30 May 2012

Seagull kebabs, ancient ruins and an Irish bar….

The dates chosen to go to Thailand just so happened to coordinate with the Australian and New Zealand WWI commemorative holiday, ANZAC Day, on 25 April. This holiday marks the 97th anniversary of the New Zealand, Australian, British and French soldiers that embarked on a failed mission to take Istanbul. Nicole and I thought it would be an opportunity like no other.

It’s been a long time since I’d given any thought to the holiday. Back in the day, when I was a Girl Guide scout I attended the parades and services to remember the soldiers lost at war. After I left the group ANZAC Day was just one day I didn’t have to go to school and then work. The day was a chance to sleep in until the shops opened at midday then go to the forever advertised ANZAC sales.

Now there we were, looking at seriously attending the 2012 service. The search was on for a Turkey tour company. I began the search where else but on Google. Scouring the internet I was looking at the cheapest but unknown tour options. After not hearing back from any of those contacts, our search ended at Topdeck.

Topdeck: Trips for 18 to 30 somethings. Sounds like a civilised party… Unlike Contiki: Trips for people who want to not remember a thing about the trip!

I knew little about Topdeck or what their Turkey ANZAC tour had to offer so left it up Nicole. Turns out her travel agent friend was a big help (or maybe convinced us for commission) and voila! Trip booked. The credit card came out again and essentially I agreed to an eight day express tour of Istanbul to Bursa to Ephesus to Troy and to Gallipoli for the dawn service and back to Istanbul. I was happy.

Several months of saving later, and a wee detour to Thailand, we were in Turkey!

Turkey is home to over 74 million people, and is a transcontinental Eurasian country. Asian Turkey includes 97% of the country, separated from European Turkey by the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles. European Turkey comprises 3% of the country.

They say and when I say this I mean our local guide said: Turkey is a country of the four seasons, the north faces the wintery snowy mountains, the east deals with the dry crunchy leaves of fall, the south brings the summer beach resort and the west has the all-inclusive sometimes rain but mainly shine spring.

Istanbul was developed to become one of the most significant cities in history, and one reason the British thought it necessary to invade Turkey’s borders in 1915. For nearly sixteen centuries following its reestablishment as Constantinople in 330 AD, Istanbul served as the capital of four empires — the late classical Roman Empire (330–395), the Eastern Roman ("Byzantine") Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922).

Although the Republic of Turkey established its capital elsewhere, in Ankara, fragments of Istanbul's previous central role still remain visible across the city, with Ottoman palaces and imperial mosques lining the hills.

To sum up the time spent in Turkey:

T is for Topdeck. They know their stuff, they are organised and they're there to make sure you have the best trip possible. It’s all true. We also had the best trip leader and guide and even a ninja bus driver! Perks for going with a company like Topdeck is the connections they have made with local bars and restaurants. The best night we had out was in Kusadasi at Kitty O’Shea, an Irish bar! Free popcorn bar snacks flying everywhere, trippy light show, bar staff doing a strip tease, special cocktail served in a HUGE jug, music to dance your butt off to, and free shirts that say “They say I was in Kusadasi but I can’t remember.”

U is for Uncles, in my case Great Uncles. I found out I had two relatives that died on the Gallipoli peninsula. My father’s paternal grandfather Mick and his two brothers Edward and Klein fought in the war. Mick and Edward both embarked from Wellington to Suez, Egypt where the infantry trained. Both survived, Edward was wounded a number of times, once by the falling of a bomb proof shelter. Klein was killed in action 8th August 1915 age 21 at Chunuk Bair. My father’s maternal grandfather’s brother William was also killed in action 8th August 1915 age 22 at Chunuk Bair.

R is for ruins. From Ephesus to Pergamon to Troy. These ancient ruins were my main highlight. Perhaps not so much of Troy since there is nothing left to see in the overgrown meadow except some stones in a semi formation. Ephesus however, was above my expectations. Simply put: beautiful. Pergamon was very much the same: a stunner.

K is for kebab. The old favourite doner kebab, greasy roasted meat cooked on a vertical spit. A classic after-a-night-of-drinking snack. Now a 3.00Turkey Lira kebab (just over NZ$2.00) is well very cheap! Cheap in comparison toNZ$7.00 you would normally pay. At that price a kebab will always go down well…but not after a couple of days of eating said cheap kebab to then find out the “chicken” may contain seagull!

E is for EFES. Starting with a man selling the beer on a boat quickly turned into the group anthem. This man, who could barely speak English, walked around the deck with a tray full of beer cans shouting “Efes! Efes! Efes?” You couldn’t say no. After that it grew like wildfire and we would all chant “EFES!” On the way to ANZAC Cove our group number sign became an   “EFES?!” sign. This sign even photo bombed Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard!

Y is for you will never forget. This was a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to the Western Front. Lest we forget.