Today was the big day upon which my whole trip had hung in the balance for too long. Over 4 months since I had started the ball rolling, I had come to Erzurum to apply for my Iranian visa at the local consulate. It had taken a whopping 13 weeks of bullshit to get the authorisation code I required (you had to get prior permission to even apply) but I had stuck to it belligerently and now it was the end game. Due to the current political situation anything was possible but Brits were not flavour of the month at the moment. I had mentally prepared myself beforehand for disappointment and/or a long wait. If I had the visa in 3 days that was about the best I could hope for. I had planned to be at the consulate for opening time expecting it to be busy but slept in slightly and also fell victim to a poor map, I had walked right past the consulate expecting it to be much further. Thankfully a kindly local boy I pestered was heading that way and chaperoned me along, the small limp Red White and Green flag was thoroughly missable outside an anonymous appartment block. I entered at 9 to find a small office and thankfully only one other applicant, an old boy from Uzbekistan. Its amazing the camaradery you can create out of nothing when you need it. I filled out two forms, handed over my passport, photos and authorisation code to be told I should come back in 10 days (doubtless to be refused I expected). I was mortified. I didnt have 10 days to wait and it spelled doom anyway. I thought this a tad out of order considering the clearance procedure I'd already had to endure and so queried it as politely as my nerve would allow. The boy on the desk finally understood that I already had clearance but said he didnt have any record of it. I said he should have, and while he went away to check I sweated bullets. He came back with a faint smile and queried my name, I could only assume from the way he repeated it that the authorisation had been filed under my middle name or similar. Relief is not strong enough a word. He handed me a slip giving the address of a local bank where a short bus ride later I had paid 95 Euros and come back with the receipt. I didnt know what to expect from this point on but I had been gestured to sit down so obviously the wheels were turning somewhere and I was still required. It took a couple of hours wait but forewarned I had brought along a book, then beyond hope I was handed my passport back with the words "21 days".
I should have been ecstatic. Incredibly I had bagged the visa the same day, but 21 days was less than the standard 30 and not a lot in a country the size of Iran. I walked back to town in the sunshine, sunny but very cold, it epitomised the bitter sweet moment. And then it dawned on me. But of course, once inside Iran I could get an extension, they were allegedly a formality if you knew how to go about it. I felt the sun beat the chill off my face and treated myself to tea and baklava for more than what I normally paid for dinner. Sweet!
With the cat in the back that suddenly meant that I was also free to go, Erzurum would delay me no more and I made the decision to move the next day. I filled in the last few gaps with a visit round the sights again that afternoon, this time blessed with better weather for photos. Another bonus was that after missing the museums to the rain the day before I had expected them to be closed today. I found however the Yakutiye Medrese to be open, a former religious school converted into a museum, and so went inside. It resembled a mosque complete with an unusual blue tiled round tower minaret. Inside were the many tiny chambers which had served as prayer cells and each one contained a different type of display. Besides the usual Ottoman garb I particularly noted a weaving loom. It had been used to produce what the locals call Ehram, a coarse traditional fabric which indeed I had seen some old biddies wearing. It was normally decorated with patterns and scenes from ancient Anatolian sagas, a sort of Turkish tartan I guess! I also found some more old banknotes, printed by Waterlow and Sons of London would you believe, for the Banque Imperiale Ottoman. And its the first time I've ever seen a 2 and a half pound note! They had a half pound note too. There was some traditional beadwork made from Oltu stone (black amber). I thought amber was just amber but it can also be black, brown, grey or even green seemingly. Dark now, I tried to make my departure the next morning as superefficient as possible by tracking down the Otogar in advance. I eventually found it another bad map experience later, and nearly killed myself in the process when I was ambushed by a boobytrapped bus shelter. I dodged unguarded holes at the side of the pavement big enough to swallow up a car. Health and safety in this country was a non starter.