Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Istanbul : Gremlins and Ottomans

"Miss Jillian, yes, you can have visa for lran but no visa machine so you can't"
"What?" I said rearranging my headscarf for the 'enth time while bending down to look at Mustava, the visa man at the lranian embassy who was also nearly on his knees trying to bend down to look back at me through the tiny semi-circle cut out of the brown glassed wall that separated us.
"Visa-making machine broken" he said. "maybe one week and fixed. so no visa for you"
"Erm, shall I come back tomorrow?"
"Yes, maybe you try"
It became a daily ritual: leaving my friend Gulin's airy apartment in Bostanci on the Asian side of Istanbul, taking a bus to Kadikoy, jumping on the ferry, drinking a cay while relishing the magnificent Istanbul skyline as I crossed the Bosphorus, disembarking at Galata Bridge, walking up the steep hill to the embassy, rearranging my headdress while knocking on the ornate door. The doorman always giving me a beaming smile and a "welcome back", Mustava in his neat grey suit smiling apologetically, peeping back at me through the semi circle and informing me that "no, visa machine broken still". And we both smiled and shrugged our shoulders and said "see you tomorrow"

After the 4th day I asked if perhaps they could handwrite me a visa in my passport and use an official looking stamp. Yes and no, he'd spoken to Tehran and even though they said that would be fine and that they would inform the border police he was worried that it may cause problems for me at the border and so it may be best to wait.. and so I waited...

Yet the opportunity to spend time with my friend and former colleague Gulin more than made up for this delay.  I'd arrived at hers greasy and grubby- my last shower being in Bulgaria- yet delighted that I'd reached Istanbul in one piece. I watched on helplessly (giggling) as Gulin tried to squeeze my bike into her lift

 A little routine soon started. Me getting up each day to go the lranian embassy, returning, looking at my panniers and contents in her spare room - emptying them, repacking them, moving them around the room a bit then emptying them - and meeting Gulin each evening after she'd finished work..
"have you got everything else sorted?"
"no, still some blogging and sorting out of bags to do"
She'd laugh and ask if Crocodile Dundee had eaten and I'd say yes constantly, all day, and she'd muster up a delightful dish of borek or take me out to a stunning restaurant on the banks of the Bosphorus and assist with my Istanbul 3 kg weight gain.

I also spent time ambling round this magnificent city. Napoleon had once said “If the Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital” and with its enviable tradelane position straddling both Asia and Europe, coupled with its magnificent Ottoman  archictecture and vibrant city life then you can understand why

Yet there was also Sarah, a friend who had a business trip in Turkey and we had 4 fine days in the Grand Hyatt - C.Dundee nabbing the shower caps for Brooks saddle covers, daily stuffing minature shampoo into my pannier, bemoaning the price of an espresso and stealing her skinny jeans. We walked and trammed it: exploring the treasures of Sultanahmet, listening in awe to the sounds of the muzzein calling to prayer, catching up and reminiscing trips to South America, winter camping in Chamonix, festivals and our time working in well as being accidental tourists..

On Day 14 of Istanbul I returned to the embassy..and the very same day I was emblazoned in all my cringeworthy headdressed glory on to a page of my passport. 30 day visa for the lslamic Republic of lran. Tick.

This taste of home, friends, familiarity and security had been a much needed tonic and I wondered how and if I could return to my life on the road, yet when I found myself walking past a grassy patch, inhaling the musty dankness, I felt an affinity with it. C Dundee was ready to hit the road again..


  1. Dundee!! How did I miss this post :( Lovely reading it and re-living it bit by bit :) xoxo

  2. Loving the visa photo :)