Friday, November 9, 2007

The Big City

Just had a busy week back in Istanbul - meeting up with my mum and dad and seeing all the major sights. It was actually a very relaxing time for us as we stayed in a comfortable appartment together right by the Galata Tower. It's easy to get around the old part of the city thanks to the modern tram and we visited the Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia and the Topkapı Palace plus some other lesser known places such as a huge underground Byzantine cistern, the Chora Church full of Byzantine mosaics, and the wonderful archaeology museum. The city is hilly which can make the walking around tiring but allows for great views across the Goldern Horn and the Bosphorus. These two waterways seem eternally busy with ferries and cruise ships and tankers. There was also some time to wander around the Grand Bazaar, which seems given over to the tourist trade, and make a visit to a hamam (Turkish Bath). The weather reminded us of Britain - lots of rain and a cold wind off the Bosphorous, but there was some sun too. I can't remember the last time we spent such a length of time with my mum and dad, but it was great fun and made up a little for the time we've been away. The days passed too quickly really.

After finishing our walking on the south coast we had returned to Antalya to collect the rest of our things and do a big laundry session, swap some books and burn our photos to cd (a tortuous task when the bloke in the internet cafe makes a mess of it). The old town there is worth a stroll around but is oddly quiet for such a big city. All the locals use the surrounding modern city, which is fairly ugly and always full of traffic. We then took a nightbus back to Istanbul and took up the kind offer of accomodation from Pam and Joe, the American couple we met by Lake Van. They are teaching English here and have a spare room. It's a joy to stay with such easy-going people - to feel at home straight away and such a contrast to all the anonymous and soulless hotel rooms. After my parents flew back to Blighty we stayed another night with them and finished off some other travel tasks. One of these was to get our visa for Syria. Because we are not applying from our own country, we were required to provide a letter of recommendation from our government. It was a fairly simple task to call in at the British consul (which was a grand mansion in walled seclusion). Security was tight - our bag was searched and when we explained to the guard that all we had in our Sigg bottle was Istanbul tap water he made us drink it. Then he told us that he would never drink Istanbul tap water. Charming. The letter of recommendation took 10 minutes to produce and cost us 60 quid - a bit like going to the dentist. We concluded that this was the biggest rip-off in all our time in Turkey. The content is reproduced below:

"Her Britannic Majesty's Consulate General at Istanbul presents its compliments to the Consulate General of the Arab Republic of Syria and has the honour to inform the Consulate General that Gayle .... and John ..., holders of British passports wish to visit Syria. Her Britannic Majesty's Consulate General has no objection to the issue of Syrian visas to Gayle ... and John ... Her Britannic Majesty's Consulate General at Istanbul avails itself of this opportunity to convey to the Consulate General of the Arab Republic of Syria the assurance of its highest consideration."

Worth every penny, eh? Still, we got the visa so that's where we are heading.

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