Cities / Towns Visited: 16
Countries Visited: 7
Steps Taken Today: 14,594
Steps Taken Around the World: 750,869
As the sun was barely rising up over the horizon, we rolled out of bed, grabbed our bags, checked out, and headed to the meeting point at the Centrum Hotel (the location of which we had scoped out the day before), to meet up with out G Adventures tour. Walking into the foyer, the space was packed with people and luggage, and it looked like there would be a few groups. After checking the display board we learnt that we would be in group three, out of the five groups of fifteen attending. We also learned that we had to register in order to attend (a fact that would have been nice to know prior to arriving in Turkey, but what can you do?), so we quickly hooked into the hotels wifi and filled in our details. Just when you wanted to be annoyed by the oversight of the tour company in regards to providing necessary information earlier, I couldn’t help but overhear two women speaking to one of the group leaders and realising that they had booked for the 2019 tour by mistake. After having made the trip out from Australia just for the tour, you really had to feel for them as they were told that all of the groups were full and there was no way to fit them in. They were stranded in a foreign country with no accommodation, and no way to get to or attend the dawn service; they quite understandably looked devastated. In the tour company’s defence though, it does say several times when you’re booking to make sure you have the correct year.
With all of the paperwork in order, we were funnelled off to our assigned buses. By bus I of course mean tiny minivan (somehow we had possibly been given the smallest of all of the vans), and we were crammed in shoulder to shoulder like sardines. With quite a few broad shouldered guys, it was uncomfortable to say the least. On top of this, some of our bags were put onto one of the other buses as they wouldn’t fit in ours; a fact we were only informed of after already beginning the journey. It’s fine though, we only had to be on the bus for…6 hours. As the van made its way through the old town, out of the city traffic, and into the countryside, there was one constant; the flags. There are Turkish flags hanging everywhere, and it is hard to find a line of sight that doesn’t have one in it. It is a kind of avid overt patriotism you rarely see in western Europe, and with the giant flags depicting the countries leader dotted around as well, there is something ever so slightly dictatorly about it. After stopping a couple of times for food and toilet breaks (lunch was cheap, but consisted of pointing at random things in a buffet to be served and hoping it wasn’t unpalatable, although we lucked out and managed to find a few decent dishes), we finally arrived at ANZAC Cove. We were stopping here today so that we would have a chance to explore the site before the Dawn Service.
On the trip, our guide Ilyas, had explained to us the events of World War I from the Turkish perspective, which was truly fascinating, especially seeing as its something that is most certainly not touched upon in the formal education of the average Australian. It was interesting to learn that Turkey (at that time it was the Ottoman empire) had never wanted to be a part of the war, but when the British began attacking them in the hopes of taking over Istanbul and thus controlling the Dardanelles and Bosporus Strait in order to get supplies to their ally Russia, they forced Turkey’s hand. The war ended up being a great catalyst for the country however, and from the fighting came a strong leader, Mustafa Ataturk, who, after the war, lead the revolution that resulted in the democracy of Turkey as we know it now. A silver lining to a bloody story. Another interesting nugget of information we were taught, was that although on paper 98% of Turkey’s population is Muslim, the reality is this number is based on the fact that their religion is put down automatically as Muslim on their national identity when their born, and rarely does anyone bother to change it, regardless of whether they are actually religious or not.
Now the first thing that strikes you as you hop off the bus at the cove, aside from the obvious setting up of the stage and equipment for the service, is the landscape. With a tiny beach leading to steep embankments, which then lead into heavily shrubbed hills and finally up to towering cliffs, it seems like the last place you would want to try and land an army, and from what our guide told us, it wasn’t where they had planned on landing at all. Their placement there was due to an error in navigation by the navy when dropping them offshore in their landing boats. That error cost the lives of tens of thousands of allied troops, and similar numbers of Turks from the dawn of the 25th April 1915 and the months of fighting that followed. All that death to try and reach the top of the cliffs, and thus control the surrounding areas. It was one of the biggest failures in the allied forces history, even to this day.
From here we took a quick drive back to the Ari Burnu Cemetery, a small plot, next to the beach, which is home to the graves of a number of allied soldiers, many of whom died on that fateful morning. Beside its gate also stands the translated letter of Mustafa Ataturk, to the mothers of the fallen soldiers. It is a touching tribute, as his comforting words assure the mother’s that their sons now lay on the shores of a friendly country. It did, I’m not ashamed to admit, bring a tear to my eye.
Our next stop was the Australian Cemetery at Lone Pine. I was amazed to learn the story of the pine which stands at its heart. A pine seed was taken home by one of the Australian soldiers who was lucky enough to survive. He planted it on his home soil, and later, his children took a seed from his pine in Australia and brought it back to the shores of Turkey, planting it at Lone Pine. This place had been known as Lone Pine during the war, funnily enough, because it was locatable from its solitary pine tree, which was destroyed in the fighting, so it is only fitting to have another from the same lineage of trees that witnessed the carnage stand guard over the deceased. As we walked through the gates we were faced with more white headstones. The whole scene was reminiscent of Tyne Cot. Row after row of graves, some only ‘believed to be buried’ here. And at the base of the large cross topped monument stands the wall of names who’s bodies were never recovered. It may be smaller than its Belgian cousin, but it’s just as heartbreaking. So many young Australian men who barely knew how to fight, mindlessly mowed down by Turkish soldiers who didn’t want a war in the first place.
Continuing up the mountain, we arrived at the Turkish memorial, with its plethora of flags, and row upon row of its own graves. As I’ve said before, it is important to respect and remember the soldiers who fell, even if they were the enemy. In the end we are all human, and soldiers are the pawns in political games played by men who never pick up a gun or risk their lives, but stand to gain the most. I was glad we were given the opportunity to visit, as it helps break the ever present mindset of us against them.
Our last stop was Chunuk Bair, the Memorial at the top of the mountain, the summit of the cliffs we had seen down at the cove. The view down to the bay was stunning, and it is a small comfort to know that the soldiers here lay at rest in the shade of the trees, surrounded by a now peaceful natural landscape. This is the place where the New Zealander’s memorial stands, as well as another for the Turks. During the battles this area had been the main objective, the foothold the allies were after, and where the New Zealand troops had fought their way up to, holding the area briefly before being beaten back. There still stand the remains of the trenches which had been the centre of the fighting; a stark reminder of just how close the enemies had been to one other. Looking out over the bay, as the breeze brushed past, it was easy to find a moment of calm to reflect on the place which had been anything but peaceful all those years ago. A beautiful backdrop for a massacre.
Eventually it was time to pile back in the bus, but I was thankful that we were given the opportunity to visit the sites prior to the ceremonies, as it only added to the anticipation. The bus drove us safely down the mountain and onto the ferry, which in turn delivered us safely across the water to Canakkale, our home for the night. We were now officially on the Asian side of Turkey.
After settling into our hotel rooms, our group all met out the front, as our guide had organised to take us to a seafood restaurant for dinner. As we arrived at the restaurant however, it became clear that it was designed for tourists, with very few traditional Turkish dishes, and very little seafood offered for that matter, and all a bit pricier than the surrounding food choices. Feeling in the mood for a cocktail, we took our chances and ordered two margaritas, but as the starters came out, our drinks were nowhere to be seen. Eventually we managed to flag down a waitress, who brought them out, but as they were placed before us we realised we may have taken a bit too much of a leap of faith on this one. We were faced with a tall glass of orange liquid which tasted remarkably like tropical fruit juice. After getting a little help from our guide to translate, the restaurant manager still couldn’t understand why we were unhappy. This drink seemingly had none of the ingredients which actually go in a margarita, so we ended up sending them back and ordering raki (a Turkish spirit which tastes of aniseed). Another woman in our group also ordered a cocktail, which was supposed to be blue, and instead was also given the same orange punch concoction. I’m assuming no one in the bar actually knows how to make cocktails and so was just slinging out alcoholic fruit juice. Finally the food arrived, our saving grace. We had ordered a grilled sea bass, and a shrimp dish cooked in a clay bowl with a traditional Turkish sauce, both were delicious, but from what we could tell, most of the other members of our group were not impressed by their meal choices. Not the best way to end the first day of the trip.
As we left the restaurant, the general consensus was that most of us wanted to go out for a drink. The guide vaguely directed us where to go, before disappearing into the night. After failing to find the place he meant, we all tumbled into a club with thumping music, which seemed empty until we went downstairs, where we were met by the sounds of a packed bar. Luckily for us, as if it were destiny, there sat one empty and rather large table; perfect. After deciding to try one last time, we once more ordered margaritas, and out they came in their clear limey goodness. Finally a bar that knew what it was doing. A few hours, and a good many drinks, slipped away as the group got to know one another, but eventually, and with the catalyst of a somewhat creepy Turkish guy insisting on sitting with us, we all graciously made our escape back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
It had been quite the day, with a spectrum of emotions in between. From the tired and uncomfortable bus ride, to the solemn visit to the memorials of ANZAC Cove, to the disappointing dinner, and ending with the jovial drinking session. Travelling makes you feel a lot of things, but most of all it makes you feel alive; like you’re part of something bigger than yourself, but at the same time making you realise that you’re just one small, solitary person, in the vast ocean of humanity. If you are lucky enough to travel, ensure you leave enough room in your mind and soul to grow, to change, and to improve as an individual. The world is a crucible, and it will transform you if you give it a chance.