20.04.2009 - 02.05.2009 15 °C
I signed up for this trip with nary an idea of what to expect from Turkey. Like nearly every other destination on this trip, I hadn't really planned on going there but when the offer came up, I thought "What the Hell!". In this case the offer was sweetened by the patriotic addition of spending Anzac Day at Anzac Cove, which I considered to be an opportunity not to be missed.
Of course, I wasn't told about the near zero temperatures and utter lack of sleep I'd have to endure to witness The Dawn Service - but first things first.
In stark contrast to the previous leg of my trip, in Turkey I was to be part of an eight day Anzac Tour, starting and finishing in the capital city of Istanbul. Arriving in Istanbul, my offsider Clayton set out on his chief mission - to maintain a higher than three kebab per day average for the entirety of the trip. He was to be moderately successful (and to discover the Breakfast Kebab), however it also taught us our first lesson about Turkey; everything is negotiable. From kebab prices, to trinkets in The Grand Bazaar, and even postage prices. That last item is not made up. I went into DHL - yep, the huge international delivery company, and was told that it'd cost 80 Euro to post a small package back to Australia. When I looked reluctant, they dropped the price to sixty. I realised the game was on and got them down to forty, then walked down to the post office anyway and eventually posted the package for a grand total of 4 Euro.
Blatant rip-offs aside, once you're used to the dance of bartering preluding every purchase, it actually becomes kinda fun. Clayton certainly thought so - by the end of the trip he was bartering for and buying stuff he didn't even want, just so he could parade the purchase in front of everyone else that bought it at a higher price! I'm not quite sure how he fit the tea set, hookah, numerous trinkets and books into his backpack, but I'm sure he thought it was worth it.
It also led to an interesting purchase on my behalf - a genuine leather jacket that actually fits. Apparently it was made for a well-to-do asian buyer, who then decided he didn't want it. His loss is my gain, eh? Now all I need is a motorbike and a bad attitude. I already have the terrible haircut, and lack a real job.
Speaking of attitude, it's definitely something you need when walking the streets of Istanbul, or at least a set of aviators and a smirk - otherwise the street sellers and and urchins are on and around you in an instant. That said, I had the most interesting times of the trip whilst walking the back streets. One evening Clayton and I decided to venture into the Spice Bazaar to have a look around, but obviously we took a wrong turn somewhere because we ended up surrounded by military disposal stores - unless gunpowder is more edible than I thought. Anyway, fate was smiling on us because we both required sleeping bags in order to survive Anzac Day, and we found some in the third aisle, up from the pistols but just before the semi-automatics.
So, after wandering around Istanbul for a few days, the tour started in earnest. Little did we know, the first tour stop was Aya Sofia, the largest Islamic Mosque in the world! Too bad we'd seen it the day before. Not to be discouraged though, we decided to beat the Turks at their own game, and hock our tickets to unsuspecting tourists in the queue. I must have some sort of hidden talent - we sold them both to the first tourists we tried our spiel on! That said, I still have a bit to learn as I sold them for half price. Turns out I'm not as cutthroat as I thought.
From Istanbul we crossed the Bosphorus and headed for Gallipoli and Anzac Cove, two days early in order to take in the landscape before the crowds and tv crews arrived. It was a beautiful, sunny day - but the landscape was spoiled somewhat as the tv crews were already there, as was stadium seating for three thousand people, massive tv screens, spotlights and speaker towers. Obviously I was not so naive as to think that there'd only be a few people solemnly observing The Dawn Service, but I hadn't expected something resembling a Wolfmother concert either. Smarting from the spectacle of it all, I tried to concentrate on recalling my modern history classes and taking in the surroundings.
We left Gallipoli for a hotel to recuperate for a day, and then returned at 9pm the following evening to wait out the long night before The Dawn Service. I was apprehensive - how solemn and respectful was this circus really going to be? The masses of tents on the way to Anzac Cove and the snaking line of coaches full of tourists only served to make me even more skeptical. However, I needn't have worried.
Once we cleared the bag check at the entry, we wandered into The Cove proper, and under the soft lighting overhead, thousands of attendees huddled on the ground and in the stands, voices a gentle, barely audible hum. Groups of people playing cards, chatting, some just sitting and staring out over the sea, contemplative and reflective. It's hard to convey how thousands of people collectively being quiet and reflective can create the right mood, but anyone that's been to a big, acoustic gig when the crowd goes so quiet you can hear a pin drop...you know exactly the type of atmosphere I'm talking about.
A subgroup of our tour got a spot in the stands, and settled in for the night. I was wearing nearly all my clothes and essentially wearing the sleeping bag as well, but the night was damn cold regardless. There was nowhere at all to sleep either, as by 2am The Cove was absolutely crammed full of people, so our only option was a long night of low conversation and quiet reflection. And it was during such a time that I realised how much I appreciated being there at Anzac Cove. It was easy to imagine the soliders landing on the very beach I was sitting on, The Turks dug in high in the mountains behind me, and the morning as quiet and as cold as the one I was experiencing. No doubt they'd not slept either, and perhaps they were joking with their mates, as I was. The whole experience really allowed me to emphasise with and properly appreciate what happened that day, and it made The Dawn Service a truly memorable and moving experience for me.
The Dawn Service was followed by The Australian Service at Lone Pine, then the Turkish Service and the New Zealand Service - with kilometres of hiking through the hills of Gallipoli in-between. Running on zero sleep and next to no food, it was a long, long day, and we were all extremely glad to be back in hotel comfort that evening. That's the end of the similarities to the Anzac experience, I guess.
From Gallipoli, we set off to Ephesus and visted a few ancient ruins on the way - Pergamon, The Temple of Artemis (one of the Ancient Wonders of The World), and of course the ruins of the lost city of Ephesus and the Celcus Library. I could go into detail on all these ruins, but to be honest, although I appreciated them as engineering marvels and a window into the life and times of ages past, you can get tired of ruins, in the same way that you eventually tire of cathedrals. I will say though - it was intriguing to be wandering around in the places where The Apostles preached and were buried, where Mary was buried, and visiting various temples and cities often talked about in The Bible. I wouldn't call myself religious by any stretch (spiritual, rather), but visiting such places gave me a new viewpoint on The Bible as a historical work, whereas I'd previously just taken it as an article of faith. I'll leave actual interpretation of The Bible as an exercise for the reader!
The tour ended with a mammoth 12 hour drive back to Istanbul, but not before Clayton and I rocked the hotel karaoke night with a rousing rendition of Hey Jude, replete with an audience swaying hands and singing along, and yours truly getting a little bit too involved with the screaming, rocking parts of the aforementioned song. Needless to say I didn't have much of a voice left the following morning, but I was sleeping for most of it anyway. Stranagely enough, no video evidence survived.
Which brings me to the customary touchy-feely bit at the end of this and every entry. Heartfelt thanks must go to Clayton for giving me the opportunity to come along on this trip - not only did I begin to develop an appreciation for the people, history and landscape of Turkey, but it also gave me the chance to develop a strong friendship with Clayton, a friendship which previously didn't exist outside of 6am nightclub benders in Sydney. Anyone that is willing to perform a duet of "Hey Jude" has well and truly made a jump to the inner circle, I think Cheers, mate.
As a special bonus for the intrepid readers that read this far, I'll throw you a bone - I made a quick two-day stop in Paris on my way to Switzerland. Enjoy: