Archive for the ‘anzac’ Category

ANZAC 2013, Gallipoli: Lest we forget

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

An ANZAC recount by Topdeck Trip Leader, Luke Vandenhurk.

The first day on our ANZAC trip included visiting Istanbul’s majestic Blue Mosque, carrying our shoes whilst attempting to count the 20,000 ornate blue tiles. We wandered through the famed Hagia Sophia, brought fez hats in the Grand Bazaar, went cruising on the Bosphorus and finished the day watching belly dancers work their magic whilst enjoying a three-course Turkish feast (well they were dancing and we were eating).

Following on from our traditional Turkish feast we visited the seaside resort town of Kusadasi where we enjoyed some sunshine, local Efes beer and a hat-themed party in the nearby Pacha nightclub. Some of the other guys on the trip must have been inspired by the belly-dancing show the night before and proceeded to emulate the moves on-stage. Posthumous best-hat awards go to the guy with a watermelon on his head and second prize for the girl sporting the hotels’ complimentary shower-cap all night!

On-route to Gallipoli we stopped at the ancient city of Troy, said to be the setting of the legendary Trojan War in the 13th Century BC. Whilst sadly Brad Pitt and Rose Byrne were no longer there, a large wooden horse remains, which I thought to be equally as interesting. After obligatory photos in front of the Camilla Parker Bowles lookalike, we set off on a ferry across the Dardanelles Strait and onto Anzac Cove.

As the gates opened at 6pm, the masses of Aussie and Kiwi pilgrims quickly descended on the grassy slopes of Anzac Cove. It was a serene, peaceful night, with the fall moon casting an amber glow across the Aegean Sea. The ceremony begun with a moving account of the ANZACs treacherous landing some 98 years ago. As we listened in silence, the cool night air barely gave a hint to the harsh realities the soldiers would have faced as they struggled ashore on that very day in 1915. A respectful atmosphere prevailed through the night with a sea of sleeping bags and national flags surrounding the 5000 people camped out under the stars.

The morning Dawn Service was followed by a trek up to Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair, to watch the Australian and New Zealand memorial services. The well-worn path giving some clues to the rough terrain and steep cliffs the soldiers would have fought on carrying their 30kg packs. The seven kilometre route gave us all time to reflect on the 11,500 ANZACs that died in the Gallipoli campaign.

We saw Turkish and Allied tunnels built so close together that the ‘diggers’ could hear the enemy at work. We listened to stories of bravery, heroism, sacrifice and mateship from the 8-and-a half month campaign. We watched the documentaries detailing events from Turkish, Australian and New Zealand perspectives. We touched the soil that holds so many lost sons. But most of all we felt the Anzac Spirit that was created at Gallipoli and today manifests itself proudly in the hearts of Australians and New Zealanders around the world.

Over the course of our trip we ate many kebabs, haggled with shop vendors, enjoyed 4 star hotel luxury, ate some more kebabs and saw some pretty amazing sights along the way. Most importantly, we had the opportunity to witness an intensely moving ceremony which brought to light the incredible sacrifices made by the ANZAC soldiers for the young nations of Australia and New Zealand.

Lest we forget.

2014 will mark the 99th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing and you can experience all the history, culture, adventure and fun on any of our ANZAC packages. For information on the 100th anniversary, please contact

Turkey: Istanbul & Beyond

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Bustling markets, ancient ruins, beautiful cities and mouth watering food: Topdeck Travel’s operations assistant Courtney experiences everything Turkey has to offer.

by Courtney Smith

Jump! At the Acropolis in Pergamon

Jump! At the Acropolis in Pergamon

As I prepared for my trip to Turkey I lost count of the friends and co-workers who raved about how much they loved Istanbul. I heard the culture and history was incredible, the people were friendly and the food was cheap and delicious. So naturally I stepped out of Ataturk Airport with some pretty high expectations! And yet, as my taxi cruised past the sparkling ocean and gardens overflowing with colourful tulips on that warm sunny April evening, my first moments in Istanbul still managed to blow me away.

I was lucky enough to spend six nights in Istanbul; three with my awesome Topdeck group and a further three of post-accommodation. This might seem like a lot of time, but there is just so much to see and do in this amazing city.

We gazed in awe at the stunning interior of the Blue Mosque, wandered the ancient architectural wonder turned museum Hagia Sophia, admired the picturesque gardens and bejewelled treasures of Topaki Palace, and ventured underground into the eerily beautiful ancient cistern.

Library of Celcus, Ephesus

Ancient Greek ruins at Ephesus

We cruised down the Bosphorus Strait with Europe on our left and Asia on our right as waiters tempted us with delicious Turkish beer (“EFES? EFES!”).

We enjoyed a three-course Turkish feast and laughed as a belly-dancer got quite intimate with a fellow passenger, sampled shisha and watched our trip leader blow perfect smoke rings. Believe it or not this was all in the first 24 hours!

And there’s plenty to see in Turkey besides its magnificent capital.

The next day found us wandering the markets of Bursa which seemed to sell a bizarre combination of silk, fresh fruit, live birds, and children’s formalwear.

We ducked into a tiny kebab store, which was clearly not used to tourists, where our friendly waiter Yusef pulled up a chair and attempted to hold a lively conversation with us despite our total lack of a common language.

We got a delicious meal and a lot of laughs out of that encounter and Yusef got a photo with the ladies of the group which was going straight onto his Facebook (the one English word he knew).

Kebab shop in Bursa & the friendly waiter Yusef

Kebab shop in Bursa & the friendly waiter Yusef

Turkey is also scattered with incredible ancient Greek and Roman ruins. We took a trip from the seaside town of Kusadasi to visit Ephesus where we marvelled at the Library of Celcus and saw perhaps the world’s first advertisement for a brothel carved into stone.

If you get bored of standing and smiling in front of ruins do what some members of my group did and try planking on a column at Pergamon’s Acropolis. The ancient Greeks might turn in their graves, but it made for a pretty hilarious photo.

Back in Istanbul I was glad I’d booked those extra nights. A big sleep-in was in order followed by a chance to explore the city at a more leisurely pace.

After unwinding from a full-on eight days with a traditional Turkish bath, we made our way to the Spice Bazaar and peeked through fences at the James Bond film set.

Exploring the massive Grand Bazaar

Exploring the massive Grand Bazaar

We spent a day strolling through the Grand Bazaar being tempted into stores by complimentary apple tea and arguing down prices on mosaic lamps and harem pants with a winning smile.

And the food…I could have happily lived off those mouth-watering 5 lira kebabs (roughly £1.80) for another few months and the freshly made sweet, sticky baklava was absolute heaven.

I’m not joking when I say I dreamed I was back a few nights ago, enjoying the sunshine as I searched for my favourite falafel and kebab restaurant – I have never woken up more disappointed or hungry.

Visit Turkey on one of Topdeck Travel’s many trips including hostel, hotel and in depth options. Courtney travelled to Turkey on Topdeck Travel’s ANZAC 8 Day Sortie.

France: All quiet on the Western Front

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Topdeck’s Billy Stewart reflects on his experience

Cobbers, Western Front

Given the opportunity to travel to southern Belgium and Northern France to visit the battlefields, cemeteries and memorials from WWI was always going to be a special adventure. As we boarded our coach, which would be our mode of transport for the next few days, a wave of anticipation was flowing through me.

Not only were we going to visit some very special places, it gave us a chance to reflect on the events which occurred almost 100 years ago.

For most of us we learn about the ‘Great War”, as it is often referred to, in high school. As we get older, some of us may gain a better understanding of what went on over here and why or what for. Not many of us, however, get the chance to visit the battlefields to pay our respects and to gain an intimate understanding of the sacrifices made by so many.

Tyne Cot Cemetary

Tyne Cot Cemetery

The first stop really set the tone for the rest of the trip: Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth Cemetery on the western front. Walking through the thousands of headstones, some marked ‘known unto god’, really hammers home the vast number of young men who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Most of them volunteers.

When reaching the end of the cemetery, the memorial to the missing with over 30,000 names whose bodies were never recovered, ensures a sombre end to our visit. Not much conversation is heard on the coach. The mood of reflection and sadness is tangible.

Next we make out way to one of the few German cemeteries in the area. Langemark was an area where 40,000 Germans lost their lives in a single battle, 3,000 of them being students not yet 18. It really hammers home the fact that there are always two sides to a war, and it was not just ‘us’ who suffered. The sheer number of casualties meant the British army had no choice but to bury the German soldiers here, one mass grave contained 25,000 bodies.



After dinner we make our way to the Menin Gate in Ypres, a town which saw 5 million Commonwealth soldiers walk through in the years of war, some of them never to return home.

It is hard to imagine that this beautiful place was reduced to ruin throughout the war. However, it is here that every night at 8pm since 1928, the Last Post Ceremony has taken place.

We were lucky enough to witness a regiment from Canada perform a military parade and place poppy wreaths at the foot of the memorial. Some 55,000 Commonwealth soldier’s names are inscribed into the gate, all with no known grave.

The following morning we travel back to the battlefields of Ypres, where we head to Hill 60, famous for being a place where Australian troops literally fought underground. Tunnelling their way into German territory to strike a decisive blow by literally blowing the top of the hill, with half a million kgs of explosives.

Walking through the preserved battlefields, past fragments of old explosives, bunkers and mine craters, is an experience Ill never forget. The sheer size of the crater left form the explosion takes your breath away.

Bomb crater! (Battle of the Somme)

As we head to our next memorial I am to meet a local called Johan. Expecting to be greeted in French or Flemish, I get a ‘G’day mate’.

Taken aback a little at first, over the next three hours it is evident that the war, in particular the Anzacs part in the war, have changed Johan’s live considerably.Johan lives on the edge of a wood where the front line once stood. There is a beautiful memorial and cemetery with thousands of Commonwealth graves, and one of the largest New Zealand memorials on the western front.

But that is not what makes Johan so special. Johan has dedicated his live to finding as many soldiers remains as possible. Mass graves exist everywhere here, and Johan tells of one story in particular that has the group on the edge of their seats.

Johan recently found the remains of an Australian soldier, thought to have died 90 years ago. News of this hit Australian media, and within 12 months, Johan was united with the family members of the soldier whom he discovered. An incredible story and an incredible man, Johan’s life long ambition is to open a visitors’ centre across form his restaurant. Still while searching for more soldiers.

On our third day, the whether sets in: dark, windy and rainy. I remind our group that we have the comfort of our coach, and to give some thought to how the soldiers must have felt. It is freezing outside.

After visiting more memorials in the morning, this afternoon we are to head to Thiepval memorial park. Thiepval is a special place for the British as it is where they lost 20,000 men in one day. The exhibition is one of the best on the western front, and outlines events of the war, in particular, the Battle of the Somme.

Walking under the vast expanse of the memorial to the missing, I make my way to the rear, where lies a small cemetery of British and French graves. Some 600 graves are located here, many of them found decades after the war. A fact that demonstrates how many men were still to be found decades after fighting ended, or indeed are still to be found today.

We move on to an area of 100 acres of preserved battlefield, where we are able to walk through trenches left behind. The wind and rain picks up as we meander through at a leisurely pace, stopping along the way to visit memorials to the Canadian and Scots who lost their lives on this very field. Once again, the mood on the coach is sombre.

Our fourth and final day of this incredible journey takes us to a small village called Villers-Bretonneux. A place etched in the memory of the Anzacs, as it was here on the night of April 24-25, three years after landing in Gallipoli, Australian troops moved up over fields to capture the village from the Germans, and strike a decisive blow for the Allied cause.

On the hill above Villers-Bretonneux, now stands the Australian memorial. Where each year on April 25, a dawn service is held to remember our fallen.

For me, it was a journey of remembrance, of reflection and understanding. For others it may be a pilgrimage, a right of passage. Whatever the reason, making the effort to visit this area will be a life changing experience.

Lest We Forget


Visit the Western Front on Topdeck’ s commemorative Western Front Easter trip leaving 29 March 2013 and the Anzac Day Western Front trip leaving 23 April 2013.

Turkey: An ANZAC Pilgrimage

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Topdeck’s Amelia Lawrence makes a pilgrimage to Gallipoli, to remember the fallen ANZACs.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to travel to Turkey will know what I mean when I say that the locals’ continuous use of the phrase “my friend” doesn’t seem false.  To wander through the streets of almost any Turkish town or city, the locals appear to be genuinely excited to meet and talk to visitors to their country.  Being regaled with stories of an uncle, sister or next door neighbour’s second cousin (twice removed) who now lives in your home country (“do you know them?”) seems to be a favourite past time of the Turks.

Lone Pine, Gallipoli

Lone Pine, Gallipoli

When we first arrived in Istanbul my travel companions and I had but one aim – to get to Gallipoli and see where the ANZACs landed in 1915.

We had done minimal (actually, zero) preparation for our trip and just knew we wanted to get to ANZAC Cove somehow.

Within moments of our arrival the friendly locals had welcomed us to their country and helped us organise our pilgrimage to Gallipoli, with a friendly local guide to give us an idea of what we were actually off to see.

As the location of one of the most well known landings in World War One, the Gallipoli peninsula today is a serene and beautiful area.  The first thing that you notice is the amazing landscape where the ANZACs landed in 1915 - calm, clear waters border the rugged coastline and from ANZAC Cove it all becomes clear to a modern day visitor simply how impenetrable the sheer cliffs must have seemed to the Diggers.

It is still possible to walk from ANZAC Cove to the Australian Memorial at Lone Pine.  The idea of a 3.1 kilometre dirt track may seem quite simple, but in reality it is anything but.  The walk takes travellers past Shrapnel Valley and Beach Cemeteries and then follows Artillery Road inland as it slopes uphill past Shell Green Cemetery to Lone Pine.

The dirt road and is steep and uneven in places and while only carrying our small day packs my companions and I are sweaty and short of breath as we reach Lone Pine.  Nevertheless, the Australian Memorial site stands out dramatically against the blue sky and beautiful national park background.  The sheer number of names of those lost on the memorial is overwhelming.

From Lone Pine it’s still another 3.2 kilometres to the New Zealand Memorial at Chunuk Bair.  The road slopes uphill past the Turkish 57th Regiment Memorial and even though it is tarred it is a hard slog.

We’re young, we’re fit – we’re all red, breathless and really starting to appreciate how much harder the ANZACs had it.  In fact, only our friendly guide seems to be fine with the walk, giving us details of exactly where skirmishes took place between the ANZACs and Ottomans and how many lives were lost.

The results once we reach Chunuk Bair are worth it.

The battle of Chunuk Bair has spawned many stories and legends about both the ANZAC and Ottoman troops and the area today tells a story you cannot put into words.

At the end of our day at Gallipoli, we are all both physically and emotionally exhausted.  To be able to stand and see where 97 years ago both the Australian and New Zealand nations started to forge their own individual identities, and to see where such fierce fighting during World War One took place, is something to behold.

It is easy to believe when Mustafa Kemal Attaturk told the mothers of the lost ANZAC soldiers that their sons “having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well” the words were truly meant by the Turkish nation as a whole.

Go to for more information about Topdeck’s range of trips to Turkey and Gallipoli, including dedicated ANZAC Day trips.