car radio started playing the Pussycat Dolls' "Don'tcha".

The hotel is located in the heart of the old district of Istanbul, Sultanahmet and we drove by the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and other landmarks on the way to the hotel. They were beautifully lit up at night. I can't wait to go exploring!