A NIGHT ON THE DARDANELLES
From the balcony of the restaurant at our hotel on the other side of the Dardanelles, we can see a lit memorial on the Gallipoli Peninsula – a beacon on a dark night – and a red flag reflecting light. It is closer to the tip of the peninsula than we had gone during the day on an all-too-brief tour of part of Gallipoli.
The view of the illuminated memorial and flag (apparently the Turkish Martyrs’ Memorial) is enough to make us reflect on what would have been happening across there 104 years ago – two months after the shambolic landing on what is now Anzac Day.
Our tour starts at the Epic Presentation Center (Çanakkale Destanı Tanıtım
Merkezi), built as a replacement in 2012. Different displays with sound effects and rocking floors begin with the Turkish naval victory on March 18, 1915.
Our guide ushers us out halfway along the circuit – for time or sensitivity reasons, we are not sure – and off we go to Anzac Cove.
It defies imagination: now so peaceful, like most of this peninsula, but which meant so much back then to politicians and generals in London or lesser top brass on ships off the coast.
The 29 of us on the tour are hushed and sombre as we walk around Anzac Cove, some dipping a toe in the cool, clear water that was once blood red; on to Lone Pine Cemetery and Memorial.
I had asked our Turkish guide earlier if any sort of service was done on a visit here. He said no.
As we get off our buses and walk upon the Lone Pine lawn, I ask the group to gather around.
I explain as a veteran what the Ode is and that it would be appropriate to recite it with a
minute’s silence. Everyone appreciates the act which adds to the special occasion and for me it is both essential as well as an honour and privilege.
On we go to several other sites which bring home the immensity and enormity of the hell that happened here in 1915. On the ferry trip from the peninsula across to Canakkale, we can only look back and wonder.
Out hotel on the Asian side of the Dardanelles is the Troia Tusan along the coast from the town of Canakkale.
It seems ironic that, next morning, I am at the beach where lifeguards are on patrol (not that there is any surf) with mandatory red and yellow flags overlooking Gallipoli on the other side where bronzed young Anzacs learnt about war all those years ago. Lest we forget.
Not far away is the ancient village of Troy, now an archaeological site. Despite rain, we take in the history and the replica Trojan horse.
On we drive to what Lonely Planet describes as “one of Turkey’s most impressive archaeological sites” (a big call, given there are quite a few): Bergama Acropolis, with its dizzy 10,000-seat auditorium which is in remarkable condition.
From here is a clear view of the Aegean and some of the Greek islands.
Along the coast, we continue to Kusadasi where we stay the night at the Charisma Deluxe Hotel with swimming pools and boardwalks along the shore overlooking the Aegean. We spend a day from here visiting the House of Mary (mother of Jesus Christ – she actually lived here for some years) and another ancient and equally spectacular, wonderfully preserved site, Ephesus, with the facade of a two-storey library from Roman times still standing.
Hospitality and entertainment follow nearby at a rug factory and showroom.
Next is Pamakkale and amazing travertines – calcite and thermal pools high on a cliff with more ruins. We swim in Cleopatra Pools not far from the ruins of Hierapolis. The night’s hotel features a thermal mud pool.
Two nights at a luxury resort hotel perched on cliffs over the Aegean in Antalya follow with visits to the old port city and the eye-catching Dunden Waterfalls.
It is difficult to imagine anything else could be more spectacular than what we have seen already – until we arrive at Gamirasu Cave Hotel at Cappadocia.
This area is simply, yes, spectacular as well as other-worldly. Huge antnest-like, but much larger, naturally formed “hives” dot the landscape with vast caverns underneath.
Lonely Planet says it is a “geological oddity”. These “fairy chimney” structures have been homes and hideaways for centuries and many have become hotels like ours. It is also one of the most popular hot-air ballooning sites in the world, but current industry issues prevent us from going aloft.
Returning to Istanbul on an all-day bus trip, we stop in Ankara at the Ataturk Mausoleum and Museum: a memorial for the founder of modern Turkey and the country’s hero of the Gallipoli campaign, then known as Mustafa Kemal.
We had stayed two nights in Istanbul before heading for Gallipoli at a Ramada Hotel on the Golden Horn on the Bosphorus: a river which divides Asia and Europe with the Black Sea to the north and Marmara Sea to the south.
Our first day included the old Istanbul city: Topkapi Palace, the great palace of Ottoman sultans from the 15th to the 19th Centuries with jewels of the Imperial Treasury and relics of the Prophet Mohammed; the 16th century Sultan Ahmet Imperial Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque because of its magnificent interior decoration of blue Iznik tiles (our view was restricted because of maintenance work); the Ancient Hippodrome with the Obelisk of Theodosius, the bronze Serpentine Column and the Column of Constantine; and the Spice Bazaar with its drowning aromas. A dinner cruise on the Bosphorus was memorable for the sights and the floor show.
Before heading to Turkey on our Tripadeal tour, I had some trepidation stoked by misconceptions, but it actually exceeded expectations. More than 40 million tourists annually are arriving in Turkey, but we did not feel crowded, unsafe or insecure.
The biggest problem was the new Istanbul Airport – simply too vast and spread out for one building.
TRIP OF A LIFETIME: The itinerary included Cappadocia, a "geological oddity".
The ruins of an ancient library at Ephesus.
Lone Pine Cemetery at Gallipoli.