Thursday, 1 October 2009

Picking up the Iranian visa in Erzurum

Well, at long last I got my Iranian visa stamped in my passport. Here's the drill, as of september 2009, on how to does this in Erzurum. If you're European (particularly if you're British) do not attempt this without first obtaining a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) approval number through a good agency such as TouranAzmin. If you're American just don't bother.

First you need to get to the consulate. Personally, for me a day off the bike is a rest day, time for the cycling muscles to have a break. So when the chap in the hotel pointed out the dolmus (local buses) stop, gave me a map where he marked the consulate location and told me to get the dolmus towards Yenisehir (even drawing to route on the map) I was all good to go! It was nice and early, time to go do it. I hoped on a minibus with a Yenisehir sign on it and off we went. Of course, it transpires that not every bus to Yenisehir follows the same route... at first we did follow what was drawn on the map but then, around the university we divirged. OK I thought, just going to pick some students up. Nope. After 10 minutes I communicated wıth the driver through the medium of pointing at the map and shrugging questioningly. He indicated I should wait and that we would get there. He then offered me some of his breakfast roll.

We got to the point where he indicated I should get off and get the ski lift up to the mountain resort. Ah... OK, so slight crossed wires soon sorted out when we realised the mistake (I'd pointed at my circled building, which was next to the Ski resort 5km sign). So back until the bus turned off the route. The driver wouldn't let me pay and indicated I needed to get another bus. Or so I thought. By this point I'd decided to just hop in a taxi which I duly did. He then did a u-turn, went 100 meters up the road and opened the door...

So, the consulate at last! If you're doing this yourself look out for the small Iranian flag and police man outside an otherwise unremarkable building. You then have to get in. Press the buzzer and wait to speak to somene to get the door open. Press it again thirty seconds later. And again at fifteen second intervals. Patience is your friend here. When someone does answer (listen up though, it's quiet and the traffic is heavy!) say 'visa' and wait to be buzzed into the reception room. At this point it helps to have a good book with you as you wait on your own for a few minutes. Eventually a guy came downsairs and we had a brief conversation, him seated and me having to squat down as the opening in the glass barrier is at waist height. He took my MFA number and jotted it down. He then told me that everyone was in a meeting (ah, explains the waiting!) and to come back in an hour. Oh-kay.

I walked down the road for a bit looking for somewhere to get a (non-alcoholic) drink and ended up wondering into the center of town... the consulate is about a 20 minute so you might want to contemplate that course of action. I was back again on the hour and repeated the buzzer performance. Then the wait until someone came down (ah, so the meeting DİDN'T explain the wait). I was then told my MFA number was OK, I'd been granted a 20 day visa (great, I'd only applied for a 14 day one) and I was given an applicaton form to be filled in and returned with two passport photos and a receipt from the TC Tickaret bank showing I'd paid the visa fee into the account details given on a slip of paper. The fee? 95 euros...Oh what a joy to be English!

So, down to the bank and I made it just before it closed for lunch. As a point of information here they'll happily except Turkish Lira if you're trying to conserve your stock of Euros (remember, cash machines will not work for you in Iran, you need to take cash in euros, US$ or sterling for your whole stay). Then it was time for a lunch of corba (soup). There are a lot of good soup places here where you can fill up on tasty corba and bread up for 3TL. They even give you a plate with some olives and pickles as a side dish.

After lunch, back to the consulate for 2:30 and into waiting mode again. On squatting down and presenting all my documents the chap behind the counter said that I should come back the next morning to get the visa. That's fine with me I said, I'm planning on staying another day here anyway. Then he began to worry that I'd need my passport for the hotel. No, no, I'd already paid, it was fine, they could keep it overnight. No he decided, I needed it so I would have it. Come back at five.

Fine, what with the waiting I'd done that meant an hour and a half to fill before making my fourth trip of the day to the embassy. Just time to drink some tea and do some shopping. When I turned up again, bang on five, the policeman outside told me the place was shut and I should come back tomorrow. He even pointed out the sign giving the office hours which did indeed say Open 08:30 - 12:30, 14:30 - 16:30 (Saturday to Thursday, shut Friday and Sunday). I told him no, I was expected a five and rang the bell. And waited. And rang, and...

Eventually I was let in and presented with my passport complete with visa stamp! I was so happy I was pracitcally skipping in the aır and clicking my heals together as I walked back down to town one... last... time...

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