Shirley Valentine moment in Çanakkale

“You see that girl there?” I heard the nearby woman say with, what I thought was an Australian accent. “She was a singer and she was Australian and she was successful, like, ten years ago” she added referring to the video clip of Delta Goodrem playing on the video screen of the waterfront bar in Çanakkale in Southern Turkey.

The primary reason I was in Çanakkale was for the Anzac Day services at nearby Anzac Cove and Lone Pine. Çanakkale is, itself, over three hundred kilometres from Istanbul. From Canakkale you then cross the ferry to Eceabat, and then there’s a further bus trip of about thirty minutes.

What a surprise Çanakkale turned out to be, especially in contrast to Eceabat. Eceabat is actually the closest town to Anzac Cove and Lone Pine and seems to be the place where many Australians and New Zealander’s set up base for Anzac Day. As we came through the town I noticed there were lots of flags commemorating the antipodean connection, and they even had a “Crowded House Hotel”.

Even though I’d received some advice to stay at Eceabat to avoid delays on the late night ferry crossing, I received some other advice which suggested it would be full of Australian backpackers. That’s not the experience I wanted to have. Although I was visiting the area for Anzac Day, I knew didn’t want to get caught up hanging around a bunch of expats. Great people, I’m sure, but I was more keen to get to know a little about parts of Turkey outside Istanbul.

As the bus took almost six hours to make its way from Istanbul to Çanakkale, I certainly got to do that, as we stopped at many towns and roadhouses along the way.

There was just me and two others (a couple of New Zealanders seated in front of me) who were the only people on the bus to speak English. Everyone else spoke Turkish. It’s hard to be sure, but I got the impression most of the people on the bus were people from country areas who either needed to go briefly to Istanbul, or were perhaps living in Istanbul and were returning home.

The same was true of Çanakkale. Compared with Eceabat where there were lots of English-speaking tourists, Çanakkale felt like it was the place many people in Turkey (and probably some of the surrounding countries) go to for a holiday. “It feels like Mollymook”, an Australian living in London observed about the general vibe of the town.

As I wandered today, I made my way away from the beautiful tourist waterfront, ending up in areas of town where the bitumen and cobble stones were replaced by dirt. At one point, I was half-tempted to enter into one of the Turkish baths I’d read about in the tourist brochures. As I got closer it looked a little too run down for my rather “Western” tastes in bathrooms. I’m sure it was fine, I just couldn’t bring myself to enter.

I did, however, get a haircut and beard-trim. As the barber spoke no English, a customer did the translation of what I was after. The only surprise came when he lit a couple of tapers and used the flame to singe the hair on the top of my ears. I walked away, having enjoyed probably the best haircut I’ve had in recent memory, with lots of attention to detail.

Today I also noticed on several occasions men walking hand in hand or arm in arm. In the park, this afternoon, I saw too men having a sleep and holding hands. In Australia, this would raise eyebrows even now, but in Turkey it’s okay to express physical affection between members of the same sex without necessarily indicating they were homosexual. That said, I do think the men in the park today might have been. One website I read described the men of Turkey as being largely “hetero-flexible”.

Five years ago, I thought Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic was the place where I would turn into Shirley Valentine, quit my job, and stay for the the rest of my life working in the bar, now I know it’s Çanakkale. And the bar would be the one where I’d heard the two New Zealanders (it turns out) chatting with the group of backpackers.

“Where are you from?”, one of them asked when I offered to press the button for their group photograph. “We’re from New Zealand, but I guess you knew that”?, she added. I took their photograph and they were pleased. When they set up the auto-timer for another couple of photographs, the nearby waiter and I looked at each other and without exchanging a single word decided we were up to the challenge. Photo-bomb! He and I laughed so hard we almost cried.

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