Friday, 6 September 2013

Relaxing back at the Med

Attempting to travel from one Turkish coastline to the complete opposite one was a pretty dumb idea. I think if we'd taken another couple moments to consider the journey, we would've broken it up with a night somewhere along the way. We calculated it should only be a 16 hour trip, but didn't factor in lay-overs...and there was a lot. It began with a one hour down by Amasra's bay. We dipped our feet in the black sea and then wandered up and down the sandy shore. We then jumped on a dolmus to Bartin, as it had inter-city bus connections. We sat by the river in Bartin for 3 hours watching the swans attempt to attack any river boats that encroached on their territory, and ate some baklava from a nearby bakery. Another 30 minute shuttle bus took us to the main otogar where we hopped onto the coach to Ankara. The four hour trip there went relatively quick, but then we hit a dead end with an eight hour wait for a bus to Antalya. We were going to just attempt to entertain ourselves at the massive station, but we figured we could see a couple of things Turkeys capital had to offer.

Lake in the central Park of Ankara

There was a train line running directly under the station, so we took it into the city. We wanted to see the old city ruins, but as it was after 6pm the entrance was now closed. We settled instead just to explore around. We took the metro to Ankara's equivalent of central park and walked around the lake. Crossing over the ridiculously dangerous convex bridge that goes over the lake, we were met on the other side by a very familiar amusement park sign: Luna Park! It didn't have the token coked-up smiling face that the Aussie ones do, but it did have some pretty kickass rides. Unlike the Sydney one which charges an exorbitant amount just to enter, the Turkish one is a bargain 25 kurus! (Something like 15c) We walked around the massive fair ground for hours, laughing at all the bizarrely themes rides and watching 6 year-old Turkish kids smash their parents around on the dodge'em cars. One dad got his revenge a little too aggressively, ramming his kid so hard against one of the poles the kid flew out of his car and smashed his head, blood starting to gush from his mouth. (His wife started hitting him so hard, he too began bleeding from the head).

At the entrance to Luna Park

Around 8pm the sun began setting so we took a ride on the ferris wheel to look out over the city. The view was really gorgeous, but a kid riding in the carriage before us had vomited everywhere, so it smelled horrific. We tried getting off after one rotation but the rides official made us complete the mandatory five rotations, locking us in with the sickly rainbow pool of half-digested fairy floss and candy. By the end, we too had added to the vomit contents of the carriage.

On the Ferris wheel overlooking Ankara at dusk

We walked further into the city to get some dinner and check out the city vibe. It was a really similar city to Kuala Lumpur, just with a few more brightly lit-up fountains. We ate at a great fish restaurant then walked a little more. We realised our clothes still smelled like 5 days of bush camping so we bought some quality smelling fake perfume from this Turkish chain called Eyfel Perfumumum. Covering ourselves in our new fresh scents, we headed back to the Otogar.

Fountains in the centre of Ankara

We still had a 2 hour wait til our bus left, but when we got back to the station and saw what was unfolding, we knew it was going to be longer. That evening just happened to be the night all the Turkish boys from the Ankara region were being sent off for their military service. This event in a young boys life is a massive deal in Turkey and they get an incredible sending off. I initially thought there was either a massive riot taking place or the Turkish version of One Direction was arriving at the station. In the 5 hours we were gone, at least 15,000 people had flocked to the otogar. There were drummers, dancers and Turkish flags everywhere!

The boys are carried on the shoulders of their friends through the 3 levels of the bus station, whilst their mothers and other female relatives follow behind, weeping hysterically. Outside the bus a massive ring is formed around the boy and everyone dances as he is thrown up into the air 5 times by his friends. He is then put back onto someones shoulders and carried onto the bus. I reckon this procession takes about 15 minutes, per boy. Now when you're attempting to get 60 people on a bus, in a bus station that has 90 massive coach buses arriving every half hour, and predominantly each bus only waits 20 minutes to get passengers on, there was naturally the most ridiculous hold-ups. The loved-ones don't even let the buses leave once everyone is aboard, swarming it and banging on the sides for the first 200m down the road. I don't know how people weren't run over, it was one of the craziest things we've ever seen!

After waiting a couple more hours watching the spectacle, we realised our actual bus wasn't going to even get into the station until the sun was up, so instead we just opted to get on any bus that was heading to antalya. The bus companies were so pleased to have any passenger board who wasn't being given a ceremonial farewell, that we easily got onto a random bus. We both zonked out on the bus and awoke 8 hours later in antalya. A bus for Olimpos left moments later so 2.5 hours after that we were back at Saban Treehouses, our haven home-away-from-home for 2 weeks of relaxing.

View of Olimpos beach

Our days spent back in Olimpos were dragged out by spending 3 hours at breakfast (being made the best homemade omletes by our omlete-man), sleeping in a hammock, going for a swim, eating Turkish ice-cream inside of a melon, sleeping in the hammock again, eating the most incredible dinner, playing backgamon, drinking tea, then going to sleep. It was remarkable how quickly the days rolled away when you do absolutely nothing! We were a terrible influence on the other guests. People who had intentions of walking through the ruins or going on a sea kayak tour ended up joining us everyday just lounging around and eating.

We met some great people in Olimpos, who we really loved hanging out with. Strangely enough they were predominantly Aussies and Americans (the people we were initially trying to refrain from interaction with) but we ended up forming some great friendships with them. An audacious girl called Sandra from San Diego, forced herself into our relaxation bubble on our 2nd day there and got the ball rolling on more and more Americans hanging out with us. On day 6 a Philippino guy from Texas, who we met in Istanbul, randomly rocked up to our little haven. We showed him the basic daily routine of life in Olimpos. After a day he fell into relaxation mode and decided to extend his stay for another week to kick it with us. Four college friends from Oregon came the next day and did a similar thing.

Hanging out at Saban tree houses 

We all started a discussion about what ice-cream flavours should be put into the melon, that both complimented each other and the natural fruitiness of the melon....this conversation lasted four days. Every new person that came to hang out was asked this stupid question. We soon realised a third of ones day should not be dedicated to the menial task of walking 100m to an ice-cream stall. 
Thankfully on day 9 a group of four aussies and a Spaniard arrived in from a boat cruise from Fethiye. Jorge (the Spanish guy) was working on developing projects with the Spanish government that would improve the employment rate in Spain. He was a super interesting guy, so we had some great chats with him about the political and economical future of the euro. He was also re-teaching himself guitar and had bought one at the last small Turkish port his cruise had stopped at, so would entertain us with songs throughout the day.

Castle at the top of the Ruins 

We all couldn't believe how easy it was to waste away one day after another. We made sure to dedicate one day to taking Chris to see the ruins and the old castle, but apart from that we just continued with our hammock/ice-cream/beach/hammock routine. By the end of the 2 weeks, our melon man was giving us free ice-cream. We'd obviously funded his business enough for him to remain for next year's season. The aussies, jorge and the Oregon boys all left the day before us. Our last night was just us with Chris. We discussed during the day which soup, entree and main dishes we thought would be served that night. It turned out to be all of our favourites! When Meral (the owner) came to sit with us we beamed how coincidently all our favourite dishes had been served that night. She replied it wasn't coincidence, she knew they were our favourites so had them especially made for our last night. That really topped off our stay, so the next day we were pretty sad to once again leave Olimpos. We told Meral to come visit us when she arrived in Sydney, so we could return the hospitality and cook some Aussie dishes for her.

Saying farewell to Meral

As there was still a lot of the city's sites we'd missed on our first visit, and had left a load of our luggage at the hostel we stayed at in Beşiktaş so we flew back up to Istanbul to spend another couple days there. 

Thursday, 29 August 2013

To the Black Sea: Safranbolu and Yenice Forest

The old town in Safranbolu
The guest house we were staying in picked us up from the otogar when we arrived at 6am. The overnight bus trip had taken its toll and we hadn't really slept. Our room wasn't going to be ready before noon so we had to waste 5 hours before being able to sleep in comfortable beds. We walked down to the centre of the old town of Safranbolu, not realising nothing opens until 9am. We walked down to a fountain and passed out on the benches next to it. About 4 hours later we woke up in the blistering sun absolutely baking. We trotted down to a bakery and grabbed some bread rolls and a juice. We were still zombies when we rolled back up at our guest house. Thankfully the room was finally ready so we crashed out and snoozed until the afternoon.

When we woke up later that day we went back to the old town and explored, now that everything was open. The old town was full of really quaint cobbled streets that wrapped up and down the hilly landscape. The entire village is packed with markets and tiny Turkish cafes. Nearly all the buildings are old Ottoman wood houses, so the village actually looks like something from the Bavarian countryside.
The old town is a maze of little cobbled lane ways.
In the 17th century the main trade route between Gerede and the Black Sea coast passed through Safranbolu, bringing commerce, prominence and money to the town. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the town's wealthy inhabitants built mansions from sun-dried mud bricks, wood and stucco, while the larger population of prosperous artisans built less impressive but similarly study homes. Safranbolu's old town became a UNESCO World Heritage site because a large number of these dwellings survived, they are now protected. During the 19th century 20% of Safranbolu's inhabitants were Ottoman Greeks, but most of their descendants moved to Greece during the population exchange that took place after WW1. Their principal church was converted into the Great Mosque.

We spent 4 days in Safranbolu checking out every market stall and becoming friends with the local cafe owners. We caught a dolmus to the new city, stocked up on food, then caught two more buses out to the national park.

We spent 3 nights in Yenice forest, camping in our flimsy tent. We trekked the first 7km of the 56km route, looking for a spot to pitch our tent. We couldn't find anything sufficient but stumbled upon a woodhouse hotel. We walked up and asked the owners if they knew of any areas nearby where we could pitch. They were an old German couple, sympathetic to our condition so let us pitch on the soft grass next in their hotel's garden.
First night camping for the amateurs. We were too lucky to score this first class camping spot overlooking the mountain range, thank God for the Germans who looked after us.
View of the canyon in Yenice Forest.
They were still renovating the lower levels of the hotel so let us use one of the vacant rooms bathroom to shower everyday. They had 2 young Turkish couples staying at the hotel at the same time who spoke really good English. They wanted to trek some of the more scenic parts of the route, so the elderly man who owned the hotel drove us through the forest to the higher vantage points so we could enjoy the national park without needing to lug our hiking packs for tens of kilometres. Being driven around the national park for the next two days was awesome, as we not only had good company, but didn't need to carry our bags and re-set up our tent.

On the third day we trekked back down to the Ormani Kent picnic and camping site. Since we'd entered the national park, Ramadan had ended and the national 4 day Bayram holiday had began. When we arrived at the picnic area near the river, hundreds of Turkish families were picnicking with massive feasts of food. They saw us rock up with our packs, exhausted from the trek. Families began coming up to us offering for us to eat with them as they thought we were about to collapse in front of them. After eating until the sun went down with three different families, we quickly set up our tent and cosied in for the night.
Hiker meets resident.
Turkish cattle dog looks after the cows while they have lunch on the high plains.
The next day we washed in the river, ate some of our left over nutella and hiked back to the main road to flag down a bus. The locals on the bus were giving us pretty weird looks when we boarded with our massive packs and sunburnt cheeks. The young bus assistant kept bringing us cups of water as he thought we might pass out. When we arrived in Yenice we came across a fair bit of difficulty buying tickets for our next destinations. We could see the different bus company's time tables, but no one would sell us a ticket. No one at the station spoke English. Apparently all the seats were sold out until the 6.30pm bus, but the only way they could attempt to explain this was by drawing large X's on the timetable or pointing to the waiting room chairs and shaking their heads (implying all seats were sold out...we thought they meant we also weren't allowed to sit in the station and wait for a bus). Finally we found a guy who spoke German and he explained the situation. We didn't want to wait til the night bus, so after an hour wait, we back-tracked to Karabük and took a bus from there to Amasra.

A lake on the high plains reached after a long trek through the pine forest.
Three bus rides later we arrived into the seaside city. We had been given the name of a hotel to stay at by the German couple we'd camped with, but there were no town maps, the tourist information centre was closed and no one we asked knew it. We read the lonely planet page on Amasra and found out the majority of accommodation was homestead pensions. Instead of both of us walking around with our massive packs and inquiring into random pensions before finding one we liked, we decided to leave me with all the bags whilst Ellen found us somewhere to stay. She was gone for over an hour, so I began scouting out people walking past who might be able to help. It was only old Turkish women and young kids on bikes passing me so I thought I was going to be out of luck, until a group of four western travellers passed me. I saw that they were also carrying tents so asked if they knew a place to stay. They did not. But they turned out to be Russian uni students who had so far hitch-hiked from Moscow, through Georgia and Armenia. They told me they were just going to walk around the headlands until they found a nice spot to set up their tents. I asked if they minded me and Ellen joining them. They were super excited to have some other people join their crew, so two of them dumped their bags and went to scout out a nice camping spot whilst the other two chatted to me. About half an hour later the boys came back stating they'd found a sweet spot. About 10 minutes after that, Ellen returned excited about finding a really nice pension. She saw the four Russian kids standing with me and looked confused. I told her we were going to camp with them so we didn't need the room she'd found. She was quite upset as she'd been through a massive google-translate ordeal just to find this place, haggle a good price, and they'd already given her a key. I went back to the pension with her to help explain to the owners we no longer needed the room.

The spot the boys had found was freakin gorgeous. It was on the top of this small peninsula that comes off the coast from Amasra. By the time we got up to the spot, the sun was just starting to set behind the horizon over the Black Sea. Fifteen minutes later the mosques began projecting the final days prayer. The mountains behind the back of Amasra echoed the resonating prayer back out towards us on the peninsula. It was pretty amazing.
The view from the peak where we camped looked over the whole town of Amasra.
We set up our tents, grabbed some kebabs, then began swapping travel stories. The trip these kids were trying to complete was pretty incredible. Not only were they attempting to hitch-hike for 2 months from Moscow, through Georgia, Armenia, Turkey along the black sea coast, into Greece, back to Turkey, along the Mediterranean coast, up the Iranian border, then back into Georgia to cross back into Russia...but they were attempting to achieve this with a budget of $300 each! So far they had been treated to free meals and accommodation by the people who had picked them up and driven them to their desired destinations. The hospitality of Georgia and Armenia sounded absolutely first class.

By now we considered ourselves expert campers.
After chatting for a couple hours we cooked up some tea, shared the rest of our safran-coconut flavoured Turkish delight and settled in for the night. It was extremely wet on the Black Sea and we realised our tent was definitely NOT waterproof. We got up and attached our rain coats to the outside in an attempt to stem the flow of water inside. It worked remarkably well. The next morning the Russians woke up just after sunrise, packed up and headed to the highway to find a lift to Istanbul. Although it was incredibly gorgeous watching the sun slowly traverse the skyline over the sea, we were starting to feel the fatigue of travelling. Ellen looked over at me and proposed a ridiculous idea: travel the entire length of the country back to the Mediterranean.

We had been discussing the idea of heading back to Olimpos either just before or just after going to Bulgaria. It is an absolute haven for relaxing in a hammock and indulging in incredible food. We couldn't completely appreciate the last-pace of Olimpos the first time round as we were still full of beans, eager to explore this incredible country. Now, we were exhausted and wet. I contemplated this proposal for a moment. There were still a couple of cities we could fit in along the Black Sea, but it would drag us another 600km East, which would add another night bus trip. We were going to have to head back to Istanbul before heading to Bulgaria anyway, so we decided the ridiculously long trip back to Olimpos would be worth it. So we packed up our bags and headed off for 2 weeks of extreme relaxation to recharge the batteries.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013


Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, constituting the country's economic, cultural, and historical heart, though not its capital (which is Ankara). With a population of 13.9 million, Istanbul is the second-largest city in the world by population within city limits. The remarkable growth was, and still is, largely fueled by migrants from eastern Turkey seeking employment and improved living conditions.

Istanbul is a transcontinental city, straddling the Bosphorus—one of the world's busiest waterways—in northwestern Turkey, between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lies in Europe, while a third of its population lives in Asia.

Istanbul's strategic position along the historic Silk Road, rail networks to Europe and the Middle East, and the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean have helped foster an eclectic populace. Approximately 11.6 million foreign visitors arrived in Istanbul in 2012, two years after it was named a European Capital of Culture, making the city the world's fifth-most-popular tourist destination.

We were still cautious about staying in Istanbul, as we weren't sure whether more protests may continue to kick-up. In case Taksim became  a miniature war zone again, we decided to stay a couple suburbs over in Beşiktas. We'd found a cool little hostel that had just opened up called Tasmania hostel, named after the owners favourite Looney Tunes character. The guy who ran the place, Onur, was incredibly funny. The hostel wasn't very well advertised, only a small A4 poster of the Looney Tunes character on the front window signified the hostels location. He'd constantly pretend that his establishment was a barber and not a hostel, when exhausted travellers would try to check in, directing them back onto the desolate street for a half a minute before walking out, smiling and carrying their bags back inside. As we were only his tenth customers he asked us to tell him if there was anything the place needed. We told him some better bath mats for the bathroom and some fans for the dorms. I then jokingly added that he needed a 50 inch plasma and PS3 entertainment set up for guests. "That's already out on the patio" he was awesome to see this man had his priorities in order.

The ceiling of the Blue Mosque
We only wanted to spend a couple days here as we were planning to return after going to the Black Sea and up into Bulgaria. So we decided to just get to know the lay out of the city. Martino was flying out of Istanbul and was back there for another 3 days, so we caught up with him again to explore. We visited the Blue Mosque, Ayasophia, the Grand Bazaar and around Galata tower and bridge.

The Blue Mosque
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is a historic mosque in Istanbul. The mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I.

Our friend Burak would finish work in the afternoon, then take us around less-touristy areas for dinner in the evenings. Two of the nights we caught the ferry over to the Asian side, which had a much less hustle 'n bustle environment. No tourists go there, so you stand out pretty easily. We had dinner with some of his friends at a restaurant on the Bosphorous one evening, and then went to his home the other night to meet his family. His Mum cooked a delicious dinner with traditional Turkish recipes. She even made homemade cherry juice which was too refreshing! Afterwards, we went to a nearby marina park and hung out with the locals, watching the children light fire lanterns and send them off to fly over the marmara sea.

On the weekend Burak took us to the Princes Islands. It's a gorgeous 1.5 hour boat ride that stops at all four of the tiny islands. We got off on the last island to explore around. There are no cars on the island, just horse-drawn carts and bicycles. We walked to the far side of the island, up a massive hill where an old Orthodox Church is located. We checked out the interesting silver plated ornaments inside the church, then sat down at a restaurant that gives you a 360 degree view of the marmara sea. It was ridiculously hot on the island and we'd walked 2 hours up the hill and then back again. Burak wasn't able to eat or even drink water as it was Ramadan, so we decided to join him in not eating, and tried to refrain from refreshing ourselves with water.

We stayed on the island until the sun set. We sat at a restaurant and ordered a mass amount of food to be brought to the table once the sun had passed below the horizon. At 8.28pm the mosque signified end if the Ramadan daylight, the waitress brought out our food and we all began on the feast in front of us. Afterwards, we sat down by the jetty and ordered triple-decker traditional Turkish waffle ice-creams and tea. Burak taught us how to play backgamon so we played at the cafe until the last ferry left for the mainland at 11pm.

Martino left the next day, so we spent the day around the city with him. He still had a bucket load of liras left over so he shouted us all lunch and dessert at a super cool restaurant just down from Taksim. After lunch we hung out in the park watching the young kids annoying the old men trying to play backgamon, having çay delivered to us on our park bench by the tea man. We walked him to his airport shuttle then went back to the park to chill for the rest of the day.

Test run of our tent in the hostel. The only part we couldn't
try out was putting the pegs in the ground.
We hung out at the hostel the next day to plan our trek into the Yenice national park. We unpacked the crappy tent we bought in Fethiye to test its durability and ease of setup. It seemed legitimately able to house the both of us, so after a quick nap in the hostel courtyard we rolled it back up. That evening we hung out with the crew at our hostel chatting about our trips round Turkey.

We booked the night bus to the UNESCO heritage town of Safranbolu, so headed to the otogar the next evening.


Although a very scenic drive from Selçuk to Ayvalīk, the route is monopolized by one single bus company. The ticket prices are ludicrously high and the service impeccably shite! Martino copped the worst of the Sabbat service, leaving the bus drenched in Fanta after the young bus steward dropped a freshly opened 2L bottle into his lap, then attempted to apologize by giving him the remnants of the fizzed up drink. After our luggage was tossed off the bus in massive pile of broken possessions, we collected everything, re-packed, then caught the dolmus to our guest house. The place we were staying definitely made up for the crappy bus ride there. It was an old Greek parish house located next to the town's Cathedral. We snoozed for a while then headed off to check out the town. It was a super pretty port town with two islands just off its coast, connected by steel bridges. We walked around for a couple hours before trying the local delicacy: Ayvalik Tost. This was similar to the Turkish jacket potato, except stuffed inside of a specially formulated bread that toasts like a calzone. It was incredible!

We kicked about town until late in the evening, checking out a local seaside market and grabbing three servings of the cheapest baklava in Turkey! We talked to Martino about his life back in Milan and what he planned on doing once he returned. He told us he had undertaken a 3 month internship with UNDP in South-America the previous year, so was hoping to develop upon the project he worked on there. We grabbed some ayran and sat down near the waters edge, chatting til late. When we returned to the guest house we ironically hung out with two UN workers positioned in Ankara. Martino cynically murmured to me when they were engaging Ellen, that he knew they were UN workers as soon as they walked in, as anyone living in Ankara who speaks perfect English and has rasta dreadlocks is definitely a UN worker. They were actually pretty cool people, informing us about the work they do, and the problems faced working within Turkey. After a couple hours we retired to bed.

The next morning Ellen and I decided to head up to Galipoli for a couple days. Martino wanted to check out the islands for another couple days so stuck around Ayvalik. My snail-like paced packing meant we once again got a slightly late start to the day. We were still sticking to our guns and boycotting Sabbat travel, so we attempted to take the five necessary dolmus buses through random towns to arrive in Galipoli by the evening.

Things were going pretty well to begin with. We'd gotten up to our third dolmus ride and were arriving near a place called Küyükküküyüku (no joke...) and the driver asking us where we were trying to get to. We told him and he shook his head, asking the other passengers if they spoke better English so could explain to us that due to it being Sunday, further northern dolmus services weren't running. One woman spoke German so we were able to communicate through her to the driver, to figure out what we could do. When he found out our end location was galipoli he advised that we were able to get a tourist coach there from this Küyükküyüküyü place. We didn't know the German word for "boycotting" but were able to convey that we didn't want to take the Sabbat coach as we didn't trust them. Thankfully there was another company running from there, so we ended up getting on it.

Upon arriving in Çanakkale, we lucked-in with scoring a free private driver from the Otogar to the Ferry. The Ferry across the strait to Eceabat was really gorgeous, except that we were on board with about 5 Serbian Contiki tours, so there were drunk shirtless dudes everywhere. We saw 2 other massive tour groups of drunk bogan Aussies heading off the Ferry in Eceabat. Me and Ellen were extremely grateful they weren't staying at our hotel....until we realized they had just stopped outside this other hotel so two of the girls could vomit, and they were in fact staying at the same hotel we'd booked...FML. It was slightly fortuitous that they were checking in to ours, as it meant the hotel was overbooked so we got upgraded to a pimp private room on a different floor.

We wanted to just rent bikes and cruise around the peninsula, but we couldn't find any rental places so booked a tour instead. It was actually the best idea we'd had. The tour was really informative and super fun. The Turkish tour guide had spent so many years delivering the tour to Aussies he now spoke with a hilarious began Turkish-Aussie-mix accent. He even changed his name from Bular to Bill, to accommodate for the mass of Australian tourists who are too retarded to pronounce simple Turkish names.

For our non-Australian readers, here is a little history of the Gallipoli campaign which explains why visiting this area is almost a rite of passage for Australians:

Map of Allied landing at Gallipoli.
Anzac's landed in the north at Anzac Cove.
Battle for Gallipoli:
February 1915 - January 1916
In early 1915 the Russians found themselves threatened by the Turks in the Caucasus Campaign (Caucasus region is the area north east of Turkey between it and Russia) and appealed for some relief. Aiming to secure a sea route to Russia, the British and French launched a naval campaign to take the Gallipoli Peninsula and force a passage through the Dardanelles. The naval operation included an amphibious landing on the western shore of the Gallipoli Peninsula, to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (Istanbul). By capturing Constantinople, the British hoped to link up with the Russians, knock Turkey out of the war and possibly persuade the Balkan states to join the Allies.

The naval attack began on 19 February. Bad weather caused delays and the attack was abandoned after three battleships had been sunk and three others damaged. Military assistance was required, but by the time troops began to land on 25 April, the Turks had had ample time to prepare adequate fortifications and the defending armies were now six times larger than when the campaign began. It was this landing that was a total disaster and resulted in the mass loss of casualties.
The Anzac landing

While many Australians learn about the Gallipoli campaign in their school days or maybe from a documentary, it didn't hit home quite how disastrous this campaign was until we stood in Anzac cove. You don't need to be a war expert to realise that the narrow, shallow cove would be a stupid spot to carry out any sort of surprise landing. You then turn your head to look where the troops would run from the beach to shake your head again and question what protection were they going to get when the beach runs straight up to a massive hill where the enemy is waiting for you, they might as well have waved to each other on arrival.

The Ottoman's had time to prepare this heavy line of defense.
In addition their resources where located close by.
Against determined opposition, Australian and New Zealand troops won a bridgehead at 'Anzac Cove' on the Aegean side of the peninsula. The British, meanwhile, tried to land at five points around Cape Helles, but established footholds in only three before asking for reinforcements. Thereafter little progress was made, and the Turks took advantage of the British halt to bring as many troops as possible onto the peninsula.

Amid sweltering and disease-ridden conditions, the deadlock dragged on into the summer. In July the British reinforced the bridgehead at Anzac Cove and in early August landed more troops at Suvla Bay further to the north, to seize the Sari Bair heights and cut Turkish communications. The offensive and the landings both proved ineffectual within days, faced with waves of costly counter-attacks.

The War Council remained divided until late 1915 when it was decided to end the campaign. Troops were evacuated in December 1915 and January 1916. Had Gallipoli succeeded, it could have ended Turkey's participation in the war. As it was, the Turks lost some 300,000 men and the Allies around 214,000, achieving only the diversion of Turkish forces from the Russians. Bad leadership, planning and luck, combined with a shortage of shells and inadequate equipment, condemned the Allies to seek a conclusion in the bloody battles of the Western Front.

The massive loss of troops in this campaign was recognised on both sides, but in particular the words of Atatürk that have been forever engraved in the memorial at ANZAC Cove are considered to be the best in the commemoration of this event:
"Those heroes that 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." — Atatürk 1934

Anzac trenches
The peninsula is very difficult to get around and the war memorials have very little information, so it was awesome to have a tour guide who was able to express the significance of each site. Additionally, we realized our WWI knowledge was pretty rubbish, so having Bular breakdown the chronology of the battles was really helpful to understanding how everything unfolded. It was also great to hear someone talk about the battles from a Turkish perspective. Hearing Bular talk so passionately about how the Turks defended the peninsula, whilst still being sensitive to the ANZAC-bias we all had in our heads, really put in to perspective how the Turks were being used as Pawns by the Germans in the exact same way the ANZAC's were by the Brits.

Memorial at Lone Pine
We also gained massive respect for Mustafa Kemal (Attatürk), both as a soldier and then as the revolutionary political figure he became after the war, to lead Turkey to independence. There's a great monument of Attatürk at the top of the peninsula with a quotation from his diary about when he was shot in the heart by ANZAC troops, but survived as his pocket watch protected him from the bullet. I'm pretty sure the guys from Mythbusters even re-inacted the event and confirmed its plausibility. Here is the story:

We were planning on staying another couple nights, heading to the south of the peninsula and camping near the French and British memorials, but by the end of the tour, we felt pretty content with the WWI closure we'd received, so the next day hopped on a bus up to Istanbul.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013


It was only 4hrs from Pamukkale to Selçuk so we decided to just book a bus in the morning. We'd asked around the going rate so we knew what to attempt to haggle under. Kamil Koç (pronounced Camel Coach, and not Camel Cock, like every tourist calls it) were advertising on-board entertainment now in English. I was tempted to re-watch The Prince of Persia without the Turkish-dubbing, however, I felt it was more authentic being delivered in a more middle eastern language. Kamil Koç were also notorious for being the most expensive, so instead we tried Pamukkale coaches. We walked into the ticket office which was empty except for a 12 year-old boy reading a magazine on the couch. "Is there someone nearby who can serve us?" We asked the boy in overly slow English and with large hand gestures, "one moment" he stated, getting up and then walking behind the counter, "how may I help you today?" he asked in perfect English, picking up a pen. Martino, Ellen and I all laughed. The kid continued to stare at us blankly. "Oh, you're not joking? Ok, we need three tickets to Selçuk tomorrow. What times do your buses run?"
"The only bus with seats leaves at 1.30pm tickets are 26 lira each". Before we had the chance to ask if he could do us deal, he interjected. "for you I can do for 24 each. Actually 23. No wait,...22 lira." This kid was dropping the price by the second. We looked at each other then Ellen asked "what about 20 each?" The child began laughing hysterically for about 30 seconds, before turning back to us dead-pan. "I'm sorry madam this price is just not possible". We were going to try for 21 but figured this kid had already dropped it enough to make this transaction as quick as possible so we paid and let him get back to reading his magazine on the couch.

We went to eat breakfast around 11am just before the buffet finished, then hung out by the pool until our bus arrived. As we were laying on the pavers a Turkish girl came close to us and began taking photos with her phone. We thought she was photographing us so we turned around to confront her (and also strike some poses). We realized she wasn't actually photographing us, but a tiny turtle that appeared out of nowhere and was making its way to the pool. We knew the ridiculous amount of chlorine in the pool to combat the urine content would undoubtedly burn the turtle's skin off. So we picked him up and gave him to the hotel management. Apparently he was a pet of one of the guests and had crawled out of its enclosure, but they weren't sure what to do with him as the guest wasn't there. We would've loved to have taken him with us, but Ellen had just bought a 6kg bag of salted cucumbers from a tile merchant across the street, so our hand luggage packs were completely full.

We caught the bus to Selçuk, arriving in the mid-afternoon. We'd pre-booked accommodation weeks ago for the Selçuk stop, but Martino wasn't able to get a room at our hotel, so we split-up for a couple hours and arranged to meet up for dinner. We needed to pay the balance of our booking upon checking-in. The hotel owner asked us whether we'd prefer double or twin room. We said we didn't mind. He told us he'd give us the room at a special price, and then put on an elaborate presentation of everything the room offered, which most rooms usually do not encapsulate like air conditioning, many many power sockets, "city views" and breakfast with "multiple servings" of tea/coffee. We were quite confused as we had the invoice in front of us so knew what we owed, but as he quoted us a higher price we then weren't sure what he was giving us. We showed him the confirmation email, but he said the booking website hadn't converted from euros into lira correctly. We were too confused to argue so just paid. The room he took us to was actually a triple so the confusion continued to build. Ellen looked around before turning to me "so can we use the air conditioning and power sockets, or does that guy charge extra for that?"
"I have no idea."
We dumped our bags and then headed out to see the city.

Selçuk was a cool little place, with an immaculately preserved 30m high section of an aquaduct running through the city centre. Massive stalks have taken the liberty of turning the aquaduct into their home, building large straw nests on top. We met Martino around 8pm and searched for somewhere nice to eat. We found a kebab stand that had a fresh ayran fountain, so we were naturally sold at once. After dinner and two pints of the delicious yogurt drink, we walked around the streets until we stumbled upon a small market. Ellen bought some penguin earrings, whilst Martino and I opted for some ginormous peaches from one of the local farmers. We tried getting another kilo of salted cucumbers but unfortunately the tile merchant selling them had sold his last batch moments before we found his stall. Around midnight we parted ways to our respective hotels, planning to meet back up the next day around 11am to check out Ephesus.

The largest outdoor theater in the ancient world, seating capacity of 24,000.

Ephesus is the most well preserved Roman city in the Mediterranean region. Ephesus (Greek: Ephesos; Turkish: Efes) was an ancient Greek city, and later a major Roman city, on the coast of Ionia. It was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League during the Classical Greek era. In the Roman period, Ephesus had a population of more than 250,000 in the 1st century BC, which served to make it one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world (at it's peak in 100 AD, the population reached 400,000). The city has a massive history, so here is just a snapshot of some of its quite interesting years (yes again sourced from your trusty historian, Wiki):

Celsus Library and Mazeus Mithridates Gate
Underneath the theater foundations.
Ephesus, a territory that was traditionally Greek to the core, became subject of the Roman Republic. The city felt at once the Roman influence. Taxes rose considerably, and the treasures of the city were systematically plundered.

In 88 BC Ephesus welcomed Archelaus, a general of Mithridates the Great, king of Pontus, when he conquered Asia (the Roman name for western Asia Minor). Ephesus became, for a short time, self-governing. When Mithridates was defeated in the First Mithridatic War by the Roman consul Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Ephesus came back under the Roman rule in 86 BC. Sulla imposed a huge indemnity, along with five years of back taxes, which left Asian cities heavily in debt for a long time to come.

When Augustus became emperor in 27 BC, he made Ephesus the capital of proconsular Asia (which covered western Asia Minor) instead of Pergamum. Ephesus then entered an era of prosperity, becoming both the seat of the governor and a major center of commerce. It was second in importance and size only to Rome.Ephesus has been estimated to be in the range of 400,000 to 500,000 inhabitants in the year 100, making it the largest city in Roman Asia and of the day. Ephesus was at its peak during the 1st and 2nd century AD.

Lower Agora (city square)
Processional Way

The city was famed for the Temple of Artemis. It also had one of the most advanced aqueduct systems in the ancient world, with multiple aqueducts of various sizes to supply different areas of the city, including 4 major aqueducts. They fed a multiple set of water mills, one of which has been identified as a sawmill for marble. The city and temple were destroyed by the Goths in 263 AD. This marked the decline of the city's splendor.

During the Byzantine era (395–1308), the importance of the city as a commercial center declined as the harbor was slowly silted up by the river  despite repeated dredging during the city's history. (Today, the harbor is 5 kilometers inland). The loss of its harbor caused Ephesus to lose its access to the Aegean Sea, which was important for trade. People started leaving the lowland of the city for the surrounding hills. The ruins of the temples were used as building blocks for new homes. Marble sculptures were ground to powder to make lime for plaster.

Temple of Hadrian
The town knew again a short period of flourishing during the 14th century under new Seljuk rulers. However after a period of unrest, the region was again incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1425. Ephesus was eventually completely abandoned in the 15th century and lost her former glory.

After 6hrs walking around the Ephesus site we retired back to our hotels for much needed showers. We ate dinner at our new favourite ayran fountain kebab stand, before taking one last stroll around the city. We found an awesome baklava patisserie so bought 6 pieces to share. A young boy was walking around with a tray delivering Turkish tea to all the shop owners nearby. We hailed him over and ordered three. Within a minute he had rushed off to whatever tea source he had secretly hidden nearby and returned with our order. Tea delivered to you on the street at 11pm at night by a 9 year-old kid, for only 20 cents...I think Australia needs to step up its Hospitality standards. Ellen bought 6 more slices of baklava for the bus ride the next day, however, ended up eating them on the street like the addict junkie she is. We headed off to sleep, arranging to meet at 10am at the otogar the next day.

Ellen was in a baklava coma so slept like a dream boat that night. The next morning I had to slap her awake with the last remaining salted cucumber we had left in our hand luggage. We ate breakfast, packed our bags and headed out. Upon exiting the hotel we felt as if we'd stumbled into a portal to a linen fortress world. A three block radius outside the hotel was converted into a massive bedsheet castle that was filled with market stalls.

We couldn't see the sky, just a bed linen ceiling for hundreds of meters. It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen! We wanted to dump our bags back inside and explore the massive fortress, but it was already 9.55am and we knew it was going to be a mission bustling through the crowds with our ginormous bags. The stalls were selling everything from clothing, books, fresh food, house and garden equipment, electrical and even paraphernalia from other countries. Ellen spotted a tile merchant selling salted cucumbers for 5 lira per kilo, so rushed over and grabbed a 10kg sack. We met Martino at the Otogar only minutes before our bus pulled out. We were on our way to the quaint seaside town of Ayvalik.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Pamukkale - The Cotton Castle

This is Pammukale

One massive white mountain in the middle of the Turkish countryside. It doesn't feel quite so strange  until you're standing on its peak, looking out at the rolling green hills and pastures surrounding which prompt you to wonder "how the hell did this get here?!".

Sunset on Cotton Castle.
And now for your science lesson of the day:
In this area, there are 17 hot water springs in which the temperature ranges from 35 °C to 100 °C. The water that emerges from the springs is naturally carried to the head of the travertine terraces (a fault in the Earth's crust that allows the water from below to escape through) and deposits calcium carbonate on a section 60 to 70 metres long covering an expanse of about 300 metres. When the water, supersaturated with calcium carbonate, reaches the surface, carbon dioxide degasses from it, and calcium carbonate is deposited. Calcium carbonate is deposited by the water as a soft jelly, but this eventually hardens into travertine which is the rock that makes up this white mountain. Due to its strange natural appearance, the Turkish name Pamukkale literally means 'cotton castle'.

The ancient city.
Ancient societies attributed healing powers to the hot springs and so founded a thermal station on the site in the late 2nd century. The history of Hierapolis followed the same course as many Hellenistic cities in Asia Minor. The Romans acquired full control of it in 129 BC and it prospered under its new rulers. It was a cosmopolitan city where Anatolians, Graeco-Macedonians, Romans and Jews intermingled. The hot springs which attracted throngs of people, also served as a place for scouring and dying wool, and hydrotherapy which was accompanied by religious practices that turned into some sort of a local cult.

Alex and Martino getting right down to business in trying out the mineral properties of the hot springs.
We travelled to Pamukkale with Martino, as he was also working his way to the west coast and then up north to Istanbul. We all booked the same bus and headed there in the evening. The trip began with 120 of us packing onto a coach that seats 56 (no one going to Pamukkale realised we were supposed to get a dolmus to Nevşehir to then get on our bus. So we all just jumped on the Antalya bus and demanded we be dropped along the way). It was a really nice ride, made even better by FINALLY receiving ice-cream! On top of that it was the gooey Turkish kind and pistacio flavoured. At 6am we were dropped on the side of a highway as our bus was continuing on to Izmir. We thought we'd have to then walk the 9km to Pamukkale, but out if nowhere 6 mini buses turned up and began screaming hotel names to everyone. In the confusion we just jumped onto a random bus, which just happened to drop everyone outside the hotel we'd booked (winner).

Water runs down the hill like a liquid carpet.
We only wanted to stay one night as we'd been advised that you don't need more than a day there. We booked the cheapest hotel we could find. It turned out to be the best one on offer! It had a really nice pool, spa and sauna. (As it was 40 degrees outside the spa was thankfully cooled so it was like a cold bubble pool. We were once again exhausted so slept for a couple hours then chilled by the pool. All the tours go to the mineral pools during the day, so we waited out until late in the afternoon. When we arrived it was still bustling with people, but after a couple hours of walking around the ruins of the old city the mountain became almost deserted. We swam in the warm mineral pools until the sun set. The snow-like appearance of the white calcium deposits during the day, become reflective washes of oranges and purples during the evening sunset. It was incredibly beautiful. After Alex dropped me down one of the flowing mineral rivers, where I scarred half of my back, we descended off the gorgeous mountain and headed back to the village for some dinner and then a much needed nights sleep.