Sunday, 9 December 2012
Day 246 – Breakfast in Asia, Europe for lunch, and back to Asia for dinner. (Turkey)
We arrived in the town of Canakkale in the late afternoon and after exploring the streets a little and satisfying ourselves with well priced donors, met up with our Couch Surfing host. Ibrahim and his family were the perfect hosts, providing us not only with a warm bed, but also some much needed hearty home-cooked meals, expertly made Turkish coffee and above all else an abundance of genuine hospitality and intriguing conversation. We could have happily stayed with them forever, but unfortunately Gallipoli was the only main thing for us to see before we had to keep moving.
The Gallipoli Peninsula is where the ANZAC’s (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) fought the Turks alongside the Allies in WWI. What makes it so devastating and significant is that they were mistakenly (there are several theories on why the mistake was made, or whether it was even a mistake at all) guided to land their ships at an unforgiving cliff face instead of the miles of flat beach surrounding it. Tens of thousands of soldiers were unnecessarily killed on both sides and the battle is looked upon as an overwhelming and horrendous waste of good men. Instead of holding it against the opposing side, most Australians feel a sense of camaraderie with the Turks and regard this as a turning point in their own sense of National identity. ANZAC Day is one of the most important dates in Australian culture and as such Gallipoli is a site that almost every Australian will make a trip to at some point in their lives.
Not surprisingly Canakkale is riddled with hotels, cafes and bars flying Australian flags and sporting names such as “ANZAC Cafe”, “Boomerang Bar” and “Crowded House Hotel”. This is somewhere we were quite relieved to be visiting during low season as we can imagine the ruckus that a town full of Aussie holiday makers would cause. Aside from this though, we were very pleased at how tactfully preserved the peninsula is. Under-stated grave sites and memorial plaques riddled the whole area, with monuments to both sides, and barely any tacky souvenir shops. A few trenches and bunkers have been left in place and sporadic information boards gave information about various places and events.
The Dardanelles is the thin strip of water which dissects Turkey between the Mediterranean Sea and the Marmara Sea, and also happens to house the fault line between the European and Asian tectonic plates. Canakkale on the East side is therefore technically in Asia, whilst Gallipoli located to the West of the Dardanelles is on the European side. So not only is Gallipoli a significant historical and cultural site, but for us it was also the point at which we had officially successfully driven all the way from our homes in Melbourne, to geographical Europe. Amusingly we woke up in Asia, then went to Europe to visit Gallipoli and returned to Asia (Ibrahim residing in Canakkale on the Eastern side) for dinner and sleeping, before returning to Europe the following morning. We laughed when we learnt that Ibrahim’s brother whilst living in Asia all his life, used to go to school in Europe, and joked about it regularly. We were to have much more of this hilarity in Istanbul which is split down the centre by the fault line between the two tectonic plates, and each area is generally referred to as either the “European side” or the “Asian side”.