Attaturk!

1-Gallipoli_Troy

By the time we arrived in Canakkale (pronounced “cha knock a lay”) I was heartily sick of busses. Istanbul to Goreme was 11 hours, Goreme to Olympos was about 11 hours, Olympos to Fethiye was 5 hours, Fethiye to Pamukkale was about 4 hours, and Pamukkale to Canakkale was about 10 hours—all over the span of less than two weeks.

We’d decided to cut Selcuk (Ephesus) out of the itinerary due to the fact that we were behind schedule and it seemed preferable to knock out one long bus drive than endure two moderately long rides.

We arrived around 11 p.m. Arriving in a strange city late at night in the dark is never a pleasant experience and we quickly found a taxi and hopped a ride to what turned out to be another fancy hotel—Anzac something. This time the mistake was owing to the fact that there are at least three hotels named Anzac in Canakkale (which Lonely Planet fails to mention when it referenced a hostel named Anzac something). Colin was horrified but I was so wiped out from the ride that I found it difficult to care. We weren’t planning on staying long anyway; we wanted to hop the first ferry to Eceabat across the Dardanelles Strait.

We got up early the next day. It was cold and drizzling—the kind of weather that would have made me ecstatic back home in California where every drop of rain is treasured and sometimes fought over. It turned out that the ferry was right around the corner from the hostel (I don’t even know if I can honestly call a place that fancy a hostel, but I’ve gotten in the habit and it’s a tough one to break), and cost a mere 2.5 lira.

Less than an hour later we found ourselves standing in Eceabat, on the Gallipoli Peninsula—the site of a 1-Gallipoli_Troy_1major World War I campaign in which the Allied forces struggled desperately and ultimately unsucessfully to occupy the Ottoman empire.

We booked a dorm at Hotel Crowded House—which was thankfully a lot less crowded than the name implied—and immediately scheduled a tour of the Gallipoli battlefields for that very afternoon. Then we wandered the city which was as full of stray cats and dogs as any city I’d ever seen. I

I bought a loaf of bread and began dispersing it among the dogs we saw, which resulted in several following us through the city, as well as some dirty looks from old Turkish men.

The tour started with an hour-long lunch after which we all filed on to a tour bus and our guide, Bulent, 1-Gallipoli_Troy_12introduced himself. He offered to let us call him Bill if we couldn’t pronounce his name, speaking with a slight Australian accent which, I learned from reading a Lonely Planet interview, he picked up because pretty much everyone who takes the tour is from Australia. His English was incredible, and his grasp of the history and stories behind the Gallipoli campaign was truly inspired.

Our tour bus was full of Australians and New Zealanders who treated Gallipoli like sacred ground. It was a little embarrassing because when we arrived we knew nothing about this aspect of World War 1. American history classes tend to be pretty focused on, well, America. Basically, if the United States hadn’t become involved in World War 1, I doubt we would have studied it at all. But this was a bus of people who seemed to know every detail, every date, for whom this campaign was intensely significant. And I had to stop myself from asking, “Hey, you guys were in World War 1 too?” I felt intensely ignorant and intensely American.

We spent a little over four hours visiting battlefields, trenches, and giant cemeteries with heart-wrenching 1-Gallipoli_Troy_6statistics. Many of the soldiers were very young—the youngest was 14. It was also freezing outside—the kind of cold that penetrates your jacket or sweater and chills you to the bone. So when Bulent started talking about the hardships posed by the weather—miserably hot during the summer, cold enough to give soldiers hypothermia during the winter—I felt particularly sympathetic. The Allied forces apparently gave up the effort in December, largely prompted by the cold, and we were there in early November and I was shivering for all I was worth during daylight hours.

I was both impressed and shocked by the number of monuments dedicated to an invading army. The 1-Gallipoli_Troy_4statues for the ANZACS were larger than those to the fallen Turks. I tried to imagine a scenario in which America would create a monument to people who invaded its lands and I just couldn’t imagine it happening. It’s true that a lot of this happened 99 years ago but nonetheless it seemed like a very generous move. The sight of the trenches, ripping across the gorgeous landscape was especially wrenching and the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of people had died there was unnerving.

Gallipoli isn’t just important to Australians and New Zealanders. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk first distinguished himself as a commander during this campaign. And a few years after World War I ended, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk became the founding father of the Republic of Turkey. From everything I’ve read, he was an incredibly classy, eloquent, even-handed leader. He instituted a number of economic, social, and educational reforms to help modernize Turkey and, more importantly, enforced the notion that it was a secular nation not bound by harsh religious laws. Schools were built. Women were given full equal rights. And about 20 years after the campaign ended unsuccessfully, he wrote the following tribute to the people of Australia and their fallen soldiers:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives; – You are now living 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.

Pretty powerful stuff, and though I’ve always been interested in history I’ve never been the sort of person who takes an interest in touring battlefields or war monuments. But I highly recommend a tour of Gallipoli, if you happen to be in the area and happen to have time. More importantly, I recommend a tour with Bulent at Crowded House Tours.

The following day we decided to take the ferry back to Canakkale and hop a bus to the ruins of Troy. There wasn’t much of interest there. We probably would have been better off joining a tour and once again it was so cold I spent more time shivering than looking at the ruins. I already had a cold that I got from Colin, making the experience somewhat miserable.

I had bought another 1-lira loaf of bread in Canakkale and spent a good portion of our time feeding the 1-Gallipoli_Troy_16dogs scraps of bread. There were a handful just hanging around the site but one in particular followed us aggressively. A small female seemed to have had her fill because I gave her a piece and watched her bury it behind a small pile of columns. After we left we had a long cold wait for the bus and wound up befriending more dogs after I chased them away from a cat they had cornered in a tree.

After Troy we wandered around Canakkale, got some food, and then hopped a return ferry to Eceabat.

We capped off our final night on the freezing peninsula at a small corner store near the hostel where Colin bought a liter of beer and I got two chocolate ice cream bars. We took them back to the “dorm” which was completely empty besides us both nights that we were there. Then we passed out an embarrassingly early hour and I woke up the next morning prepared to begin the final phase of our Turkey adventure only to discover I still had chocolate on my face.

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