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Anzac Day Rehearsals

I could never have imagined just how much work goes on behind the scenes in preparation for the Anzac Day services – the work already starts months before Anzac Day, with things like setting up the grandstands on the sites. I take my hat off to all those leaders and officials whose efforts make the services possible – being with them for some of the preparation, I think I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the incredibly hard work they put in.
By comparison, us Youth Ambassadors had the easy part in the preparations. We learnt and continuously practiced our set of songs to sing together to the Chunuk Bair crowds – I still have the words ingrained in my head to this day.
We had a few full days of rehearsals with the rest of the contingent on the Peninsula before Anzac Day, and while the weather on Anzac Day was thankfully perfect, we weren’t so lucky in all the days leading up to it. On one of the days up at Chunuk Bair, we sang our songs in driving rain and wind – bitterly cold wind, being on top of a high hill on the coast. We had to sing very loudly to be heard, what with the gusty winds snatching our voices away. I remember huddling into my rain jacket like a turtle. But we were unstoppable – all of us together as a contingent were toughing it out and so we wouldn’t let a little bit of miserable weather break our spirit.
While we were rehearsing at Chunuk Bair, an Australian youth choir visited the site and of course, in the spirit of friendly competition, we had to have a little bit of a sing-off with them before they left!

During rehearsals up at Chunuk Bair.

During rehearsals up at Chunuk Bair.

Just before the rehearsals at the Dawn Service site.

Just before the rehearsals at the Dawn Service site.

Dawn Service site.

Dawn Service site.

Battlefield Tours – Gallipoli Peninsula

The battlefield tours were what really drove home the truth of Anzac Day for me. They opened my eyes and allowed me to go into the Anzac Day services feeling more of a closeness to and with a deeper understanding of our lost soldiers and their experiences of sacrifice.

Part of the tours involved walking some of the same trails on the Peninsula that the soldiers had walked during the war. It was truly humbling to be standing where they stood and fought, and to be retracing their footsteps. The geography of the Gallipoli Peninsula is not forgiving, and with the rocky cliff faces and steep hills, I could see why our soldiers had faced an impossible task, finding safety and gaining ground – there would have been no hiding and no shelter when the enemy was right above you and could see everything.

We actually got to walk up to Chunuk Bair using the same trail the troops used – this meant we had to climb up Rhododendron Ridge. It was gruelling, and at times the steepness of the hill was insane – it makes me wonder how the troops managed to do it without the stairs we had, during the night, while carrying all their gear and their rifles and their wounded comrades.

The other part of the battlefield tours consisted of visits to several war cemeteries on the Peninsula. Every visit was a personal journey in itself. Simply having read about the ANZACs in the past was not nearly the same as actually standing by their gravestones, and I don’t think any of us had expected it to take such an emotional toll on us as it did. But what was so lovely was that all the cemeteries were so incredibly peaceful. The grounds were lush green and very well-cared for, with big shady trees, and plants or colourful flowers planted between every gravestone – it made me happy that our troops’ final resting place was a place of peace and safety where they are cared about, albeit so far from home.

Anzac Cove was a definite turning point for me. At Anzac Cove, we were all wandering among the gravestones and laying poppies when the silence was broken by the sound of bagpipes – the piper who travelled with us was walking along the beach playing the Lament. It really struck a chord with me seeing and hearing the Lament being played on that same shore on which our troops arrived a century ago – the meaning of Anzac Day had never before been so clear to me as it was then.

Us on what was a cold morning waiting for the ferry to arrive and take us across to the Peninsula.

Us on what was a cold morning waiting for the ferry to arrive and take us across to the Peninsula.

Us on the Peninsula, walking down to one of the sites.

Us on the Peninsula, walking down to one of the sites.

On the walk up to Chunuk Bair. [Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]

On the walk up to Chunuk Bair. [Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]

Part of the way into the walk up to Chunuk Bair.

Part of the way into the walk up to Chunuk Bair.

One of the trenches at Chunuk Bair.

One of the trenches at Chunuk Bair.

One of the sites we visited on the Peninsula.

One of the sites we visited on the Peninsula.

At one of the cemeteries we visited on the Peninsula.

At one of the cemeteries we visited on the Peninsula.

At one of the cemeteries we visited on the Peninsula.

At one of the cemeteries we visited on the Peninsula.

The cemetery at Anzac Cove.

The cemetery at Anzac Cove.

The piper playing the Lament at Anzac Cove. [Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]

The piper playing the Lament at Anzac Cove. [Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]

Anzac Cove.

Anzac Cove.

At Anzac Cove.

At Anzac Cove.

En route – Day 4

DAY 4 of 4: Canakkale

And we arrive in Turkey! Canakkale is a small city/big town on the waterfront, where we stayed for the majority of the trip. The town being on the water, it was COLD. It was spring at the time, although it felt like winter with summer sun…I liked it! And our hotel was almost on the water itself – very convenient as the ferry was a one minute walk away, and we travelled to the Gallipoli Peninsula almost every day by way of a 15 minute ferry ride. (On the other side we arrive in a town called Eceabat before we drive the rest of the way to the Dawn Service site.)

I loved Canakkale. I would love to go back one day – I could even imagine myself living there for a while! Everyone is so friendly and they love it when you try to speak Turkish – “Merhaba!” (Hello), was pretty much as advanced as our vocal got though, haha! (When we got back to NZ, it took me a fair while not to automatically say “Merhaba” whenever I greeted someone!) The town itself is so beautiful, with lush greenery (so much like NZ, it surprised me!), cobblestone streets (walk carefully) with colourful, cramped shops looking so much like the photos you see in travel books of little Italian streets. I loved it. And the food. Oh my gosh, they know how to do a mean kebab there! Gozleme and durum dona…I have never tasted such good wraps in my life and I’m afraid no other will ever match up! I also tried Iskendar which, I was told, is a dish Canakkale is famous for – I could taste why!

You walk around and so often you see stray cats in the streets – we were told beforehand that there are many stray cats and some stray dogs in Canakkale but that we mustn’t pet them in case they have rabies. It was so hard not to but I managed to refrain. They looked so cute and cuddly, and made me miss my own kitty back home!

The day after we arrived in Canakkale was the contingent’s rest day so that we could have time to recover from the five days of constant travelling, and settle in – and of course see some of the main tourist attractions! The small Canakkale markets had so many interesting trinkets and hand-made crafts that were so uniquely Turkish in design. We visited the Canakkale Marine Museum just down the road, going aboard a replica of their mine-laying ship – the Nusrat – from the First World War. We also visited the Cimenlik Fortress located on the marine museum grounds – it was awesome to see some of the war history from their point of view.

And, I just have to mention, for those of you who are ancient history nuts like I am…the actual Trojan horse from the movie “Troy” is on the Canakkale waterfront, and I got a friend to take a photo of me in front of it! I also finally crossed one place off my ancient sites travel bucket list (which consists of many ancient sites that I’ve studied in my classical studies classes) while we were there – TROY! That is all I shall say otherwise I may just write another page or so gushing about how awesome it was, and you’d probably just roll your eyes at me like most of my friends do…

Canakkale was such a lovely town – I’m feeling so nostalgic as I write this! Would that transporters existed and would that I then owned one!

Beautiful! Reminds me of NZ!

Beautiful! Reminds me of NZ!

Beautiful sunset from the waterfront.

Beautiful sunset from the waterfront.

TROY. Imagine what those buildings could have been!

TROY. Imagine what those buildings could have been!

The cobblestone streets.

The cobblestone streets.

Entrance to the Canakkale markets.

Entrance to the Canakkale markets.

Part of the outside of the Cimenlik Fortress.

Part of the outside of the Cimenlik Fortress.

En route – Day 3

DAY 3 of 4: Dubai

Dubai was something else entirely. You definitely know you aren’t anywhere near home anymore! You kind of fancy that you’re in an Aladdin movie, especially as you’ve just seen orange desert and a few camels from the plane as you were flying in – it was so awesome! It was the first time I had ever seen desert – it was so foreign compared to the GREEN that is New Zealand. Also, it was the first time most of us had ever seen a camel, so as you can imagine there was much excitement!

The heat is the first thing you register as you get off the nice, air-conditioned plane and onto the tarmac, though. It was HOT. Hotter than Darwin. And my face instantly turned into a tomato. But it was a dry heat which did make it somewhat more bearable.

It was crazy to think that we were so close to all these famous landmarks – like the world’s tallest building – and driving through streets you only see pictures of in travel books. Dubai is seriously amazing at engineering. The whole skyline is composed of tall buildings in constant competition, it seems, with the ones next to them. The designs are incredible and logic-defying. And there is sooooo much glass – everything reflects and shines brilliantly. We had the thought that you’d earn a lot of money being a window-cleaner in Dubai…if you didn’t fall to your death down a million stories within the first few days, that is.

A desert sunset is something to behold. Absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. (So much so that I had to take several photos even though my eyes were melting out of their sockets as a consequence of the sun’s brightness…) It’s hard to describe but the desert beauty certainly competes with that of the skyscrapers on the horizon.

The markets in Dubai are an experience I don’t think you’ll ever find elsewhere – overwhelming! (Of course, I had to buy myself some souvenirs at the markets, consisting of a mini Aladdin lamp, mini Aladdin shoes and a mini camel ornament…all of which now sit on the Dubai section of my souvenir shelf!)

Desert!

Desert!

Travelling back to the airport the next morning.

Travelling back to the airport the next morning.

I have no idea what this building is but the design defies logic! I quite like it, though!

I have no idea what this building is but the design defies logic! I quite like it!

Desert sun.

Desert sun.

Seeing the world's tallest building - the Burj Khalifa - in the distance while on the way to our hotel.

Seeing the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa – in the distance while on the way to our hotel.