A Travellerspoint blog

August 2010

Poetry emotion - Shiraz

After a bus journey to Shiraz ending at 3am we treated ourselves to a day of serious lie-in, rest, washing, journal writing and iPod listening. In the early evening we emerged to wander round the peaceful and laid back town.

Shiraz is a university and administrative town and everyone seems young and chilled out. We wandered around a mosque (of course...i think this would be our fifth mosque) and a super relaxed and atmospheric bazaar (our first!). Chatting to a few people who stopped us, standing listening to the nightingales in the decorative brick arches, examining the carved backgammon boards and antique trinkets without hassle - in part i think because many stall owners were dozing out back because of Ramadan :) Even still I have a feeling this would be very different to the bazaar in tehran.

That night we had dinner in a restaurant with a live band - more ducimer, ne, tombek, daff (a drum that kind of looks like a large tambourine with chains round the egde instead of bells) violin and a singer. Everywhere we go there is old music played on old instruments and this is not just for the tourists. Last night in Esfahan we were even played some "rock" music using the Daff and traditional instruments and using Hafez's lyrics (more about him later)

The next morning we left early on a tour to Persepolis. This is the site of an ancient king where he woud recieve gifts from the dignitaries of the surrounding nations (from the carvings it looked like he had a thing for camels). It was mostly destroyed by Alexander the Great but you can still see towering pillars, carved staircases, statues and carved doorframes. It was actually rather splendid. We were taken to the tombs of the dead kings in question whose bones were "buried" a few kilometers away in huuuuuge tombs cut into the rocks after being left out to the vultures (a zoroastrian custom). They were so enormous and towering it really felt like something from indiana jones.

We spent our last evening in Shiraz doing more touristy things like visiting the walled gardens with mountains in the background, paddling in pools, visiting some more mosques and finally ended up at the tomb of Hafez for sunset. Hafez is a long dead poet who would be like our Shakespeare i suppose but much more so. Everyone here still knows, loves and quotes his work. His words have influenced Iranian music, culture and even attitudes and philosophy - we have been quoted his lyrics by people our age and younger and it's hard to describe how it sounds - even being spoken it sounds like music. So being at the tomb was a moving experience. His tomb is in a garden in a raised pegoda with speakers dotted about playing music and speaking his lyrics. People would some and sit on the pegoda steps and recite or silently read poetry from a book or kneel down to kiss the green marble coffin. Some people bought rose petals. But most people would hang about and just contemplate in the atmosphere. We even saw a man dressed in religious robes stop to bow and pray. All this for an artist - not a martyr or a warrior. There was something about this appreciation of art and beauty that made this a touching experience. We stayed here for 2 hours.

And, of course, we were approached by a curious young girl who told us about being a student in Iran and her frustrations. Her brother arrived and we had a halting translated conversation about russian and japanese literature! Hafez's cultural inspiration in action ;)

Must dig out a translation of his work when I get back to the UK. I want to know what all the fuss is about. Oh and Hafez abandoned religion after many years of faithful study and was also big wine drinker - i think i'd like him.

Posted by rachndave 01:07 Archived in Iran Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Last of the Summer - Oh hang on, thats not wine...


sunny 34 °C

OK I've been dragged in to an internet cafe and I'm not allowed to leave until I write something.

Under the care of Javad, who is a lovely, quiet, tender guy - we arrived in Yazd in the middle of the night and got picked up by his friend Mir Hossein, whos house we were (supposed to) stay at during our time in this historic desert town, whose old quarter is built entirely of mud.

We had a whistlestop tour of the main sights in town, but Javad and Mir Hosein seemed more intent on getting down to the business of meeting another friend, Mir Shamsy, for lunch. Little did we know exactly what that would entail.

So we pick up Mir Shamsy, and in no time we're driving out of Yazd and through the spectacular but arid mountains, stopping off for fruit & bread on the way, until we reach a remote village with a huge round house in the middle and a massive fruit / veg garden. Turns out to be Mir Shamsy's summertime playboy mansion. He inherited a lot of property from his businessman father, property that had escaped the grasp of the Ayatollah Khomenei at the time of the Islamic Revolution due to it being so remote. The garden is beatiful, we picked nectarines, almonds, grapes, tomatoes and peaches, and scoffed the lot on a rug in front of the house, washed down with rosewater, whilst naughty mr Shamsy told us about the parties he organises for his son up here. ahem.

After drinking a fair bit of bootleg vodka, and making a quick pass at Rachel (dealt with very professionally), Mir Shamsy leads us into the summer house where we retire for a very relaxing afternoon-evening with the hookah etc (say-no-more). It's nice to see these old guys enjoying each others company, I think they only see each other every few years, and its clear that their friendship goes back a long way - I hope our group of friends gets to be like this when we get old

Time passes, Mir Hosein decides he's no longer capable of driving, so after watching the sunset and strolling round the village we bed down for the night in the middle of these peaceful mountains.

Following day, Rachel and I strike out alone (the Iranian hospitality and generosity is truly wonderful but can sometimes feel a little suffocating) and explore the old town in more detail. Well, the book told us to get lost in the maze of streets, so we did our best, and failed miserably. A very atmpospheric place it is, with narrow alleys snaking off, often with arched ceilings to create more shade from the hot sun, and badgers everywhere. Sorry, baghdeers, a 10th century solution to airconditioning involving catching the wind and funnelling it through the buildings.

We also visited a Zurkanah session which was uber cool, In a nutshell, a load of Iranian bodybuilders have an aerobics session in an ancient dome shaped building- they get in a sort of sunken round boxing ring, and do exercises (waving 35kg batons around, pressups if they are not tooo fat, and spinning around on the spot for as long as possible like I used to do in primary school) - this is all done to the very loud accompaniement of 2 singers / drummers using the amazing acoustics of the building to full effect while the zurkanah guys shout back responses, its an intense, heavily ritualistic, almost religious version of Mad Lizzies Shakeout.

Then it's early evening, we regroup with Javad and say a fairly emotional fairwell, and set off for Shiraz, city of the poets...

Posted by rachndave 00:23 Archived in Iran Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

No singing for supper

Hello from Esfahan after a couple of eventful few days from Tehran, south to Yazd, southwest to Shiraz and up (north) over the Zagros mountains to Esfahan. Dave is sleeping in the hotel room after the hottest bus journey on earth (the bus felt like a travelling american diner - all chrome, booth seats, frilly lampshades and strip lights)

I'd been subtitling these blog entries with the author but i dont think mr tulloch is going to ever write anything so I'll give up on that. He has been writing a journal though so maybe he'll publish that one day. It's a shame really because I think he writes more betterer than me. You'll have to put up with my less flowery prose i'm afraid.

We spent a lovely couple of day's in Tehran, not doing anything touristy at all - we didnt go to the bazaar and we tried to go to a palace but it was shut as it was the first day of Ramadan. Instead we spent time with Leyli, Javad, Nima and Sirus who are friends of a friend of mine from QM (hi Fari!)

Leily is a fantastic artist and Javad is a world class Dulcimer player (he has CDs...like in the shops and everything). Sirus plays the Tombek (like a bongo but it makes a "tom" noise when you hit it in the middle and a "bek" noise when you hit it at the edge). Nima is their 17 year old son who also plays dulcimer and we were joined that first evening by a singer and a ne (wooden flute) player.

Leily is also an amazing cook. The restaurants in Iran aren't great because the mothers mostly stay home and cook and so why go out and pay for something that you can get better at home and for free. Most of the restaurants here serve kebabs of all kinds and maybe a stew if you're lucky. So to be in a real home experience proper casseroles and rice dishes and herb salads was a proper treat. They have a sweet appitiser here that is kind of like nutty candyfloss - it goes really well with black market vodka too ;)

Sirus is a relative of Javad's and was in town for his English conversation exam and so we spent hours chatting with him and tweaking his english (and we're happy to report he passed his exam with flying colours).

Leily manages an artists center in Tehran. Being a musician here is not easy - for example women arent allowed to sing and the government have a heavy hand in what can be released. And so the artist's center is a place for musicians and artists to meet and organise and host events. The center is in the middle of some peaceful gardens with water features and so we spent a relaxed morning visiting the arty shops, viewing the exhibitions (all astounding) and wandering round the gardens.

Dave met an Iranian girl in Barcelona (at a squat in an abandoned radar centre no less) and she told us to get in touch with her brother in Tehran. She had left Iran because she was a dancer and couldnt dance in Iran so we figured her brother would be cool too...which he was. Masoud brought some lovely friends of his - all musicians - and we spent the afternoon in the artist's centre cafe talking about life in Iran for young musicians and the issues young people face in general. All three are thinking about leaving the country to study music (although you can't get a passport until you've done military service) which none of them would really like to do because they love their country :(

We hope to meet them again when we come back to Tehran - We had a mammoth planning session with their help and after our circuit of the big cities and west Iran Masoud is going to pull together some mates and we'll go for a 3 day hike in the mountains north of Tehran before we fly out.

Big thanks to Sirus for taking me shopping the next day to buy a couple of mantau (mid thigh, long sleeved shirts) and a new headscarf since i was boiling in my, albeit thin, black cardie. I still dont look like an iranian but i feel cooler and more appropriate now. Although I only have two mantau so i've been doing a lot of washing in the sink :)

Our next stop was Yazd and luckily for us Javad used to live there and still had an old good friend there and so offered to come with us and we could stay with his friend. So we all caught the overnight train together. Roadtrip!

I'm being kicked out the internet cafe now so i'm off to wake dave and then we're going to find a tea shop on a bridge hopefully. (stories from other cities later - i've kept notes)

Send us news!

Posted by rachndave 07:40 Archived in Iran Tagged food Comments (1)

Official Adventure #1

As I write this I am sitting listening to Dave play drums with an a.maz.ing dulcimer player in a Tehrani home where we have been invited to stay for the last two nights. (Thanks Fari! Leily and Javad have been the perfect hosts and it has been a pleasure to share their company)

I can't tell you how happy I am to be in Tehran :-D we have had our first proper adventure getting here. Unfortunately due to *some* circumstances out of our control and *some* complacency we were unable to catch the train from Istanbul and so we had to take a mixture of buses and begging lifts and more buses and revising plans upon plans and one final lucky bus. But finally we crossed the border into Tabriz on Saturday morning.

As soon as we arrived at the border we seemed to become local celebrities. Everyone wanted to know where we were from and where we were going and why we were there. One group of boys even wanted a photo :s

The crossing over the border was a breeze and the immigration officers were the most polite and friendly people you could imagine. We had to have our temperature taken and all our fingerprints taken like on the Bill (although we didnt take our elbow prints...fools!)

We amused a bunch of taxi drivers no end by learning aloud our numbers and basic farsi phrases like small children while waiting for a shared cab to fill up with its compliment and then finally we hit the road. One of our first sights in Iran was one of the most beautiful sunsets i've ever seen. It felt like our journey had finally started.

We dumped our stuff in a hotel, and fumbled our way though a food order in a nearby caff. Although persian food is hearty and delicious one thing about Iran is that the food in restaurants is not very good at all. Apparently the persian response to restaurants is "why pay for a meal that you can get better and for free at home". So our kebab theme continued still.

After another day of buying language guides (see above about fumbling) trying to book onward travel, being thwarted again, redrawing counter plans (we're now going to fly to Syria on 6th September instead of the train....there's only one train a week and our visa expires at just the wrong time and would cut our trip here too short) we decided to hit the streets in the late evening and try and see at least one sight.

While standing at the corner of the street with a map we were approached, as had been the case every 10 minutes all day actually, by some local Tabrizians asking where we were from, how we were and whether we wanted some help. After some consultation of the map and rejection of our apparently unfullfilling plans (another iranian custom!) the kind lady and her daughter insisted many times on showing us a nice place. So we thought what the hey and followed...i was gently grabbed by the hand, lead surely across a busy street, bundled into an unexpected cab and taken to Elgoli Park which wasnt "*shrug* not far" but a loooong way across town :)

There we spent a truly pleasant few hours strolling around the park talking with this retired primary school teacher and her artist daughter who were genuinely frustrated that we had to leave the next day otherwise I think we may have been adopted. Again, everywhere we went people would stop us to shake our hands and ask where we were from with no other motive than curiosity. Dave and I are having to try very hard to adjust to the fact that no one wants anything other than to satify their interest and wish us a good trip round the country of which they are very proud. One trip to the toilet took me 15 minutes while Dave was stood outside while I shared my life story with three women in turn who wouldnt let me leave without taking their email addresses, refusing offers for dinner, and promising to take care :)

I have to say Dave is receiving a *lot* more attention than me. And everyone thinks he is german or austrian for some reason. As yet to be explained....

Posted by rachndave 11:02 Archived in Iran Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Phallic rocks and navigational shocks


We caught our train from Istanbul to just outside Cappadocia, sharing with a slightly wary yet sweet old Turkish couple in our four person couchette. The atmosphere warmed up greatly when the man was showing us videos of his day at the seaside in the sea, and the wedding they'd been to - Nich (hi Nich) they do the finger linking line dance here too! We love turkish music and the next day he was playing some from his phone in our carriage. We shared some food of theirs and tried to make conversation...badly. He definitely subscribed to the "repeat and shout louder" school of interpretation.

I wont say much about Cappadocia because the photos will say much more: mental geology, underground cities and cave houses/hotels that are still in use. Oh and Dave hired a scooter today while I went on a tour of the bits we didnt see yesterday on our 20K hike

I'm writing this on the soft-breezy balcony of our hostel with an Italian/German couple who are both studying in Turkey and have been our story swapping and tour buddies and given us loads of advice about the country and chuckles too - Hi Elena and Jonas! Thanks for everything

1 point each today for not getting totally lost despite our best efforts on our hike. yay us!

Posted by rachndave 11:21 Archived in Turkey Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

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