We leave Greece for the Turkish border and the light of Istanbul are all around us. We cross the Bospherous and the great bridge carries us painlessly from Europe to Asia.
A large welcome greets us. We get out of our vehicles and the chant of 500 voices in melodic symphony swells to a resounding crescendo as the booming bass voices drown the trebles and our ears ring. "Salaam Alycum; Salaam Alycum; Salaam Alycum".(Peace be with you) It is the greatest and most heartmelting welcome I have ever encountered. Women wrapped in burkas and headscarves hug me close and kiss me to death, the men smile and shake my hands, children kiss me and hold my hands. Placards wish us 1000 greetings in several languages. I am told we are Mujahadeen - volunteers for justice - yet I do not feel worthy. Several large men break into tears. The loud speakers burst forth their messages. There are fireworks, flags and photographs. We cannot stay long and fight our way back through the throng back to the vans - it takes time. Homemade cakes and treats, luscious apples and pears are forced through our open windows are we take our noisy leave. Horns blaring, flags waving and shouts of Viva Palestina!
Istanbul is vast. It sprawls over hours of driving. It is modern and clean. The investment in infrastructure is impressive, but the traffic pollution is not. There is no underground system and it seems that everyone takes the car everywhere. Our cavalcade is not police escorted and we have to follow the rules of the road. Irritatingly we must stop at red lights and the journey is frustratingly long. If I want to see the Blue Mosque, or any other sight of Istanbul, then I must come again.