Flying into Sabiha Gocken late at night from the Turquoise Coast we got into an airport shuttle that sped down the motorway at speeds of up to 160km/h, halving the 80 minute journey. For the night we were staying in Sultanahmet near the Blue Mosque as our ANZAC tour departed the following day at noon. In the morning we managed a quick few hours to tour the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia Tombs and the Topkapi Palace Tulip Gardens meeting up with Larissa and Leights to begin our tour.
Our tour with TJ’s Tours took us down the western reach of the Dardanelles Channel to Eceabat, opposite Canakkale (the site of the ancient city of Troy). From here we headed across to the western shores, arriving at ANZAC Cove. Immediately looking at the terrain, you got an appreciation of the difficulty in attacking such steep hills, with such well prepared Ottoman forces. The landforms of the Sphinx, the Nek, and Hill 60, all visible in the setting sun. The night service saw performances and documentaries all throughout the dark. We managed to find a small posse on the grass and got a few hours sleep, waking a short time before the dawn service. Such a small piece of land, fought hard over for months on end to no avail 99 years ago.
Often repeated in speeches through the night and inscribed at ANZAC Cove was an open statement from General (and later President) Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, leader of the Ottoman forces and later Turkish revolutionary:“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway 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.”
– Ataturk 1934
Following the joint service we started the 8km walk up the hill, past the Lone Pine Australian Memorial to the Chunuk Bair New Zealand Memorial Service. Preceding our service was the Turkish Ceremony. Thousands of Boy Scouts poured out of the Turkish memorial and we settled onto the grass lawn outside (being a bit late we couldn’t get a seat and started to watch it on the big screen). Luckily we later got into the service as some dignitary seats were not filled. We went from being outside to front and centre in the best seats! Michael Woodhouse, MP for Veterans Affairs recited a letter from a soldier to his partner, who was later killed- a sombre moment. Governor General Jerry Mateparae also made two stirring speeches, one to the soldiers and another more personal note to those paying respects.
Our departure was hastened by a sudden downpour. Luckily our tour guide had pulled a dodgy and snuck in front of other companies. This later proved to be a big cock-up as he forgot to count heads, leaving 6 passenger up in the rain at Chunuk Bair. We waited at the gas station watching the petrol attendant smoking his cigarette beside the pumps. When we banged on the windows and told him to leave, he just laughed! Not the safest place to be! On their return TJ got more than an earful. Poor guy was battling, but he deserved it.
On return to Istanbul we found our accommodation near Taksim square, where recent demonstrations have taken place (at the time of writing further demonstrations have started). In the streets large trucks with fenders and water cannons were present. The main Istiklal Street was teeming with people, all partying loudly through the night. We were still jaded from the night before and had a decent sleep despite the noise.
The following morning we walked back to the Old Town. Passing over the Galata Bridge to see the small catch of local fisherman. Nearby at the Spice Bazaar we enjoyed a Turkish Coffee by the New Mosque (“new” isn’t probably the best term, at 400 years old it is still considered new in Istanbul), doing some people watching and sussing the tourist traps. We found one store that sold turkish delights 5 Turkish Lira for a kilo (approx £1.50 or NZ$3). Further up the hill at the Grand Bazaar we saw a few more carpets, lamps and other trinkets. Catherine and Shaun managed to find themselves a huge lamp later that day. After a 2.50 TL kebab and a funny incident with a Turkish ice-cream vendor (see the video) we set off on our own to take in some more sights.
The Basilica Cistern or “Sunken Palace” is an amazing underground reservoir, until recent times storing water taken 19km from the Belgrade Forest by aqueduct. With limited time we then raced through the Hagia Sophia, one of the largest places of worship in the world. Over the centuries this place has been an Orthodox basilica, a mosque and now a museum. It’s massive scale and displays of Arabic calligraphy art was impressive, but unfortunately we had to start our 3km run (Mitch in jandals) down to the harbour for a Bosphorus Cruise. Making it just in time, we got a good view of the city, both the European side and the Asian side as we made our way up to the Black Sea and back down. After a quiet stroll back, dinner and another long sleep we made our flight back to London with Catherine and Shaun. The week went so fast and we were a bit more jaded than when we left.
Istanbul is such an amazing place with a long history, we really hope to come back through here some time in our travels. Leights and Larissa have just left London and are returning home with a large journey ahead. You can find their travels with Manu linked here.
Will miss having them around for travel, but sure will catch up again sometime in the near future.
We are in Copenhagen and Gothenburg next weekend, so keep your eyes peeled for another update!