Day one ..
We were a bit unlucky in the Blue Mosque as there was something going on in there and there was a young boy on a microphone with a very loud voice aggressively saying something. It was so loud and so aggressive that I just had to get out of there.
Next stop for me was the Cistern (John wouldn’t pay the entrance …ha!) and I loved it. I have seen a million churches across europe but this was the first cistern that I had seen and I thought it was amazing. There were even fish living down there in the dark.
We then headed to the Grand Bazaar which was a huge surprise … I loved it. Very clean and yes the guys are trying to sell but not aggressively and they were mostly very charming and funny. There were beautiful things in there and if I was just visiting Istanbul and then heading home I would have bought some nice things.
We had also visited the New Mosque in the morning and Spice Markets which I enjoyed. Bought really good dates and nuts.
Later in the afternoon we caught the tram back … the tram system in Istanbul is really good. Public transport is the way to go because the traffic is horrendous, consequently taxi travel would be a pain.
Wednesday we headed straight to the Topkapi Palace and even though I tried very hard I found the whole thing a bit of a pain. They allow way too many people in there so that you have to queue for hours to get into everything. We queued once and then gave up on queues. They really should take a leaf out of the Spaniards book and make people prebook like the Alhamnra.
I had a look at as much as I could but I have to be honest and say that I find Ottoman decoration way to chaotic. Individual sections … like a lovely inlaid door or a wall of beautiful tiles … but add everything together and it does my head in. On a positive note there were beautiful gardens and this is where I should talk about the tulips.
We were lucky enough to be in Istanbul when the 13 million tulips were in bloom and they are everywhere and beautiful. The city does a great job with the spring flowers and it makes the city look fantastic. There were also millions of pansies and hyacinths.
By the evening we were tired so just went to Fish Street again for dinner.
Thursday morning we jumped up early to make sure that we were at the hotel for when Joy arrived. It was soooo good to see her and she looked fantastic. Robyn (her niece) had flown from Singapore with her (she is a kiwi) so the four of us had breakfast together and then they both had a shower and a bit of a rest. Barney (Robyn’s husband) arrived from Capadochia (spelling) as he had flown over the previous week.
In the afternoon we all headed over to the Blue Mosque, which Joy enjoyed, had a bite to eat at the Pudding Shop, which is near the Blue Mosque and has been a meeting place for travellers since the hippy days.
Next stop the Grand Bazaar, which Joy really liked and then home for a rest before having a great meal together at Mezze Lemon Tree which was straight across the road from the Pera Palace Hotel where they were staying. I thought that it was a really good meal. Unpretentious but great ingredients cooked to perfection. Robyn told the waiter that it was Joy’s birthday so we all had to sing happy birthday to her when they brought out a dessert with candle and sparkler. All a bit of a hoot! Of course we all know that her birthday is in June.
Friday, Joy, John and I walked down to the Galata Tower and were lucky enough to walk straight in. There was a lift most of the way but then three flights of stairs. I thought Joy should stop at one as there was a restaurant there that you could look out but of course John egged his Mum on … pushed her into it more likely … and she managed to get to the top. I thought that he was going to kill her, but she was brave as always and loved it when we got to the top. There was a great view over all of Istanbul.
We kept walking down the very steep hill to the Galata Bridge and walked over there checking out all of the fishermen as we went.
We split up over the other side … John went off to check out about hire cars and buses to Greece and Joy and I headed to the Grand Bazaar via the tram.
We had a great afternoon and Joy bought a couple of lovely presents. We had lunch in the middle of the Bazaar … great lentil soup and a sandwich. Very civilized!
We headed back via tram and funicular and Joy had a rest while I went searching for “fashion street” near the Galata Tower, which I did find, but it wasn’t that exciting. However, I did find a couple of nice shops around the Galata Tower and bought a couple of things.
In the evening the five of us headed to Eleos restaurant, which was about a 10 minute walk from their hotel. It had been recommended by our AIRBnb lady who was great. We walked into a dodgy building, up a dodgy elevator, along a dodgy hall and into a fabulous restaurant. There were spectacular views of the Bosphorus and our waiter took charge and organised several small courses of seafood. We were all very impressed and he kept surprising us and serving us extra courses that were on the house … a lobster salad, fresh fruit and green shots followed by dessert … which none of us thought we could fit in but it was delicious and we couldn’t stop picking at it.
Saturday Joy had breakfast at our apartment again and then we walked down the big hill and across Galata Bridge and hopped on a Bosphorus cruise for two hours which we all really enjoyed. We then caught a tram right up over the other side of Istanbul past the Grand Bazaar to a glasses shop that John had ordered glasses in the day before. We had lunch in a typical Turkish cafe for $5 each and it was rather good.
Then back on the tram … Joy was a trooper! They were always really crowded and she would have to stand up and hang on for dear life until someone … always a Turkish person, never a young tourist … would give her a seat.
It was time for her to board the boat but we had a bit of a hassle finding out where exactly she had to go … we could see the ship but had a bit of a walk trying to find the entrance to the port. All good and off she went. That night she phoned and said she was too tired to go to dinner and was having soup in her room. I felt dreadful … we had obviously done too much and pushed her too hard. The thing was she was so brave and strong and handled all of the trams and very dodgy footpaths with uneven tiles, cobble stones … you name it we dragged her across it. The thing was that night we were exhausted as well and just had a toasted sandwich and went to bed!
Next morning we packed up and dropped our gear at the Hertz Office and caught a taxi to the peer and had a coffee with Joy. She had had a good sleep and bounced back as good as gold. We were sitting in a very ordinary cafe down near the peer and there was an Aussie sitting at the next table. Of course we started chatting and you wouldn’t believe it but he was a really good friend of Jeannie and Charlie Brkic. Jeannie had written to me about him going over to row one of the surf boats into Gallipoli … and there he was. So, we had a great chat for a while and then we took Joy back to the entrance to the Peer.
We had had a fabulous four days with her. She is a truly amazing woman. So strong, brave, interesting, fun, adventurous … I am in awe!
That evening her boat sailed on its maiden three week voyage. They were supposed to go up into the Black Sea but with the trouble in the Ukraine they changed the itinerary and were heading somewhere else in Turkey before anchoring in Anzac Cove to watch the proceedings from the boat on 25th and then going ashore on 26th.
For our European friends I will explain what is happening at Gallipoli. During the First World War at dawn on 25 April 1915 a large contingent of Australian and New Zealand servicemen, who as soldiers for the Commonwealth, were led into the battle at Gallipoli, Turkey by the British. It was Churchill’s idea to go to war with Turkey to gain access to an ice free port in the Black Sea for their allies … Russia. The reason being so that they could push into Germany from the East.
The whole campaign was a complete disaster and after 240 days they withdrew. Where they landed it was a nightmare as the Turks were up in the hills and had the advantage. Together with the fact that the Turks were tenacious … the geography of the area made it impossible for them to be able to push forward and it ended in trenched warfare.
8700 Australians, 2700 New Zealanders, 1350 Indians, 49 Canadians, 21200 British and 10000 French were killed during the campaign. The Allied wounded totalled 97000. The Turkish authorities estimated there casualties were between 250000 and 300000 wounded and 87000 dead.
25 April each year is commemorated as ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand and has become a national symbol of what we as Australians consider the backbone of our nation … mateship. Looking out for your fellow man. There are ceremonies in all schools and there are dawn services at most towns in the country commemorating Australians and New Zealanders who have served and died in all wars.
At Gallipoli every year there is a dawn service and it has become a pilgrim place for Australians and New Zealanders … especially the young people living in London.
In Australia you had to go into a ballot to get a ticket to be able to attend the 100th anniversary at Gallipoli and there were only 10 000 tickets.
John and I didn’t apply for tickets but at the last minute we decided to hire a car in Istanbul and we drove down there on Sunday afternoon after saying goodbye to Joy.
We arrived at our AirBnb in the town of Gallipoli, only to find two Australian fellows who are kayaking from Istanbul to Anzac Cove to raise money for returned servicemen and women. They were exhausted as they had paddled 65 kms in really bad conditions … 3 metre waves. They were great guys and were staying in the house across the road who are friends of our hosts. So, we all had a cup of tea and cake … our hostess was a treasure and the four of us drove into town and had dinner together.
The next morning we wished them good luck and headed off exploring the area. The first fellow we ran into was an ABC journalist who works in Brisbane and does the ABC website. He took our photo so look out for us.
We drove down to Anzac Cove, about 60 kms south west of the town, to find that there were trucks, sound people, tents etc etc … huge preparations going on. I chatted to one woman who was sitting around in an official blue raincoat and she was a public servant from Canberra. I then noted that there were lots of people wearing the same coats … just sitting around!
Anzac Cove is actually a stunning beach and we were lucky enough to see it on a beautiful day. However, when you look up into the rugged hills it just sends shivers up your spine. They had no chance! I have to admit that it was a very emotional experience for me … all those years of the ode … “At the going down of the sun and in the morning …….. we will remember them”.
There are lots of lovely, well kept cemeteries dotted around the whole area. We visited a couple but it would take forever to visit them all. We walked through the main area where they were setting up and then hopped in the car and headed several kms up the hill to the main Australian Cemetery ..Lone Pine, where once again there were huge grandstands, tv screens etc being set up. Apparently everyone goes from the beach area for the dawn service up to Lone Pine for another service.
After we left there we headed back to the East side of the peninsular to Eceabat for lunch. We were excited when we saw all of the Australian surf life saving boats down at the beach. There must have been about twenty of them from all over Australia. They will row ashore on 25th but not sure what time. It is going to be a huge production. I know that there will be an Australian warship, plus an English and French … probably a Turkish or two … and loads of cruise ships.
The kayakers had been interviewed by Channel 7 and the ABC and I know that they both went to air. There were Australians everywhere. We heard loads in Istanbul … obviously enroute to Gallipoli.
We had another night at our Airbnb and then drove back to Istanbul, which was a pain
to have to go all the way back to Istanbul to drop the car off, but we just found it difficult trying to find out where we could catch buses.
Sooo… now we are on a bus from Istanbul to Thessaloniki, Greece … 12 hours … happy days!!!!!!