Tuesday, September 25

Turkey-Iran, Day One: The Trip Eleven Years In The Making

This trip was always going to be slightly more special than others I have taken: less so for the actual destinations themselves but more due the context in which it lives... a context that started 11 years ago.

A friend and I wanted to go away on a bit of an epic adventure. Since we were both relatively well travelled (him more than me), we picked a selection of countries neither of us had had much experience with. The rough outline was to start in Istanbul, drive in a south-westerly direction (possibly cutting into Syria which was peaceful at the time), cross over into Iran and then journey South from there, possibly sailing over the Persian Gulf into Dubai from where we would catch a flight home. The whole thing would have taken 3-4 weeks, and as I said before, would have been epic.

To cut a long story short around 30 days before we were due to leave, my friend announced that he was getting married. In six weeks time. "We can still go on this trip," he explained, "but it would really be helpful if we could postpone it". Of course by "postpone" he meant "cancel", but I was happy for him and took my consolation prize of three weeks in Australia (where he was getting married) instead - a trip that still remains one of my favorites. But still in the intervening 11 years a trip to just Istanbul or even the wider Turkey just didn't feel like it would be worth it - not without the same epic context this previously planned trip had. I found myself avoiding the whole place.

So it is with an equal feeling of destiny and closure that I'm now starting a journey that will take me through Istanbul and wider Turkey and then to Iran with the special bonus of passing through Baku in Azerbaijan. The transits are mainly by plane, and I'll also be travelling with different people during different legs so it's not quite the same, but I'll take it given my age and decreasing interest in travelling altogether.

The Turkey leg is an excuse for a 10+ group of international friends based in the UK and South Africa to hang out, but since I was the only member of the group to have never been Istanbul I decided to fly in a few days earlier than the rest, in order to blitz the city that seems to have so much to offer a tourist. My flight in was via Sabiha Gokcen, the budget of the two airports serving Istanbul. It's further and more difficult to use, as I experiences first had as I exited the terminal to investigate buses, only to realise that there was no ATMs out there and no cards taken for bus fare. Oops. I was canny enough to already have a transit card (given to me by a cousin), but the lone 5tl note I loaded on it still had me 0.50tl short and the bus driver was not in a charitable mood at all.

Luckily a fellow Brit from my flight was generous enough to pay the bus fare for me, something which I took as a sign of things to come. Istanbul already seems to be the kind of place where things just seem to work out.

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