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BandA’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 20 Nov 2003

Location: Turkey

Chapter 3A - Return to Turkey

Our route through Turkey

Friday November 20

Once safely across the border from Bulgaria into Turkey we had to take all our bags out of the bus, unlock them and have them searched. This took only 15 minutes or so but we were sorry for the hundreds of trucks lined up in both directions waiting for detailed customs inspections.

It was now almost dark as we headed into Turkey and we were very impressed by the extravagant level of lighting on the highway. It was some 12 km of open countryside from the border to the next town but there was “street lighting” all the way. We saw this time and again over the following weeks in each country we passed through. This seemed very improvident as all these countries have to use limited foreign currency to import oil for their power generation.

As we left Bulgaria we were heading for Gelibolu, the town on the Gallipoli Peninsular on the opposite side (the East side) from Anzac Cove. As mentioned earlier there was no direct bus from Plovdiv to Gelibolu so we had to catch the Istanbul bus and alight at Edirne, not far south of the Bulgarian border, where we had already made a reservation at a hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet Guide Book. On the way we discovered from our friendly English speaking Turkish student that the bus by-passed Edirne so we had to be dropped off on the freeway at a turn off some 3 km from Edirne. We felt we made a rather sorry picture being dumped in the dark on the roadside in a foreign country with no local language and carrying our packs. We were told a dolmus (a minibus) should come along before long and it would pick us up if we hailed it.

Humping our blueys

How do you recognize a dolmus, let alone the right one, in the dark? All we could see were headlights fast approaching in both lanes. Rather to our surprise, within fifteen minutes a dolmus, which was heading for Edirne, stopped for us. On arriving in the town we showed the driver a piece of paper on which we had written the name of our hotel. Once again an angel appeared in the form of an elderly male passenger. He took B’s pack and signalled: “Come follow me”. This we gladly did for several blocks, worrying a little that perhaps he was taking us to his own favourite pension but, sure enough, he landed us at our hotel and with a cheery good bye left us.

The hotel was about a 2 star hotel, comfortable enough, but we had to pay $60 for bed and breakfast, the most expensive accommodation we paid on our whole trip. After settling in we wandered round the town and found a pleasant café which provided something to eat. Although it was dark, we found Edirne an attractive town with some very unusual mosques. We tried to get some money from two ATMs using our Maestro Credit card, but without any luck. The trouble was that, at least in Turkey, you must have only a four-digit pin number and ours was a six-digit number. Fortunately we also had a Visa card with a four-digit pin number. We have subsequently been told that if you just enter the first four digits of a six-digit pin number it will work OK.

Saturday November 21

This morning we were heading for Gelibolu to meet the lady we had met a week earlier in Istanbul. The bus station was a long way from the city centre so we had to find where to get the dolmus to take us there. Once again we found a helpful angel, this time in the form of a female English teacher who took us to the bus stop. This bus was very crowded as the local university was closing down for the festival that celebrated the end of Ramadan. On arriving at the bus station we went to buy tickets to Gelibolu only to be told (this time helped by an English-speaking male angel called Mehmet ) that although there were quite a number of buses going there today, all were fully booked out because of the festival. What were we to do? The best that they could suggest was that we could get a bus as far as Kaşen, which was about one third of the way. From there we might have to stay the night, or perhaps there might be a local bus, or perhaps we could get a taxi, or perhaps the lady we were to meet in Gelibolu might be able to arrange private transport, or perhaps Jackie and Ali might like to explore the Gallipoli Peninsular and pick us up, or perhaps we might hitch hike - though B was not at all keen on this last alternative. Anyway, we decided to at least go as far as Kaşen and see what happened when we got there. This two-hour bus trip cost only $2 each!

On arriving at the bus terminal at Kaşen we got off the bus and, as usual, people pounced on us to offer accommodation, a taxi or what ever. We told them we wanted to go on to Gelibolu. They immediately told us that the bus we had just got off went to Gelibolu. We explained that the bus was fully booked out but insisting “No! No!”, they took us into the booking office, sold us two tickets, took us back to the same bus, though in two different seats and we were on our way again. What a relief!!

We arrived safely at Gelibolu about midday and alighted at the ferry terminal to Çanakkale. There was a phone nearby (fortunately the right type) and we rang Eser , the lady we had been introduced to by our Servas host in Istanbul a week earlier. She lived only a short distance away but came in a taxi to collect us.

We found ourselves entering a large multi storey house, well appointed and comfortably furnished. Like most local homes it housed different generations of the one family and Eser and her mother were on street level. After we had talked a while Eser asked if we would like to walk along the beachfront and we responded enthusiastically to this idea. The enthusiasm rose from two sources. First, the view of the Dardanelles from the lounge was really lovely-attractive shoreline, blue sea with dancing waves and, across the Strait the distant coastline. Second, we knew that Eser had, for the past 15 years, been collecting pieces of broken crockery washed up on the beach from the wrecks of Allied ships sunk as part of the Gallipoli engagement in 1915. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find one of those pieces! Although the wrecks had occurred many kilometres away the movement of the currents and tides had slowly moved them on to the beach

As we walked out the back of the house we found ourselves on a wide, high terrace open to the garden and sea views. Although we had walked in straight off the street at the front, because the house was on a hill, the terrace was well above ground level. Only a narrow street separated the garden from the “beach”. Please don’t picture an Australian beach. This one had rocks, rocks and more rocks. We walked some distance along the road then, on our way back, began to search among the rocks. Eser hit the jackpot and kindly gave us two small pieces of china-one white and blue, the other pale blue.

There is an interesting story behind Eser’s china collection. On our return to the house she showed us a mosaic dove made from the pieces. This went on exhibition at Çanakkale in 2003. Among the gifts she gave us was a card with a photo of the dove that looked something like this:

On the back were the following words:

I have collected these small pieces of china plates one by one during the last fifteen years.
They belong to the English Battle ships which were sunk 88 years ago.
They have been coming by the waves to the shores of
Gallipoli from Dardanelles and from the deep dark memories of History.
I have felt them as if they were alive as they were speaking to me.
From now on they will become symbols of PEACE.
I believe that one day sad memories of all the wars over the World will turn in to
PEACE like it did in Gallipoli

Lunch was served on the patio and we enjoyed the fresh fish and other goodies. So did the two spoiled cats although we did, at times, have trouble defending our meal from the two demanding predators.

After a leisurely lunch, Eser, despite our protests, was about to ring for a taxi to take us back to the bus stop at the ferry terminal when a friend arrived at the door and offered to drive us instead. We readily found a dolmus to take us the short distance (about an hour) to Eçeabat where there was another ferry crossing to Çanakkale. As we were driving into Eçeabat the dolmus stopped and a swarthy little man got in the bus, introduced himself as TJ , and told us about the wonderful pension he had especially for Australians. He won our custom by pointing out that it made a lot more sense to stay at Eceabat rather than cross to Çanakkale and come back to Eçeabat the following morning for a visit to Anzac Cove and the adjacent war sites. His logic was sound so we got off the bus and followed him into his pension. TJ had perfect English and just about perfect Australian. Although he looked more aboriginal than Turkish he was actually Turkish but had married an Australian girl and spent half of each year in Australia living at Corowa.

Because of the problems in getting bus connections, etc., from Plovdiv to Eçeabat, we were running a bit behind schedule as we (that is to say A) thought we had arranged to meet Jackie on the afternoon of the following day. Accordingly, although it was getting late in the afternoon and dark fell by 1630, we thought about making a very quick trip to the Gallipoli war sites by taxi so we would be able to meet Jackie and family the next day. TJ looked into the possibility of doing this and came up with an astronomical estimated cost, well over $100 for a one-hour tour. Alternatively he suggested we could stay the night at his pension and join a regular 6-hour tour the following day for a cost of $30 each. This was much more attractive in all respects except that we would be a day late meeting Jackie. So we rang Jackie to tell her of our change in plans only to be told that she was not expecting us until the Monday, two days later. So it was clear some good angel was again looking after our schedules.

Also staying at our pension were half a dozen other tourists from N.Z. and Western Australia. There was also an Australian Journalist (Bill Sellars ) who had been living in Turkey for a number of years and who had married a Turkish girl. She, apparently, was rather different from most Turkish girls as she was prepared to invade the men’s sacred territory-the café. Bill told how, on one occasion they were sitting in a café and talking to the men when one of them expressed surprise and delight at being able to talk with a woman on equal terms. The others agreed. Interesting! We were very pleased to have a long talk with him to get a Westerner's/Australian’s view of life and politics in Turkey.

Apart from one night later in Jordan these were the only Australians or Kiwis we met during our 6-week holiday. In fact, we hardly saw or met another foreign tourist the whole time. Everywhere the locals kept telling us how September 11 had killed the tourist trade.

Sunday November 23

Our tour of Gallipoli was scheduled to start at 1000 so after breakfast we went for a walk around the town centre and some of the back streets. In contrast to Bulgaria it was interesting to see that there were virtually no women in the town centre whether serving in the shops or simply shopping. We did discover however that there were some women in Eçeabat when we walked around the back streets. This was the home territory of the women while the town was the precinct for the men. Virtually all the roads we had experienced so far in Turkey had been paved but once we got off the main thoroughfare the streets were quite rough and unsealed. We could imagine what they would be like in wet, winter conditions.

For our tour of Gallipoli we were very fortunate to have an excellent guide. His name was Canon. He was a retired University lecturer but clearly one of his main interests was studying the history of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. On many instances he gave us an hour-to-hour description of the various sea and land battles. He had been to Australia more than once, gained information on the campaign at the Australian War Museum, had studied Richard Beane’s Official War History, had been the official guide to many important Australian dignitaries and had been awarded the Australia Medal for his services to Australia.

There were only about six of us so it was a very personalized tour. Indeed it was a very moving experience from start to finish. One of the things that struck us most was the strong friendship that has existed between Australians and Turks from the Anzac campaign right up to the present time, despite the fact that Australian troops (under directions from Britain) had invaded their country. These good relations in no small way flowed from the generous attitude of Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish general at the time of the invasion and subsequently the inaugural President of the newly independent Turkey. The attached quotation, displayed on a granite plaque at Anzac Cove, clearly illustrates this:

“Those heroes who 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 lying in our bosom
And are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well”
Ataturk 1934

We found the whole day very moving and were often close to tears for the soldiers on both sides. Perhaps we felt especially close to the experience as both our Dads had fought in World War 1, although not at Gallipoli. We could describe at length the museum, the monuments, the trenches, the cemeteries, etc., but we suggest that these words would be empty compared to first hand experience.

That evening at the pension A watched the Australian film “Gallipoli”. B had seen it before. One of the staff also down-loaded for us from the Commonwealth War graves Commission web site details of B’s cousin who had fought at Gallipoli, survived the campaign, but died in France. This website has the details of all fallen Commonwealth soldiers.

Monday November 24

We may not have made it clear that Jackie and Ali and family were visiting Ali’s family in Turkey at this time and we were planning to spend three days with them in their home village. This village of Çavuskoy is about an hours drive south of Çanakkale. So this was where we were heading today, though planning to detour on the way to visit the ruins of the ancient city of Troy.

Eçeabat was only a small town on the opposite side of the Dardanelles to Çanakkale. To reach Çanakkale you had to make a 30-minute crossing on a ferry, which we did at about 0900 on a very foggy morning.

Since leaving Australia we had been carrying a ”rainbow” bag with all sorts of “goodies” for Jackie and her family - curry powder, earmuffs, microwave bowls, puzzle books, soy milk, medicines etc. Although we were happy to be able to bring all these things we were looking forward to being unburdened of them. When we spoke to Jackie by phone from Eçeabat, she said: “Would you bring one more thing, a toilet seat!” The reason for this strange request was that Ali had been building a new house for his parents, including an inside toilet so they needed a toilet seat. This meant that, on arriving in Çanakkale, our first task was to try to find a toilet seat. Certainly Jacky had told us where to get it but unfortunately the directions were a bit ambiguous and we couldn’t find the location of the shop. We also had a problem, accentuated by the language problem, of asking where we could buy a toilet seat. A rather unusual enquiry from two tourists, and almost certainly they would think we were looking for a toilet that had a seat rather than the normal squat toilet. After an abortive half hour search we decided to ring Jackie again to get clearer directions. More problems! None of the many Çanakkale public phones we could find were the modern phones that used the sort of phone card we had. Eventually we found one at the post office (where we also posted a lot of post cards to friends back home) and found out that the toilet seat shop was right beside the bus station which was where we were ultimately heading.

We eventually bought the toilet seat (though it turned out to be the wrong size and the wrong price) and went to the bus station to find our bus to Troy. “Oh, you are in the wrong place, this is the otobus terminal you want the dolmus terminal, you have to head 50 m down the road.” In fact it turned out to be well over 500 m, carrying our packs, the “rainbow” bag and our toilet seat!

We safely arrived at the entrance to the Troy complex, after being dropped by the bus in the village some distance away. We had been told we could leave our packs, etc., at the ticket office but apparently the rules had changed. We had the choice of walking back 300 m to a café where we could leave our things or heading a further 500 m on to the ruins. We didn’t like going backwards so chose the latter course.

Fortunately when we got to the ruins there was a souvenir shop and they kindly let us leave our “impedimenta” in their little lunchroom cum kitchen while we went exploring.

We had arranged to ring Jackie and let her know when we arrived at Troy so she and the family could come the 30-minute drive from Çavuskoy and collectus. When we went to ring her you can guess what happened. The only phone there was the wrong sort! Fortunately we were able to buy the other sort of card at the souvenir shop. But our troubles didn’t end there! We got through to the village OK but Jackie wasn’t there, only Ali’s mother (Niné) who has no English. After two abortive calls yet another English speaking Turkish angel appeared and made the third phone call for us. This time he learned that Jackie and family were already on their way to meet us.

The site was extremely well signposted for tourists and as we walked we tried to relate what we saw to The Iliad. From the top of the hill we looked across the extensive plain to the distant sea. In all, nine cities had been built on top of one another and, in some of the digs, it was possible to see a number of these layers all clearly marked. The Mercedes car company is helping fund the archaeologists and we were very impressed with their efforts to make the history clear to the visitor. Only one thing looked out of place. Near the entrance stood a huge wooden horse. No self respecting Trojan would have dreamed of trying to drag it into the city. Nonetheless, B could not resist climbing inside it for the customary photo.

By the time we had finished exploring the site we found Jackie, Ali, Zekiye, Sami and Jemal waiting for us on the other side of the fence. You can imagine there was a very excited reunion.

With the seven of us in their small car, plus our packs, plus the toilet seat, we headed off to the village but first we had to call at Ezine, as it was market day there . There we met Ali’s brother Şahin who has a fruit stall at the market. Our stopover here for an hour or so was a great eye-opener to rural Turkish life. To help fill in the time we took Zekiye and Sami for a walk round the market. We admired the fruits and vegetables, we wandered along the alley where clothing and household goods were on sale, and we noted some horse-drawn vehicles on the road. Everywhere there were crowds of people rushing to finish their purchases, food and presents, ready for the Byram celebrations the next day.

Finally, we too were ready and by now the car was packed to the roof with our packs, food, presents, four adults and three children. Once we had squeezed in we drove on to the village, Çavuskoy, for an emotional re-union with Ali’s parents whom we had met in 2002 when they visited Australia for 6 months.

During the three months the family had been in the village, Ali with the help of Ibrahim, a friendly neighbour and builder, had achieved a lifelong ambition of building a decent house for his parents, especially for his mother who had battled with very primitive conditions while she had raised six children. Now Ali was delighted that his parents had the best house in the village. It was built of concrete bricks with a corrugated iron roof. There was a good sized bedroom, a large living room, a convenient sized kitchen with a dining alcove attached and, what was especially good, a bathroom with a chip hot water system and a flushing sit-down toilet - with a seat!

Because the house was not quite finished the first night we slept in the living room on two couches put together but, by the second night we had a fully furnished double bedroom complete with curtains. The first night Jackie, Ali and the three young ones slept in the old house but after that they moved into the new one.

Byram is a time of gift giving and B was presented with a pair of Turkish Shelvas (women’s baggy trousers) with a pretty green and navy pattern in the material. These made sitting on the floor more comfortable and helped her blend into the local scene.

As already mentioned, this first evening at the village was the final day of Ramadan so it was a big occasion at the local mosque. Naturally Ali and A attended.

Tuesday November 25

First thing this morning Ali and A again went to the Mosque to celebrate the start of Byram with every mature male and many of the young boys from the village. After the ceremony inside the Mosque, everyone gathered outside in a long line based on age. Then the youngest moved up the line to shake hands with everyone above them until every person had greeted everyone senior to them with the greeting “Byram mubarak olsen” which is something like “Happy Byram”. By the end of the day it seemed we had said it 1000 times; as for the rest of the day we remained in the new house welcoming numerous friends and family who were coming to celebrate Byram-and to see the visitors from far away Australia. It was a great opportunity for us as we were able to meet all Ali’s immediate family as well as many of the close friends from the village. As at Christmas in the West, it is customary to give presents-especially to the children-so we were glad finally to be able to disgorge all the goodies we had been carting around Turkey and Bulgaria in our ”Rainbow bag”. It was also the time when the local “drummer man” came for his gift. During Ramadan he had gone through the village with his drum every morning before sunrise to wake people so they could eat and drink something before the start of the daily fast.

In the evening there were 15 of the family for tea plus numerous children and Niné, helped by her daughters, did a wonderful job catering for everyone. All meals are taken sitting on the floor around a low table with a common food bowl. Poor A with his arthritic back and hips could not manage to squat on the floor so he was given a chair whence he gazed down from on high towards all his subjects. Meals consisted of soup, often lentil, sour dough bread, baklava, yoghurt, tomato, onions, lettuce, rice, doughnuts, eggs, silver beet, peppers, potatoes, chicken and sausages.

Family meal at Çavuskoy
After tea Ali took A to the village square where the local barber gave him a Turkish haircut amid the gazing eyes of half the village.

This evening we were privileged to sleep in the “master” bedroom. As the house had been declared liveable in only the day we arrived, Ali’s parents were still sleeping in the old house.

Wednesday November 26

Today we had a restful time in the village. Jackie took us, together with the children, for a walk around the village. Local tradition dictates that a woman does not walk around the village alone or even go to the local store alone, so this was the first time she had had the opportunity to explore the village. During our walk we called in at the home of Ibrahim, Ali’s helpful builder, and his wife who were good friends of the family. Generally the home is the domain of the womenfolk and men do not visit in the home. In contrast, the local café (of which there were three), is the sole domain of the men folk.

Ibrahim and his wife had a simple house but neatly furnished inside. One feature that interested us was the cradle for the baby. Because space was very limited the cradle was suspended from the ceiling but when not in use or when baby was sleeping it was raised out of the way then lowered when attention to the baby called for it. We were also impressed with a couple of attractive tapestries they had on the wall of two rooms. The first, in the little living room, portrayed two little children about to cross a stream with a caring guardian angel behind them. This was a familiar scene to us and very reminiscent of pictures in our youth but it surprised us to see it in a Muslim home until we remembered that Muslims, like Christians, believe in Angels. What surprised us more was a similar type of tapestry in an adjacent bedroom, depicting "The Holy Family”-Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We made a gentle query about why or where they got the picture and they simply said they had seen it and they liked the family. Apparently they did not realise that it was a Christian Holy Picture. But then again, Muslims hold both Jesus and Mary in very high esteem.

During the day A had the opportunity to talk to a couple of the local dairy farmers. The average herd size in the area is about 3 cows and these are housed in an outbuilding adjacent to the home or even under the house. A few statistics of interest based on our conversation: They feed up to 20 kg of pellets a day at a cost of about $0.40 per kg and they said cows produced up to 40 L per day for which they were paid about $0.50 per litre for the milk which goes to one of the small cheese factories in the neighbourhood. Total annual expenditure on feed would be about $500 and milk return about $1200 per cow. (Some of these values do not add up but they give an idea of the economics of dairy farming in the area.) We did see some animals being fed in a paddock on the outskirts of the village, but they were being fed what appeared to be bales of very coarse straw.

Thursday November 27

In the morning we went for a walk with Jackie and Ali around some of the fields belonging to the Yildirim family. Most of this land was now leased out to neighbours as Dedé (Ali’s Father) was too old to work the land and none of the children were still living in the village. Because it was early winter there was little activity in the fields as all the summer crops (tomatoes, capsicum, beans, potatoes, etc.) had been harvested and the new crops would not be sown until the spring.

When Tracy and A visited Turkey in 1996 they had visited the village of Ali’s mother where there was a busy cottage industry of carpet making. A had been so impressed with the skill of the carpet weaving girls he wanted to visit there again. At the same time a visit there would give Niné an opportunity to greet her friends and relatives. Accordingly together with Jackie, Ali, the children and Niné, we travelled to the village some 30 km away. As usual we received a very warm welcome and were expected to sit and eat a meal which was almost the same as we had just eaten in our village. After we had sat around for about an hour the news was broken to us that there was no longer any carpet making in the village and even the looms had been disposed of. We were disappointed but it had been an interesting afternoon. Although this was a very poor village (most of the fields were simply covered in stones so that it was surprising anything grew in them!)-even poorer than Çavuskoy-we received a very warm welcome. One thing that impressed, or perhaps we should say “depressed” us, was to see where the three cows were housed. They were kept in a dark and dirty, airless pen under the house. We felt very sorry for them and contrasted their lives with the life of our cows back home-fresh air, green grass and lovely views!

On the way home we stopped at another house so Niné could check out a prospective bride for one of the young men in Çavuskoy. Arranged marriages are still the norm in the villages.

Friday November 28

This morning we said our farewells to the Çavuskoy Yildirims as we headed off to see more of Turkey.