Turkey – Drive to Chanakkale and Gallipoli – A Turkish Strategy

(Editors note: my apologies for the lack of photographs for this post. I was driving most of the time and didn’t get a chance to break out the camera)

The drive to Chanakkale was an epic adventure. We pulled out of the Ephesus parking lot about an hour behind our planned departure, but we were refreshed and revitalized from days of pampering ourselves at the all-inclusive beach resort at Izmir. Patrick and I have been reading the Odyssey and learning about the Greek concept of hubris, when mere mortals begin to believe they are in control – when really the gods are always there to give you a solid smack-down and remind you who is really in control. We were about to have a little hands-on lesson in hubris ourselves.

Our first adventure occurred as we pulled up to an unmanned toll both on the expressway. There were no signs in English, no place to put in money, and no one around to help. So we sat at the toll both with traffic backing up behind us, trying to decide if we should just pass through the gate without paying (visions of Turkish prisons flashed through my mind) – or wait until another plan came to mind. Luckily a friendly Turkish commuter behind us stepped out of his car, walked up, waved a smart card over the card reader, and waved us to drive on. We did, however we still didn’t know what to do at the next tool booth – except to wait for a stranger to appear on the freeway and pay our way. As we used to say at work, “hope is not a strategy”. Sure enough, about 30 minutes later we encountered another toll booth with the same configuration and I still had no idea what to do. My backseat brain trust was no help. So we ended up in the same situation, stopped at a booth, no one around, and me pushing any button I could find, yelling for someone to help. Then our savior arrived – he was wearing a yellow safety vest and picking up litter from the freeway. Yes, we were saved by the freeway janitor. He quickly assessed that we were ignorant of the ways of a civilized motor culture, blocked traffic to allow me to back out of the toll both (kids screaming “look out for that truck”), and guided us to park the car, get out, queue up, and buy a smart card. Our strategy actually turned out to be: “when in trouble, rely on the good will of random Turks”. You might say, “Les, that seems like a pretty sketchy strategy for a guy who has spent his career working with high-powered executive types”. And I would agree, with the caveat that it is hard to be overly critical of a strategy that actually works (many of the most intellectually interesting business-school type strategies don’t actually work). We demonstrated the robustness of our strategy once again when I attempted to reenter the highway after stopping for lunch. The situation is a little complex – so I sketched up a little diagram for you.

Bottom line – I got stuck in an intersection with trucks, tractors and angry citizens bearing down on me from the front and back. My back seat brain trust was asking “Why did you do that?”. And all I could do was sit there and feel like an idiot. Luckily there was a guy walking around selling pretzels to cars as they stopped at the highway intersection who sprung into action. Balancing a platter of pretzels on his head, he waded out into the angry traffic and directed people to give me enough space to back out and escape what appeared to be certain death. At least that is what the passengers in my car were saying. Unfortunately we were in such a hurry to exit the scene that I didn’t get a chance to buy one of his pretzels, all I could do was smile and thank him through my window as I accelerated out of the intersection and onto the highway. Yes, we were saved by a Tukish highway pretzel man. What do you think of my strategy now?

The water front in Chanacalle

We pushed on toward our destination of Canakkale. The map and GPS provided with the rental car indicated that we would have smooth freeway type roads the entire way. We discovered that the map publishers have implemented a very shrewd approach to avoid the need to update the paper maps. Rather than printing how the roads are today, they project what they will be like some time in the future. So rather than smooth, well-lit freeway; we ended up on a twisty, switch back mountain pass, in the dark – with lots of road construction detours along the way. You may say, “Les, stop complaining – you drive mountain passes at home”. True enough, it wasn’t too hard on me, but the long hot morning in Ephesus, the stress of the toll booths encounters, and the pretzel man incident at the intersection had taken a toll on poor Suzanne. We had to pull over on a narrow shoulder of the mountain road as she struggled with a bout of car sickness. Then a migraine headache hit her. My navigator was out of commission as she closed her eyes and did her best to fall asleep. Before she lost consciousness she handed the navigation duties to Patrick. He did a commendable job – but it was a baptism of fire as we eventually arrived in Canakkale and wound our way toward the hotel, around crowded narrow one-way roads in old-town. We arrived safe and sound at our hotel, worse for wear, and dropped off to sleep quickly.

The Trojan Horse used in the movie shot in the 1980’s

Our original plan in Canakkale was to visit the ancient site of the city of Troy as a capstone field trip for Patrick’s study of the ancient Greece. However, given the ordeal of the night before, we decided to take it easy, sleep in, and just wander around Canakkale. This was our first time exploring a Turkish town (the resort was more European than Turkish), and we enjoyed wandering around the town, exploring the water front and little shops.

Alex’s new friend at the Gallipoli hospital monument gifted her with a couple fresh squash from her garden

Our next excursion was to Gallipoli. I was only vaguely familiar with the history of Gallipoli, so as we rode the auto ferry across the Bosphorus, we weren’t sure what to expect. Gallipoli is a peninsula of great strategic importance for any armies or navies concerning themselves with the bridge between Europe and Asia. It is the site of a huge WWI battle where about half a million soldiers were killed. The 1981 Mel Gibson movie, Gallipoli, created a tourist industry here. Many Australians and New Zealanders make the pilgrimage to

tour the old battle fields, memorials, and grave yards. Today it is mostly covered with small farms growing corn, tomatoes, and squash. The highlight of our visit was when we visited a memorial on the site of a Turkish MASH unit. The only other person at the quite site was a local woman in her trinket shop. As we looked over key chains for Alex’s collection, the woman took a liking to Alex. She ended up gifting her with a necklace and two fresh squash from her garden. We had no way to prepare and cook the squash, but we took them anyway, not wanting to offend.

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