So the day started on panic mode; cleaned up a bit, threw the garbage out, washed some dishes, woke up “the boss” and we hurried on out with a packed suite case for my second trip to good ol’ Persia and my wife’s first. It was always more than just a tourist trip, not including Shiraz and Esfahan, we were going to site see in Tehran and the misses will meet some of my relatives, and of course we want to visit my father’s grave.
So we got ready, and off to Sharjah airport we went. So of course I forget to print the e-ticket (printed the coming back ticket twice and forgot to print the one taking us there) this is probably due to the stress at work and the great deal of news about demonstrations in Iran. But on we went and the ticket issue was not really much of an issue, but it did take a while to print ours out because as usual the machine wasn’t working. We were the absolute last two people in the customs line-up in Shiraz because we waited in the queue and then we were told to go to another line and on and on it went until we were literally the last two, but at least it didn’t take long to get our checked luggage since it was the last one left.
Our driver, Reza, took us to the hotel which was clean and tidy had everything we needed and in fact was more of an apartment with a full kitchenette. We rested up for a while because we both felt the annoying beginnings of a cold, and it’s been a long couple of weeks. We slept for ages, but ended up being really hungry. Problem was its Friday and most things are closed, I read about a nearby restaurant called Sharzeh and so out we went and walked a lot to waste time, although when the time came we couldn’t find it – it was crazy hidden for some reason, but after asking 6 different people, barely understanding what they said, we finally found it – we were early but it was good because we got a booth – after we came it was a crowded full house in no time.
The city of poets – Shiraz
It had a great atmosphere with musicians and singers in the lower level and a whole bunch of people, the food was great and filling we had kashka bathanjoon, the surprise great dish, and the regular chelou kebab with rice and I had the kubedieh with sultani and freshly baked bread. We marched out and in the cold weather took a few pix; and other than stopping for a quick sweet (similar to a loqmat el qathi but a long big one, like a small baguette) we ended at the hotel. After having the room card re-coded because it didn’t work, we are now back to relaxing – realizing tomorrow will be jam packed full of sightseeing starting at 9 in the morning (not sure if we have to pack since we won’t be coming back to the hotel…or are we, we will ask Mr. Zare our guide tomorrow) – breakfast at 8, early rise up for sure. Good thing we didn’t have a late night tea. I cleaned up my nice long coat (a gift from my wife and mother in low for my birthday two days ago – which was great timing because it definitely kept me warm) and my shoes from the dessert syrup that spilled down. So far so good, but wasn’t really a very eventful day – tomorrow should be pictures galore (too bad my Canon DSLR is getting fixed, talk about bad timing). Here’s to a busy day tomorrow, better rest up (Eram Hotel, 10:08pm Shiraz)**
Well its been a long and a particularly rough day for the misses who didn’t sleep much because of some noise in the hotel corridor, she’s a light sleeper – I just didn’t have the heart to wake her even though she was sleeping in quiet a bit – we had our quick breakfast, saw a cute kid with her grandpa reading the same lonely planet guide we had, had my two eggs, and as we headed back to our room saw the guide packed up and got started on what is possibly the longest and busiest day of the whole trip. I’m not sure I can go through naming all the sites we saw but some of the highlights. A top one was going to Persepolis – and the wifey refusing to go up a hill because she was tired and it was steep; funny thing was we kept seeing old ladies going up and coming down this “steep” hill, a lot of them, while we pant for air. But the site was pure magic, and I was really engrossed in the details particularly of the different representations of the satraps in the famous staircase relief. The order as well as the perspectives and the reliefs themselves were genius.
The necropolis close by was so calm and serene, especially since no one was there – apparently it is commonly overlooked. It was very spiritual and felt like a paradise of solitude – truly a “resting” place. Driving back, I got talking to the driver with some background tunes of Shejaryan and Shahram two Iranian classical singers – found out he’s not all that religious and he has a thing against Brits, more than Americans – no surprise there. We saw the Vakil complex including the bazaar, where we bought some souvenirs…found out later they were really a bargain as we compared. Went to a couple of poets’ mausoleums, and ended up at the Eram Gardens which were truly special. A whirlwind but a great trip – so exotic, a bit loaded and busy but worth every minute.
The plane to Esfahan was relaxed and quick (Iran Air). We were both impressed with how smooth it was as we reach the historical capital. Being in Esfahan at first glance feels worlds more developed than the area we were in, in Shiraz, and the hotel is clean and decent (the bell boy had a major attitude problem though, but could be because he woke up in the middle of the night) (Azadi Suite Hotel, 12:16am Esfahan)**
We both woke up tired and sore and to some extent sick, which I did not admit to, but my wife looked rough to the point where I almost asked her to sit this day out. I have to say that I dreaded the nearby elevator music because when you hear it, it reminds you of a horror movie – and inevitably it means someone is coming to our third floor and the elevator door just SLAMS back into place, scaring the crap out of us. Anyway, we did eventually go down for the breakfast and felt much better, especially with having a good tea and sleeping in a bit. I had a nice shower in the morning and the day looked relatively more relaxed than the previous- and it was. The weather was AMAZING, and it was a very relaxed day.
The first mosque we went to we both admitted to feeling emotional, harking back to some childhood memories and nostalgia – I think it was the overall atmosphere. The brick design was impressive because it was rough looking but so much detail with just bricks, no tiles and no painting, barely any colour – very impressive. We went to the shaking minaret, wasn’t all that impressive really, but was a very casual place, we took it easy while waiting and had a nice break in the beautiful weather. After that we were even more laid back with the tour guide bringing his own tea in a picnic basket, nice touch! Had a nice chilled afternoon tea next to a 500BC fire temple on the hill – where else but in Esfahan.
We then went to the jewel of it all, the Shah Abbas square and the entire complex, the palace (Aliqapu) was so impressive and amazing, especially the two talking corners where we stood on opposite ends of this courtyard and facing the corners, by some engineering miracle, we talked to each other through the wall as if we are facing each other directly- so cool! Walked up the stairs and while although we quickly realised how unfit we are, our 80 or so year old tour guide was non-chalante just skipping through the stairs! What are these people on, and where can I get some?! We ended up talking to this Iranian student in the palace mezzanine with the tour guide translating and it started off as a survey of why we are visiting and what our impressions where. But then the argument happened in Farsi and the tour guide moved us away from him – from what I gather it got political and he was asking that we tell the world of their plight against the regime…. these are troubling times in Iran and we almost didn’t come because of the politics.
Esfahan is a fairytale
As I type in the hotel room we hear loudspeakers and honking outside, and just as we came a demonstration was happening, but nothing too dramatic – yet! Anyway the Imam mosque was amazing and so impressive I felt like I was in heaven – particularly due to lack of tourists and visitors here. Really impressed by everything from the obvious tile work, architecture, the fact that imperfections were incorporated so as to say there is no perfection but God, the echo in the middle of the dual dome of the mosque, the large stone decorated bowls made of one piece, as well as the intentional architectural elements of showing the different stages of mining, carving, and polishing the marble components of the mosque. Was something quite amazing.
After having an Esfahani biryani (very heavy) for lunch, off to the square we went and to the square bazaar (by the way apparently the square is the second largest after Tiananmen Square in China). We went to a couple of carpet shops and learned a lot, was so impressed by this double sided carpet made by two different weavers but for each knot they both worked on it (I.e. you can flip it either way with different designs on each side – it was weaved simultaneously on both sides). We got a few things and even more things in the sweets shop, and after passing another demonstration, we got back to the hotel just chilling.
Esfahan – never enough
I was planning on crossing to the nearby bridge for some nice tea but sounds busy outside – will still have time, tomorrow is another day and at night we’ll be in Tehran, looking forward to it! (Azadi Suite Hotel, 7:10pm Esfahan)**
We just woke up all relaxed and fresh, after breakfast we are ready to pick up and go, ending our stay here in Esfahan and heading to Tehran. Still a few sites to see today but our plane leaves around 5pm. So yesterday after we relaxed in the hotel we walked through the bridge after all, it was a blistering cold night. Had a nice warm tea and ash rishta (incredible soup) in a chaykhaneh (tea house) under the bridge. Cost us a measly 3.5 dollars for both of us, very filling stuff and kept us warm enough for the 10-minute walk back.
Persian food is art
I did like Esfahan more than Shiraz, I must admit. Found it a bit more developed, had more night life and a more cosmopolitan feel (but not too much as I would imagine Tehran to be). To be fair we didn’t give Shiraz enough of a chance and most of it was spend in Persepolis and the outskirts. But this is all based on a quick drive through assumption. Esfahan was made for a relaxing life with tons of parks to mingle and people watch. It was a nice change from the internet, mobile phone, and car oriented life in Dubai. Will miss it a lot though, and other than the lack of phone and internet communication, and the misses unending bad luck with the eastern-hole-in-the-ground public bathrooms, it was a fun trip. We used about half our money and got some left for today’s lunch (which we assume will be qorma sabze as promised by the guide yesterday. Better change and call it a night. (Azadi Suite Hotel, 8:26am Esfahan)**
Long day – so to make a long story short, we saw a few palaces and gardens in Esfahan, it rained for a bit, had a great qorma sebzi and qeema, walked on the bridges, said goodbye, saw my family – chilled out a lot, figured out the complex politics of the country, more importantly figured out who is on which side and now at this late hour getting ready to sleep before our 10 a.m. tour tomorrow morning, glad to be here with the fam! Did our last part of the tour in Tehran seeing the National Museum, Golestan Palace, and the Jewellery Museum (the last of which was crazy impressive, none of the gems looked real by their sheer size).
Our guide looked like he just wanted to get it over with which to be quiet frank worked for us because we both slept late and woke early to a nice breakfast with cheese Barbary bread with many jams including suferjal (quince) and nice tea. So ready to head back and relax. (4:20pm Tehran time)**
Tehran and Sarband
Had an early day to avoid the rush hour rush and head by metro to my Dad’s grave, both of us trying our best to stay awake and amid the slowly growing passenger numbers we made our way through with about an hour ride. It’s not that I wasn’t emotional but I really don’t get the concept of respecting a dead person or having a physical focal point to direct all my emotions of endearment and “sadness” to. Well firstly I am not sad because he was in pain and he needed to pass on, and it is just a phase to move on to another state (like going through puberty or growing up, and so that was never a matter of sadness for me). Neither did I buy in to the sense of graves and having to focus on one spot to direct my emotions. I truly believe my father’s spirit can be everywhere, and it is all God’s earth after all so what does it matter where he is located geographically (or physically) …. but it was very nice to see him be respected in this way and the people that love him are around him.
I had a rare glimmer of emotion when I remembered the way he died and him as a person…. I did and I still do miss him, I think he would have loved the misses and vice versa…. truly. Off for some tea and hanging out with the fam. After all with all the sight seeing in Iran, this is what I will remember most fondly – loved this country second time around and the people in it. Truly and exotic destination, but still a warm and welcoming land (11:03am Tehran)***
Don’t know of anyone who ventured to Iran and didn’t think it was on the top list of places to visit – if so let me know.