It was still raining when we left Istanbul. Along with another traveler who was on her way to take a coach to the town of Safranbolu, we braved the elements and caught the tram and then the metro to the otogar (bus station).We were headed for the Gallipoli Peninsula and the towns of Eceabat and Cannakale.
It’s a common argument, and one that I certainly studied at university, is that it was at Gallipoli in April 1915 that Australia and New Zealand truly began to develop their national identities. In 1915, Australia’s white settlement was less than 130 years old, and the nation itself 14 years old. And in what is now typical Australian fashion, it was not a grand victory that brought the newly federated country together, but grand defeat.
So although the battlefields were not part of our original itinerary through Turkey (had things gone to plan we would also have been making our way to Safranbolu and then eastwards to Iran), we quickly decided that as young Australians, we couldn’t come all this way and not go.
Unless you have your own car, getting to the battlefields from Eceabat and then exploring the site is incredibly difficult – it’s huge, hilly and spread out. We joined a tour offered by our hostel in Eceabat and on a startlingly bright afternoon we and two other Australians were picked up by our Turkish guide, Anil. Anil has been leading battlefield tours for more than 20 years, and his knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject was amazing.
Somehow, and I think it was thanks to Anil, we managed to avoid all the tour buses, giant coaches packed with at endless shuffling tourists and seemed to stop solely at souvenir stands. We were able to explore each site in our own time, and our visit was made more poignant by the fact that one of the other Australians was making an emotional pilgrimage to lay flowers at Lone Pine, where her grandfather had fought.
Our first stop was Brighton Beach, which was where the Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp) should have landed for their assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula and then onwards to take the Black Sea and Istanbul. Flat and scrubby, it could have been a success. But under the cover of darkness and thanks to strong tides, the diggers ended up at what is now called Anzac Cove. It was only at first light, after utter carnage, where around 5,000 allies were killed by the Turkish army high on the hills above them, that the Anzacs could see the sheer cliffs leading up from the beach.
For me, standing at Anzac Cove and seeing the cliffs was indescribably surreal. Here was a place that I see on television every April 25 on the anniversary of the landing. Here was a place that I had learned about through primary school, high school and university.
Today, both Anzac Cove and the memorial at Lone Pine are peaceful places. Wildflowers and poppies grow freely, and butterflies and ladybeetles landed on our clothes.
As Anil would say, ‘Bloody stupid politicians. Bloody stupid politicians.’
On my RTW trip during the summer of 2010, I met my friend Alicia in Istanbul and we spent the next 46 days travelling overland through Turkey, Syria and Jordan before I headed to Egypt solo to join up with a quick organised tour through upper Egypt.
Read more about this leg of my trip on my Middle East roundup page.