Istanbul, was Constantinople…

Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople…

The flight back from Cairo to Athens was an interesting one. It was windy!

Back in Athens we learnt that our previous bus driver, Adrian, had been removed from the tour and was replaced with a new guy, Phil. He seems pretty cool but it was sad to see Adrian go, he was a character.

Between Athens and when we arrived in Gallipoli there is very little to report other than some very long driving days. I read a lot and finished a book called True Story by Michael Finkel. It was pretty interesting, a true story about an American guy who killed his family and the journalist who wrote a book on it.

Finally, having left Greece and stayed a night in a Turkish town near the ancient city of Troy, we arrived in Gallipoli. This was an extremely moving place. Though I have no family connections I try to attend the Dawn Service in Melbourne each year and always find it a moving experience.

We arrived at Lone Pine in the early morning with the sun still low in the sky, and before many others had started to visit. In the calm of the morning it was hard to imagine the place in war time. I have only one emotion to describe Lone Pine, and that is sorrow. Walking past head-stone upon head-stone marking the graves of hundreds of young men (most of whom were 18 – 25, my age) with the same ‘deceased’ date, and with messages from parents who should never have outlived their children, brought a tear to the eye. It was hard not to be moved to tears by messages such as, “Though too far to visit, you’re never far in our thoughts.

It took a very long time for people to start talking again on the bus that morning. It is encouraging to see that people can be so affected by the catastrophic events of nearly a century ago.

That afternoon we drove to Istanbul arriving late in the day. I didn’t venture out that night, instead I had dinner and chatted to Bianca, Renee, San and Ayaka. We watched Justin Timberlake’s top 10 before wishing Ayaka happy birthday at midnight.

On Saturday morning we jumped on the bus with our local guide and headed to the markets. These were incredible; huge and filled with colours, sounds and smells which excited every sense. They were also, thankfully, far more civilised than the Egyptian markets. I bought some Turkish Delight, which was delicious, before we boarded the bus for our city tour.

Our first visit was the Blue Mosque which was very spectacular, followed by a visit to the Grand Bazaar (the biggest market I’ve ever seen, like Queen Vic on steroids). Bri, Andrew, Bianca and I grabbed kebabs for lunch before wandering the stalls for an hour or so. Then it was time for our Turkish bath!

This was an interesting experience, but I’d do it again. Andrew, Richard and I all went in, grabbed our cloth, changed into it in our tiny change room then headed into the bath room. This was a huge room with a heated marble tablet in the middle and smaller bathing rooms around the edges.

The basic procedure was:

  1. Lie on the heated marble tablet to perspire.
  2. Have a big, jolly, rough, old Turkish guy rinse you down with a bucket of cold water.
  3. Have him scrub you down with an exfoliant glove.
  4. Have him soap you up and give you a massage.
  5. Have him rinse you down with a bucket of hot water, followed immediately by a bucket of cold water.
  6. Have him grab you by the arm and haul you away, soap stinging your eyes and blinding you, to a smaller bathing room to relax while your mates got the same treatment.

This sounds strange I know, but it was a classic and one of those experiences you just have to do while in the country. And no, there was no option to be bathed by a woman (you’ll have to head to Amsterdam for that).

After the baths, and feeling very relaxed, we headed to the Cistern, the Roman underground water storage facility for water coming into the city via aqueduct. This underground cavern was lit with glowing lights and Turkish music played in the background creating an interesting underground experience. The cavern reminded me very much of Lord of the Rings.

We caught the bus back to our accommodation and changed before heading out to our Turkish cultural dinner. The food was good but the entertainment was appalling and, with all the smoking getting to us, several of us left early and chatted outside. We headed back to the hotel then and chatted some more before heading to bed.

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