December 29, 2009 GMT
Iran - Shiraz

Leaving Yazd behind was a bit iffy because I thought I would never see all the lovely people I met there - Ove, Matthias, Zoe, Marc etc, but it turned out I was quite wrong. After doing the day ride from Yazd to Shiraz (most of the route is at an altitude of over 2000m - thank Allah the sun was out), I found the "camping" I had so been looking forward to... I was unfortunately right to be sceptical about the quality of a campsite in an Iranian city - it was basically a concrete square (you know, the one for cars to drive around), with lawn in the middle. Ta-daaa! We have a camping! At $8 a night it was grossly overpriced too. (what do you mean "breakfast"?)

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Its list of follies included being a part of a "tourist complex" which meant people with many complexes would supposedly randomly walk around the "camping square", all the while their eyes just happening to be fixed on you. Very discreet. Oh, and the bloody PA announcements... you think you've conjured enough Zen to get over the $8 for a grassy patch and then all of a sudden 100dB announce to your brain "PERSON XYZ IN RECEPTION NOW!" It was seriously loud. Loud enough to wake ME up (and I do sleep heavily). Very annoying.

To top it all off it was bitterly cold at night (remember the whole altitude thing, the whole December thing also doesn't help - what sort of an idiot would be camping in Iran in December in between freezing his butt off on a bike for days?), which resulted in a fitful sleep.

So I woke up EARLY, packed up, provided sincere feedback at the reception when they asked me how I liked it ("Your camping sucks, Sir." - sniff of the nose, 180 degree fast turn and walk out - THAT taught them!) and got the hell out of there. I drove around Shiraz a bit to have a look at 2-3 hotels (okay, one of them was a military barracks, but it didn't take outsiders for lack of running water - so I'm cheap), got utterly stuck in the permanent traffic jam amplified by a poor sod who had hugged the wall with his car in a very central tunnel/underpass, and after a few hours of effort I managed to check-in to a decent hotel with decent parking for the bike and a very matter-of-factly approach to solving practical problems.

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I then proceeded to go out to walk the centre of Shiraz a little bit. Perchance I found myself outside Pars Tourist Agency (which LP says are the next best thing since sliced bread) and walked in to ask whether Persepolis would be open tomorrow (as it was Friday, Muslim rest day). On entering, I was faced with two beaming travelers saying "oh hi, we met you in Turkey!". I was so surprised that I couldn't remember who these people were, until further hints were dropped into the mix... Cappadocia... bicycles... ah, but of course! It was Battista & Morgane, the Swiss couple who travel the world by bicycle!

My only excuse for not remembering instantly was that I met them very briefly in a dark campsite, we exchanged perhaps 50 words, and it was the day I had seen the good doctor off from Ankara, so I had been considerably upset and disoriented.

Meeting these lovely chaps again in Shiraz made me realise that they covered the same distance with me in the same time, with me having a motorised vehicle and them only their leg power. Slightly concerning, that.

So we quickly arranged a guided tour to Persepolis for the next day, I had dinner and went to bed (what? it was almost 7 o'clock!) and the next day lo and behold! the minibus that was taking us to Persepolis stopped in front of Marc from Yazd! In Persepolis itself we met Matthias (on the road to Shiraz), and by the end of the day Ove had ridden in too! So the gang had re-assembled in Shiraz. As the good doctor would say "quite amusing, actually".

At this point let me make a note to digress from the ravings of the LP guide about Pars Travel Agency - perhaps they are the best, I never tried the others, but the guide allotted to us for Persepolis sucked. The guy was bored out of his brain, making stuff up as he went along (obviously thinking tourists will believe anything, including the theory that the Persian empire was a democratic welfare state - honestly!) and in general quite annoying. Certainly not worth his money.

So we visited the Necropolis with the majestic tombs of kings in mind-boggling sizes:

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...and mysterious buildings the use of which noone supposedly knows:

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Next was Persepolis proper:

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with its trademark angry birds:

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Getting back from Persepolis we all scrambled for food. Here is the gang having a meal at one of the few recognisable restaurants of Shiraz, which sported a "tourist menu" which had 10 items which basically boiled down to "rice with meat or chicken". All the while, people around us were having kebabs, daals, salads etc... Feels nice to get the tourist treatment...

Anna, Morgane, Battista, Marc & my arm

After a couple of hours Matthias reached Yazd as well - we had met him on the road back from Persepolis on his bicycle. I helped him check into a decent hotel...

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...and fooled around with the camera while he got ready to go:

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That evening we also checked out the local cinema scene and watched an Iranian film at a movie theatre:

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(of which of course we understood zilch)

Luckily our cultural balance was promptly restored by a small concert by Matthias and his guitar, who did not waver under the constant flashes of people taking snaps/video footage and did very well indeed. You can listen to his music online at Matthias' website.

The next day we walked around a bit with Ove, checked out the castle (a tower of which partly collapsed when some genius built the road underpass and dug through the castle's foundations)

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...and then visited mosques with lovely floral-inspired decoration:

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...which as you can see I was extremely happy about:

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Ove was having a blast snapping away:

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What rocked my boat more than the mosques and whathaveyou was this old house, ex-restaurant and current modest carpet museum. It's worth a visit just for the exquisite internal architecture of the building.

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...and some of the specimens:

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(click on an image if you'd like to see a larger version - then look for the button "all sizes" above the image)

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That night we went to another "proper" restaurant, which had the most annoying live music in the world (thankfully at some point the guy ran out of breath and just HAD to shut up). I was taking pictures to keep sane.

Ove:

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Battista & Matthias:

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Morgane & Battista:

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We then returned to our hotel which was OK because thankfully we knew which direction to pray towards. Obviously, if you're more than 2 degrees off your bearing, the prayer doesn't hit the right god and it's never heard (unlike all well-directed prayers which as we all know are dealt with instantly).

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The next morning we took a stroll around the many bazaars of Shiraz... they are quite spectacular when it comes to colors and smells...

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...but let us not forget that they have their un-spectacular side as well:

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This is a choice I've been struggling with, actually. Showing only the beauties of a country/land portrays it in a false light. Truth be told, there are plenty of slums/shantytowns/dilapidated neighbourhoods in Iranian cities.

Leaving the bazaars behind we pondered at some more religious/war propaganda (which is to be found in ample quantities in Iran)

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...and visited the tomb of Havez, who I must obligatory quote as "one of the most loved poets of Iran"

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The gardens were quite nice, although again didn't live up to my expectations from hearing/reading raving descriptions about how sublime the gardens are etc.

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On the way back, Matthias spotted a concert hall and we walked in, only to be pleasantly surprised by a traditional music festival! I can't tell you how delighted I was to sit there, watching this lovely tribute to music under (o, the irony) the clouded faces of the current and past Supreme Leaders. (who basically persecute music in Iran as un-islamic, banning the display of musical instruments in TV, banning music schools altogether etc)

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All in all Shiraz did not meet my (high) expectations - the bitterly cold weather didn't help either. After a few days the gang was ready to move on and we spread in the four winds... Me East to Kerman, Matthias, Battista & Morgane South to Bandar-Abbas and Ove West to Bushehr. It was lovely to hang out while it lasted. Safe journeys dear travelers!

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Next stop, Kerman. Slowly making my way to the border...

Posted by Alexandros Papadopoulos at December 29, 2009 02:22 PM GMT
 
 

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