I arrived safe to Istanbul in the late morning, and made my way to a hostel in the historic area of Istanbul, Sultanahmet. My main purpose for being here was to see if I could get my visa for Iran. I had received a reference number online through an Iranian travel agency, which was half the battle, but it still wasn’t a sure thing. Canadian-Iranian relations are tense after an Iranian-Canadian journalist was killed in Iran a few years ago. Better than the situation for Americans though – they have to have a full tour booked to travel in Iran.
At the consul I went through a bit of adminstrivia, but overall it was surprisingly painless. I was asked to come back the next day at 10am, and viola – it was there, and for the time period I had requested. Only hiccup was when I was freaked out for about an hour that I lost my passport as I was preparing to head back to the consul, having forgotten that I had given it to them for my visa.
Also sent a package home. As light as I packed, I sent some stuff home that I’m not willing to pack for as little as I will use it – light down jacket (I managed fine without while hiking in snow in NZ, so I’m willing to risk it), an electrical converter I mispacked, a journal I thought I would write in, but turns out it was full aready from my Peru and Cuba trips, a pack cover that really is more for rain than dust, and a few other assorted small bits. Totalled almost 2kg. I’m very happy to be carrying even less.
The weather so far, including Istanbul, has been quite nice. Probably 25 and sunny during the day, but quite cool and windy at night (ie fleece needed to be outside). During my days I have spent a lot of time – you guessed it – walking. Checking out local markets, eating in little pita doner stalls, walking some more. Took a boat up the Bosphorus – the channel of water that divides European Istanbul from Asian Istanbul.
Toured Ayasofia, built in the 4th century and lasting until the middle ages as the most substantial place of worship for Christians, at which time it was turned into a mosque – it is now designated as a museum. The outside is nothing special – big if nothing else – but the inside features intricate mosaics and amazing architecture. Also visited the Blue Mosque – Islam’s answer to the huge Ayasofia. The Blue Mosque’s exterior offers what the interior of Ayasofia does – beauty. Considering how many tourists are in this area of the city, the ridiculous number of white tour buses trying to get through narrow streets, the overwhelming array of touts and vendors, it can actually be kind of peaceful around here. Or maybe I just have a knack for tuning out European languages.
After my first day or two here, I must say I was feeling a little lost here. It was like I was having my sad first night traveling that I didn’t have on my first night I actually started travelling. The usual “what am I doing here?’, “where am I going?”, “what’s my purpose?”. A combination of lack of direction (it all hinged on the Iranian visa), not totally loving the city or where I’m staying, and very easily getting absorbed in a book instead. My original plan, which was to be on the go, exploring and moving until I settle with some more time in Kyrgyzstan, might change. The idea of having a settled destination appeals to me. I wasn’t planning to volunteer on this trip, but I might look into some options now (if anyone has connections, I’d love an introduction).
My gloom changed, though, as soon as I got my Iranian visa, after which I discovered some neat market streets and bought a train ticket to Cappadocia, in the centre of Turkey. While there are many historic sites I am interested in seeing along the Western coast of Turkey, I can’t see everything. And I know myself well enough to know that geography trumps history in terms of my enjoyment of an area. I also have come to realize that I love traveling on trains, despite the odd creepy man. Love the landscapes and the fresh air. So onto Cappadocia, featuring strange rock and dirt formations, caves, and canyons. Goodbye 1000+ year old forts and art. And, since I’m officially crossing the Bosphorus: goodbye Europe, hello Asia.
On a total side bar, the metal wire behind my top teeth (glued in place for over a year) has come loose. I was trying to find ceramic glue in the markets, thinking that if it’s OK to eat off of, it’s probably OK in my mouth. But instead I think I’ll just keep playing with it until all six contact points come loose. Two down, four to go.