By now, we’ve got somewhat of a grasp of this city: where to buy groceries at the nearest Migros, what shortcut gives us the quickest way to beach, and how to conquer the massive hills that surround our residence. But after a week in Alanya, it was time to finally become more than acquaintances with this city and its people. And my, what a lovely introduction it was!
First, we met our bus outside of Yamaç Café at 9:30 a.m., before we took a quick drive up the hill to the McGhee Villa.
The McGhee Villa is an Ottoman-era mansion, built in the 1830s by a local Orthodox Christian merchant who specialized in the export of timber to Egypt. However, after World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Alanya’s trade routes were severed and its merchants left the city. The villa itself fell into disrepair as most Turkish families families moved to modern apartment buildings.
Ambassador George McGhee served as the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1952-1953, and discovered the Villa as he traveled throughout Turkey with his in the 1950s and 1960s. The McGhees then purchased the Villa in 1968 and renovated it as their summer home. (They also decorated the Villa with numerous pieces of antique wood they had collected in their travels.) In 1989, the Villa was donated to Georgetown, where it’s been used to operate educational and language programs by the university ever since. Unfortunately, right now the villa needs some serious structural restoration, so we are unable to use it for the program this semester.
After our visit to the villa, we continued up the hill to visit the Alanya Kalesi, or Alanya Castle. The castle is one of the best-preserved castles in Anatolia—the Seljuks built most of the current structure in the 13th century, when Antalya served as an important port and strategic fort.
Old Basilica dating to the Byzantine era
The view down below
The tourist cage!
The castle is located 250 meters above the sea on a rocky peninsula that protects it from three sides. Today, you can wander the castle walls and gaze at the spectacular view.
We then drove back down from the Kale Area to the city center, where Nese pointed out the important places to know in the city: the nearest grocery store, post office, pharmacy, and beach, of course. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant that serves traditional Alanyan cuisine—something that’s actually surprisingly hard to find in Alanya with its glut of restaurants selling hamburgers, pasta, and hot dogs to tourists.
Spotted a creepy mannequin at the restaurant to add to my photo collection.
After lunch, we visited Alanya’s Archaeological Museum, which surprised me with its extensive and well-showcased collection. At this point, you would think I would be museum’d out, but the museum in Alanya offered a truly thoughtful presentation of artifacts found in the area. (My favorite piece was a beautiful iron Pegasus ornament for the bow of a boat, dating back to the first or second century A.D.)
We got back to the lojman, or apartment building, with just enough time to squeeze in a trip to the beach before we had to meet up with our host families for dinner. With all of our classes, we hadn’t had time to go since Monday, so Alex, Matt, Jo, and I headed down to Cleopatra Beach for an afternoon swim.
For the evening, we were paired up with a host family to have dinner and learn about Turkish culture. Alex and I were paired up with a lovely family with a 17-year-old daughter who had studied English in school. Through a handy translation app on her cellphone and an English-Turkish textbook, we were able for the most part to communicate throughout the night.
They first drove us to their apartment, which is located down the hill near the city center. They gave us a tour of the apartment, and Alex and our host sister bonded over her collection of science and math textbooks. (She studies at the science high school in Alanya, and currently spends hours each week studying for her university comprehensive exams. She wants to be an Industrial Engineer.)
We had dinner in their kitchen, where endless plates of food endlessly appeared before our eyes. First, it was bread, soup, and salad. Then, we were served rice and sarma, which is rice and meat wrapped in vine leaves and served with yogurt. After that, our host mom also served us a huge plate of breaded chicken called schnitzel with French fries.
After dinner, we watched some television with our host sister. The newest show in Turkey right now is a remake of The OC, with Turkish actors playing out the drama of Southern Californian high school students. We then flipped through the various music channels, and our host sister introduced us to some of the current stars in Turkish music. At some point, the channel was changed to the world championships for female wrestling. I think our reaction to wrestling was interpreted as genuine interest, so we ended up watching the female wrestling championships for about 30 minutes.
We then moved out the balcony, where they served us tea and an assortment of Turkish delights and cookies. And the food just kept appearing… a gigantic bowl of hazelnuts, a humongous plate of fruit… It was all absolutely delicious, but I didn’t know how much more food my stomach could fit.
By this time, we had gotten into a routine of using a combination of hand gestures and pantomimes to try to convey what we were saying. We listed off all of the Turkish words and phrases we knew (by this point, you can pretty much count all of it on my fingers and toes), and they taught us some more words.
After being gone now for some three weeks, it was so nice to be in an actual home and feel a part of a family for the evening. Our host mother works as a secretary in the hospital, and our host father works in one of the hotels in Alanya. Through our makeshift sign language, we talked with them about how much Alanya has changed over the past several decades and how much we’ve enjoyed our experiences in Turkey so far. They told us they wanted to take both of us to visit Gazipasa sometime, a nearby town where our host father is originally from.
Soon enough, it was almost 11:30 p.m. and Alex and I were uncomfortably trying to figure out the best way to leave. Under Turkish hospitality, it’s extremely rude to ask guests to leave. Turks will gladly sit with their guests late into the night, and go to great lengths to take care of their guests—even offering them to sleep over for the night. In fact, many Turkish homes have a type of sofa bed that serves this purpose, which can easily be converted into a place for guests to sleep.
After we had tentatively asked about three times if they needed us to go—“Don’t you have homework and studying to do?”—they drove us back to our apartment around 11:45 p.m. (Luckily, they also handed us a mineral water for the road to help with digestion!)
I arrived back at the apartment, stuffed and exhausted, but bursting with appreciation for how wonderful our host family was. We met up with everyone else, and sat swapping stories about our host families until we got too tired.