#35 Goodbye Iran!

Sun Apr 30, 2017 02:06 GMT

We now seat in the plane, ready to go back to Germany… This closes the Iranian adventure, it’s been a fun ride!

#34 Golestan palace and last shopping in bazaar

Sun Apr 30, 2017 00:15 GMT

Time to visit the Golestan palace for our last day in Iran! Another complex of buildings constructed by one of the Shahs. Ceramic mosaics, mirrors halls and huge ceremony rooms.

After a small break for a basil seeds drink, we headed up to the great bazaar for a late shopping before leaving the country.

#33 Contemporary Music Festival in Tehran

Sat Apr 29, 2017 14:07 GMT

After a lazy start, we set off with Josefina for the Contemporary Art Museum of Tehran, to see the opening of a contemporary music festival. Iran actually has a great collection of contemporary art: the wife of the last shah was an amateur, and spent a great amount of money buying works from Matisse, Picasso or Warhol.

After hearing a couple of (very) contemporary pieces, we chilled out a bit in the cafe, before heading to the Tabiat bridge, a huge bridge in the center of Tehran from where one can get an overview of the city. The place is hugely popular and was packed with locals enjoying the sunset or barbecuing in the grass nearby. We missed the sunset, and the smog was hiding the mountains, but the experience was still interesting!

Iranians love their flags (or at least the government does), and they don’t hesitate to make them BIG.

#32 Sa'd Abad complex

Sat Apr 29, 2017 13:47 GMT

On Thursday we set out to visit the Sa’d Abad complex, a group of palaces built by the Shahs in a large park of North Tehran. The garden itself is nice for strolling, and the palaces are decorated with taste (in their style). The inside is actually a mix of Persian and European cultures, as the Shah imported many items from France or Germany. Huge Persian carpets (some over 150 square meters!) are combined with Dior curtains and Limoges porcelain ware. The Shahs would clearly spare no expenses when it came to art or decoration, their going over the top contributed to feeding the anger that led to the Islamic revolution.

The pair of boots are the only remains of a former statue of the Shah that, according to the legend, would have broken when being removed.

We spent the evening with local couchsurfers in a nice cafe for their weekly meeting, a good opportunity to meet young Tehranis and discuss with them.

#31 Back to Tehran

Thu Apr 27, 2017 15:52 GMT

Wednesday was a quiet day. We mostly rested at Josefina’s place, and went to see Imam Khomeini’s shrine in the afternoon. He was the Imam who founded the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is therefore (officially) revered in the country. The shrine is absurdly big, a single gigantic room with a cage enclosing the coffin in the center. The building being rather modern (it’s actually not fully done yet), its decoration is more kitschy than what can be seen in mosques.

We joined Josefina for dinner in the evening at her place, having Italian food and wine is actually enjoyable after a month of local food :-)

#30 Tabriz

Tue Apr 25, 2017 18:21 GMT

We arrive at 6am in Tabriz by night bus, after a not-so-restful night. Luckily, we’ve found a host during the night, he turns out to be a really nice guy. We freshen up at his place, and off we are to discover Tabriz!

We first get our train tickets to Tehran, and meet afterwards a young tourism student wanting to exercise his German. He takes us through the bazaar, and gives us really good insights on the various ethnies that make up Iranians, and how some are more represented than others. For example, most people from the Azerbaidjan region speak Turkish, but schools there teach exclusively Farsi. In general, power in Iran seems to be in the hands of the Persians. In the afternoon, we visit the Blue Mosque, a mosque formerly entirely covered in blue tiles. Because of an earthquake some hundred years ago, only small patches of ceramics remain today (the mosque is still very nice to visit). We end up our tour with a walk in the Golestan park, browsing the stalls of the second hand book resellers. In the evening, our host takes us to Elgoli park, a large park South of the city.

Tabriz is the first city we visit where the separation between men and women in buses is strictly enforced. Even couples split before getting in the bus, and rejoin after getting off.

On the second day, we meet a couple studying to become French teachers, they take us to visit some old houses in Tabriz, and back to Elgoli park again, this time by day :-)

We then go to the train station, where we catch our night train to Tehran!

#29 Masuleh

Sun Apr 23, 2017 18:46 GMT

Today’s program is the visit of Masuleh, a thousand year old village in the mountains, not too far from Fuman. Yesterday’s taxi driver had insisted he could take us there (“dar baste”, as a private taxi) but we knew we could get a savari (shared taxi) instead for much less money. The trick was therefore to escape the house without the driver coming to pick us up… We explain the mother (in sign language) that we’re not going to Masuleh to avoid the taxi, leave on foot (victory!) and head off to the savari terminal. Our driver looks like Frank Zappa and probably speaks Azeri and not Farsi, like many people in this region.

Masuleh is such a steep village that roofs are used as terraces by the neighbors above. It’s apparently very touristy in summer, but it’s rather quiet as we get there. Because all the streets are actually stairs, there are no cars in the village, goods are carried in wheelbarrows.

After this relaxing day, we go back to Rasht to catch a night bus to Tabriz, our final destination before going back to Tehran.

#28 Trekking the Alamut valley

Sat Apr 22, 2017 17:51 GMT

After a night in the bus from Isfahan to Qazvin, we get (after much negotiating) a shared taxi to a point close to Garmarud, the starting point of the trek. It takes around 3h of winding roads (with a taxi driver who thinks he’s a rally pilot) to get there, crossing through green valleys full of blossoming cherry trees. We reach the cross where the taxi leaves us, and start repacking and preparing for hiking. A pick up stops by, and tells us to get in, we hobble in, backpacks half open, Adrien wearing one hiking shoe on one foot and a sandal on the other. We transfer after a few hundred​ meters to another car driven by two Iranians, the radio blasting at full volume. They take us directly to Garmarud, a pretty lucky ride! In Garmarud, we meet the keeper of the village shop who draws us an approximate map (we have the GPS too, as well as the instructions in the guidebook).

We set on walking at 1600m high around 1pm, heading for Pichebon, our camp for the first night.

The road to Pichebon is half paved, half dirt track, so walking is pretty easy. There are however 1000m of elevation to climb, and we carry around 15kg each…

We reach Pichebon around 5:30pm, the village is empty but there are beautiful meadows waiting for our tent. There are already patches of snow visible just after the village.

The temperature is very nice, we set up the camp, and read a bit before cooking dinner. As the sun hides behind the mountain, the temperature drops fairly quickly, we’ll spend the rest of the evening inside the tent! After a fairly cold night (all the water outside is frozen), we get started for the main part of the trek, the crossing of Salaj Anbar pass at 3200m high. While we can easily avoid the first patches of snow, we soon have no other option than crossing them. We end up spending around four and a half hours to get to the top, hiking sometimes knee deep in the snow. We’re tired and our feet are soaked when we get there, but we’re pretty happy!

After lunch and a small break in the sun, we get walking again for the decent to Salaj Anbar. There is again a lot of snow, and we probably lose quite a bit of time and energy trying to cut through the snow and having to climb back again. We rally Salaj Anbar, 2600m high, around 7pm, the day is declining already. We want to set up the camp somewhere between there and Maran, the following village, but the villagers refuse to show us the way, saying it’s to dark to hike there. A young guy comes and tells us “horse two people - no money!”. I wonder why he would go through the trouble of riding two random strangers to Maran with a horse, but it turns out he meant “house” and not “horse”, he takes us to the imamzadeh (the chapel) of the village, we’ll sleep there tonight! With no heating, the temperature inside isn’t exactly tropical, but at least we’re not outside in the wind.

The third day is mostly climbing down to Yuj (1460m high), which is good since we had our share of climbing up already. A villager explains us that the standard path to Maran collapsed, we need to take an alternative route and join it later. People here, as in the rest of Iran, are always really helpful! Although the first kilometer is descending a really steep slope to rejoin the normal path, the rest of the walk is rather easy and really scenic. We reach Maran around noon.

Our house in Salaj Anbar

We finally reach Yuj around 2:30pm, and (again!) immediately get a ride with some road workers. They’re already 4 in the car, but who said you can’t fit six people and two big bags inside? They take us directly to Tonekabon, on the Caspian sea: we’ve now seen both the South and North seas of Iran! We connect to Rasht and then Fuman, where we end up staying​ by the mother of our taxi driver… A well deserved shower, and we’re off to sleep!

#27 Isfahan, day #3

Wed Apr 19, 2017 20:35 GMT

We get up early (well, earlier than the last days) to go to the Jameh mosque. There are already quite many people there, but it’s large enough that it’s not a problem. The Jameh mosque is one of the oldest in Isfahan, dating for some parts back to the twelfth century. It’s actually more of a mosque complex than a mosque, with its many domes and rooms.

We then head back to the same tea place as yesterday, this time to try the food: we get some “dizi”, and something else eggplant based.

We also go check the Imam mosque (formerly named Shah mosque), probably the largest one in Isfahan (at least the largest one we’ve seen!).

Tonight, we take the bus to Qazvin. From there, we’ll need to reach Garmarud, the starting point of our three day trek in the Alamut valley!

#26 Isfahan, day #2

Tue Apr 18, 2017 19:42 GMT

We start the day a bit later than expected, looks like we’re still a bit behind on our sleep schedule… The Jame mosque, which we wanted to visit, is unfortunately closed between noon and 2pm. Oh well, that makes some free time to plan the next steps of the trip, probably in North West Iran.

We go visit the Chehel Sotoun palace (“forty column palace”) instead, after walking a bit in Hasht Behesht park. It’s nice to see a park that doesn’t charge something to get in, this one is especially green and welcoming. Some people play chess or backgammon under the trees.

The palace is called “forty columns” because of the 20 columns of its facade, which are supposed to reflect in the pool. The pool being under renovation, we couldn’t really see the effect… The inside of the palace is however very well restored, walls are entirely painted with scenes and patterns from various times in the Iranian history.

We then pass by the Honar bazaar, a bazaar specially for jewelry. The mosaics here are sometimes incredibly fine, some of the ceramic pieces are only a few millimeters long.

There are still some bridges we haven’t seen (and Isfahan is supposed to be also famous for them so…), so we go see the Si-o-Se Pol and Chubi bridges, before meeting our host.

He takes us to a shisha bar, and we walk a bit around the main square, which we hadn’t seen by night yet.

We end up the evening on Sofe mountain, in the southern part of the city. As around the bridges, many families are making pick nicks outside (Isfahanis, and Iranians in general, are huge pick nick fans).

Tomorrow is our last day in Isfahan, before taking a bus to Tehran and then Qazvin, our base for exploring North West Iran!

#25 Isfahan, day #1

Tue Apr 18, 2017 00:35 GMT

Isfahan is supposed to be the gem of Iran, and so far (despite the so-so weather) it delivers. There are many sights we haven’t checked yet, so far we’ve wandered around rather than in the center.

The bazaar here is really nice, the entrance is painted, and it has many inner yards offering quiet and green rest places. Those yards are often also finely decorated.

While getting lost in there, we found a tiny place serving a sort of hummus accompanied with chicken broth, a nice occasion to try something new for lunch!

We spent the rest of the day walking in the streets, looking at the architecture and the minarets, before joining our host and heading to Jolfa, the Armenian district. Jolfa is a rather trendy place, full of cafes, cloth shops and dining places. Because it’s the Armenian district, and Armenians are (mostly) Catholics, the are many churches there. They actually look like mosques from the outside, the Catholic cross in the top of the roof is the only distinctive sign.

The four Frenchies then joined us, we checked out one of the nice bridges by night and headed home (7 in a Peugeot 405!).

#24 Goodbye Yazd, hello Isfahan!

Mon Apr 17, 2017 23:14 GMT

We left Fahraj yesterday, after a good night sleep in the hotel. Before leaving for Isfahan, we decided to check the Towers of Silence in Yazd, a place where zoroastrians used to take there dead people, so that they’d get eaten by vultures (zoroastrians do not want to dirty the earth with burrying the dead, nor the air with cremating them).

Afterwards, we picked some local sweets (Yazd is famous for them), and headed to the bus station. Our host in Isfahan is hosting four other French people, they’re a fun bunch of people!

#23 Two days in the desert

Sat Apr 15, 2017 21:42 GMT

We start the trek with a 6h walk towards the spot where we’ll spend the night. The walk is quite technical, we hike on the side of the mountain on a fairly crumbly ground, so we have to be careful with each step we make. Once again (for a reason I don’t totally understand), we started quite late, around 10. This means the sun is hitting us quite hard, and every small rest in the shadow is appreciated.

We do a pretty long lunch break to wait until the sun goes lower, and finally arrive at the final spot where the guide’s wife is waiting for us.

We sleep outside, under the stars.

The second day is actually way less sporty than expected, we just hike a bit in the dunes.

We’re now back at the hotel in Fahraj, where we can finally take a shower and rest a bit. We’re heading tomorrow first back to Yazd, and then to Isfahan, where we found someone to host us. We’ll appreciate the cooler climate!

#22 Dorbid mountain and the oasis

Thu Apr 13, 2017 19:50 GMT

Today we go climb the Dorbi mountain, for the first day of our trek. The ascent starts at around 2500m high, and after a few hours of steep walk under the sun, we reach the summit at 3100m.

Near the summit is also a cave that we go explore, it’s full of white crystals, and has a pool of drinkable water.

We go down, stopping for some tea on the way. While temperature stayed very reasonable through the day, the sun still hits fairly hard on our heads.

Finally, we arrive at the oasis where we’ll spend the night. It’s a tiny village close to the mountain where a water source allows plenty of trees to grow. The result is a green patch in this barren landscape.

Our host family cook their own bread, in a very similar way to how naans are done in India.

We’re heading tomorrow to the desert!

#21 Yazd

Wed Apr 12, 2017 23:02 GMT

After a rather short night in the bus, we arrive at around 6 in Yazd. Yazd is a city with a historical center made mostly of houses with walls made of mud and straw. As it’s early morning, the city is really quiet (it will stay so until 9 or 10). We enter the yard of a mosque randomly, the mosque keeper invites us in, and offers us tea even though we can’t really exchange any word with him (language barrier again…).

This is again a typical example of Iranian hospitality: something similar happened to us in Persepolis, where a family invited us to share their pick nick. The counterpart is that it’s sometimes hard to leave afterwards, after being stuffed with your fourth plate of rice… We’ve discussed with a guy biking through Iran sometimes purposefully hiding from people to avoid being invited at their place! There’s really not much to complain about though, Iranians are mostly hospitable and curious people.

Yazd (like a few other cities in Iran) boasts an extensive underground network of water canals called qanats: as Yazd is next to the desert, water is scarce, and needs to be preserved. Chimneys bring fresh air to the reserves, as can be seen on the picture above. The same principle also works to cool houses: air can flow from the chimneys next to cold water, and finally into the house.

Tomorrow, we leave for a three day trek in the desert, where internet access might be sporadic, so the next post might have to wait for a couple of days!

#20 A bit of brain in your sandwich?

Wed Apr 12, 2017 14:20 GMT

#19 Last day in Shiraz

Tue Apr 11, 2017 20:34 GMT

After another early wake up at 4:30, Lale’s father took us to a mountain close to the city. He follows this routine three times a week (at 70 years old) to keep in shape, which seems to work pretty well! Iranians in general look pretty fit, we see very little overweight people in the street. The mountain ascent takes only an hour, and takes us from 1600 to around 2000m high, where we can see the sun rise on Shiraz. Because it’s still so early, the air is cool, the walk is really enjoyable.

We stopped to pick up some bread on the way back. The bread here is flat and one gets it in large chunks, warm from the oven. People let it cool down on a plaque outside before chopping it in smaller pieces.

We spent the afternoon visiting the shrines of Hafez and Saadi, two famous poets from Shiraz. Both offer a nice garden, perfectly suited for spending a few hours planning the next steps of the trip!

Finally, we passed by chance by another shrine that we hadn’t seen before, a pretty nice one where we could for once go inside (as non shi’it tourists)!

Still having some hours to kill before the night bus trip to Yazd, we simply wandered in the streets around the bazaar.

Next stop is Yazd, a city at the border of the desert!

#18 More sights from Shiraz

Mon Apr 10, 2017 23:06 GMT

We started early in the morning with the visit of the Nazir-al-mulk mosque, famous for its stained glasses. At early morning, sunlight goes through them, bringing a special ambience to the prayer room. This is one of the clearly touristic sites of Shiraz, so one has to get there really early (around 7:30) to get a bit of peace before the organized tours raid the place.

We then took the time to stroll through some old streets near the mosque. The streets in this area make a sort of labyrinth of old houses, some with nice patios. Even in those narrow streets, and like in all other places we’ve seen so far in Iran, there’s absolutely no litter on the street: Iran is a really clean place!

We got invited by chance to visit the restauration of an old traditional house, the architect let us see the patio and the living room (yes, the room on the picture below is a living room!).

After lunch in a traditional restaurant, where, like in Qeshm, we ate on some kind of elevated platform, we headed to the Afifabad garden. While the gardens themselves (and the army museum they host) are not really worth the entrance price, lots of the people that come here rent traditional costumes, and take pictures of themselves with it. One has to say that Iranians love their smartphones: there’s no such thing as “enough selfies”, Instagram here is a big thing, and every occasion is good to take a picture of yourself or some friend… Or some random tourist passing by!

#17 Discovering Persepolis

Sun Apr 9, 2017 21:58 GMT

We started the day with a visit to the Eram garden, North of Shiraz, historically a residence of Shiraz nobles, but now a part of the botanical garden. Some poems from Hafez, a famous local poet, appear on the tiles.

We then headed towards Persepolis, an archeological site dating back to 500 A.D. Persepolis was never used as a political or administrative capital, but only served for the two weeks of No Ruz (new year celebrations), where all conquered territories would come and pay their tribute to the king. Persepolis is special because of how well conserved (and big!) it is, one really gets a feeling of the size and style of the former buildings. Around Persepolis are two smaller sites, Naqsh E Rostam and Naqsh E Radjab, a site with various tombs and the other with carved reliefs.

#16 First impressions of Shiraz

Sun Apr 9, 2017 00:27 GMT

Shiraz is a much greener city than Tehran, and while the traffic is not more fluid, the tourist areas clearly seem to be more taken care of. As a matter of fact, we’ve seen quite many of them today, mostly French and German people (as far as we could hear). We roamed around the central bazaar, tried the local ice cream, and headed afterwards to a shrine (not a mosque, but a place of pilgrimage and worshipping). While most tourist sights in Shiraz now charge a fairly hefty price to foreigners (50 times the “local” price!), that one is free and comes with a free guided visit, which was pretty interesting. The center is full of places we haven’t had time to see yet, but tomorrow is “Persepolis” day!

#15 Iranian Kebab!

Sat Apr 8, 2017 14:26 GMT

#14 Good bye Qeshm!

Sat Apr 8, 2017 13:42 GMT

Yesterday was our last day on Qeshm island. We passed quickly by Laft, a fishers town with still quite many traditional houses boasting a “wind well”, a system designed to capture the wind and bring cold air in the house.

Afterwards, we managed to take a night bus to Shiraz. Buses here are really nice, with super wide seats where sleeping is not a problem. We’ll be meeting Lale in Shiraz, her and her family will host us for a few days.

#13 Visiting the mangrove

Thu Apr 6, 2017 21:19 GMT

After the lunch break (at 4pm, it’s apparently when people eat here), we went with a boat through the mangrove. We were touring again (as in the Star Valley) with the German couple we met yesterday, two really nice people that live in Berlin since the 70s! The boat took us to various parts of the mangrove, and we also had the occasion to swim a bit. Because nobody in our group speaks Farsi, and none of the guides we had spoke English, we probably missed quite a bit on the explanation… The language gap is pretty much a constant​ since the beginning of the trip, but in a way it’s also what makes it exotic!

Tomorrow we’ll visit the village of Laft in the morning, and try to catch a night bus to Shiraz in the evening.

#12 Star Valley in Qeshm

Thu Apr 6, 2017 20:50 GMT

We started today with a visit of the Star Valley, another place on the island that offers interesting landscapes.

On the way back, we passed by fishers drying fish on the ground. We haven’t really understood how they use it afterwards, we guess it’s for producing flour.

#11 Qeshm, day #1

Wed Apr 5, 2017 20:48 GMT

We set out to see some of the geological curiosities in the west of the island. Qeshm offers some lunar landscapes, and erosion cut out the rocks in crazy shapes.

The day started by a small stop at the beach, where the sand is so rich in quartz that it sparkles.

Interestingly, while local people here follow the same (rather conservative) rules as Tehran regarding dress code, Iranian tourists bath freely in bikini. Actually, as I write this post from the yard of the homestay, nobody around me is wearing a scarf nor long sleeves. Qeshm somehow seems to be a popular spot where those things are possible.

After the beach, we went to visit a salt cave. The cave is accessible with just a headlamp, only the last room requires crawling for a few meters in a narrow crack.

Salt crystals floating on the water.

We carried on with the visit of the Chahkouh canyon, formed by the collision of two plaques and the erosion of water.

A quick detour by a shipyard, and we went back to the homestay.

#10 Haftarangoo

Tue Apr 4, 2017 19:00 GMT

We’re staying in Haftarangoo, a small village near Tabl on the Qeshm island. Qeshm is mostly desert, with a mangrove forest in the North.

We stay in a “homestay”, at a place where a family rents rooms.

The style of the houses and of the people reminds a bit berber villages.

We’ll try to see some of the interesting sights of the island over the next two days.

#9 Flying to Qeshm!

Tue Apr 4, 2017 14:22 GMT

#8 Stop sign

Tue Apr 4, 2017 10:05 GMT

#7 A day at the bazaar

Mon Apr 3, 2017 22:35 GMT

We went to check the great bazaar today, a larger version of the one we saw yesterday. It was still relatively quiet, as No Ruz (the new year celebration) was not so long ago. The bazaar stretches over an entire district, and sometimes over several floors too. It also includes various mosques.

After the bazaar, we wandered a bit around Baharestan square and the ex US embassy, which now home to some (more) anti US/Israel propaganda.

We’re flying tomorrow to Qeshm, an island on the Persian gulf, at the very South of Iran. We’ll then slowly travel our way back towards Tehran until the end of the month.

#6 How many mosques can you put on a map?

Sun Apr 2, 2017 21:53 GMT

#5 First visit at a mosque

Sun Apr 2, 2017 20:12 GMT

Yes, the sign says “Down with the US and Israel”… Doesn’t matter if every restaurant around offers pretty much nothing except coca cola, fanta and sprite to drink :-)

The visit was also the occasion for Maureen to try the chador!

#4 Tajrish Bazar

Sun Apr 2, 2017 18:06 GMT

The market is pretty quiet today, as today is “nature day”: people are supposed to go out and have a pick nick in the nature. Many stalls were closed, we’ll come back on a normal working day!

#3 At the airport

Sun Apr 2, 2017 01:41 GMT

After an uneventful flight, we arrive at the airport. The trip in the plane already gives an idea of how easily Iranian people start talking to strangers (or any other person actually) and propose their help. We already started collecting phone numbers of people telling us we should visit them in their local town. The passport check line progresses very slowly, we probably won’t be in the center before another two hours…

A music group is playing in the arrival hall.

#2 Taking off soon!

Sat Apr 1, 2017 17:27 GMT

#1 Ready for departure!

Fri Mar 31, 2017 19:27 GMT

After multiple fruitless attempts at picking the visas from the embassy, we finally got them!

Flight is on Saturday evening, we’ll get to Tehran late in the night, and meet Josefina, who’ll be hosting us for the first days.