A recent fact-finding trip to Antalya was inspired by the words of a close friend who once advised me that if I ever found the courage to follow my heart to Turkey, Antalya would be the area she’d recommend for me to live. I guess her rationale was that the milder, sunny weather (2,640 hours sunshine per year vs. London with 1,632 hours or Melbourne with 2,200 hours), laid-back style, openness to foreigners and manageable population (2.288 million in 2015) would be a gentle introduction to Turkish life for me. Less overwhelming than the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, Izmir or Ankara and not as culturally or linguistically challenging as some of the more beautiful but remote regions such as the Black Sea.
There is only so much you can discover on a 6-day exploratory visit. So, basing myself in the central Kaleiçi district I focused on exploring English Language schools or Universities where work might be found.
The Kaleiçi district is Antalya’s “old town”, charming in appearance, but geared to the tourist and local nightlife. Its cobbled streets are lined with characterful hotels, leafy cay gardens, cafes, pubs and bars. Evenings can get noisy as young Turks congregate to listen to live music, drink and socialise.
Accepting an invitation to join a Turkish friend one evening in one of these pubs, the Simurg Café Bar, listening to live rock music, and watching the locals interact, it felt no different than if I were sitting in a trendy inner-city London pub. Same sounds, same drinks, same fashions, same hairstyles, same tattoos, same social posturing, same crowds. A little bit sobering for me with my romanticised views of traditional Turkish culture, sedate tea gardens, wistful Rumi philosophies, folksy bağlama tunes and classical Ottoman arts. I guess this is modern Turkey. I wonder if the Turkey I’m searching for still exists?
Much preferred to sit in the leafy kahve evi outside Kaleiçi where friends gather to chat eat and drink non-alcoholic drinks until the 1:00am closing time every evening. Again, seems to be a mostly younger crowd, very busy and with a great atmosphere.
The Antalya Marina is truly spectacular. Great views can be enjoyed while drinking cay or eating ice-cream (dondurma) from cafes perched high-up above the Marina overlooking the swarm of tourist boats below.
To try to grasp a flavour of how it might be to live and work in any city, even a relatively small one, in just one week is such a tall order. I ignored the temptation to explore any touristic attractions, focusing instead on the idea of finding work. Many of the private English Language Schools (I found about six) are located in the streets surrounding the Clock Tower, just outside the old town. Pay rates are low (15-20TL per hour, barely enough to cover rents) and work permits are generally not offered. It would seem that non-Turkish teachers are here on tourist or resident visas, happy to work without permits.
The streets of Antalya did not seem to be overflowing with European tourists as I’d expected, a pleasant surprise seeing as it was still very much summer (early September). In shops, cafes and on trams I found myself mostly among Turks, perhaps from other regions. The Antalya kart transport system seemed very clean, efficient and easy to navigate.
The weather was hot, really hot, and sweaty humid. Each day was sunny and cloudless with temperatures in the mid-30’s Celsius. For sure I’d need air-conditioning to survive the summers here.
So many questions remained unanswered at the end of this first 6-day stay. I’d only scratched the surface, staying in the central Kaleiçi area and doing the rounds of language schools. Where and how do people live here? I saw only flats and apartments, many of them high-rise blocks, in the areas I passed through. Could I have a house and garden here? Seems pointless to move to such a wonderfully warm climate only to be “caged” in a high-rise flat. I’d imagined the outdoor life would be one the area’s major attractions? Could I buy land and grow fruit trees here? Which areas are nice to live in? I felt there must surely be nicer, quieter residential areas outside of the city centre – but didn’t have the time or social connections to find them. I wondered what kind of lifestyles the locals lived here? I saw only the crowded bars and cafes full of young Turkish couples and groups. I wondered how a not-so-young Westerner might pass their time here? Do locals play sport and exercise here? I didn’t notice any fitness clubs, didn’t see anyone jogging. I wondered how easy it might to be to make new friends here, especially if you’re still a beginner with the Turkish language?
Would I enjoy living in Antalya rather than London? I still don’t have the answer. But I’ve realised how critical the issues of finding enjoyable work and making friendships will be, particularly the latter.
Lot’s to think about…