Destination Istanbul was only two more smoke-filled bus trips away. The first stop on the way, a must-see for ancient history buffs, was Canakkale. Here we made a quick trip on the local dolmus out to Troy, with its 4000 years of history.
Nice place, shame about the wooden horse.
Then, on 15th November 1986, a small boat from Canakkale – a very small boat – took this weary group of 4 Australian backpackers across the Straits of Dardanelles to Eceabat on the Gallipoli Peninsula to the see some modern history (that occurred some 71 years earlier).
Cabs queued at the dock to drive us out along the dusty, windy road to the battlefields, and being Australians, we chose to visit the site of the Anzac and Lone Pine Ridge memorials. After ascertaining our nationality, our driver took one hand off the steering wheel to open the glove-box and pulled out a well-worn cassette of Men At Work songs.
We sang along, loudly and proudly, as the historic dirt from the peninsula flew in through the windows and into our mouths. I spent quite a bit of time there, walking in the footsteps of thousands of young Australian, New Zealand, British and Turkish soldiers, who made such a tragic mark on our combined histories. I walked through the trenches, looked out at the deceptively calm ocean, and took in the scent of the lone pine tree.
I read the names carved in stone and shed a tear at the words of Ataturk:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…
You are now living in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
And finally, after working my way up Turkey’s beautiful west coast, I boarded a bus to majestic Istanbul.
I was tired but exhilarated to be in this bustling cultural mosaic and the centre of the old empire. I had become used to the daily chanting from the mosque that began at 5.30 in the morning (and would go on another four times throughout the day), so had almost forgotten how to sleep in, and my arms were getting tired from carrying those two carpets that Erol had sold me.
But by the time I reached Istanbul I had come to expect anything in Turkey so when I bumped into a work colleague from Sydney in the famous Pudding Shop, I barely raised an eyebrow. The Pudding Shop served as an essential part of a young traveller’s life, before mobile phones and the internet. There you could arrange to meet fellow travellers, or leave messages for friends; exchange ideas and travel anecdotes; buy a travel iron, or catch a lift in a kombie to the next adventure. Oh, and they sold food there too, but no puddings that I recall.
Despite the entire city being under martial law whilst I was there, with a nightly curfew that accompanied this, I managed to have fun, haggled my way through the Grand Bazaar to find the perfect pair of Lapis Lazuli earrings, and even got drunk without getting into trouble.
I had not finished my European odyssey – I had only sampled a juicy slice of life in Turkey, and was greedy for more. But my 3 month Eurailpass would run out soon so I needed to retrace my journey westwards to London.
Here I would return to a different empire where trains would stop running that winter because the tracks would freeze over, and where consumers would trample each other in the Boxing Day sales along Oxford Street.
So called civilization was just one more bus ride away…