Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
Trip End Feb 04, 2008

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Well, I think the easiest way to write this journal is to divide our time in Istanbul and our trip to Gallipoli and Troy, even though it wasn't consecutive.  After a few bumps and woes in the emotional road that was Eastern Europe, we can't tell you how relieving it was to arrive in the revelation that is Turkey.

Istanbul is a city of beautiful extremes, from the ancient to the modern to the delicious.  In Istanbul it is quite possible to view the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque in wonder by day, only to be re-inspired once again when strolling by it at night.  Whether shrouded in mist, being swarmed by thousands of birds, shining in the sun, or softening in the twilight, these two phenomenal buildings manage to make you stand, stare and marvel.

The Aya (or Hagia) Sofia was built in 532 AD over an older, much simpler Aya Sofia, and was completed in the warp speed of five years by 1000 skilled and 10,000 unskilled workers.  Originally the Aya Sofia was built to be the greatest cathedral in Christendom, and remained so for a thousand years.  ln the 1400's it was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans.  In the 1930's it became a museum.  In the other corner of the impressive, and highly competitive historical boxing ring, we have the Blue Mosque, built in the 1600's by a Sultan who thought, hmmm, that phenomenal Aya Sofia over there, it's a bit awesome eh, but I can do better! (Italics are not a direct quote, 'twas passed down to me in a multi-generational game of Telephone).  So thanks to the Sultan and his temple envy, the world now also has the sensation that is the Blue Mosque.  These two temples, almost side by side appear as if a canvas was painted and dropped down into Istanbul.  I hope the pictures do them any justice.  Inside they are as remarkable, the Aya Sofia with its mosaic ceilings, walls and floors, divided by pillars, columns, and luckily enough for us, (and as a bonus free of charge), scaffolding covering the entire middle section of it.  Oh well, what to do, ancient wonders need to be restored on a continual basis.  The Blue Mosque, comparatively a baby in age is in use today and is therefore closed three times a day during prayer time.  Ah, a very cool thing to hear in Istanbul is the call to prayer over the speakers from mosques, as one mosque will call, to be answered by the other.   As a tourist, the call to prayer is the final touch wandering down the cobbled Istanbul streets; it's akin to sitting down to romantic dinner with a great glass of wine but then hitting the play button to listen to some fine jazz.  Perfect.

Moving on to the Grand Bazaar...  Grand indeed, but highly modern despite its ancient name.  With some (ok, a wee bit more than some) imagination you can conjure images of the way it may have been once, selling textiles and spices, but with our reality glasses firmly on our heads, it is highly geared towards tourists and proportionately priced!  Regardless, it is beautiful inside, an ancient shopping centre, if you will, selling leather goods, jewellery, carpets, ceramics, leather, souvenirs, carpets, did I say leather?  Ha, I have a funny one liner for you from a vendor, easily the best line since Patong Beach in Phuket.  We are wandering along and a vendor (of leather) says to Scott: "Mister, I know what you need!  A gift for your mother-in-law!".  What a crack up!  Push the in-law button, he thinks, it may work.  Scott may also have the words "I love Turkish rugs tattooed on his forehead, there was no end in sight to the carpet salesman trying to invite him in for tea hoping Scott may drop a cool couple of thousand on a rug.  "We don't even have a place to put it in," we'd tell them. 

A trip on a ferry along the Bosphorus, towards Analogu Kavagi on the Asian continent rounded off our Istanbul experience (well, the sightseeing highlights, I must mention food, so more to come). The Bosphorus is the river that divides Istanbul into the European and Asian continents and empties into the Black Sea.  The day was chilly and overcast, but nonetheless we were able to gaze upon two continents at one time, a special experience in itself.  We cruised close to the mouth of the Black Sea where we disembarked and walked up and up and up to an abandoned fortress where we sort of saw the Black Sea a bit better, you see, the weather just wasn't conducive to 360 views.  Still, it's exciting when you stop and think about it:  The Black Sea, one of the most prominent bodies of water in ancient, and well, recent civilization.  Look, there it is!

Moving onto food and the people, one of the best subjects!  The people in Istanbul, and the small part of Turkey we saw are an example.  They are welcoming, kind, generous, amusing, helpful... enough accolades?  Wonderful people, they go beyond the call of hospitality in helping you feel at home.  We were blown away.  Blown.  Away.  (I must credit the one word sentences to my friend Melanie, she uses them sometimes and I really like their precise impact).  The best example, although there are many, are the two hot Turkish guys at Lapis Restaurant.  Now, I need to remind you all that it's Scott that writes the daily journals that I refer to before I develop this blog, and it is in HIS writing, that I have found the words "two HOT Turkish guys".  So don't blame me for remembering how good looking they were!  We walked past their restaurant, and the guy outside was making Turkish pancakes, like a pita with potato, chilies and spinach.  He invited us in to his cozy restaurant for free pancakes, why, you ask?  Because he liked us!  In we went and sat down, to meet guy number two who had the looks of a pirate, and with his minimal English chatted to us and asked us if we wanted a drink.  We ordered coffees and sat down to our pancakes.  Would they let us pay?  Nooooooo!  It was a gift, they said.  Just being lovely, kind people.  Naturally, we went back a couple of days later and to purchase some meals, but were still showered with free food, i.e. more pancakes, bread, and cheese rolls, don't even get me started on the cheese rolls!  Ok, I will only say that I thought I would explode I was so full, but then out came the free cheese rolls and I gingerly ate them.  Fine, fine, my unknown demon of gluttony emerged and I stuffed them into my mouth and somehow down into my gut (which is the same size still, thank goodness), but they were soooo goooooooood.

That leads me perfectly into our Turkish food segment.  AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH! OhmygodhowincredibleisTurkishfood???  We had no idea, it's like the veil of ignorance was lifted and our foodie horizons opened up from our slightly limited we-love-Malaysian-and-Indian-food to we-love-Malaysian-Indian-and-Turkish-food!  What a seriously exciting discovery.  Yes, just as Pad Thai is better in Thailand and pizza is better in Italy (future blog), doner kebabs are better, WAY better in Turkey. Whoa.  Don't bother eating one of them unless in Turkey, the international versions are crap.  But doner kebabs are the tip of the iceberg, you've got goulashes and vegetable stews in clay pots,  and for the meat eaters you've got giant skewers on flat, black iron sticks and an equally impressive range of stews.  There are stuffed peppers, potatoes, perfectly cooked rice, salads, drinks called "salep" (don't know how to spell it), a hot, oatmeal-type drink very similar to "avena" in Colombia, sold from a massive copper contraption, and the sweets... every type of baklava that you can dream of (one day I dreamt of four of them and it became a reality), milk puddings like nothing you've ever tried before, macaroons to die for... I could go on, but I may drool on my keyboard and then how do I finish this blog?  Turkish cuisine will be seriously researched upon return to Canada!  "How international will my kitchen be?" says the woman who hates cooking.  But if the end results are anything like the food we have had while travelling, I may be inspired to give it a go.

Excited about Turkey yet?  I hope so.  That is just a taste of Istanbul, the city in general is beautiful, and there is so much we did not see.  And there are so many more wonders in Turkey we did not know existed, it is a country that deserved much more time and planning than we gave it.  However, we did manage one extra excursion in Turkey, to Gallipoli and the ancient archeological ruins of Troy.

Our excursions took place from the harbour-side city of Cannakale, on the Asian continent.  As we arrived at twilight, we ran down to the waterfront to see a) the Brad Pitt horse and b) the sunset.  What?  The Brad Pitt horse you say?  Yes, it is affectionately (or not?) called the "Brad Pitt horse" by the locals (which made us guffaw) as it is the Trojan horse used in the film Troy.  It looks like it's made out of wood, but is in fact, made of fiberglass and it is MASSIVE.  Part b, the sunset, did not in any way disappoint, splashing pinks, reds and yellows all over the harbour, it was absolutely beautiful.

Our day of history began with Troy, which I was surprised to find out is a factual place.  Now I knew that there was evidence that the legendary walled city of Troy existed in Turkey, but archeologists have in fact called the site Troy and believe it to be the Troy.  As to the legend itself, to that there is no definitive proof, only Homer's descriptions in the Iliad and the Odyssey which served as the clues and markers that led archeologists to that site.  The ruins of that area indicate a city that evolved and changed over hundreds and hundreds of years, therefore, there were many cities of Troy, number I to X, Troy VI being the most likely candidate for the legendary city we have read about or seen in the movies.  The ages of the cities is decided, amongst many things, by the quality of the stone masonry, which is fascinating.  Our guide Mustafa showed us examples of how they even engineered earthquake proof buildings back then.  Anyway, to make a long fictional story into a short, reality-based one, the walls were in fact magnificently and very strategically built, a ten year siege would have been impossible back then as the legend suggests, and there is no proof of a wooden horse, but there are several theories on the purpose of building such a large object if it was, in fact true, i.e. a large battering ram, etc.  Also, the legend is based on Greek mythology, and the war started due to the abduction of Helen, but back then, which is just lovely to know, it was very common to steal and abduct each other's women indicating Menelaus would not have cared he lost his wife, therefore the  exquisite Helen would have been an excuse for the Greeks to gain control of that area, made very rich by the fact that the winds led all ships to Troy before they could sail on because sailors did not know how to tack upwind at the time!  Phew, I'm out of breath.  Everyone understand?  I loved the tour, and our guide Mustafa, an avid historian of Troy and Gallipoli, has written superior guide books on both sites.  He was entertaining beyond measure, bringing what someone could essentially classify as rubble to vivid life, including the field where the infamous battle between Achilles and Hector was theoretically held.  What a fantastic morning!

Our afternoon took on a more somber mood.  Scott is taking over now to write this section, this is now him:  We made the one hour drive over to Gallipoli, Australia's most famous battle in war history, if not the deadliest as we found out.  The battle only became necessary after the British and French were unable to sail their big ships up the Dardanelles due to mines and the defenses of the Turkish.  The allied ships were turned around and a few sunk on March 18, 1915.  The Turkish now celebrate this as Turkish Naval Victory Day.  Our first stop on the tour was known as Brighton Beach, where the ANZAC's were meant to land at 4:30 in the morning on April 25, 1915. This was a nice flat beach with a gradual incline up to the ridge where they would be able to advance and take the peninsula giving the allies access to the Dardanelles. 

We then went to Anzac Cove, where the troops actually landed.  They were faced with high cliffs and a beach only 600 meters long and about 6 meters wide, with only 106 Turkish troops stationed on top of the cliffs as a welcoming party.  Apparently the Turkish emptied every piece of ammunition they had into the 15000 advancing troops.  The 106 Turkish troops then ran back to the high ground when their commander  Mustafa Kemal (aka Ata Turk) gave an order "I am not ordering you to fight, I am ordering you to die."  They, along with the whole 57th regiment of 628 troops, were killed.  It was enough to help slow the advance and for reinforcements to arrive.  Not much changed over the next 9 months and the troops from either side faced each other in trenches only 8 to 10 meters apart, occasionally swapping cigarettes and clothes with each other. 

Our next two stops were very emotional as they were the ANZAC memorial were the Remembrance is held every year, and Ari Burna Cemetery which is at the north end of Anzac Cove and where many of the dead were buried during the fighting.  There is also a really speech engraved in stone written by Ata Turk (see photo) that made us both tear up.  We then went on to Lone Pine, which I'm sure every Australian has heard of.  This was the main area of battle on August 6th which was known as the August offensive to capture the high ground.  Lone Pine is the size of a football field and was the no-man's land between the two sides.  Now it is the main war memorial dedicated solely to Australians.  We found out that the youngest Australian to be killed in Gallipoli was only 14 years old and his name is on one of the many plaques around the memorial.  This was another of those areas where you definitely get a little choked up. 

Next stop was the Turkish memorial.  It is always good to get the other side. We learnt that the Turkish lost 86,000 troops in this pointless battle. Australia lost 8,700, the allies lost 44,000, and even 49 Newfoundlanders and some Indians troops were killed.  The last stop was Cunuk Bair, the highest part of the peninsula and what the fight was for.  When you get there you can see why, as it provides clear views to the Dardanelles on one side and the Aegean Sea on the other.  As part of the August offensive the New Zealand troops actually captured this hill for all of two days before the Turkish took it back.  This is now the site of the New Zealand war memorial.

As the battle was really going nowhere and was becoming unpopular at home because of the heavy losses, it was decide to withdraw.  They were able to do this in December and January without a single life being lost.

Jenn here again.  That rounds of our Turkish experience.  It's an incredible country full of ancient and recent history, beautiful landscapes and wonderful people.  Turkey is a must-visit-thoroughly type of place.

Canaussie rating:

Baklavas: 5, they have like 100 varieties, it's incredible!

Salep: 4

Aya Sofia/Blue Mosque: 5

Gallipoli/Troy tour: 5

Turkish baths: 3, hmm, interesting.  Definitely an experience (I know, I didn't mention them, we'll tell our friends and family in person or this blog will be 10 pages long)

Doner kebabs in Turkey: 5

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gordon48 on

I love Turkey
Enjoyed reading and looking at your pictures. I have lived off and on in Turkey since 1982. We have a home in Marmaris, which is a great tourist town on the southwest corner. Istanbul, is a great city to explore in, it is a different city ever where you turn, and with 5000 years of history you can never get bored. Thanks for your pictures and story.

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