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Brad’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Location: Turkey

MapWell, I'm going to start back to front, cos it will take me a while to remember back too far.....Turkey is a country that didn't immediately spring to mind when I thought about countries to visit in Europe, but when I realised I'd be there for ANZAC Day the decision was easy. Not that it was an overly cheap decision - the damage: 550 quid, or around NZ$1,500 plus expenses, but boy it was worth it and was a fantastic way to end my trip.

As a bit of a Geography lesson (my 7th Form Geography teacher Ms Taylor would be very proud), Turkey is a Republic which is part of both Europe and Asia (hence it being an Eurasian country), the capital is Ankara (not Istanbul), it borders 8 countries and was roughly a 4 hour flight from Heathrow in London.

It was an 8 day tour that Talitha and I booked, and it covered a good stretch mainly of the western side of Turkey with the highlight to be the dawn service at ANZAC Cove. The flight from London was at 6.55am, the alarm was set for 4.45am and designed to give us 15 minutes to get ready for the taxi. When the alarm was slept through by 10 minutes there was a good mad dash to get ready - not the best of starts!

The first thing that struck me about Istanbul was how much of a male dominated society it appeared - there was very little by way of females around the place, and being with a group of predominantly girls we (rather they), were subject to so many oggling old male Turks. They were just plain confused about me, an Asian looking guy with an Aussie/Kiwi accent - although some thought I was Maori, including some of the Aussies in our group! Our bus comprised 41 people including only 8 Kiwis. Our first night included a dinner at a local restaurant whose main attraction was an old, crusty, tanned, grey pony-tailed male DJ who played a kind of Turkish Black Eyed Peas music in order for the belly dancer to strut her stuff and collect some tips along the way. The food was a bit dodge and we had some upset stomachs courtesy of the fish. This also happened to be my first (and as it turned out - last) experience of the local alcoholic specialty known as Raki - this is pretty much a very strong white sambuca mixed with water. Boy did that wipe me out! I was second in command of the walking wounded the next day, although I claim that the alcohol was secondary to the bad fish and dodgy water that resulted in my sorry state - Talitha claims otherwise. I was second in command because Amanda was much worse, she had doctors assess her at the hotel, and then was promptly on a flight back to London the next day. We actually managed to find a pub in Istanbul that showed the cricket, funnily enough New Zealand against Australia - we sat very quietly during that thrashing....

From Istanbul we made our way down to Gallipoli to see all the historic sites 'without the crowds'. This was the first of many hours we would be spending on the bus (today was 9 hours) with our friendly local Turkish guide Cunuyt (pronounced Jhoo-nait). We witnessed Anzac Cove, Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair, and it started to hit home exactly what had happened here 92 years ago. We spent the night in Ayvalik.

From Ayvalik we made our way further south and a little bit east over the next couple of days, taking in Pergamum, Pamukkale, Ephesus and Selcuk where we captured in some amazing ancient cities - Ephesus being the highlight. In Selcuk we also experienced traditional Turkish Baths for 30 Lira (around 30 NZ dollars), a big sauna like marble complex (for both genders) where we all stripped down, wrapped ourselves in a thin, soon to be soaking wet towel and sat in this sauna room awaiting for the somewhat seedy looking, moustached, hairy Turkish men bend and slap our bodies in ways that would make Jenna Jameson look amateur. An experience to be had that's for sure! The night at our hotel in Selcuk was somewhat of a party night, we had a good old BBQ and the hotel even had a disco that reminded me of my primary school disco days, heaven forbid they played Ghostbusters (do do do do do do, d-d-d-d do do) but also way too much Justin Timberlake....

From Selcuk we headed back to Gallipoli to prepare for the Dawn Service. We reached there about 7pm to find that sleeping room had all but gone and we had to settle for Westpac Stadium style seating for the night. The evening and service itself cannot be described - it can only be experienced (that's my rather cheesy way of saying I can't be bothered typing it all up). I got around 30 minutes sleep all night with the aid of Sarah's lap and Talitha's shoulder (not as dodgy as it sounds). The services were actually quite emotional and the whole experience makes you take notice as to why you were there.

We headed back to Istanbul the next day and were utterly exhausted but slept enough on the bus that we were awake enough to head out for another Turkish meal, followed by Sheisha (a gay tasting tobacco that came in Flower or Apple flavoured), a few more beers and then bed. The next day was shopping at the Grand Bazaar. My whole 'I'm a male, I don't need a map to get there' theory went badly wrong, much to the amusement (or rather annoyance) of my travel buddy. A carpet and a number of other Turkish souvenirs later it was time to say goodbye and head back to the airport.

If I can be serious for a moment (ahem), I think that this experience is a must for any Kiwi or Aussie - one I'm thankful I can say I've done.