Tuesday, July 26, 2011


There are a couple of shady spots in Pergamon, just in case you ever go.  You can sit in the shade of a column and stare down at history.  Pergamon is at the top of a hill.  It’s exposed, windy and very, very hot.  Restored columns glow in the sun; the marble clear and white after so many years.

Pergamon is perhaps more famous for what is no longer there than what remains.  You can see the Great Alter of Pergamon in Berlin, in the Pergamon Museum.   Or you can take the cable car to the top of the hill.  (Why is it you always think you are going to die in those things?)  The base of the alter remains, as well as some restored structures.  But the best thing about it is the view.  We could see for miles across Anatolia, over towns and farms, right down to the sea about 25km away.

The library at Pergamon housed 200 000 volumes and was one of the most important of the ancient world.  When the Ptolemies refused to send anymore papyrus to Pergamon the writers needed something else to write on.  It is said that parchment was created in Pergamon.  It’s made of calf, goat or sheepskin and is limed and stretched to create a thin – though not waterproof - surface.  The library was insulated to keep out the humidity and to keep this treasure safe.  Marc Antony gave the whole lot to Cleopatra (which may be why JLo dumped him. Hahahahaha.)


After an overnight stay in Canakkale (along with a couple of refreshing Efes) we set off to Troy.  Legendary Troy.  That's right, TROY!

Eris was grumpy, she hadn't been invited to the party - not really that surprising since she was the Goddess of Strife.  She came up with a plan to annoy Athena, Hera and Aphrodite.  She sent them a gift, a golden apple, marked "to the fairest."  Naturally all three thought it should be hers.  Finally Zeus stepped in and sent them to Paris, Prince of Troy (him of outstanding beauty and intelligence, hmmmm) for his honest opinion.  He thought Aphrodite was "like totally the hottest!)

OK, they may have bribed him. Athena offered skill in battle, Hera offered land, and Aphrodite offered Helen - the most beautiful woman on Earth. Oooo-er!

So Paris and Helen lived happily ever after - both matching each other in their beauty...

Nope, Helen was already married.  To Menelaus, King of Sparta, who, strangely enough, didn't think his wife should run away with the little upstart.  He persuaded Agamemnon King of Mycenae to help him fight against Troy.

The Greeks besieged the city for ten years, they won many battles, including the killing of Hector (who seems to be the best of the lot of them).  Paris defeated Achilles (the one with the heel), but later died.  His little brother then married Helen - good grief!

After ten years the Greeks really really really wanted to capture the city.  They constructed an enormous wooden horse, sent most of the army away, and hid the rest inside.  The Trojans (in an enormous burst of gullibility) towed it inside had a party, went to sleep and got slaughtered.

And that was the end of that - except for Melelaus, who was planing on killing Helen.  He set eyes on her beautiful face, forgave her and they sailed home to live happily ever after. 

Actually, there are nine Troys, all on top of each other (Achilles, Helen and that lot were probably there during Troy VII) and it had descended into myth.  It was rediscovered in the late 1800s and lots of loot was removed to Museums around Europe.

It is ancient, the first city was around 3000BC (The Bronze Age), the last gone by 400AD.  What is left is the outline of one of the most important cities of antiquity, a link between Anatolia, the Aegean and the Balkans.  There are excavations ongoing and you can see for miles.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Wanderlust Travel Blog of the Week

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 now 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.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Gallipoli is deeply ingrained in my consciousness.  Like many New Zealander's (and recently the numbers have been growing) I have stood silently at dawn on April 25 - on Primrose Hill in Paeroa, at Auckland Museum, by the banks of the Waikato River in Hamilton,  by myself in Capetown, with hundreds in Hyde Park in London.  Why have I done this? Why is Gallipoli so important to New Zealanders?  Why is it so important to me? There have been other battles, closer to home, further away, but Gallipoli is the one we remember.  I'm not sure I learnt a lot about it in school, though you certainly do now.  I've never wanted to go to Gallipoli on ANZAC day, I like my small, quiet dawn services.  I have always wanted to go to Turkey though, and I picked this tour because it went through Gallipoli.  I did not expect to be quite so moved by the experience.

Ataturk's words are the key, the quiet dignity of a person who vowed to look after all the fallen can not be overstated.  The memorials are side by side on the hills of the peninsular.  Friend and foe lie together, both in unmarked graves and in the sea. There is a dignity about the place, it's quiet, and calm, like those dawn mornings.

The Dardanelles have always been strategic, hold them in your grasp and you can enter the Black Sea.  The Allies underestimated the Ottoman Empire, landed on the Peninsular and entered into a battle which would scar the history of Turkey, Australia, Britain and New Zealand. 130 784 people died, 261 554 more were injured.

ANZAC Cove is pretty and tiny, not the stuff on which legends should be made.  The hills of the peninsular are steep and unforgiving.  It's a terribly long way up to Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair, that anybody made it that far is a demonstration of incredible fortitude.  It was 40° today, the thought of climbing those hills seemed ridiculous.  How did anyone manage to survive?

It's difficult to visit a place like this and not make it about yourself, vague reminders of those who died, those who remained, those who entered the consciousness of so many people, and those who time has forgotten.  It is difficult to imagine the scale of the horror, both the acts of inhumanity and humanity that took place, the fact that most of these men were barely more than boys, and such an awfully long way from home.  It's difficult to imagine that people would sign up now for such a big adventure when our heads are full of the images of life on the front line which we see every day.  In a way it is more poignant as we see old, grey photos of young men ready to leave on their adventure, the letters they wrote home and the calm, quiet, peaceful place where the Turks look after the memory of all who died.  There are olive trees and rosemary around the graves, the sea is peaceful, people's voices are subdued.  I think they are doing us a great service, and great honour, I only hope that we would do the same.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Dawn. Istanbul.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Istanbul II - Cooking

Determined that I would consign the 2am-post-drinks-kebab to history I set out to discover the real taste of Turkey, by taking a cooking class.  Actually I had a doner kebab for lunch, a 4 Turkish Lira (about £ 1.50) extravaganza of grilled aubergine and tender lamb, crispy bread and zucchini that had already made me think that "Kebabs on Queen" had been holding something back for years.  Breakfast at the hotel had been salty cheese, olives, watermelon and a delicious sweet bread roll made with tahini (this is, I think, Armenian).  Turkish food was looking very tasty.

I had booked a place at "Cooking Alaturka" and spent quite some time trying to find the place in the maze of streets near the Blue Mosque.  I did manage to find this shop on the way.  Trying on felt hats when it's 38 degrees outside is a bit silly, but imagine the fun you could have on a chilly winter afternoon.

Entering the cooking school with some trepidation I was greeted by the owner and given the days recipes.  All looked simple, and really delicious.  I couldn't wait to get started.  Soon the five of us were chopping garlic, slicing onions and starting to create our dinner.  First on the menu was Ezogelin Çorbasi – Lentil and Bulgur Soup with Dried Mint and Red Pepper.  Ezo (gelin - the bride) Çorbasi was a particular beauty who many men wanted to marry.  Unfortunately for her, her family arranged her marriage to a man who loved another.  Her second husband took her to Syria where she was very homesick.  She created this soup for her very demanding mother in law who could never be pleased.  Poor Ezo died of TB sometime in the 20th Century and her soup lives on - on pretty much every menu I saw in Turkey.  It's pretty tasty too, with its distinctive flavour coming from capsicum puree (bilber alçası), an important part of Turkish cuisine.  Not sure why the mint is dried though, I guess it has a slightly different flavour to fresh mint - more wintery and warming.

Next up was Zeytinyağlı taze fasulye (Runner beans coked in olive oil with tomato, onion and garlic).  This was also a staple on many meze dishes in Turkey and absolutely delicious.  I'm a runner bean fan, but this elevated the bean into something special - and you throw away most of the cooking liquid, so they are healthy, right? 

Kabak Mücveri is delicious! Zucchini fritters with dill, parsley, mint and feta.  Find a recipe, eat the lot, you won't regret it. Hünkar Beğendili Kuzu - Lamb Stew in Tomato Sauce on Smoky Eggplant Puree was the next course and the one I was least convinced by.  The lamb stew was tasty but I'm not sure about the eggplant puree.  I love eggplant, but this had bechamel sauce in it.  It made it a little heavy, maybe it's for a banquet.  It had a lovely smoky flavour though.  Maybe I had eaten too much by this point.

Which is a shame, because for dessert we made İncir tatlısı.  I claimed defeat at this point and took mine back to the hotel for tomorrow.  These figs were stuffed with walnuts and poached in a lemon and clove syrup.  They were fantastic, and looked really beautiful and difficult - they were easy to make.

All this and a couple of glasses of local wine. A brilliant day in Istanbul.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


History weighs heavily on Istanbul, the famous meeting point of two continents.  The domes and minarets of the old city are instantly recognisable symbols of an empire only recently faded.  The red and white of the Turkish Flag flies proudly from the tops of hills.  Old and new combine to create something quite incredible.

I spent my first afternoon exploring the old city, walking around the edges of the golden horn and gazing up at the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and on the "modern" side the Galata Tower.  I briefly touched upon the Grand Bazaar  and wondered at the Egyptian Spice Market - "Fish Spice" or "Love Tea" anyone?

The constant twists and turns of ancient alleyways and the chorus of vendors shouting "I have one question: Where you from?" were overwhelming and I found myself escaping the chaos and confusion in a terrace restaurant with views over the Bosphorus.  A quick kebab and a leisurely beer saw the sun slipping away and a much calmer walk to my hotel topped off the night.  I didn't even get (too) lost.