We arrived to Tabriz during the night, around 3 AM. I had booked no hostel, so I though I’d find a quiet place somewhere near a forest a park. I could have a little rest until a strange homeless man started to shout at me. Until now I don’t understand what he wanted: I firest thought I could make him understand I’d move at 7 AM, but he came back and forced me to move into the city. There I could settle down to a nice guest house.
It took me some time to adapt to this new country. The most difficult was the change: I counted multiple times to understand if my change was right, and it made it even more complicated that people count in Touman, while the money is written in Rials (but 10 Rials are 1 Touman, so it’s ok). I was constantly under tension, since banks in Iran are useless to foreigners. Because of the American Embargo (Thanks, Obama) you have to rise with your whole cash on yourself. I never felt really safe with 1500 USD on me…
These little troubles were absolutly compensated by the truly amazing food (safran is put to every dish!) and the warmhearthed Iranians. There I came into contact with the family of Pouya. I just smiled to his father in the street, and I was adopted. He invited me to eat with them, I once went to Pouyas English class, where the subject was more me and Switzerland than English, and we drove together to the site of Kandovan.
Miyaneh, Soltaniyeh, Qazvin
After leaving Tabriz, the way to Tehran was filled with nice surprises and wild landscapes. The road basically follows one way of the Silkroad and is scattered with caravanserais. Miyaneh owns a beautiful antique bridge. Soltaniyeh is an UNESCO-site: The mausoleum with its blue tiled roof is the main attraction, but it seems to the in the center of a pretty ancient ruined city (sassanid oder later?). Qazvin shows the first paved road of Iran and a magnificent mausoleum full of mirrors, which gives an impression of infinity!
Before the trip, everybody warned me of the traffic. People were in particular worried of countries of southeast Asia and told me to wear a helmet and to use a mirror. Well, they should have been worried of Iran in the first place. Lucky I look at the statistics only after the trip: 28’000 people die each year on the road, 300’000 are left injured or disabled, which makes it the most dangerous in the world (43.54 deaths of 100’000, while it’s 3.61 in Switzerland).
I never saw people driving as bad as there. It felt like having children driving cars: nobody looks really has the control of the wheel, they don’t look when passing by, many are texting while driving, and people are extremly impatient. The total opposite of the behavior they have as pedestrians! They take their time and are friendly.
I arrived to Tehran and am staying at the place of the friend of a guy I met in Sutlanieh 🙂 It let me time to arrange my visas for the next countries. The Chinese is easy to get and need only 3 days in express service, but the Uzbek needs 10 days! I read it could go faster with a letter of invitation, but I’m not sure about this and didn’t want to pay 70 USD for nothing. So I’m waiting here, but it’s also the occasion to organize little excursions to Esfahan and Kashan.
Teheran itself has a lot of things to see. Until now I particulary appreciated the National Museum of Archaeology, which contains finds from the palaeolithic to the sassanid era. I will take time to visit the Museum of Islamic Arts and the ancient palace of the Iranian Shah.
Museums of Tehran
The carpet Museum of Teheran contains many pieces, mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries. The oldest carpets go back to the 17th century. Most of them show decorative motives, some show animals and human scenes.
It’s interesting to see how europhile Iran was at the beginning of the 20th century. Two carpets show a strange mix of several european and asiatic rulers (Louis XIV, Napoleon, Caesar, Gengis Khan (?)…) with some prophets like Moseh, Jesus and Salomo (?).
The most interesting carpet for me was the one showing scenes of Iranian myths told by the poet Ferdosi, since I didn’t know this myth before seeing it.
The National Museum of Archaeology in Teheran exhits a lot of breathtaking objects. Particulary impressive are the finds of the Palace of Dareios I., who was defeated by the Greeks 490 BC in Marathon, but anyway was ruler of the greatest empire at the time. He built his palace in Persepolis, near Shiraz in Iran. In the Museum, you can see a statue of him claiming his power over all the nations he rules (including actual Iran-Iran, Egypt, Libya, Central Asia, Western India, Turkey…), some huge columns with bull heads as capitals or a stair with reliefs of representents of the several nations bringing offerings to the king. The most impressive piece may be the relief of the audience of Dareios. The king sits on a throne with his feets on a shemel, the capitain of the guards asks for permission to talk to Dareios.
A important piece of Parthian history is the bronze statue of a horseman. The soldier wears long pants, which are covered with a second baggy pants, who should protect him on the saddle. He has also two knives on the sides.
During the waiting time for the Visa of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, I took time to visit the ancient capital of modern Persia, Esfahan. The main square, Naqsh-e Jahan, regroups magnifiscent mosques and the palace of the Shah. You can find high quality wares at every corner, from refined carpets to delicate ceramic. South of the city I visited the ruins of a zoroastrian temple.
Listen to a random man singing inside a mosque here.
In Esfahan I stayed at the place of an opium-smoking Iranian. There I met two Chinese travelers, with whom I discovered the city.
The city of Kashan is an oasis in the middle of the desert. I joined on an excursion with a German and a Columbian, and we could discover a city rich in history. Kashan was a trade city of the silkroad, as an enormous caravanserail relates. The Persian king had a palace there, the Fin Garden, decorated with stunning paintings. But the occupation is still much older, since the site of Sialk Tepe was a major city from 7000 to 3000 B.C.
The city of Kashan is ideal for backpackers. Most of the guest houses are located in ancient patrician houses. The atmosphere there is indescriptible.
Iran and the West: a love-hate relationship
The relation of Iran to the USA is ambivalent. The government truely hates on Uncle Sam – partly with reasons. The US put their hands deep into iranian affairs and are probably – at least partly – responsible for the destitution of the Shah or Iran in 1979. The US embassy was promptly dismantled and loads of spying documents were found in the archives. You can still see today official antiamerican propaganda in the streets, in form of wall paintings.
Still, you barely can meet anybody speaking badly about the West. While in Turkey very few could speak english, Iranians work hard to master the language, most even try to have an American accent. It might be that I mostly talked to open-minded Iranians, but I felt no bad feelings. On the contrary, people passionately want to talk to you, want to exchange ideas and to know about foreign countries. It’s hard to know the future political evolution, but for sure Iranians look for more freedom. Small changes are in move, partly thanks to entreprises like couchsurfing, where foreign ideas flow through the country.
One subject is also the freedom of women, that gets pointed out in the West. Women have to keep their hidjab (religious veil) on the hair, but most Iranian city-people don’t care too much and try to keep this veil as far back as possible. In cities like Qom, it seems the woman isn’t considerated at all in restaurants, and the husband would decide the meal of the woman. You can look it up on the other side: Protection in case of an agression is very high. A rape is punished by death penalty. All buses and subways have compartments reserved to females, in order to protect them from male harassment. On the contrary to Saudi Arabia, females are allowed to drive a car.
Got all my visas – time to say goodbye to Iran!
It’s been a while that I didn’t give any news. So here a small update:
I waited quite a long time in Teheran to get the visas of the next countries (10 days for Uzbekistan, 8 days for Turkmenistan, which you can ask only if you already have the Uzbek one). I used the time repairing my material, classifying it and visiting some places in Iran.
Esfahan was a really impressive place with a strong feeling of exotism.
I visited Kashan with one german and one columbian I met at the hostel, a beautiful historical house of the city. We visited together the underground city of Noosh Abad (occupied since Sassanid time, unfortunately the finds seem to be exhibited in Esfahan), a caravanserail and the fin garden (a royal palace with a lot of green, which is incredible if you think that you are in the middle of a desert).
After getting my visas, I took the bus to Mashhad and then to Serhakh. This was the end of the Near East-part!