To places of gods and legends

So we breath easier having left the sprawl and chaotic activity of Istanbul behind. The sun is at our backs as we follow the D 110 past Tekirdag along the fairly plain and undeveloped coastline of the Sea of Mamara. Maybe there are some beautiful beaches and coves on our left but they are easy to miss sailing down the motorway. The road is two lanes in each direction and is divided by a nature strip but often interrupted by roadworks that bring things to a sometimes hair raising stop. The countryside is gently undulating, covered in fields of grain crops and today anyway, baked by the sun and shrouded in haze. There is not much to tempt us to stop before we need to for fuel.
The regional city of Kesan is the place where we turn south to follow the D 550 towards the Gallipolli peninsula. Poor Kesan looks as though it has had a hard life. From the road we can see mainly light industry and multi storey residential blocks beside wind blown and litter filled streets.
The countryside changes as we head south, becoming more hilly, and the fields of grain have given way to ubiquitous pine forests. Spectacular, but nothing compared to the first sight of the Aegean that pops up in the distance. An emerald sea splashed with islands large and small immediately brings thoughts of ancient traders and warriors in boats. From this point, around four hours or so from Istanbul, the road drops down to follow the shore line of the Aegean. Marshy, reedy lowland fringing the breathtakingly wonderfully coloured sea is dotted by what are clearly holiday villages that double as fishing villages in the off season. Caravan parks and informal harbour refuges for small boats are common. We want to stop and drink these things in but we are also worried about reaching our destination as we have pre booked our nights on the internet. We have an opportunity now to reflect on the wisdom of estimating distances and travelling times without knowing the country.
Today is also the hottest day we have experienced so far. An air temperature somewhere in the mid 40s Celsius encourages us to find shade and liquid every time we pull over for fuel or to eat. July brings wonderful sunny weather in this region but it also brings few clouds and little relief from the heat.
Soon we drive onto the Gallipolli peninsula which we discover is surprisingly narrow (you can see both coasts from the road) and low and fairly flat apart from the intermittent high ground that would have been a tactical focus for both sides in the battles of 1915. Crops grow in fields again but now there seem to be more horses, goats and other animals. Large ships glide along the Dardenelles straight on our left. How any military strategist could have believed they could force their way along this straight into the Sea of Marmara completely baffles me. A twenty or thirty kilometre gauntlet of point blank artillery barrage over open sights from the overlooking hills along with inevitable mines in the channel would have made such a venture stupid and futile. How come they couldn’t see that in 1915? Stupidity and futility take on new meaning however when we drive into the sight of the Anzac beach landings. People more qualified than I have written a lot about the campaign at this place so I will leave the analysis to them, except to say that even now in 2012 the tears come easily when you gaze at the terrain those men fought over. Criminal irresponsibility of command is a phrase that comes to mind but as I was not there for the battles I guess I don’t know what I am talking about. Even on a sizzling hot day, this place of memories is crowded by visitors, Turks and foreigners, each of whom feels the weight of what happened here. The atmosphere is one of common feeling and respect. No one that I see is interested in anything but paying respect at this sacrifice of thousands of young men.
We could have stayed longer in this place that is set aside as a national reserve by the Turkish government. I was moved deeply to come to understand the sacrifice of Turkish soldiers as well as that of Australians and New Zealanders. This was their country. We came uninvited. Nobody won. Least of all these men who never grew old or had grandchildren.
Our hotel booking beckons us across the Dardenelles at Cannakale however and thankfully we find the car ferry and arrive in time to throw ourselves on to our beds with the air conditioning cranked up to the maximum.
Next day, thirty kilometres or so south of Cannakale on the D 550, the ruins of ancient Troy surprise us. Admittedly there is not a lot of the original city left standing, but what there is engages the soul. This has nothing to do with the present wooden horse model on the site through which school children climb. There is no doubt from any of us that Greek and Trojan warriors once fought over this site. We feel it. Archilles is long gone but the legend is palpable here among the old building stones.
Looking out to the coast we see a passenger cruise ship entering the Dardenelles, probably not far from where the Greeks beached their ships to march on the Trojan walls on which we stand.
Goose bumps!




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