From Athens it was a short flight to Nicosia, Republic of Cyprus (the Southern, Greek, end) where we rendezvoused with a’s entire family – mother (l), father (big a) and brother (n).
I immediately decided to read up on the Greek/Turkish conflict over Cyprus and initially came to the conclusion that the Turks are a bit sooky.
The Government of Cyprus has provisions to positively discriminate in favour of the Turks. It has seats of parliament set aside for them and there is a minimum quoter of public service jobs that must be filled by Turkish Cypriots.
However, since the invasion in the 1970s those seats of parliament have remained vacant and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognised internationally by Turkey.
But perhaps the ‘sooky’ label is unfair. The Turks invaded because the then far-right wing Greek government, assisted by your friend and mine, the CIA, tried to annex Cyprus in a military coup – something the Turkish invasion prevented.
Moreover, a recent referendum regarding the reunification of Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots overwhelming voted in favour of it but the Greek Cypriots voted it down so maybe Greek Nationalism is to blame.
Whatever the case, I should probably stop making these sweeping generalisations on a topic I know virtually nothing about.
The upshot of all this is me basically shitting myself. It was our first night in Nicosia – a city split down the middle by a UN enforced demilitarised zone – and I decided to walk home from dinner through the poorly lit back streets with a’s brother, n. As we walked along we noticed a small box covered in razor wire. I jumped when my my eyes finally adjusted and I noticed the military man with a helmet and machine gun sitting in the box. I guess I was unprepared for the seriousness of the divide.
From Nicosia we hired a car and drove to Latchi which is just outside Polis on the North Western coast of Cyprus where we hired a beach-front cabin for a week. The time was spent swimming in beautiful, albeit frigid, water, seeing various ruins and drinking Monk wine and spirits bought from mountain top monasteries.
After a week of relaxation we flew to Antalya, Turkey. It was never really on our itinerary and really only ended up there because it has an airport with cheap flights from Nicosia but we were particularly pleased that we happened upon it.
It’s based around a stunning Roman harbour with crystal clear water surrounded by a snow capped mountain range which comes right down to the sea.
However our time in Antalya was upset early on our first morning by the news that a’s grandma, her father’s mother had passed away. She had been suffering from server Altzimer’s for a long time but it was still quite healthy and was unexpected.
On a quite serious note and without wanting to trivialise anything: for fuck’s sake, would people please stop dying! It’s deeply upsetting and continues to interrupt our trip.
Within a few hours a’s parents had booked flights home and we were making arrangements to get them to the airport the following day but not before l did a bit of shopping in which is where the title of this post comes from. She a’s mum, l bought a beautiful carpet which the salesman assured her was ‘no bullshit, just the shit’.
The next day we bid them a teary goodbye and a, n and I continued on with a holiday organised by the people that had just left us including a range of activities and hotels we would not have been able to afford otherwise.
This point was immediately emphasised by our trip’s next stop, Fethiye, where we met up with a’s mum’s cousin’s, daughter’s, husband. A really sweet Turkish man named Aladdin. Armed with a back of the envelope rundown of the family tree we met up with him and had a really great evening eating and drinking with the locals.
Our next adventure was a 4 day yacht trip off the coast of Bodrum – another clear example of us being on a’s parent’s holiday. The weather still wasn’t particularly warm but it was nice enough for us to swim in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean most days. I slept on deck every night, helped out with the sailing – even tying a knot – and managed to catch two fish on the one line; something I hadn’t managed to do since I was about 10 years old.
Four days later we were dropped at the dock and got on a bus to Pamukkale, a tiny village were ancient tractors outnumber the cars on the road. It’s also home to a mineral spring which is high in calcium and has turned the entire mountain into a white wall with pools of aqua blue water at regular intervals all the way down the mountain. It’s is an impressive site as you walk up the hill from the town and see this wall of white appear on the horizon.
I also seems to be a magnet for Russian tourists who arrive by the busload. The women all immediately stripped down to bikinis whilst everyone photographs them. The men took their tops off to reveal their beer guts, a good portion of them getting horrifically sunburnt due to their white surrounds much the way you would at the snow.
After that we went up to Selçuk from which we visited Ephesus, the ruins of a Roman city which are still in tact leaving you with a good sense of what it would have been to walk around in a Roman city two thousand years ago.
On the day we went out to Ephesus I happened to be wearing my ‘Communist Party‘ T-Shirt and like Pamukkale, Ephesus also has its share of Russian tourists. A young Russian lad came up to me and said ‘can I take photo’ which I took to mean, ‘can you please take a photo of me and my friend here in front of these ruins?’ ‘Sure,’ I said and I went to take the camera off him. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘I take photo with you.’ I asked him why and he told me ‘I love you.’ It turns out, despite, or perhaps because, he was too young to have even been alive during Russia’s communist period he was ardent communist and loved my T Shirt. As proof of his devotion to the cause he had the hammer and sickle as the wall paper on his phone and considered Karl Marx to be his father.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him the T-shirt was a joke.
Next stop was sleepy Assos, a beautiful old fishing village that Aristotle spent three years in until the Persians invaded. There’s not a lot to Assos, it’s only about three houses deep and about 500 metres long but you could sit on the little harbour for days, drinking Raki and watching the tiny fishing boats come in.
From Assos we caught the bus to Çanakkale which is across the Dardanelles from the Gallipoli Peninsular.
I had mixed feelings about going. I’m always interested in history and am a life long anti-war activist. The place holds a particular significance for a lot of Australians, which I’m a bit weird about, but I’m also Australian I guess. I don’t ascribe to this historical revisionist idea that Gallipoli has always been a significant part of our national psyche and a nation defining moment, but I also don’t buy the notion that ‘we shouldn’t have even been there’ either.
My first reflection was that I really don’t like most Australian tourists. Naturally our tour group was largely made up of Aussies who were particularly precious, and their continuous undertones of passive racism (‘is that ten minutes, or ten Turkish minutes’) really got on my nerves. But maybe it’s just Australians obsessed with out military history that make for bad tourists, it’s hard to say.
One guy on the group was a particular know-it-all, I even had him pegged as someone that had obviously read a book about Gallipoli before he came on the trip. Turns out he had just watched the film. And while we’re on the topic of annoying Australian tourists, can the phrase ‘holy moly’ pleased erased from our vernacular.
All that said, I did really enjoy the tour. It was fascinating to learn all about it and our guide was fantastic. Having attended high school in the pre-Howard era I knew virtually nothing about Australia’s involvement and what I thought I knew was basically wrong. It was a battle for a bit of land that had incredible strategic importance and the Australian’s were stationed there for quite some time with many initial military successes. I always thought that it was a hopeless mission and thousands of Aussies and Kiwis were just slaughtered before they even got to shore; not so.
But the most important thing that I learnt was that it was a nation defining moment for Turkey far more than it was for Australia. At the time Turkey wasn’t even a country, it was just the relics of a decaying Ottoman Empire. Mohammed Kamel Attaturk who lead the Ottoman soldiers in the ensuing battles, went on to become the first President of the newly formed Republic of Turkey. His military success formed a major part of his campaign for the position. Moreover the loss of Turkish life was far greater and the troupes were far younger. We hear all about the brave Australian’s that lied about their age to join up, but nothing about the Ottoman entry requirement which was simply that you could hold a rifle up at arms length. On particular battalion, the 57th, was totally whipped out, not one person survived. A Battalion is a big military unit and the 57th was retired after the battle.
So in summary, I’m really glad I went. I feel like I’ve got a much better appreciation for it all.
From Çanakkale we made our way to Istanbul where we were reunited with a’s mum, l. Before everything when arye we were going to be spending 4 nights in Istanbul with a’s family, before heading over to Cappodocia and then coming back to Istanbul for a few more nights.
To get l the Turkey holiday she had been dreaming about for so long she joined a and I on the leg of our Turkey trip that we were to be doing once we had left her family.
Our first 4 days in Istanbul we had n with us so we jammed as much of the city as we could into those days to ensure n wasn’t missing anything he wanted to see. Admittedly this did mean one day of pure shopping but that meant we got a good look a the bazaar.
Our hotel was pretty much at the base of the Blue Mosque which made it the ideal launching pad for all the sites but also meant sitting bolt upright at about 4:30 every morning to the call to prayer.
We then bid goodbye to n and slowed things down a bit but still took in some amazing sites, not least of which was the Dolmabache Palace which would probably look more at home in the French countryside than on the banks of the Bospherous.
After a few more days in Istanbul we flew to Göreme in a region called Cappodocia which is known for it’s ‘fairy chimneys’. They are a strange, chimney-like geological formations that people were living in from around the fourth century. Most people have moved out of them now but there are still a handful of them inhabited.
You can go into many of them and some even contain remarkable 4th Century chapels.
The highlight of our time here was another ‘parent enabled activity’: hot air ballooning. The entire Cappodocia region is a spectacular moonscape so what better way to see it than by hot air balloon?
I’d never been in one before so my only expectation was that I would absolutely shit myself as soon as we got about 2 metres off the ground but to my surprise I found it really quite calming.
I think that balloon ride will stay with me forever. It really was one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve done and didn’t want it to end. However, when it did end, it did so in a very impressive manner. Our highly skilled captain actually landed the balloon in the back of a trailer.
From Göreme it was a flight back to Istanbul where we chilled out for a couple more days with l before she got on a plane back to Australia and we caught the bus to Bulgaria where we are now.
By the end we had spent a full month in Turkey. We could have easily spent a lot longer. It is a pretty special country with a spectacular and diverse environment, beautiful people and a rich culture.