How are some words so difficult to write, while others spill themselves out onto the page, effortlessly expressing thoughts, images, sounds and memories? A simple premise this; a short story of a short run along the Dardanelles. The first chance outside the megalopolis that is Istanbul, that would serve as the official entry for the Virtual Poppy Run, and second of the 100 challenge for the RAF BF. But when I try to write, sadness overwhelms me and all I can do is sit and wait as memories wash over me as though they were happening again.
I looked forward to this second part of my trip as much as (if not more) the city stage. I researched and prepared, and knew exactly what I would like to do…well, my preference would have been to hike the peninsula with my bivvy bag, spending as long as I liked in each area as I read about the history but this was perhaps not the right time for that plan, so I instead visited the physical offices of all of the tour companies that offered trips to Gallipoli and environs. Several of them didn’t seem to exist, and I received wildly varying prices and options, until I finally found a company that offered what I was looking for. I asked them to confirm all the details, and then write them down, before paying and heading off for more Istanbul wanderings (as an addendum, I would highly recommend the Istanbul museum card, for 85L, you can visit all of the main museums and galleries, and there really are some stupendous places. Aya Sofia and Topkapi alone will cost 80L, and that is before you visit the Harem).
Morning dawned the next day, and saw me once more scurrying up and down the hills as I made my way to Taksim to find the shuttle for Gallipoli. The owner had been a little strange, texting to ask for my photo so that his driver could find me…when I said that I was pretty sure that I would be the only blonde woman in Taksim at 0600, his reply was that he was sure that I *am* pretty. I just ignored him and told him I’d have an orange jacket and would find the driver, which I did. We were joined only by one other passenger along the way, a Turkish guy who had served his military service on the peninsula, and came out with different stories each day as to why he was there. In the end he stuck with me and Hasam (the guide) the whole time, seemed like a nice guy, and appeared to be watching out for me, although at first I thought he was a friend of the driver. I sat up in the front watching the views and daydreaming as we made our way across the country. The city went on for hours and hours; we climbed endless hills then dropped down to skirt the coast before swooping upwards again. We stopped for breakfast at a giant empty hotel in a stunning spot above the water. That was a story in itself! As we pulled away and rejoined the motorway I felt a sense of saudade tear at my heart and throat. We could have been in Italy or Colombia at that moment, and I felt the absence of all my friends as acutely as though they had all just disappeared from my side.
Eventually we drove into Eceabat, were deposited at the Boss Hotel and told what the itinerary for the day would be. Luckily I had the agreement written down, as what was suggested was completely and utterly different. Cue an extended mobile phone discussion between Hasan and the company headquarters. I watched the historical landscape as we made our way to the southern part of the peninsula, and stubbornly stuck to my story regarding what had been agreed, while having no problem at all with the order being completely mixed up. In the end, that was absolutely fine, and everyone was happy.
The sense of history was fascinating. From a viewing platform on top of Achi Baba hill, we had an overview of the whole peninsula, and then headed towards the various points that were pertinent during the campaign. At V beach, our driver pulled me towards a sandstone outcropping, where rusted shrapnel formed starbursts, embedded in the rock. Hasan was delighted to be able to add in a mystery stop to the grave of Charles Doughty-Wylie. He said that he wouldn’t usually go to the grave, which stands alone on a hill above V beach, but given my nationality, he wanted me to go away and find out about this man who was awarded both the Victoria Cross, and the Imperial Ottoman Order of Medijedieh.
We walked and drove across the landscape, absorbing the events of 100 years ago. Towards late afternoon, we stopped at the Gallipoli Epic Simulation Centre. Oh it was epic all right! A-MA-ZING. I was mostly interested in the explicit and obvious use of this piece of history for the creation of a national sense of self. Turkey was born here, and that was most evident at all times. As we were taken from room to room, pieces of the story were told in 3D, with ships steaming along the Dardanelles, soldiers picking up giant shells, and British commanders doing very good impressions of the Germans in British war movies. The museum at the end was equally fascinating. Having been told that we had until 17:15, I was taking my time until I realised that a guard was shadowing my every move. Once he was joined by a friend they escorted me from the building – it was the quiet season, and time for them to go home! No problem, I still had to figure out where I could run in the morning, so I was happy to head back to Eceabat, go for a walk, and absorb the day.
Poppy Run and Remembrance
The following morning I ran out into the frosty darkness, and along the road with the Dardanelles to my right. The light filtered through mist rising on the water as I did a quick 5 miles (going the extra mile so to speak), in the company of a gorgeous honey coloured dog (that I named Troy for our afternoon destination). I had wanted to do this here, in a place of war, death and memory as a fitting remembrance. Going for a run didn’t seem to be a normal Eceabat activity by any stretch of the imagination, but noone bothered me, the air was cleaner than in Istanbul, and it was the best way to start the day. It was light by the time I got back, and the next stage of our Gallipoli visit awaited. This time we headed to the North, where the ANZAC history is laid.
I had wanted to come to a place of remembrance, and find ways to carve calm moments out of the chaos on this day in particular, in the hope that sadness shared (even if only in spirit) would somehow be easier to bear. The day before I had told Hasan that I was remembering someone who had died, and just needed a moment. When we reached the New Zealand Memorial at Chunuk Bair, he suggested that this was a good place to pause and be quiet, as it is the highest point, and looked out over an area that was held by the Welsh. I was glad of my sunglasses as I stood there silently, soaking in history, landscape, and memories. The only way that time (nine years have passed since I lost my son) has made things easier was that I was able to turn my face to the sun and feel it warm my skin, and then smile as our Turkish contractor/military/architect/guy friend brought over a helmet like show and tell and then bought doughnuts at a kiosk before we made our way to Bigali, where Ataturk had made his base during the campaign.
In the afternoon we were joined by some Swedish diplomats as we headed to Troy for a few hours, before the 5 hour journey back to Istanbul with the super moon looming above the city. Troy was definitely worth the visit, and Homer danced in my head, but I was extremely glad not to have come for only one day.