What does the last of the housewives do?

Category: Holidays

The Big Island

I’m not on it (the Big Island) any more, and I’m pretty glad about that. Apparently last night there was another 5.5 earthquake right under the village I was staying in, and I didn’t enjoy the one I had in the daytime, night time would have been worse.

But I feel as though I’d left out some details in my haste to get into area where nothing could fall on me. My main impression of the Big Island, apart from the Goddess Pele having a moment, is that it doesn’t really seem to be set up for tourists.

Now this is curious, the native villagers of Volcano, the closest village to the National Park, were bemoaning the lack of tourists in the area. Like they would normally have a lot. And yet, even with the tiny handful that they had, they weren’t sure what to do with them. The village is in a rainforest, and yet not only did my accommodation have no umbrellas to lend the passing guest, the local shop didn’t sell them either. I know this because when I finally located my accommodation, I couldn’t face getting back in the car again and driving on the right even more, so I decided to walk the kilometre or so to the local shops. Shortly after I started walking I noticed two things. One, it had started to rain. Two, there were no footpaths. Three, actually, the grass at the side of the road was very swampy and one could sink up to one’s ankles in it if one stepped off the road to let a truck go past.

Nor did the local shop, when I finally sloshed in, have umbrellas, rain ponchos, any rain attire at all, anything that resembled food, a working ATM, or any suggestions for something for visitors to do (the visitors centre was open, but unoccupied but for a note suggesting that the local shop might have some suggestions). It wasn’t for lack of will either. The tiny woman at the counter with giant eyes was very keen to suggest something, she was sure that some part of the park was open, she had heard it on the news, her husband knew what it was called and where it was, it had some hiking, there were park rangers, what could it be called? I was in sympathy with her, I’ve had a lot of trouble remembering Hawaiian names. It’s as if they’d been given a Scrabble rack of consonants and told they were the only ones they could use, but go nuts with the vowels. It turned out to be Kahuku, an hour down the road, and it did have some lovely walks, but nothing specifically volcanic.

That’s another thing, you have to have a car. There are no shuttles, buses, or any public transport to speak of, though I did see an entirely inexplicable train carriage in someone’s front yard on one of my many drives. There seems to be a lot of poverty on the island, most houses looked like something you’d see built by someone’s grandpa in far west NSW, and occasionally you’d see a plot of land with just a couple of tents and a caravan on it. I did go to Pahoa, where the roadblocks preventing stickybeakers getting drowned in the lava are, but I didn’t stay long because it was full of dirty hippies.



There were quite a lot of groups of them, and they were clearly local, as evidenced by the vegan icecream shop, the crystal shop, and the massive natural foods shop, where I bought some locally produced lip balm with bee venom in it. It works really well, giving ones lips an alarming tingling sensation, but I do wonder how you’d react if you were allergic. The Guide to Hawaii describes the town as “historic”, with quaint wooden shops, but to me it looked like a dump. I’d show you photos if I had better wifi. There was a wheelchair outside one shop with a case of bananas in it. Some of the hippies were sitting in the gutter smoking ganja. Then one of them got out a ukulele and started playing Star Man. David Bowie on the ukulele. One cannot put up with that kind of thing, so I didn’t stick around for the night time glow in the sky, but hightailed it out of there.

None of the tourist guides mentioned the Keck Observatory, which I drove past on my way to the airport. On my way, haha. There really is only one way, Highway 11 that goes around the island. I’d come in via the southern half, I left via the northern half for completeness. And there, in Waimea, right next to McDonalds was the visitors centre for one of the largest optical telescopes in the world. Naturally I spent a lovely half hour in there learning all about all of the engineering behind it, which countries used it on what kinds of projects, but I won’t bore you with it, pop in if you have a chance, it’s fascinating.

Having circumnavigated the island now, I can kind of understand why it is so underdeveloped. The entire island has lava scars over it. You really wouldn’t want to invest a whole lot of money in something that could be buried by molten rock in a couple of decades. I just made myself research the Keck Observatory, because that is obviously a massive investment, but the huge peak that is on is dormant, and lava from the active bit can’t flow uphill.

All I have left to say about the Big Island of Hawai’i is that I’ll have to go there again when Pele is feeling better. And that it is infested with mongooses.




I’m attending a conference in Waikiki, like a real adult with a job and one and a half research papers to present. I think I’m chairing a session too, don’t know how that happened, will have to clear that up when I get there. Because the dear children are much bigger now and only really need me to taxi them about (the Horror even cooks dinner every night, except for the nights when he just hovers about making snide comments about my cooking), I thought I’d take some extra days and take a dekko at the Volcano.

It turns out that possibly the worst time to visit is when the Volcano is doing its thing. As it currently is. Having said that, I am still having a volcano experience, just not the one I had planned.

I’m staying in a rickety shack with shared bathrooms called Volcano Hale, in Volcano Village, just up the road from Volcano National Park. The Volcano National Park is closed, there’s a fetching photo of a staff member at the museum near the entrance on their website. He’s wearing a gas mask because of the billowing toxic gases rising with the steam behind him. The highway running past the entrance has flashing signs up “Do Not Stop” every couple of hundred metres for twelve miles. There’s a hastily patched up earthquake damaged part of the road just before the village. There was a harried looking park ranger at the village markets this morning, but she wasn’t interested in moaning tourists. She was handing out ash masks and advising which roads would be closed next, and which village was about to be evacuated. There’s too much lava for the locals and it’s all a bit too serious to have to think about catering for out of towners with their eyes out on stalks.

Having said that, I have driven on the earthquake damaged highway, which is covered in volcanic ash. The haze in the air is vog, not fog. And there was a strong smell of sulphur, even with the windows up.IMG_3805

This morning I was woken at about 4am by an earthquake. Not a strong one, it just felt as though someone had kicked the bed very hard, and everything rattled briefly. There have been tiny wobbles all day. I have driven down the road at night to South Kapua Road and seen the lava fountain on the horizon. I did book a “boat experience” (apparently it’s way too rough to be called a cruise) to the lava, but that has been called off due to inclement weather. So you see what I mean.

The Big Island feels a lot like a small Queensland town, only populated by tiny Maori or Tongans, and on a volcano. I had a good look at a lava flow from the 1950s. It still looks like something out of Mordor.


So I can only imagine what state Leilani Estates will be in when this eruption settles down. They’re not going back home.

I haven’t been idly fretting though. I went to the southernmost point of the USA. Apparently what you do when you get there, is you jump off. Despite all of the signs warning of your instant death if you do so.


I feel that it is a very American thing to do. Like all of the chaps I’ve seen hooning about on motorbikes without helmets (though I did see one chap on a bicycle with a helmet). The man won’t tell us what to do!

There is also a black beach (a local corrected me, it’s a black sand beach). I’ve got dodgy internet at the moment, so you’ll just have to Google it. It’s just like a regular beach, except that the sand and rocks are black, and there’s a lifeguard shouting at people to keep away from the turtles.

I might wrap this one up now and move outside, that last tremor went on a bit too long and I’ve had bushfire emergency what to do training (panic and run away), and I’m wondering if earthquake training is similar. Ah, so that’s what a 5.8 magnitude earthquake feels like.

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I am going to have a last ditch effort to look for lava by driving to Pahua tonight for dinner. Apparently there’s quite a good view from there of the orange glow of people’s hopes and dreams being turned to stone. At least nobody is being decapitated by a flying boulder, it’s just not that kind of volcano.


Kyoto – Manners and Food

 Japan is a bit of an overwhelming experience in many ways, and many of those ways are hard to pin down. So rather than just give the tourist wrap, I might try picking on a few things that are startlingly different from home sweet home. And the first of these is manners.

There is no graffiti in Kyoto. I haven’t seen any graffiti anywhere, even out of the window of the Shinkansen, the bullet train, in the seedier districts, even in public toilets. Not even a tiny marker pen mark on a hidden stone somewhere. There’s no litter either, even cigarette butts are hardly in evidence. What do the youf here do to rebel?

Everybody rides bikes in Kyoto, it really is a very bike friendly city, and the bike riding illustrates many of the things I’ve noticed. First, you park your bike outside your house. You don’t bother locking it, because people don’t pinch stuff, like graffiti it’s rude. I’ve seen people park their electric car neatly outside a 7-11 equivalent and leave the motor running and the keys in the ignition while they pick up some of the many mystifying products within. When riding a bike along a crowded footpath you do so considerately, weaving among the pedestrians and never once clicking your teeth or rolling your eyes when an elderly man sidesteps in front of you. You patiently wait for him to get back on track, then quietly pass him. When negotiating the excellent bus system, we managed to purchase day passes for a family of five with handfuls of change from a non English speaking bus driver on multiple occasions as people waited to exit behind us (that was the system) and there was never a sigh or a cross look from the driver or the waiting passengers. They don’t even mind when you pay with the equivalent of a hundred dollar bill for a packet of grape sweets.

They seem to employ a lot of public officials. There are the ones who are armed with light sabres whose job it is to enforce the traffic lights at busy intersections, as if anyone would be rude enough to disobey them. There are ones at train stations whose sole occupation appears to be to fill in a fancy uniform and say “arigatou gozaimusu” to as many people as possible. This is far and away the most common phrase in the Japanese language. It’s Thank You Very Much and is used in almost every sentence, along with Kudasai, which is Please. I did hear a mother reprimand her loud child with a sharp “Kudasai!”, so that’s gone into the lexicon and I have had occasion to use it on the Horror a few times, to polite crowd approval. There are signs everywhere exhorting good behaviour, like this one in one of the plentiful public toilets.

Google Translate tells me that all that text just says Don’t Graffiti, but fairly ornately and politely. 

Even the monkeys are polite. They stick to their mountain, they eat the approved food at the approved place, they certainly don’t solicit or harass the tourists, nor do they move down the mountain to go through rubbish bins.

How do you get a society to behave so nicely? Is it Zen Buddhism? Are delinquents quietly removed and shot? I can’t work it out.

On the other hand, manners don’t seem to extend to welcoming the foreign tourist to any great extent. I’m not a cultural imperialist, and I certainly don’t expect most people to have any English, but surely it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the main tourist booth at Kyoto Station to have the odd bit of English? Or the various information desks at the major tourist spots? It certainly helps that they use Arabic numerals, and most of the written train and bus information is also provided (properly) in English. All restaurant menus are either helpfully pictorial or have startlingly lifelike plastic replicas to choose from. But they just don’t seem to be interested in the speaking English themselves. I think most of their non public transport English translation is provided by an old version of Google Translate.  

I feel like going around with a marker pen and correcting it all, but who’s got the time. Anyway, give Google Translate, my new favourite app, another couple of years and it won’t be a problem any more.

So food. I’m rather enjoying going into shops and just wondering what the hell some of this stuff is. Our guide book says that the authors have lived in Japan for decades, yet when they pop into the Nishiki markets,

,they’re hard pressed to determine whether some things are food or a Christmas decoration. Some things are obvious, though.

They don’t mind a bit of seafood on a stick.

But the main issue for us Westerners is that it’s just not obvious what most of the food will taste like, because the Japanese seem to like all the flavours and don’t much care in what order they are. We bought what we thought were rice crackers in the rice cracker section of the supermarket and they turned out to be coated in brown sugar. We’d enjoyed some white buns filled with red bean paste at the markets, so Thermomix sister bought an assortment of these to have at home. Some of them turned out to be filled with meat, delicious once one got over the surprise. And some turned out to be not filled with anything at all, and also not cooked. They were possibly called motchi, were a New Year’s delicacy, were designed to be grilled, and nineteen people had choked to death on them this very New Year’s Eve. Not my favourite.

We popped into a local bar, called Snobby’s, not twenty metres from the house we were staying at in Kyoto to try some of the local sake. It was delicious, far better than the rubbish you get at Japanese restaurants at home, smooth and not too alcoholic. We were served with it, by the extremely hospitable non English speaking barkeep, an array of snacks. Rice crackers, good. Macadamia nuts in the shell, OK, plausible. Thermomix sister was offered what turned out to be some form of extremely chewy nougat, not so great with sake, though the sake did help in eventually dissolving it off her teeth. And I was offered a small roll of very effervescent sweets which were slightly reminiscent of trough lolly. Then there was a plate of tiny fish and another of what could have been pickled seaweed which was rather good. Not like the plate of God knows what we were served with a beer at our most recent train station whose name escapes me.

I was given the impression that it was a local delicacy, large packets of it were being sold at the counter. I did taste it. “What do you do with it?”, asked the husband on his return from his bus transfer recce. “Bury it in an unmarked grave”, was my advice. Took the rest of the beer and a roll of grape Mentos to get rid of the flavour.

My favourite new flavours are red bean – adzuki, and matcha, or green tea. I must find sources for these at home. I know you can get matcha Kit Kats at the Asian market at Birkenhead Point. Gourmet Kit Kats appear to be a thing here.

You could get a packet of mixed fruit Kit Kats in the deli at Daimaru for about twenty five bucks a pop. I’m sticking to the matcha. Just today I discovered matcha au lait. It looks like poison, bright green and frothy, I’ll have to get you a photo of it, and I’m going to have to have one every day.

The Horror has been a bit disappointed to find that the Japanese don’t actually live on cucumber sushi, but he has managed to get a reasonable amount of it into him, principally from train stations and airports where the food is astonishingly good. The snack food available here puts Western countries to shame, and explains why we’ve only actually seen one morbidly obese Japanese person here. Onigiri, a rice triangle wrapped in seaweed with a tiny splodge of flavour in the middle, is my favourite food on the move, and generally costs about $1.50. A bowl of noodles in broth is standard lunch. The chicken nuggets are amazing, even the ones in packets in the frozen section of the supermarket. Everything is in tiny servings in separate plates of bowls and beautifully presented. 

I’m still enjoying being bewildered by almost everything I see in a shop. Muffet went into a chemist to find some nail polish remover, and even though she can read some kanji, she retired defeated. Almost all of the packets and bottles were illustrated by a line drawing of a person with some part of them exploding. It wasn’t clear if the contents were to relieve the explosions in an internal or external fashion, and was an exploding neck indicative of muscle strain or tonsillitis? I’m sure it’s not polite to spend time in shops continually pointing and laughing, but I’m not from around here.

I shall leave you with three last foods to ponder. Noodles on a bun.

Sliced pig snout.

And a bottle of tiny fish.

I’ll tell you all about Kyoto next time, once I’ve gathered my thoughts.

Culture Shock

I feel like a giant bug eyed pale frizzy headed alien. Possibly because I am.

Our little clan has ventured to Japan to get in a bit of “proper” skiing and to spend a week in Kyoto sharing a house with my sister and her little clan who also thought it would be fun to visit Japan this New Year. We arrived last night at Narita Airport, kind of feeling like we were only halfway done. International flights are usually longer than that. We managed to find the shuttle bus to get us to our hotel and collapsed into our three seperate rooms (you can only get doubles) for the night.

Today we thought we’d look around Narita and get our cultural legs going before heading to the snow tomorrow. There are two things, no, three things that stand out. There is much more politeness and neatness than at home. There is a drink vending machine every twenty metres. The last one might be related to this, there are many public toilets which are clean and very public – I could see into the urinals without even trying, and have heated toilet seats oh yeah.

We decided to wend our way to the Temple at Narita. Husband managed to sort the train ticketing system, and while waiting for the train we sampled the first vending machine. Muffet and the Horror stuck with what they knew, green tea. The Moose got a honey and lemon drink, which he said was the nicest drink he’d ever had. Husband got a can of coffee. It was at this vending machine that we discovered you can get hot and cold beverages. The honey and lemon, the coffee and one of the green teas was hot. There is actually a red line under the hot ones and a blue one under the cold ones, so now we know. The Moose is psyching himself up to try the can featuring brightly coloured, enticing corn.

We popped into a few souvenir shops along the way, the Muffet starting to bravely use her two years of expensive Japanese instruction to universal delight. The Moose did a year of Japanese too, but can only remember all of the rude stuff he looked up to annoy his two half Japanese friends with, so he’s of no use whatsoever. The souvenirs here, by the way, are lovely and I will definitely getting some form of dragon before long. Had to get the obligatory “aren’t translations funny” shot too, like I could translate anything into any other language.

At the temple complex we heard bells ringing and some locals heading up to one of the temple buildings. Following along, we rinsed our hands in the incense laden smoke dispenser at the foot of the steps, placed our shoes in a plastic bag and snuggled down on the carpet inside the temple for the ceremony. All religions have a lot in common with this kind of thing, don’t they? Men in fancy dress, lots of different noises, ritualistic movements, a focal spot in the building to look at. Anyway, an old chap in a beautiful embroidered outfit was escorted in by some of the younger monks and sat at what looked like an ornate writing table facing the Buddha. The younger monks all sat down behind him and took turns doing various ritualistic things, ringing bells, carrying a box around, one guy did a bit of a performance on a Taiko drum at the back, delighting the Moose. There was an even bigger drum, about the size of a small car, but I guess that was for special occasions, not Tuesday mornings. All the while there was a lot of chanting going on. Then the chap at the desk extracted a coal from the brazier beside him and lit a fire that he quickly had flaming up higher than his head. Monks took turns bringing what looked like cricket bats with scripts on them to be waved over the flames, then pressed to their foreheads. Then members of the audience lined up to – have their handbags similarly blessed. They were done in bulk lots, and no foreheads were involved. Was a bit tempted. Maybe next time. Then there was a bit of chat by one of the monks in purple, then three monks at the three sides of the altar not facing Buddha picked up what looked like giant mops (probably Mops of Righteousness) and waved them about for a bit. Then the old chap put out his fire and was helped up to come and bow to the audience, then pottered out, followed by the rest. It was all rather lovely.

The temple complex was enormous and beautifully laid out. Look at this little pavilion, the supports that look like trees are actually concrete.

 We spent quite a bit of time wandering about the little forest and the bridges and the koi ponds, working up quite an appetite. We got our courage together and went into a restaurant for lunch. There was a bit of English spoken, and the menu was the display of plastic dishes outside the restaurant. Muffet took a few deep breaths and ordered for us in Japanese, some udon noodle soup for three of us, and chicken and rice for the boys. I think it may be the first time we’ve been to a restaurant that the Horror has been able to order off the menu and actually eat what comes out of the kitchen. He also managed to get outside his fifth bowl of miso soup for the day (they had unlimited miso soup at breakfast!), we may have found his culinary home.

 We slowly made our way back home, popping into as many shops as we could – this is clearly the off season – and bravely sampling some of the snacks, but none of the ones with eyes. We were a bit puzzled by a sticker on one shop, Moose thinks it might be a result of Sharknado.

 I’m resisting the alcoholic beverage vending machine in our hotel, but I might sample another Japanese beer at dinner shortly, and we’ll see if we can get two unedited, non buffet, non chip meals into the Horror in a row. Early start in the morning for a shuttle bus/plane trip/bus ride to the real snow.

Sydney Aquarium

I’m at the aquarium in my professional capacity. We’ve set our students an end of semester activity to plan a science excursion to the aquarium, and answer a series of questions to demonstrate that they have a clue. Some of the slack buggers have just made it up after a quick trawl through the aquarium website. But in the spirit of being one of those tutors who is there for her students, I’m at the aquarium today and tomorrow, just in case some of my little bunnies actually decide to do the activity as planned. And then get stuck.

I know it’s under a lot of construction at the moment, but I’m going to cut straight to the chase and tell you it’s not currently one of the great aquatic attractions of the world. Most of the exhibits are currently signs on hoardings with one of three themes, how terrific sharks are, don’t use styrofoam cups, or give us money.

OK, there are a few things worth looking at. The very first tank contains platypus. I do recommend standing in front of these for quite some time, ignoring the waves of buffeting schoolchildren. It takes a while for it to dawn on you exactly how weird these dudes are. They look like they couldn’t operate on land at all, and they’re always smaller than I would have expected them to be. There are little yabbies messing about on the bottom, and some desultory fish, but these are of no moment. Regard the very webbed feet, the back feet almost vestigial. The flat tail. The duckbill, for heaven’s sake. So weird.

Around a couple of corners are my some of my favourite animals. Ignore the penguins, they’re just showing off. The jellyfish are where it’s at. These ones have a constantly colour changing light shining through the tank and they really are other worldly.


“Look at them going up and down” says a passing mum to her offspring. “That’s how they breathe”. And this is why I have my work cut out for me. They actually don’t breathe at all, their skin is so thin that oxygen from the water can just diffuse straight into their cells. Yes, I did just look that up, it really wasn’t hard. Don’t start me on jellyfish, those things are so very amazing I’m tempted to move to Queensland and research them full time. Did you know that box jellyfish have no discernible brain, but will actually hunt their prey? How???

Also amazing, and disturbing at the same time is the octopus. I’m always a bit perturbed by things in tanks, but this guy looks particularly unhappy. He’s definitely watching me. His eye is blinking in this photo, but wherever he put his abundance of legs, I could see his slitted eye watching, watching, always watching. 

He’s in a really tiny tank, and he couldn’t be happy. Why haven’t they got him in an adventure playground, with stuff to build with and hide inside, and friends? He’s doing circuits of the front of the tank, I feel like he’s banging on the glass, he wants to go back to Brazil. Hang on, no, that’s Harry Potter.But he is trying to communicate with me.

Yes, the rays and sharks and dugongs are cool, and the walk through is lovely, but, again, looking like too small an enclosure for those giant creatures, and the way is sometimes blocked by morbidly obese mums with their hands on their hips, or knots of perpetually self documenting tourists. There’s a tiny touch tank, with a young chap with the now ubiquitous beard and man bun, encouraging kids to touch, but DON’T PICK THAT UP!!!. Their touch pool used to be a lot bigger and less shouty. I pause to spare a thought for the Port Jackson shark, who lays what looks like really quite sharp, spiral shaped eggs. What a life.
There looks like there’s quite a bit of work being done on a Barrier Reef section, which will be quite handy once the real thing disappears, but it’s only a few flashes of colour for now. Too soon I am at the gift shop, which is full to bursting with schoolchildren in EZ Identify yellow caps, and almost all of the merchandise is, unlike the creatures they represent, fluffy.

So now I’m in the cafe. I’ve had exactly six students through, none of whom have needed my help. I’ve done a bit of committee work. I’ve started work on sketching out what we’ll be teaching in summer school next year. I’ve just realised that if I stand up to succumb to the temptations of the deep fried section I will lose my excellent spot with a good view of the entry queue and out of the draught. The sacrifices one makes. 

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, if you have $40 burning a hole in your pocket, there are many better ways to spend it than here. Perhaps the Wildlife world next door would be better, the young lad on the ad loop above the entrance seems to think so. I might have to give you an update once they’ve finished renovating. Meanwhile, I might beg my boss for an early mark.

The Other Side of the Story

It might just be me, but itnever occurred to me that if this was the centenary of Gallipoli, then there was probably a fair bit of a fuss being made on the Turkish side too, especially as it was their homeland being invaded and they won.

For the Turkish, it’s called Canakkle, after the province that the whole mess took place in, and it’s celebrated on the 18th of March, which was when the naval battle commenced. Did you know there was a naval battle? The idea was that bits of the British navy would sail up the Dardanelles, bomb the daylights out of the forts that guarded them, then the Colonial forces would have the simple and pleasant job of just occupying the smoking remains. This is one of the forts they were supposed to destroy.

As you can see, not destroyed, due to the Navy not being supplied with any minesweepers, instead being sent some North Sea fishing boats manned by North Sea fishermen with hooks for pulling up any mines they might spot. So that didn’t work. The moral of the story is if you’re going to take the Dardanelles, don’t be a tightarse. 

It was during this naval battle that the “Turkish Simpson”, Seyit Ali Çabuk, had his moment. One of the guns guarding the Straits had been damaged and the crane to lift the heavy shells was broken. Good Gunner Seyit is said to have heaved a shell rumoured to weigh over 250 kilos up the stairs, loaded the gun and damaged one of the British ships, which then swung around and struck a mine.  There are statues and cheap souvenirs of the good gunner everywhere, despite there being some doubt as to whether his gun really did strike that ship. Whatever. Simpson, of Simpson and the Donkey fame was only stretcher bearing for about three weeks before he was killed, and why isn’t there any carry on about any of the other, equally brave, stretcher bearers? The answer is because the journalist on the ground, Bean, wanted a good news story to send home and Simpson and his donkey fit the bill. Thus are legends made.

So that battle was won by the Turks, now there was just a bit of nasty business of getting rid of the Entente forces off the peninsula. Apparently what happened was that on April 25th some colonial troops were landed at a couple of beaches and fought quite hard to get away from them.  Some of the defending Turkish started running away, to be met by Mustafa Kemal, now the immortal Ataturk, Father of the Nation, who famously told them that he wasn’t asking them fight, he was asking them to die. Not what I’d call a pep talk, but apparently it worked, and the ANZACs were held to their positions around the beaches for the entire eight months we were here.

How many do you think the ANZACs lost? Around 10,000, which sounds like rather a lot for such a small battlefield, until you realise that the British and French lost 44,000 between them. And the Turks? The Red Crescent has recently done its most accurate estimate yet and thinks that 100,000 Turkish were martyred there. That’s how they refer to it, and fair enough I guess. Another 150,000 were wounded. Why is it an estimate? I’ll show you.

See that headstone? Ibrahim, son of Hasan, no known birth year. They didn’t have last names. No one knew when they were born. Sinan’s great grandfather died at Gallipoli but they have no way of knowing where and when. 

Ataturk fixed all that. Did you know that the poor old Turks having won Gallipoli had to spend a further five years after the Great War fighting for their country? Everyone wanted a piece of them, the Greeks, the Russians. Ataturk oversaw winning that war, no wonder they revere him and speak of his words almost as if they were holy. The stuff he got away with after that would make today’s politicians cry. He decreed that everyone must have a surname, pick whatever you like and get it registered. Cut out wearing fezzes, I’m not sure why that one was, he’s a man I need to learn more about. But the huge one, imagine this. He changed the alphabet. Until the 1920s the Turks had written everything in Arabic script. No way, said Ataturk. Roman script from now on. Again, I’d love to find out what the idea behind this massive upheaval was, but I’d imagine to make them more European. Overnight, everyone was illiterate. And the Turkish language has thirty two letters, not twenty six, so they’ve had to add on little curly bits and umlauts to make it work. All of their legal, political, historical and religious documents were in Arabic script and he just snapped his fingers and changed it. But they love him and his images and statues are still everywhere even though he died in 1938, and his words are still quoted.

The really big thing that strikes me is that they let us into their country. We invaded, caused a quarter of a million casualties, and here is one of the major images being used in their centenary occasions.

A Turkish soldier carrying an ANZAC. How about that. With the slogan Peace is Possible. What a nation. What a privilege to be over here and be part of it. 

The Turkish Bath

You know I only do these things so you can read about them.

We had shore leave today for good behaviour and were put on a ferry to Canakkle. Which is in Asia, therefore a ten minute ferry ride away. Sinan told us that there is good traditional Turkish baths there that he recommends, not like those nasty touristic ones you get in Istanbul. Turkish families will go to the baths once a week, it’s a good experience. Well, sign me up.

Only four of the ladies of the party have decided to bathe, and rumour has it that one takes spare undies. Sinan couldn’t tell us, because he’s never been in the ladies baths. We arrive at the baths, there is much back and forth in Turkish as we tourists stand against the walls pretending not to be there, then Sinan tells us it’s 65 lira each and ladies go out over there. Men, go into these lockers here and get into a towel. What, right here? Right now? Come on ladies, we’re round the back.

Round the back appears to be through someone’s living room where there’s a woman watching TV, but a tiny old lady appears and beckons us through, handing us a towel and rubber shoes each. She shoves Gayle and I into a locker room, without a lock and without half of its door, but in for a penny, in for a pound and we strip to undies and wrap ourselves in the hamam towel. Gayle is worried about her bag, so the tiny lady crams it into a drawer under a desk at the end of the room and very clearly fails to lock it. Whatever. The change rooms are pretty daggy, but when we get into the baths the whole lot has been constructed of solid marble. In the seventeenth century, according to Sinan.

Have you been to a Turkish bath? This one was a large room with a marble seat all around the outside with partitions at regular intervals. Each partitioned area has a couple of marble basins on the seat into which hot and cold water continually run, draining into a channel in the floor in front of the seats. In the centre of the room is a giant marble slab, exactly the type you’d perform sacrifices on at the full moon. The roof is a dome with orange sized holes in it to let the steam out and the light in. One is given a regular towel and a plastic dish as one comes in, one drapes one’s fluffy towel and hamam towel over a hook over your chosen basin, then you sit there with boobs out and scoop water over yourself.

There were a few Turkish women in there, a very elderly lady and a couple of mums with kids, and the bath attendant, all in just undies and all built for comfort rather than speed. Our tour group valiantly made eye level conversation while tipping the warm water over ourselves, which was rather pleasant, when it became apparent that it would be my turn first. I had stood up to see what pouring water over my shoulders would feel like when the bath attendant came over, placed a gentle but firm hand on my head and pushed me into a sitting position. She then started rubbing soap in my hair and I foolishly opened my eyes to see what was going on to confront a giant pair of boobs right at cheek level. I closed my eyes very very tightly and let her wash my hair, until I could definitely hear her walking away.

She spread my hamam towel out on the slab and indicated that I lie on it on my front. She then proceeded to take off a layer or two of skin from my back half in a very orderly and methodical manner with a plastic loofah. I then discovered that having hot water suddenly  thrown over excoriated skin is very good for the adrenal glands. After that I got a lavender scented massage from head to toe. While having my shoulders expertly massaged I had the new sensation of a pendulous tummy resting gently on the back of my head. And guess what. Then I had to turn over. And have a layer or two of skin taken off my front half. Yes. Head to toe. Including – my face. And another lavender scented massage which again had my eyes very very tightly shut. Because she had my arms out at right angles from my body, and I was lying nude on a marble slab with the sunlight streaming down on me I did feel like this is where I got my throat cut to appease the gods, and I’d paid 65 lira for it.But the last time I’d paid a woman to do that to my boobs it was a lot more, however she did have a medical degree.

Then you go back to your basin and try to work out whether you’d enjoyed the experience or not. On the one hand, I was cleaner than I’d ever been in my life. And I was lavender scented. On the other, boundaries! Eventually I was able to gather my thoughts sufficiently to wrap myself in the fluffy towel and go and get dressed and discover that my bag had not been pinched. Out through the living room, where there were now three people watching TV and smoking, to the reception area to find the men of the group standing around rather awkwardly also trying to decide whether they’d enjoyed it or not and having tea in miniature glasses forced on them by a four foot tall man – I think regular bathing may shrink one.

On the whole, I think yes. I do need rather urgently to replace the essential oils in my skin, but I do feel smooth and relaxed – in a muscular sense anyway. And really, I’m in Turkey. Of course I’d recommend the bath.

The ANZAC Landings

I am here on a battlefield tour, and this post is going to be about the beginning of the Dardanelles land campaign. I’m writing it more to keep it straight in my head than anything else, so if you’re after whimsical anecdote you’ll have to wait for another day.

I do actually know a bit more about the campaign than the average punter. Rod, our ANZAC encyclopedia with the walrus moustache, tells us that the general Aussie on his tours knows that there was a landing at ANZAC cove, everything went very badly and it was all the fault of the British. And if you’re looking for it in a nutshell, well, there it is. But we’re not. Far from it. The whole thing lasted eight months and we’re here for five days, so there won’t be a full reenactment but we’ll certainly be hitting the highlights.

We started off with a ferry trip along the coast from Gaba Tepe, a little knoll sticking out into the sea, which at the time of the landings had a dug in little Turkish fortification in it.

We went close to the coast all the way up to Suvla Bay, where the British later landed to have a crack at salvaging the whole mess. The whole way along it is pretty clear that there wouldn’t be a worse place to land than ANZAC cove and the little beach to the north of it. The beach to the north of Gaba Tepe where they were supposed to land makes for a boring photo because it’s fairly featureless, quite long, and no cliffs rising straight up from the beach. But they were landed in the dark, towed out by teenaged midshipman kitted only with a compass, starting from a ship who had had to sneak out, also in the dark, from behind an island so whose position was also a bit uncertain. No wonder they got it wrong.

So this is where they did land.

Of course, there wasn’t a wall there then to keep the crumbling cliffs from falling into the sea, but you get the idea.  It looked a lot smaller from the sea. No, this isn’t where they have the dawn services, that’s one beach up, and it’s even worse.

Although at least that had a little bit of shore to land on. Apparently ANZAC cove had a bit more beach a hundred years ago, but it has washed away. The feature sticking out in the above photo is The Sphinx, not the Egyptian one, but we were in such a small area of land for those eight months that every knob and gully in the landscape got a name. 

Once they had landed they were to struggle up to as high ground as possible, and many of them managed to get up to a feature to the right of the Sphinx called Plugge’s Plateau. The idea was that once they were up there they were to cross to the next height, and this is the suggested route.


Unsurprisingly most of them chose to go down into the valley on the right of Razor’s Edge, and that’s where many of them spent the next eight months, in this valley, and up to the ridge, dug into trenches. It’s a really small area, and despite having read many excellent descriptions of the land and how difficult it was to fight in, you can’t quite believe it until you see it.
See, even a photo doesn’t do it justice, there’s quite a valley down there, and not a nice flat valley, one seamed with ridges and gullies, and most of it fairly exposed to Turkish fire until they’d dug themselves trenches to hide in. You can still see the remains of trenches, and I guess I’d always imagined them in straight lines.

Obviously there weren’t any trees at all in the whole area, even the Lone Pine got blown to pieces fairly quickly. And these have had a century of erosion going on, but these are the real thing, untouched, unreconstructed, Australian trenches.

I can’t keep track of all of the battalions, platoons, regiments with their numbers and divisions that Rod can recite without notes, both Australian and Turkish. But the military guys are hanging on his every word, doing ground appreciations, suggesting alternative battle strategies, disputing who got the furthest inland. I can’t think of any other military engagement that so many Australians would know so very intimately.


Fellow Travellers

 It’s all got a bit technical now that we’ve reached the Gallipoli peninsula, so I thought I’d give you a bit of a sketch of my fellow travellers.

We’re split into three groups along military rank lines, we’re in the officers group, then there is senior soldiers, and then Other Ranks. I kind of feel that it’s a bit British class system, but it does increase one’s husband’s chances of having worked with people in his group.  

He’s off for a run at the moment along the Aegean with a 21 Construction Regiment mate who is ten years his senior, a triathlete, has climbed Everest and has a part time job guiding Kokoda treks. That should put him in his place.

I’ve mention our Turkish guide, Sinan, who is all kinds of terrific and actually lectures in tour guiding at the university in Canakkle and really only guides now for fabulous groups like us. Our Australian guide is having the time of his life. He’s fun sized retired military chap with a walrus moustache and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the ANZAC engagement which I don’t think he’s got to exercise before to quite the extent that he can with this group. He’s pleased to be able to speak to us in military code, such as Action on Lost, and that if he says wheels on the ground at 7.45, that is exactly when the wheels will be on the ground. A match made in heaven. He’s been guiding battlefield tours for three years and this is the first time his wife has come along to see what he’s been getting up to in Turkey. I have had a bit of a chat to her, but she’s a shy lady with a very low voice, so I’m none the wiser as to what she thinks of the whole thing.

We lunched yesterday with a couple from Another Group, who had stayed a different hotel in Istanbul to us. A truly terrible hotel, according to Pam. Why couldn’t they stay at the Kent where we were? Honestly, their room was a shoebox, and the lift! They waited ten whole minutes for the lift that morning. “What floor were you on?” asked husband. “The first. But I don’t do stairs. We’ve been travelling in Europe for a month and I’m staired out. I’ve been doing 30,000 steps a day”. I took a good look her a silently vowed to eat my hat if that were true. “Who’s your guide?” “Oh, we’ve got Sinan, he’s over…” “I don’t know what our’s is called, Barisin or something, we just call him Barry” “Is he happy about that?” “He seems to be, but he doesn’t like Bazza”. No, quite. “Have you been to Gallipoli before?” “No, we’ve got young children and…” “We were here in 2001, it was MUCH better then. Not so developed, more untouched. But you’ll love the graves. So eethral.” “So…?” “Eethral. Wayne, could you get me some tea?” “They don’t have tea at lunch love, just coffee” “Coffee! I told them I don’t drink caffeinated products! Why couldn’t they get me some tea?”

Yes, I took notes.

Anyway, I must go and have breakfast overlooking the Aegean now, before getting on a boat for a not getting shot at look at what the ANZACs saw before they landed, then a scramble around ANZAC cove with an avalanche of lovingly detailed commentary. So here is a bonus photo of Travelling David Tennant getting attacked by a giant Aegean sea snake.