Ups and downs

In the steps of history
Short post, long drive.

After the grey haziness of yesterday we were relieved to see clear blue skies this morning. We had booked a private guide to tour the Gallipoli battle sites and he arrived at 9 to show us around. He knew the history and entertained and informed us all morning with stories of bravery and foolishess and senseless bloodshed on both sides. We saw the landing sites on the beaches, the ridges that were so desperately fought for. We saw cemeteries of young men cut down and mass graves of thousands never identified. We saw tunnels and trenches – apparently the Anzacs dug 300km of trenches all up. We saw memorials to Australians, New Zealanders and Turks who fell. It was an emotional morning but we were really glad to get a picture in our minds of what it was like (in a small measure) and to pay our tribute to those who lost their lives.

The tour lasted 4 hours and though it was not cheap it was well worth it. Being able to go at our own pace, and ask all the questions we wanted to ask was terrific. It seemed somewhat surreal to be touring with our charming, friendly Turkish guide the scenes where Turks and Australians were killing each other 100 years ago. But it is a different world now, thankfully, and the respect and honour that Turkey pays to the Anzacs (and vice versa) is wonderful.

After such an emotional morning neither of us really felt like lunch so we headed off for our next destination. We sustained ourselves with some cheese crackers bought at the service station while we filled the car. We crossed the Dardanelles in a car ferry and drove towards Assos, on the Aegean coast. Initially the drive was pretty easy, on well made 4 lane highways, but soon we came across roadworks which continued for around 100 km. The government must be spending a fortune on the roads, as we have seen roadworks everywhere, reducing the roads to single lanes. They seem to alternate which side they are working on, so every so often you cross to the other side of the road for a while. It certainly helps keep you awake, remembering which side you are meant to be on!

As we got closer to Assos the roadworks stopped, but the road became really narrow and very windy as it wound its way up and down some pretty steep hills. There was barely room for two cars to pass, and at times a precipitous drop from the unfenced edge of the road. Possibly one of the most nerve-wracking drives I have ever taken. I’m sure it was very scenic, as we hugged the coastline, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the road to see the view! We finally made it to Assos, to my great relief, but the roads didn’t get any wider. Assos is a tiny little town with tiny little streets (and not many of those!). The hotel is tiny, with tiny rooms, but a fabulous view that makes up for all of that! Assos is a quaint village with two distinct sections – a hill town around the ancient acropolis, and a tiny fishing harbour now almost entirely populated by waterfront hotels and restaurants. We are in the harbour section, and it is gorgeous.

We unloaded the car and headed up to the main attraction, the ruins of the old city and the Temple of Athena. I have to admit that the ruins were underwhelming, to say the least – not much there, and next to no signposting. But the view from the top of the hill was spectacular and worth the climb. Climb being the operative word. Finding the ruins was a little challenging as there were no signs anywhere that we could find, but we figured since they were at the top of a hill we would keep going up. The cobbled roads got narrower and narrower, until we figured we were at risk of getting completely stuck. We found someone who spoke a little English and discovered that we had to park in town and walk. It was a steep climb of about 20 minutes along uneven cobbled streets lined with ramshackle tourist trinket stalls. The only indication that we were headed in the right direction was that we figured the tourist stalls would be on the path that tourists use! The stalls were mainly run by “little old ladies” who were sitting and making traditional hand knitted shawls outside their shops – very picturesque (except I forgot all about taking photos while worrying if we were climbing that hill for nothing, and whether I was going to have to carry Dad the rest of the way!)

We made it down the mountain with relief and relaxed for a while. Dinner was another adventure – as all good meals should be when travelling. We ate at the hotel’s waterfront restaurant. All the hotels seem to have much the same menu – a huge array of Mezze dishes, and an selection of freshly caught fish. We ended up getting a big plate of mixed mezze made up for us (since we couldn’t choose between them) and had that for our main course, which I think amused the staff greatly.

Dad was in the mood for ice-cream for dessert, but the waitress told us they don’t sell ice-cream because there’s a great ice-cream shop along the way. She then headed off and returned with 2 bowls of take-away (but seriously delicious) home made cream for us! Now that’s service!!

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