“Istanbul was Constantinople,
Now it is Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s a Turkish delight on a moonlit night”
The “They Might Be Giants” song has been going round our heads and out of the children’s mouth almost constantly since we left the island of Bozcaada heading for Istanbul.
First though, it was a stop a the beautifully wild but terribly poignant peninsula of Gallopoli. Covered in pine forest with steep cliffs interspersed with shallow turquoise bays, it was were 130,000 young men died in the First World War.
The peninsula is dotted with graveyards and memorials to the brave that fought and died there. The Gallipoli Simulation Centre’s interactive 3-D historical journey about the campaign was too realistic for the girls but Steve and I found it very informative. Lone Pine Cemetery was powerfully peaceful, surrounded by thousands of Anzac graves, we looked down at the languid azure waters way below. You could still see the trenches nearby, where the opposing forces were just metres away from each other. Anzac Bay was also peaceful now, it was hard to imagine the horrors that unfolded there just over a hundred years ago. We can understand why it has become a place of pilgrimage for people from Australia and New Zealand.
There is a lovely quote from Ataturk, the founder of modern day Turkey who was an important commander during the campaign, several years later. His words for peace and reconciliation, were written at Ariburna Sahil Aniti, one of the Turkish memorials:
“To us there is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mahmets…You mothers, who sent away your sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom. Having lost their lives in this land, they have become our sons as well.”
Gallipoli was also a place for a couple of fabulous wild camps, our first night we found a spot on top of the cliffs surrounded by forest next to the remains of several gun batteries. The smell of pine trees from one side, mingled with the sent of the sea. Steve walked down to W Beach and was amazed to find people swimming amongst the skeletons of the landing vessels of the Gallipoli campaign. The second night we drove down a firebreak in the forest and found a parking spot right on the edge of a cliff with a tiny sandy beach below. Once the few local families had packed up and left and we had put the girls to bed, I couldn’t resist going for a relaxing swim as the sun set. It was so nice, that we swapped babysitting duties so Steve could cool off before bed too.
We skirted the Sea of Marmara coast as we made our way North-East to the north of Istanbul for more wonderful hospitality from Alper, Steve’s friend and former colleague. I am sure when we ask the girls what they remember best about Istanbul it will be hanging out at Alper’s house: everyone cooking a different course for supper, eating, relaxing and chatting. When Dina arrived the following day, they loved her as well, as she got them up dancing and swapping recipes. We are all experiencing a period of change, so there were lots of interesting discussions and ideas flying around.
However, you can’t come to Istanbul and not appreciate its wonderful heritage and history so we dragged ourselves away to the city on both days. The Aya Sofya was built in the 6th Century AD, first a church, then a mosque and now a museum. It’s gigantic proportions awed us but we we were touched by the delicate nature of the Byzantine mosaics of Christ and his apostles on its walls.
The Blue Mosque gets its unofficial name from the Iznik tiles that adorn its interior. It’s one of Istanbul’s biggest mosques and one of its busiest. We mistakenly arrived just before prayer time but while we waited for the worshipers, we were invited for a presentation about the mosque and Islam from volunteers in the adjoining Islamic Education Centre. It was fascinating as well as restorative, with air con, drinks and snacks. Later while Steve and I marvelled at the mosque’s interior beauty, the girls tried to spot the ostrich shells suspended from the lofty ceiling to deter spiders.
The Grand Bazaar is in the heart of the old city and while we didn’t want to buy anything it was fascinating to wander its arched walk ways and marvel at the different areas of commerce. The Spice Market held a similar thrall with exotic smells bursting from all of the shops. Each enticing visitors with displays of teas, spices and jewel coloured Turkish delight. Here we couldn’t resist the wares on sale as we were tempted in by free chocolates and different flavours of Turkish delight, the pomegranate was a particular favourite.
The following day we headed to the Topkapi Palace, the palace of the sultans where we were dazzled by the harem and palaces. It was said the sultan rarely left the palace and whilst it was a beautiful place where his every need and wish was looked after it must have felt a bit like been a prisoner. Still there were superb views over the Bosphorus from the palace walls.
On our last evening, we met with Alper and Dina on the banks of the Bosphorus. There is something very magical about crossing the water to a different continent, Asia, by ferry as the sun starts to sink in the sky. It highlights Istanbul’s unique position and character. We crossed back to Europe in time to eat at Aheste, one of Alper’s favourite restaurants owned by a family friend were we were wowed with a deliciously diverse selection of meze, each small plate holding a different burst of flavour on the palate. The girls were delighted to chat to Alper’s friend, who asked them all about our trip. And they were even more delighted, as we were touched, with the pile of profiteroles with 4 candles to celebrate our 4 year anniversary on the road.
That night as we arrived home a huge yellow moon hung over the trees. The last line of the first verse of the song “Now it’s a Turkish delight on a moonlit night.” Seemed to ring particularly true. Istanbul, it was too short – we will be coming back.
With sad hearts, and probably a few extra pounds of weight, we left Istanbul next morning and headed for the border with Greece. We found a quiet spot beside a lake for the night, just a few kilometres from the border.