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Echoes of the Ottomans: Çanakkale

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From the ferry station in Geyikli we only had an hour's drive north to Çanakkale. About halfway there, close to where the Dardanelles Strait reaches the Aegean, is the ancient archaeological site of Troy and the associated museum. The kids knew the story of the Trojan War and I thought they might find the museum relatable although the remnants of the city itself were probably not worth the time. The area we drove through on the way to the museum was quite industrial and we passed some behemoth plants whose purpose we were unable to divine.

The cubical Troy Museum had opened just five years before our visit. The ticket prices were quite high but Turkish children were free to age 18 while foreign visitors were only free to age 8. Remembering that the ticket agent at Ephesus had never requested to see Spenser's passport before selling us his child ticket we attempted to claim Ian as an eight year old. Unfortunately the ticket seller demanded that we retrieve the passports from the car and we had to eat crow. Despite the museum's modern exterior it was quite conventional inside with the usual array of displays and ancient artifacts. The architectural excavations at Troy have uncovered at least nine different cities that were built on top of the ruins of a predecessor over thousands of years, and no one is sure which if any of these cities was the subject of Homer's Iliad.

The rooftop of the museum offered pleasant views over a pastoral landscape dotted with olive groves. The archaeological site was almost a kilometer to our east and we couldn't see it from the rooftop, but I tried to imagine the encampments of the Mycenaeans in the fields below us. It may have been in this very spot that Achilles had ridden in a chariot to rally the invaders back into battle after the death of his friend Patroclus. Perhaps none of the events Homer described had ever happened at all. This was probably as close as anyone in our family would ever get to the truth about the Trojan War.

Having already experienced the Bosphorus in Istanbul we were now at the Dardanelles, the second iconic Turkish strait that separates the continents of Europe and Asia. The only city of real significance to travelers on the Dardanelles is Çanakkale which is best known for its proximity to Troy and the Gallipoli Peninsula. The latter is a draw for tourists interested in military history as it was the site of an ill-fated Allied campaign in World War I to control the Dardanelles. Tens of thousands of Allied soldiers died in the failed invasion and the peninsula is dotted with their cemeteries. The Ottoman victory was orchestrated by Mustafa Kemal, later Atatürk, and was the springboard for his later ascension to the leadership of the Turkish National Movement. Our guidebook didn't have much to say about the city of Çanakkale itself except that it had a large student population and the actual Trojan horse that was used in the movie Troy. It was an easy choice for our final overnight stop in Türkiye because of its seaside promenade and the presence of one of the region's few waterparks.

Our apartment was smack in the middle of Çanakkale's busy downtown and Google Maps had the directionality of the streets wrong again. We circled around while on the phone with our host and eventually encountered him at a crowded intersection. He directed us to one of the usual cramped parking lots and then took us to our apartment on a busy pedestrian street. The apartment manager was a typical friendly and helpful Turk who gave us the layout of our surroundings and helped us plan for our solitary evening in Çanakkale.

Our host had given us the general location of a bazaar but all we could find was the typical grid of busy shopping streets without any of the narrow alleys and produce stalls we had enjoyed in Bursa and Izmir. I don't know if we simply didn't hit the right area or if that particular form of market just doesn't exist in downtown Çanakkale. It was no great tragedy as we had explored plenty of markets in the other cities.

At one point we walked past a storefront where we could see people target shooting with some very ominous-looking guns styled like automatic weapons and the kids immediately started clamoring for a chance to shoot. My first impulse was to say no as I don't like the kids using toy guns or playing shooting games on principle. Just a few steps later Mei Ling found one of her Turkish grills and decided she was going to get herself dinner there so I had a chance to rethink my position. It was probably unrealistic to think I would be able to shepherd my kids into adulthood without ever handling a toy gun and it was unlikely that a single game of target shooting would transform them into depraved mass murderers. They each got their turn to shoot and it seemed to me that they did quite well, although it probably wasn't set up to be particularly challenging. Sometimes we forget how important it is to make sure that the kids have fun memories from traveling as they aren't as obsessed with food and street life as we are.

Like the other Turkish cities bordering the water Çanakkale had a long and pleasant waterside promenade. This was the narrowest point of he Dardanelles and we could easily see the town of Kilitbahir on the Gallipoli Peninsula across the water. It was an excellent way to enjoy the energy of the city and we stayed until well after the sun went down. In one small plaza some men were playing an energetic game of keepy-uppy with a volleyball. They were quite good at it but nevertheless one vigorous spike missed its recipient and beaned a girl who was reading on a bench. Apologies were offered and the game resumed as before. Another misfire bounced once on the promenade and then over a chain link fence onto the deck of a small yacht in the port. The player ran over and ascertained that the boat was empty, vaulted over the fence and retrieved his ball from the boat deck. It seemed like it was probably a regular occurrence.

The prize of Çanakkale's Kordon was the Trojan Horse from the movie Troy that had been donated to the city after the completion of filming. As far as city landmarks go it's a pretty cool one to have. At close range it wasn't hard to picture a dozen soldiers hiding inside the horse's belly, enough to overpower a few unsuspecting guards and open the gates of the walled city to an invading army.

In the morning we packed our bags and headed back to the Kordon for a quick breakfast. One of the waiters beckoned the kids to the back of the restaurant and brought out a tiny kitten that couldn't have been more than two weeks old. We don't keep pets so are kids aren't that used to animals and I was terrified that one of them would step on it. Sure enough Spenser wanted to get to the other side of the kitten and finding his way blocked by the other kids he decided to jump over it. Thankfully he didn't miss his footing otherwise that probably would have been one of our least memorable travel experiences.

Most of the waterparks in Türkiye are on the southern Aegean coast which has the lion's share of the package tourism industry. Our kids are at an age where I have to sprinkle some activities into the itinerary that are purely for their enjoyment so I made sure we had time in the itinerary for one of the few waterparks in the country's northwest, located just outside Çanakkale. Aqualand is a modest facility but it had enough thrilling water slides to keep the kids satisfied for a couple of hours. Ian was too light to go down the highest slide and I had to accompany him twice in a tandem tube.

While the kids amused themselves on the slides I watched a very competitive game of water polo. This was the kind of experience we never would have had if it wasn't for the kids being the age they are. I was glad we had blocked out some time for them to have fun and to see how people like to enjoy themselves in similar ways all over the world.

Our flight to China didn't leave from Istanbul until two in the morning so we still had all the time in the world. We decided to go back to Çanakkale for lunch and have another stroll through the downtown area. This time we found a parking space next to the small river that runs inland from the Dardanelles through the center of the city. Google Maps calls it the Çanakkale Stream and ChatGPT thinks it is called the Sarıçay River. The next time we're in town I'll remember to ask.

We looked again for the produce market but all we found was a crowded shopping arcade that sold clothing and crafts. We found a place for lunch and then went back out to the Kordon for another look at the Trojan Horse by the light of day.

We had successfully killed off about half the day but we still had a gap of several hours to fill before we had to be back at the airport. Our route would take us through the European provinces of Türkiye, historically known as Thrace. My first itinerary for the road trip would have taken us to the major Thracian city of Edirne but I eventually gave up on that plan because Edirne was all the way at the western tip of the province and I couldn't find anything else of interest for us in the area aside from a few wineries. I imagine we'll try and visit Edirne on some future road trip through Greece and Bulgaria. The largest city on the direct route to the Istanbul Airport was called Tekirdağ and I couldn't find a single word about it in my guidebook or online. Now that we had accomplished everything we had planned in northwestern Türkiye, this seemed like a good opportunity to experience a major city that was completely off the tourist circuit and had absolutely nothing to offer visitors except authentic local experiences. In addition Tekirdağ was located on the coast of the Sea of Marmara, an important body of water we had barely glimpsed thus far on the trip. First we had to cross the beautiful 1915 Çanakkale Bridge across the Dardanelles and we were back in Europe for the first time since Istanbul. From here it was another hour and a half to Tekirdağ, and once we arrived we had absolutely no idea where to go. We used Google Maps to reach what appeared to be the downtown area and sure enough we saw an enormous market stretching now a wide street. The traffic was dense and street parking was obviously out of the question but there was a large shopping mall across the street with a subterranean garage. We emerged from the garage into a very modern mall that wouldn't have been out of place in any major American city.

The market extended from the traffic circle outside the mall down a wide street in the direction of the sea. It seemed that we had arrived just in time as some of the vendors were packing up their stalls although there was still plenty to see. The produce was particularly impressive with a huge variety of green vegetables. I wondered if the crowds had been even thicker earlier or if many people came at the end for last minute deals on the perishable items.

After several blocks we came to the end of the market and decided to keep walking to the seaside. The shoreline was surprisingly undeveloped. If Tekirdağ had a Kordon it was in some different location. There weren't any seafood restaurants in sight and TripAdvisor didn't show many places in the area. I found one fish market with an attached restaurant a short walk away along the shore and we traversed a particularly grim stretch of black gravel before we found it in a strip mall on the opposite side of the road from the sea. There was only one other table that was occupied and it seemed that was the family of the owners. They seemed a little surprised to see us but they were very welcoming. There was a fairly basic selection of seafood in the market and we bought the usual sea bass to be grilled along with some dishes that were already prepared. It wasn't very memorable with regards to the food but still a cool experience being the only tourists that might end up in that place in a year, or possibly ever.

The market was practically gone by the time we had finished dinner and retraced our steps. We still had one more hour and thought we might find a place for me to get a haircut. Getting my hair cut when we travel is something of a tradition but even though there were plenty of stores open in the center we couldn't find a barber shop. Instead we returned to the mall and spent our remaining lira on desserts for the kids and piled back into the car for the final stretch of highway to the airport.

Driving to an airport in a foreign country for an international departure is always anxiety-provoking because of the high stakes involved in missing the flight. Mei Ling generally prefers to avoid the headache by arriving with hours to spare but I can't stand sitting in the departure area thinking about what else we could have done with an extra hour of travel. As we got closer to our destination on Google Maps there was a surprising absence of signs indicating that we were approaching an airport, which I had rather expected to see. Adding to my nervousness was the knowledge that Istanbul had two international airports, although the vast majority of traffic passed through the Istanbul Airport where we had arrived in Türkiye. The second airport, Sabiha Gökçen, was on the eastern outskirts of the city and I was sure we were not headed there. The Istanbul Airport had opened in 2019 to replace the Atatürk Airport which was the former international hub, but some sources continued to mistakenly call the new airport by the older name. Had I somehow accidentally charted a course to the site of the former Atatürk Airport that was now being used for God knows what? Or to some other small airport that was used for freight transport? There was no way I could confirm our route while I was driving on the highway, and I wasn't about to wake Mei Ling up from her nap with some last minute travel anxiety. Just when I was starting to consider pulling off the highway at a rest stop the first sign for the airport came into view. Just a few minutes later we were on the grounds of the airport hunting for the rental car return. We were arriving just around midnight, perfect timing for our 2:30 departure. Not only had we avoiding spending a whole evening in the airport, but the kids would now be sleeping most of the way to Hong Kong.

Our twelve days in Türkiye had been even better than I had imagined. This whirlwind tour of the northwest had been a wonderful introduction to the country but I knew we would have to return and spend at least a month exploring the Black Sea coast, Ankara, Cappadocia, and Antalya. Even though it felt as though we had taken a full vacation, this was only the prologue to a four week peregrination through southern and central China that would begin in just twelve hours.

Posted by zzlangerhans 21:22 Archived in Turkey Tagged road_trip family family_travel çanakkale travel_blog troy tony_friedman family_travel_blog tekirdağ

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All's well that ends well! Good for you!

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