32. Canakkale// Izmir// Kusadasi// Turkey

We arrived in Canakkale after a quite pleasant bus ride from Instanbul, the highlight of which, was when the bus boarded the ferry to take us across to this coastal town. Totally weird!! We were using Canakkale as a base to see Gallipoli and only intented to stay 2 nights, however after the tourist mecca that is Istanbul we really enjoyed the tranquility of Canakkale and ended up staying 3. Canakkale is also used as a base to see the ruins of Troy, and although we didnt make the trek to see these (we were a bit “ruin” fatigued) we did appreciate seeing the huge Troy wooden statue that stood on the boardwalk of the town and had been a gift from the movie. Although Canakkale is not entirely rural (it still sees thousands of tourists each year for Gallipoli and Troy) we really started to see a few glimpses of the Turkey that we expected to see in Istanbul. During one evening stroll we came across a restaurant that only seemed to really sell cay. This restaurant or cay bar, was filled to the brim of men of all ages playing backgammon. This is a game that is prelevant all over Turkey and is a favourite past time, however we had never seen full restaurants dedicated to the “sport”. It was interesting to see a culture that can have so much fun without drinking…perhaps Australia could learn a thing or two.

Another major draw card of Canakkale was the food. After poor versions of chicken durum in Istanbul I finally found an authentic place that had the most tender chicken, spice and herb driven durum I’ve had so far through my travels in Turkey. Best part was, the menu was only in Turkish, and I managed to actually order what I wanted and for the bargain price of 3 Lira. The town also had a bit of a uni vibe to it, and we had been told to go to a bar called the Hangover Bar. Being skeptical as this establishment was serving western food, and a little optomistic as we really wanted a decent burger, we were not disappointed. This place was teeming with young turkish listening to the latest tunes (think top 40 3 years ago) and pretty decent food. The best part though was that the unfiltered beer made an appearance yet again, so we went back to this place each night for some pub grub and a few unfiltered Efes. One thing I will make mention without being too descriptive is this is the time in Turkey where Clinton started to develop sever stomach pains. At this point nothing really happened, and we just gave him panadol, but he was sometimes in a lot of pain.

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From Canakkale we left and arrived by bus in Izmir approx 5 hours later. We had been told by our host in Istanbul that there really wasnt much in Izmir, however we decided to go and find out for ourselves, and I’m so glad that we did. Izmir is the thirld largest city in Turkey with a population of just over 4 million. It sits out on the Western Coast so has a beautiful boardwalk that lines the whole of the city. We stayed in the old town, in a hotel that I was quite nervous about as it had only made the “just passable” rating on bookings.com. however, either our standards have dropped immensely while travelling or this hotel had made some pretty decent changes, because we were pleasantly surprised. The one thing I did notice about our location, is there really were no females about. We would walk out onto the street from our hotel and I would be the only female I could see on a very busy road. So maybe it was a bit unsafe…I had my lovely friendly giant to protect me the whole time anyway ­čÖé

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As far as sights go, I guess the host in Istanbul was right, there’s really not much to see. However thats not really why Clint and I are travelling anyway, so it didn’t really bother us. What was amazing to see was the Bazaar. Unlike the bazaar in Istanbul that was full of tourists and bad salesman, the Bazaar in Izmir was full of Turks going about their shopping. Sure there were still the fake watches and handbags, but the general feel of the place was much more local. We spent ages walking the streets of the bazaar, being lost, looking at trinkets and drinking cay without being hassled by anyone. We then spent some time walking along the boardwalk and feasting on a breadroll filled with Tomato, white cheese and chilli. Simple Ingredients, fresh produce, great price!!! It was super hot as well, so we stuck our feet in a fountain with a bunch of local children and watched as they splashed about. That night we feasted on a spicy Adana kebap that was simple, but fresh with lots of spice and grilled peppers. A very different Adana kebap to the one drowned in tomato sauce that we had experienced in Istanbul.

Another highlight in Izmir was walking down a random street one afternoon, trying to find our way back to the Bazaar. Having tried Backlava in Istanbul a number of times, I just was not convinced on this honey drowned dessert. However I came across a bakery on this strange street and seeing the Baklava in the window decided to give it another shot. I walked in and tried to communicate to the Turkish lady that I only wanted 1 piece and not 1kg. (Imagine a lot of hand movements) When she finally understood that I indeed only wanted 1 piece (shock) she proceeded to give this to me without accepting money. When she finally accepted the 1 lira I handed her (50 cents Aus) she then proceeded to try and give me 75 Turkish cents back as change. I could not believe the kindness and honesty of this woman. Back in Istanbul I had also tried the Baklava at the Spice Market and even struggled to be able to buy 1 piece as I was always told that it was a 2 piece minimum, and to purchase 2 pieces was 4 – 5 lira. Anyway, after having one bite of that Baklava in Izmir I wish I had bought a kilo as it was so different to any other Baklava I have had. Not overly sweet and full of nuts, this Baklava was fresh and the perfect balance of savoury and sweet. I still have dreams about it. You may ask yourself why had Clinton not tried this beautiful piece of Baklava. Well his stomach pains had turned into a severe case of “Sultan’s Curse, Bali Belly” whatever you would like to call it. We had not experienced any travel sickness in any of the countries that we had visited, and had been careful with water in Turkey so it came as a bit of a surprise. We still really don’t know what it’s from, we are guessing just the difference in spices and the poor quality oil that is used in cooking here. Needless to say wherever we ate, we had to be in a close point of call to a western toilet and alas at the bakery there was none. At this point in Izmir I had no problems at all and so was parading around with what I thought was a stomach made of steel.

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So Izmir is basically our blog full of amazing food experiences. Clinton found a local gozleme shop that blew our socks off. For those of you who don’t know, Gozleme is basically a pancake that has either savoury or a sweet filling inside. Usually these are made by Turkish women who roll the dough out with a thin rolling pin and then fill the pancake with items such as spinach and cheese or potato or nutella and banana. You can experience these at South Melbourne market for about $10 a pop but over here they are much cheaper. We got chatting to the owner at this Gozleme shop who was apparently quite famous in the area for his Gozleme. He had not stuck to tradition and realised that you could basically put anything in a pancake as long as the produce was fresh. Here we tried a savoury gozleme that was filled with lamb, eggplant, mushooms and cheese and an unbelievably good sweet pancake filled with walnuts, figs, nougat and topped with pisatchio’s. Although a little more expensive than the gozleme on the side of the road, I was so impressed firsly by the quality of produce in these gozleme’s and the business plan of this friendly turkish man. He has converted me to gozleme for life

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Our last night in Izmir came quickly and we walked along the boardwalk eating mussels from a side vendor that are cooked and filled with rice, spices and sometimes nuts and currants. They make for a delicious snack, however we have been warned to only eat them in sea side towns, as otherwise the mussels are sometimes collected from the sewers….gross. We watched the sunset over the water and then headed to our local dinner spot and shared an Iskender kebab and Ayran. (Ayran is a salty yoghurt drink that the turks tend to drink with their evening meal, I’m not a fan)

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The next morning we said goodbye to Izmir and its gozleme and headed towards Kusadasi. Our friend Sonia had raved about this place from her travels in Turkey and so we decided to use this town as our base for exploring Ephesus and to chill out a bit. This is where I have a bit of a confession to make. It’s the middle of summer in Turkey and it’s bloody hot. So when looking for accomodation in Kusadasi, I filtered my search by those that had air conditioning, and an outdoor pool. I know, not very backpacky of me but after 6 months on the road surely I deserve a little comfort. Anyway, although a little old, our apartment in Kusadasai certainly delivered. It was right in the middle of the old town and despite being a hotel complex, had more of a relaxed hostel kinda vibe. To get out of the hotel you had to pass through the outside bar, and needless to say sometimes we didnt get further than that bar. What made this place so great for us though was the people. The owner spoke excellent English and over a few efes told us about the Kurdish people in Turkey and a bit about the economic climate over the last 100 years. Known as a bit of a hot spot for the Dutch and the Irish, we spent our days talking to a Dutch couple from Utrecht. Mike was a pro water polo player who was living in Izmir and was training for the next olympics. On a break at the moment, Mike and his girlfriend Catja were working the bar in Kusadasi to earn a bit of extra money as Turkish wages are quite low. And of course there was Edward. A 69 year old Irish man who had lost his wife a few years ago. He was nearing the end of his, had cancer and had retired at the apartment complex. He spent his days smoking and drinking red wine and although endearing, towards the end got a bit repetitive with his interruptions of Trivia from Australia back in the day. Quite intellectual he had a vibrant life publishing two books in his time and lived with one regret, not following a girl to Australia. It served as a timely reminder for us, that you will always regret the things that you did not do.

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In Kusadasi, we basically alternated between Gozleme from next door for 3 Lira and Chicken Durum from the other side of the complex that came with an amazing spicy sauce that inevitably started Sultan’s Curse for me as well. Kusadasi as a town is a big port for package holidayers so has a bazaar filled with all the latest gadgets bags and watches. One day, haggling the price of a watch I got cornered by a man who did not know the meaning of personal space. Lucky my big friendly giant was there to protect me and quite loudly and urgently told the man to let me leave. Needless to say my heart was pumping as I exited the store, and I promised myself never to find myself in that situation again. Things can escalate very quickly.

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So our main reason for being in Kusadasi was to see the ruins at Ephesus. We had debated over whether we should do a tour here, however when enquired with one of the travel agents was not sold on the hour to pick everyone up, two hour lunch, see the ruins type thing. Instead with some travel directions from Erican our hotel manager and armed with some water, we decided to explore these on our own, and are so glad that we did. All we did was catch a local bus to the side of the highway and walked a kilometre to the ruins. Paid our entry ticket and then we were free to walk around and look in our own time. Everything was pretty well signed, and if we got the opportunity we kinda just hung back on an english tour and learnt a little extra. I don’t really know how to put Ephesus into words. Its the biggest collection of ruins that Clint and I have seen in our travels. Its enormous. The town was founded in 10th Century BC and was abandoned in the 15th Century AD. I’ve never seen anything that old before. It is believed the Gospel of John may have been written here. It gives you a great interpretation on what the town would have been like, and they are still excavating more. The sheer size of it is probably what blew me away the most. Standing in the amphitheatre imagining what life would have been like sooo many years ago. Simply Stunning. I don’t know whether it was luck or the fact that we went in the middle of the day (poor planning) but there wasn’t the crowds of people there like I expected. It was also extremely hot with the sun bouncing off all those white stones. After a few hours we had depleted our supply of water and decided to head back to our hotel…even though we’d spent more on an apartment with a pool we both rejoiced that day!!!

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This basically ended our 4 nights in Kusadasai, and I loved every moment of it. Turkey was unravelling its layers to us, there was good food here, the people were friendly, and like we had hoped it was easy to meet fellow travellers. It wasn’t in your face like Vietnam you had to delve a little deeper, and as we delved we liked it a little more each day.

31. Gallipoli // Turkey

We’ve all seen the film “Gallipoli,” starring Mel Gibson, which portrays the story of thousands of young Australian men running helplessly into gunfire. We as Australians still remember this day on the 25th of April each year with Anzac Day.
There’s not a whole lot to see at the actual sight of Gallipoli – part of me was hoping for a wall of photos or a rifle museum – but by simply standing on that very ground where thousands of young Australians lost their lives evokes reflection, emotion and discussion that will stay with Elisha and I forever. I’m sure those who have visited there will agree.

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With little more than the dramatised movie to go on, I arrived rather ignorantly. So instead of blogging about what we did and saw, I might rather detail what I learnt, the context and the events of the war, and impart a little of our experience so that you’re not as naive as I was.

A few days prior to going, I asked myself “What exactly were the Australians doing there?” Miles from home, in a foreign country, Australians in Turkey seemed so removed from my preconception of a war that I thought occurred in Europe. So I dedicated some time to reading up on this. You’re probably better finding an appropriate source to read from which will describe it correctly but here goes my attempt, a lazy attempt to summarise Wikipedia that is:

The Ottomans (the Turkish empire that inhabited Turkey at the time) weren’t too different to us. They were brought into the war because of their affiliation with major players and, like us, lost a lot of men. Even though they had been an empire since 1299, but the time we entered the 20th century, they were considered the sick man of Europe. Political instability, military defeat and civil strife had weakened them for the past century.

There were two main agendas that led to the development of the Middle East Theatre. Firstly, Britain and France (forming the allies) sought to secure the Dardanelles straight, with the eventual aim to secure Constantinople (present day Istanbul.) By capturing the Dardenelles straight, they would then also create a sea route to the Russian Empire, another allied power.

Whilst this was happening, Germany (axis) formed the second development by bringing the Ottomans into the war. Britain had been building two ships for the Ottomans. However, when the Ottomans formed a secret alliance with Germany against the threat of Russia, the Britains requisitioned the battleships. Germany capitalised on this opportunity and provided two replacement ships to the Ottomans, gaining important influence. So whilst Britain and France were trying to create a link with Russia, the Ottomans opened the Dardenelles to allow the two German ships access to Constantinople. A German commander then ordered the passage closed. These two now Ottoman ships were then used to battle Russia. However, my understanding was Germany were using these ships even though they were carrying Ottoman flags, essentially forcing Russia to declare war on Turkey as a result.

I’m sure to have missed a lot of crucial information but hopefully that gives a general background to Gallipoli.

So back to the Anzacs. In Britain and France’s attempt to capture the Dardenelles, they needed to get battleships in. However, as the Ottomans were prepared to defend, the ships could not get in without a barrage from the Ottoman batteries and strategically placed mines. So the Naval campaign turned to a Land campaign so as to remove this threat and allow the naval battleships entry. Enter the Anzacs being trained in Cairo for France.

Sir Ian Hamilton was handed the task to command a 78,000 strong Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and eliminate the Ottoman mobile artillery. British and French contingents joined the Anzacs in Egypt whilst Hamilton finalised his plans to concentrate the force on the southern part of the Gallipoli peninsula at Cape Helles and Sedd el Bahr. The Allies initially discounted the fighting ability of the Ottoman soldiers. They were viewed as weak, perceptions galvanised by the recent Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. In some cases, information about them was gained from Egyptian travel guides.

However, the five weeks it took to establish this plan, in conjunction with bad weather that may have otherwise delayed the deployment, the Ottomans were given sufficient time to strengthen their position. Although the Ottomans were unsure where a landing might occur, they agreed holding the high ground was their best bet. The delay also allowed the Ottomans time to construct roads, assemble small boats for transportation between the narrows, wire beaches, construct improvised mines and to dig trenches. Of great importance, their leader, Mustafa Kemal, observed the beaches from his post in Boghali. This meant his commands would be based on realtime information.

There has been much said about the landing for the Anzacs. They had been trained for and planned to land on a flat beach with easy access to the peninsula where they could advance across and cut off the Ottomans. This was whilst the British and France landed further west at Helles. But either because of strong currents or strategical diversion, they instead landed a kilometre further north where the land was rugged and vertical and would require an arduous climb.

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A common theme amongst the Allies attempts is the lack of communication. One story I found very interesting was above Y beach. Some of the divisions landed unopposed and were able to advance inland to a village defended by only a small number. But lacking direction, they abandoned the position and retreated back to the beach. Once the Ottomans were able to recover numbers to the position, the Allies never again made it to that spot. Hamilton was positioned back on a ship which meant he had to firstly receive information before he could send back instructions as to what to do. Kemal certainly had him covered in this regard.

Although the stakes were high for the British landing, the Anzacs were able to land where the Ottoman defenders were too few to defeat them, despite still sustaining many casualties. However, the Ottomans were out of ammunition not long afterwards and were left with nothing but bayonets and began to retreat. Sadly for the 57th regiment, Kemal ordered them to hold their positions and die so as to delay the Anzacs advancement so other soldiers could accumulate in numbers behind them. Every single member of that regiment died and, as a sign of respect, the Turkish Army no longer holds a 57th Regiment.

The beach landings were worse for some. Of 1,012 Dubliners, only one officer and 11 soldiers survived the campaign unscathed.

Even though the landing at Helles was going ok, the landing at Anzac was not and at one point Lieutenant Birdwood considered reembarkation of the Anzac troops. However, it was the Australian submarine AE2 which instigated his reconsideration. On the night before the landings, AE2, under the command of Stoker, succeeded in getting through the Straights. By 6am, as the landings were taking place, AE2 reached Chanak and torpedoed a Turkish gunboat whilst evading a destroyer. It then ran aground beneath a Turkish fort but the fort’s guns could not reach it and AE2 manoeuvred free. After refloating, it’s periscope was sighted by a Turkish battleship, which was firing over the peninsula at Allied landing sites. Realising the threat from the submarine, the battleship ceased fire and withdrew. AE2 advanced toward the Sea of Marmara and rested on the seabed for the next 13 hours. At 9pm, she resurfaced and sent a wireless report to the fleet. This gave Birdwood hope and the story was told amongst the Anzacs to build morale. Stoker was then ordered to run amok in the Sea of Marmara. However, with no enemies in sight, the AE2 simply cruised around giving the illusion that there were greater Allied numbers. 5 days later, she was fired at and the crew abandoned the ship and were captured. However, its success confirmed the straight could be penetrated and shortly afterwards, E14 entered and inflicted more casualties to the Ottoman Navy.

Lots of fighting ensued. Depleted numbers were replenished by reserves in Egypt for the Allies and from Constantinople for the Turks. I’m going to skip forward about 8 months here. Like most wars, this was a complex arena and its difficult to articulate simply. However, learning the background of the war is the thing I think I took away the most and had not previously understood.

In the end, it was deemed an Ottoman victory, their greatest during the war and a major Allied failure. The most successful operation of the campaign was the evacuation of the troops on 19-20 December under cover of a comprehensive deception operation. The operation cost 26,111 Australian casualties, including 8,141 deaths. Despite this, it has been said that Gallipoli had no influence on the course of the war.

There were some stories that really stood out to me on that day. We should all known John Simpson. But I didn’t. Amidst constant firing and sniper shots, he would walk back and forth with his donkey collecting the wounded and bringing them back until he was sadly killed during the third attack. Hundreds of wounded soldiers were returned to the beach because of him.

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We were also told that the casualties were so high that a truce was called one day. Both armies were allowed to arise from their trenches and collect their wounded. This war has been referred to as the last Gentlemens War as both forces were able to meet their opponents. Imagine that. Meeting this foreign man who fired during the day at you, shaking his hand, sharing a smoke with him, carrying a dead body back together and then to say farewell, before returning back to your trench to again collect your rifle and resume the war. We heard a story of a wounded Ally who lay in the middle screaming for help. No one dared to stand up for fear of being shot. However, a Turkish soldier rose from the trenches, walked over to him and picked him up, carried him to the allies and then walked back to rejoin the Ottomans on his side.

It was truly alarming to see just how close some of the trenches were to one another. In some places, only metres. You would think this was a detriment to each. However, it was more strategical than anything. By being so close, it eliminated the threat of grenades. You just wouldn’t throw a grenade for fear it would either land in your own camp or because it allowed the opposition time to throw it back.

 

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I think what I struggled to get my head around were the conditions. Trying to picture fighting in 40 degree weather, with dead bodies rotting all around you, repugnant odours filling your nose, constant flies badgering your face, dehydration, little food, no toilets, no sewage system, unrelenting gunfire, I wouldn’t last an hour. A lot of soldiers cut away at their clothes so that their pants became shorts to find reprieve in the heat. They only thought they’d be there for a few weeks. 6 months later though it was the middle of winter and the war was still going. A tough season when you are dressed in tiny shorts.

I also could not believe how small the area was where the Anzacs were ordered to attack. It was so funnelled that only 150 could run in a straight line. Contrary to the movie, I don’t believe there was a machine gun greeting them. The Ottoman rifles were not automatic and could only fire one bullet at a time. They did not have magazines and were single-shot. However, the Anzacs were easy pickings as they tried to cover this small section wave after wave after wave.

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A pine tree stands in Lone Pine and there is a story behind this. An Australian soldier’s brother was shot dead here. As a memento to his mother, the surviving brother┬ásent home a pine cone from a nearby tree. His mother planted this and now a pine tree stands in her yard. From this tree, a pine cone was returned to Lone Pine and now stands a third generation tree from the seed of a tree standing during the conflict.

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I sympathise with the Turks as much as I do for the Anzacs. I feel they were caught in a war that was not theirs and lost men they shouldn’t have lost. But there is a beautiful quote that stands on a giant plaque on the peninsula. It reads:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” Ataturk, 1934.

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I’m not sure if I’d say I found the day emotional. There were a few people in our group who had relations lost in the war. One lady even found the plaque of her grandfather and burst into tears. But for me it was about context. Whenever we now hear “Lone Pine” or “Anzac Cove” referred to, we will know exactly what they are talking about. Seeing the terrain with our own eyes is something books and movies can’t portray. Looking through a gully and understanding how easy it would have been to be shot at whilst the soldiers crossed makes the campaign vivid.

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The last surprise of the day was seeing just how small the area is where the Anzac service is held every year. It is tiny! I have no idea how 10,000 people can squeeze onto that tiny patch of grass.

So anyway, that’s it. I now know so much more about the campaign than I did one or two months ago. And I don’t think I would have been able to grasp it without physically being there. Unfortunately, I’ve been completely unable to articulate our experiences in any form of cohesive text here. But for those who have been, I’m sure they’ll nod in approval. For those who haven’t, please don’t read this indecipherable mess but just make sure you get yourself there.

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And from now on, just maybe, I’ll get myself out of bed at 5am on Anzac Day and remember this moment that really helped to cement our nation’s identity.