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Around the World in 210 Days

From India to America--3 hours; Visa-- Priceless

USA | Thursday, 27 December 2007 | Views [1045] | Comments [3]

But first… we have just returned to Istanbul from our trip across the Turkish countryside, but before we can go into detail about all of that excitement, we have the previous week to take care of first. So here goes.Christmas, Christmas, Christmas…one of the advantages of staying with an American, is that you are privy to such events as setting up the Christmas Tree and Christmas party. The Friday before last was a big day for us as we got to help Hande and Collette set up the Christmas tree which was decked out with Turkish Santas (Remarkably like American Santa, but with even more zealously painted blue eyes), lights, and garlands. Indeed, we added our own little Pinocchio to the mix, which we picked up in Italy. That night we listened to Christmas music, which prepared us for the Christmas party which we had been invited to the next evening.

Saturday morning, we met a really nice Turkish fellow named Ali on the ferry to Eminonu (a neighborhood on the European side). We bought tea, and the tea man (Chay man) thought we were buying for all three of us sitting at a table. We cleared that up, but when we noticed Ali only had a 10 YTL bill, we offered to pay for his tea, but he was having none of it. After the tea was served (it is served in a little clear handleless glass with two sugar cubes, and a tiny spoon all on a little tea plate, as you can imagine its warm on the hands) the three of us engaged in a lovely conversation, albeit one quite hindered by the language barrier.

On Saturday afternoon, we explored the grounds of Topkapi Palace, which provided many a photo opportunity, that you will no doubt see once we reach India. We also met this awesome little cat that was so starved for attention, that he followed us for a good ten minutes. The grounds were beautiful, and seemed to be a well known makeout spot-- which is particularly worthy of note, as we had read that public displays of affection were frowned upon, and we have been forced to duck into mosques to meet our requisite daily kissing levels.

On our way back from Topkapi Palace, we were waylaid by the usual carpet-sellers, but one of them was particularly tactful. As we passed he called out “Let me guess, Americans?” We smiled and nodded and walked past him. He chased us, as they normally do, and said he just had one question (sure). We stopped long enough for him to ask us “what is the one thing that Turkey is most famous for?” Andrew guessed, surveying his store, carpets. No, not carpets. Alex guessed tea. Nope, not tea. Well, we weren’t very good at the quiz game, so he gave us the answer: Hospitality. Alex said “No, I don’t think so.” She really did, and he insisted it was. She continued that it couldn’t possibly be the most famous thing, but he held strong. So, we had allowed him his sales pitch and were preparing to continue our walk when he changed tactics, asking us about our travels. We ended up telling him about our travels an eventually this cool website, couchsurfing.com. “That sounds cool,” he said, “can you write it down for me?” And like that, we were ushered into his store. We knew we had been had, but also knew we admired his persistence and didn’t have enough money for a napkin, let alone a hand-woven carpet.

He sat us down, and Alex wrote out the web address for him. We continued chatting, and eventually his brother joined us. He was much older, and had traveled the Asian continent extensively. He also had no qualms about sharing his knowledge, which might have been annoying if it didn’t turn out so useful. When we told him we were going to India, he told us we needed to get our visas before we left Turkey. “No, no, maybe for Turks, but we’re American. EVERYONE loves us!” …we thought smugly. We chatted a bit longer, and eventually (after over half an hour) Alex said “well, we should get going.” The first guy replied, “Well, we should sell you something.” He laughed, knowing that was highly unlikely at this point. As we walked away, we agreed the older brother was crazy, but we would still look into this alleged Indian visa thing. Once we got home, we quickly searched and discovered that our thirty minutes had been well-spent…turns out Americans need a visa to get to India….who knew?

That night Collette and Hande’s friend Amy was throwing her second-annual Christmas party and we were invited. One interesting thing about parties here, is that the cost of alcohol is so high, that if you want to drink some at a party, you have to bring it. After a quick stop at the grocery store to purchase four beers (they are 2 Lira each, which explains our discretion) we were off. The party included a 5 lira gift exchange, for which Andrew and I had purchased really cool colorful ceramic bowl/vases for at the local Kadikoy market. We wrapped these in a beautiful bag we had saved from the Migros grocery store, and Collette topped them each with a Christmas bow. It is very likely that people were hoping not to get our gifts, when compared to the others on the exchange table…after several hours of eating wonderful chocolate, candy, and some of Hande’s homemade burek, (let us tell you she can cook!), it was time to open the gifts. Everyone traded numbers and we opened our presents excitedly. We laughed happily when Andrew pulled out a black scarf. We had been bargaining at the bazaar for the last two weeks, but were unable to find one we liked at a great price, now here was one for free. Then we opened Alex’s…and groaned. She had received a Ping-Pong ball gun, at least we thought happily, that Andrew’s dad might like it, he is after all a supporter of the NRA. It was still better than the two people who received a bar of chocolate (at least according to Andrew). We are going to keep the Ping Pong ball gun and regift it later…so watch out.

The next day, Sunday, Andrew finished his first draft of a screen play that he actually likes, and we ran our first six mile run in a little over an hour (pretty impressive achievements for us). In anticipation of his birthday the next day we made a Strawberry Hande Pie. Alex was adamant that it wasn’t even deserving of the name Hande Pie. That didn’t stop her from eating three pieces, complaining with each bite. That night, Andrew was sequestered in the bedroom, while Alex and Hande conferred over birthday plans.

Andrew’s birthday dawned bright and clear. The first thing that greeted our eyes was an awesome Turkish sign that Hande made and hung over the door way. Next, Alex made him a breakfast of Strawberry Hande pie, Cereal, and Cinnamon Toast. For lunch Hande provided an amazing meal of traditional Turkish foods, including a garlic sauced ravioli, a vegetable and potato stew. Afterwards, Collette drove us to a Carrefour / Mall. Carrefour is a French grocery store, that Valerie introduced us to in Paris. It resembles a Wal-Mart, without all the un-shod toddlers and low prices. We did some grocery shopping, with highlights in the candy aisle, and then caught a bus back home, where Andrew had a gift waiting for him from Hande. She had compiled three CD’s worth of Turkish music with a promise of even more to come. Shortly thereafter, the three of us (Collette was meeting us later for dinner) caught a Dolmus to our surprise destination…the movies (in ENGLISH!). Andrew’s face almost split in two he was smiling so much. Interestingly, when you are issued a ticket in a movie theatre in Turkey, they assign you a seat. Apparently there is no seat request system, they just fill up the theatre starting from the back. To add to the confusing system, the ticket man gave us the wrong end of the stub, so we didn’t even have seat numbers to go off, but thankfully it wasn’t a full theatre, so we were ok. We watched the Golden Compass. Alex had smuggled in the candy she had purchased earlier in the day, and Andrew happily chewed his way through the movie. There was also an intermission halfway through the movie. It wasn’t the fade to black from the olden days, rather they just turn off the projector and sound for ten minutes, and everyone gets up and rushes to the bathroom or the snack room. Altogether an excellent movie-watching experience.

After the movie, we still had time before Collette came, so we headed to Starbucks, where Andrew chewed on the packets of sugar and Hande and Alex shared a latte. Later when Collette finished working we met at her favorite restaurant in Kadikoy. They spent 20 minutes explaining the food to us, which as all the Turkish food has been was wonderful. Dolmas, Hummus, Spicy Eggplant, Taboule (sp?), bulgar riceballs, pomegranate salad, etc. We were able to make a plate of any combination, and they weighed the plates. We also ordered a Kebab (it was served with grilled onions and peppers, kind of like a Turkish fajita plate). Afterwards, we were delighted when Collette ordered the most bizarre dessert sampler we have had. It consisted of candied Walnuts (which had been candied so long the shell was edible), candied olives, candied pumpkin (our favorite), candied eggplant (Alex’s least favorite), and candied tomatoes. Afterwards we went home and made brownies. We ended the night discussing last minute plans for making a trip to Kapadokya the next evening, and our trip to the Indian consulate in the morning.

We woke at the crack of 8 the next morning and sleepily made a trip to Bostanci where a fast ferry would take us to the European neighborhood Kabatas. We hopped on a dolmus to get to Bostanci and followed our system of determining when to get off. Essentially if more than 60 percent of a vehicles inhabitants get off at a stop, we get off too. A few times this hasn’t worked for us, but in each of those instances, the bus driver, or a friendly passenger has beckoned us back onboard. Anyhow, we took the fast ferry to Kabatas, and surprisingly it was really fast. We only had time for a short nap before we arrived. We hopped on the funicular up to Taksim square, and promply went the wrong way. This wouldn’t have been an issue, except we had to be at the consulate before 11:30, as that is when they stop processing visas. We hurried back in the correct direction, and stopped at a photo shop to have our passport photos made. They were awful, in fact if we commit a crime, Andrew is certain these are the photos they will use to show our fugitive status. We arrived at the Indian Consulate, which Andrew laughingly pointed out was right next to the 7-11, an oblique Simpson’s reference that Alex just grimaced at before hurrying him along to the consulate. The consulate was on the 7th floor of an apartment building. The security guard didn’t seem to worried that the people in front of us went around the metal detector, and that it beeped when we went through. We piled into the obsolete elevator and rose to the 7th floor. Taking a number, we happily sat down and watched CNN-India. When our number was called, we confidently strode the window and handed in our papers. While they only took American dollars, we had read online that the fee was $50/person, payable only via US currency. As we had $100 remaining from the US, and it was safely in Andrew’s money belt, we simply felt as though we were blessed and the sun was shining on us. Turns out, it’s like Ireland’s sun, it is simply a precursor to the rain. The woman at the desk, looked at our papers and informed us that we needed to get a “Note Verbal” from the US consulate prior to obtaining an Indian visa, and we needn’t bother coming back that day as they stopped processing visa’s at 11:30, and there was no way we were going to get the note verbal before then. She instructed us to ask the woman at the front desk for the address to the US consulate. Feeling a bit dejected we walked to the front desk, and requested the address. The woman looked at us, and said she could give us the address, but it wouldn’t do any good because the US Embassy doesn’t issue note verbals. We asked her what we should do, and she said “Nothing, you won’t be able to get a visa.” Then she picked up the phone and called the woman who had sent us to her, and proceeded to chew her our for telling us to go to the consulate. The initial woman came to the front desk and essentially reinforced that we would indeed not be able to get a Note Verbal, but we could try, and if that failed we should ask our Consulate General to call the Indian Consulate General. The trip back down the elevator was not nearly as funny as the trip up.

In the lobby, we looked at the map to determine where the American Consulate was, four guys including the security officer surrounded us and attempted to help us find a location which was not on our map. They directed us to the local bus station, and we went and looked for the neighborhood on each of the bus signs. Alex decided it made no sense to go to the US Consulate without confirming that they did indeed issue note verbals. Using a calling card, we contacted them and they said they would issue it, and that it could be issued between the hours of 1:30 and 3:30. With that, we located the correct bus and began our ride throughout Istanbul. We watched the maps on the passing bus stops to determine when we were getting close to the correct neighborhood. In Istanbul, there are two employees on each bus, the money collector and the driver. The collector generally sits next to the driver. When we got close to the neighborhood, Andrew took the paper which had the address of the US embassy on it, and asked the money collector where we should get off, not knowing, he passed it to the bus driver who was already driving while reading the newspaper. Thankfully he put down the newspaper and looked at the address…the bus slowed to a crawl. He told Andrew the American Consulate was coming up which Andrew only understood after the man behind the driver translated what he said. Then another woman tugged on Andrew’s sleeve and indicated that she would be getting off at the same stop and to follow her, which Andrew didn’t understand until a man behind her translated what she had said. Andrew sat back down. A few stops later, the bus driver and the second translator told us this was our stop, the woman wasn’t budging, but we decided to take the majority vote and get off. The translator indicated the large white building up on the hill was the consulate, which was confirmed when we saw the US flag flying.

We trekked up the road towards the consulate, feeling weary. Back home Hande had volunteered to go by the bus stops to obtain tickets for a bus to Selcuk, and Collette had reserved a room for us at a hotel recommended by Amy. As it was the start of the holiday of Bayram, we were half hoping by now that all the buses were full. (We later found out that it was indeed full, and we were able to rest our lazy bodies in bed that night.) At the consulate, we were the first in line, and after a relatively painless trip, aside from the $60 fee and warnings about diarrhea, we emerged into the sunlight and left American soil clutching what we thought was a note verbal.

Fast forwarding to today, we woke up even earlier than we did last time and traveled by ferry and funikuler back to the Indian Embassy. The security was equally as lax and we were able to get our number in line quickly. As we sat down, a friendly guy asked if we were American. We said yes, and he gravely informed us that the paper we had in our hand was not a Note Verbal and that he had received the same paper, as well as a 12 year old memo which explained the US embassy did not provide note verbals for any reason. Indeed he had been to the consulate yesterday where they refused him a visa for the second time. He was only back today because he had heard persistence was the only way to get through the giant wall of red tape. You can imagine how we felt. His number was three before ours and we listened as he spoke to the same woman who had rejected us before. She was in the process of sending him back to the US consulate, when he uttered the magic words “someone else has done this” followed by a request for “an interview.” Now for the last twenty odd years we have dealt with bureaucratic systems, both of us have felt that huge rush of anger when someone has told us that if they did something for us, then they would have to do it for everyone. We never believed them….but in this case, it was true. We had read similar blogs, and knew that Americans had been able to obtain a visa from this office. The lady informed the fellow that he would need to wait for the boss to arrive, and then he would be able to speak to him. She recognized us from our previous visit and informed us that we would also be able to speak to him. We waited for another thirty minutes, when she called out “We will see the Americans now.” The three of us trooped to the window on our best behavior, ready to plead or beg. She simply said, we will grant the visa. This is the first and last time we will do such a thing. Then she began processing our applications. After processing Alex’s, she requested a $70 fee….unfortunately we didn’t have $140 dollars. Alex raced down to the street below, certain that if she didn’t get back in time, the lady was going to change her mind and not issue the visa. Fortunately, she was able to get the cash, and we were victorious in getting our applications accepted, after the woman reiterated it was the last time she would ever do it. So there you have it, and next…updates on the week before Christmas, to present.

Tags: Misadventures



After reading that I am too exhausted to comment.
I think I will take a nap instead.

  Richard Dec 28, 2007 1:15 AM


Okay I have rested up enough to touch on a few points from your never ending adventures. I am going to enroll you both in 'foreign trip planning classes' that Daniel King will be teaching once he gets all his reference materials prefectly in order.

There is a reason Santa from Turkey looks somewhat familiar since any Wikipedian will tell you that is Santa's origin. And who ever heard of false info on Wikipedia ANDREW?

I find it hard to believe you met a man over there named Ali. What are the odds of that?

After hearing names of places like Eminonu (sounds like a Turkish rapper) and Topkapi Palace I am going to do some research to make sure you aren't just making up names. Back to the wiki wiki.

Ducking into a mosque to make out seems...well...like a good way to get labeled as an infidel.
Try to control yourselves.
If Sandy can control her desires, even with me around, then I am sure anyone can muster a little restraint.

Being stalked by that cat? After watching the Bourne Ultimatum I am convinced that cat is a CIA operative. Probably sent to make you guys have a hard time at the embassy.

I cannot imagine Andrew falling for the smooth talk of rug salesmen when several questionable aquaintances I have known in Lubbock TX are somehow connected to Carpet World here. Something floor coverings brings out the shyster in a man.
That reminds me...save the Ping Pong Ball gun. I have some people I want to use it on.

You guys have a knack for picking good hosts huh? Sounds like Collete is really coming in Hande!
(Honestly,I can't help myself)

If I read you right you were scammed out of 60 bucks on American embassy soil by buying useless paper. Tell them that your dad intends to get that back when he does his taxes this year and they will never know how he did it.

Go back by the Indian Embassy lady and tell her that this is the LAST time you will pay her 70 dollars and from now on all your travel will be to other countries and you are thinking of boycotting curry spiced dishes.

I would love to comment more JUST to aggravate Alex who has recently taken names for me to a new level but I will give you a break...for now.

Wishing you love, peace and better bus directions,

  Richard King Dec 29, 2007 4:40 AM


Your term...
"by ferry and funikuler"
sounds like a dandy title for an independent film about two travelin' Texans in Turkey

  Baron Von Hassen-pfeffer Dec 30, 2007 9:22 AM

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