Sunday, 28 April 2013

Istanbul, Gallipoli and Anzac Day 2013 with Topdeck

One of the things on my bucket list was to go to the place which defines relations between New Zealand, Australia and Turkey. The 25th of April 1915 at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli Peninsula was a place and time of unthinkable hardship and loss for all our nations. It is a time remembered every year since, by people from these countries everywhere around the world. It is now known as Anzac Day

Naeomi has also written a blog about our travels over at her new website here, go check it out!

We looked around for the best way to participate in the events being held at Gallipoli this year and settled on the TopDeck ANZAC 5 Day Patrol. This way we got to experience the events on Anzac Day as well as experiencing a part of the world I have never been to before.

Dundee to Istanbul, 21st April

First of all, it is the 21st of April, Happy Birthday Naeomi!

So, how do you get from Dundee, Scotland to Istanbul, Turkey? Luckily Turkish Airlines fly from Edinburgh so it wasn't hard to get to, however due to annoying flight times and stupidly early international check-in requirements it meant having to have a night in a hotel in Edinburgh. We ended up staying at Novotel at Edinburgh Park which was a new build hotel (with an amazing swimming pool) across the road from Krispy Kreme. There's not much to say about this part of the journey except how stupid the queue was for Krispy Kreme! I've never seen so many vehicles queue for hours (yes, hours) around the block and onto the motorway (sorry, UK: Dual Carriageway) and have so much aggression towards anyone getting between the Scots and their donuts! Mental.. The queue wouldn't even move to let people out of the carpark which is stupid considering if they were more helpful to each other the queue wouldn't be as slow.. Oh well, can't teach and old dog new tricks I guess.

Edinburgh Airport and the flight out to Turkey was pretty much as expected and nothing to mention - except that we were at the airport at 9am BST (11am IST) and didn't step out of Istanbul Airport until about 7pm IST (5pm BST) - 8 hours for a 4 and a half hour flight, not the fastest! Most of that was the requirement of having to be at the airport for 2-3 hours before departure - why do you need to be so early?

Arrive Istanbul, 21st April

The first thing we noticed was how no-one spoke English until you mentioned money then they spoke perfect English! We had done our homework and double checked prices of things before we arrived - lucky we did because all the warnings people gave on the internet were true! No prices for anything anywhere, everything was a negotiation. Within 10 minutes of getting through security and stepping out into the main airport we were bombarded by pushy Turkish salesmen trying to talk us into paying 50TRY (Turkish Lira) each for a shared coach to our hotel. This was a bit steep as we had heard previously that for 40TRY you could get to the Blue Mosque from the airport in your own personal taxi, further than our hotel, further than we needed. We opted for the taxi and after negotiation got a fixed price of 45TRY. We heard later from other travellers that they used the taxi meter and it cost 37TRY, oh well, not too much difference there.

During the taxi journey we drove down one of the major roads around the south coast of European Istanbul, something which took me by surprise was how pretty all the groundskeeping was on the sides of the roads. They had spent a lot of effort making it a very beautiful place! Hopefully I took a photo! Though I cannot remember..

We finally got to the hotel, first impressions were "wow, this place is nice!" then upon closer inspection we could see where it wasn't. In all the hotel was reasonable, they had obviously spent a lot of money on expensive materials while trying to make the cramped conditions and styling of the building as nice as possible. 2 people in the lift was a squeeze while it took us to the 5th floor, I watched later as 6 people squished in (without bags), don't know how they did it! After sitting down in the hotel and killing off the stress of travel and security checks we decided to go for a walk into town about 9pm IST - welcome to Istanbul!

Thoughts: Building coming down and working through the night. Photos of you in your hotel from their room.

Sultanahmet District at night, 21st April

Welcome to Istanbul! Before we left we made sure to have the phones updated with offline maps and bookmarked locations of things we wanted to see as well as how to get back to the hotel. I strongly recommend doing this for any place you choose to visit! It simply gives you freedom and piece of mind about where you're going and how to get back.

We walked up one block to the T1 tram and followed it East down towards Sultan Ahmet Park, the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. We were not expecting to make it to the area tonight and were just enjoying the sights, sounds and odd smells of Istanbul. There were many food places, and many tourist shops, and many Turkish Delight and Baklava shops. The biggest annoying thing about Turkey made itself very clear to me during this first walk, pushy salesmen everywhere! Both street sellers and store salesmen (note: men. I'll get onto this shortly). They would not let you walk past without you giving them money for their purfumes, hats, glowing plastic toys, shirts, breads, shoe shines, anything they could carry they were peddling. Grabbing at you and forcing you to stop and talk to them about their wares - if you ignored them they would say "excuse me, can I ask you a question?" I stopped once, they then carried on: "10 Lira, its a really good price!". These people were the biggest disappointment about the journey. It is not in my nature to blatantly ignore people and pretend they don't exist but in Istanbul this is a skill I learned quickly.

After a few minutes we stopped and checked the GPS to see where we were, turned out we were not far from the Sultan Ahmet Park so we decided to go down and have a look. After pushing past all the salesmen the street opened up further and suddenly we were in the middle of the park. Words simply cannot express how beautiful this area was! Today set the tone for the whole journey. We took many photos, got harassed (seriously harassed, he wouldn't leave) by a shoe-shine person, listen to the call to prayer and were simply in awe of the whole place. Night time was certainly the best time to be introduced to Sultan Ahmet Park!

Going back to the shoe-shine person, this showed the second most disappointing aspect of Turkey - the treatment of women. After I had asked him to leave and Naeomi decided to ask him to leave as well he simply pushed her aside. This was unacceptable to me and he decided to leave shortly after this incident.

Sultanahmet District during the day, 22nd April

Thoughts: Clean streets though people spit and throw litter.

Meeting the tour group, 22nd April

Thoughts: Dinner and drinks with Shisha at Mitanis. When youre 180th on the list of safety or corruption then you cannot expect much.. Tour group leader spoke of a couple who got a registered taxi and were never seen again

Walking tour Sultanahmet District, 23rd April

Thoughts: Blue Mosque. Underground Cistern. Lunch and walking across the road bridge with the fisherman and the restaurants. Spice and grand bazaar Spend some money for your honey Hey Australia can i have your money? Hagia Sofia and "You have a spider in your bag".

Bosphorus Tour, 23rd April

Thoughts: Spitting off the bridge.

Drive to Gallipoli, 24th April

Thoughts: The people standing on the side of the motorway waiting to be picked up. 85kmph speed limit. You're not cool unless you're 7 popped collar cool. Or 10 hats cool.

Entering the Anzac Commemorative Site, 24th April

Thoughts: Millipede climbing my bag at Gallipoli

Overnight at the ACS, 24th April

Dawn Service, 25th April

Walking in the steps of legend, 25th April

Chunuk Bair, 25th April

Back to Istanbul, 25th April

Last day in Istanbul, 26th April

Back to Scotland, 27th April



Tips and Tricks

A few things I think will help you on your journey to Istanbul and Turkey.

Haggling

Haggle for everything! The only place we did not haggle was the major branded stores we would normally see in our side of the world. Even in stores haggling was a must! Istanbul (and Turkey) is a very expensive place if you don't challenge the price given. Prices paid for a head-scarf ranged from 20TRY to 185TRY for the same thing. You really have to start low and stand your ground if you want something. Don't be afraid to walk away and try somewhere else. If you feel like a dick for doing so just remember, they don't know you and you're traveling then you won't be there for long anyway.

Cats and Dogs

There are many strays in Turkey but they are mostly well looked after (some more than others) and they didn't seem to pose a threat to people at all during our time there. We did see the funniest thing, a cat take on a dog and win! Unfortunately the cat drove the dog into the busy street amongst the cars but luckily it didn't get hit.

I cannot tell you if these animals are safe to touch but I did find myself playing with the healthier looking cats almost every chance I got - what can I say, I'm a cat person :-)

Street and Driving Ettiquette

Be careful on the roads. Turkish drivers are mad! While we were there we saw a local(?) girl get hit by a car (she wasn't injured), and a 4 truck pile up on the motorway. People just cannot stay in their lanes when driving and are often on the wrong side of the road or even driving down the footpath! Just, be careful.

Umbrellas

When I was sitting in Scotland I was thinking to myself: "I need something to protect me from the sun, the rain and the wind at Gallipoli for both night time and day time and it has to be light and comfortable". I racked my brain and came to the conclusion of an umbrella. Make sure it is a dark umbrella or at least one which will shield you from the sun. In the end for us there was no wind nor was there rain at Gallipoli but there was a hell of a lot of very hot sun! Having portable shade was literally a life saver! Coming from the last 3 years in Scotland (4.5 years in the UK at this point) and being a very warm blooded person, I personally cannot handle the heat and just about passed out a few times, even with using an umbrella. Without the umbrella I'm sure I would have been one of the few being carried away in an ambulance, which conveniently leads me onto a point about passports.

Passports

This may sound stupid, but take your passport with you everywhere! One of the other tour groups had a guy pass out in the heat and get sent to hospital, but he couldn't leave without getting back to the buses to pick up his passport which he "left in the safety of the bus". Seriously people, keep your passports with you everywhere you go!

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