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Posts from the ‘Turkey’ Category

Hello & goodbye (wet old) Manchester

I awoke with a start in my Istanbul hotel room half an hour after my alarm went off – I was too tired to hear it. The shower idea was scrapped as I hurried to get myself and my luggage respectable and downstairs in time for the 5.15am airport transfer. Dad was a bit more organised. So much for me giving him a knock on the door to make sure he was awake.

During the wait for our 8am flight we cleared out our remaining Turkish coins. Mundane fact: bottle of water from the food outlet 2.50 TL; bottle of water from the dispensing machine 1 TL.

I surprised myself by staying awake for the whole flight which was long enough for me to watch almost two movies. Not sure Mike would support getting out the dvd for the romantic comedy that I could not finish due to the rude interruption of landing in Manchester. The breakfast options weren’t great (though on the whole I thought Turkish Airlines were pretty good) so I was starving by the time we touched down.

And even more hungry by the time we made it through all the immigration queuing. I had also acquired a meaty headache on the flight and did my best not to look suspicious under the gaze of immigration officials as I shuffled around in discomfort.

Mum was meeting us at the airport and she turned up not long after we did, which was well timed since dad and I were about an hour later than expected. The English weather was at that stage dry but cold. Though rain was out there lurking.

Back from Turkey, we are hardly the epitome of fresh and vibrant (sorry dad, speaking for myself there)

From the airport we picked up the rental car that we would use for the next 17 days. The woman at the counter did an upgrade job on us and I’m not convinced we made the right decision, but for a small additional amount each day we got a Mercedes sedan. Automatic and diesel. Neither of these are my normal preference, and while I am doing the bulk of the driving, if mum and dad get behind the wheel an automatic is what they now drive back at home, and the lady said that diesel was so much more efficient and we should in theory need to fill up less often. OK then.

After more paperwork and a lengthy wait for the car to turn up, and after solving a couple of mysteries (where does the GPS plug into? how does the handbrake work? how do we get out of this &*$! carpark?) we were finally on our way. Albeit not very far.

Our ride. I do dislike the sticky-uppy Mercedes bonnet badges. Why can’t they lie them flat for goodness sake?

We were staying just out of Manchester in a nice, traditional b&b in Eccles. Mum chose this because a Coronation Street scene was filmed there. At this point it probably goes without saying that mum rather likes Coronation St.

Dad on the other hand was not keen to stay in such close proximity to where Coronation St is made. But, Manchester happens to be the city in which his grandmother was born. So he could cope with being there one night.

The b&b

The rest of the afternoon was mostly relaxing at the b&b, though I did venture out to satisfy my fix for chocolate and an energy drink. The weather also relaxed and decided to get a bit rubbish.

We ventured out for dinner locally, to an Italian restaurant. Being there was a mix of entertainment and feeling uncomfortable as our waitress, who we thought was lovely, got repeated bollockings from the proprietor, a gruff elderly Italian man who sat in the corner.

Mmmm, spag bol

In the remaining daylight we went in search of the house where dad’s grandmother was born. This was only partially successful.

Great Grandma Hilda lived in this street when she was born, in the row of brown houses but her house is no longer there

The next morning it was still actively damp. I suppose we had to strike ‘English weather’ sooner or later. We could afford an hour or two in Manchester before heading south. Off we zoomed, in noisy diesel fashion, to The Quays where we roamed around in the car until things of interest popped up.

A quick view at the grand home of Man U

Some of the great old brick industrial buildings around

Top of the striking Imperial War Museum North building. No time to go in properly unfortunately, but I did zip round the gift shop having loved the shop at the IWM in London

And that was it! I’m sure Manchester has more to offer but again, that was our schedule.

Onward to Bath!

Istanbul finale

At dinner during our second and final night at the Gallipoli Houses we got talking to an American couple and the Aussie motorcycle touring bloke. By a stroke of good fortune, the couple were also going back to Istanbul in the morning – in the van with guide and driver, a package which they had hired for a week – and offered us a ride.

I thought about this. A direct ride back to Istanbul. Or, a taxi ride to Eceabat, some waiting time for a bus, a 5 hour bus ride to Istanbul, and half hour in another taxi, probably 180TL all up. Yes please, a ride would be great!!

Dinner was delicious by the way, cooked by the wife of the Belgian couple who run the hotel. There was a dish that I will try to replicate back at home though I don’t think this should be too much cause for concern for Mike. Probably.

Dad seems to be enjoying his Turkish beer

In the morning we were gone by about 8am. It was a shame to be leaving Gallipoli so soon but that was the schedule and I had achieved my (our) goal of seeing the battlefields. I would like to return one day, though the reality is that there’s so much else to see in the world it is hard to justify returning somewhere you’ve already been. Part of me would like to go to the 2015 commemorations; the other part would simply abhor all the crowds!

Leaving the Gallipoli Houses. Definitely recommend this place to anyone thinking of visiting Gallipoli

They were a nice semi-retired couple and we chatted much of the way. The seats were facing each other with Dad and I looking back down the road. I was a little worried about this as I seem to have gradually acquired a greater sensitivity to motion as I’ve gotten older. Luckily I felt fine, until we got to Istanbul where the roads and driving style started to make their mark felt. But I hung in there!

We arrived probably a couple of hours earlier than we would otherwise have. Our good fortune continued because they were staying at a hotel which was pretty close to ours, so it wasn’t far for us to haul our bags.

After a breather, dad and I met back up for some late lunch / early dinner and to tick off another couple of must-sees which we didn’t get to do the other day.

We returned to one of the cafes we ate at the other day where they have a resident cat. Most people have cat photos from Istanbul I think on account of how many you tend to come across

The trams were a bit freaky – when you cross the road you have to watch out for trams as well as normal vehicles and as you can see, you wouldn’t want to accidentally step off the footpath

First was the Hippodrome – a must see because it is freeeee! I like free things. The building no longer exists but there are a couple of interesting columns still in place and you get a feel for the size the thing was (480m x 117m!). Tourists in this area seem to be a magnet for traders of various kinds and we both got hit up here.

The Hippodrome; well, most of what remains today at least

Beware visitors to the Hippodrome area! Unless you object strongly and walk away you will in no time flat find yourself having your shoes shined for which you will be charged 25 TL

We continued on to the Grand Bazaar, one of the biggest covered markets in the world and a trading centre since 1461. We didn’t have time to linger indefinitely so didn’t venture too far; just a few streets in to have a bit of a look and tick off some items on a short shopping list. It’s a very impressive building and is lucky to have withstood various earthquakes and fires.

On the walk to the Grand Bazaar it was difficult to ignore the interesting trees growing in the narrow streets

The bazaar was indeed grand

There was a bit of time to kill before the final activity so we adjourned to the hotel. I booked us on a night time bus tour, to not only see a bit more of the city but hopefully also some nice night time cityscapes.

On the bus waiting for the tour to start. The 7pm departure became 7.35pm as they waited for more seats to be filled, so we observed half an hour of them trying to drum up more business – I found this frustrating

Just a scene from the bus as we twiddled our thumbs waiting to get underway

I didn’t realise that the two hour tour stopped half way for an hour and I didn’t really want to muck around with a late night ahead of the early start the next morning. But I’d already bought the tickets by that stage. And the tour was reasonably worthwhile, though dad would probably say it wasn’t! We should have taken more warm layers as the cool night air and wind on top of the bus made it freezing. By that stage the inside part of the bus was full. For the second part the plastic sides of the bus had been lowered so it was much more tolerable.

The only decent night photo I could muster was from the iPhone. This is taken from Camlica Hill where the tour stopped for an hour so that you could go and spend some more money at one of the eating places

And that brought our short time in Turkey to an end. Thankfully that big earthquake that is predicted sometime in the next 30 years didn’t strike during our visit. While I’d like to return to Gallipoli, I can’t say the same for Istanbul. There are other parts of Turkey I would like to go to – who knows when that is likely to happen!

The next morning we were off back to England to find mum and continue our travels.

Gallipoli battlefields tour (part 2)

With tummies filled to capacity we continued the tour, this segment focusing on the ridges. A quick photo stop at this monument was first up. It depicts a supposed event, though there are numerous examples of compassionate interludes to the fighting on record. It is nice to hear about these human elements in an otherwise dismal place.

This monument depicts a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded British soldier back to the Allied trench. It was inspired by a speech in 1967 by the Australian Governor of the time who had served at Gallipoli

This flower is called the Gallipoli Rose

The Lone Pine Cemetery and Memorial is especially significant for Australians and is where the Australian Anzac Day service is held. We were there on May 7th, 12 days after Anzac Day, and temporary seating was still being dismantled. New Zealand has four Memorials to the Missing at Gallipoli, believing soldiers should be remembered close to where they fell. The Lone Pine memorial lists 708 Kiwis; sadly the number of names at Chunuk Bair tops this.

Lone Pine Cemetery is predominantly Australian (there is one identified NZer) though it is home to one of the NZ Memorials to the Missing

We continued making our way along the ridge.

Remains of Anzac trenches just along from Lone Pine. The distance to the Turkish trenches was often surprisingly short

Johnston’s Jolly Cemetery, named for an Australian commander, is an area taken on April 25th but lost the following day. One Kiwi is definitely buried here but there may be others

Mr Çelik drove us down a side road he said is very rarely visited by his compatriots. The grave of a Turkish lieutenant-colonel is there (there are a small handful of isolated Turkish graves on the peninsula) and down in the gully is a mass grave. The majority of Turkish soldiers were not identified and just buried together in mass graves.

Steps leading down to where there is a Turkish soldier mass grave

Back up on the main road we stopped at the Turkish 57th Regiment Cemetery. This is a fairly grand site, on sloping land, topped by a large memorial at the top and smaller ones at the bottom. Given my previous comment about the mass graves, it is maybe not surprising that this is a ‘representational’ cemetery and features the names of soldiers from that regiment who died. The site was busy with visiting Turkish people.

Turkish 57th Infantry Regiment Memorial Park. The cemetery is symbolic

It was a very good thing we were not attempting the tour the day before (Sunday) as Mr Celik said that the roads were clogged with buses. The Chunuk Bair area is very popular due to the numerous Turkish memorials on it, particularly on 18 March which is the main day for Turkish people to commemorate the campaign.

A little further up the road we detoured a short way off to the left. At the end here was a lookout down over a gully to North Beach and south, Walker’s Ridge Cemetery, more trenches, and The Nek Cemetery.

View over Mule Gully toward Ari Burnu

Walker’s Ridge Cemetery, named after Brigadier-General Harold Walker who was in command of New Zealand infantry forces at the landing. His HQ was roughly in this area

Allied trenches in between Walker’s Ridge and The Nek Cemeteries. They were the most authentic we saw with the remains of wood reinforcement and barbed wire still plainly visible

The Nek was a particularly bloody battlefield. Over 300 soldiers are buried here and the very small number of headstones attest to the number of identifications that could be made

View of Suvla Bay from The Nek Cemetery

We parked near Chunuk Bair and walked.

Five huge stone tablets formed the Turkish Conkbayırı Memorial, just along from Chunuk Bair

A little further on we came to the New Zealand cemetery and memorial. As Lone Pine is to Australia, Chunuk Bair is to New Zealand. The New Zealand Anzac Day service is held here, around the big battlefield memorial. In the cemetery rests 632 men, only a few of which were identified. 850 names are on the Memorial to the Missing.

I had really been looking forward to Chunuk Bair and it may have been more significant to me than Anzac Cove. It seemed fitting that our Anzac sector tour would finish here.

I knew that there was a Turkish memorial close to the New Zealand memorial but I didn’t appreciate that this would mean the place would be crawling with huge numbers of Turkish people. Which in itself is fine – it is great they wish to visit these places of significance – but for me, compared with most of the other sites, the crowds and noise detracted from the visit.

Plus they were also still dismantling the Anzac Day seating here too, which added to the distraction.

The cemetery, located a short distance away down the hill, was more peaceful. The Memorial to the Missing features the name of one of my relations, a second cousin twice removed, which we found.

There’s a lot going on at the Chunuk Bair site

Dad reading the Memorial to the Missing at Chunuk Bair

Chunuk Bair Cemetery. The big space with very few headstones tells a sad story

Inscription on the Chunuk Bair Memorial, with my poppy

As we left I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. Back in the car we looped round the next ridge and back down.

At one point we got a good view down to Kocadere, where we were staying

There was 20km or so to drive to the end of the peninsula where the Helles memorial is. While it was interesting to get the geographical perspective, the main purpose of the visit was to photograph a name for one of dad’s cousins. The cousin was lucky as we found that the memorial is part way through a three year renovation and the name in question was just about out of sight behind the fence.

One side of the big Cape Helles Memorial cenotaph (the side that was in the sun mentioned the Anzacs). The memorial also consists of a sizeable walled enclosure on which is inscribed far, far too many names. The site acknowledges the involvement of the whole British Empire at Gallipoli

Not far away is V Beach so we had a look over that.

Looking over V Beach, one of the main landing places for the British in the Cape Helles campaign. The cemetery is just back off the beach. A WWII gun emplacement is visible in the foreground

And then we were about done so drove back to Kocadere. It had been a fantastic day and so worth the trip to Turkey. We could not have wished for a better guide and I would highly recommend Mr Çelik. I purchased a guidebook (from the Book Depository website) which we found very useful, Gallipoli: A guide to New Zealand battlefields and memorials, by Ian McGibbon.

NZ soldiers sent to Gallipoli: 8556
NZ fatal casualties: 2721

“Gallipoli, too beautiful a place to die.”

Gallipoli battlefields tour (part 1)

Another bluebird day dawned. We breakfasted in the hotel and filled in time before our guide arrived at 9.30am. During my research I came across a recommendation for Mr Kenan Çelik, and, being some months out, I was able to secure his services for a full day private tour. He is one of Turkey’s leading experts on the Gallipoli campaign and is sought after by visiting Government delegations. I figured he’d be pretty alright.

Fortunately Mr Çelik also offered his car if necessary. I think most people who tour the battlefields have their own rental vehicle, but the during my reading it had been emphasised that driving in Turkey should be avoided! So yes, we would be needing his car as well as his knowledge. It cost 140 EUR for a full day tour, plus 100 EUR for his car.

Mr Çelik arrived while we chatted to an Aussie bloke who was on a motorcycle tour for several months.

The peninsula is split roughly into three battlefield sectors: Cape Helles at the end, Anzac in the middle (also known as Gaba Tepe), and Suvla Bay to the north. You can spend days going around them all on account of how many battlegrounds and cemeteries there are. But we had one day. Being Kiwis we were mainly interested in the Anzac places of interest and Mr Çelik has a fairly standard tour outline focusing on this sector, which excluded Helles and Suvla. I had requested one alteration, to go to Cape Helles, as I had been asked to photograph a name on the memorial out there.

Our tour began.

Our guide, Kenan Çelik, giving us an overview of the campaign

Mr Çelik likes to provide balance and we would visit several Turkish sites in amongst all the others. Our first stop was the village of Bigali, significant because Colonel Mustafa Kemal Atatürk lived there and left from there on the morning of 25 April 1915 to fight the Anzacs. Atatürk later became founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey and is revered in the country. His house in Bigali is now a museum, which we had a look through.

Public space in the middle of Bigali, with mural of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on one of the buildings

The first NZ stop of the day was the Hill 60 cemetery and memorial, a few hundred metres off the road up a bumpy old track. This is in the northern Anzac sector, heading out toward Suvla Bay. Hill 60 is believed to have been a particularly futile battle on account of it being fairly unimportant ground and the cost with which the relatively low gains (some trenches) were won.

Hill 60 Cemetery, the most important Gallipoli site for NZ north of the main Anzac sector. It contains one of the four NZ Memorials to the Missing

Mike and I saw several Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in 2010 on the western front and the Gallipoli cemeteries had very much the same flavour. All beautifully maintained and cared for. A common feature is that the majority of soldiers who gave their lives were not identified. Many headstones bear the words “believed to be buried in this cemetery”. Even more names are listed on the Memorials to the Missing. This sad fact is understandable given these were battlefields and given the dire nature of the battles and often the conditions in which they were fought.

I also had a personal mission during the Hill 60 visit.

I have included this photo so that Josh and Flynn can see the two poppies I left at Hill 60, from them and their dad, for Mike’s first cousin four times removed, Second Lieutenant Desmond Kettle. Incidentally, also in the same list of names is Helen Clark’s (ex NZ PM) great uncle

We stopped at the 7th Field Ambulance Cemetery and New Zealand No. 2 Outpost Cemetery. Near the latter is Maori Hill, so called because the NZ Maori Contingent took position there.

New Zealand No. 2 Outpost Cemetery

Maori Hill (Turkish flag now at the top!) with the Fishermans’ Cottage on its slopes. The cottage is still standing from 1915; back then it was a well known landmark being the only building in the area

By now we were heading along North Beach. The Canterbury Cemetery is there along with good views to the hills above and around/across the bay.

The Canterbury cemetery is the final resting place of 26 Kiwis, mostly from the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, and one unidentified solider

The Sphinx was a prominent landmark in 1915 and still stands out today. Erosion is very gradually taking its toll on the surrounding cliffs and ridges

From above North Beach looking toward the point which is home to Ari Burnu Cemetery. Beyond that is Anzac Cove

Looking above North Beach over the Agean Sea

North Beach is also where the big dawn service is now held each Anzac Day. The Anzacs landed around the corner but North Beach has more space to cater for the huge crowds that now head to this remote location for April 25th. The area still didn’t seem big enough to fit in the thousands of people it does, so I can only guess they’re wedged in there like sardines! At the end of this short TVNZ video is a quick view of what it’s like on this one big morning each year.

Dad and I at the Anzac commemorative site at North Beach

I asked Mr Çelik if he had been lined up for the 100th anniversary commemorations in 2015. While he had been approached he had not committed to anything as it was too far out and he might die!

At the southern end of North Beach, and the northern end of Anzac Cove, is Ari Burnu Cemetery. This is where the Anzac Day dawn service used to be held until 2000. Over 250 identified soldiers lie here including 35 Kiwis. It is the best place to access Anzac Cove due to the incline further along.

Ari Burnu Cemetery. We could see why the Anzac Day dawn service outgrew this location

Ari Burnu has a beautiful location next to the beach

And finally we reached Anzac Cove, where Australian and New Zealand troops landed. While the Aussies came ashore at dawn, hence Anzac Day dawn service, the first Kiwis did not land until a few hours later. The toll of nature is very evident here when you see old photos – in 1915 the beach was much wider and less stony.

Anzac Cove. A few poppies had been left on the sign including one from dad

Anzac Cove is just a narrow strip of beach now

Along from this is Beach Cemetery, where about 20 identified New Zealanders and 280 Aussies are buried. Another very beautiful place.

Beach Cemetery, as you might guess it too is next to the beach

An inscription noting that the landing spot on 25/4/15 was nearby

It was afternoon by now and we were half way through. Lunch and some respite from the sun was needed – and achieved!

Mr Çelik placing our lunch order, a few dishes for sharing. There was so much food I felt a bit unwell afterwards but it was really delicious

Due to the amount of ground covered during the nine hour tour I have split this post. Part two to follow.

Staying in a Turkish village

We were staying in Kocadere, a small rural village in the Gallipoli National Park and on the doorstep of the WW1 battlefields. Before the war it had been the largest village on the peninsula; today apparently it is the smallest. Civilian evacuations before the battles and the later destruction of the village took their toll. I went walkabout to have a look.

The village has been rebuilt though it is a shadow of its former self.

A central paved area has appeared in recent years as part of a regional project I think to acknowledge important features of the Turkish war effort. In this village there had been a Turkish field hospital.

Monument for the Turkish field hospital that was located near here

There wasn’t anyone else around until a couple of vehicles rattled in returning villagers who looked a bit grubby from a day in the crops. I continued, really just following my nose.

On the outskirts of the village I found a cemetery.

Later I learned that Turkey has snakes and one shouldn’t wander into bush. But at that time I was blissfully ignorant and walked along a sort of path through the low lying scrub for a closer look at some of the headstones.

I guess it is the local style to have graves scattered amongst the scrub

A rustling noise began on the ground to my left. Not a good noise, I thought. I couldn’t help but investigate. Luckily it was a good kind of surprise.

Tortoise! (Or turtle?)

Time to return to the hotel. So far I had seen evidence of cats, dogs, chooks and a rooster. The rooster was crowing throughout the afternoon. We were a tad concerned for the morning.

The view in front of our rooms. Animals oddly absent from this frame

This guy could crow

Time for another poppy pic!

The nazar is an important symbol in Turkey to ward off the evil eye. You see it pretty much everywhere. Our rooms had these lamps.

Surely that many nazars would do the trick

Earlier on I had remembered that there were no eating places in the village and the hotel doesn’t offer dinner on a Saturday or Sunday. As it was Sunday we were in a slight pickle. In between the bus and taxi rides down in Eceabat, I found a corner store and grabbed a non-healthy array of snacks that would have to do us for dinner.

Healthy dinner! But how could I not buy the two things that were very nearly my name?

Just about all of Turkey’s population is Muslim. One of the features from Istanbul which presumably happens in all Turkish settlements is the call to prayer. This happens five times a day. Kocadere has a mosque and I heard the chants broadcast from the minaret at roughly 5.12pm, 8.47pm and 9.55pm. In Istanbul I heard them at 1.12pm, 5ish-pm and 9.47pm. The times change depending on the sun and signal the start of a window of time during which prayers should be made.

During the call to prayer, the dogs would start howling.

Loud speakers (very effective, I can report) on the minaret

I watched the sun set over the ridge in front of the hotel. An early night seemed inevitable for dad in his room given the lack of distractions, though blog activities kept me up late in mine. We needed a good sleep for the long day ahead touring the battlefields.

The sun sets over the third ridge of the Anzac sector. Our guide said the following day that what we could see on the hill from our hotel was the Turkish headquarters

Getting to Gallipoli

To get to Gallipoli we were taking the bus; to take the bus we needed to get to the main bus station servicing destinations outside the city. The day before I learned that this was not walking distance. There was a tram line, but we would need to change and having seen how crammed the trams were, and with our bags, it sounded like public transport hell.

So, taxi it was. After another hotel breakfast we checked out and waited. In typical Istanbul traffic fashion, the taxi that arrived was then hemmed in between a bus and a couple of trucks so some manoeuvring was necessary before we could go anywhere.

Otogar Esenler was further out than I realised – the taxi ride must’ve lasted about half an hour. (No, not really walking distance.) While dad snapped photos out the window, I was wondering if we weren’t just going on a joy ride and worrying a little about what the fare would be.

We did drive past part of the massive old Constantinople city wall though, which was amazing to see. Big and long.

With some relief we made it to the bus station, having to go through a ticket gate which whacked another 5TL onto the price – 50TL in total thank you. Oh well at least we were there.

The otogar was a big centre of maybe 50 bus companies and there was only one which had regular hourly departures to where we wanted to go. Thank gawd I had worked out with a guy at the hotel which company this was. We went there and bought two tickets to Eceabat (Eh-chah-bat) at 45TL each. Due to magic pixies at work in the universe, the next bus was getting ready to depart so on we hopped and found our allocated seats.

I’d heard the buses were comfortable and this was the case, big Mercedes coaches with not-too-bad legroom. It was a five hour journey and I wanted dad to be reasonably comfortable. They provided refreshments which was a nice bonus.

Time ticked by ok. I was keen to see the landscape and managed this in and around tiredness and the lingering headache. With the often bumpy road it was difficult to sleep anyway.

More rapeseed crops – that stuff is everywhere!

Lunch stop somewhere along the way

The driver had an interesting thingy dangling from his rear view mirror

The bus destination was Canakkale, the last stretch of a journey requiring a ferry ride across the Dardanelles from the village of Eceabat. But Eceabat was as far as dad and I would go.

The bus let dad and I and bags out then boarded the ferry to Canakkale

War monument on the Eceabat waterfront

I left dad in charge of bags while I scoped out ATM, snacks (which would have to do us for dinner), and taxi.

We trudged over toward where I’d seen taxies and gave a driver heading toward us a bit of a raised-eyebrow-nod which I hoped conveyed yes we wouldn’t mind a lift thanks. Expecting some basic stilted communication we were instead greeted with “hello, can I help you?” You certainly can. After explaining where we wanted to go he said oh yes the proprietor was his friend. The ride was about 10 minutes and we got some local information on the way. Possibly we paid for this knowledge as the fare at 40TL was almost as much as the longer ride that morning. Ah well.

We arrived in the village of Kocadere, home to the Gallipoli Houses accommodation. I had found this place while conducting research and it sounded great, not to mention based on the back door of the battlefields.

And it exceeded my expectations – after the journey it had been to get there it was like finding an oasis. A really well thought out site with nicely presented units and fantastic outlook to the third ridge of the battlefields where the Anzacs were largely based. And wifi!! In fact I was buzzing so much about everything it was a few hours before I realised there was no television. Which was fine by me – dad, not so sure!

I had been excited to see from the bus wild poppies growing on the sides of the road. And the final perfect touch with the accommodation were its own poppy bushes.

Taken just outside our units. I was looking forward very much to two nights here!

I got settled in and went to investigate the village in the warm afternoon sun.

24 hours in Istanbul

After a few hours sleep I met dad for the buffet breakfast provided by the hotel. I suspected that food in Turkey would be something of a challenge for him, but he got on with it. Not that it was necessarily a doddle for me. But fortified in some way, we met again a short time later to start our walkabout.

Out hotel was in the old city on Istanbul’s historic peninsula, very close to the big old-city attractions. I didn’t really have my bearings so we started off before I realised we probably needed to be walking in the opposite direction. I seem to be doing that a bit recently. There was no particular plan for the order in which to see things as I was still working out where everything was.

One of dad’s snaps. Guide Rangi (in his words) leading the way. More a case of the blind leading the blind!

Because we probably we didn’t look like we knew where we were going, a man approached us. Polite conversation ensued and he was helpful in that he did point out the three sites in our immediate vicinity. And after we see them, perhaps we would like to visit his carpet shop just over there? Ahhh, I realised in my head. It begins. No, we don’t want to buy any carpet. Why? Surely you wouldn’t want to leave without buying a quintessential part of Turkey? Actually I’m ok with that. Dad and I thanked him for his offer and managed to extricate ourselves.

We walked to the very nearby Blue Mosque, a big beautiful blue-tinged rounded building with the large minarets poking up. We would see many, many more of those before our time in Turkey would be up.

The Blue Mosque – an impactful building from the outside as well

We wandered, looking for the way in. Another man approached us, pointing out where to go. He also said the queues were very long and the mosque was closing in an hour for prayer, but he could show us how to get in without queuing. (We would see later in the day that guided tours go straight in and many guides would walk up and down the lines touting their services. Some found business like this.) We declined our guy’s offer and I added that we were also not interested in any carpet which hadn’t been mentioned at that point. Nonetheless it was true and we had more questioning about why we would even contemplate not buying some beautiful genuine Turkish carpet while we have the opportunity.

Having finally disconnected from that conversation we queued for the Blue Mosque. We read the signs which said that men can’t wear shorts. Dad was wearing shorts. But this was ok as he was given a skirt to wear; a lovely blue wrap skirt which covered those offending knees. No doubt he wasn’t the most comfortable man in Istanbul at that point but to his credit he went along with it.

I was wearing a long skirt and t-shirt and had a scarf with me which I had thought may need to be worn over my head. But as we walked in, barefoot by this stage, the lady said I needed to cover my arms. So that is what I did with the scarf.

The Blue Mosque is stunning (also no cost to go inside). My photos are not good enough to do it justice but they are a reminder if nothing else. The mosque is still used for prayer but that it was closing in an hour was in fact a crock. That scoundrel. We joined the hundreds of other tourists inside milling around gawping, mostly at the amazing stuff above our heads.

Tons of people and even in such a big place it was quite congested

Beautiful ceilings

Part of the floor we weren’t allowed on

We re-entered the hot sunny Istanbul day. Even at this relatively early hour it was a mad place, and would get more and more busy as the day went on. Yes it’s a big city with an enormous population but it is also a massive travel destination, indicated by the kajillions of other foreigners doing what we were doing. We had also landed this big sightseeing day on a Saturday which I’m sure compounded matters.

I looked at the queue for the Hagia Sophia, spitting distance away, and foolishly said nah let’s come back later. Instead we went across the road to the Basilica Cistern, also very close by. At 10 TL (Turkish Lira or about NZ$7) this was the least expensive paid attraction we would go to.

The Cistern was developed as a backup water source for the city. Once discovered, it was given a jolly good clean out and walkways installed so that people could come and see it. It is subterranean so you walk downstairs into a dark, cool, damp but massive space. It was fantastic.

The Basilica Cistern. The area was many times as big as this

A decorative column

We bit the bullet for Hagia Sophia and of course by now the queue was much longer. Much of it also required standing in the sun – it was a mid-20s day, so rather warm for Kiwis. Not so much for the locals. While the ticket line took a really long time, there was always stuff to look at. I have no idea how the muslim women cope in the heat in their full length coverings. The black things are bad enough in the sun, but other women wore full length coats over top of their skirts etc. And colourful headscarves. No wonder loads of them were sitting in the shade.

In amongst all the people watching I had many inviting offers. Did I want to buy a guide book / guided tour / Turkish hat / spinning top on a string? No, no, no, no.

Muslim women enjoy some shade in Sultanahmet Square, the Blue Mosque poking up behind

A street vendor. Grilled corn on the cob is a common snack

Finally I was able to fork out 25TL each and we went on in. Aya Sofya used to be a basilica and later a mosque but is now categorised as a museum. It was breathtaking in size and scale. Just amazing. Enormous, and beautiful (unlike in my opinion the outer view of the building).

The lights were suspended on long wires from the ceiling so far above our heads and the wires were actually a bit distracting, but in photos the lights just seem to float.

Inside Hagia Sophia. It really was an omg moment

You could also walk up a lengthy stone ramp to the gallery where you had an elevated view of what was apparently the world’s largest enclosed space for 1000+ years

Topkapi Palace was next up, being just behind Hagia Sophia. How convenient of the old city to be so compact. We scoped out the lay of the land but I didn’t want to attempt it on an empty stomach. Plus by then I had acquired a juicy headache. We trotted down the hill and picked an al fresco restaurant in good view of the palace outer wall.

I don’t much care about acquiring food experiences while travelling. Food allergies are a hassle to try and work around but even before I became aware of those, I was basically unadventurous and fussy with food. And I’m ok with that. But I still wanted more from our time in Turkey than western looking food outlets or meals. And I was happy to find that among the staples of Turkish cuisine is meat and fresh veg. Also bread, though I tried to moderate that given gluten considerations. In our short stay in the country it was breakfast that was the trickiest given the food options typical of that; other meals were easier. So we had a good lunch.

Big meals, but fresh and good

Returning to the palace meant going back up the hill. I joined another long line to purchase two 25L tickets, amused for a time by a heated argument a couple were having with one of the staff. Dad went to find shade.

There were a couple of armed military guards decorating the entry to the palace. While not initially sure why that was the case, given some of the invaluable items on display in the complex it’s probably not surprising. One was happy to let dad take his photo; the other not so.

Inside the outer wall of the palace

Looks a bit like a palace? Once you’ve paid your dues in the queue, the archway is where you should go

We wandered around. A few of the buildings had been turned into museums with display cases of stuff – we queued just because we were there and may as well see them. We found we queued for far longer than it took to rip round the displays.

There was heaps of this sort of imagery which I love

So far I was a bit underwhelmed. One part of the palace which I had missed seeing but which had been highly recommended was the Harem. We retraced our footsteps and there it was – another ticket queue. Sigh. Dad wanted to sit this one out so I left him in the shade with an orange juice. I think this was 10TL. And it was the highlight of the palace for me. Such an interesting building, not to mention background, and the route led you on a surprisingly long route from room to corridor to room to courtyard to room etc. What stood out for me most of all was the painted tiles – so many beautiful patterns and colours. I wish I’d taken more photos of those!

Beautiful stained glass windows in one of the harem rooms

Absolutely loved all the tiles

I found dad and joined him for another OJ. We were both really tired and achy one way or another, so it was time to go back to the hotel for a rest. I didn’t like to waste time doing this but it was a physical necessity – and I knew there should be another few hours when we got back to Istanbul in a couple of days.

Turkish delight kindly provided in the hotel room

We met up again in the evening and went for a walk, mainly to find dinner somewhere but ended up walking to part of the waterfront. Congested traffic produced a fairly constant beeping of horns and people where everywhere, many going to or exiting from the ferries across the Bosphorous River. We watched it all for a time, including the last of the sun setting over the city behind us, before finding dinner.

Another of dad’s snaps from a footbridge near the ferry terminals

The end of a good day. While I wasn’t that ‘at one’ with Istanbul, I loved being somewhere so historical and with fantastic larger than life reminders of the ancient past on my doorstep. No time to stand still though, tomorrow we were off to Gallipoli. I didn’t appreciate just how much phaffing that would entail!

The road to Turkey

It was the day after dad’s birthday with a big day of travel ahead – but not all together. Dad and I were off to Turkey and mum was heading to the Newcastle area. We would all meet up in Manchester in a few days.

About to leave the b&b

Turkey is perhaps an odd side trip to make in the midst of UK travels. It has been a long time goal of mine to go to Gallipoli because of its significance to NZ’s identity and also because of my interest in military conflict history. I decided to take the opportunity of tacking it to this trip somehow, especially as Mike has already been.

With the way the Scotland/England itinerary was shaping up, I would either have to take an extra week off work and go to Turkey at the beginning or end, or find some way of wedging it into the UK stuff. The latter it was: after St Andrews mum wanted to stay with a friend and this was an opportunity for me to shoot off.

While tossing around these plans, mum mentioned that dad seemed interested about seeing Gallipoli too. Long story short, he and I would ditch mum for five nights to go to Turkey. I would shout him the Gallipoli segment of this adventure for his birthday. Done.

So on May 4th we left St Andrews, initially just for Leuchars not far away. There we turfed out mum at the train station where she would organise to get down to Newcastle. Dad and I continued north in their rental car.

Our Turkey flight was leaving from Manchester later in the day and an internal flight was the best way to get to Manchester. The only workable option for this was to fly from Aberdeen, a bit over two hours away.

I had taken over our TomTom and just on this first day it proved its worth. Dario Franchitti was calling out the directions which was appropriate since he is Scottish.

We made it in good time. This would be as far north as I would go on this trip

It all went pretty clockwork. We dropped the car off, caught the first hour-long flight and made it to Manchester with time to kill. Going through the UK airports we twice experienced the drill of removing jackets, shoes, belts, as well as the usual things that go through the security check.

A lengthy wait here in Manchester. They even weighed hand luggage

The flight to Istanbul was with Turkish Airlines and took less than four hours.

Dad couldn’t sit still in any of my photo attempts

It was around 11pm when we arrived and walking into the arrivals area was a bit overwhelming: big crowd of people and dozens of cards being held up for people being met. I was looking for one such card and had to walk up and down a couple of times before finding our driver. It seemed a 20-30 minute drive to our hotel and for the time of day it was busy – though it was Friday night. And the city has a population approaching 20 million people. That’s big.

At our hotel, around midnight by now, we found we had to walk over to their sister hotel as we’d been moved due to a group booking or some such. This worked in our favour as it was much nicer.

Finally we were there and four busy days lay ahead.

Coming soon! ~ 5 weeks in England, Scotland, Turkey

In two weeks I’m off on my next big trip. These things have a long incubation period so it’s pretty exciting for it to be almost time. I’m going to England, Scotland and Turkey – below is a high level itinerary. Of those countries I’ve only spent a brief time in England before, so the majority of it will be experiencing new places.

This trip isn’t my instigation, basically I’m just tagging along… with my parents! Yep I thought the days of family holidays were behind me, but never say never I guess. Mum and Dad have both recently retired and more than a year ago started thinking about visiting the UK to trace the places of family origin from both sides. Mum is heavily into genealogy so this trip is right up her alley. Dad’s not as bothered but he hasn’t been to the UK before and will be interested to have a look around.

As for my part in this: well I’d like to see where my ancestors come from and figured this would be my best opportunity. Mum is a font of knowledge on this stuff, but more than that, doing this with my parents should make it very memorable. And hopefully we won’t drive each other too crazy in the process!

I should add at this point that Mike is going to sit this trip out. He’s been there done that and will instead save his leave for our next big travel project; the US later next year.

The Turkey bit possibly seems an odd inclusion – especially when it occurs. Visiting Gallipoli has been a goal of mine for a long time and for whatever reason, I decided to include it with this trip. And long story short, it needed to be somewhere in the middle. And then Dad expressed interest, so to cut to the chase, he and I will leave Mum to it for five days while we pop across.

At the end of May we leave Mum again so that we get back to NZ before Queens Birthday weekend.

Anyway – Mum and Dad’s adventure starts tomorrow, with a few days in the US, and I catch up with them in Scotland in 2.5 weeks.


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