Tuesday, 11th December 2012
Istanbul, Gallipoli, Alexandroupoli
For all photos for 11th December, click here to view them on my dropbox site. If you don’t have Dropbox, use this link to sign up and you and I will both get a bonus amount of free storage space.
An early start today to farewell Istanbul – and to get out before the peak hour traffic – leaving the hotel at 7am. Cold but not raining.
Not much to tell for the first part of the day, as the drive to the Gallipoli peninsula is not really very interesting. We stopped for lunch early at a roadhouse buffet, and I, feeling a little daring, had the herring stew with pilaf. It was actually very tasty, especially washed down by a nice cold Efes beer (I asked about the single serve bottle of white wine – 20 lira ($10) – compared to the 500ml can of beer – 5 lira ($2.50) – and the beer won).
Then we arrived at Anzac Cove and began our tour of the memorials. We visited the Cove memorial, the Lone Pine Memorial (where we prayed and sang “Abide with me”), the Turkish 57th Regiment Memorial, and the New Zealand Memorial (which is also the site of the statue to Mustafa Kemal – later Ataturk – as this was the spot where he was shot just above the heart – but the bullet hit his pocket watch and he survived to go on to become Turkey’s immortal hero – God plays funny games sometimes…). Last time I was here was in 2007 for the dawn service on Anzac Day there were crowds of all nationalities – principally Turkish, Australian and New Zealanders. The Lone Pine Memorial was surrounded with scaffold seating, and it was damned hot. Today, by contrast it is as cold as buggery and we are the only ones up here. You can see from my photos that they were hardly doing a roaring business at the kiosk/souvenir shop at the New Zealand memorial.
I have always had a funny sort of reaction to ANZAC day and the Gallipoli story. For a start, it was not a part of my family story. No one in my family ever served in the armed forces let alone in active combat. I think I attended my first ANZAC day parade when I was in my thirties. As I said to someone on the bus, at the same time they were fighting this campaign, they were closing Lutheran schools, imprisoning our pastors, changing all the names of our German towns to good English names, and even – in some cases – burning our churches. I thought I would give some attention in the Lone Pine cemetery to looking for German names among the predominantly Anglo-Celtic names on the list. I found a few – a Kempe here and a Jaensch there, but I also found a Weinrich who served under the name of Devlin and a Klump who served as Clump. I guess they wanted to be sure that they were not mistaken for the enemy…
Gallipoli is, for me, a very difficult place. From Mustafa Kemal’s great rhetoric about the Johnnies and the Mehmets to the whole Anzac “religion” – but most of all the horrendous historical “what ifs” and “if onlys” – I just cannot in my own mind decide what to make of it. I did pick up an iron red stone from the shore of Anzac Cove to take home with me, and I carried this stone about with me for most of the day. I wonder about this stone. It has sat on the ocean bottom and then on this shore for God knows how long, and here I come and pick it up and take it home to a country as alien to it as this country was to the boys who died here. I have a small mirror that I use for shaving in the morning, and which has accompanied me on several overseas trips and now this one. I blutack it to the shower wall so I can shave in the shower in the morning. This mirror I picked up out of the mud on a motorcycle trail on Philip Island years ago – it is a broken-off motorcycle mirror. What chance was there that this mirror would ever have found its way out of the mud let alone to Rome and Istanbul and Jerusalem? It just makes you think. Well, it makes me think. And somehow I find that relates to my experience of Gallipoli.
At the end of our visit to Gallipoli, we farewelled our tour guide, Hakan, and three of our pilgrimage team, who, for various reasons, needed to head back home. One part of me, though greatly longing to see Greece, wished that I could join them and return home to my family. There is only one week to go on this study tour, but I am very much feeling my separation from my family, and wish that I could be home with Cathy to share the burdens of family life with her. My oldest daughter is on school holidays already, Cathy has just received the good news of a day’s employment each week next year with UnitingCare’s aged care department, and my youngest daughter is in her last day’s of primary school. In fact, her “graduation” from primary school (and the attendant party) is on the very night that I return home at 2am in the morning – thus missing this milestone in her life by a matter of hours.
We have now arrived in Greece, and our feet are once again upon (at least nominally) Christian soil – the most obvious signs of which are
1) Christmas decorations in the hotel and shops
2) A couple spied kissing on the streets
3) Bacon in the “Potatoes a la crème” for dinner tonight!
We have checked into the Alexander Hotel in Alexandroupoli, about half an hours drive along the ancient Via Ignatia (which we have been following since Istanbul) from the border. Although today it is a nice modern multi-lane freeway, this is the same road that lead from Byzantium to Rome even in Paul’s day, and tomorrow we will meet up with where Paul himself set out on the road from Philippi. Our new Greek guide is Sophia, who seems on first impressions to be a thoroughly good stick, so I think I will enjoy our next few days. It is my first time in Greece, and despite having studied the classics as part of my Adelaide Uni BA, I am far from an expert in this part of the world. But I am really looking forward to “meeting Paul” along this journey.
Dinner tonight was very nice – fish soup, Greek salad with balsamic dressing, potatoes a la crème (aka scalloped potatoes – which the aforementioned bacon – yum yum), a nice local Greek Syrah wine (aka Shiraz), and a piece of honeyed cake for dessert. Peter and I had a bit of a surprise on entering our room: the two single beds were made up as one double bed with a single doona covering the whole shebang! That was a little too friendly for us, so we asked for them to be made up separately…
The long journey today was tiring – I think we must have covered at least 500km in addition to the visit to Gallipoli. But I spent most of the day listening to music on my iPhone and meditating on this that or the other as we went through the rather indifferent countryside. I haven’t actually seen anything of Greece yet – it was getting dark when we pulled up at customs on the Turkish side of the border, and thoroughly dark when we came out of the Duty Free shop (with the necessary alcohol for the week ahead – a litre of whisky for $13 – cheaper than their bottles of wine – I doubt if even Peter and I can make it through that much in the next week, but at that price I won’t mind leaving the remainder behind). Crossing the border on bus was a new experience. Unlike the crossing from Jordan to Israel, which was as difficult, if not more so, than any airport border crossing, this one simply involved a number of showings of our passport, changing buses (with the bus drivers transferring our luggage) and driving on through. The bridge between the two countries has railing either side – we knew we had left Turkey and entered Greece when the railing turned from red and white to blue and white.
The rain was still pelting down and the temperature at about 9 degrees and lightening all around us as we drove to the hotel. My iPhone weather app tells me that we will have fine, if very cold, weather for most of the rest of our trip down to Athens, so that is very nice too. Our room overlooks an expanse of lawn, and on the other side of the lawn is the ocean. There is a doorway and porch outside our room, so I am looking forward to waking early and taking in the view as the sun rises. I am currently sitting in the bar smoking the pipe I bought in the Bazaar yesterday. When I arrived, I tentatively asked the same question I have been asking since leaving Jordan (expecting the answer “No”): Is there somewhere in the hotel where I can smoke? Imagine my joy when I received the answer “But of course!” No “of course” about it, but I am very glad that I do not have to sit out in the freezing weather outside. There is even an open log fire here….