by Dennis Bunnik (who is spending 3 weeks in Europe – a few days each with various Bunnik Tours groups)
“Five days in Turkey and let’s start with a cliché – I can see why they call it Turkish Delight!”
I arrived in Istanbul the day before our Ancient Road group. This gave me the chance to thank our hard working local team, brief them on our new branding and sneak in a visit to a couple of my favourite spots in Istanbul so that I’d see them twice during my stay.
I really love Turkey and the Turkish people. You can see this is a country that once ruled a large empire. It is evidenced in both the grand structures of Istanbul and the proud nature of the Turks. This is a city and a people with class.
The following day our 12 Ancient Road travellers arrived and under the wing of our able guide Yaman, we spent the next few days exploring this incredible city – we stood in awe of the Hagia Sophia, marvelled at the Blue Mosque, we cruised the Bosphorus and tasted and haggled our way through the Grand and Spice Bazaars.
We listened to the call for prayer, indulged in baklava, Turkish delight and ice-cream. We saw the ancient Egyptian Obelisk at the Hippodrome and wandered through the Sultan’s palace at Topkapi. In short, we did Istanbul.
But it was not just the tourist sights. We joined the locals on the tram, discovered the ‘belt buckle district’ in one of the back lanes, shared apple tea and watched delighted Galatasary soccer fans dance their way through the city as they celebrated a long awaited championship.
More than once I heard the first time visitors in the group say ‘I had no idea Turkey had all this’ – and we’d only seen Istanbul!
We then set off towards Gallipoli. A short technical delay with the bus en-route turned out to be a godsend. Not only did we join the locals at a roadside café, our arrival in Gallipoli was delayed so that we missed all the crowds. We had Lone Pine to ourselves!
When we arrived at Gallipoli we picked up our expert local guide, Izzet. Here is a man who lives and breathes his stuff. His knowledge of the campaigns on the Gallipoli Peninsula and their strategic importance is incredible. Rather than one main cemetery or site there are many small cemeteries, battle sites and memorials to visit at Gallipoli.
We started at Brighton Beach – the planned landing place of the ANZACs. This lovely stretch of flat beach is what a beach should be – home to playing kids and picnicking families. We then visited ANZAC Cove and it was immediately clear to all of us how difficult the landing task must have been. The cove is lined with rough ground and high cliffs/hills giving the Turkish soldiers an immediate advantage.
We visited the site of the dawn service and then drove down a small track to the small Beach Cemetery. Here Izzet helped one of our group find the grave of her uncle who died in the landings. Aged just 19. Together with her daughter she placed dried gum leaves from his home town of Gosford on his grave.
It is not possible to describe how moving a visit to Gallipoli is. At each place the group silently splits and wanders off to admire the beauty of the land and the memories of those who fought here. Adding to it all for me was the fact that the wild poppies were in bloom, their fragile red petals dancing gently in the breeze.
We finished our day by cruising across the Bosphorus on the ferry to Canakkale. Again we were in luck, leaving the large group coaches waiting for the big ferry we zipped off to the smaller one and avoided an hour long wait.
The following morning we set off to explore Troy. In addition to the legend of the Trojan Horse (and the accompanying wooden horse and tacky tourist photos) Troy is actually a place of incredible archaeological significance. Yaman took us through the site where no less than 9 separate cities of Troy have been built on top of each over the ages. This is an archaeologist’s dream – a massive puzzle of different cities and eras all jumbled up like a big jigsaw.
Having explored Troy we headed back along the highway towards Istanbul. Normally in these situations tourist busses stop at roadside restaurants for lunch. However seeing the number of larges coaches at these mega feeding stations Yaman and our driver Fahrettin had a different idea. He rang his brother-in-law who lives locally and asked him for a recommendation. We veered off the highway and headed down a country lane.
About 10 minutes later we arrived at a small country village where we were welcomed by the only restaurant in town. What followed was the most delicious lunch – good, simple fresh food. Salad, yoghurt, bread and the local specialty, lamb. It was the highlight of the trip and we were still talking about this meal that evening over dinner in Istanbul.
From here our Ancient Road travellers continue on to Greece with the next wow moment coming at the cliff top monasteries of Meteora.
I continue on to Barcelona for a couple of days of filming, meetings with our local office and tapas, sangria and a healthy dose of Spanish culture.