There is an old Persian saying that if you have seen Isfahan, you have seen half the world. So we are very curious what awaits us. But first the traffic of a two million city and the challenge to find a parking space awaits us.
The hostels we go to are simply not feasible for our size without demolishing the balcony balustrades or cutting off the power supply to the neighbourhood. Thus, we only have the Abbasi Hotel with a big parking lot close to the center. There we can park comfortably, but have to take a room. Thus, we unexpectedly enjoy the affordable luxury of an oriental 4 star hostel with a beautiful garden in the inner courtyard. This is also where Manfred's sister Elke comes, because the next two weeks we travel in threes.
Isfahan is a very old settlement whose origins date back to the Achaemid period (6th to 4th century BC). In 1598 the capital of Qazvin was moved here and within only three decades a magnificent residential town was built. With its mosques and numerous palaces, gardens and bridges, Isfahan gained a reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in the world in the 17th century. To this day, no city in the Middle East has been able to preserve its beauty as much as it has.
In the morning we set out to explore the city. A good starting point is the large square Maydam-e Imam, after the Tian'anmen in Beijing, the second largest in the world. The dimensions are really impressive with 524m * 160m.
Many shops are grouped around the square and at the northern end the bazaar joins. We stroll comfortably around and let the special atmosphere have an effect on us. No matter where we go, everywhere we are greeted with a friendly smile and "Welcome to Iran". We always had very nice encounters like the traditional costume painter from Isfahan, who makes beautiful filigree jewelry boxes from camel bones and decorates them in the Bavarian colors blue/white. He proudly shows us an article about him from the Nürnberger Zeitung. Or Amir, whose family has been producing tablecloths printed with natural colours for many generations. He explains to us the manufacturing process whereby the patterns are applied with a stamp and placed several times on top of each other. A true masterpiece, which certainly requires years of training. But not only "Die Ausreiser" were here, on the wall hang many pictures of "other" prominent visitors like former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, or Alexis Tsipras from Greece. And then, of course, there are the many carpet dealers who would like to address you in fluent German and invite you for a cup of tea. In contrast to the North African countries, however, this is all completely unobtrusive and mostly just nice. They are completely amazed when my sister answers in fluent Farsi.
In the middle of the square stands the Ali Qapu Palace from whose terrace you have a wonderful view of the opposite dome of the Lotfollah Mosque and the Masdjed-e Imam Mosque at the south end. For the sightseeings, in comparison to the other costs of living in Iran, we have to pay a rather high entrance fee that more than doubled at the beginning of October for tourists. So it's not so bad that Elke only has to pay one tenth with her Persian identity card and sometimes also comes in for free.
In the evening we have another look at the big square with lighting. Afterwards we are quite saturated in view of the many impressions and have a nightcap tea in our beautiful hotel garden.
The next morning, freshly strengthened by an extensive breakfast buffet in the hotel, we set off again and take a taxi to the other side of the river in the Armenian quarter. There we visit the Vank Cathedral. Today the church is a museum and the dome is completely painted with scenes from the New Testament and the church history of the Armenians. After a detour to Pol-e Khadjou, the most beautiful of the Isfahan bridges, we continue to the Friday Mosque. The entrance is hidden in the middle of the bazaar and at the edge of one of the oldest districts of Isfahan. With its huge south dome, it is one of the largest and most interesting mosques in Iran. In the evening we go to eat in an old bath house in stylish ambience with Iranian live music. After the German flag is put on the table and thus the external territory is marked, my two ladies are allowed to take off their headscarves and enjoy a relaxed dinner.
After checking out of the hotel we take a walk to the palace Chehel Sotun, the palace of forty columns. Normally, the 20 wooden columns of the porch are reflected in the elongated water basin on the central axis and thus give the impression of the 40 columns. Unfortunately, these are framed with scaffolding at the moment and the effect is not really visible. In the main hall there are still beautiful wall paintings to be seen, among other things with scenes from a battle against the Uzbeks.
Around noon we fight our way through the traffic and leave the city. After the hustle and bustle we now feel more like loneliness and hope to find it in the dunes of Varzaneh. On the way there we make a stop in Ghurtan. There is an old citadel and fortress made of clay bricks, similar to the one in Bam. 45 years ago more than 25 families lived here and two men, who grew up here and still lived in the houses, lead us through the complex and tell us their story which Elke translates simultaneously. The Ghurtan citadel was built on an area of five hectares of mud and includes 14 watchtowers, two gates on the north and south sides of the citadel and many historical monuments such as three mosques, two castles and a bazaar. Unfortunately, today most of the buildings are dilapidated and most people have moved away.
A few kilometres behind Varzaneh is a large dune area and there we stand for the night. Unfortunately, the location is obviously the party mile of the Iranians in the area and until well after midnight we get loud music from all sides. In addition there is an icy cold. So we had to give up the idea to sit outside at the campfire and enjoy the clear starry sky in absolute peace. Somehow we had imagined it differently.
In the longing for a quiet night we start a new attempt at an old caravanserai a few kilometres further on. We don't fit into the courtyard but you can spend the night in front of it. Here is only the shepherd on the way and otherwise far and wide nothing which could disturb our well-deserved night's rest.
We continue east to Yazd and find a good parking lot in the center. From there we can reach all objects of interest comfortably on foot. The city is 5000 years old and the historical old town consists almost exclusively of mud houses from whose roofs you have a wonderful view of the domes of the mosques and the wind towers. These serve as air conditioning and catch every breath of air. Inside, the air then cools down noticeably before it is directed into the houses.
The Jame Mosque with its magnificent dome and double minaret cannot be overlooked at the entrance to the old town. We stroll through the picturesque alleys and enjoy oriental flair as if from a thousand and one nights. Again and again we have nice encounters with locals and have to pose for a selfie. We celebrate Karin's birthday on one of the many roof terraces with pomegranate cocktail and in the Silk Road Hotel, which practically every Yazd Traveller knows, there is a delicious and rich buffet in the evening.
A little outside is the Zoroastrian temple in a small park. The religious community follows the main religious-ethical principles: good thoughts, good words, good deeds. Inside, the eternal fire burns, which according to tradition was brought to Yazd in 430 A.D. and has been burning uninterruptedly ever since.
The next day we visit the water museum. Yazd is famous for its subterranean watercourses, which were already created 2000 years ago and which led the water from the mountains over more than 60 kilometres into the city. The households could buy then the water which was measured with a water meter. This is in principle a bowl with a hole in the ground which then fills up in about 15-20 minutes. During this time the water could be removed.
In the evening we go to the "fitness studio", or in Iranian Zurkhaneh. Here one can watch the traditional strength exercises which follow a given choreography which is not quite accessible to the Western European. However, the boys of all ages are exceptionally fit. After a good half hour warm-up training with a lot of push-ups they continue with really heavy wooden clubs and iron racks with rattles.
In Yazd it is also relatively easy to extend your visa for another 30 days. In fact, the official is very friendly. While Elke entertains the three men in the office in Farsi, who listen to her with bright eyes and ask many questions about Germany and the family, we have our visas for another 30 days in our hands after one hour.
Now we continue south to Abarkuh. There is a 4000 year old cypress and the remains of a fortress which we both have a look at. Even better is the overnight place at the mausoleum of Prophet Ali above the city with a great view into the valley and a full moon like painted.
On our way lies Pasargardae, one of the most historic places in the Iranian highlands. From here, the Persian empire began in 550 B.C. under King Cyrus II. The plant has really gigantic dimensions and one should be better take one of the electric busses. Otherwise it takes a few hours to walk around the different sites. But the bottom line is that the whole thing is more for archaeologically interested people and not very spectacular.
The rock tombs of Naqsch-e Rostam are quite different. Even if you think you have already seen everything in front of the entrance house and thus save the entrance fee, you should invest the 4 Dollars. The impression, if one stands directly in front of the over 50 meter high rock tombs, is simply overwhelming from the proximity. This is where the Achaemenid rulers found their last resting place 2500 years ago. The best time to visit is in the morning, when the sun bathes everything in a soft light.
Only five kilometres away is Persepolis, one of the most important and interesting archaeological sites the country has to offer. In 1972 the Shah celebrated the 2500th anniversary of the Persian monarchy with state guests from all over the world. Founded in 520 B.C. by Darius I, it subsequently replaced Pasargardae as the royal residence. After one has gone up the steps to the terrace one enters the plant by the mighty "gate of all countries" which is guarded by stony bull heads. Although after the conquest of Alexander the Great 320 B.C. destroyed large parts of the palace, much is still very well preserved and partly restored. We walk around for several hours and are enthusiastic about the relics of the past and the relief depictions, some of which are very well preserved. A good overview of the size of the complex can be seen from the hill where the rock tomb is located. Here we also meet Heike & Bernd again, our travel acquaintances since 2013 with whom we drive together on various continents every now and then a bit.
After so much history of antiquity, there is now another big city on the agenda. Every wine connoisseur knows the Shiraz grape which was cultivated in the surroundings of the city in extensive vineyards and was known in the whole country. Since the revolution in 1979, however, the production of wine is prohibited and the lover must resort to Shiraz wines from Australia, or South Africa, and drink them outside Iran.
Shiraz has 1.5 million inhabitants and is home to a large Jewish community that has lived here for centuries. And it is the city of poetry because the great Iranian poets Hafis and Saadi are buried here. Hafis even inspired Goethe to write the poem "The West-Eastern Divan".
We place ourselves on the parking lot of a hotel at the outskirts of the city that is almost like a small camping site. By taxi we go to the center and plunge into the hustle and bustle of the huge bazaar. First of all we notice that the audience is somehow different than we are used to from the previous cities. We see many Afghans and also Iraqis who fled here during the war against Iraq. Some are even completely veiled, or wear a leather face mask. Of course this doesn't detract from the hospitality and friendliness of the people, but we also see a lot of people looking for their food in paper baskets and we are often begged. We didn't know this from Iran before.
We visit a bathhouse next to the Vakil Mosque which is a museum and after dark we go to the mausoleum of Shah Cheraq. As always, the entrance is separated for women and men and the women have to cover themselves completely with a chador. We get a free english speaking guide that leads us around everywhere. From the outside one sees only a relatively small and inconspicuous archway. Once you have passed through it, a huge area with two courtyards the size of a football field opens up in front of you. The shrine itself is in an extra building and inside it glitters and sparkles from the light of hundreds of crystal lights and mirrors.
The next day is once again one of the many holidays in Iran and it is a bit more leisurely everywhere, because the bazaar is closed. We visit the Molk Mosque with its stained glass windows, the pilgrimage site Seyed-Aladin-Hoseyn and then we visit the mausoleum of Shah Cheraq in daylight. In the evening we go to the Hafis tomb, which stands in a beautiful garden.
On the way back to the hotel we wonder about the taxi driver who suddenly wants 50% more money and learn that the price of petrol tripled overnight and was rationed per vehicle to 60 litres per month. The mood is not good and in some cities there are violent riots. Manfred's sister Elke says goodbye after 11 days adventure vacation with MOMO and visits still for some days the relatives in Teheran before it goes again home. It was nice. May your hand never hurt.
We leave the city and see miles long queues of cars at the few open gas stations which are guarded by the police. We are unsure how the whole thing will develop and so we decided to leave the country quickly. Thank God our tank is full and that is enough to the border. It's raining all the time and we put ourselves in the middle of nowhere for two days hoping that it will stop. But it doesn't, and when we want to leave in the morning we are stuck in the mud. But with shovel and sand plates we are luckily outside in half an hour.
On the way to the ferry to Bandar Abbas we see the remains of roadblocks and a little later we learn that the whole internet in Iran has been shut down in order not to let the unrest get outside. Now we also know why our internet is not working anymore since Isfahan.
Before Banda Abbas we spend the night at a playground and have a very nice encounter with eight women and their children who picnic there. Unfortunately the communication is difficult and we miss Elke as a translator. But with sign language and a few chunks of English it is enough in any case for a few nice photos and a MOMO house inspection. In Banda Abbas we visit the fish market and the bazaar and experience a sunset that looks like an oil tanker burning in the harbour. The people here differ clearly from those in the interior. Many are of Arab descent and one sees also many dark-skinned as descendants as African seafarers. The Arab women wear a mask that covers the face completely and leaves only a small slit for the eyes. This seems very strange to us. There is not much more to see in the city and we prepare ourselves otherwise for the shipment.
In Bandar Abbas our journey through Iran ends. It was five very nice weeks and we experienced an incredible hospitality that we have never experienced anywhere else in the world. In the evening we go out for another fish dinner in the city and when we come out of the restaurant a couple gives us, just like that, a bag of pistachios, "Welcome to Iran". They waited outside until we came out. Unbelievable, and this is only a small example of many others. "Come to my house, do you need help, what can I do for you" etc, are constant companions on an individual trip through Iran. Don't forget that between the many highlights you have to cover a few thousand kilometres, because Iran is four times as big as Germany. November was a great travel month for us with lots of sunshine and mostly around 25 degrees. Thank God we were spared temperatures beyond the 40 degrees mark otherwise Karin would have burned her headscarf probably on the second day and would have flown straight to Dubai. The cost of living is extremely low and in addition there is a diesel price of 5 cents which makes refuelling a pure pleasure. Accommodation costs result practically none. One can place oneself almost everywhere. There are no campsites, but nice parks where the locals like to go for picnics and where you can have very nice encounters. Iran, anytime again, because there is still much to discover.
For us it goes now further into the United Arab Emirates and into the Oman. You can find out what we experience there in the next blog. Until then have fun reading and looking at pictures.