Monday Oct 6, 2014

I don’t know why it happens, but it happens on every Mad Midlife adventure. As the end of the tour approaches, time speeds up and the days zoom by in a blur and it’s kinda hard to catch your breath.

Two days ago, we bade farewell to Venice and flew to Turkey, landing at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport and opening the final pages of our grand Mediterranean adventure. This huge, chaotic, energetic city (as many as 25 million people, by some counts) immediately captivated us, and we couldn’t wait (yesterday) to see the eye-popping sights.

But I’m gonna come back to those in my final blog, because today was something extra special …

We grabbed a temporary break from Istanbul and drove south along the Sea of Marmara – arriving this afternoon at Gallipoli (or ‘Gelipolu’ in Turkey-speak). It was here in 1915, WW1, that Allied Forces battled the Turks for control of this strategic location – an ambitious eight-month campaign that ultimately failed, at enormous cost to both sides. Among the dead were some 2700 New Zealand soldiers (roughly one quarter of the Kiwis who fought here) … 8000-plus Aussies … 21,000 Brits … sundry other allies, and nearly 100,000 Turks. And the gravestones of fallen soldiers on both sides seem to stretch forever.

We followed the unforgettable story across this rugged windswept stretch of coastline and through the tree-covered ridges and hills. Quieter-than-usual and lost-in-thought, we visited the haunting sites that have special significance for Kiwis and Aussies: Anzac Cove, Lone Pine, and Chanuk Bair.

We stood before a huge commemorative wall and reflected on the gracious words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s wartime leader (and the creator of Turkish democracy):

“Those heroes who 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 in this country of ours … You the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries: wipe away your tears. Your sons are now living in our bosom and are at peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

Then we gathered beneath the towering New Zealand memorial, shared some Anzac thoughts and words and prayers, sang the NZ National Anthem, and listened to the haunting sounds of the Last Post.

It was a moving experience, I tell you. And we Kiwis were in a sober frame of mind when we crossed the Dardenelles by vehicular ferry to our hotel for the night in Canakkale (pronounced ‘Char-nak-arly’).

NEXT BLOG: Join us in Istanbul (formerly Byzantium, then Constantinople) … hear muezzin wailing from the nearest minaret, calling their people to prayer … and smell the thick black Turkish coffee they serve here in the streets.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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