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Troy

From the guidebook, it looked like the hostel wasn’t too far frm the station, though, as usual, the Turks continue to be allergic to posting street signs. After an hour, I was still wandering the streets of Cannakale, going from the guidebook to the landmarks around me. If that’s the Hotel Arthur, I’m way past where I should have turned, I thought. Three different people saw me struggling with the guidebook as I walked aimlessly up and down the street. At first I thought this was part of the usual Turkish hospitality. But no one seemed to have heard of the street I was looking for, and everyone told me to go in a different direction. FInally, I realized this was a game they play in Cannakale called “Let’s mess with the new guy.” Ha ha, Cannakale. Eventually, someone had in fact heard of both the street I was looking for and hte hostel I was staying at, and led me around a corner past a gorgeous Ottoman clocktower to a simple but clean hostel, the Yellow Rose Pension. The reception air was decorated almost entirely in British, Australian and New Zealand colors. Tributes to the Gallipolli campaing were everywhere. “Guess they get a lot of Aussies here,” I figured. I knew about Gallipoli, but it wasn’t a site that had any importance for me, and I was even something of a World War 1 buff.

The room my landlord led me to was small and simple, but had its own bathroom. This is by my standards, extremely luxurious. I know a lot of people will shudder at the idea of a room with nothing more than a desk and a small nighstand, but so long as I have enough room to exercise and access to an electrical outlet, I’m ecstatic. Simplicity, as close as I can get to it while lugging around a laptop, anyway, is exactly waht I’m looking for. The more austere the better. No television. No frig. No bathroom. Just a light and a mattress. Even paying for my own room is starting to seem like an almost unreasonable extravagance. But I like being able to leave my luggage unattended, and my electronics charging, so it’s the one luxury for which I’m willing to pay. Maybe at somepoint I’ll hazard the dorm living, but quite frankly I’m sure that once I do that I’ll say good-bye to the laptop and iPod.

Breakfast came at 7:30 the next morning, in the usual Turkish style: a hard-boiled egg, tea, sliced cucumber and tomato, and half a loaf of white bread. I wolf down everything, when I should be hoarding the bread for later instead of carb loading first thing. Seeing the names of two Australian women already signed up for the Troy tour, I decide on a lark to join as well. at 60 Turkish lira, its a bit much (about 30 Euro), but I’ve heard its hard to know what you’re seeing there without a guide, and the price includes transport to and from the site and the entrance fee. I know what you’re thinking: Vagabond is just signing up for a trip ’cause a couple of girls have. No, my uncharitable reader! Well…ok, yes, but its not quite as lacivious as you might think. The reality is I haven’t met a lot of other backpackers since setting out on my own, and I’ve been looking for a way to meet some fellow travellers. You never know who might be going your way.

I meet, oddly enough, a guy in business development for an Australian gold mining company who tells me about a number of divestitures they’re in the process of making. In my old life, this would have immediately set my antennae buzzing and I would have been peppering the poor bastard with questions in the vain hope of being able to extract a story from him. Now, I’m happy to ask a few polite questions and leave him in peace. There’s nothing quite like not having to worry about a job for a while.

Our guide at Troy speaks a version of English that’s barely comprehensible. I lament the liras I spend on the guided tour, since we only get a scant two hours with Gurka, the guide, and twenty minutes of that is spent at the gift shop. He is at least able to point out which walls belong to Troy 6, 7, 8 and 9, points us toward Schliemann’s test trench, and shows me the exact site where Priam’s treasure was found. He also shows me the main gate for Troy 7, the gate a horse would have had to come through. Folks, I hate to burst any mythological bubbles, but the only horse that’s making it through that gate is two guys dressed as the front and rear. If the Trojans got taken in by that ruse, they deserve to have their city destroyed.

Two Achaeans dressed as a horse: “Let us in!”
Trojans: “What? Aren’t you just two guys dressed as a horse?”
Achaeans: “Uh…no! Just a dolphin, ma’am.”
Trojans: “Well that’s alright then.”
Laocoon: “Assholes! It’s two guys dressed as a horse! Look, you can see the one guy’s belly button.”
Trojans: “Boo! You’re a party pooper, Laocoon! To the sea serpent pit with you!”
Laocoon: “Asshoooooole-”
Achaeans: “Yay! We mean…Moo! Wait no…neigh!”

Jokes about idiot Trojans aside, there is something eerie about walking the plains of Troy, and tracing the circumference of its walls. Never in my life did I think I would ever be able to match a place to the image I conjured in my mind when I first read the Iliad at 13. It’s a little difficult to recreate the Bronze Age settlement in your mind, overlaid as it is with Classical, Hellenistic and Roman cities. Gurka points out the seashells buried in the dirt beneath, indicated the point at which the level of the sea would have reached during one the earliest phases of settlement, what they call Troy II, about 2500 BC. The water’s edge would have lapped right up against the outer walls. According to Gurka and most of the tourist literature in Cannakale and Troy, the site was a natural stopping point for sailors going up the Dardanelles to the Black Sea. Bronze Age sailing technology did not have the capability to tack into the wind, and the winds at Troy usually come from the north, forcing any would be sailor up the Dardanlles to put in at Troy until a more favorable wind arose. Of course, the Trojans would be only too happy to allow your boat to moor in their harbor, feed, and shelter you until such time arrived. That’ll be 10,000 lira, please, payable in advance.

Try as I might, I just can’t picture huge armies doing battle here. The place is so SMALL. Troy 2 is only about 900m2. And although Troy 7 is larger, it’s not THAT much larger. Two, maybe three thousand invaders if they circled the walls completely. Hardly the image one gets from the movie.

Of course, fate and chance being what it is, I do in fact chat up the two Australian girls on the tour from the Yellow Rose Pension, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re heading my way. Just like that, we quickly form a quartet with another Aussie, Alex, travelling north, agreeing to catch the ferry up the Dardanelles to Istanbul together.

Later that day, on the girls’ advice, I take the Gallipolli tour as well. More on that story later.

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