20.08.2010 - 22.08.2010 22 °C
Any Aussie's trip to Turkey has to include the pilgramage to Gallipoli - we were no exception. Our first stop after Istanbul was Eceabat, a little village on the Gelibilou peninsular and the closest we could stay to the battlefield of 1915.
Getting there wasn't so straight forward, and we were about to get our first lesson in just how big Turkey is. Istanbul is on the Bosphorus; Gallipoli is on the Dardenelles. Combined, these two narrow straits make up the tiny, weeny little connection between the Med and the Black Sea. The bus trip took 5 hours.
After our experience coming from Bulgaria we were dreading the bus trip, but in truth it wasn't too bad. We were on a fancy new bus complete with in-trip food and drink service - the Turks take bus travel seriously. The reason for the long trip was the pesky Sea of Marmaris - yep, a whole sea had to be skirted on our way west. But this made for a pretty drive along the coast, and once we made it to the Dardenelles things took a slightly surreal twist. The sight of enormous container ships cruising past, no more than a hundred metres off the beach, was strangely unsettling. It was reminiscent of the Pasha Bulka at Newcastle, and any second I expected them to come to a grinding halt. But they sailed on serenely, and we eventually pulled up in Eceabat.
To say there wasn't much going on would be to get caught up in the bustle of the place. Usually a one horse town, on our arrival it seemed that the horse's owner had gone for a quick trot up the coast. Eceabat existed as the place where the ferry to Cannakale, sitting just across the straight, arrived and left.
We checked into TJs Hostel (TJ was to be our guide for a tour of the battlefields tomorrow) and set off in search of a late lunch/early dinner. After a short search we established that we had three options; we chose the least dodgy looking takeaway place and ate a surprisingly good pide and kebab.
That evening was spent over a couple of beers on the hostel terrace watching the sunset, followed by a veiwing of the movie Gallipoli to get us in the spirit for the tour.
The tour kicked off at noon and, oddly, the first stop was lunch, at our takeaway place from the night before. Then we boarded the minibus and headed off to the Gallipoli war museum.
This was basically a collection of debris picked up off the battle fields: exploded shells, bully beef tins, pocketknives and so on. There were also three seperate pairs of bullets that had struck in mid-air and fused together - which made you wonder just how many bullets were whizzing around. There were also examples of uniforms from the nations involved, some still stained with blood. From the museum on the ridge we could see the sweep of Brighton Beach, where the ANZACs were supposed to land. Then we jumped back on the bus and headed to Anzac Cove.
It was much smaller than we expected, and the beach much narrower. This was partly due to the new road that's been built above the cove and moved the hill down a bit, but it really is a tiny little beach. We moved on to the cemeteies down by the cove, and spent a while looking at the graves and inscriptions. These ranged from the simple and moving - "Well done, Ted" - to the astonishingly self-centred "Grandson of Joe Blogs, professor at Trinity College, Dublin". No prizes for guessing who paid for that one.
The cemeteries were definitely moving, and were made even more so by the readings that TJ would pull out from time to time - letters home and poems written there. We also found the grave of John Simpson. He was alone - apparently the donkey got out alive.
We spent some time sitting completely alone on the beach of Anzac Cove. It was unexpectedly beautiful. Somehow in all the history and legend that's drummed into us from primary school onwards, it's never mentioned that this is actually a beach on the Aegean Sea, with correspondingly blue water. It was easy to forget where we were, until we turned around and saw the steep slope above us. That fit better with the history we knew, and it was then much easier to picture the dawn landing and all that followed. After a few minutes of quiet reflection, we each picked a pebble off the beach as a keepsake, and moved on.
Our next stop was Lone Pine and the Australian memorial. It was good to see the place, and understand just how difficult the terrain was - we were a long way above the coast - but it didn't have the same impact as the beach. Then one of our group read a letter, full of cheerful news and optimism, written by a twenty-two year old soldier. We were standing by his grave. Suddenly it was so real, so sad, and all so pointless.
After a brief stop to see the remnants of trenches near lone pine - the sides were only eight metres apart here - we moved on to the Nek. This was the scene of the final charge in the movie we'd watched the night before. Talk about pointless. The attack was intended as a diversion, but it was along a narrow ridge only about 50 metres wide. It would have been like shooting fish in a barrel. It was the sort of thing you can't understand unless you stand there looking at the lie of the land.
From there we visited the NZ memorial at Canuk Bair. This was the furthest the Kiwis, or any of the Allies, made it across the peninsular. From here they could see the straits, there ultimate goal, but after a couple of days they were pushed back in an attack led by Attaturk himself.
Our next stop was the Turkish memorial. One of the best parts of the tour was the balance. TJ is Turkish but married to an Aussie girl - he was really good at presenting both sides. The Turkish attitude to the whole campaign is incredibly compassionate, especially considering that they were the ones being invaded. Some of the speeches of Attaturk - he was the lieutenant who led the initial defence, who later became President of the Turkish republic and is now revered as a founding father - are incredible, welcoming all those who died as sons and brothers. The Turkish memorial was good to see, especially how many Turks were visiting. It was a major event in their history too, and equally as important in forging a national identity for Turkey as it was for Australia.
All in all it was quite a sad day, but very worthwhile. We had an early night after yet more kebab and pide. Our ferry left at 7am and, let's face it, what else was there to do in Eceabat?