I can now categorically confirm that winter is over in Antalya. Not that you'd notice from the way many locals are dressed.
Still firmly wrapped in somber, multi-layered winter attire, they look in horror at the sudden influx of foreign tourists wandering happily around the old quarter dressed in sandals, shorts and T-shirts. Similarly, the kids in the crèche where I work still arrive decked out like the Michelin Man, lovingly wrapped by doting parents in tights, long trousers, vests, polo necks, jumpers and coats. It seems that in Antalya, one man's spring remains another's winter, and even the sight of the gaily costumed, bell-tinkling Maraş ice cream sellers appearing outside pavement cafes is not enough to convince many Antalyalılar that it's time to shed some layers and embrace the sunshine.
Seeking out shade
Even the tortoises in my garden have finally clicked that spring is in the air and emerged from their winter hideaway beneath the woodshed. Blinking slowly in the bright sunlight, they absorb some warming rays through their thick shells before starting to chomp hungrily on the piles of lettuce thrust under their noses. The leaves of the fig tree towering above them are just beginning to unfurl, the pomegranate is thick with vibrant green leaves and there's already a mass of fruit on the mulberry tree. The laughing doves are beginning to mate noisily on the windowsills of the house, and tomcats yowl all night as they scrap over prospective partners. The final confirmation that spring has sprung comes from our dog. Having spent the entire winter moving around the garden to find the sunniest and warmest spot, she is now seeking out the shade -- at least between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Our house is right next to the city's main shopping street, a stone's throw from the historic old quarter of Kaleiçi, with its restaurants, cafes, bars, night life and stunning vista across the bay of Antalya. The sea, of course, is one of the major attractions of living in Antalya, at least for most foreigners, and the Mediterranean Sea is so beautiful year-round it's hard to resist the temptation to swim -- even in the winter months. Thankfully for me, the majority of the population of Antalya, together with the millions of tourists who head out to the main beach resorts on either side of the city, are seemingly blissfully unaware of the swimming and sunbathing opportunities to be found in the city center. When these places gear up for the season, I really know that summer is just around the corner.
My longtime favorite swimming place in the city center is Adalar Plajı (Islands Beach). The fact that it is not a beach at all but a swimming platform is beside the point; what is crucial is that it is very conveniently situated right in the middle of Karaalioğlu Parkı, the city's oldest park, just a five-minute stroll from my house. The rather rusty-looking metal skeleton of the platform, spanning several large rocks emerging from the blue waters of the sea at the base of the cliffs, is cruelly exposed in winter. Many a time I've seen it in a winter storm, battered by a raging sea, and often wondered how it manages to survive at all. Each spring, however, when (hopefully!) the last storm has done its worst, a team of workmen get busy with wooden planks and cover the rusty framework with a carapace of wood, topped off by a sheath of mock-grass carpet.
Set upon this are neat rows of inviting chaise-lounges, umbrellas, handy little tables and a few comfy-looking bean bags dotted around. The long, rickety metal ladder that has inevitably been wrenched from the rock and deposited at the bottom of the ocean is replaced, allowing swimmers too timid to jump into the inviting blue waters to make a more gentle entry. I wandered down there last week and found the work was still in progress, though the friendly proprietor assured me it would be fully operational by Thursday, March 29. He kindly allowed me to sunbathe and have a quick dip for free, a taste of longer (and warmer -- the air was warm but the sea pretty chilly!) sessions to come.
Cleaning up Mermerli
Further round the bay, towards the old harbor, can be found the tiny but well-organized Mermerli beach, tucked away beneath the cliffs. In the summer months, this pay-beach is also laid out with neat rows of sun beds interspersed with sun shades and tables. Here, backed by the flower-covered walls of the natural cliff face, looking out across the bay to the jagged silhouette of the mountains of Lycia, it's possible to wile away a whole day for TL 10, being waited on by the strapping young “lifeguard.” Here, again, the signs that summer is just around the corner were evidenced by the laborious work in progress last week. The “lifeguard,” ably assisted by a rather elderly man, was busy cleaning up the small, sandy beach by removing all large and inconvenient rocks washed in by the rough winter seas. Some of the sun beds had already been washed down and arranged to face either the sun or the view, and the smart wooden steps down the cliff had been given a lick of varnish.
Reinstating the ladder
Last but not least is the free swimming spot close to Antalya's longest-established luxury hotel, the Talya. To get here requires negotiating steep concrete steps down the cliff and crossing a bridge (rebuilt last year using money contributed by local users -- including my husband and myself) across two rocks. Access to the sea is via a ladder that inevitably, like the one at the Adalar Plajı, is washed away each winter. I have yet to brave a swim from this spot this year, as there's only a flimsy, tricky-to-use rope ladder there at the moment -- and nowhere to sunbathe comfortably -- but hopefully the metal ladder will soon make a reappearance. When it does, it'll be another sure sign that the halcyon days of summer are here -- no matter how many layers the 3-year-olds in my crèche are wearing!