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Back to the Dardanelles, Gallipoli & Alexandrouplis

overcast 30 °C

Day 54 Monday July 17 2017 Bergama to Alexandroupolis / 417 km / Border Crossing

  • Bergama has a few more sights to offer than we have time to see. So what's new!
  • In particular the Aslepion ruins. The Pergamum medical school became renowned throughout the ancient world. Mainly because an eminent physician by the name of Galen (A.D. 129- 216 ) came to work here. His theories on our bodies' circulation & nervous systems were used in western medicine up until 16C. The snake that features in the BMA logo even today, was the symbol of the God of medicine, Asclepios. Make it to the sanctuary at the Aslepion and you'll apparently see them carved around the base of the entrance column. The ruins also include baths, latrines, a sacred well, a theatre, and a treatment centre. Sounds a fascinating place, especially if you have a medical background.
  • Oh and there is also a reasonable archeological museum ( closed today Monday ) and the Red Hall which is so huge to be unmissable as you drive or walk through the old town. Dating back to 2C A.D. it is a former pagan temple built in honour of Egyptian gods. It is currently being restored. How well we don't know, but for the moment it is closed to the public.
  • For relaxation, if you have the time, there is also meant to be a fine old 16C Hamam. We've seen it from the outside but sadly have had no opportunity to try it out. In the summer heat, a Turkish steam bath & massage is not top of our agenda.
  • Bergama is somewhat of a maze to negotiate an exit route. As we leave town, market stalls are being set up for Monday market.
  • A quick word before we leave Turkey about the 15/16 th July weekend. President Erdogan has gone to a lot of trouble to make the 15th of July a day of national celebration. You may have read about it in the British media. We have seen plenty of evidence in Turkey too.
  • On July 15 2016 there was an attempted coup against Erdogan . A coup that was supported by 'traitors' in the militia & police force. It was seen as an affront against Turkish democracy and its legally elected government. The government's response was to crush its opponents - brutally. Ostensibly to safeguard democracy. But it has given Erdogan the legitimate excuse to rid himself of troublemakers, those who oppose his dismantling of secular elements of Turkish society or his extension of personal power. In 2016 50000 Turks were sentenced to prison for involvement in the failed coup & 150000 lost their jobs under suspicion of being sympathisers.
  • A year later and to celebrate the Erdogan victory, a further 7400 public sector workers have recently lost their jobs.
  • 15 th July has been declared a National holiday. Events this weekend were carefully stage managed to ooze symbolism & to give the impression of huge national support for the Erdogan regime.
  • Turkish TV screened live the celebratory rallies, marches, speeches & sermons that happened all over the country. Huge Turkish flags fly everywhere, large pictures of Erdogan along our route are a frequent sight. The famous Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul has been officially renamed July 15 Martyr's Bridge, and Erdogan summoned the government to Ankara on Saturday morning, 15 July, to give his victory speech - at 2.32 a.m ( the time when the government buildings were bombed last year in the attempted coup ).
  • You may recall that in April this year Erdogan held a referendum - a democratic tool was used to allow the people to vote for or against his plans for the extension of his authority and various constitutional changes. Like in the Brexit referendum, the issue was not black & white. People had many different reasons for voting the way they did. In the end 51.3% voted for Erdogan's plans & 48.7% against.
  • Turks who have been willing to talk to us about the delicate subject of politics have explained that the electorate are faced with a dilemma - a lack of real and quality choice. Some of Erdogan's policies have benefited ordinary people; a type of bribery to get them to approve the constitutional changes that will ultimately enhance his power & authority. Then what will he do?
  • On the other hand a weak opposition lacks vision and ideas for the future. Above all many opponents of Erdogan are also against political involvement by the military. On this one issue Erdogan is a unifying force.
  • We commiserate with their dilemma and re-assure them that the Turkish people are far from being alone.
  • It's 200 km or so from Bergama to Cannakale where we will catch the ferry for a very short journey across the Cannakale Strait ( also known as the Dardanelles . We will then continue our drive to the Greek border.
  • It is this notorious waterway, together with the Bosphorus that essentially connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean. It is therefore highly strategic and very busy. In wartime it was the quickest route for armies to cross from Europe to Asia Minor.
  • At the small & crowded ferry harbour we inadvertently get put in the Istanbul queue. It is definitely not our destination today. When signage is poor and language a barrier, it pays to keep checking with different people. Should advice conflict, you know there is a problem. Navigator soon establishes that we need to change queues quickly before we become hemmed in.
  • The crossing costs 10 euros including car. It takes barely 10 minutes.
  • Thankfully we are driving in the right direction - across the water in Kilitbahir, there are queues of about 3 km of oncoming traffic to access the ferry back to Canukkale. We think this is all part of the summer migration of Turkish families who work in EU countries such as Germany & Netherlands. They are headed home for the holidays. Best to avoid this direction of travel mid to end of July. And likewise the reverse at the end of August.
  • If you have an interest in World War 1, a pride in our fallen soldiers, and an admiration for the way overseas allied cemeteries are maintained in pristine condition, then you should definitely put the Gallipoli Historical National Park at the top of your 'to do' list. We visited it back in 2010 and were immensely touched.
  • In 1914 the Ottomans closed the Dardanelles. This blocked the Allies supply route between Russia, Britain & France. Winston Churchill decided it was essential for the Allies to take control of the Dardanelles, the Bosphorus & Istanbul. An ambitious scheme. His first attempt to free the Dardanelles failed in March 2015. This was not his greatest moment.
  • A second alternative strategy was devised and put into action the following month on April 25. British, Aussie, NZ and Indian troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula. French troops came ashore in a pincer action near Canakkale. The mission was a disaster - the Allied forces were hemmed in by Turkish forces & were unable to advance across the peninsula to the Strait. The Turks were led brilliantly by a certain Mustafa Kemal, the future Ataturk, who is rightly regarded as the father of the modern Turkish nation. The Allies had no choice but to dig trenches and fight from there. They did so for 9 terrible months before the decision was made to withdraw our troops in December 1915 / January 1916. The Gallipoli campaign was a great Turkish victory and is remembered as such with immense pride by the Turkish nation.
  • The balance sheet figures were grim: more than 370000 casualties & 130000 deaths - all within 9 months and in the Dardanelles area. The British Empire forces lost 36000 men including 8700 Australians. The Ottoman army lost over 86000 men. Terrible statistics.
  • Gallipoli is also engrained deep within the Australian Nation's psyche - Anzac Day on April 25th is commemorated every year by Australians all around the world with a dawn service. Gallipoli has become a place of pilgrimage. Around 10000 visitors from Down Under come every year.
  • The Turks hold their annual commemorations here on 18 March . It might be best to avoid these two dates if you wish to escape the crowds. Weekends between March & September is also busy with Turkish visitors generally. The Turkish government has decreed that all schoolchildren must visit Gallipoli at least once during their childhood.
  • When we came late October 2010 we had the park practically to ourselves. We were fortunate to find 'peace & quiet ' to contemplate. We hope you are too.
  • Now it's onward to Ipsala & the Greek border, the entry point into the EU. The Turkish road on the approach to Greece is as impressive as always. There are no queues in our direction of travel but people are definitely on the move from Greece into Turkey. The queue of inbound cars stretch a good 3 km and a separate HGV line of at least 5 km compounds the problem. Best to avoid.
  • Bearing in mind this is an external EU border - it is interesting and not a little concerning that our vehicle is not checked and there are no sniffer dogs anywhere in sight. We look harmless, middle aged travellers with British passports. But our truck is large enough to be carrying a significant amount of something or a few people...
  • The road on the Greek side heading to Turkey is noticeably inferior.
  • We drive another 50 km to Alexandroupolis on the coast. Chosen because it is a convenient overnight stop after a long drive - a day that can be further extended if the border crossing is difficult or even thorough!
  • We have been to Alexandroupolis once before - on our Rally Med trip in 2010. SG, tired of researching where to stay in over 40 different places, took the easy / lazy option and decided to return to the Thraki Palace .
  • But a month ago (June 2017) the Thraki Palace was taken over by the Ramada group. There has been no time either for much needed refurbishment or staff training. Indeed it soon becomes apparent that it is another of those 'get us out of here quickly ' places.

Large Entrance to Our Hotel  in Bergama

Large Entrance to Our Hotel in Bergama

And Behind Closed Doors - Our Wonderful Hotel in Bergama

And Behind Closed Doors - Our Wonderful Hotel in Bergama

Real & Fake

Real & Fake

Bergama Street Advert Condemning Last Year's Failed Coup'd'Etat.

Bergama Street Advert Condemning Last Year's Failed Coup'd'Etat.

A 'Why Are We Here'  Look from AG

A 'Why Are We Here' Look from AG

Posted by sagbucks 12:41 Archived in Greece

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