May 25, 2006
Fire at Istanbul Airport
We're back in Istanbul now, and as we've already spent some time here, I decided the other day to bring my return flights two days forward. I'm due to leave Istanbul at 7:20pm on the 25th May. However I've just checked CNN.com and apparently there has been a huge fire at the airport...
It doesn't appear that passenger flights have been affected. Fingers crossed.
May 18, 2006
Well, the sun was setting quite nicely tonight as we had our last dinner in Canakkale. Tommorow we're getting a very early bus to Selcuk. Enjoy the view:
View west from Canakkale promenade over the Dardanelles to the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Gallipoli - Part 1
Our second day in Canakale saw us with a 12:00pm tour of the Gallipoli battlefields; one of the fundamental reasons for wanting to come to the country in the first place. We arrived at 'ANZAC House' shortly beforehand and were met by our guide, a couple from Australia and a guy from Slovenia (he was researching Turkey I think, other than that I couldn't dream of why he would be interested in it). Our schedule for the day would firstly take us across the Dardanelles to Echeabat in the hostel's private boat, where we would have lunch and be joined by a bunch of other tourists who had just made the journey from Istanbul.
After the choppy trip across the Dardanelles and average lunch we set off on our tour in a small bus. The guide was a Turk who spoke excellent English and had even developed somewhat of an Australian accent. Along the way to the intended landing spot of ANZAC forces, our guide explained some of the background about the campaign and what the history of the area means to Turkish people. I kind of always thought it was a weird Aus/NZ thing, this interest in Gallipoli, but I was surprised to learn that Turks treasure this area just as much as we do, for a number of reasons:
1. It was a launching pad the career of the ubiquitous Mustafa Kumal Attaturk - an officer in 1915, Attaturk made many of the important decisions that helped the Turks resist the allied forces.
2. 1915 was a time at which Turkey was forging its nation state, and success at Gallipoli was an important factor in this.
3. It's great for tourism.
These important factors are reflected in the way the peninsula has been organised and managed (mostly), and in the way that every Turkish secondary student must visit the area as part of his/her curriculum.
Therefore, many hundreds of thousands of people visit this area every year, not just at ANZAC day (25/4) but also at another important date for Turks, the 18th March 1915, when their navy sank 3 allied naval ships in the Battle of Cannakale.
This inevitably led to the Gallipoli landings on the part of the allies as it was seen that the guns on either side of the Dardanelles would need to be silenced if Istanbul could be captured and Turkey taken out of the war, access granted to The Black Sea, and assistance given to the Russians. Anyway, enough of the history lesson.
We arrived at the intended landing spot, pictured below:
You can see the large open beach there and the slope off the left is fairly gentle. However the point of land you can see poking out had some Turkish guns on it which would have made the landings somewhat of a bloodbath. This small bay is just south of the actual landing spot, what we now called ANZAC Cove.
We drove the short distance north to ANZAC Cover along a very tight, mostly broken road. This is the road that caused some problems for the Australian government earlier this year. It turns out that the road always existed, it just needed to be widened to cater for the massive amount of people that frequent this area on ANZAC day. Fair enough, however the workers cut into the cliffs off the bay and dumped the sand on the beach... the ANZAC landing beach, making it somewhat smaller than it should be. Apparently many of the guides in the area came and protested the actions of the workman to have it stopped, but not before a few truckloads of sand had been dumped. You can see the road on the right hand side of this shot:
From this point we were also able to walk along a small track to the Australian Memorial just next to ANZAC Cove:
The memorial is very well kept, but small, much too small for the ANZAC Day service. The service is now held on the other side of ANZAC Cove at another Australian memorial. From this memorial you can see the cliffs the troops had to conquer on the first day of the campaign. The striking feature in the center of the shot is called 'The Sphinx':
The photo's don't capture it of course, but these beaches are very moving to look at and study.
May 16, 2006
Quite a view
I've taken some shots of the view from my hotel room in Cannakale:
May 15, 2006
Our bus wasn't scheduled to leave Istanbul until about 12pm, so we had a relaxing morning at the hotel. The bus ride was mostly uneventful except for the speeding fine our bus driver got about half way through the trip. The whole bus was peering out the window staring at our bus driver argue with the 'Trafik Polis', the exact words used were lost on us, but needless to say there was much hand movement and loud, presumebly colourful, Turkish language.
After some 5 hours we ended up at the small town of Eceabat, which sits right on the Dardenelles; the throughfare to Istanbul, and the Black Sea. It's not much of a town to look at and seems to be focused around the buses and cars waiting to cross the Dardenelles on a car ferry to Cannakale (pronounced Chanakali). Unfortunately for us there was a very, very long queue of buses and cars waiting for said ferry, in order to make the crossing.
We waited outside the bus for a while and eventually one of the bus company people (who spoke no english, and was frankly in dire need of some customer service lessons) motioned to us that the chances of getting on the next ferry were slim, and we may as well proceed on foot and jump on the ferry as people, rather than as part of a bus. You understand that this communication took some time as we used a combination of sign language, facial expressions and hand waving in order to eventually, get too the point. So we unloaded our bags from the bus and ran the gauntlet of tauts selling food and crappy Anzac WW1 souvenirs, towards the ticket box.
With tickets in hand we jumped on and made the short trip across the famous Dardenelles, with russian and turkish tankers slipping by us on the way to the Aegian Sea and beyond.
Upon landing at Cannakale we found a small party town where Turks go to sun themselves and have picnics and, it seems, watch soccer matches. The town was buzzing as we pulled into port, hundreds of locals and tourists strutting along a sea shore boulevard with tens of cafes and restaurants facing the impressive view back too Eceabat and an exceptional sunset.
We found our hotel - The Akol Hotel - 4 star, but dirt cheap in this part of the world, and checked in.
It was late in the day, but we wanted to secure some tours for our purpose in this little corner of Turkey, namely Troy and of course the Gallipoli Battlefields. Taking Lonely Planet's word for it we located 'ANZAC House Hostel', which amongst other things, offers exceptional guided tours of these two sites. After a week of having protracted hand gesture driven conversations with people who dont speak English, it was kind of nice to walk into this hostel and be greeted by the guy at the desk who spoke excellent english, was a Turk, but perhaps said 'No worries' a few too many times.
I had images of this town being basically a terrible collection of 'Aussie' hotels and drunken backpackers, but I was pleasantly surprised. The 'Australianness' wasn't too overdone and really just seemed to be trying to provide a helpful service to Aus/NZ travellers who are trying to get to the famous battle sites. So we booked into two tours, one to Troy tommorow, and another the following day to Gallipoli.
Next on the agenda was dinner. We found a restaurant that looked a little too empty, which worried us until the waiter pointed out that this was one of the few places without a TV. All the other bars and restaurants in the town were packed with Turks glued to some vastly important soccer game. Whilst chatting over dinner we were frequently drowned out by screams of delight or pain as a goal was scored or missed. Eventually, the good guys won and the streets and boulevard turned into chaos. A massive group, perhaps 400 fans roamed the town screaming anthems and chanting team songs - it was quite a sight. We grabbed a seat at a bar after dinner to watch the madness unfold and it became clear that this celebration wouldn't end early.
As I sit here in my hotel room, overlooking the Darndenelles and main street, I have hundreds of people and cars, all screaming and blowing their horns simultaneously, down below.
There was a loud, familiar noise in our hotel room this morning at about 5am, it was my mobile. It hasn't rung for a while, but in my half aware state I was sure I knew what the call was about. My sister jumped out of her bed, also half awake and picked up the hotel rooms phone convinced we were being called from that direction. I answered the mobile to be greeted by the happy and relieved voice of my friend Jon Eaves. Sue had given birth to a healthy boy named George, and more importantly, everyone involved was happy and healthy.
Congratulations guys! I so wish I could have been there to follow the action from closer to home, but alas, such is life. There is no one I know more destined and deserved of being new parents than Jon and Sue. George will undoubtedly have a wonderful and fulfilling life with such caring, loving and fun parents as yourselves.
May 13, 2006
A trip out of town
My sister and I decided to leave the hurly burly of Istanbul today and head for some islands just off Istanbul called Prince's Islands.
We purchased our tickets and jumped on the next available ferry out there. It was packed, mainly with tourists, but not the usual mix of Americans and French. These groups were Iranian, Japanese, Syrian and a few others. We sat next to this large group of Iranian girls who seemed to be having a great time, babbling away in Farsi. They were all very well dressed and seemed fairly sophisticated, and ,for want of a better word, western. It was certainly not the image of Iranian people we see on CNN or whatever. These girls were clearly out to party a bit as they had no head scarves on and would break into song every now and again. It was quite a fun trip.
There are 4 islands in the group but we chose to head for the biggest one as we only had a day to explore. The largest island is BŁyŁkada which is the kind of place Istanbuller's go to get away from the heat in the summer months.
BŁyŁkada has seen better days, it's rackety unsealed roads are full of huge old weatherboard Ottoman houses, mostly in a state of disrepair. There's not a hell of a lot to see here other than the a fantastic view from the highest of its two peaks. Most tourists were securing a horse drawn buggy to get to the top of the first peak and then either walk or get a donkey to the higher peak. Feeling energetic Cazz and I decided that it would be a nice walk.
After a decent walk to the first peek we were greeted by some sort of French/Turkish school's friendship music festival thingy. The loud speakers were blasting what sounded like Eurovision Finalists, think synthesised versions of Axel F and such from the Beverly Hills Cop sound track. Teams of teenagers were milling about causing trouble amongst the horses and carts. We tentatively set off for the second peak after seeing the incredibly steep ascent that awaited us.
Once we got to the top, a little weary, we were met with a spectacular view of Istanbul and the urban sprawl around it, as well as a much earned cold beer. Also up there was a small 6th century monastery which was still in use.
We made the decent soon after and caught the next ferry back to Istanbul, very tired and ready for bed.
A quiet day in Istanbul tommorow before we head off for Cannakale on Sunday.
May 12, 2006
Just a taste
Another day in this strange, beautiful city passes. Today we got up later than usual (well I got up late, my sister had to drag me out of bed), and headed to the Topkapi Palace. This is the palace of the Ottoman's, a much more Turkish experience compared to the quasi-european thing we saw the other day.
It was damned busy, bus loads of tourists everywhere. First up was the Harem, which much to my surprise (dissapointment?), wasn't a place of endless orgies, but rather a private place for the Sultan, his 4 wives and up to 300 concubines(!) could exist in privacy. This was a fairly rushed tour so you couldn't really stay too long in there. After that we grabbed some lunch then toured the rest of the palace. As I mentioned, its a much more authentic Turkish Palace, none of the trappings of exclusive French and Italian furnishings here; more like what you'd expect from, well, something Turkish.
As an added bonus I've cropped and reduced three images from my growing collection to show here:
This is the view from our hotel in Istanbul, the Blue Mosque:
Topkapi Palace, Istanbul:
Gap of Dunloe:
Newgrange, north of Dublin:
May 11, 2006
Wanna buy a rug?
Well here we are in Turkey. Istanbul to be precise. My sister and I arrived on seperate flights on Sunday afternoon; we met up and headed for our hotel, the Ararat Hotel, deep in Old Istanbul directly opposite the Blue Mosque. The view from the rooftop bar of our hotel is, to be blunt, fucking amazing.
The mosque is HUGE; you can sit there on the balcony sipping a beer and staring at it for hours. On our first night here we were sitting on the balcony chatting and the call to prayer blasted out from the loud speakers perched on the spires of the mosque. It gave us such a fright we spent the next 10 minutes pissing ourselves laughing. After the initial shock of the these loud speakers crying "Allahu Akbar" across the city it actually becomes quite poignant on a still night as you can hear all the other mosques in the area, slightly out of sync, blasting their own neighbours.
Today we caught a ferry over to the other side of the city and visited the Dollmabahce Palace - which is where the Sultans of Turkey perched themselves to impress western leaders about how powerful and "western" they are. The tour guide took great pride in explaining where all the bits and peices in the palace were from: Italy, Paris, London etc. It dawned on me half way through that there wasn't alot of the contents of this place actually from Turkey. Besides that the palace was fairly impressive; think Palace in any other part of europe, then completely over do the inside with the most ornate stuff you can find - paintings, furniture, carpets, light fittings, cornices etc etc.
The tour group we were with were pretty horrible to be honest. The most annoying being a group of Arabs from Syria who were pooncing around in their designer clothes, too much gold and mobile phones taped to their ears. We were basically just extra's on their tour through the palace as they pushed their way to the front of any group of people to photograph everything on their new minature digital cameras. We left the palace an hour later, thoroughly annoyed.
We then made our way up too a bus company's ticket office nearby in order to buy tickets to our next destination, Cannakale, which typically serves as a retreat for people visiting Gallipoli and Troy. We leave here on Sunday morning for our 6 hour (oh joy) bus ride down south.
Walking around Istanbul can be patience testing. Every man and his dog are selling everything from carpets, shoe shines, souvenirs, even the opportunity to be weighed. We've become pretty good at just marching through them and avoiding the half english conversations that ensue. One of their tricks is to engage you in conversation about where you're from. I've been asked if I was from: England, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland even Lismore New South Wales, I think he had a cousin there.
May 10, 2006
The missing photos
I've had a few people email me about getting some photo's online for you all too see. Sorry about this. I have taken a heap (300 or so), but their all at very high quality (1.5mb) and so take time to convert and upload.
I'll convert some choice ones tonight and put them on. I dont think i'll get the time to do a bulk photo posting though. I'll also do a turkey post detailing the last few days.