Istanbul: First Landing

12 April 2011

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Aurel and molly touched down in Istanbul after one of the longest travel sagas between Turkey and the US in history, which featured a three hour subway ride between London airports and a seven hour overnight rendezvous with a marble bench at the Luton airport. The following evening, Diego arrived well rested and jetlag-free after a short stay in Paris. After picking him up at the shuttle bus from the airport in busy Taksim Square, we decided that an oversized Turkish meal was in order—a good way to celebrate all occasions!

The three of us are enjoying a few days in Istanbul as we prepare for the beginning of our trip. This city is an incredible rush of the senses with amazing spring tulip displays, architecture, history and more people than seems possible. Diego commented that the energy of over 20 million residents is unmistakable, the streets buzz at all hours of the day and night and every one is moving, walking, hurrying, chattering, eating everywhere.

And in keeping with Turkish culture and tradition, eating has been our personal theme in these past few days, a kind of diehard gastrotourism which we have embraced whole stomachly. Along with the procurement of Iranian visas, which is obviously a lot easier to accomplish In Turkey than in the US, eating has taken it’s place at the top of the priority list. The food is beyond belief! After spending two years living in this city, Aurel and Molly have a clearly laid out map of where and what to eat.

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We’ve wasted no time. Highlights include, fresh fish in the little tent restaurants along the Bosphorous, Meze in the up and coming Karakoy port neighborhood (For those who don’t know, “Meze” is the most fabulous of Turkish cuisine, allowing you to drool over a case full of appetizers as you discuss, point out and select far more of them than you could ever fit into your little American stomach, and then wait impatiently as they are brought to your table, each one more delicious than the last, all involving delicate sauces and spices and flavors), and dinner at Ciya—a smorgasbord of traditional Turkish stews, stuffed vegetables, and salads, the recipes of which were collected from all corners of the country by Ciya’s famous chef.

Aside from the world of Turkish cuisine, we are bazaar hopping, buying things for the trip like pots, pans, melamine dishes and many other useful items.

Unfortunately, there have been a few set backs in our master plan. A few days ago we learned that Diego was denied his Iranian visa, most likely because of his film making background and his residence in the US. It seems the consular general did a little Google searching and found Diego’s bio online—the one that mentions his marriage to his lovely American wife and the fact that he’s a film director. Oops.

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It’s not so bad because we didn’t have high hopes of cinematic greatness in Iran. In order to film in that country we would have had to have a permit from the Iranian government, approval for which takes up to a year and requires incredible patience and humility. All documents related to the film would have had to be handed over to Iranian authorities for review, including a full synopsis and exact scene by scene descriptions. We would have had to take a government chaperone around whenever we were shooting, and all footage—every tape—would have been required to be submitted to the Iranian government for review before leaving the country. The theme of the movie, of course, would have needed to be in accordance with the image that Iran’s leaders want to show the outside world. So from the start, we knew that it would have been impossible to enter the country with a video camera or to film properly in Iran without the permit, but we were hoping that using a point and shoot camera on the 3 minute video setting Diego would be able to get some footage at least inside the bus. Alas, he was denied!

The Iranian segment of the trip will remain a small black hole in the film, a hole we will have to get creative about filling.

Now it looks like Diego will fly back to Turkey from Kabul and along with Molly (who could not get an Iranian visa because of her American citizenship) will fly from Istanbul to Van, Turkey in order to meet Landry and Aurelien on the boarder of Turkey and Iran. Van is at the edge of the famous Van Lake, a beautiful expanse of water in the central east of Turkey. It will be our first stop in Turkey as we travel across the country. It’s known for it’s white cats who often have green and blue eyes and are some of the only aquatic cats in the world. They like to swim! More on that to come.

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It seems that all is in order so far for the Afghan-Iranian leg of the trip. Aurel and Diego have their tickets to Kabul and will leave late night on April12th. Landry will arrive shortly after (He took his Iranian visa from the consulate in Bangkok where he lives and will meet them in Afghanistan). Molly will wait patiently, continuing the traditional eating practices in Turkey while the boys make their way through the Islamic countries where she is not much more than a liability.

The first and most important item on the agenda when we arrive in Kabul is getting the road pass—the document that allows the bus to travel across the Afghan-Iranian boarder and declares its legality as an Afghan vehicle. This is the slippery little document that has been just out of reach for more than 2 years. And my friends, as usual, there is just one more piece of important paperwork to go before it is in our hands. If everyone could cross their fingers and say a little prayer for us, we would be very grateful. Then, “Inshallah,” with road pass in hand, we will be on our way. . . .

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