Today was solely in Istanbul, and whilst most visitors were queueing for the Aya Sofya or Basilica Cistern I was heading for the cross roads of Ankara and Turk Ocagi roads and the joy of the Iranian Consulate.
Because Iran and the UK have, ahem, strained relations; the process for a UK citizen to obtain a visa for Iran is somewhat cumbersome – it’s detailed in the planning section. I have had a ‘Letter of Introduction’ from an appropriate Iranian registered tour agency, this letter has been approved by the Ministry of Interior and it therefore means that the consulate will issue me with a visa.
Inside the building is like bedlam – but to be honest so were the Pakistan and Indian visa offices in Manchester. Lots of officialdom and lots of confusion. People desperate for visas and other consular services and officials behind glass simply doing their jobs. All I had was an approval reference number. What I also needed was a passport photo (I had some done in Sale, but left them at home) so I had to trundle off into Instanbul to find a shop that does them. I also needed €300. Yes, that’s right €300. How was I supposed to know that I don’t give it to the man behind the glass, that would look like a sweetener, but had to go to the bank opposite and pay it in. So after a couple of hours of faffing about, the man accepted my application and told me to return at 4pm and to knock on the door…
A few hours to kill. Eejay gave me an errand. Last year we bought a decorative tile from a shop next to a church on the outskirts of the city. I was tasked with returning to the shop to buy another that matches – not the same, but matching. The 4 mile journey took 45 minutes in Istanbul traffic. I found the shop. I liked lots of tiles and got carried away… I had hoped they would post them home, but they quoted €75 to post to the UK, so I’ve now got 2kg weight of tiles to add to the weight of my panniers. Rookie mistake for a novice overlander. I just hope my shock absorber and pannier rails hold out.
Errand done, I had some photos to pose. I wanted a shot of the bike with the Blue Mosque. I have no idea how many traffic violations I committed, but I rode through a pedestrian zone, parked in the middle of the busiest area of Istanbul and snapped away, moved the bike a bike and snapped some more. A small group of Austrians approached me and asked loads of questions about the bike and the trip – it’s always good to talk bikes, they had hundreds of questions it felt like an interview, in fact one of them was filming me on his GoPro and we must have spoken for about half an hour. One of them is a biker, the other a seasoned traveller, I think they want to do a similar trip, hopefully they will do.
I returned to the consulate at 4 to find a couple of Swiss riders also waiting for visas. They are part of an organised tour with a company called Globe Busters https://www.facebook.com/GlobeBusters – it’s the 3rd trip they have done with GB. They will end in Tibet in June having gone through Iran, ‘the Stans’ and China. As Swiss travellers, they have a simpler and cheaper process for visiting Iran (no guide needed and only €75 compared to my $2800 guide and €270 fee – I got a slight refund). It was good to other riders and good to meet a couple fully enjoying their retirement. Best of luck to them.
Anyway, the visa. Sorted!