Gallipoli

This morning I had my heart broken a little more again. You’d think I should know by now, expect it even, as it’s not the first time. But I can’t seem to steel myself and each new experience has my eyes well with tears.

These war memorials get me every time.

Today we’ve just left the area of Gallipoli, now more famous as Anzac Cove. All the Australians on my tour knew of this already, it’s one of their culturally defining moments in history, but this particular battle from WWI was missing my from knowledge. It’s funny how I used to just assume that everything I learned in school was pretty much all there was to know about major world events. Now I know so much more, and am just aware of how clueless I still am.

Difficult terrain added to the troops’ problems

Back in the midst of the war, The Allied forces had a plan to take control of the peninsula and waterway, which would allow them to transport goods to Russia. They assumed if they could take Constantinople (Istanbul), the Ottoman Empire would leave the war and it would have the double effect of allowing their safe access to the Black Sea while weakening the German forces. So the Australian and New Zealand armies, newly formed and training in Egypt, came in to reinforce the British. They landed on a cove near Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. This wasn’t the simple success envisioned, though, and the soldiers were stuck in a tragic torture for months. To make a long story short, it was finally in January 1916 that the remaining Allied fighters were able to be removed to safety. Thousands lost their lives.

Graveyard after graveyard, memorials and tributes march across the land as an emotional contrast to the bright scenery. Lest We Forget feeling even more poignant here, where if it were not for the carefully tended markers the landscape would feel cheery under the bright Mediterranean sunshine.

Hushed and reflective, our group read the names of the soldiers. The epitaphs engraved spoke of bravery, of love, faith, honour, and family; this mixture of pride and devastation did me in and I was thankful for my dark sunglasses to hide my liquid eyes.

At the crest of the hill stands a memorial complex for the Turkish army, who also sustained significant loss of life despite ultimately claiming victory in the months-long battle. On the way up there’s a statue of a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded British soldier to safety. It shows simple human kindness and the respect soldiers had for each other even across the battlefield, though I suspect some might also see it as a subtle testament to the locals’ mastery.

The Turks are very proud of the outcome, and while they acknowledge the horror of that time, their course of history was improved by the Battle of Gallipoli because this is what developed Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a revered leader. Atatürk ultimately brought reform and independence to Turkey, and was the country’s first president.

Paying respects

While at this memorial, I walked through the recreation of the trenches. Whether from some lingering sense in the air or from Hollywood, I could feel the young soldiers as they walked those same footsteps. Again as always when I’m in locations such as this I am so grateful for the peace I’ve grown up with.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore Rest In Peace. There is no difference to us 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 far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

– Atatürk, 1934

Istanbul introduction

Constantinople. Ottoman Empire. Byzantine. Ancient Roman Empire. This all has intrigued me for years and Turkey has always been high on my wish list.

Finally…

I’ve booked a tour from Istanbul that will show me 10 days of highlights from the western side of the country and I am so keen to get started! Right now I’m at the first hotel now after a 2-hour drive from the airport (who knew it was such a huge busy city?! 13 – 16 million citizens) and unfortunately I arrived just too late to meet the group for the initial welcome/introduction. But as it turns out, the 38 people on this tour are mostly Australians living in London. There are a few from New Zealand, and a few more Aussies that still live in Australia. One couple from Paraguay, one from Poland, and me as the sole North American rep. Should be a good time!

My first dinner in the country was a perfect start to set the tone of my travels. I nibbled on a piping hot lamb kebab grilled in a crispy pita wrap and sipped Turkish tea from a delicate fluted glass at an outdoor cafe. Fruit-scented sheesha and melodies from local musicians wafted around me, and I basked in the atmosphere.

I have a bit more time in Istanbul on my own after the tour ends, so I’ll circle back and write about the city then. For this post I’ll just leave off with some visuals for anyone armchair travelling with me.

Little Leeds Layover

The English countryside is so iconic, no? Maybe it comes from our commonwealth history, where I can picture all these British expats gathering in the 1800s to reminisce about their good old days with sheep-dotted emerald hills, low stone walls and grand manor estates. I think that conversation may have perpetuated throughout the generations to diffuse this image as my instinctual assumption of the United Kingdom.

I had the chance the other day to see this all in person again. And a day in the English dales is just as I’d imagined.

My dear sweet friends have been living in Leeds for the past couple months, and they are gracious enough to allow me to drop in on their doorstep without much warning, even making me feel like they’re happy to have their work and plans disrupted (Thank you!!) so of course that’s just what I did. I was travelling again with an uncertain timetable, and wasn’t sure I would be able to come visit, but I’m so happy it all aligned and I was able to arrive.

Here’s a travel tip, though, for anyone thinking of following my footsteps: most of the money I’d saved by booking a standby flight was then eaten up with booking a last minute train ticket from London to Leeds. I wasn’t expecting that to cost so much!! You’d be much better off to arrange your rail pass in advance! Thanks to Jeanette’s suggestion, I found my best option on thetrainline.com.

Anyway, from train tickets back to my train of thought. My unofficial tour guides had a pretty incredible itinerary for us, so I’ll now pass this along as a “One Day in Leeds” suggestion for you.

Start the morning with a walk to city centre, picking up coffee from Cafe Nero and sipping it while continuing to stroll. Take in the shops built into old Arcades and look for the golden owl statues set throughout. Apparently this is the symbol for the city of Leeds…. I meant to look up the story behind that but haven’t made the time for it yet. If anyone knows, please feel free to write in the comments.

After lunch, a drive out to Bolton Abby and the Yorkshire countryside. This is a beautiful drive through the peaceful scenic country – along harrowing narrow roads and blind corners with ridiculously fast speed limits!

Certainly worth the drive, the grounds around the Abby are lovely and lush, and it’s easy to imagine how life may have been centuries ago in this very spot. There are the stones used to make a footpath across the river that the monks from the Abby used to cross, fun to hop across now, as well as ruins from the outcrop buildings. If you prefer to hike, gentle trails run through the woods and along the river.

Photo by Jeff

Before leaving, take a pit stop at the cafe where it would seem a spot of tea and scone would be just right… or you could just get a soda to go if you’re rushing the way I was…

Next stop, a quick stretch of the legs to hike up the “Cow and Calf” outcropping. This was an old quarry, and the sudden stone cliffs towering out of the green hill is something to see. Listen for the bleating of sheep across the way as you walk to the top, and notice the way heather and ferns blanket the ground everywhere except the boulders.

Graffiti seems so much better when it’s 100 years old

Back in Leeds, excellent dinner options seem endless. Or nip into a pub and share your stories over an ale. And there you have it. A great day almost guaranteed!

As I was there to visit friends, we spent an evening around a table with others of their friends. We talked a lot about travel, and life as an expat, and the weather. People always seem to talk about the weather, hey? I remember that part because I said something about how cold it was currently, and one of the girls who lived in the UK made an offhand comment about their weather, saying “it’s not hot here like in Canada” which made me laugh as it’s not a sentence you’d often hear in most places around the world! Canada is known for polar bears!!

I had to run to catch my train back to London, and as much as I was excited to get started on my “real” travels through Turkey, I wished I had more time. But there you have it: One Day in Leeds. I hope you enjoy it, though in my opinion to really get the best you’d need to become friends with my Jeff & Jeanette.

Next time from Istanbul! Ciao!

Travel Light

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If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light.  Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.”   Glenn Clark

Have you ever sat back and just marvelled at the power of words?  At how something you hear or read can halt you in your tracks as it grabs your subconscious and forces you to pay attention?   Tonight I had another one of these moments with the quote above.  And I can’t believe I’m going to write about it publicly since those are qualities I would prefer to keep locked away, out of reach of my own attention and certainly anyone else’s.

This quote from Glenn Clark first found its way to me about 6 months ago, I don’t remember where I saw it but I added it to my little notebook list.  I liked it then, and also the other times I’ve seen it when I open that page to add another quote or thought.  Somehow though, I didn’t need those words until right now.  I sometimes passively wonder when the others I have jotted down will spring to life….

I’ve been travelling for the past 12 or so weeks, and as I absorbed these words tonight I had a flash of recognition.  A vision of myself and the backpack I’ve had with me, smiling for the camera in front of some far-flung location.  That smile is genuine, by the way, full of hope, the excitement of adventure and pride of accomplishment in equal measure.  But my pack is too big and becoming more unwieldy as I pose and I realize I’ve brought along too much with me – those negative emotions I’d stuffed in with the rest of my dirty laundry.

In just this past week I can easily list off the times I harboured envy, nursed petty jealousy, felt unwilling to forgive and thought selfishly.  It has been a significantly harder week than my usual, but I don’t want to allow that any foothold in my life nor do I wish to get used to the idea that my circumstances control me.  I still get to choose my reactions.  So I choose now to ‘unpack’ and leave these behind.  I know this won’t be the last time I’ll allow negatives and fear to burden me, but for now I’m repeating this quote as my mantra until I can travel lightly enough to fly far and fast to the great things ahead.

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P.S.    I did say in my very first post (Introducing: aimlessly + anywhere) that my blog may end up with a bit of everything.  This one certainly fell under the ‘therapeutic diary’ category rather than travel journal….  But I’ll be back on the road before long and hopefully have some good stories to tell soon!

If you’re as inspired by the quote as I was, and would like to keep it with my picture you are welcome to save the image at the top of the post.  In case you’re curious, I took that photo from the Citadel at the top of the Gellert Hill in Budapest.

Winding down in Warsaw

This morning I’m sitting in Warsaw, and thrilled to be here except for the tiny little wish that I could have kept the weather I’ve gotten used to – I’ve been so lucky with sunny days and 30• heat for several weeks now – and it’s cold here!  Thankfully at least the sun is out.

In a few minutes my friends will be arriving to meet me and start another day of exploring the city.  Until then I’ll try to get a few of my thoughts written down here.

One of the countless beautiful buildings in Warsaw

One thing I love about travelling is how it challenges me to be a better person, by allowing my eyes to be opened to things I may have never otherwise thought of.  The other day was a perfect example:  I’ve been on the go for a while, and the wallet I’ve been using was already old and worn out.  It’s ripped and torn, and missing a zipper.  I grabbed my wallet at a cash register and ended up with coins fallingout and clattering all over the place.  As 3 people stooped to help me collect my money I made a comment in my embarrassment along the lines of how I needed to get rid of my gross ghetto wallet.  And instantly as I heard the words come out of my mouth I was horrified with myself, as I had JUST finished touring through a museum exhibit of the atrocities of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto… I can really be an insensitive ass sometimes….  It never occurred to me that the origins of the word are so awful; it was an adjective I used to sprinkle in my speech as a way of joking about anything I own that’s in less than perfect condition.   So that stops now. 

Speaking of the museum, anyone travelling through Warsaw should make a stop at the Warsaw Uprising Museum.  It’s full of detail and wildly interactive, if a little confusing to find the correct order of walking through the exhibits. I wonder if that was intentional… It IS commemorating a period in history full of chaos, after all…

At the Warsaw Uprising Museum

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My friends that I mentioned at the beginning arrived, and this part of the post is being written more than a day later than the top of the page was.   (Thought I’d better explain that in case I start to confuse you with a mix of past and present tenses in my writing.)  So I introduce you to Jeff and Jeanette, two great goofballs and my official guides in Warsaw.  Who, by the way, seem to be very connected in the city – in the hours we were out we bumped into different people they knew four times, plus she still has family here.  Keep in mind there are over 2 million inhabitants so it’s not just some little village where everyone generally knows everyone else…  Jeff joked a couple times about how he could arrange for me to end up stranded somewhere so I’d have an interesting story to write about….  I’m just glad they chose to have their people stand down!!   Ha! 

During the two days I had in Warsaw, I think we did a pretty decent job of hitting the city highlights.  We ate a lot (and you already know my love affair with food!) walked in calm city parks, and ogled the architectural achievements of the city.  Oh plus we accidentally wandered into the middle of a political demonstration at night.  All of a sudden we were surrounded by a noisy crowd and the lights from tv news vans, and in the time it took us to get to the other side of the gathering the noise had become organized into a demanding chant – we took that as our cue to make a hasty exit before things got out of control.  

Back to the food again, where it’s so easy to get a sense of an area’s culture by seeing what may be unique, and being able to contrast that with tastes that are pretty much universally enjoyed.  I can’t picture a scenario that would have me choosing to eat raw beef at home, but in order to test out culture I dipped my raw hamburger in a raw egg too! It was kinda good, actually….  At least not awful when I got over the fear of eating it.  So far so good – no food poisoning!    And on the other side of the scale we have chocolate.  Lunch was at Warsaw’s original chocolatier, and cumulated in Chocolate Perogies! Delicious! 

This grin looked a little devious to me, so I didn’t take a bite until after I watched her eat it first! 

E. Wedel’s Chocolate
The palace on the label of Belvedere Vodka
Poland loves its churches

Winding down in Warsaw…. Definitely not physically since I was busy the entire time, but this is the end of my European jaunt.  I’ve had a blast exploring places I never expected to see, and am already looking forward to (hopefully) having a chance to come back, but it’s back to North America for me again now. 

A glimpse at Auschwitz

I’m stuck trying to figure out what to write about now, but it’s kinda the opposite of writer’s block. I have too much to say about everything I’ve experienced in the past few days and I don’t know where to start or how to weed it down to keep it interesting for you!   Do I go back and finish gushing about Budapest, or do I move on and try to catch up to my current events??!?  Dilemma….

Ok.  Current city stories it is. 

I have just finished almost 3 days in Kraków, Poland, and am feeling refreshed and energized again.   I decided to come here on the advice of a friend specifically to see Auschwitz.    And like I’ve said before of other monuments, this is both awful and awesome to experience.   Rather than regurgitate everything and risk losing you in a dusty history lesson I’ll just try to convey a few of my emotions.

Flowers laid at the entrance
Arriving by rail to the camp, most were optimistic it was only a temporary displacement
Suitcaes packed in a more hopeful time
Always surrounded by double fences, barbed and electric
Faces of concentration camp prisoners

3 levels of beds, often with 8 people living on every level. These barracks house 700-1000 people each
Cobwebs and reflections of history

We saw the gas chambers and furnaces that were used, viewed photos and read accounts of the ruthless way more than a million people were lead to their death.  I learned so much more from this day than I hadlearned from school and movies, and being here experiencing the emotional impact still in the air is exactly why I think everyone should try to see this once if possible. 

This day at the concentration camp museum was certainly the main event for my time in Kraków, but it wasn’t the only one.  I saw a salt mine that has been used for centuries, and witnessed the art and ingenuity that people are capable of.  I met some really great people and spent a couple days just seeing the sights of the town as we found them. 

Salt carvings deep within the salt mine
Canadians!

Next blog post is already late even before this one is officially posted…..    Stay tuned for what I see in Warsaw!

Budapest!

I have so much to catch up on after 4 days of sightseeing in Budapest that it’s almost a bit daunting to start this post.  I guess if last time I had Pretty Prague this would be Beautiful Budapest… Ha, maybe not my most clever line but it’s so fitting I can’t resist!   Here’s a quick peek first:


 One of the first things I set out to find after I arrived was a Holocaust monument I had read about.  In 1944-45 Hungarian Jews were forced to line up at the edge of the river, step out of their shoes and set all valuables inside.  Then were fired upon and left to fall into the river.  I still can’t understand how humans could do this to each other…   Shoes on the Danube, a simple memorial of bronze shoes created in 2005, left a mark on my soul.

Being here, on a spot that these incomprehensible acts took place, made me so much more aware that this was real, not just distant stories from history and another world. 


After paying my respects here I made a very deliberate effort to notice the great things around me, and that quickly was easy to do with so much to take in.   Budapest is full of pedestrian friendly avenues and these are packed with cafes and parks.  Everywhere I went the sun was shining, birds were chirping and people whistling a happy tune.  (Or maybe not that last part…)

The city is also a little quirky, but really, what else could you expect from a place that that has been inhabited “since pre-history times”?  Entirely by accident as I was walking around I found the entrance to the labyrinth that was used as a prison for Dracula – the real Vlad Dracul; a Houdini museum; Sputnik and soviet communism shops and tours; and Ruin Bars.  It’s a whole thing here where PopUp bars are opened in abandoned buildings right in the middle of residential neighbourhoods.  Somehow it really works!


And CASTLES! Everywhere I turned I’d see another one!!  While that might not be technically true, as a Canadian without much to compare it too, these are castles in my vocabulary. I’ll admit, it was enough to wake my inner princess…. I was tempted to find a ball gown to put on and a dragon to slay!


Honestly I’m a little surprised Budapest wasn’t completely overrun with tourists like I had grown accustomed to after Barcelona, London, Amsterdam and Prague.   I kinda think Budapest is better! But let’s keep this our little secret for a while longer….