Leaving Istanbul

Leaving Istanbul

Before we left Istanbul, an evening spent exploring the Egyptian Spice Markets and some of the newer, more upmarket parts of Istanbul meant we left feeling like we had done the place justice. The spices, turkish delights (flavoured wiht everything from Pistachios to rose water) and variety of mixed nuts had me drooling. Far more enjoyable than the Grand Bazaar, mainly because I was interested in what they were selling! Scarves, textiles and soccer shirts are not really my style… i happened to pick up a very funky scarf for a bargain though….

The trip up the hill to Taksim square provided us with many contrasts that encapsulated our experience in this city: a man changing the tram tracks with a crowbar; fishburgers straight from the filthy Bosphorous; ‘The Corporation’ playing at the movies; and walking from dark alleys where we felt unsafe to other equally dimly lit alleys where we (for the first time in Istanbul) felt distinctly under-dressed amongst some wealthy looking youngsters at very funky bars.

Dinner provided more contrasts: in this street of high fashion, our cook was still an old lady sitting around a hotplate on the floor rolling, filling and cooking enought spinach, cheese and onion pancakes for a restaurant of one hundred people. I left room for the amazing deserts we had spotted back up the street, but the other’s didn’t so I had a taste of all of the creamy rice, baklava and a funny apple/fig jelly topped with a variety of dried fruit.


Out of Istnabul we had caught a ‘hop on, hop off’ tour bus which included a tour of Gallipoli. It was a profound and moving experience, with our guide ‘Ali’ making all the difference to the sometimes unremarkable sites. Before going on the tour, I wasn’t sure what it all really meant (different people refer to Gallipoli for many different reasons), and wasn’t even really prepared for just the statistics of the conflict: Half a million toops committed from both sides, a quarter of a million dead soldiers, 240 days with no gains, in trenches less than 20m from each other. Total area gained by the British and friends was less than 10 square km on three fronts. Number of dead spread over area gained = 50000 troops dead per square kilometre…

Ali, an ex-Turkish military commander and grandson of a Turk who dies in the conflict, really made sure we understood a few key points:
– as a result of the conflict, Aussies and Turks are better than friends
– the conflict was one of the most costly in history, and well demonstrates the futility of war.
– And, that over time, the soldiers who were fighting well understood how futile it was and earnt each other’s respect and admiration…with a corresponding decline in the rate of deaths.
– that jokes about the differences between men and women, and who wears the pants are funny in all cultures.

Ali shared gifts with each of us and there were some very special moments. Knowing he has been doing these tours for over 10 years, I beleieve that he alone has made a massive contribution to young Australians understanding their own cultural heritage and what has been a pivotal period in the development of our national identity. The compassionate nature of the Turkish soldiers at some points during the conflict, is clearly still a part of who these people are if Ali is anything to go by.

While I’m on the topics of the Turks, EVERYONE clearly LOVES Mustafa Ataturk (his photo is in most shops, buses and homes). He is know as the ‘father’ of modern Turkey, and has his beginnings as a leader at Gallipoli. His leadership and action was a key part of the Turks’ defences. After the war he went on to make some major changes to Turkish society: changing the writing from Arabic to romanized script, giving everyone surnames and women the vote, plus a whole lot of surely more important stuff….


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