Thursday, 24 May 2012

Rediscovering History at ANZAC Cove

With an early start, we made our way quickly to the enormous bus station in Istanbul with the intent to buy tickets to Çannakale, but as luck would have it the earliest seats available were not until 12.30pm… so, we did as we always did when faced with any adversity in the cold weather in Turkey, we sat down to enjoy a creamy salep in a café to wait.  We didn’t really know much about what our trip would entail, but after the buses in Africa, South America and Mexico – we felt a bit uneasy about boarding and finding out what the ‘bus experience’ in Turkey would entail.  Our fears were generally unfounded and the bus itself was quite good, they even had extremely shoddily installed TV screens in the seats (although all the shows were in Turkish, there was also a USB port – which Dave was sure that he could use, so next time we came prepared with our own shows).

We arrived 5 hours later in Çannakale, where the main attraction is to cross over the channel and do a tour of ANZAC cove, something Sarah had always wanted to do since her birthday is on ANZAC day.  Our tour started at 11.15am the next day so we explored the town that evening, for as long as the cold would allow. 

The next morning we took a ferry from Çannakale to Ecebat where we met up with two other Aussie’s and a NZ-er who were also doing the same tour.  The had come all the way from Istanbul that morning and we returning the same afternoon – it’s a crazy long day and none of them were particularly interested in the tour, they more just felt obliged to do it since they were in Turkey.  It created a bit of an unfortunate atmosphere as all they wanted to do was get back to Istanbul to continue the drinking games from the night before at their hostel and smoke more hookahs (despite the NZ’er coughing up black tar and looking grey from asphyxiation as she wondered out loud if 10 hookahs a night was too many…). 

Head stones for the fallen soldiers
Our tour guide, Canon, on the other hand was fantastic.  He had done tours with Bob Hawke, John Howard, Helen Clarke, and quite a few sports stars and American politicians as well.  He’s a retired teacher and an ANZAC history enthusiast and has flown to Australia on a couple of occasions to attend conferences and present his findings on the war.  He was a quietly spoken man who had an appearance of a professor who had passed his heyday.  He told us that after many years of researching both the Turkish and ANZAC accounts in order to gain a more complete and less romanticised version of events, he has been interviewed for many documentaries and films but sadly he is generally ignored, as the Australians and British prefer their way of telling history even if it’s not exactly accurate…

'The Fallen Soldier' statue
We managed to time our visit perfectly with the off-season, as during the peak there are up to 200 tour buses per day which herd people around, clogging up the entire bay – however, on the day we were there, we saw a total of 4 other tourists. 

It really made it special to experience the peninsula and cove in silence with the snow falling on the graves and in the trenches.  Most of the beach where the troops landed has been swallowed up by the ocean now and it’s hard to imagine that 86,000 men lost their lives there.  We came to the decision later that while standing on a football sized field that contained over 10,000 men who lost their lives in a matter of hours that perhaps the human mind just cannot comprehend such large numbers of dead as it’s too horrific, but the memorials with their engravings of the age of the soldier and date (often approximate) of death are a sobering reminder.  The entire experience was chilling and brought on chills to think how many fathers, brothers and sons perished due to human stupidity.

Monument to the Turkish soldiers
After ditching our disinterested friends for their bus back to Istanbul (the NZ’er, for the most part picked at her nails, yawning, while listening to the various atrocities), we defrosted on the ferry with a hot cup of chai and booked our next onward bus to Bergama for the following afternoon before relaxing over dinner and getting an early night so we could be up early to visit the ruins of Troy before our bus.

As per usual in Turkey, despite the early rise to get to Troy, the driver of the minibus didn’t want to leave until the it was full so we sat around for a long time and eventually made it to the site by 10.25am.  However, the site was still essentially empty except for one massive group of Japanese tourists who moved through so quickly you could have mistaken them for a swarm of locusts with cameras!

Troy's famous Trojan horse
While Troy wasn’t exactly the most fascinating of places we’d visited, it was interesting to see the place associated with the myth.  The fascinating part is that some of the ruins of Troy date back to 3000BC, and there are actually 9 cities of Troy which were built on top of one another, so the further down they dig the older the ruins get, and there’s still a lot of excavation work going on there.  Sadly, as it seems the case with most sites we visit – one particularly eager German “archaeologist” (Read: Gold digger) literally tore a trench through the middle of the ruins, destroying several layers of history in the search for gold.  While it wasn’t said outright, you had the feeling that he was a little mentally unstable!

Even with our late start we managed to get the 12pm bus back to town and rushed to collect our backpacks and grab a quick kebap before boarding our bus to Bergama. 

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