Turkey: Ephesus

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Oh I do love a good ancient city! If I thought Troy was good, well Ephesus put it to shame! 20 – 30 thousand people visit it PER DAY in Summer and we got told that you often don’t get to see much at all or spend long here because the crowds are just ridiculous! Benefits of travelling in winter means there weren’t too many people here which means more ancient city for me!

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Ephesus was a city where each time we stumbled across something I thought, this is it, this is the highlight of the city, and then we walked around the corner and there was something better – this happened right until the end! There are so many lovely columns with such ornate decoration and we got taught about the different types of them.

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One of the Agora’s is near the enterance of city as is a little amphitheatre, which served as the political centre. Ok it wasn’t little, but bear with me, you will see why I call it little later on. I climbed right to the top and watched everyone down below. I also admired the hills – Ephesus is nestled in between hills and back in the day it was a port city – now the sea is at Kusadasi. Perfect spot for a city – seas on one side, hills on the other, makes it very difficult for your enemies.

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The main street runs downhill and there are heaps of different things to see along here – the old pharmacy, the brothel, the baths, the toilets – a lovely long slab with holes in it (apparently back in the day you used to get your servant to sit on it to warm it up for you! And fair enough, I can only imagine how cold it was in winter!) and then one of the things Ephesus is famous for The Library of Celsus. It is stunning! The columns and the details and carvings and statues just blew me away. I thought this was remarkable and then the final thing we came to was the amphitheatre.

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Oh my gosh. It was HUGE! I climbed right up to the top and sat up here for ages watching the people below, imagining there was something on the stage or gladiators and I also wanted to enjoy the sunshine. It was fantastic!

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Ephesus also is full of cats. They are everywhere. They sit on the columns although they are famous Greek statues, they walk through the streets like they own them. Apologies to all my cat loving friends out there, please don’t disown me, but I hate cats. But these cats don’t care. You can hiss at them, you can clap at them and run at them to try and get them to go away but they are fearless. They stare at you although they are an emperor and you are just a slave.

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Next we drove up into the mountains to visit the home of the Virgin Mary. It is a little humble house (more like a room) but this is apparently where she lived after Jesus died. It’s sweet. There are also fountains here with natural and blessed water.

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Back down the hill to visit one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Temple of Artemis. Or was. Unfortunately there is one coloumn left. But back in the day it would have been spectacular. This is clear by the people who stand there trying to sell you pictures of what it looked like. And then try and follow you on the bus because “you are so beautiful just like Diana herself!”

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I got lunch in Kusadasi and had a great time exploring the streets. It is much more lively in summer when all the cruise ships are coming in and can be quite a party town. Phew! Busy day!

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Turkey: The Epic City of Troy

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We’ve all heard of Troy haven’t we? How we’ve heard of it is another matter altogether. Some people learnt about it the good old fashioned way by learning in history class or reading Homer’s epic Iliad whilst others got their dose of history by watching spunky Brad Pitt on screen in the movie.

And surely we’ve all heard of the Trojan Horse? Being a lover of all things tacky the first thing I did when I got to Troy was to go and climb inside the horse. There are some steep stairs to get you up inside it and once in there, another 2 sets of stairs to take you onto a higher level. It was quite spacious, plenty of room for an army. (This actually isn’t the horse from the movie, that’s in Cannakle. I saw that one the day before when we drove past it to get to our hotel).

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Inside the horse

The thing that stood out to me the most during my morning at Troy was how windy it was. I have never been in such strong wind in my life! I could barely hear Erol talking and I am surprised that the poor horse wasn’t blown away! The wind was chilly too, but nothing was stopping me from exploring ruins!

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There are alledgly 6 cities of Troy. Once one was destroyed in fire etc, they would simply build another one. The Troy we know of is said to have been Troy VII? When you first enter the ancient city you have the town walls towering high above you on either side. They are very impressive and also built on an angle to make it harder for them to be destroyed. It’s very easy to see why this city was impregnable!

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It’s hard to make out what most of the ruins used to be … after all they are ruins. But there are a lot of plaques and signs and descriptions pointing everything out (personally I thought they were giving a little too much information – I simply couldn’t take it all in).

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One section that is still fairly intact was the section where the horse was alledgly pushed up the ramp into the city. There was a squirrel sitting guard at the top of the ramp. I think he is worried there might be another attack. The small amphitheatre was also still in good shape.

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The countryside surrounding Troy is beautiful as well. Everywhere you look you either see sweeping plains or ruins. This is my type of area!

As we walked around Erol pointed out the important sites to us and told us a few mythological stories (my favourite ones I will post one day 🙂

Another nice feature was the public toilets were labelled Helen and Paris. Perfect!

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The rest of that day was spent driving along the Aegean Coast which is simply amazing! It was a bright and sunny day and I could just imagine myself staying in one of the cute little beachside towns and enjoying a summer here. Considering it was such a nice day we had a perfect view out to the island of Lesbos (anyone want to read some interesting poetry – read Sappho) .We stopped in Izmir for a break and I had a lovely time walking around and soaking up the sun, sea and surf.

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Oh I almost forgot to mention the lunch I had! We stopped at a traditional Turkish restaurant and I had my first Turkish kebab. Yummy. I had a chicken one and they served it with rice and a salad. Just a warning – I will probably be going on and on about how incredible Turkish rice is. Actually incredible doesn’t begin to describe it. Yum Yum Yum!

We were staying the next two nights in Kusadasi. Our hotel was in the centre up a little hill and I sat on my balcony and watched a break taking sunset. Sunset over the Aegean Sea, what more could you ask for?

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Turkey! Gallipoli

I joined a 13 day Cosmos tour called Grand Tour of Turkey today. There are 21 of literally from all corners of the world – America, Canada, Canadians living in Nigeria, Bahrain, Bangkok, Australians (me, living in Italy and a couple living in Edinburgh), India and our tour guide Erol and bus driver Baki from Turkey of course!

We set off nice and early to try and avoid the traffic in Istanbul. Istanbul has a population of 15 million (when I heard that I had to contain my laughter – Australia has a grand total of 21, it might have hit 22 now, million) and hence it is permanently rush hour in Istanbul. Public transport and traffic are therefore a huge bone of contention. We made it out alive and set off for Gallipoli. On the way Erol said he was going to put something on for us to watch called ‘Gallipoli.’ I really enjoy the movie (just a side note in my opinion one of the only good scripts David Williamson has produced…) but we didn’t get the joy of Mel Gibson gracing our screen. Instead it was a fantastic documentary, if you want to learn more about it I highly recommend it.

The drive along the coast to ANZAC Cove is breathtaking. You have the sheer cliffs on one side and the beach and water stretching for miles on the other. When we got of the bus, the wind attacked me. My hair was blowing everywhere and I quickly put on my coat, gloves and scarf, being very grateful I had these unlike the poor soldiers. When you arrive at ANZAC Cove there is a plaque with a message from Ataturk to Australian mothers of the ANZACS. It breaks my heart every time I read it …

“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 differences between the

Johnnies and Mehmets

to us where they lie side

by side here 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.

Having lost their lives on this land

they have become our sons as well”

Standing on that beach is something I’ll never forget. We hear about it all through school, on the news, on ANZAC Day every year. We know the stories. We know the sacrifice these men made. But to stand on that beach, it’s not even a beach really, it is just pebbles, unlike where they were meant to land, alone in the middle of winter, that is something else.

From there we drove through up through the shrubs and hills to get to Lone Pine. This is where one of the bloodiest battles occurred. There is as the same suggests a single lone pine tree. There is a plaque next to it describing how it was planted on ANZAC Day 1990 from a seed from a pinecone an ANZAC took back to Australia.

We drove to another location where there were remnants of Turkish trenches criss-crossing across the hillside. They eventually lead to the memorial for the New Zealanders and then to a lookout where you can see down to the Dardanelles. It was really foggy so you couldn’t see much unfortunately.

Next we went onto one of the Turkish cemeteries and memorials. In the hype of celebrating and commemorating the ANZACS we often forget about the Turkish soldiers. Infact, I don’t recall having ever heard them mentioned in school and on ANZAC Day and this sickens me. More Turkish troops were killed and injured (60 000) than Australians (8,700). Despite being on different sides of the war, the Aussies and Turks got on quite well and would often joke over the trenches and throw supplies to each other and had a truce one day to bury their dead who were lying in no mans land together. The Turks have their equivalent of ANZAC Day on the 18th March, and again I’ve never heard of this. I will from now on also stop for a minute of silence on this day as well. The Turkish men deserve our recognition just as much as the Australian men do. We celebrate a day when there was an ANZAC victory. An ANZAC Victory means Turkish lives lost and that doesn’t sit comfortable with me. I know the Turks do the same. I know this will never happen in a million years but I would love for there to be a new day created, one where we can celebrate the spirit and courage of our soldiers and remember their sacrifices together.

One other thing that struck me was that nobody else except the three Aussie’s on our tour knew of Gallipoli. I don’t know every important event in every other culture but I thought it may have been mentioned perhaps on the news in other countries on the 25th April or 18th March.

It was a really special day and something that I will never forget. I had been considering putting my name in for 2015 ballot, the 100 year celebration at Gallipoli but I have no intentions of that anymore. Infact, I don’t have any desire to visit Gallipoli on ANZAC Day at all anymore. I don’t want to want to sit with thousands of other people on that beach. My experience I believe was so much more authentic and special. 

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Brussels Day 1: It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Belgium began with a very early start. My flight from Istanbul was at 8.10am. You can do the maths. Be at the airport 2 hours early for international flights and know that it is ALWAYS peak hour in Istanbul. Except it was my lucky day. It took 20 minutes in a taxi to get to the airport. I think it must be a new record!

In customs at Brussels airport the man looked at my passport and very happily smiled and said “Welcome ANZAC!” What a sweetie!

Getting from the airport to the centre should have been easy – it was a 15 minute train ride. Except the train ticket machines only accept coins and card and they kept saying my cards, yes I tried all of them, were invalid and spitting them back out at me. Cue panic. (Not to fear my cards hadn’t been hijacked, they just didn’t agree with the machines).

I had no idea where my hotel was except it was near the Grand Place so that’s where I headed for. Wow. It has got to be one of the best squares I’ve seen. It is stunning! To make it even better there is free wifi there! So I googled mapped my hotel, found it, dumped my bags and headed out.

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That afternoon was spent aimlessly wandering and admiring the beautiful streets. I went back to the picturesque Grand Place made even more exciting by the nativity scene set up with REAL SHEEP!!

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You can’t see the sheep but I promise you they are there!

I shopped (this was a bit chaotic with the post Christmas sales), lost count of how many waffle and chocolate shops and stalls there are (I would LOVE someone to count them! Maybe I’ll add this to my bucket list!), ordered frites in my terrible French and then spent a long time at the Christmas market. My first European Christmas market! I can’t even begin to describe it – I felt like a child again. There are food stalls and gifts stalls, there are merry-go-rounds, an ice-skating rink, a Ferris wheel and happy friends and family everywhere you turn. It started to pour with rain but I didn’t care! I happily got drenched as I walked through the now dark streets lit up with pretty fairy lights listening to the Christmas carols coming from each stall.

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I could hear beautiful music and followed it back to the Grand Place to see the Light and Music Illumination Show they have on the buildings every 30 minutes. (Although incredible the first few times, when you’re hotel is close to it and you hear the same music every half an hour from about 5pm to midnight for 5 nights, the magic starts to wear off. You know it’s a problem when you realise you are humming the tune whilst brushing your teeth in the morning…)

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Brussels Day 2: Siblings Reunite!

Today I met up with my brother Jake who is on a French exchange with a family in Brussels. Here’s a conversation you might find amusing:

 Jake: So I’ll met you at the Grand Place.

Sam: You mean the main, big square.

Jake: Place = square

Sam: No palace = big building, square = square

Jake: I said Place not Palace

Clearly I need my reading glasses early in the morning!

It’s such a strange experience looking for your little brother on the other side of the world. I’ve travelled a lot, this is normal for me, but what is Jake doing here? We found each other and I met his host mum Nanou and his host brother Guillaume who had stayed with us for 6 weeks in June. Nanou took us out for coffee to a lovely old, unique café where on the top floor you can look out over the Grand Place and watch all the people below.

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We didn’t plan the matching clothes. (It’s also not fair that my brother who is 4 years younger looks so much older than me!)

Jake and I then set off on our own! Scary!! We took a picture in front of the Christmas tree to send to mum (her reply “it made my heart happy”) and then found Sir Mannekin Pis. Unfortunately he wasn’t in a costume (fun fact: in the museum they have a collection of all of his costumes – it’s rather amusing!). Jake wanted to get a picture with his mouth opening so it looked like he was drinking his errr, water, but we decided this was highly INAPPROPRIATE!

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I had messaged Jake asking what did he want to do on our day together and simply got a typical teenager reply “Idk. I want to get chocolate,” so I took him to Galleries St Hubert. This is the undercover, fancy section with the expensive shops and cafes.  We got pralines from Neuhaus, one of the oldest Belgium chocolate places, and were going to buy dad a box of Papa Smurf Chocolates only to get quite a shock the small box was E30. That’s what you get for going to fancy shops! We went next door to Pierre Marcolini and got a box of macaroons. Again – they were expensive. But Jake had an excellent rationale “I’m in a family where all my food is paid for, where as you are a poor student paying for everything, I will treat us.” This was a good choice. They were the best macaroons I have ever tasted. When we told Nanou later we had been there she said “:0 That is the best place in all of Belgium! Even I haven’t been there! You guys are lucky! It must have cost you a lot though!” Well not me, I got them for free!!

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We walked down the street whose name I cannot remember where they have some lovely restaurants and failed to convince Jake to get Moules Frites with me 😦 Instead we got frites from a market stall (this was allowed, we had been classy at Galleries St Hubert) and I took him through the Christmas Markets. From here we got on the metro and headed to Atomium and Mini Europe. Atomium is extremely random but also pretty cool! The name is a combination of Atom and Aluminium, which is fitting. They used all local Aluminium suppliers to show off Belgium’s talent and it was constructed for the Expo ’58, the World Fair in 1958. We went inside it which was fun but also a bit of a let down. You don’t get to go to the top and there are no windows so no view of the other atoms. Oh well.

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Next to Mini Europe! I’m not going to lie, Jake and I have been pumped for Mini Europe for months! It didn’t disappoint. THIS IS THE COOLEST PLACE EVER!!! Mini Europe is exactly that – a mini version of Europe. Each country from the EU is represented with their most famous landmarks. They are exact replicas and the detail is incredible – you’d expect this when the average price of each model is E75 000. There’s interactive sections too – you push a button to make Mount Vesuvius erupt and the platform you’re standing on shakes, you shout Ole to make the bulls run in Pamplona, you can drive boats. It’s a lot of fun! One day I will put together pictures of me at mini Europe in comparison with me at the actual place!

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We headed back to Brussels and met Nanou, Guillaume and his dad Charlie for dinner which was the perfect end to a perfect day!

Brussels Day 3: How Many Sites Can I Visit In A Day?

1)   Musee de Band Dessinee Comic Museum

Belgium is the home of Comics; the two most famous being TinTin and the funny little blue people Les Schtrompfs/ The Smurfs! The museum is excellent! It runs you through the different genres of comics, how they are made, types of designs, types of processes used, progression of different comics such as TinTin. There are lots of pictures and videos and extracts. It’s great!

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2)   St Michael Cathedral and St Gudula

This is a Gothic Cathedral. After a month in Italy studying Medieval History I cannot walk past a Church without looking at the arches. These are pointed. This is gothic. Mass was on so I didn’t stay inside for too long, just sat at the back and looked.

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3)   Museum Fine Arts – Magritte Museum

I was looking forward to this except the line was ridiculously long. I am not joking when I say it was like being outside Le Louvre or Uffizi in summer. I had booked for a chocolate demonstration at 3 and there was absolutely no way I was going to make that so unfortunately had to miss this. I walked around the Museum of Fine Arts free section and had a good look and read about Magritte in books in the gift shop.

4)   Palace (not Place)

Palaces are my favourite. You can’t go in but it is lovely to stare at. The gardens are really peaceful and I had a relaxing walk. They have winter things set up here like a giant tent where there are ice sculptures.

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 5)   Sablon

This is the fancy area of antique shops and cafes. I walked through the antique market as it was a Sunday and windowed shopped the rest. One day I will live here. One day. I also found a fantastic look out up the top of the hill where you can see over Brussels.

6)   Chocolate Demonstration

Planete Chocolate. For E7.50 you get a chocolat chaud, samples of chocolate and pralines, told about the history of chocolate and watch how they make cracked and pralines. The man did it in French and English and he was funny and entertaining and I have a new found deeper appreciation for chocolate. Which means I have to unfortunately eat more. But in all seriousness this was one of my highlights not just because of the free samples but because he was entertaining, educational and it makes you think about the detail and process that goes into chocolate instead of just stuffing your face with it. It is an art and the Belgium people really view it this way.

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