Crossing Borders 20-24/09/10

Posted: September 25, 2010 in 5.Turkey

Our first real border, and I don’t mind telling you I was a bit scared. There is something safe and cozy about Europe, all the shops are the same, you can get most of your favourite food (except bloody Cheerios) in the supermarkets, and even though you are in a different country one almost feels part of the same club. Turkey however is different, passports need to be shown at the border, men with rather large guns eye you up as you approach the checkpoint, and the Euro is as worthless as Monopoly money.

We left early on the 20th from not so paradise camping and got to the border crossing at Ipsala around mid morning. We expected queues but there were none and once the Greeks had had a cursory glance at our passports we entered no mans land between the two countries. It is here that I’d like to tell you a tale of 10 hr waits, bribes, the Land Rover being taken apart and searched, Megan being traded for half a camel… but to be honest it was all very easy.  We bought our visa from a dude in a hut, showed our insurance and vehicle registration to another dude in a hut, and the final dude stamped our passports and we were in Turkey within 25mins! How upsetting, I felt cheated of a story, but Iran is the next border and I’m sure that might be more ‘interesting’.

Once in Turkey our plan was to drive to Istanbul, where we had arranged to pick up our Iranian visas from the consulate, and after a month of camping we decided to give in to our craving for a toilet that you didn’t have to share with anyone else and got ourselves a hotel. Yes, I’m sure there will be those of you out there saying we are wimps and should have held out longer and I could have, but it was Megan you see, she made me. We found what we thought was a good deal on a 4 star (I don’t stay anywhere under a 3) hotel in Istanbul for £50 a night. Bargain. It wasn’t until we booked it that we realised we the help of Google maps, that it wasn’t actually in Istanbul but over the Bosphorus in one of the many suburbs sounding the city. Doh. Anyway, they seemed to have parking and sounded nice on the phone so we thought we would give it a go. It turned out to be a very nice hotel in fact, and only a 15 min drive to a ferry which took us into the heart of the city. Megan called it luck but I like to think of it as meticulous planning on my part that paid off.

Oh I nearly forgot, those of you thinking about driving into Istanbul should be aware of the toll road leading into the city. We approached the first set of booths on the motorway and as the barrier was up and the machine wouldn’t give us a ticket we thought that perhaps it was a holiday or something and we wouldn’t have to pay, so drove straight though. However, when we got to the other end of the motorway in the middle of the city with sixteen lanes of traffic coming from every direction, the barriers down and nowhere to pay, did we realise that we had made a rather large mistake. There was no way we could go through but luckily we were still far enough away from the barrier to be able to get out of the queue and stop in the middle of the sixteen lanes, hazards on of course, looking blankly at one another in hope of divine intervention. It came in the shape of a very nice Turkish chap wandering across the lanes who explained that I needed to buy a card from the office on the other side of eight lanes of traffic in order to get through the barrier. Turkey it seems no longer take cash on their toll roads, damn you out of date Lonely Planet. I made an attempt to get out of the car but the man told me that I had to drive, ‘it would be safer’ he said. So a five point turn, driving the wrong way up a motorway, crossing eight lanes of on coming traffic, some more sailor swearing from the co-chair and a set of new underwear later we managed to purchase a card from the office and made our way to the hotel. If only we had taken a picture.

After the emotional trauma of Turkish tolls one of the coolest things so far on this trip has to be crossing the bridge over the Bosphorus and seeing the sign ‘Welcome to Asia’, awesome.

The next few days were spent wandering around the city and getting our visas. The Iranian visa was actually quite straightforward. We had applied for them back in the UK so only had to pick them up in Istanbul, which saved a lot of time. Megan donned her headscarf for the first time, I tried not to laugh, failed, and after a little wait we paid the €95 each (ouch!) and were told to come back the next day to pick them up. We returned the next day and were finger printed (which by the way is a bugger to get off your hands), and issued with our visa. Again, all very easy and everyone was very pleasant, let’s hope its all this effortless.

Istanbul is an immensely interesting city and nothing I write here will do it credit, so you should all come and visit. Saying that though we both really enjoyed the markets around the Grand Bazaar and spent a whole day getting lost in the side streets and alleys. The Blue Mosque is a must, as is a ferry trip so you can get a feel for the size of the place and get to see all the great historic landmarks from the sea. Crossing the bridge to Beyoglu is also well worth it to see the marked difference between the more traditional, conservative side of Istanbul and the contemporary culture that’s more in line with Europe.

Initial thoughts on Turkey:

They love their flags.

I love the font they use in their road signs.

Megan loves the man in the Mosque outside our hotel who sang at 5 in the morning every day.

We both love the Kebabs.

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