Tag Archive for 'Istanbul'

The long road to Iran via Turkey

Turkey. Was meant to be a transit destination, and this is now my 8th day! Three days in Istanbul, a day of travel to get to Trabzon where I spent two days, another day to get to Dogubayazit via Enzurum, and when I finish this post – a full day getting out of the country (even though l am right near the border – I was been roped into helping a local Kurd). The bus trips have been as fun as an adult circumcision, but despite being totally disengaged as a traveler, it still has been an interesting trip.

I arrived in Istanbul early Saturday morning, groaning that the ticket office I needed wouldn’t open until Monday. The hostel was literally a match box (how they fit the beds is beyond my comprehension) that had not been cleaned since, well, never. But despite this there was a hot but stupid Brazilian girl, and a German dude that I become friends with as we were entertained by the Brazilians stupidity, so that made it more bearable.

?Ѭ?stanbul

Istanbul. Damn big.

The German guy had just spent a year working for an NGO in Bangladesh. Yes he is also asking "why" as well now – He’s turned into an avowed capitalist after seeing what he saw. It turns out both our fathers have had former lifetimes as ladies men, but I think his dad takes the cake. His Romanian father is a musician that travels the world bonking women. My friend is son number 12. No one knows but the father how many sons he truly has. "Are you really son number 12?" I would ask for the fifth time. "You very amused by zis, eh?". God yeah.

I picked the hostel because it is in the heart of modern Istanbul near Taksim square, which was a good idea because it is totally different from Sultanahmet, the tourist area. The street is a pedestrian area, filled with shops and consulates dating back from the Ottoman Empire when these grand buildings where once embassies. Apart from walking up-down Istiklal street like a million times, I also got a taste of Istanbul nightlife with the German. Worst hangover ever.

Fishing in the Golden Horn

Having seen what travels on Istanbul’s waters, I don’t suggest seafood in the city.

Istanbul is grubby, congested, and disorderly. But I love it. I don’t know what it is, but it just stands out as one of the most amazing cities I have ever visited, a class I put alongside New York and London. There was a Turkish law that said that if you could build your house in 24 hours, you could claim the land. This resulted in a mass migration from heartland Anatolia, and today no one really knows how many people live in the city. To say 10 million is an understatement. Try 15-20 million.

Trabzon is a cool city as well, founded by Greeks thousands of years ago – the name is derived from the Greek word for "table", because the city sits on the mountain…like on a table. It has always been a historically important city as it lay on the Silk Road, as well as its impressive positioning protecting it from invaders. Today the focus has shifted from East to North, as it trades with Russia and the caucus region. You only need a glimpse of the port to know it is an important one.

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Along the Black Sea coast of Turkey, a mountain range follows it. This picture is on the far west of Trabzon – no wonder it resisted so many invaders.

Both cities are distinctively European in appearance, and spirit. It was only once I got lost in the suburbs of Trabzon that I saw women covering themselves head to toe and even then it was rare – only a few really old ladies. In Istanbul and in the centre of Trabzon it is very rare to see women cover themselves. People look European as well. It was not uncommon to see blue eyes. Actually I was shocked to see how European Turkish people looked. Coastal Anatolia is as European as they get.

Sumela Monastry

Sumela Monastry, which stands at the foot of a steep cliff, about 45 kms outside of Trabzon. Despite undergoing many changes since its founding, they say it first began during the reign of Theodosius I (AD 375-395). It took an hour to walk up the cliff. Monks are crazy people.

Heading inland, things are a bit different. The head to toe covering of women is a tad bit more common, but again, it mostly seems like the older generation. The head scarf is a lot more common, but it looks more like a fashion statement than a statement of fervent religious belief. The people look a bit more Arab as well, but as I found out last night, the Arab-Turkish look is because of the Kurds. One Kurd I met reckons there are 30-35 million of them, in a country with a population of 70 million. No wonder the Kurdish issue is so sensitive in Turkey.

On the bus from Trabzon to Enzurum, I was confirmed you don’t screw around in Turkey. Going on mountains so high up that there were cloud formations next to us, the bus suddenly made a sound like the bonnet had just been scrapped badly. I never found out what exactly happened apart from seeing some scrapings on the side, but what amused me was what happened after the scraping. First of all, all the men were outside, talking and looking very knowledgeable about what to do. Then, a passenger smacked the bus driver, and they got into a brawl. Then, the traffic police came. And another police car. And then a military van with five guys with big guns, four of which guarded the road. Another police car drove past but he was told to move on because they had enough support. Then, a shitty car with what appeared to be a high-ranking military officer, turned up. He poked around, walked around like he was important, and then had his door opened by one of his soldiers. He gave me a look as he was leaving that resembled like a "respect my authority!". I just gave him the kiss my arse look.

And the bus one and a half hours later left. All that for a traffic report? It reminded me of when I was in Trabzon, walking in the suburbs whereby a good 10-15 police cars one after the other came out of their car lot, presumably to deal with some important crime like a bank robbery or fetching a cat from a tree. Point being: Turkey has a lot of military and paramilitary with nothing to do not far from you – don’t test them! The amount of military bases in Eastern Turkey further proves this.

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Turkey has such a diverse and stunning geography, which bears similarities to all the countries I have seen so far combined.

Last night, tired like all buggery, I arrived in Dogubayazit. Some guy called Gerkum led me to a cheap hotel, and I was then passed on to Martin the hotel attendant. Martin than took me to a restaurant, and the staff there entertained themselves as I burnt my mouth with Kurdish food. Apparently, it’s called Kurdish viagra. I haven’t got a female companion to test it but God am I paying for it today – I don’t think a virus has the chance to exist in my body right now because of how strong the curry was (it was like packed curry with some flavouring).

Uploading my photos and writing this entry, Martin found out I had some basic internet knowledge. Two long hours later, we created a site with pictures. Wasted my day meaning I will get to Iran later rather than earlier, but if he gets at least one new customer I suppose it was worth it. Kurdish people are the friendliest people I have ever come cross as well. Maybe a bit too friendly – the 19 year old owner of this Internet cafe likes to talk and it is taking forever to write this entry.

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A proud nation, even though the issues of secularism and the Kurds, seem to challenge and bring conflicting views of what it means to be "Turkish"

Back in Trabzon, I was chatting with the hotel dude whilst eating breakfast. I don’t know whether it is the international male language, or if guys I meet are repeatedly testing my sexuality – because people always bring up the subject of women with me. He was telling me how Russian women are very beautiful. I said Turkish women were very beautiful as well, but he replied "Yes pretty, but only for marriage, not fun". Trying to make the conversation a little more meaningful I asked if people were religious in Turkey. He said they were, but not like how they were in Iran. "In Iran…make changes….like Christianity…you will see when you go". He then left the room with me trying to understanding what he meant by that. I didn’t have the chance to find out, but whatever his negative view of Iran is, I hope I can prove it wrong.

PS. On the toilet issue debate, the Muslim way is so much cleaner. Having said that though, I have completely redefined the relationship I have with my left hand.

Athens

Since my last post, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve done three things: sleep, eat, and talk about going back to sleep or what?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s to eat. The day I got back from Istanbul, I left for the mountains in the Peloponnese, for Greek Easter – which is a huge event here in Greece. About half the Greek population moved to Athens 30 years ago, but their parents all come from villages, and so there is a mass-migration for a weekend every year. My mothers village, which has a permanent population of about 50 (49 as of yesterday), swells to a few hundred during Easter and the August 15 celebrations. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s certainly a fun time, especially considering it’s predominantly a young crowd now.

Since the Easter celebrations, I stayed in the village with my uncle?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s family that is based up there (and in the regional capital, Tripoli). The idea was that I take it easy because I was still trying to get over my jet lag ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú let alone the Anzac trip which just made me more tired. Unfortunately, I didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t get to relax as much as I hoped. This was due to my little cousins ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú one is ten, the other eight ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú who expected me to play games with them all day. And when afternoon siesta time came, or the later night-time sleep, they would snore. Actually one night when I shared the bed with the elder Theodore, he karate-chopped me. It was on the neck as well, which kind of hurt (they are both Tae-Kwon-Doe students). It was also at about 4am, just before the neighbours pack of eight dogs started barking at five in the morning. Sorry, I meant those eight fucking piss-stained shit-coloured imbred dogs started barking, at five in the morning (and every morning thereafter). Don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t get me started on the rooster.

I spent my week doing that, before I returned to my other Uncle?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s family home, in Athens and where I am basing my entire trip from. The day I returned, we went out for one of my (Athenian) cousin?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s birthday (all three girls are aged 20-25). In Greece, the person who is celebrating has to shout drinks for the people that are there. i’m lovin it. Having spent a week doing animal noises to entertain the kids, it was time to have a few drinks and kick-back. I thought I only had a few drinks, but my cousins swear they saw me pouring myself a few extra drinks, and a few more on top of that. Either way, whatever I drank, it was a hangover that lasted well into the next night.

One week on, I have been sleeping, eating, and talking about going back to sleep or what?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s to eat. I am sleeping 10-12 hours a day, and if it wasn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t for food, I would sleep more. So I hope you don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t mind, but I am going back to sleep now. Good bye.

Istanbul

Sleep has been a very important concept for me in the last week. Very important. Just as my body had adjusted to American time, it then had to adjust for Greek time. And to make things more fun, I caught a 6pm bus from Athens that arrived 1.30pm the next day in Istanbul. The smelly illegal immigrant from a Black Sea state next to me, felt my pain, and spent 18 hours sleeping and hugging me whenever the bus turned. Four hours later in Istanbul, I was on another bus, to Gallipoli. At 12am I arrived, only to spend the next five hours trying to keep my body from freezing until the start of the Dawn Service (you can read a less whiny post on my Anzac experience here).

The bus trip back to Istanbul was the sweetest sleep ever. Somehow, I sleptwalked my way from the bus to a hostel. And then I was happy.

Istanbul is a great city, and it is completely over run by Aussies and the odd kiwi fruit. The Turks love Australians, and we are being treated like a bit of a novelty. I had a day in the city because the next 19 hour flight (bus drivers in this part of the world seem to think buses are a perfect way to practice for pilot school) doesn’t leave until tommorow, which was great: I finally had the chance to spit on Doge Enrico Dandolos grave (don’t worry, I did an extra one for you as well).

Next destination is the “village” in motherland Greece, deep in the footholds of the Peloponnese, to celebrate Greek Easter.

Athens to Istanbul

Amused myself by trying to throw things in this guy’s mouth

Athens to Istanbul

These guys did not know each other. I could not wait for when they woke up and found out they had been sleeping on each other.

Gallipoli

Humanity. Identity. And youth. Those were the three unspoken themes that permeated the atmosphere at Gallipoli, the site at which 90 years earlier, soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, France, Britain and Turkey fought in a battle that lasted nine months but would forever haunt the site. Militarily, this battle brought bloodshed on all sides. Culturally, however, it would come to define the modern Australian and Turkish states ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú creating a legend that would affect us to this day.

Background

Even in ancient times, Byzantium was a very influential city. It controlled trade and shipping that would pass from the Black Sea and Anatolia, to the Mediterranean ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the junction that connected Europe to the Silk Road. So strategically important was its position, that the Roman emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire there in 325 AD ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú where it ruled the world supreme for a thousand years. In 1453, the Ottoman?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s finally invaded the impregnable city with a new technology ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú canon fire ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú and made the since renamed city ?¢‚ǨÀúConstantinople?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ the capital of her vast empire.

In 1914, the Ottoman Empire ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú now on its last legs ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú had joined the Germans in the First World War. Constantinople, like it has always been, was a strategically important city. To capture it meant that the Allied armies could eliminate the Ottoman?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s from the war, as well as control the key black sea trading route ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú ensuring a starved Russia could get supplies and support, as the Western side of her belly was cut off by the Germans. The Gallipoli peninsula led into Constantinople, and if the Allies could capture the Peninsula, they could make their way up to Constantinople and achieve their objective. The outcome of this battle had huge ramifications for all the sides fighting, as it could have broken the stalemate on the western front.

Kamal Attaturk was the commander in charge of the Ottoman army at the Gallipoli peninsula. His success in defending his homeland, made him a national hero, and no doubt played an important factor in him becoming Turkey?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s first President in 1927 ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú whereby he oversaw the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia modernised and completely revitalised into the powerful country we see today.

Of the Australian and New Zealand forces fighting there, the battle has became a symbol that defined two young nations, as up until then, their colonial past was the only identity that they had. They were known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the acronym to those words has come to represent a commemoration for fallen heroes; and for Australia, the uniqueness of her culture and people.

Ninety years later ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the memorial ceremonies
The memorial consisted of three parts. The first part was the Dawn Service, which started at 4am. Later in the morning, the Lone Pine Service was held, to commemorate the Australian troops ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú as five of the seven Victorian crosses awarded were due to acts performed at this site. And afterwards, the New Zealander?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s held their service at Chanuuk Bar, which was the highest ground reached by the Anzac?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s.

The Dawn Service was held in an area called North Beach, which was just above Anzac cove. The area was held in a space the equivalent of a football field. The crude estimate that 14,000 people were there was based on the assumption two people could fit in each square metre. A lady who was handing out programmes, said that of the 19,000 printed, 17,000 had already been handed out at 12am ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú when not even three-quarters of the attendants had arrived. Add to the fact that there were literally thousands of young Turkish people swarming in the masses – it would not be unreasonable to say that 20-25,000 attended this year?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s service.

A local Turkish girl teased me, because she had one layer of clothing and was fine. I on the other hand had three layers, and was numb, shaking and could only concentrate on breathing and keeping warm from the winds, which made the five-degree Celsius climate feel like minus five. As someone who had only recently come from Australia?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s March climate, to experience Turkey?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s April chill, I stood perplexed at how men my age and younger – a military historian claims to have discovered a soldier aged 14 and nine-months – had to jump out of boats into the water and onto these fields. And then dig a hole, where they had to eat, shit and fight out of for the nine-months that followed.

The ceremony itself was nice. It probably would have been more enjoyable had we not been in the cold for so long. Nevertheless the light show, which was to simulate the sun-rise as the Anzac?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s landed on the shore, was quite spectacular. The rugged and steep hill behind us and which was 100 metres from the shore – simultaneously lit up in portions, as a flashing multi-coloured light projected from a corner near the water on our front left. It was dark, but there was also a full-moon which gave the shore an eerie feel. The lightshow against a backdrop of darkness was surreal; and the deathly quiet during the show, with the speaker system booming the voice of the narrator, definitely made an impression to those there.

After the Dawn Service, most people climbed the hills to Lone Pine. It was here that everyone who attended would agree was the highlight of the experience. Sitting in what was like a mini stadium ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the 4,000 seats were full, and the ground was covered with people. John Howard, the Prime Minister, made an early arrival and did his rounds through the crowds. He was greeted with a standing ovation and cheering ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which he lapped up every moment off. However when the same treatment was bestowed on Kim Beazley ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the opposition leader ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú he may had realised that it was more larrikinism than respect when he heard those cheers.

After five false starts, a Mexican wave did a complete loop, including the armed service band, whom dropped there instruments to give a very precise and uniform wave. However what had me startled was that it would not stop. Every few minutes, I would notice the stand directly opposite me stand up, again, and after the wave had passed me six times, I started to wonder if it would ever end. It did, but that?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s only because we were busy asking all the dignitaries to give us a wave, which would have a stand erupt in cheering and laughter when they did

Dignitaries were plenty. From Australia, we had the Prime Minister, Opposition leader and quite a few members of the Federal Cabinet. Victoria?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s and Tasmania?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s premiers were present, and Prince ?¢‚Ǩ?ìChucky?¢‚Ǩ? Charles was in attendance (but no Camilla). Top military brass from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the UK, Turkey, France and I am sure a few more filled the official chairs. In fact, some many ?¢‚ǨÀúdignitaries?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ came, that they ran out of official chairs ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú much like how the entire day panned out ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú a gross underestimation of the amount of people that would come.

An interesting observation was how Australian democracy was being represented overseas. When the Prime Minister gave the speech at the Dawn Service, it was the opposition leader that was to lay the wreath for Australia. Our ?¢‚ǨÀúhead of state?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢, represented by chucky, had no role of importance other than a token prayer (and only at the Dawn Service). The Australian head of state ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the Governor-General, with the current holder of the office also a former military officer ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú was nowhere to be seen.

It became evident that the things Howard spoke about, and by the way the ceremony was organised, that he was doing more than just a memorial service ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú but was trying to shape an Australian psyche. He laboured to have us acknowledge sacrifice, mateship and courage as Australian virtues?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú but he had no trouble having us understand larrikinism, as was evident with the master of ceremonies repeatedly having trouble controlling the crowd.

The Service at Chanuuk Bar was a long walk up, which was a sobering experience to see how the New Zealand troops were able to get so far. Whilst I did not attend the service, people reflected that it was not as good. The noise generated by the Turkish children passing by to their buses, as nearby they were celebrating their own ?¢‚Ǩ?ìVictory?¢‚Ǩ? of the battle, made it apparently difficult to enjoy the moment

Overall Observations
The thing that struck everyone who attended, were the amount of young people present. Most of the crowds were Australians based in London on working holidays or GAP-year students working somewhere in Europe. An older contingent of retirees made their presence felt, and it seemed that for all except the tour-guides, it was a first-time experience. Nearly all that I spoke to wouldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have come to Turkey had it not been for the 90th celebration. Although everyone also said, they would definitely be back again.

Another thing that struck us as strange were the amount of Turkish people there. In recent years, the battle has raised in national importance in Turkey ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú and questions are being raised by the younger generation as to the amount that died (there is no Turkish burial site). There were boys and girls there from all over Turkey. Some where there just to see what the fuss was about. Pretty much all of the young Turkish men there, came because they think Australian women are easy to pick up. Whilst it annoyed me and I am sure other people how the Turks in attendance didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t show much respect by keeping quiet and stationary during the Dawn Service, it was startling to see so many other young Turkish children on the walk up to Chanuuk Bar. Even nicer was the warmth both nations showed each other in their interactions, a thing confirmed to me in Istanbul where all the shopkeepers who realised I was Australian, would tell me how much they liked Australians. Sure they were trying to sell me something, but they seemed genuinely respectful.

Australian poets and songwriters have long lamented that when the last ANZAC would die, the importance of the day would be lost in history. The last Australian ANZAC has died, however I wish that some of those artists could have been there, as they would realise a fresh generation of young Australians would carry the tradition on ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú although for different reasons. Being surrounded by so many Australians, in a foreign continent where some had not heard an Aussie accent since they were in Australia, gave everyone a warmth. However being in a crowd of Aussies, laughing and cheering together, and nodding our heads at things that the Turkish tour guides didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t understand, did something else. It made you feel like an Australian. And it made you feel glad you were one.