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Istanbul, Turkey

Sitting on the sea wall where the Bosphorus meets the Sea of Marmara. It’s Ramadan though it doesn’t seem to be as strictly observed here as in Morocco, the other islamic country I’ve been to during Ramadan. There, in Casablanca, I was stopped by a couple of policemen who had spotted me taking a swig from a bottle of water. Though they weren’t so bothered when they realized I wasn’t Moroccan, they still told me it was forbidden. In the more touristy places, such as Marrakech, some cafes were open during the day for tourists, but I only ever saw one Moroccan breaking Ramadan and that was a guy with no fingers, just stumps, with a tiny hand-rolled cigarette wedged between two of his stumps. I only noticed it because a group of kids were standing in front of the bench on which he was sitting, tormenting him.

The old town of Istanbul is very touristy so perhaps not typical of what goes on in most of Turkey, but I have noticed a few Turkish people not observing Ramadan. One was a policeman, driving through the narrow streets of Sultanahmet with his left hand hanging out of the window, holding a cigarette.

There’s about an hour of daylight left. The sea is filled with large container ships and small fishing boats. A brown haze hangs over the Asian coast on the other side of the Bosphorus.

Istanbul has a population of 20 million.

On the western horizon the ships merge into one.

I arrived here yesterday afternoon, on the ferry from Odessa. The ferry docked at about 3:30 but it was 6:30 before we were allowed to get off. They’d collected everyone’s passports and handed them over to the Turkish police. In customs they went through them, calling out people’s names. When my name was called and I got to the desk I found they wanted £10 or $20 for the visa. I asked if I could pay in Ukrainian Hryvnias since I didn’t have any pounds or dollars. No. Can I pay on my card? No. I went through what money I had. I found a 10 euro note. The guy behind the desk spoke to someone else then said in euros I’d have to pay 15. Don’t you have pounds or dollars? No. I have some Ukrainian money, some Slovakian money and my card. I’m told to try the duty free shops, but none of them will change money for me and the only cash point is on the other side of customs, which I can’t go through without the visa. I go back to the window and now I’m told to return to the ferry and get them to change my money for me. It’s a Ukrainian ferry so they should take Hryvnias. I think the problem with the duty free shops was they would have changed pounds or dollars or euros, but they didn’t want to take Ukrainian Hryvnias, and it turns out the ferry won’t change them either, so I return to customs and this time speak to someone else. I have a purse of loose change from various countries and find I have a 2 euro coin and about £2. That would give me about 15 euros, but they won’t take the change in different currencies, and I think they don’t want coins at all, just notes.

So what do you want me to do? You don’t have a cashpoint here, you don’t have a bureau de change, you won’t take Visa, you won’t take payment in the currencies I have…

He agrees to escort me through customs to the cashpoint outside. With the guy standing right behind me I put in my card and typed in 1000 Turkish liras, and got a message saying transaction refused. I was trying to think what the exchange rate was. Turkey had recently devalued their currency by a factor of a million. Everything used to be in millions of lira, but they just decided to get rid of the millions. I asked the guy what the exchange rate was then typed in 200 liras (about £80) and the machine gave me the money. I had to pay 30 Turkish lira, which is a bit more than £10.