The traffic in Istanbul is insane, people must be killed everyday either in crashes or just plain being run over, there doesn’t seem to be any real road rules and even when the traffic lights are green you’ll still get people trying to T-Bone you, I would never ever drive here. There are about 18 million people that live in Istanbul and 4 million cars and it’s not a huge place in comparison to other cities I’ve been to & very wisely no-one rides bikes.
Our bus drove out of the city and towards to Gallipoli Peninsula, as we got further out of the city the rural areas were full of agriculture and the houses were very different to back home. There is no real structure to how they are laid out, they all have a little square of land just plonked anywhere and there might be 10-15metres between their border and someone elses but no-one cares for the land in between, hard to describe but a bit odd. We stopped half way for a break and there I found my first experience of dealing with squat toilets, just basically a hole in the floor that you need to try and pee into, a lot harder that it looks and you just know that the liquid on the floor you are standing in isn’t just water, surely they want to move with the times, they had normal toilets there too so why not make them all like that?
The landscape doesn’t really change so after a while everyone fell asleep, eventually arriving in the town of Eceabat where we would later catch the ferry across to Canakkale to stay for the night, but we first had a lunch stop.
We all paid 23TL each for a set lunch at a restaurant and were told that there was no real other option for lunch, we felt pretty ripped off with what we got, some rice, lettuce, tomato, cabbage, cold chips (about 5), and six 1 inch sausage things in tin foil.
After that experience, we went to ANZAC cove, was fantastic to go there before the event although I would have preferred it maybe a week earlier to see the place without the stadium seating etc. The first thing that blew my mind was the cliffs that our boys had to climb up, the thick scrub to battle through to get up there would be hard enough let alone carrying all their gear and also getting shot at, they must have been gnarly guys, just amazing, and the NZ boys got the highest, right to the top and they held it for a brief time before all being killed L
We went to a couple of the cemeteries that were on the waters edge, and I was more than impressed with the upkeep of the graves, in between each one there were flowers planted, the grass was lush and the trees were all in full spring bloom, amazing time of year to go.
We stopped and looked at the Australian Lone Pine Memorial, the Turkish 57th Regiment Memorial and then lastly on the top of the hill was the NZ Memorial. Right up the top of the hill they have restored some of the Turkish trenches back to how they were so they were really neat to see and to know that our guys held them for a short time.
After a whirlwind and very tiring day, we headed back to Eceabat to catch the ferry across to Canakkale for the night, the ferry was packed full of tour buses and we didn’t think we were going to fit on but they seemed to be just enough space to squeeze the coach on and then a little yellow car drove around us and onto the ferry. The driver and our guide got out and they all started yelling and the driver of the yellow car grabbed our drivers ties to pull him in closer, but thankfully that all blew over pretty quick and we still got the bus on just without the ferry back gate being able to be lifted up properly.
Canakkale is a really beautiful little town on the Dardinelles, we all felt like spoiling ourselves so we went to a lovely restaurant on the waters edge, they didn’t speak the greatest English so took us into the kitchen area to show us what was on the menu.
I got Calamari and whole Sea Bream, the Bream was flame cooked I think, completely whole and was so delicious, it didn’t come with any real sides but it was plenty enough.
The beer to drink in Turkey is called Efes, very similar to NZ lager, and for a decent glass the prices range from 4.50TL to 7.50TL depending on the place.
Today was very cruisy, started at 11am and we went to Troy. I was expecting a lot more at Troy, don’t really know what but its mainly just lots of rubble bricks with a few things here and there still together. There was a brick ramp in one part where they believe could have been where the Trojan Horse was brought into the city.
We weren’t there for long and we headed back to Canakkale, on the way we stopped at a supermarket to stock up for the long haul night of staying at ANZAC cove, just got myself some chips, olives, bananas, chocolate & water, was crazy trying to find your way around a supermarket when it’s all in Turkish and they eat quite different foods there.
Had free time for the rest of the day till 6.30pm so we all went and drank beer on the water front, tried Turkish Coffee and I also bought a little bracelet. The coffee was black with sugar in it, it came in tiny porcelain cups and you can only really drink 2/3s of a cup cause 1/3 of it is a brown sludge, but its definitely drinkable and all good if you just need a coffee hit.
We had a fantastic kebab at a place opposite our hotel (ANZAC Hotel), finally some decent food!
6.30pm we headed towards Gallipoli on the ferry again, but we first had to stop for the BBQ party dinner for those that had booked it, and once again it was held at the place where we had lunch and once again those that got the meal felt it was a rip off. I didn’t buy it cause they wanted 15 euros for it and I had a feeling it would be just like lunch and it was.
We got to the cove at about 10pm, went through security like at an airport, they had scanners and went through everyones bags. Then we were handed cool welcome packs, with a wrist band, beanie, poncho, programme of events guide, history book & pencil.
I walked in with Mark & Jenny, and already all the grass was taken, there were thousands of people lying like sardines next to each other and there was just no hope of us 3 finding a spot together. I bailed from them and found a slither of grass on the edge of the walkway next to an Aussie girl who was fast asleep by the time I got there. Her boyfriend was awake though and asked if I could squeeze in, they had no issues so I began setting up camp.
Got out my poncho and lay that down first, then got out my emergency bivvy – like an emergency blanket but shaped like a sleeping bag. Got myself in my sleeping bag then inside the bivvy, used my jacket and backpack as a pillow and I was super warm and comfy, Liz & Brian walked past me and managed to find a tiny patch of grass to squeeze into so they lay down behind me.
After a couple of hours sleep I woke up to the screeching voice of the singer from the Australian army band who pumped out a few songs at 1.30am, there were documentaries running all night on the big screens which I’d wake up and watch then fall asleep to. At one point they played the next part of a symphony being put together ready for the 2015 anniversary, they got composers from OZ, NZ & Turkey to put 2 minutes or so towards a song, every year for the past 7 years they have added to the song. So they played the song so far then played the new bit for 2012, they turned out all the lights and we listened to this spine chilling beautiful music while staring up at the million stars above our heads, I couldn’t help my think that these same stars were looking down on our ANZACs as they battled here 97 years ago and it brought a tear or two to my eyes.
I fell asleep again and woke up an hour or so later, I put my hands between my bivvy and sleeping bag and realised that it was so toasty warm that it had created condensation and my bag was getting wet, so I got out and lay my bag on top of the bivvy, then lay my NZ flags over my bag to protect it from the dew.
I didn’t get cold once and I only used my puffy jacket in the morning when we were standing up a lot but really it wasn’t freezing like in previous years.
There was over 7000 people there last year and this year only about 4500, and it was still crammed, not sure how they are going to cope with 20,000 expected for 2015, I’d say that if you are going to go then do it next year of 2014 cause it will be quieter and you’ll enjoy the experience so much more.
At about 4am everyone began to stir, the official dawn service began at 5.30am and was a very touching & emotional service. The karakea by the Maori women stirred me to my core and brought a tear to my eye, the sun had not come up yet and the energy in the cove was, well I’d like to say electric, but not sure that’s the right way to describe it.
Julia Gillard got up in her awesome Australian accent (not), and the representative for Turkey got up and spoke a few words, then our dude got up and shed some tears while doing so and that got me going again. Finally after everything they had the last post, and I don’t think there was one dry eye in that cove at that point, the sound of the bugle just went right through you and everyone else around you, it was like it echoed off the cliffs behind us and we could feel that cove was full of the spirits of those fallen ANZACS & Turks, we all knew they were there with us and it was overwhelming to feel them by your side.
The sun slowly rose and the cliffs behind us where we lost those men were lit up, everytime I looked up at them I just had an overwhelming feeling of disbelief that a) we even attempted to battle up those hills and b) that we managed to get to the top of them!
Ended up that I didn’t eat anything the whole night cause I was so comfy and sleeping, so after the dawn service I had to pack up everything and throw away my food cause I was not carting that up those hills.
With the masses I began walking with Liz & Brian, firstly along the coast until I came to the turn off to Shrapnel Valley Cemetery where my Great Great Uncle Frank Binns is buried. I had seen a few cemeteries a few days earlier and thought they were beautiful but this one took the cake for sure, flowers between each grave then 3-4 trees in bright purple blossom, what an incredible place to have as your final resting place, just stunning.
I spent a while in here taking lots of photos and spending time next to Frank, I placed a poppy on his grave and said goodbye and that I’d see him again soon then left to continue up the hill.
Liz really needed to find her Great Uncles grave also, he was buried in the 4th regiment cemetery and it was so hard to find, so we asked some local police looking guys who couldn’t speak English then this Aussie voice behind us said ‘Why do you want to go there?’, we explained why and he ask us ‘Are you ok with going bush?’, of course we were so we followed him along his shortcut up the mountain.
We went completely bush, there was a slight track but if you were on your own you’d have no clue where to go, and we followed the Shrapnel Valley up the hills. To our left we looked down into the valley where Simpson carried the water to the ANZAC’s, he pointed out all the places where we were fighting including where we were walking was in the thick of it, kept my eyes peeled for a bullet shell but no such luck. The whole was up the hill we looked down on Shrapnel Valley Cemetery, got some amazing photos of the cemetery from a distance, but it was just so special to be taken up the hill the way our guys went, not on a tar sealed road.
Eventually we got to the 4th battalion cemetery where we found his grave, no one was in the cemetery but us cause to get to it from the other side was off the beaten track too, so we chilled out here for a while in the shade and I kept looking for shells, still nothing.
After 10 mins or so Rebecca came into the cemetery, a girl who was on our tour but in a different bus, she’s a kiwi chick from Timaru.
I then stuck with Bec and started heading towards the NZ memorial and Liz & Brian headed to the Aussie one at Lone Pine, we had a wee friend to accompany us along the way, a friendly stray dog walked the whole way up the hill with us.
We stopped in at all the cemeteries along the way, some with incredible views down the mountain and out to sea, and our dog kept by our side as we did so, not sure when she decided to leave but one moment she was there and the next she was gone.
The NZ service was good, just like the dawn services we have at home except at lunch time instead, only problem was there was not enough seating for all the NZ’ers, the stadium seating was only for about 500 people and there was easily 1000 kiwis there, so those that couldn’t get into the stadium seating around the memorial sat on the grass outside & watched it on big screen. It was so hot by this point, my back was soaking wet from sweat but gladly I wore merino so it dried real quick.
After it was all over we went to the meeting point to catch our bus, it’s the same point for everyone so there was a few thousand there, the NZ army bad set up and played a few tunes for everyone which was nice. Still the sun beamed down on us, Im so glad I had my flags with my to keep the sun off my arms, also I must is a hat, sunnies just don’t cut it, you need a hat.
I still hadn’t eaten at this stage, so was starting to fade a bit, was glad to get in the airconditioned bus and to the town to get some food. The only thing I would change if I went again would be to take a bigger backpack with me, you need food during the day and lots of water and it sux if you can’t carry it.
Had a pida filled bread thing, went the veggie option, it was tasty and made me feel heaps better, got on the bus and fell asleep, didn’t really wake up again till Istanbul.
Had to do my washing when I got back to the hotel and have a decent shower, then hit the hay as we had another early start the next day to do a tour of Istanbul.
Last day of the tour and everyone was pretty tired, but still managed to rally enough energy to do a few hours around Istanbul. Firstly we visited the Blue Mosque, called that by tourists cause of the amount of blue tiles used to decorate the inside. My chosen attire for the day wasn’t quite appropriate for a mosque, had a dress on, so they gave me something to cover my legs, I had a cardi on so didn’t need one for my arms, they didn’t require you to cover your head. Outside the mosque the have a heap of taps with seats in front of them where everyone washes before going inside to pray, they have a special routine they do always starting with the right side of their body.
The inside was so beautiful, but of was jam packed with tourists and cause we had to take our shoes off the place smelt like smelly feet.
Next we walked through the hippodrome, where back in the day they used to have chariot racing etc, unfortunately most of the structures were destroyed in one of the many earthquakes Turkey gets, but there are still a couple of things there.
The spice markets was next on the list, made sure I had my bag on the front of me as the place was crowded, every stall they tried so hard to get you in to their shop and they’ll say anything to do so. The funniest one was ‘Excuse me you dropped something’, so you’d turn around to look then accidentally get eye contact and they’ll try to drag you into their shop, but after the 5th time you just start laughing at them.
I bought a bracelet from there made of beads called Evil Eye, a blue bead with a white circle then a blue dot in the middle so it looks like an eye. This Evil Eye goes back to the story of Medusa and if you look into her eyes you will be turned to stone, same thing goes with my bracelet, it protects me from anyone with bad intentions, so if anyone looks at me with bad intentions then the evil eye will get rid of them, thought it was a good thing to have while traveling on my own.
After the Spice Markets our tour was over, I still had one night to go so had the afternoon to fill, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do, Turkish Baths or Hammam Baths. I had heard about them years ago and always wanted to do it, so no better time than the present, plus I was so tired that I needed a bit of relaxation. I had no idea where to go and our tour guide, Selcuk (pronounced Selchook) had nothing to do for the day so he kindly walked me through Istanbul for about 20 minutes and to these amazing Baths. By the way walked past some incredible shoe shops, apparently they are for all the Russians that live in the city.
There were a couple of options to choose from but I went for the deluxe, cost 117TL so about $50, and our guide said he would be back in 1.5hrs to collect me to walk me back through the city to where I was staying.
Let me take you through my experience at the baths, it was definitely something else, unlike anything I have ever experienced before and definitely something I would do again in a heartbeat.
Firstly they give you a couple of tokens that say what you are getting to hand to the ladies that are looking after you, then you are taken to the locker rooms to get changed, or undressed I should say, you just have like a giant tea towel you wrap around you and some black undies they give you to put on, however at this point they hadn’t given me the undies so I was just naked and thought that’s just the way it was. Then they point you towards a huge wooden door, you go inside and it’s like looking back in time, the ceilings are so high and the entire place is made of marble, it’s a huge octagon shaped room with a giant octagon marble slab in the centre. Around the outside of the room is running water in small troughs and little stools beside them, then there are also smaller rooms with running water in there too with stools if you want to hang in there and wash.
On the marble slab lying along the edge of each side of the octagon is a woman getting scrubbed down by an obese older woman who is wearing nothing but black undies, completely topless, so the client is nude except the undies and the lady washing is the same.
I realised at this point that I should have gotten some black undies too, but before I could say anything she had ripped off my towel, she made this funny surprised noise when she saw I was naked and quickly got my a pair, I had to laugh.
Then she lay the towel down so I was lying with the head towards the centre of the octagon, the marble slab was heated and so lovely to lie on, there was a lady around from me that I caught eye contact with, she smiled but in a way that told me that she was absolutely terrified.
While I lay there getting hotter, I began to take in what was about to happen to me, and I took a deep breath, let go of any modesties and rolled with it.
First she moved me to lie lengthways, on my back first, then she poured a whole bucket of warm water over me. She then got another couple of buckets of water with soap, had a piece of cloth, and began scrubbing me all over, it was so nice. Turned over and she did my back etc, then she grunted at me to sit up and she scrubbed my shoulders, had to close my eyes as not to experience gigantic boobs right in my face at that point. Then she pulled me up to standing and took me over to the troughs at the side of the room, sat me down and began washing my hair, loved that bit.
Once I was scrubbed, she pointed to the next room, which was a spa room but really was just a small swimming pool of 1.4m where you just chill out for 20 mins or so and relax.
After there I went to another room where I dried off and got a real towel, then through to the part where you can have a drink and sit down for a bit, I had a Turkish Apple Tea, was so yum.
Lastly was my oil massage, went through and I nearly fell asleep, it was just a relaxation massage but it was so lovely especially cause I was so tired.
I felt so great afterwards, Selcuk said I looked like I was shining at the end of it ha.
Walked back through the city to my hotel, and he said for me to have a few hours sleep and then he’d show me the New City at night time, was super tired but agreed, really had wanted to see that part of the city plus at night I would never have been able to do that on my own, so thought I’d make the most of it.
At 9pm we taxied into the city and the place was buzzing with people, he reckoned that some times during holidays or special events you can get 4 million people there, luckily there wasn’t that many people there that night but it was still a mission to walk down the street.
We went to a place for some food, was so good to have something other than a kebab, but I still really want some veges, like broccoli and carrots etc, they just don’t seem to do whole veges very much here.
After that we walked through this courtyard place which was under cover of huge ceilings but still felt like it was outside, there were huge tables everywhere with people dining and drinking, awesome atmosphere.
Came out of that and there were markets still going, selling fish and fruit etc, came to a bar and walked up a few flights of stairs where it opened up to look out over where we just walked. Had a couple of beers there, then moved on to a shot bar, they have lots of these places in Istanbul.
We got a tray of 13 shots, all different flavoured vodkas, but they weren’t full strength vodkas. Had ones of different flavours like orange, kiwi & lemon, they were all pretty sweet and sickly so I wasn’t a huge fan.
Next we walked down to the river to a bar that was under the bridge, here I had to try Turkish Raki, a clear alcohol that they mix with water and it turns cloudy. You sip this, then take a sip of water, then you have a piece of cheese, I wouldn’t say it was the nicest stuff, it was just super strong, 50% alcohol apparently, only in a small glass though, like an over-sized shot glass.
Was so great to see Istanbul like that, didn’t think I was going to be able to but Selcuk was so great to show me around.
Not sure if I will return to Istanbul for a holiday, maybe to pass through to go somewhere else