Most people visit the Gallipoli Peninsula because they're interested in the lives lost. They come to pay tribute to the fallen. They see the historic stretch of land as an enormous graveyard and that's not that far removed from the truth. The things is, though, there are signs of life absolutely everywhere and the present day population winds up leaving an even greater impression than the commemorated thousands. People have lived here since antiquity, before any battles were ever fought here it was "The Beautiful City." Now, the peninsula is in its latest phase of a long life - a mix of farming villages and harbor towns.
All of this became quickly apparent to us upon arrival in Eceabat, which would be our home base for a couple of days while we explored the historic sights. The town's name used to be Maydos, but at some point in time switched to this derivation of an Arabic word for 'command point of a battlefield.' War may have redefined its name and war tourism undoubtedly plays a huge role in its modern identity. But Eceabat is still just a seaside town like so many others. Charming, salty, laid back.
There are bicycles parked outside of stores and ice cream vendor carts sidelined by the off-season at the base of the ferry dock. Motorbikes are popular, with men in waders buzzing through the main drag. Probably a good idea, as I can't imagine it'd be easy to pedal in galoshes. Narrow stores sell the necessities. Dusty bottles of water, candy, nuts, seeds and a cornucopia of odds-and-ends that lands somewhere between a General Store and a 99cent store. If you need a pencil, fork, new alarm clock, you can find it. Anything larger or more vital doesn't have to be available. There's a ferry right there, waiting, to take you to Çanakkale.
Throughout the day, buses, trucks, cars and walk-ons are ferried across the Dardanelles from here to Çanakkale - a city with a population of about 100,000 vs Eceabat's 5,000. It's always amazing to see these ships unload cargo trucks and buses like an aqua clown car. People go over there to work, school and play, which leaves Eceabat with a daytime population of men, old women and young children. At night, the sky and sea are belted by Çanakkale's illuminated skyline. We're happy to stay tucked in on this side, though, still getting our Turkish sea legs.
It's only our first few days in the country. So, of course, we've been easily excited by all signs of Turkishness, hyper-aware of anything that feels new and different. Turkish carpets cover large piles of fishing nets on the dock, their brightly covered undersides show how faded the patterns facing the sun have become. The national flag flits at the end of a pole on every vessel. The sound of seagulls mixes with the ferry's horn and the daily call to prayer. (The sidewalk is currently being torn up and replaced, hence the rubble).
At "Kaptain Pub," shellacked lobster shells hang from a fishing net like any good seaside watering hole. Turkish basketball plays on tv, the owner plays nard with a young men and two 'customers,' stash bags of fresh produce in the fridge before sitting to read the newspaper sans drink. Sand is dragged in and coats the floor in spots and our glasses of Turkish wine and beer are served with the best beer nuts I've ever had - large, plump peanuts with a thick layer of salt crusted onto their red skin.
Kaptain Pub may be our favorite spot, but it's definitely not the most popular in town. Social clubs range from a barber shop in which a cluster of men are always hanging out neither shearing nor being sheared, a "cafe" that doesn't seem to serve up anything at all except the television in the corner and a tea house that has a perpetually steamed up front window and packed to the gills interior. The bright cafeteria style restaurants feed locals lentil soup and freshly baked pide. A few vaguely Australian themed places are waiting for the tourist season to begin again.
The fishmongers specialize in sardines and anchovies this time of year. Next to this little fish market, attached really, is a kebap joint. It looks like every other kebap place at first, except through the window there is a big bowl of fresh fish instead of a spinning shawarma. The smell of fry, grilled round bread, bowls of shredded lettuce, onion and sliced tomato are all the same but the finished product is decidedly local. The proprietor, popping his head through the to-go window, called us in for 'Balik Ekmek,' translating it literally to "Fish Bread!" It's a sandwich actually, wrapped in immediately grease-spotted paper with little blue and red dolphins on it. We dug right in to our perfect encapsulation of 'Turkish maritime.'