I don’t know how to say hello in Serbian, nor Bulgarian, and can’t currently remember Turkish, so hello! We’re sitting at the border of Serbia and Hungary, waiting for border control to deem our bus and luggage acceptable to cross, and it might be a while… So there’s time to actually focus on this! It’s been an interesting couple days, so I’ll start with Kavala! Kavala was neat, a quieter seaside city. It was really just a stopover for us on the way to Turkey, so all I really experienced of the place was a decent hotel room, no shower curtain, and eating pizza that tasted like that of home overlooking the harbor. Oh, and the usual beers in the hotel bar. Hahah. The next day we crossed the border into Turkey, where the Canadians paid 3x as much as anyone else for our visa, and journeyed to Canakkale, had a tour of the city of Troy, which was definitely not quite what I expected, and had a lot more too it than I was thinking. I’m more interested in learned about it now, (or at lest watching the movie). The wooden horse was kind of a disappointment, just a giant horse shaped children’s fort essentially, but I guess you can’t expect more of a thousands of years old mythical structure. The 9? Cities of Troy were neat, but definitely would’ve meant more had I actually known some of the archaeological history, and wasn’t in a constant search of shade (it was flipping hot out that day man). We had an awesome dinner at our beautiful hotel (such a shame the majority of us weren’t staying there), and head off to Gallipoli to camp out for ANZAC Day! Emma had given us a pretty good lesson on what Anzac day was about (followed by Australian and Kiwi music), that set the mood for the night. This is what I can remember and kind of absorbed, but don’t expect it to be fully correct. I’m trying to recount a history lesson from a week ago… But, On April 25, 1915, boats full of conscripted Australian and Kiwi men (as well as boys as young as 14 and 15) were headed to fight the Ottomans. Somewhere along the line, something went wrong, and instead of landing on the level beach with the plan of attacking from behind, they landed at the steep rocky incline, leading the troops right through the Turks camp. 1/3 of the men who went to war didn’t come home, and half of those that did came back injured, causing a major blow to that generation and effecting each and every Australian or Kiwi in some way. Its a very important day, (bigger than Australia Day), and taken very seriously. No one backed down, and they fought and fought and fought, despite knowing they were losing. They sent positive words home, and eventually managed to evacuate each and every soldier overnight without a single casualty. They set up guns in a fashion that the Turks would be under the impression that they were still fighting, while the trenches lay empty. ANZAC day is a day to both celebrate the bravery and remember those that sacrificed their lives. Arriving at ANZAC cove was pretty emotional, as we drove down the dark, treed road to the start. We all unloaded, went through security, and made the long, quiet walk along the beach, looking up at the steep shore that 97 years ago, was a battlefield. We arrived in the main area, already packed with people in sleeping bags, thousands of people awaiting dawn. We couldn’t ind grass, but found some bleachers to stretch our bags out on, and got ready for the night. We sat begin another tour of sorts, and everyone was in a good mood, for everyone was there for the same reason. We settled in and just hung out, occasionally watching a speech on the big screens or going to the vending area. It was a really cool atmosphere, and though I did feel slightly out of place not being native to the holiday, there was ultimate support and respect from everyone that the two Canadians did come, despite not having a patriotic tie to the holiday. We didn’t get a whole lot of sleep, partly with the stands filling up and some rude people, but it’s all part of the experience. Documentaries, speeches and mini movies played on the screens all might long, but sometimes it was just silence, all but the gentle lapping of the water on the shore, the water flowing blue within the lights in an eerie, the 5:30am dawn service. I won’t lie, it was hard to keep my eyes open by that point, but it was really good. It reminded me of our Remembrance Day ceremonies, with the speeches from important people, choirs, bands, the Last Post, and the laying of the wreaths. After the Dawn Service, we took the long walk to Lone Pine for the Australian service at 10:30, which was relatively the same, but specific to Australia. There was gorgeous weather and moving speeches on the old battlegrounds, and the Aussies all agreed it was done really well. The New Zealand service followed the Australian service, but it was another 3km up the hill, so it was nearly impossible to do both. We casually wandered to Chunuk Bar, stopping at the battleground cemeteries (Nek, specifically), walking past trenches as we climbed the hill. We hung out at Chunuk Bar for a few hours, awaiting the long line of 200 buses to load and depart before our female bus driver was able to collect us. After a long, sweaty and stinky bus ride, we eventually made it to Istanbul for a late dinner and some ANZAC Day drinks. The whole ANZAC day was definitely worth it to me, even if it’s something I had no previous knowledge of. It was interesting to learn about the war from a different prospective, rather than the ‘this is the war and how it relates to Canada’ kind of lesson we learned at home. I was glad I went, for it was a powerful experience and I learned a little but more about this world we live in, as well as enjoyed being an honorary Australian for such an important day. The next morning we got a bit of a sleep in, but it was definitely an early morning after almost 2 days without sleep. We had a walking tour of Istanbul, going into the Blue Mosque, booking ourselves for our Turkish baths, and getting a Turkish rug demonstration. The rugs were expensive, despite the 50% discount we got, and I couldn’t afford $100/square foot, despite them being really nice. We left the rug demo, and wandered to the Grande Bazaar, where Kelly and I discovered the difference between shopping with men in Turkey. When it was just the two of us, every single shop had men hassling us, shouting pick up lines and oohs and awes at us. Everything from “YES PLEASE!”, “come here chicks!” and “come on into my heaven” to commenting back to your “this stuff is pretty” with a “so are you”. There are constant shouts of “Aussie Aussie Aussie!” to you, and every single man either stares or shouts. We managed to find some guys from our crew to walk with, and the comments completely stopped. It was ridiculous, but definitely was a strong example as to how women are treated in some of these countries. We did some shopping, some haggling, and got lost in the huge market for a few hours. We grabbed fresh squeezed juice on the way home (2.50 lira; which is roughly $1.50 canadian), and took a much needed nap. That night we had our Turkish dinner during our belly dancing show, before many of us head out to for the night at the Montreal Shot Bar, confusingly named considering the theme inside was Mexican… Huh? Haha. It was a late but fun night, as most are, and some drunk Turkish girls tried to get us to come home with her and we were pretty sure the taxi was taking us to Bulgaria. Just another night on Contiki! The next day, Alicia and I wandered across the bridge to the Asian side of Turkey, had lunch on the border, and explored the markets and streets of Istanbul. We packed our bags for the next day, and head off to experience a true Turkish bath at the oldest bath in Turkey. We decided that with the ridiculously cheap prices, we might as well go for the full spa treatment. Girls and boys are split, and you go into this giant marble room that’s about 300 degrees, where you lie on a hot marble stone while a large topless Turkish woman (or man, for the boys) splashes hot water on you and waits for you to start sweating, before she exfoliates the crapb out of your skin. Then they dump a whole bunch of bubbles on you and lather you all up and rinse you, and it’s a bit like being a child and having your mom wash you in the bath. Then you get to sit in the hot tub for a bit and relax. We were whisked away for our mani/pedis next, before getting out oil massage and clay face mask. It was a neat experience, an very relaxing, and I feel my back deserved it after a week of sleeping on ferries, coaches and stadium floors. We went back to meet up withy the rest of the group, and Alicia and I peeled off for a junk food dinner or Doritos and cake with English tv and later, casual beers in the hotel bar. Saturday we traveled from Istanbul to Sofia, getting a couple hours to walk around the city after our quick bus tour. Sofia is a very laid back town, and not a tourist town like some of the ones we’ve been to. We saw the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and wandered around for a bit, before heading to the hotel (the one with the largest rooms so far!) for dinner. That night we went out to a punk rock club, took advantage of the 3 lev beers (~$1.50CAN), and AJ and I head home early to hang out at the hotel with some people before deciding McDonald’s was a good idea and getting a taxi to take us there at 2am. Best decision ever (well, after deciding to go on Contiki to start with). Overall, really good night, again. Yesterday we changed countries yet again, traveling to Belgrade, Serbia. We got a quick driving tour, and walked to the top of the fortress, saw the views, looked around at the flea market, and hanging out in the park. We had dinner and were out to the floating bars to celebrate Contiki’s 50th Birthday. No one seemed very keen to stay out, so we took a taxi home, may it may not have gotten McDonald’s on the way home. I got a good Skype session with mom and dad, and half the group got to as well. Hahah. Fun night again! Gotta love Contiki. Today we left Serbia and have just arrived at our hotel in Budapest, Hungary. Yet another country, another language, another currency. Tonight we go on our river cruise and dinner, and go out again! Only a handful of days left, might ad well do it right!