Travelogue Turkey 2: Gallipoli


16 April 2012

We started the day very early, anticipating a 06h30 pick up from our Istanbul hotel. The upside was getting the bread fresh as it arrived from the bakery (gorgeous!). The downside was, well, it was 06h30. Buffet breakfast was the same except for the soup, which was a sort of creamy-murky with little bits in it and I thought looked like chicken. On closer inspection (in my bowl) I thought it might be broccoli bits, but hoped for mushroom. On tasting I realised it was none of the above, but inoffensive so I scoffed the lot anyway. Mother joked that perhaps it was just the cleaning water to soak last night’s soup out of the terrine. Best that we never know the truth methinks!

The minibus fetched us last – and an hour late – so we had no choice but to take the single seats against the sliding door. Turned out to be marvellous since I had the legroom of the full length of the sliding door in front of me and the people on the double seats were being blasted with alternating heater and aircon from the radiator on their side.

The trip from Istanbul to Gallipoli is a long one by road, taking around 5 hours. Some of the people on our bus were doing a daytrip from Istanbul, which is madness requiring 10 hours in a bus to explore for only a few hours in between. Moreover, one of the couples was returning to Istanbul only to fly back to Ephesus the next day… Completely missing Troy which is just across the water from Gallipoli town. The best way (in time and money terms) certainly seems to do it as we’re doing it, as a big loop from Istanbul to Gallipoli to Troy to Ephesus.

We arrived in Gallipoli in time for a set-menu lunch at Liman Balik restaurant in Eceabat. A delicious chicken noodle soup to start (for sure this time; looked and tasted like it) and for main course was chicken kebabs with crispy chips, what looked like a springroll but with cheese and herbs inside and a bit of a fritter looking thing that was awful so I abandoned it. Salad on the side consisting of grated carrot, pickled purple cabbage, lettuce and tomato (that all went untouched). An apple (light green, soft and floury) for pudding was a poor show after all the bakeries and exotic sweet things we’ve seen along the way.

Fed and watered, we were on our way to the Gabatepe Museum for a talk on the wartime activity at Gallipoli Peninsula. This area is famous mainly for the skirmishes and great battles that took place in the area between March and December in 1915 between the defending Turks and the attacking Allies. The Gallipoli Peninsula today is filled with cemeteries, war museums and memories of this sanguinary war.

Churchill (then a First Lord of the Admiralty) had devised a grand scheme to strike the Central Powers on a new front in south-eastern Europe, knock Turkey out of the war and open up a much needed relief route to Russia through the Dardenelles.

The campaign began with an attempt to force the Dardenelles by naval power alone, but this failed when 3 Allied battleships were lost to Turkish mines. They then sent in a 70,000 strong expeditionary force made up of soldiers from Britain, Newfoundland, India, a French Colonial division and untried Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).

Although there were casualties for all forces, the majority were Aussies and Kiwis sent in to fight and “die for King and Country” (as the plaques and headstones remind us). Anzac Cove is named for this failed campaign. The story goes that this was the point where they landed to come and attack, having navigated poorly and missed their intended landing point (Gaba Tepe), not realising that they’d picked a cove with hilly terrain and impossible cliff faces when there were far easier beaches on low foothills on the bays on either side.

Having been trained in Egypt, they saw a rugged crag that looked (vaguely at best) like the Sphinx and thought this a good sign. Those poor chaps must’ve had a helluva time lugging themselves and their gear up those steep inclines… to their death. Those that survived the hostile terrain, suffered the extreme heat and unsanitary conditions which would prove almost as deadly as the Turkish fire.

It’s debated that the most successful part of the campaign was its evacuation, where the officers had gone to elaborate lengths to hide the intention to retreat – and had executed the operation near silently under the cover of darkness. Few lives were lost, bringing to an end a campaign which has cost the lives of almost 36,000 Commonwealth, 10,000 French and 86,000 Turks.

Commonwealth forces were only able to revisit the Peninsula after the Armistice, by which time many grave markings were lost or destroyed and the unburied beyond identification. They established 31 cemeteries containing 19,000 graves of which only 6,000 were identified. The names of the remaining 27,000 buried in unknown graves or never found are commemorated on 6 memorials to the missing on Gallipoli. The Canakkale Martyrs Memorial is dedicated to the memory of the Turkish soldiers who died, with smaller memorials and cemeteries on the Peninsula, mostly symbolic and containing few actual graves.

We visited a few of these places of interest winding back on the route from Anzac Bay to Gallipoli town, but were told that there are literally hundreds of cemeteries in the bush with final resting places where the soldiers died.

Lone Pine was a strategically important plateau (so named for the single tree that stood on it) in the south of Anzac was stormed by the Australians on 6 August 1915 and held until evacuation. The cemetery and memorial commemorates the 5,000 soldiers that died here with a graveyard that still has a single pine tree in the middle. Apparently, a young Aussie took a kernel from the tree and planted it in Australia and it flourished as a mirror memorial (or it could have been the other way around, the guide seemed more sold on the sentiment than the syntax).

Johnston’s Jolly stands on the northern part of the plateau and is named for the Aussie Colonel Johnston who said that if they could bring the enemy to bear on that point he would have a ‘jolly good time’. They didn’t, but it’s worth a visit to see how close the enemy trenches were to one another. There’s one point where the trench entrances are literally across the road from one another!

It was scary to see how young all the soldiers were when they died – most teenagers or early twenties, a handful in their thirties and only one that I saw who was 41. Thousands and thousands of graves. Lunacy.

Sounds like hundreds of thousands of men (from both sides) died there in WW1 and there are still banners and commemorations all around the region that acts as reminders of their ‘recent history’ – almost a century ago. Interestingly, Mustafa Kemal, a commander in the war who became the first president of Turkey (known as Ataturk or ‘father of the Turks’, the name of Istanbul’s international airport) put up a memorial at Anzac Cove in 1934, which includes the words “You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away 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”. Nice sentiment, but small consolation I’m sure.

The tour was quite maudlin and it was horrifying that such carnage had made sense in the context of those war games. Although at the outset we hadn’t known too much about the goings-on in Gallipoli, the Aussies on our tour seemed to be quite knowledgeable on the details so at least the significance of the slaughter wasn’t entirely lost (or bound to tourist attraction).

Done with the history and education for the day, we transferred back to Egeabat (European side of Turkey) to catch the ferry to Canakkale (Asian side).

Although Turkish uses the same alphabet as ours, the language is completely foreign with no similarities on word association with any of the languages I’m familiar with. There are lots of cedilla and accents, common in the Eastern European languages, so the phonetics and the syllabic emphasis are unpredictable. For example, we’re in Canakkale, which is pronounced ‘chuh-na-calay’, with a down accent on chuh, up on na and down again on calay.

Canakkale is a crucial geographic bottleneck controlling the crossing between Europe and Asia, as well as access to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea beyond.

The history of the Canakkale Region (Troas) goes back to about 5,000BC, steeped in legend. Mythology would have us believe that King Athamas’s children, Phryxus and Helle, were sent away on a flying ram by their (presumably wicked) stepmother. Whilst flying over the Dardenelle Straits, Princess Helle fell off the ram and into the water… Giving the foundation for the name Hellespont.

The Persians were also in Canakkale in the 5th Century BC, when King Xerxes built his bridge of boats across the narrowest point of the Dardenelles to land 100,000 troops on Thrace, as part of his planned conquest of Europe. A cunning plan… Thwarted by the twin disasters at Thermopylae and Salamis.

Of course this sort of thing didn’t happen much anymore since people traded in flying rams and ferry tickets.

Landing in Canakkale we were delighted to find a quaint little seaside town with narrow single lane cobbled streets, a delightful little town square with traditional clock tower and marina lined with restaurants and cafes (that serve freshly caught seafood from the surrounding waters).

Our hotel, the Kervansaray, was founded in 1719 and looked like a Western Saloon with bare wooden walls and floor boards, worn red carpet up the winding wooden staircase and very high ceilings. The big flashing ‘Hotel’ sign that hung vertically above the entrance (and between the windows in our room) was just a decor bonus.

With daylight time in short supply, we headed straight out to see the town, which was small enough to circumnavigate on instinct since it was so small – especially handy since the tourist map seemed to be neither to scale nor based in fact.

First up was the Troy wooden horse that was used in the making of the Brad Pitt film and that is displayed on the Northern end of the harbour’s marina. A few snaps later, we retraced our steps and went to the Southern end to see the (apparently) famous castle (Kilitbahir Fortress) and war museum. Had had about enough of warmongery for the day though, so after a quick in-and-out, we headed for more familiar territory – the local Bazaar.

The Mirror Bazaar wasn’t much to write home about. A small hall of trinkets and souvenirs, open for enjoyment with extended shopping hours until 10pm. We should have considered ourselves warned since the receptionist at the hotel had described it to us as “full of unnecessary things that you can buy”, but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure (so I’m told) and we’ve been tickled at several literal translations of turns of phrase, so it certainly warranted a first hand looksee either way.

Sight-seeing and shopping ticked off the day’s list, all that remained was to find more exotic fare to sample for dinner. We found a lovely little Turkish restaurant (although I suspect they just call them restaurants here), which was the first we’ve found with menus with pictures AND English translations of each dish’s name AND English descriptions of what each dish is.

We ended up with a chicken doner wrap and a kofte sandwich (which undersells the half baguette that arrived), with a Kunefe for pudding (deep fried angelhair pasta stuffed with white cheese and covered in a sort of syrup). A great way to end a long day!