Edit Blog Post
Published: June 16th 2014
Fishing boats at sunset. Small boats and brave fishermen set out every day with their nets.
The remains of dinner littered the white linen tablecloth. Mackerel skeletons, cherry pits, Blackberry stains, crusty bits of bread, glasses filmed with the musty dregs of strong, red, homemade wine and empty bowls spooned clean of Aunt Hatice's rice pudding. We leaned back into our chairs, arms cruciformed over the seat backs. Sated. Contented smiles as big as the night's full moon plastered on our collective face. Out in the darkness, the dim lights of ships plying the Bosphorus levitated along the Gallipoli peninsula. A cool Aegean breeze had sprung up and Uncle Neuzat dug through his closet for thick sweaters to hold us against the chill. We looked at each other and smiled. All of us old enough to know that life rarely gets better than this.
When our couchsurfing host, Tolga, learned that we were intending on visiting the Gallipoli he immediately got on the phone to his Uncle Neuzat who owns a cafe in Canakkale. An hour later Tolga had arranged not only for our bus tickets but also a hotel and a welcoming committee. These Turks never fail to amaze with their hospitality.
The next afternoon he dropped us at the bus station with hugs
A night of friendship, laughter and good food. This is Turkey.
and well wishes. The bus was the most comfortable we had ever ridden. Great seats on a vehicle offering refreshments, movies, WIFI and enough rest stops to keep even this old man happy. Seven hours later the bus rolled onto a large ferry boat for the Bosphorus crossing. A fifteen minute pleasure cruise to Canakkale. It was 10:30 at night. Sleepy and beat we trundled over cobblestones to the nearby promenade cafe where a smiling waiter waited for us. He took our bags and led us to the Hotel Helen just around the corner on a palm-treed boulevard. An hour later we were sound asleep between fresh sheets.
I had always wanted to visit the area. Ever since I first read of the history of Gallipoli during the First World War. It was here that Winston Churchill put into motion a plan that would result in the deaths of tens of thousand of Turks, Australians, French and New Zealanders. The debacle nearly cost Churchill his career. He was not to recover his reputation until the Second World War. By then he had grown much wiser. Gallipoli became synonymous with military disaster. The Australian consciousness was scarred so deeply that
The Promenade about an hour after sunset. A full moon and the reflective Aegean combined to magnify the sea's colorful aura.
to this day, Aussies come here by the thousands to commemorate April 25th, 1915. The date of the tragic landings. You can take a guided tour of Gallipoli or do as Karen and I did. We caught an early ferry to the peninsula and taxi'd to the new Gallipoli museum where you can view rusty military artifacts and watch a multimedia film about the battle from the Turkish point of view. There are eleven theaters in all with 3D glasses and seats that shake in harmony with on-screen explosions. In the end it is simply a Turkish PR presentation which attempts to impress upon you the modernity of Turkey and its re-established military might. The museum is free to enter. The PR show will set you back $6.50. A healthy hiker can walk to the major sites like ANZAC Cove and Lone Tree, a field where 10,000 men were killed over a 4-day period. By the time we started heading back home the sun was high and hot and our legs were growing weary. Karen had bought a baseball cap over ten years ago in Melbourne Australia. It's brightly embroidered with an Australian flag and faded with wear. We keep
it stashed at the bottom of my backpack just in case. I dug it out and put it on to cut down on the road glare. As soon as I did so a Turkish truck driver pulled over and gave us a much needed ride all the way back to the port. There is a strong bond, forged in blood, between Turk and Aussie in Galipolli. He did not seem to mind that we were Americans wearing Aussie wool. I lounged in the back of the vehicle while Karen and the driver mimed a conversation back to the ferry.
Karen and I have been traveling together for 30 years now. In that time we have visited some wonderful places but we have ever seen Canakkale's equal anywhere. Sun drenched. Stunning vistas. Hospitable. Great food. Clear waters and wonderful beaches. Historical context; Canakkale predates the mythical city of Troy which lays a mere 38 Km south. Alexander the Great crossed the Bosphorus here to invade Asia. Palm treed boulevards give the town a 'Cote d' Azur' appeal without the French hassles. Canakkale is stylish and secular. There are more college graduates here than in any other city in Turkey. Refined
Our New Relatives
We found our Turkish twins here in Turkey. The girls bound tightly to each other the moment Karen began helping in the kitchen.
dining. Progressive thinking and a standard of living that would be the envy of most Americans if they knew about this remarkable place. Superb public transport and ferry systems abound.
In the mornings the wide arc of the promenade is populated by a few walkers and hopeful fishermen casting baited hooks into the clear, blue, coral-filled waters. Kittens wrestle each other in morning rumbles under silent cafe tables. City workers scrub the sidewalks and empty out refuse containers in preparation for the new day. The early ferries begin transporting visitors and vehicles from Eceabat and Kilitbahir just across the waterway. The Bosphorus is at its narrowest point here in the Dardanelles. The Turkish fortress in Kilitbahir (The name means the 'Lock of the Sea') is clearly visible to the naked eye. The gun emplacements to the fort's south stopped the British Navy cold during March of 1915 when England attempted to sail north seeking, unsuccessfully, to capture Istanbul.
Karen and I buy hot, fresh bread from a local baker and carry it to our favorite cafe along the jetty. We order cups of strong Turkish tea and eat our breakfasts while we watch fishing boats bring their catches
KJ and Neuzat Cordas
Neuzat is the Uncle of Tolgas; Our Couchsurfer host in Istanbul. 'One thing leads to another.' Neuzat owns the Dardanelles Cafe. In prior lives he was a Geography teacher and a baker of huge, 2 Kg, loaves of bread.
of sardines, horse mackerel and crab ashore. It is acceptable practice here to bring outside food into a cafe as long as you buy your beverages there. Sit for hours if you like. What a concept! In the afternoons the tables are filled with happy locals playing cards, backgammon and a strange local invention called Okey. A version of Rummy that fills the air with the sound of fast clacking playing tiles, shouts of joy when a hand is won and desolate moans when one is lost. Evening prayers from a nearby, green-minaret Mosque float over the scene. Men with push-carts sell nuts, steamed corn, cotton candy, fruit and soft, sesame-seed coated pretzels. At night, vendors unleash a menagerie of flashing-LED-eyed mechanical kittens and puppies. All of them simultaneously mewling and yipping and bouncing around in ecstatic little circles. The Turks love their ice cream and so there are dozens of establishments serving cones, sundaes and fresh-made waffles buried under mounds of fresh fruit and real deal gelato. The Trojan Horse used in the movie 'Troy' is on the waterfront. Surrounding its thick hooves gyrate local college students who sing and dance to ebullient Turkish music provided by a thrown-together
Trojan Horse From The Movie 'Troy'
Brad Pitt happened to be in town visiting his old equine apartment and agreed to pose for us. Horse weighs 22,000 pounds. Fiberglass and steel construction which is on loan to Canakkale for 19 years.
band of acoustic guitars, clarinets, drums and other well-worn joy makers.
Daytime temps might reach 80 while the evenings are cool enough to make one think of taking a sweater along just in case. Rains are infrequent and short in duration and when it does rain you simply slide into the shelter of a cafe where you drink tea from little, tulip-shaped glasses. They do love their tea here in Canakkale. There is a pedestrians only area just off of the old port where you can find shops selling clothing, shoes, knick-knacks and hand-made gold jewelry of exotic design. Small bars crowd narrow lanes and they all offer drinks, snacks and live music in the evenings. Stray cats lounge everywhere in Canakkale and they are well taken care of by the natives who keep them fed and watered and purring at all times.
Tolga's Aunt and Uncle immediately took to us and we to them. No nonsense folks with an appreciation for open-minded, culturally sensitive guests who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty. A meet and greet at their cafe led to a dinner invitation at their 6-week old home overlooking the Bosphorus. We have grown quite
KJ Sits In Our Favorite Cafe
Bring your own food in and buy your drinks from the cafe. People dwell here for hours; Playing cafe provided cards, Backgammon, Dominoes or just talking with friends. Very chill.
close since then. We inquired as to the availability of apartment rentals in the area as we had decided to linger here for the foreseeable future and were tired of the hotel scene. Instead of a referral they gave us the keys to their furnished apartment in town and told us to stay as long as we liked. You can't make this stuff up.
And so, here we will stay. We have 90-day visas and we may end up exhausting them since we cannot think of a place that we would rather be outside of our home in Florida. And we will get back to Florida. Some day.
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