Sunday, July 06, 2008

Cruising Greece and Turkey

To kick off my next leg of travels (and detox after 3 weeks in Moscow), it was great to meet up with my parents after having not seen them for more than a year. Mum & Dad spend summers on their yacht in the Mediterranean, covering a different region every year, and we decided to meet in the Greek Islands and sail together to the Turkish coast and explore the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Mum & Dad had braved 45+ knot meltemi winds to meet me in Skiathos, but the nightly pumping club music in the marina of this mini-Mykonos quickly inspired Dad to move on.

For the next few days we sailed among the Sporades, visiting Skopelos, Alonnisos, and the national park of Pelagos, sampling the local tavernas, and accompanied by dolphins every time we hit open water.

Our anchorages were stunning, a mix of ancient port towns, secluded bays, national parks, and beautiful beaches, all with crystal clear water. The Sporades host far fewer tourists than more popular islands like the Cyclades, and the cleaner environment and more relaxed and friendly locals made it a pleasure to cruise the region.

Ahead lay a couple of long (100km+) sea voyages, firstly to make the jump to Limnos, then to the Turkish coast. Limnos was a beautiful and secluded island, the type of place where we were one of only a few yachts in the marina, nobody spoke English, and all the signs were still only in Greek (I never realized how much the Russian alphabet helps with Greek!). We rented scooters and explored the island and it’s ancient Greek & Roman forts and ruins.

Another long sail later, we arrived in the Dardanelles. This historic stretch of water separates Europe from Asia, and has been hotly contested since ancient times. Although the fascinating ruins of ancient Troy lay nearby, our primary interest lay on the Gallipoli peninsula. After battling the current, Turkish authorities, and settling ourselves in Cenakkale marina, it was time to commence explorations.

For Australians, Gallipoli holds a special place in our hearts and history. It was the location for one of the bloodiest and most ill-fated campaigns of WW1, when the British conceived that occupying this Turkish peninsula would secure supply lines to Russia, open another front against Germany, and knock Turkey out of the war. However, as a result of poor planning and poorer execution, over 100,000 Allied and Turkish troops were slaughtered over 9 months before the Allies withdrew, having achieved nothing.

The newly formed ANZAC’s (Australian & New Zealand Army Corps) were the first to hit the beaches, and in the difficult terrain, fierce resistance, and sacrificial orders from the British, they were massacred, contributing to Australia’s highest per capita death toll of any country in WW1.

As a result, a visit to Gallipoli, and to ANZAC Cove, where the landings took place, is a pilgrimage for any Australian. We spent a couple of days visiting the key sites, hiking the hills, and learning more about the campaign from both sides, and we also took a drive to the historic ancient sites of Troy and Assos.

This was my first trip to Turkey outside of Istanbul, and the warmth of the people in the regions, the great food, and amazing sights make me eager to return. Next stop, Istanbul!

Btw, for anyone trying to reach me by phone/SMS, the enlightened Soviet-era bureaucracy of my Russian mobile provider means I have no phone until I get back to Moscow in August. Email-only for the time being.

The photos are here.

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