Turkey Trip

Trip Start Jan 20, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Turkey  , Istanbul,
Friday, May 9, 2008

Well, hello again to all and sundry! Once again, due to a deficit of motivation on my part and a supreme overabundance of procrastinatory tendencies, it has been some time since I managed to update the blog. One could also speculate that this may have been the result of there being little or nothing of interest to tell, but since I've put some of the photos from our foray into Turkey on face book, I don't think that one will hold up under scrutiny either.
In true dodgy brothers style, Doug and I managed to do no packing whatsoever for our trip to Turkey before about 5am on the day of our departure. Oh certainly, we discussed packing, much earlier than that, but through idleness and the impromptu going away party that the girls from the pub decided to throw us, it managed to get delayed and postponed until such time as it became a situation of, "f*ck, we have to pack NOW! The train leaves soon." (Basically, we had to get a reasonably early train to Manchester Airport for our flights, and so rather than go to sleep and risk sleeping in, we decided in a searing flash of intellectual genius, that it would be far more prudent to get drunk and stay awake all night). This pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip.
Actually, something else that may be said to have set the tone for the rest of the trip occurred while we were waiting in the crisp morning air for the train. Doug had been examining the printout of our flight details, to pass the time when he said, "Hey, why does this say we're coming back on Monday the 27th? Isn't the 27th a Sunday?" I confirmed that yes, indeed, the 27th of April would be a Sunday and it was at about this point that further perusal of the printed details revealed that Captain Dickhead (me) had managed to book our flights to out on the 22nd April, but had screwed up and booked our flights back on the 27th of May. Well, I guess that makes me and Dougie 1-1 in the, "who screwed up the flights" stakes. We have since decided that in future, neither one of us will book flights alone. We simply can't be trusted to get it right, both of us will have to be there.
Anyways, all other trivialities aside, we managed to make it to the Airport on time, and change our flights so that we'd make it back on the 28th of May (at a cost of £50. Each). Considering that we'd had no sleep and a lot of alcohol the night before, we both managed to get a bit of sleep on the flight over, which landed us at Ataturk international, just outside of Istanbul at about 11pm or thereabouts. Walking through the airport towards immigration control, we spotted a sign saying, "VISAS" which caused me a moment of dread, while I thought, "F*ck. I hope we didn't have to organise them before we came..." All turned out to be ok though, we just joined the queue, paid the money and then went through the next lot of queues at immigration control. In a fit of patriotism, (we were going for ANZAC day, after all) Doug had decided to travel on his Aussie passport instead of the Brit one, the practical upshot of which was that he had to wait in a long arse queue like I did, instead of just strolling through the EU passport lane, as he normally can.
As we were getting in to Istanbul a day before the tour was due to begin, the travel agency we booked with had asked us whether we wanted an extra nights accommodation booked for us, to which we replied, "Sure, sounds good." We were to be met at the airport and transported to our Hotel. Having booked through, First Festival Travel, we looked around for anyone holding a sign with our names on it, or even for anyone with a sign saying First Festival Travel. No luck. We checked again, in the arrivals hall. Still no good. Then I remembered vaguely seeing something about Fez Travel on some of the stuff FFT had sent us, so we strolled up and found out that they were indeed the people we were looking for. It seems obvious now, with the benefit of hindsight, that FFT must have subcontracted out some of their packages to other tour operators. But we were a bit confused at the time. In fact, confused (with the occasional addition of "dazed and" ) was to become almost the ground state of our existence for the next 6 or 7 days.
After getting our names checked off, we waited around for some more travellers and then all piled into a Fez Travel bus and were packed off to our hotels. Or so we thought. A few people were dropped off with no trouble, but when we got to the hotel we were apparently staying in, there was a lot of Turkish spoken, none of which we understood at all, but the upshot of which seemed to be that we wouldn't be staying there. A phone was produced and a call made, with a lot more rapid fire Turkish, Douglas and I, reduced to bemused bystanders. Until one guy hands the phone over to me, with no word of explanation. I ventured a "hello?" with no idea of what to expect from the other end... What I got was some extremely limited English and a request to confirm some details, which, while sounding like a simple request proved to be otherwise, as I learned over the next 10 minutes.
Eventually, more confused than ever, I gave the phone back, and we were herded onto the bus again and driven through some more backstreets if Istanbul (which, by the way is an amazing city to visit) until we arrived at a hotel where they had indeed heard of us, and gave us a room. By this stage it was about 2am. So, of course, we decided to go and have a beer with our new mate Jarrod, who had been through largely the same experience as us.
The next morning, we reconvened with (aching heads) and Jarrod to discuss what the hell was going on with the tour that we were all supposed to be on. Would they be coming back to pick us up? Where would the tour leave from? Did we have to pay this hotel? Eventually, (and after three pointless phone calls to the travel agency) we decided that the most likely source of usable information would probably be our confirmation emails and or the agency website. Thus we arrived at the conclusion that we needed and internet café. Several dodgy sets of directions and much trekking, backtracking and re-backtracking later, we finally found one. The end result of a good deal of speculation, debate, discussion and wishful thinking was the concept that: "The hotels they tried to take us to first off last night were probably the ones we are supposed to be at tonight. All of the people who are travelling on the same bus will probably be at the same hotel, and it is therefore likely that that is where the busses will leave from when the tour starts, and also where we'll meet our tour guide etc."
Having reached this conclusion the three of us set off intrepidly to find our hotels. Along the way, we managed to give ourselves a misguided, meandering and interesting tour of Istanbul's Old Quarter. We took a lot of photos of god only knows what, but hey, we had fun. Eventually, probably owing more to chance than design, we stumbled across Jarrod's hotel and waited until he had divested himself of his luggage, then continued on to find ours. Along the way, we passed the Grand Bazaar, which we all decided would definitely be worth a look later on. Finally, we made it to our hotel (the "Liberty") dumped our bags and went off to explore again. The Grand Bazaar is quite appropriately named. It is definitely Grand(iose) and it's certainly bizarre. It's like an enormous semi underground shopping mall, but about a thousand times more intense. Crammed to overflowing with vendors selling absolutely anything and everything and a few other things besides. People haggling (which is a way of life over there) and yelling and carrying on. Being tourists, we stood out like spare pricks at a wedding and we good targets for anyone and everyone. No description of the Grand Bazaar would ever really do it justice. If you like shopping and arguing, you'll love it. If you don't like shopping and find it intensely annoying to be accosted almost continually be eager salesmen, you'll hate it. (*Note to the boys back home: if you come to Turkey, and want any peace of mind, just turn your girlfriends loose in the Grand Bazaar and try not to think too hard about your bank balance. They'll have a great time, but your bank manager may want to strangle you when you get back to Aus).
After the Bazaar, we headed back to the hotel and met a few more of the people on our tour. We met Tarni and Emma-Jade, two fantastic Australian girls who had just quit their job in London to go travelling, with the ANZAC day tour being their first stop. I think.
About 7pm that evening, we were all having some drinks in the hotel bar when our guide, (whose name I'm not sure I ever actually caught) showed up, introduced himself (presumably), and announced that a bus would be arriving to take us to the big party where all the tour groups going to Gallipoli would meet, greet and get sheet-faced. That was a fantastic night, and once again, we drank far too much. About the only draught beers we saw while we were over there were Efes and Tuborg, both of which are quite palatable by my standards (which are, admittedly, low).
When we made it back to the hotel (god only knows how - the bus that was supposed to pick us up arrived and left before I had a clue) we found another group of people on our tour had arrived and were enjoying a few drinks at the bar. Which is how we met, Gabe, Doyle, Rob, and the rest, as good a bunch of blokes as you'd meet anywhere. And all certifiably insane too. "Filters?" Dear lord, just don't even ask...
The next day the tour departed, a good forty minutes after the deadline announced forcefully the night before. It's quite a long drive from Istanbul down to Gelibolu / Gallipoli and I think it safe to say that a good number of people on the bus were using it to try and recover from the night before. They say that all the cool kids sit at the back of the bus (where Doug and I were or course), and never before has it been so true. Doyle, Gabe, Rob and the rest of the gang were marvellously far sighted and managed to bring onto the bus a couple of slabs of Efes, which in due course, we helped send to a good home. Along the way it somehow developed that our tour guide had never been to Gallipoli before, and was normally an Istanbul tour guide, which may have explained why in a lot of ways our tour was nowhere near as good as it could have been. (I don't want to carry on whingeing about that, though I fear the extended amount of time we've spent in England may make chronic whingers of us yet. The upside of it all was that we had a really good bunch of people on the tour with us, and when you've got good people around, you can make your own fun regardless of circumstance. Which we did. Believe it! ;)
On the way to Gallipoli, we stopped once or twice for food at predetermined places which gave us our first real indication of the scale of the ANZAC day event. There were easily 20 or 30 coaches at both of the stops, and a more or less continuous stream of them going past most of the time we were stopped.
We were warned that it would be cold in ANZAC cove, where we would spend the night before waking up for the dawn service, and someone advised us that it was a good idea to get a large binliner to put under your sleeping bag as a bit of a groundsheet. It would also be a good idea to get some grub, as (apparently) you would only be able to buy water once we got to the Gallipoli conservation area. With this information in mind, we headed off to the supermarket which was absolutely thronged by a multitude of other Australians and Kiwis on precisely the same mission. The queue inside the supermarket was enormous, and didn't even appear to be moving. On a hunch, we moved around to the front of it and found that it wasn't actually a queue. The people at its head were having a discussion or something, and the queue had just formed behind them. A few people may have been slightly miffed about that, owing to the ½ hour or so that they stood faithfully in what they imagined to be the right line.
We had also been informed on the bus, that we would not be allowed to bring any alcohol in to the conservation area, nor camping equipment, nor large backpacks, thus necessitating a bit of reordering and re packing of most peoples kit. "Can we do that now?" The question was asked, most reasonably. We were stopped, there seemed to be plenty of time. "No, no. You don't need to do it now, there'll be plenty of time to do it later. At the destination." Ok, we accepted that at face value. And completely wrongly, as it turned out.
As we got nearer and nearer to anzac cove, all of the traffic became coaches. All headed in the same direction, with the occasional empty one heading back the other way. Hundreds of them. The road narrowed to single lane, each way and traffic slowed considerably. When we got to the disembarkation point, it was bloody chaos. There was only room for one coach at a time to disembark its passengers and turn around, and there was an enormous line of coaches waiting to do the same. We had about two minutes grace in which to try and sort out some warm clothes, a fart sack and some food to take with us into the park. After that a police man had come over and was haranguing the driver to get his bloody bus out of there, (or words to that effect, I'm sure). Some of the older people on our bus were pretty furious. The rest of us were frantically trying to repack our stuff and get it back on the bus, which started moving off with me on it and others moving alongside. Hectic is not the word.
After that it was more queues, where we were searched, patted down, had our bags checked, and (disappointingly for some), were not cavity checked. The police were looking for knives, weapons and alcohol. The alcohol I could understand, but knives? Who the hell would want to bring a weapon on a tourist tour to Gallipoli? Before the end of the night, I would have a pretty good idea why.
Once inside the area, we were semi abandoned by our guide, and made our own way down towards the natural amphitheatre where the actual landings were made. There was a stage set up, a grassy area on which a lot of people were already set up a dozing away the afternoon and tiered seating on three sides. The place was already about half full. The number of Australians and Kiwis who come each year to commemorate the ANZAC day landings was staggering. Easily numbering into the thousands. Once we had found some seats, and deposited our meagre and hastily sorted supplies for the night, we set off to do a bit of exploring on our own. We saw a couple of cemeteries where the majority of the headstones read with a name, a short message from the bereaved family, and underneath, "Believed to be buried in this cemetery".
It was good to get a little time away from the majority of the crowds and to wander around and look at the place a little more solemnly. I had a great time on the tour, but with so many young people around, it was kind of impossible to avoid the festival atmosphere. I remember hoping that the dawn ceremony itself would be treated with appropriate solemnity and sense of occasion. (As it turned out, I need not have worried).
We came across one monument that particularly moved me. It was a quote from Ataturk, in 1934:
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 far away countries, wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now living in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.
Sorry guys, running outta time on the net. Will finish the rest of the entry soon!
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