Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Sunday 27 April: Farewell dinner

At the Panorama Restaurant, it was too cool to sit outdoors but we went upstairs between courses to admire (and be gobsmacked, yet again, by) the view from the rooftop. The Istanbul skyline was studded with domes and minarets, glowing in the late evening sun. Ships sailed past on the Bosphorus, seabirds wheeled overhead and at eye-level in various directions we could see other rooftop diners also enjoying the view from their own rooftop restaurants. As the sky darkened, many of the buildings were lit up, the bridge was illuminated in stripes of blue and red and a fireworks display burst out over the water.

Our meal was punctuated with speeches and toasts: to “Graeme and the team”, to the Volunteers, to Baris our guide, to “our changed views of Gallipoli”, to “the production team at the Efes brewery” (in tribute to several good nights of celebrations) and, more seriously, to “those who were at Gallipoli in 1915.” Jim, who left the group on our return to Istanbul to join another tour, came back (with his wife, Jan, just arrived from Sydney) to join in the fun. Travel plans for the next week or two were discussed (Vienna, Rome, London) and a birthday cake was brought out for Vin, who celebrated his birthday on Saturday, with a rousing chorus of “happy birthday to you”.

We were especially touched that the team leaders, who were as tired post-Gallipoli as the rest of us, had found time to prepare a gift for each of us: a personalised set of prints, including team photos and smaller group photos taken in various locations. There were lots of nice things (all true) said about Baris, who has made such a huge difference to the trip and taught us so much about the Turkish view of Gallipoli.

Our wonderful guide Baris in action
We all feel a sense of accomplishment at what we have achieved, and it’s hard to believe that the trip is nearly over, after all the months of planning and anticipation. It hardly seems any time at all since the team came together at Singapore Airport, and at the same time it feels like years ago as so much has happened since then. We’ve eaten together, shopped together, Turkish-bathed together, partied together (some more than others!) and shared our backgrounds and family stories. Some of us have shared rooms (thank you Leonie for being a great room-mate!)

We've celebrated three birthdays, for Fran, Simone and Vin. We've compared purchases and found out who are the best bargainers Luckily only a couple of people (no names) came down with tummy bugs, and there were plenty of nurses around to give good advice and hand out stocks of travel medicine.There are catch phrases that we’ve come to know (“Lord love ya”, that’ll be you, Simone!) and some team members have been given nicknames: Major Tom, Peter the Great and, in true Aussie fashion, Shorty and Curly (from which you can maybe guess how tall Mick is, and how much hair Jin has, or hasn’t).

But along with all the fun times, there has been a real sense of purpose and dedication, which has made this a unique time for everyone. As Graeme said, our experiences leading up to Anzac Day and on the day itself have created a bond not only with each other but with all the Red Coats of preceding years. We’ve all visited the sites, talked about our individual soldiers, survived the hectic hours as buses arrive and the long hours helping people through the night and then, half asleep on our feet, taken in the dawn service and the services at Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair.

On Monday, the group starts to head off in different directions, starting with Marc who has a 3.30am pick up at the hotel; then Andrea, Rosemary, Anna and me at 5.30am; then 15 people going back to Australia and NZ, Jim and his wife on a cruise down the Bosphorus, .Jane and Nicky to explore Cappadocia, Tom to walk the length of England and Scotland (we know it will be no problem for him!)

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