Day 432: Day of Disaster

08.03.10:

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.

What?

I paid CHRISTKNOWSHOWMUCH for this damn number. Are you on crack?

Try again tomorrow.

Dammit.

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!

Day 433: The Pope’s Nik-Naks

09.03.10:

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…