Unfortunately for Mike the crappy end to Morocco became a crappy start to our Turkish travels. Despite making it to Istanbul without any major incidents, his sickness wasn’t subsiding fast. So three nights in the city turned into five, all of which he spent inside our hotel room slowly recuperating and returning to the land of the living by building his strength back up on yoghurt, bananas and dry crackers.
I meanwhile hit the streets of Istanbul so I could at least take photos of what he was missing, and stuffed myself silly of doner kebabs. The day spent exploring the magnificence of the Haigha Sophia and Blue Mosque was just sublime.
The Blue Mosque has officially become one of my favourite buildings, I loved it so much. And while it was of course packed to the rafters with every tourist and his dog, what amazed me was how peaceful it could still feel, despite the people buzzing all around you.
Filling the rest of my days wandering around all the delights Istanbul has to offer, the Grand Bazaar, the spice market, the Waterfront, and across the Bospherous into the ‘new’ part of the city, we finally got to the point where Mike felt ready to travel, and set off for our first stop in this enormous country, Cannakale and the battlefields of Gallipoli just across the Dardanelles.
With so many companies offering tours of Gallipoli I had no idea what might be best, but finally we settled on Hassle Free tours, and while I have nothing to compare it to, I have to say our tour was excellent. Our Turkish guide Morat (not to be confused with Borat) was a wealth of knowledge, and his passion for the subject was immediately clear in his engaging presentation of what had gone on here nearly exactly a hundred years ago.
Having already explored the battlefields of the Western front and Normandy, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Gallipoli, it is of course one of the key historical lessons we learn growing up, and making the pilgrimage there is quite the right of passage for many young Anzacs.
I think the thing that hit me first was the incredible beauty of the coast line, it seemed a place more likely to hold tourist resorts than such a bloody history, with its crystal clear waters and phenomenal landscape.
With the details of the Gallipoli campaign ingrained in Anzacs from such a young age, it was hard to think I was going to learn anything ‘new’, but of course I was so wrong. It was fascinating to discover that while the initial beach landing went off course, there were many subsequent military decisions made that, had they been different, could’ve meant the campaign ended a very different way.
It was also enlightening to hear the story of the Turkish men who fought the campaign as well, and to hear their story. To learn of the daily bullet rations they dealt with, and their own questions of how these men came to be here, and what exactly it was they were fighting for. Of the 130 thousand soldiers who died in the eight and a half months of the campaign, 86,000 of them were Turks.
With the trenches here just 8m apart, (the Turkish soldiers dug this close so the allies couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t hit their own men with bombardments from their ships) both sides were close enough to hear each other. For us as we moved around the peninsula it was one of the most incredibly peaceful experiences, with hardly a sound to be heard. It was strange to think how different it must have been for those men a hundred years ago, the terrifying sounds of artillery, or their comrades or enemy crying out in fear, or in pain.
I put my name in to the ballot to be able to attend the 100 year anniversary of the campaign this coming April, sadly like many many others it wasn’t pulled out. But the enduring relationship between the Anzacs and their Turkish brothers is one that I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for. The words of Ataturk in 1934, so soon after the war, and the bonds that remain …. After what was such a waste of life … is truly such a special thing.
To be welcomed into this country as almost an extended family member was a humbling and incredible experience, and one that I will never ever forget. I feel immensely privileged and honoured to have been able to see the way our own men, who gave the ultimate sacrifice, have been able to rest in peace with their Turkish brothers.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Bidding farewell to the coast line of Cannakale and its delicious fresh seafood (our first real foray into Turkish cuisine which we could not get enough of) it was off to Selcuk and the ancient world of Ephesus.
In Selcuk we found ourselves at the kind of guesthouse that really makes your travel experience special. Run by a brother and sister, it was homely, packed to the rafters with beer and raki, and provided the best of mammas home cooking in a dining room full of travellers. Carrying on the Anzac spirit we met a fantastic Aussie couple to trade travel stories with, including our mutual amazement at all the ruins of Ephesus had to offer.
Enjoying our time in Selcuk so much, we extended our stay by a night, deciding to do a day trip to Pamukkale from there. Pamukkale’s white terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water was another pinch yourself kind of moment. And although swarming with visitors, seemed completely unreal.
From Selcuk we saddled up for the first of some pretty lengthy bus rides and headed south to Kas, and another wonderful guesthouse. Making the most of the sun and the crystal clear water of the Southern Turkish Coast, we sipped beers, dined on mouth watering calamari, bread and local dips, and discovered the heaven that’s Turkish dumplings/ravioli and Pida (Turkish pizza). Without a doubt the best food I’ve had since I started this adventure was in Turkey, and probably the best of the lot was in Kas. After eating ourselves into a food coma the first night, we returned to exactly the same restaurant and did it all again the second!
Even the lunch we were treated to as we sailed around the coast on a boat was divine. Stuffed peppers, bbq’d chicken, how I didn’t sink straight to the bottom of the sea I’m still not sure. Food aside, the day on the boat was absolute bliss. Hours sailing in the sunshine, and jumping into water you could basically see straight through, took relaxation to a whole new level. And if that wasn’t enough, at one stop we were also treated to a visit by the most beautiful sea turtles. I didn’t want the day to end.
Departing from Kas we had roughly 14 hours on a bus to look forward to in order to arrive in Cappadocia. Surprisingly enough what I thought could only be nightmarish, actually turned out to be relatively painless. The buses in Turkey are pretty ideal, complete with entertainment systems and attendants serving drinks and snacks. The movies unfortunately were all in Turkish, but it’s surprising how caught up in a story line you can get, even with no sound!
Landing in Cappadocia at 4am we made our way to bed in our cave room, before waking up just a few short hours later to make the most of our fast stopover. Exploring by foot we took in the fairy chimneys, valleys and open air museums that make this part of the country pretty spell binding.
We’d made the executive decision not to do one of the hot air balloon rides the area is famous for, mostly due to the price. But despite that I still hauled myself out of bed at 530am the next morning to climb sunrise hill and watch the balloons take flight (Mike choosing wisely to stay in bed). Sadly that morning the sun was the only thing to rise, and even that wasn’t particularly spectacular. It was one of the few windy mornings that for safety reasons kept the balloons firmly on the ground, so I slumped back down the hill as disappointed as if I was supposed to be in one of the baskets!!
Filling myself to the brim with caffeine after the early wake up call, Mike and I then set off on a day tour to make the most of our last day in the area. Travelling to Derinkuyu Underground City, the Ihlara Valley and Selime Monastery, the day consisted of the most incredible sights which seemed like they had come straight from a Star Wars film. I had no idea that scenery like it existed in Turkey, and it was such a treat to get to see so much of it.
After a pretty full on 36 hours, we headed back to the bus stop for a 12 hour overnight ride back to Istanbul … which thankfully again seemed to pass pretty quickly. A short second stop in the city meant Mike could at least enjoy a few of the sights he’d missed the first time round, before it was time to take flight once again, nearly two and a half weeks over in what seemed like a flash.
Turkey was without a doubt a huge highlight on this adventure, the phenomenal cuisines, the kindness of the local people who welcomed us with open arms, and a history so closely intertwined with our own, made it a particularly special stop on this journey.