Back in Istanbul, I was greeted with a fully serviced bike from KTM. I was supremely satisfied with great the job they’d done. Everything was in perfect order, the upgrades were completed and the fixes made. They’d also re-mapped my engine so I was quite keen to experience what it would feel like. Overall, it wasn’t cheap, but it certainly was necessary. You can’t expect to ride half way round the world and not put some investment into your steed. Whilst at the service centre I saw a couple of Swiss guys working on their own bikes on the footpath. They came over and introduced themselves. They too had come from further east including Russia and Kazakhstan. We shared some stories and I was incredibly impressed with their efforts. They had big old bikes (like maybe KTM 990s, but really old). Insanely large fuel tanks that were positioned much higher on their bikes than mine. The centre of gravity would have been a nightmare (way too top heavy) and they told me how much trouble they’d had on some rough roads just keeping upright… which of course they didn’t. They were in a rush to get back to Switzerland for work. As for many adventure motorcyclists, you have one plan and fate has another. I really enjoyed their friendly nature and our brief chat and again felt a warmth at having met fellow travelers. A small part of me sighed inside, knowing I had missed some of the adventures that they were describing from further East, but equally I knew I wasn’t in a position to complain.
Another interesting encounter around the same time was an online one. A Turkish motorcyclist apparently saw my bike with my name on it outside the KTM shop and managed to find me on Instagram. He sent a message to me with a picture of my bike saying how much he loved it. We now follow each other on Instagram. The world sure is a funny place.
I was keen to keep on moving. Istanbul for all its grandeur was a chaotic place and the hotel was a long way from the centre of town and even further from KTM. So getting around was a pain. When you’re on a bike, you really do enjoy the smaller towns. Having said that though, I shamelessly admit to feeling like a boss every time I ride into a massive city for the first time, not knowing where I’m going or what I’m riding into. It’s a kind of empowerment that is quite liberating. You realise after places like Tehran and Istanbul you can pretty much ride into any city and not be overwhelmed. And if you’re lucky, you might just get a few looks from some girls and not just the guys as usual.
The road to Gallipoli got interesting thanks to maps.me… yet again. I was guided along the direct route and ended up winding my way through some small villages and picturesque farming land. Some goatherds and goats completed the picture. Arriving in Gallipoli was really weird. Like much of Europe there’s a tourist season and an off-season. I was in the off-season. Let me just say, the place is like a ghost town. I stayed in Eceabat which is one of the main towns from which to do the various tours. I had thought about doing a day tour of Anzac Cove and Lone Pine (because the whole peninsula is called Gallipoli, so you’re technically not going to “Gallipoli” per se. There is a town called Gallipoli toward the north, but basically you are on the Gallipoli peninsula and it’s various sites on that peninsula you visit.) I then planned to get the ferry across the Dardanelles and ride around Try. Nevertheless, the hotel owner (who called me mate about seven times in every sentence) talked me out of Troy. He said I would be better off doing a day tour and exploring the peninsula myself on the bike the next day. I thought fair enough.
The town was completely empty. In fact, it’s almost eerie. There is literally nothing going on. Many restaurants are open but empty and it is nothing like what you would imagine. No doubt peak season and Anzac Day itself would be insanely busy, but I felt like I was in some post-apocalyptic movie set. The day tour was really amazing. Only a small group of us (most of whom were doing the trip from Istanbul so they had a very long day with bus rides in between). I met a few people including a kiwi which I thought was most appropriate given where we were. Interestingly, he worked for a company that manufactured apiculture equipment back in NZ (yes, that’s right: beekeeping) and he was at a conference in Istanbul for a few days.
The guide was very good and gave detailed explanations everywhere we visited. It’s quite remarkable when you actually see where the ANZACS landed. A complete and utter disaster. And then when you are not he mountain where the trenches between Turks and ANZAC were literally eight metres apart (some of which still remain in a dilapidated state) it just seems completely implausible. I asked why on earth they didn’t just throw grenades at each other. Turns out they did. But the Turks seemed to have a decent supply whereas the ANZACs had home made ones. Of course, if either party threw too soon, that same grenade could be thrown back. Whilst we were there, several large coaches of Turkish tourists arrived and it is of course a huge chapter in their history, one tat provides great pride to their country and in fact represents a key element of the birth of their nation from the Ottoman Empire into becoming modern day Turkey. The fact that Mestafa Kemal Ataturk was their first ever president too only adds even more gravitas to their evolution.
Speaking of Ataturk, I’ve never been one to get terribly emotional about Anzac Day or Gallipoli. I know that in recent years, there is a huge swell of national pride and overt recognition in Australia over this particular chapter of our history and perhaps it is reflective of the modern Australian looking for an identity in a country that is so young. Rightly or wrongly, most countries forge some sort of national identity off the back of ancient or modern wars and battles (whether won or lost). For many places it is beyond identity, it is actually existential. There simply wouldn’t be that particular country in its current form without its victory in a certain war (or wars!) Touring through Europe would be a major reminder of that and I’m not even referring to modern history. Nevertheless, to my point on Ataturk, it is his poetic quote that very much brings out the emotion for me. He wasn’t just an inspirational and courageous leader displaying tactical and strategic nous that in several instances was the difference between victory and defeat for Turkey, but he had a compassionate soul and his famous words I think attest to this:
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 between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway 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.
Tell me that doesn’t give you glassy eyes. Although hearing the Last Post played any day of the year will do the job too.
Another fascinating sight, is just how narrow the Dardanelles are. Of course, one can look at a map and “know” this, but to see it with your very own eyes brings a new dimension to the tension of the whole region at the time. It was a very wonderful experience and I appreciated being able to see these historic sites when so few were around. Gives you time to ponder and soak it all up. That night I even watched “Gallipoli” the Peter Weir film on the laptop. Like anywhere, once you’ve actually physically seen the place being presented in a film, there are so many more things you can absorb about the location as it is presented in the movie.
I decided I couldn’t handle an extra day of touring round on the bike. There really isn’t that much to see and a day certainly covers it. More so, I just felt the emptiness of the place made me feel isolated and alone, so I just wanted to get moving. There are some places that are isolated where you feel like you could spend an eternity. Like a desert or a tropical island beach. I don’t think ghost towns are one of them for me. The time for Europe had finally come. On the 4th October I would set off for Bulgaria. Farewell to the East. You’ve been most kind to this traveler.