You know those moments when you realise you’ve made a MASSIVE mistake and your stomach drops away? Like when you text someone that the text message was about, or you find you missed two pages of the exam as they were stuck together, or discover that she’s actually a ladyboy? I had one of those moments yesterday. When I was stamped into Libya, I flicked excitedly through my passport only to discover the awful truth – my visa for Algeria expired that day, 28th February, yesterday.
I have never had a visa where the validity period lasted less than a month before – this one lasted just two and a half weeks. It never even occurred to me to look. I slapped my forehead like a Keystone Cop and muttered that this was another fine mess I’ve got me into.
WHY DIDN’T I GO TO ALGERIA ON FRIDAY?!?!?
Crikey – it didn’t seem like too big of a deal then, I could go on Monday – the ferry back to Italy didn’t leave until Tuesday anyway, it made no difference, right?
Wrong. It made ALL the difference.
Damn you Algeria. Damn you to hell. As I found out last time I was here, you can’t get an Algerian visa in Tunisia unless you are resident here, otherwise it’s back to London for you, young man.
Back to London?!
I would really, really like to get this whole silly adventure finished some time this year, I really would. I can’t afford to be making cock-ups like this, Graham you looooosertic.
Despairing for what else to do, I set off for the border anyway. Perhaps they won’t notice, maybe they’ll let me in anyway (they did in Nigeria and Cameroon), perhaps they’ll agree with me that it still is 28th February. In Hawaii.
Perhaps not. After a four-hour journey to the border I was to find that no, the visa was invalid and they weren’t going to let me in for love, nor money (I offered both).
Drat and double drat.
The border guys were friendly enough though. The guy I gave my passport to, his eyes lit up when he saw I was from Liverpool and he instantly wanted to talk to me about football. There was another guy who looked a little like Peter Sellers who spoke very good English and he was chatting to me about how welcome I was in Algeria, and how good it was to have tourists again, especially ones from England… things were looking hopeful… but then the boss came out, said an emphatic NO and I was sent packing.
All that time and effort for nothing. Nothing!! The Tunisians invalidated my exit stamp and back I came. I hopped a taxi back to Tabarka, the first town after the border, and then plunged back into a louage (shared minibus) for the disheartening trip back to Tunis.
Dja recommended that I try at the Algerian Embassy here in Tunis. I wasn’t optimistic, but any port in a storm and all that. The guys on the border reckoned I could ‘easily’ extend the visa for free. I believed that as far as I could spit. I spent a good hour in a taxi fighting through the traffic going to the wrong place (the Algerian consulate moved last month!) and eventually, at 10.30am, I was at the embassy waving my passport about and pleading for an extension. It expired on my birthday, for heaven’s sake… my birthday!!
I was left waiting for an hour or so, and then I was told I needed a hotel booking, so I headed over to the café across the road and prayed that they had wireless. To my immense relief, they did. Lindsey Bennett, my most excellent chum from my schooldays, was conveniently visiting Mandy in Oz, and she speaks much better French than I, so I found the hotels on the internet and set her loose on them. It took an absolute AGE, but eventually, we had email confirmation from a hotel in Annaba, the first big city after the Algerian border. By this point, Claire, who was only working half day, had finished work and had come to meet me (work just being around the corner – you see, sometimes the island conspires to help me out) and so we rushed over to her school and got the hotel reservation printed out (god knows how I would have done that without Claire).
I presented my reservation, passport size photos and photocopies. The lady in the embassy told me to come back tomorrow and ‘a decision will be made’. It sounded ominous.
I knew from bitter experience that the Algerians will not dole out visas unless you’re a resident here. I hoped against hope that they would make an exception for me, since my visa only expired 48 hours ago. I did not like the idea of a decision being made any more than Doug likes the cone of shame.
So Claire and I had an afternoon in Tunis with nought-else to do and so I suggested a little trip to Carthage, the third great city state of the Med, forming a trading/fighting partnership with Ancient Rome and Athens. It was a fairly short trip on the train, but I (sadly) must report that, just like the Temple of Artimus at Ephesus, there ain’t much left to see. But squint your eyes, use a bit of imagination and maybe you’ll see it as it was before the Romans razed the place to the ground and then (for good measure) sew salt into the Earth so nothing would grow.
We were on top of a large hill overlooking the harbour, which was once housed a circular colonnaded dock with a smaller covered boat depot in the centre, also circular, with long thin wooden vessels sticking out the middle like bicycle spokes. The city would have risen up via shops, dwellings, bath-houses and amphitheatres until it reached the now-ruined palace in which we now stood and as perhaps Hannibal once stood before setting out with his army of elephants to cross the Alps and eating a census-takers liver.
Just imagine for a moment what it must have been like for the hapless Romans when this brilliant nutter turned up on the Northern Frontier with a load of elephants looking for a fight and you’d never seen an elephant before. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I’d do is get all Legolas on Dumbo’s ass – I’d run for the hills and hope they couldn’t climb trees.
So after a quick scan around the museum (as always I love the sculpture, hate the broken bits of pottery) we headed back to Tunis. Claire had to go teach her night-class, but as she had a hot shower in her gaff (Dja didn’t) she let me use the facilities while she was away. Bad move! The place was a one-room dwelling and as such I managed to flood her entire flat! You see when you take your glasses off to have a shower, you can’t see too well and you really can’t see that the water is leaking out all place, and when you notice that the water isn’t draining as it should, it’s already too late. Nightmare!
So I did my best to mop the mess up and sheepishly opened up my laptop to check my emails and read the news.
What THE HELL?
“BBC to Axe 6music.”
What? Seriously, WHAT?
A few months ago, I was invited to a facebook group called “help save 6music!” or something. I dismissed it out of hand, wary of the far too many daffy emails saying that hotmail/Wikipedia/the child abuse section of the South African police force/the UN was being shut down and that only my digital Hancock at the bottom of the list could save it from oblivion.
But there it was on the BBC website: my favourite radio station, BBC 6music is to close. At first I thought I was seeing things. Maybe my brain was just aching from all the Algerian nonsense, I don’t know. But there it was, unarguable… the BBC were going to close down 6music.
ARE THEY MAD?!
It would seem so. The thing is this: there is no alternative radio station to 6music. There are awful local commercial stations that provide a decent alternative to the chundering ego-fest of bad DJs and worse music that is Radio 1. There are local BBC stations, such as Radio Merseyside, that might as well be called Radio 2 and a bit. Radio 3 is in direct competition with Classic FM and Radio 5live covers the same ground as every talk radio station in the realm.
But what of BBC 6music – the ‘alternative’ music station? The truth is that there is no alternative, I guess that’s why we call it the alternative station. I suppose Xfm or MTV2 back in the 90s could have held a torch to it, but these days, forget it – the only British radio station that plays the music I like (and I like a lot of music) is Radio 6.
Apparently, this is to save money, all the £8,000,000 a year that is spent to keep things up and running. Don’t forget – the BBC pays a blanket fee each year to PPS and PRS so they can use all the copyrighted music they want, that money just goes on wages and production costs. A bargain if you ask me – it breaks down to less than £1,000 an hour of broadcast. Compare that to, say, EastEnders, and you’re easily looking at £1,000,000 for each hour of broadcast.
Anyway, the BBC are now going to have one hell of a fight on their hands, on the day of the announcement 100,000 people joined the facebook group to get this dumb decision overturned.
What’s funny is that if the beeb suddenly announced it was closing the BBC3 television channel, I reckon the facebook protest group would consist of about ten people and a lost dog. I can’t see too many people having their nose put out of joint at the loss of such must-see TV as “Snog, Marry, Avoid?”, “Three Non-Blondes”, “My Penis and Me” and an utterly superfluous repeat of that night’s Eastenders.
Anyway, if you’re not from the UK, I guess you won’t have a clue what I’m on about, but if you head over to bbc.co.uk/6music, you might get a hint at how much this plucky little radio station has become a national institution in less than a decade. If you are from the UK, please join the facebook group.
Whilst I was still Raging against the Machine, Claire returned to the flat with a young student who was getting some extra English tuition as I walked over to the front door to let them in my foot went SPLOSH into a rather large puddle of water that I had somehow missed when I was cleaning up earlier. God, how embarrassing. I apologised profusely to Claire and then got out while the going was good.
You can’t do a lap of Africa. It’s impossible, I think. You could try to, as you can try to get across the Darien Gap that separates Central and South America, but you’d be very lucky to make it. You see you can go like this (off the top of my head): Morocco > Western Sahara > Maurtania > Senegal > Gambia > Senegal > Guinea-Bissau > Guinea > Sierra Leone> Liberia > Cote d’Ivoire > Ghana > Togo > Benin > Nigeria > Cameroon > Gabon > Congo > DR Congo > Angola > Namibia > South Africa > Swaziland > Mozambique > Malawi > Tanzania > Kenya > Ethiopia > Sudan > Egypt > Libya > Tunisia > Algeria…
But then you’d get stuck in Algeria… the border between it and Morocco is closed, has been for years, and is very unlikely to open any time in the future. You could probably make it through to Western Sahara, but there are so many Moroccan police checkpoints there, I think the only way you could do it would be with forged papers (never a good idea). Which is a shame, as driving a lap of Africa could become the new adventure holiday extravaganza.
If you’re frickin’ insane.
I guess your best bet would be to come over on the ferry from Spain to Morocco and go back on the ferry from Tunisia to Italy and just leave Algeria out of the equation. Which is a shame as the people of Algeria would probably quite like to see you.
I got to the embassy first thing in the morning and handed over my passport and another thirty quid. Things were looking good. I had to wait an hour or so (typical) but presently the lady returned with a my passport, and in it was my visa, the illusive access-all-areas pass to Algeria.
I rushed back to Dja’s place to pick up some stuff, and then (after a major argument with my taxi driver who purposely took me all around the houses) I jumped in a louage back to the bloomin’ Algerian border for the THIRD time of asking. I didn’t want to be hanging around, so as soon as I arrived in Tabarka I was in a cab and on the border. I got there at about 3pm.
The border between Tunisia and Algeria is up in the mountains and boy was it cold and wet and miserable. The Tunisian border guards laughed at me – silly English bloke going back and forth. The jolly Algerian border guy who spoke English was excited to see me, but a little perplexed as to why I could just, you know, extend my visa. I told him that I was just as perplexed as he was. He asked me how long I was staying. I tried to explain that I’d only be here for a few hours, but he was having none of it – he had already set me up to get a lift in a shared taxi to the town of El Kala, a few miles down the road. It dawned on me that I was going to have to bite the bullet and stay the night. After all this palaver, if I left tonight they would think I was up to something, and I have no intention of being thrown in an Algerian detention centre.
THUMP! Down came the entry stamp. I was in.
Halfway to El Kala we got stopped by the Algerian security forces. ‘Oh god, here we go’ I thought, wishing I had got out the taxi 100 metres down the road and walked straight back to Tunisia. They took me out of the car and took me to a small building at the side of the road and asked me a ton of questions. For some reason they were completely convinced I was an American, so my British passport didn’t half weird them out. Yes folks – my LAST Francophone African country and LO AND BEHOLD I get a ton of grief of the Powers That Be. What a SURPRISE!
Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Cameroon, Congo, Djibouti and now Algeria… what is with the old French colonies, man? I can see the meeting of the Algerian Liberation Army in the 1950s:
REG: What have the French ever done for us eh?
Barry puts his hand up.
BARRY: Squat toilets?
REG: Yeah, well, they did do that…
STAN: Introduced dizzying levels of bureaucracy?
REG: Okay, bureaucracy… and…?
JUSTINE: Unjustified arrogance?
REG: Fine. Okay. Apart from the squat toilets, the dizzying levels of bureaucracy and the unjustified arrogance, WHAT have the French ever done for us?
STAN: Incompetent plumbing?
After half and hour they let me go and I arrived in El Kala before nightfall, checking into the Marsa hotel. My room smelt of effluent and the television only had one channel, but for four quid including breakfast I wasn’t going to start complaining. Something you should know about Algeria – everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) closes at 6pm. I went out at seven to try and find a bite to eat – all I found was a ghost town. I wandered about in the dark for about an hour before I stumbled over a little café which was showing the football – a pre-World Cup friendly between Serbia and Algeria. Serbia won 3-0. Bodes well for England eh?
I grabbed a hamburger (traditional Algerian dish I guess) and after the final whistle, returned to my lonely hotel room and fell fast asleep, dreaming of the day when I can tick the last that one last country off my ‘Africa’ list. At this rate, that day may well be many months away.
The town of El Kala was undoubtedly a rather pleasant one, a sleepy fishing village that would have gone down will with the tourists before the civil war of the 1990s that ripped Algeria apart and set the tourists packing, presumably for Morocco instead.
In the centre is a dilapidated old cathedral, beautiful in it’s worn, craggy features and down in the water are hundreds of little wooden fishing boats, much as it would have been in the past and yet still is today. I filmed some kids playing football (they demanded!) in the streets and grabbed myself a cup of coffee before jumping a taxi back to the border. No Algerian Security Services this time, just a clear run back to Tunisia.
A boat would be leaving from Tunis for Italy at 8pm tonight and it had my name on it.
At the border I was thankful that my English-speaking friend wasn’t there, it would have been just too awkward to explain that I couldn’t stay in his country any longer, he was so keen for me to come in, stay for a while and have a great time. In the shared taxi back down the mountain to Tabarka in Tunisia I got chatting with a lovely guy called Achraf who worked in Algeria and told me that I had really missed out not seeing Annaba – apparently, nothing new had been built there since the 1950s. Sounds like my idea of heaven. Could you imagine a concrete-less town? Hell, I’ve been around the world and (I-I-I-) I can’t find my unmarred city.
But that will have to be an adventure for another day. By the afternoon I was back in Tunis. I met up with Claire, giving her a towel I bought to say sorry for flooding her flat. We then went on a most excellent adventure in search of food and beer. After saying my goodbyes, I headed back to Dja’s place, catching him when he finished work to say ta-ra and grab my backpack.
A taxi to the port and a purchased ticket saw me doing all I needed to do to get on with The Odyssey – I was FINALLY heading back to Istanbul after a completely unwelcome, immensely costly and time-consuming back-track.
Well it’s taken me the best part of a year, but I’ve done it, I visited every African nation it is possible to visit overland. Eritrea will have to wait until I manage to find some way to get there on a boat, but for now I’m done with in this infernal, infuriating place.
And so I found myself lashed to the mast on the grim grimness that is the Grimaldi ferry. And you thought going to the Aldi Supermarket on a wet Wednesday afternoon was pretty grim… my word, you ain’t seen nothing. On board the ‘Sorrento’ for the forth AND UTTERLY FINAL time, I found myself without a bench seat to lay on and therefore had to make do with two cafeteria chairs pushed together.
I woke up with the worst backpain I’ve ever had. They still hadn’t cleaned the toilets (I don’t think they every do) and the three flushing toilets (no urinals, that would be extravagant) were covered, utterly covered in poorly-aimed Arab piss. I had to hitch up my jeans and kick the seat up with my foot. Nice.
At £2.50 for a can of Coke, you can probably guess that I elected to eat and drink as little as possible on this infernal ferry. There was no shop on board, only a terrible joke of a duty-free thing that only sold massive bottles of whiskey and cigarettes at extortionate process (negating the whole point of duty-free, but doesn’t it always?). What’s more, they wouldn’t except (or change) Tunisian Dinars. Quite why is anyone’s guess – surely they could turn a buck or two trading Euros for Dinars and visa-versa? Obstinately not. Idiots. We stopped off in Sicily along the way and I was actually rather tempted to make a break for it, but considering I had spent over eighty quid on the damn ticket (that’s ONE WAY folks!) I thought it best to stick with it through to the end. Incidentally, the price for a ticket on the overnight ferry from Italy to Greece? FIFTEEN EURO. Sorry GRIMaldi Lines, but I hate being ripped off. You’ve made it onto my list of things that SUCK!
Transport that SUCKS:
Small Dirty Cargo Boats
Transport that ROCKS:
Latin American Buses
I wrote up my blog and read The Odessa File by Fredrick Forsyth (donated by Dja, thanks!) and prayed that we arrived early in Salerno, the port for Naples. Ha! No chance – we were four hours late! Arriving at midnight to find there were no taxis whatsoever waiting, I hung around in the FREEZING COLD for about an hour after one of the guys who worked in the port rang a taxi, or something, I don’t know what it was, but it didn’t seem to be ringing a taxi. Then another guy from the port who spoke a bit of English actually rang a taxi and within five minutes it had arrived.
My gratitude for the warmth of the taxi soon evaporated into fury at the cost of the damn thing. At €17 for a ten-minute ride I felt more than a little ripped off. What a rotten day. What a rotten world. May a plague of locusts bite off their rotten faces.
I stayed the night in the Koine Hostel, a decent enough place, but with that cold puritan edge that sucks all warmth, happiness and laughter out of most European Hostels. The shared showers didn’t make me too happy, especially as one of the guys I was sharing my dorm with was as weird as they come – I pushed the bench up against the door lest I was forced to share my nudie space with some half-deranged Johnny Foreigner. A bit excessive having five showers to myself, but sod it, I’m not in jail any more.
The train for Bari, the port from whence would depart my ferry for Greece, left at 2pm, so I had myself a lovely little mooch around the rather spanking town of Salerno. With hills cascading down to the sea, tons of old buildings and a tree-lined promenade along the bay, I found myself irresistibly drawn to the place, damn it – why can’t Liverpool be this beautiful?
So soon enough I was on the train to Bari. Well, actually it was two trains. The first cost me a respectable €4, but the second (it was a Eurostar) is presumably owned by a British company, since they seem to have no concept of what the ‘public’ in the term ‘public transportation’ is referring to and therefore cost me €40. Not quite the gobsmacking no-wonder-these-trains-are-empty fleeceathon that typifies Virgin Trains (upon which the British public are expected to subsidise Richard Branson’s Spaceships for the über-rich), but bad enough.
And then (stay on your toes Odyssey-boy!) on arrival in Bari I jumped in a taxi only to be shown a piece of paper and be told that it was a fixed charge to the port of €20. I considered getting the bus, but given the boat was due to depart in an hour, and the port must be a long long way away in order to qualify for this extortionate rate. But no – it was around the FRICKIN’ corner, wasn’t it??
I HATE taxi-drivers. From East to West, North to South they are only one rung up on the pond-life index above politicians and wife-beaters.
The boat was good, though. I had an airline-style seat all to myself, a plug socket by my feet to charge up my stuff and the beer was only a couple of Euro for a bottle. There was a party atmosphere on board (in contrast to the Sorrento which was like a floating morgue) and, best of all, the trip to Greece cost me just €15. Superfast Ferries, you ROCK MY WORLD!
The ferry ploughed head-first into the Greek port of Igoumenitsa at around 6am (it was still 5am for me) and speedy disembarkation was encouraged… mmm… no passport controls… nice! Whilst sleepily trudging across the car park I noticed that there was a bus marked “Istanbul” waiting picking up passengers off the ship. Must be some sail & ride scheme or something. Not wanting to waste a minute, I knocked on the door and asked for a ticket. The driver’s mate asked for €80. I offered €50 and that seemed to work. Lucky it did, the bus took off before I got to my seat.
No time for love, Dr. Jones…
Igoumenitsa is not the most attractive of towns, so it wasn’t too much of a heartbreak to bypass it and head straight towards Thessaloniki through some of the most scrumptious countryside in the world. Not wanting to sound too much like somebody who skips without the rope, the wild flowers of Greece are the envy of Europe, where we’ve murdered them all with herbicidal crop-spray. The first colours of Spring were making their presence felt and I couldn’t help but feel like the rest of us are damn well missing out on something here.
The day seemed to fly by and before I knew it I was approaching planet Istanbul. I was last in Istanbul on the 3rd of February, so that’s over a month just to go to two damn countries – Libya and Algeria. I hope this isn’t an omen for what is to come over the next few months. But it probably is. Welcome to the chapter of this adventure that I’m planning to entitle MY VISA HELL.
My drivers were exceedingly keen to get us to Istanbul on time, so much so they actually swapped over whilst doing 70mph on a freeway. A little terrifying, but even so the bus still was late getting to old Constantinople. I felt a little bad turning up at my prospective CouchSurf host’s house in the middle of the night, so instead I made my way to the Oriental International Hostel in delightful doontoon Sultanahmet, the UNESCO World Heritage Area and home of the famously Blue Mosque. There I met Greg, an American guy who was doing the old travel/work type thang and helping out in the hostel in return for free board and beer. I ended up having a little to drink before crashing out in my bed at some ungodly hour of the night.
Woke up at a respectable time and headed over to the Iranian Embassy all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I jumped in a taxi only to find it would have been a five minute walk. If that.
And so mere seconds later (and €5 lighter) I waltzed into the Embassy and gave the bearded chap behind the visa window my reference number (given so I could pick my visa up ‘straight away’)… sadly I was told that my reference number wasn’t valid.
I paid CHRISTKNOWSHOWMUCH for this damn number. Are you on crack?
Try again tomorrow.
Not to be phased by this unfortunate turn of events, I then jumped in a taxi and asked him to take me to the Azerbaijan Embassy. MORE TAXI FUN! To be fair he DID bother putting his meter on, but then he drove in circles around the one way streets of Sultanahmet in order to ask directions off his mate, and then he proceeded to take the longest possible route to our destination. By the time the meter was up to €18 I demanded to get out. I didn’t care that we were on a freeway, I wanted OUT. You have to understand, a usual cross-town taxi fare is €5. To get there on public transport would be €1.50. This guy was, like all taxi drivers, just a scumbag rip-off merchant out to smear the otherwise good name of taxi drivers.
I found out later that if he had taken the bridge nearest the hostel, it would have been no more than €5, but I digress…
So, it’s drizzling with rain and I don’t know where the hell I am, but I manage to make my way down off the overpass and onto the main street below. Having buried my menly-men-never-ask-for-help pride a long time ago, I asked a couple of lads which way to go. Being awesomely awesome, they elected to accompany me there on the Metro. About twenty minutes later I was outside the Azerbaijan embassy only to find it closed for the day.
Public holiday, see?
Great. So I hurried to Istanbul for WHAT exactly? For WHAT? The reason I went to the Azerbaijan Embassy was to extend my visa – as with my visa for Libya AND Algeria, it ran out on the 28th February. Quite why they can’t give you a visa with SLIGHTLY more leeway, I have NO FRICKIN’ CLUE, but there you go.
I thanked my co-conspirators profusely and headed over to the nearby shopping centre to unlock my Turkish SIM card (dopey over here forgot the PIN) and lo-and-behold A BRIGHT SPOT ON THE HORIZON! I found a brand new deck of Bicycle Playing Cards for sale in a bookshop. I went from sulky mook to beaming loon in less than a second. Simple minds, simple pleasures.
One annoying thing about the public transport in Istanbul is that you can’t buy a through-ticket. That means that every time you get off one bit of transportation onto another you have to pay another couple of Turkish Lira. This is, as you can imagine, quite irritating, especially when to get back to the Sultanahmet from the Azerbaijani Embassy you have to take the subway, a funicular and a tram.
I got back to the hostel in no mood for anything but beer, and beer is what I got. My roomie, Atheer, has to be the most unique person on the planet. Not only is he a Palestinian Israeli (shurely shome mishtake?), he’s also an atheist. Which made growing up in the most religion-obsessed region of the solar-system somewhat, er, interesting and put him in the rather singular position of being able to view the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict stripped of all that divine-right mumbo-jumbo. He did get beaten up in school somewhat though, atheism presumably being the least popular option on the curriculum.
Later, Atheer, Greg and I hit the town, or more specifically Taksim on the north side of the Golden Horn (teehee), looking for trouble. We had a couple of beers but to be fair, it was Monday night and town was deader than a dodo who slept with Stalin’s wife. We got back to the hostel at eek-I’m-scared-to-look-at-my-watch o’clock.
A footnote to my philanderings: If I had not messed up with Algeria, I would have got into Istanbul late last Friday night, so it would have made 100% no difference whatsoever as the embassies are closed over the weekend. FACT!
Scraping my face from my pillow, I headed back to the Iranian Embassy (this time I walked) with a shiny new reference number. The embassy’s only open for two hours in the morning, so I tried to get there in good time, but after making me wait an hour they asked for a photocopy of the page in my passport that had my Turkish visa stamp in it. I hurried back to the hostel to get it copied, then headed to the bank to pay in the WHOPPING €95 visa charge (most expensive in the world so far, I reckon), but by the time I got back to the embassy, it had closed. I’d have to come back tomorrow. Damnit.
Oh well, I thought, I’ll head over to the Azerbaijan Embassy and get my other visa sorted. A long tram-funicular-metro ride later, I got to the Embassy only to be told my Azerbaijan Visa was now about as much use as the pope’s nik-naks. I had to get a whole new visa. This meant coming back the next day with a ton of paperwork and they’d see what they could do.
I was going nowhere very slowly indeed.
Again I headed back to the hostel, but I thought (in my infinite wisdom) that it would be a good idea to walk down the hill from Taksim station to the tram stop and save myself that 75cents that it would otherwise cost to use the funicular thingy. Given it was foggy, raining and I didn’t have a map, this was possibly a very silly thing to do. And it was! I walked down the wrong side of the hill, wandered about for half-an-hour before I found the water and, being unable to find the tramlines or indeed the bridge that the tram travels south to Sultanahet on I instead jumped on the first ferry that I assumed was popping over the Golden Horn (woot! snark!) for my side of the briney.
But today wasn’t my day, it really wasn’t. I ended up in frickin’ ASIA before I finally managed to get on the right blooming boat. TWO HOURS it took. It takes 30 seconds to cross the Galata bridge on the tram. I felt like a blonde in a blonde joke.
NEW RULE: Don’t go ANYWHERE without a map.
EVENTUALLY, I was back in the cosy warmth of the backpackers enjoying a beer with my new chums, which had now spread to include Iwona, a book-publisher from Poland and her fella from Tunisia who (unlucky for him!) tried to take Atheer on on the matter of godlessness. I also found out that Atheer can speak Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, Bulgarian, English and French. I might just be his biggest fan. On the wrong side of the witching hour, we took over the rooftop café and drank until the wee small hours with a couple of British lasses who happened to be studying at my old university, and I found myself in the completely weird position of actually attempting to steer the conversation away religion and politics…
I dropped the passport, photos, photocopies and receipts off at the Iranian Embassy, expecting a ‘great stuff Graham, here’s your visa!’, but instead got a ‘come back tomorrow’. One more night in Istanbul, then? Humph. Sans passport, there was little I could do about getting my Azerbaijan nightmare solved today, but I went to the embassy anyway to make sure everything was in order.
I was told that the Letter of Invitation which I had paid £80 for was now invalid. Why? Because it was addressed to London, not Istanbul. So what?! I hear you cry. Man, this lot LOVE their paperwork. Just love it. Like a teenage boy likes to lock himself in his room. Maybe they kneel down with all their juiciest paperwork spread out in a horseshoe in front of them, undo their flies and… and… oh, never mind…
The short of it all was that I needed a brand new Letter of Invitation. I had spent an hour being pushed about in what was the equivalent of the front row of a Foo Fighter’s gig trying to get to the front desk (queuing (patently) is for WIMPS!) just to be told that there was no way I was going to get a new visa any time this week. I felt like screaming.
You need a nice primal scream every now and then, clears the windpipes.
Then I set off in search of a travel agency who would whip me up a new letter of invitation. In short, I spent over two hours wandering the streets and came up with nothin’. Nobody could help me.
There was one thing that could help… oh yes, you lovely amber nectar, you sweet barley-hop concoction. I needed a beer and I needed one NOW. So it was back to the backpackers and drinks with Atheer and a lovely couple from Canada (who, Luke and Leia style, turned out to be brother and sister). They were from the Frenchy bit of The Cold Australia, which give me tons of ammunition to take the mick, and to Atheer’s delight, they were Jewish, so he got the big guns out on security barriers and fruit pastilles; unfortunately for the sake of comedy, they kept on agreeing with us. Where are the die-hard curly-sided settlers when you need them?!
Afterwards, Atheer and I ventured into the night for another drink or two and ended up on the maddest pub crawl I’ve undertaken in an age. There were a bunch of places that we couldn’t get into unless we had girls with us, so we had to hang about on the street hiding our cans of lager (you’re not supposed to drink on the street in Turkey) and hassling female passers by like a pair of midnight cowboys in the hope of somebody taking pity on us and getting us inside one of these places.
The night soon collapsed into a cacophony of drunken antics which somehow involved a vodka Redbull, stolen nuts and a shopping trolley. I can’t remember too much after that. Merry Christmas Everyone!