GUEST ARTICLE: It was a spectacular day in May when we arrived in Istanbul to begin our 1 day journey through Turkey. Brilliant red Turkish national flags were proudly on display throughout the streets along with endless beds of beautiful red roses. Unbeknownst to us we had just arrived on the Commemoration of Ataturk Day but unfortunately we arrived too late to see any of the festivities.
We spent the night at the Renaissance Polat Istanbul Hotel which is a nice oceanside hotel that’s close to the airport. After doing the old “I don’t have any change trick” with the cab driver (I swear it’s the same the world over) we headed in for the night.
The next morning we awoke to a beautiful sunny day and as planned were met at our hotel by a rental car rep from Circular Car Hire. After we finished with the all necessaries we set up our car navigator (which we highly recommend) and were off in our little silver Fiat to our first destination – Gallipoli National Park, the first stop on our 11-day journey around Turkey.
The roads were excellent, dual carriage pretty much the whole way, which we really liked since the drivers in Turkey like a little lane drift every now and again. Getting out of Istanbul was somewhat intense, like all cities the drivers are more aggressive if not a bit reckless. Once we were out of the city it was all pretty easy-going.
Having a car navigator is great but sometimes they take crazy short cuts. Instead of going from a very easy A to B we were taken on a countryside journey through farmers fields and villages. In a way it was actually kind of nice because we got to see more of the locals!
After about 3 hours of driving we were winding our way up a lone dirt road to the little village of Kocadere. After a couple lefts and rights we arrived at Gallipoli Houses, our beautiful country abode for the next few days.
Gallipoli Houses is the only hotel situated in the national park and is only 4kms from Anzac Cove. The stone cottages were beautiful, spacious and nicely decorated in Turkish design. Eric the owner was more than accommodating and gave us all the info we needed to help us better understand the history of our surrounding area.
It was still early in the day so we hopped back in our car and went to check out Anzac Cove. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves on a scenic drive alongside the beautiful Aegean Sea. Then we saw ‘the’ beach at Anzac Cove where back during WWI on April 25, 1915 the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) came ashore. It was surreal standing on that hot pebbly beach looking up onto an impossible mountainous landscape where the Anzacs and the rest of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (Brits, Indians, French) so bravely fought.
The steep mountains and cliffs were amazing if not intimidating. It’s hard to fathom what took place there and all of the thousands of lives lost all in an effort to secure the Dardanelle Straits and knock out Turkey (which was Germany’s ally at the time). In remembrance they have built some beautiful memorials and cemeteries.
We drove the memorial loop and as we got to the top of the mountain we got caught up in a mass of Turkish tour buses all paying tribute at their monuments of fallen soldiers. We managed to look at one of their sites but it was just too busy so we thought better of it and decided to check them out the following day.
At dusk with vinos in hand we went up to our hotel’s rooftop terrace to watch the sun set. It was really beautiful in the quaint village atmosphere with nothing but the sound of the odd rooster. Dinner that night was divine – a homemade 3-course culinary delight of traditional Turkish cuisine – yum! (It was included in our room rate)
That night during a rather peaceful sleep we were rudely awoken by an old village dog that could have given Barry White a run for his money (if it was in tune!). The old fella decided 3am was a good time to howl at the moon, which resulted in a choir of neighboring dogs joining in. Just when we thought that was over an over eager rooster decided to start up – what the?! Those are the drawbacks of village life. Thankfully it didn’t last too long and we were able to get ‘some’ shuteye.
The breakfast the next morning was pretty much a repeat of deliciousness put on by the hotel. We especially liked their homemade breads, jams and honey – yum! Kudos to the chef in the back who gave us a great intro into Turkish fare!
For our first adventure that day we thought it might be nice to walk up the mountain at Anzac Cove. We found a dirt road that allowed us to do that called the Lone Pine Cemetery Rough track. The walk was a little challenging in the heat but the views along the way were definitely worth it.
Once at the top we got a great view of Anzac Cove and we got to see the Lone Pine Cemetery. We ventured off onto a fire track up there in search of some WWI trenches but unfortunately we couldn’t find any (maybe they were too overgrown?).
After coming back down we drove the loop once again and luckily this time there were no masses of tour buses to contend with. We explored a few other interesting spots like “the Sphinx” and a few other memorials.
For lunch we headed back towards our hotel and stopped at a place along the roadside specializing in Turkish Gozlemes. We were warmly greeted by a small group of Turkish ladies wearing colorful headscarves and flowing Turkish clothes. After putting in our order they happily got to work singing and dancing along to some catchy tune on the radio.
Before we knew it we were chowing down on homemade grilled Turkish pancakes filled with spinach and cheese, accompanied by their own homemade chutney and lemons. Talk about melt in your mouth good! We had officially made them our go to lunch spot for the remainder of our stay.
That afternoon we drove to the southern end of the Gallipoli peninsula in search of some more memorials. A really impressive one was the Çanakkale Martyrs´ Memorial. It has a massive 137ft high structure with four squared columns and adorned with the Turkish flag. It was hard to miss and could easily be seen from the Dardanelles.
We really enjoyed our trip to Gallipoli National Park and we found it very educational. Even if you’re not that familiar with historical events we would recommend it. There’s beautiful countryside to explore, great food and really wonderful people. Next stop on our road trip – Izmir.
This travel diary has been written by Machalle Gower, a friend who enjoys taking the road less traveled!