Before anyone gets terribly excited, or considers a report to the 'Friends of Iain Dale' (*** irony alert ***), or the Daily Vile as I prefer to call it, I am paying my own way here, including the internal flight that the delegation made yesterday. And, equally importantly, the cost to the United Kingdom taxpayer is... zero, as this is part of an effort by the Government of India to reach out to Parliamentarians from each of the three major parties.
Due to scheduling issues, I flew in via the pretty route, with a stop in Istanbul on the way. Now I must admit that the initial reason for that choice was curiosity, but the realisation that I could have lunch with an old friend, cross from Europe to Asia and back by boat and add a new country to my list gave the flying visit some meaning.
And so, what about Istanbul? I was entranced. Mosques that resemble vast turtles with their own missile defence systems, ancient fortifications, some exceptional shopping and an easy to use transport system make the city easy to explore. There are ferries across the Bosphorus connecting Europe and Asia, on which you can drink tea whilst you pass Heyderpasa station, the rail gateway to the near East.
Lunch with the 'Axis of Evil' was extremely pleasant, and we drank a bottle of local red wine with our meal, talking about politics and life in general, before I headed off to my hotel for some skin peeling and soap massage. For a few hours, at least, I had nicely buffed and polished skin...
And then to the airport, for the second leg of my journey, where I would meet up with the delegation.