Gallipoli is the perfect excuse to get out of Istanbul, especially, around the ANZAC Day. But does this patriotic Aussie pilgrimage matter to me, I don’t call myself a True Blue, I ask myself? But retrospectively, the photoblog of the dawn service in 2008 convinces me to seize the day. However, once again, as the trip goes on, it becomes more about the journey than the destination.
Spring Evening in Taksim
It is an uncertain day at work before the trip. I am not sure if it will drag on to the weekend and am about to move it back to another week. Fortunately, the job is pushed through and finalised by the end of the day. Once it’s wrapped up, I quickly book a weekend tour covering Gallipoli and Troy as well as a hostel in Taksim.
Why a hostel in Taksim? The tour doesn’t pick up on the Asian side. It’ll be a big hassle to get to the European side at 6 am. Besides, spending springtime there isn’t such a bad idea compared to the late winter snow when I first got here. Y’know, decadency: having a haircut, seafood, a coffee fortune reading, a Turkish bath, a night out on a stairway pub under the moonlight with live music, and trying Raki for the first time.
The indulgence ends at 2 am. That’s 3 hours of sleep in a bunk bed. I get some more sleep in the van until the halfway stop for breakfast in Tekirdağ. I start to notice other fellow tourists in the van.
Sunny Saturday in Gallipoli
We arrive in Eceabat and check-in with the tour operator. Each one has a different itinerary: Troy or Gallipoli, a day tour or staying a night in Çanakkale. I’m the only one in the van who the stay night. Then they take us to a local restaurant for lunch. I randomly sit down at one of the tables. The conversation over lunchtime is quite receptive.
Apparently, there are two Russians with us including the girl in the van sitting next to me. Not many options for them to get out of the country. Turkey is obviously one of them. Thailand also had good visa arrangements with Russia. Another Russian man used to visit Thailand a lot. But it gets harder since the pandemic.
The talk shifts from tourism to our views on Russians. The girl tells us about her mother’s concern that people outside are hostile toward them because of the war. We have to debunk it. Wars can also get into your head. But we are more connected and empathising than ever before. Personally, I still remember the Russia trip in 2018 fondly. Before she leaves for the Troy tour, she asks us for group photos so that she can send her mom as a prove. Such a relevant exchange since some of us are going to visit war memorials!
In the van, we are on to the Gallipoli tour. Some other tourists replace to ones who are going to Troy. The tour guide gets in and starts the tour with the political context of WWI and the involvement of the Ottoman Empire while I’m setting the camera and slapping some sunscreen on. We hop on and off the van at many key spots of the campaign, starting at the ANZAC Cove and finishing at Chunk Bair, the vantage point of the peninsula.
It is a long sunny afternoon. I learn a lot about the Gallipoli campaign. To be on the sites does not only gives the feel of the ANZAC side that became Australia’s patriotic mentality. But it also shows me its significance to the Republic of Turkey. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who led the defence campaign became the key figure in the modern Turkish nation.
After the tour, I am led to cross the Dardanelles to Çanakkale on a ferry. The city’s youthfulness and vibrancy completely contrast with the bleak tranquillity in Eceabat. The hotel is just in the centre of the city’s nightlife. I’d love to join the parties but am too exhausted and can even sleep through the wild Saturday night below.
Spraying Sunday in Troy
Free time in the morning gives me a chance to walk around a bit of Çanakkale. Sunday morning is a different scene from the night before. The weather also turns cloudy, windy, and cold. I really like this seaport city. The time given here is just not enough to get the full vibe. An archeological tour of Troy is coming up.
It is very pleasant to meet a familiar face in the van—the Dutch who was also in the Gallipoli group tour on Saturday afternoon. We have a good chat along the way to the UNESCO World Heritage site. He is an ex-pat in Istanbul but quit the job, and now is travelling southward to Izmir. Also, with us, a family from Mexico.
That is a good coincidence. When the tour guide reveals that they don’t know much about prehistoric Troy (Troy I-V), it reminds me of the Teotihuacán day trip that the guide then told us that the prehistoric Mesoamerica was a mystery. More than that, I assume the family is taking a holiday during Semana Santa. My mind warps back to the photoshoot in Iztapalapa.
The interactions with people on the weekend trip are somehow not expected. That aspect of the journey makes the trip as intriguing—if not more—as the destinations of the two-day tour. The city of Çanakkale itself is also fascinating. More time with it would be nice.