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The winds bring wealth to Troy

May 16,2012

I was booked at the Kervansaray, a hotel that spelt old world charm & hospitality. It is nicely located near the clock tower &  Fountain Square, less than 100 meters away from the bustling life of the jetty & promenade. It is a beautiful heritage property once owned by Abdurrahim Efendi a member of the Turkish aristocracy & judge in Canakkale. It remained a family property for 3 generations until it was renovated & converted into a hotel some years ago. I had a room (no: 205 / 45 euro) in the heritage wing but alas it overlooked a side street . The rooms all had ornate mirrors & polished parquet flooring & ceiling. The bannister & the stairs going down to the main lobby, likewise well kept & maintained. The door knobs/ bolts etc. a shiny brass belonging to another era. Altogether the wood, mirror, brass combo giving a nice warm feeling. A modern annex has been added to the main building with a garden separating the two wings but the character of the place remains unchanged. Everyday breakfast is served in the annex & its rather a good spread with an array of breads & cold cuts along with the regular eggs, fruit, juice & jam. Best of all most of the staff speak English. They are good at their job & attend to matters promptly. A minor plumbing problem was immediately resolved. My trip to Troy fixed in an instant. There were maps available at the reception. Also the girl manning it had a lot of information that she shared willingly & with a smile. There was free Internet & Wi-Fi, a bar, library & lobby. Would certainly recommend the place. Highly recommended one & all.

If stones could speakTrojan horse replica

The Troy tour at 70 TL takes 3 hours. It includes AC transport, hotel pick up & drop along with the services of a qualified guide.  There were 3 other persons that day – Australians from Adelaide – as we drove the 30 odd kms from Canakkale to Troy accompanied by Mustafa our guide. He was distinguished, well spoken but looked a trifle bored. The result perhaps of our being such a tiny group. The one-hour drive past low hills & the Dardanelles is beautiful. Much like most of the Turkish countryside. It is a lovely day too, as we disembark to begin the walking tour of the ruins. The archaeological sites of the ancient city, Troy 1 – 1X are still being excavated. One wonders  what they will finally yield. For the moment there is just a replica of the famous Trojan horse, the ruins of the sacrificial altar, the senate building, the concert hall, sundry artifacts, mostly pottery & terracota from early times. And of course the spectacular old stonewalls dating back to 3700 BC. The impregnable defences of ancient Troy. A marvel to behold. If only the stones would speak ! This alone made the entire trip worthwhile, for there are hardly enough ‘remains’ to be seen. But like I said the excavation is still on. Who knows what it will reveal.

The legend of Troy has always held a strange fascination. Hence this visit at the expense of other more popular tourist destinations.  The excavated sites were not exciting enough, a huge disappointment no doubt.

And the sea, in the far distance would surely have been closer in Homeric times, one thought.

Yet it was strangely moving to be standing on the very ground where the brave & noble Hector fought legendary Achilles who had his body dragged in full view of aged Priam, lovely Andromache, beauteous Helen, Paris, & the rest.

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May 17,2012

My Gallipoli tour was organized by ‘Crowded House’, Eceabat. It was a day trip – 5 hours to be exact, at Euro 25 & included AC transport, lunch, entrances & the services of a qualified guide. We started at 12.30 after a delicious lunch of Turkish soup, spicy chicken wings, potatoes, vegetable & jelly. It had  rained through the night & the day was cold & wet  but that did not deter us at all.  These are about the last rains before summer sets in with temperatures of above 45 C. Also, the rains are good for the crops. We were a  small group  of 3 Aussies, 2 New Zealanders & an Indian – Me – . The Aussies were  kind of  curious about my Gallipoli connection. Why was I here  at all ?. ‘We are an ignorant lot’ said Michael, shaking his head good naturedly.

The Gallipoli campaign of WW1  was the brain child of Sir Winston Churchill, then 1st lord of the Admiralty. He  planned to capture Constantinople / Istanbul via the Dardanelles in order to open a sea route to Russia. The British & the French were joined by the Anzacs (Australians & New Zealanders ) The Turks resisted fiercely & won a famous victory. Mustafa Kemal  their commander, was to describe it as   “ where the battle was defeated”

Gallipoli today is a peaceful wooded war site. About 40000 hectares  covered with sea pine. It was not always so. The landscape then was more shrub & dune than tree. It is a Peace park today, incredibly beautiful & serene with the all pervasive presence of Ataturk & the millions killed or maimed.

The Sphinx
Our tour began with Brighton beach where the Allies were supposed to land but did not, because of a fatal error of judgement. They landed at Anzac cove instead, a pretty beach head  further up along the curve of the sea. There is a museum & the cemetery at  Ari Burnu. More on that later. We walk past Johnstons Jolly, the Anzac trenches,  Shrapnel valley, the Nek & Walkers ridge. The ‘Sphinx ‘ is a distinctive  landmark of the area. Mute spectator to the  many battles fought  between April 25,1915 –  January 9,1916.

WW1 has  been described as the last gentleman’s war. The soldiers suffered from a shortage of  drinking water, with little to bathe & clean. During the long stalemate they were  to  endure  heat, mosquitoes, vomit, odour & the stench  of the  trenches. Bodies infested with lice & racked by disease  several died of dysentery –  the ‘Gallipoli gallop’  as they called it. The Bully beef supplied to the Anzacs smelled so foul at times that they tossed it as gifts across no mans land.  The adversaries developing a strange camaraderie tossed it back with a message : ‘ Any thing else will do. Like biscuits & sweets’. Hence,’Johnstons  Jolly’.

We visit the  Australian graves  at Lone Pine, the graves  of the  Turkish soldiers of the 57 Infantry regiment  & Chunuk Bair which has the graves of  soldiers from New Zealand. This is the  tallest hill feature offering a breath taking view of  both the Dardanelles & the Aegean. Its capture  was a strategic aim of the campaign.

Our guide Bulent Yilmaz Korkmaz or Bill as he likes to be called narrates it all  with a rare lack of  emotion, bias or favor. He is the best there is in the trade. Has all the facts as if he were  living witness to the horror that maimed & killed over half million nearly a century ago. He is a Turk but  sounds  Australian – almost.The result perhaps of showing so many Anzacs around  each year. Unlike them however Bill understands  the presence of a lone Indian in the group. He sidles up to me & whispers : “There are 3 Indian graves too. At Ari Burnu. Come let me show them ”.  The graves are  separate, placed just a little away from the others. The stones clearly marked. My countrymen. Here they lie in  another land having fought anothers’ war. Finally at  peace. Tranquil beside the waves. A  flowering rose bush & a field of poppies at the head.

( 21 Kohat Indian Mountain Battery was  present in the theatre of war through out. They  were never used  however  because the British feared they  would not fight  their co religionists.)

Canakkale Turkey


Canakkale Turkey


(I had taken a taxi from Sultanahmet to Yenikapi a distance of 3- 4 kms / 12TL)

Travel time between Istanbul on the straits of the Bosphorous & Canakkale  on the left bank of the Dardanelles is roughly 5 hours. However variety being the very spice of life I chose not do the whole hog by road. Instead I took the  Yenikapi – Bandirma  fast ferry halfway. It originates at Bostanci on the Asia Minor side & takes 2 hours across the Sea of Marmara from Yenikapi to Bandirma port. It is a different experience entirely. Also a somewhat quiet, relaxed way of travel. After an early lunch, the waters of the Marmara softly lull you to sleep. (upper deck – seat no: 0348).The ferry is operated by IDO. A booking to and fro can be made online. It costs 38TL. On the day of travel you simply arrive half an hour before departure, swipe your credit card at the Idomatic machine to get a print out, scan the printed ticket at the turnstile & walk into the waiting area that is nicely equipped with every facility imaginable.

Bandirma is nothing to write home about.  However  it is from here that one catches the onward bus to Canakkale. A mini bus  first takes you to the main Otogar ( 1.50TL) a distance of 3 kms. There are several bus companies operating this route but  Truva & Kamil Koc are the best.  I took a Truva that covered the 170 km distance  in 2.30 hours. It was a comfortable & enjoyable ride. The  back of every seat fitted with TV,  time/ temperature digitally displayed & drinks & eats  served on board. The Turkish countryside is unspoilt & beautiful. We drove past rolling hills, fields of corn & vineyards. Saw grazing sheep & cattle & caught a sneek peek at the Dardanelles every now & then,until it finally hovered into complete view. After the refreshing nap on the ferry the view offered by the bus ride is pleasant & the unfolding pastoral landscape a feast to the eyes.

The bus takes you to the main Otogar  after which a shuttle  transports you into the heart of town. Its a neat arrangement – calculated to keep the streets uncongested I suppose. You are dropped off near the main  fountain square which has the lovely 5 storied clock tower _ one of  Canakkales’ prominent sites.

The relaxed & unhurried tenor of the town is a welcome change from the hustle & bustle of Istanbul. Hardly anybody speaks any foreign language here so we get by with ‘ishaara’ – sign language. People are friendly & will go any distance to help especially if asked for directions. A group of young girls, foreign language students  eager to practice their English language skills even offered to walk me to the hotel posing for pictures afterwards. We bade each other goodbye  promising to remain in touch via Facebook

The promenade along the Dardanelles  with the jetty harbor is the throbbing & pulsating heart of town. A walk along the  beach front with  cool breezes blowing  is to be enjoyed any time of the night or day.  It is perfectly safe at all hours. Even for single women.There is the replica of the Trojan horse used in the Brad Pitt movie ‘Troy’. It was presented to the city in 2006 & is a major attraction here. Next to the horse is a basket ball court with stone & wooden benches for seating. The dustbins are in the shape & colour of  fish & dolphins . Young & old come out to stroll & walk or simply sit around the many cay shops,cafes & fish restaurants. The  stringy Turkish ice cream has to be had. An old woman sits among the pigeons – head bowed. She has a scale which you can use for 1TL. There  are men selling Mussels, roasted water chestnuts,  corn &  peanuts coated with a delicious honey – sesame mixture

The  cobbled lanes & by lanes crisscross & bustle with activity. It looks like everyone is out holidaying. Canakkale definitely is much much cheaper than Istanbul. Also it has a homely small town feel. For me one of the joys of  the town was the pleasure of simply wandering around aimlessly or sometimes sipping endless cups of tea at the many cafes & restaurants strewn about the place. The Vitalis Kultur Café, adjacent to the clock tower deserves special mention particularly for its ambience, cuisine & beauty. It houses a souvenir shop that sells Turkish handicraft & artifacts

And not to forget – Canakkale is your base for the tour to Troy – a mere 30 kms away

Crowded House

Crowded House

Eceabat  Turkey

Tel: 2868141565

May 16-19,2012

The ferry across the Dardanelles between Canakkale & Eceabat runs every hour right upto midnight. It is a 25 minute crossing  2.50 TL each way. The ferryboat transports cars & heavy vehicles like buses too. It is equipped with space for luggage, has a snack bar,TV , WC facilities & appears to be the preferred mode of transport in these parts. A ticket bought at the counter is automatically scanned  before the turnstile gates  open to allow you a passage.

I had a booking for a Sgl / Pvt ensuite @ Euro 23 a night. My room ( No: 201 )is small but smart & modern with a fantastic Dardanelles view. I wake up each morning, cup of tea in hand & idly watch the boats steam in & out –  by the hour. It is strangely fascinating. Between my two loves ocean & mountain – I realize I am a sea person

The ‘Crowded House’ itself  is a non descript yellow building  named after a rock band. Not, as many suppose what the name suggests. You cannot miss it coming out of the ferryboat station.  It stares you in the face. It is on 3 floors, has 24 rooms & dorms, a garden restaurant that serves  delicious food  – I had the most fantastic Turkish soup –Tutmac Corbasi – here. There is a lobby, library, common area  and, not to be missed, Bundys’ Bar.  It is very very basic yet modern & smart. Internet & Wifi are free & thankfully the keyboard is not Turkish –as elsewhere. Ziya Artam & gang  are doing a great job. It is also a 2 minute walk  to the harbor, park, cafes, pharmacy, telephone booth & the daily needs shop The place is hugely popular specially with the Australians & New Zealanders & specially during  Anzac day celebrations. Any wonder then that it is completely booked for 2015 –   the Gallipoli centenary year. It is  an excellent base for the Gallipoli tour. Crowded House arranges that too @ euro 25 / 5 hrs/ services of a guide,transport & lunch included. In Bulent (Bill) Yilmaz Korkmaj they have the best guide in the world. However more on that another time.Image

Incredible Turkiye

Ayasofya  Hamam Istanbul Turkey


Tel no: 0212 5173535


I am visiting a hamam today.One of the  major attractions on my ‘To do List.’ I almost walked into one both at Canakkale & at Eceabat but somehow they  did not seem inviting enough. This is also my last day in Istanbul. After much looking around  I have decided on the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami. It is housed in a wing of the Ayasofya complex & being a part of  the historic building  has the same beautiful architecture. This hamam was built during the Ottoman period – in 1556. It has lately been acquired & renovated by a business house that appears to fully comprehend the money that could be made off such a venture. From the outside it has traditional thick stone walls topped by a cupola. I was warned about the cost but decided to check it out never the less.

I  wear the plastic shoe covers placed at the entrance & walk inside. The ambience is fairy like & ethereal. White unstained marble floors & slabs. Snow white walls reaching up to  the  domed ceiling with natural light flitting in from the skies. There is soft music, a mild fragrance & Turkish girls in the sheerest of sheers. I have to take an appointment as the staff is busy attending to a wedding party. This has long been a Turkish cultural tradition. Matrons would visit the place with daughters in tow hoping to fix a match.

This is what I love about Turkey.This peculiar mix of East & West.

I opt for a ‘Pir i Pak’ ( full cleaning) which is essentially a traditional body scrub along with a bubble wash massage. It will be 70 euros/ 35 minutes – thank you. I am given a pestamal – a traditional silk bath wrap & am led to a steaming hamam that has a golden plated Ottoman style bath bowl. The attendant brings along a wooden comb, a scrubber especial to the skin type, special olive oil soap, shampoo, conditioner & body lotion. Clothes removed & placed inside a locker that has an ornate  filigree  carved wooden screen I am quite ready to step into the bath. The pores – quite literally – open up after the scrub. The amount of skin dirt  scrubbed off so gently & diligently is unbelievable. You are led by the hand & made to lie on a hot white marble slab.This is for the bubble bath – the billowing bubble bag merely grazing you like a feather. Hair shampooed & conditioned. Massage complete, the lady walks you through a maze of marbled corridors into an immense room that has glazed glass, Turkish rugs, lamps & Ottoman era artifacts. Everything beautiful & minimal. Seated comfortably you are handed a glass of fruit sherbet & asked to relax & enjoy as long as you wish

An incredible experience indeed