Canakkale, Turkey

Sunday 24th June

Bodrum Backpackers – Ataturk Cad. 37, Bodrum, Turkey

Today was dedicated to travel for the 6 hour drive north from Selcuk up to Canakkale. We travelled by mini-bus with 3 other Aussie couples. This journey was punctuated midway with a stop at the ancient site of Pergamum, now Bergama, a visit that I had been keen to make. The other couples were not interested in this tour so were dropped off in Bergama in the 45 degree heat for two hours and then taken to the Acropolis for our tour followed by a lovely, catered lunch at a local restaurant. I felt rather guilty by this stage as it seemed the whole trip was being organised around our family needs. Anyway, that’s how it was. Pergamum was a powerful kingdom back in the 3rd century BC. It was here that ‘parchment’ was developed, a corruption of the name of the city. This was developed out of necessity when the Egyptians refused to trade any more papyrus. From parchment came the first known books. These were merely bundles of parchment as these types of pages did not roll into scrolls as easily as papyrus. There is not a lot left at this ancient site as most of it was removed by German archeologists who were the initial team to excavate this site. The spectacular ‘Altar of Zeus’ can be seen today at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, along with many other artifacts from the site. Our visit to this Acropolis was a challenge as the temperature was up in the mid forties so we did not dwell for too long here. In fact, I was worried Tom was going to melt in the heat given his porr volume to surface area ratio for such conditions so we finished the tour earlier than planned!

We eventually arrived into Canakkale at about 6pm and were shown to our hotel. The other couples were shown to their backpacker digs around the corner. We settled in, sorted out air-con issues and went for a stroll along the harbour before going back to the backpacker hostel to watch a new ANZAC documentary and Mel Gibson’s ‘Gallipoli’. This was to put us in the mood for our tour of Gallipoli the next day. Unfortunately, it upset Tom so much that he and I left early and went back to our hotel. On the walk back he asked me in a very sad voice ‘Mum, who invented war? It’s really stupid’. From the mouths of babes. What does one say to that?

Monday 25th June

Breakfast for all, even those at the hostel, was in the restaurant of our hotel located on the wharf which looked out over the small but busy harbour. It was there that we heard the tales of woe from those staying at the backpacker hotel. Many of the rooms had no windows, all were stifling hot and, there was no hot water for showers when they woke this morning. More guilt hit at this stage considering our family had endured a chilly night with the air-con and needed blankets and, we had all just emerged from hot showers. Needless to say….. we kept quiet!

Anyway, we all eventually set off for our morning tour of Troy. This was great for Annabelle and I as we had just finished reading the book ‘Troy’. It was amazing to view walls dating back 5,500 years and to see the main entrance gates to the ancient famed city and to wonder if we were treading the same path that Helen and Paris had once taken!

From the Trojan War we moved on to WW1. Our afternoon was spent out on the Gallipoli peninsula, a 15 minute ferry ride across the Dardanelles from Canakkale. The Dardanelles were named in honour of Prince Paris’ grandfather, King Dardanos, who initially settled in the Troy area establishing the first community there. Our first Gallipoli stop was at Brighton Beach where the fateful Anzacs were supposed to have landed; a broad beach with gentle dunes providing access that would have enabled them to rise and capture the desired high ground quickly. Unfortunately they landed at the wrong beach, just 1 mile further north, now famously known as Anzac Cove. We stopped here and visited some grave sites just to the south of Anzac Cove. It was a truly disturbing and upsetting experience. Tom shadowed me without uttering a word the whole time. Everyone walked in silence amongst the head stones reading the names of the many people, mostly young, who had lost their lives in such tragic circumstances. We saw the headstone for John Simpson, the brave soldier of folklore with the donkey. From there it was on to observe the landscape of the battle area which was surprisingly small for such an enduring and lengthy battle fought by so many. We walked through the trenches belonging to both sides which were only a few feet apart in some places. It was quite surreal to be taking such a peaceful stroll along paths where such a bloody and significant battle had once occurred. You could not help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for the deeds of these men but, also, much guilt that we were enjoying a freedom, today, that they were robbed of. This was marked appropriately with a stop at the Australian memorial of ‘Lone Pine’ where we saw the memorial to the youngest soldier of the battlefields, James Martin. James was only 14 years old and had lied about his age to help defend his country. This bravery and the fact he was so close in age to Tom was not lost on our boy that day.

One of the most powerful and moving moments of the day was at our last stop though, the highest point on the Gallipoli peninsula, the site of the New Zealand Memorial. This is the place that the Allies were trying to secure but, that, the Turks managed to hold. It is now the site of the NZ Memorial. We had been joined at many of our stops throughout the day by a bus load of 16yr old school boys from Wellington College, NZ. There were about 50 of them on a French and History study tour, all well behaved and dressed in their black polo school top with black shorts. They just so happened to be at the NZ memorial when we arrived. We got off our bus to see all of the boys assembled, in silence, in front of the imposing limestone monument. They were preparing to do the Haka. It was such an amazing sight to see these impressive boys assembled so reverently in front of their country memorial and, quite fittingly, draped in a beautiful golden glow from a gently setting sun. It was an incredibly special, poignant and spine tingling moment and one that we will never forget. Everyone, Turk and tourist, watched on as the boys gave a most rousing, passionate and powerful performance of this age old ritual. It brought tears to almost all who were watching. Annabelle and I heard a young American guy beside us comment “gee, that’s pretty scary stuff and they’re only 16. I’d hate to see grown men do that”. A most fitting comment.

We left all of the friends that we had made over the last day and a half with some sadness as they ventured on for a late night transfer to Istanbul. We stayed in Eceabat for the night, the main town on the Gallipoli peninsula, choosing the safety of a day time, rather than night time, transfer given the state of the driving we had seen so far!

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