2 May 2011

Lest We Forget [Turkey Part IV]

I arrived into Istanbul on a bright Saturday morning and set about finding my accommodation for the evening. The hostel was crazily busy, full of Aussi's and New Zealander's, so I couldn't check in until 2pm. I took a walk out into the city and see what I could find. First impressions - this city is AWESOME! There are nice green spaces surrounded by beautiful gardens, spectacular buildings, and the people all seem very friendly. The number of mosques is just insane. Every direction you look there are minarets towering into the sky. The city is a lot more developed than I expected - in fact it would easily compete with any other major European city, while still retains its sense of 'self', not becoming just another big city. Basically it is just a cool place to be.

I visited a few tourist attractions - the Blue Mosque, an enormous mosque complete with six minarets. Both interior and exterior of this building are truely amazing. The Basilica Cistern, a large ancient underground 'cistern' for storing water. The room is full of walkways suspended above the ground, as below foot... well, there is water. But there are also a whole lot of huge fish swimming around. The final thing I did was to visit the Grand Bazaar; a massive labyrinthine of stalls. I got tired of it fairly quickly... rugs and jewellery are not very high on my shopping list.

Later I met up with Sarah and Ben at the hostel and we spent a few hours catching up over a few beers. Later Buck, the final member of our awesome-foursome, showed up, and we all headed out with one of Sarahs friends - Tugce. We got an illegal cab (five of us in this tiny car that had no speedo and the guy had to keep revving it so it didn't stall) to a really nice area in Istanbul. Really nice, but also REALLY expensive! We stayed a couple of hours before heading back into the old town and getting on the chop with all the other Antipodieans.

The following day - the 24th, started extremely early. We went to catch our TravelTalk tour out to Gallipoli. It was a five hour ride out the the peninsula, and we were the first group to arrive. The gates were meant to open at 3pm, so everyone chilled out on the grass and enjoyed the sun. This is where our four became six - as we met a couple of solo-travellers that joined our group; Scotty and Ryan. It turns out they didn't open the gates until 6pm, and the order in which people arrived got all screwed up. Basically we got jacked and ended up way back in the queue. The problem with that is there is limited space on the ground (where you want to be as you can lie down). We ended up on the grandstand, where there is hardly any room and you have to sit up in these seats that could have been used as instruments of torture - so uncomfortable! And the bonus - the grandstand was completely exposed to the wind.

Travelling for an extended period of time; I did not want to have to lug around a sleeping bag. And considering that I am currently over-budget for my trip so far, I did not want to have to purchase one. But I'm a tough kiwi, right? How bad can it be? ...Yeah, it can be BAD! Buck and Ben thought along the same lines as me, although Buck ended up buying a blanket at about 3am because he couldn't feel his feet. It was COLD! Especially in at about 4am when the dew started to settle. Needless to say; between the bitter cold and the uncomfortable seating, sleep evaded me the entire looooong night. At least during the evening there were interesting documentaries playing, guest speakers and songs by the brass band to keep my mind off the cold.

The only word I can think of to describe the dawn service is moving. I have been to plenty of ANZAC services back home, but nothing really hits home like sitting on that battlefield where so many men died for their country. Listening to words from their letters home and dairies, seeing their photos, listening to their stories...  And after it all what was achieved? Nothing. The Allies and the Turks both lost a huge number of soldiers, and at the end of an eight month battle, the Allies evacuated the area, unsuccessful. It is such a sad story, but it makes you proud to be in any was associated with these brave men, who left their families and homes, to fight an impossible battle half a world away.

After the dawn service we headed up the hill to Lone Pine - the Australian memorial. On the way passing several graveyards and memorials for the fallen soldiers. Seeing graves for men as young as 19, and reading some of the epitaphs on the gravestones, was again a very moving and emotional experience.

Sarah stayed at the Lone Pine memorial for the Australian service, while Ben, Buck and I climbed the hill to Chunuk Bair, the New Zealand memorial. It is located at the furthest point the Allies reached in the entire eight month battle. A spot only reached by a the New Zealand infantry brigade. Unfortunately the memorial is very small, and the seating was not nearly enough; most of us had to sit on the lawn and watch the service on a big screen. Besides that, the sound was completely inadequate, and in places we could hardly hear! So that was really disappointing. Those things aside, the service was very poignant.

On the whole, a great experience. I am so glad I went to pay my respects to all those fallen soldiers. Not only those that fell in the battle at Gallipoli, but all that have given their lives for their country in military operations. And it was good to have shared the experience with Sarah, Ben and Buck, as well as our ring-in friends. I thought the whole event was very well organised, and the only hiccup being the entry time and the inadequate facilities at the New Zealand service.

That evening back in Istanbul we got on the Raki and headed out with all the other ANZACs. The following day got off to a very slow start, complete with pounding headaches. Buck and I farewelled Sarah and Ben, who were heading south to visit Bodum for a few days. We spent the afternoon in Eminonu, a cool place along the edge of the Bosphorus river.

That wraps up my time in Turkey. It has been... amazing! It is a really interesting and beautiful country. The highlight without doubt was the ANZAC service, but there are several other experiences I won't soon forget. It is actually quite cool how small the backpacker scene is in Turkey - I made a lot of friends, and bumped into most of them several times along the way. Two cool Australian girls in particular; I almost couldn't go anywhere without running into them! I also caught up with my bestest friends Jenna and Rose at the ANZAC service, so that was cool. But the problem with seeing all these friendly faces is that it is so hard to leave! After a few weeks travelling solo the feeling subsides, so I just have to keep on keeping on... my next stop is Plovdiv in Bulgaria. I have heard good things, so I will keep you posted ;)

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