Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Shiraz: gardens and tombs

Today was a walk to the Eram gardens, a UNESCO recognised garden.  Laid out in the 13th century they now are a peaceful place for a walk.  Nice, but not outstanding.  At least the walk there had been pleasant and the central building was decorative.


We then headed for our second destination for the day, a half hour walk away.  It was interesting to walk through the quiet suburban neighbourhoods.  Andrew spotted a bakery and indulged us with three small pastry nibbles, the best of which was a rose water baklava.  



The tomb of the 14th century poet Hafez was a little further away than we planned. But a common feature of both the cities we have been in so far, are the large number of park benches.  So we had a couple of spells to rest in the shade.  At one, we watched the school children being driven home from school after mid-day.  No need for seat belts here, and you can fit 2 children on the front passenger seat and 5 more in the back.

The tomb of Hafez was another calm spot with his poetry being played at a reasonable level over loud speakers.  It is said his works are to be found in the homes of most people in Iran and most people can quote his works.


We stopped at the Haft Khan restaurant complex for a very late lunch which did us for the remainder of the day.  The picture below is standing on the bridge over the dry river that runs through the middle of the city.  



And the view from another pedestrian bridge looking at the metro which is being built, dry hills in the background.



I had a cold given to me by my dear husband and was feeling quite a bit less than 100% so the rest of the day was dedicated to rest in the hotel.  The labelling on the towels was amusing - we hoped they had also seen a washing machine!



Monday, November 28, 2016

Shiraz

The train journey was uneventful as we lay on our sleeper beds through the night.  What we saw of the scenery before darkness, was dry and barren.

Arriving into Shiraz railway station we were 20 km outside the city itself. Forsaking the milling taxis we headed to the public bus.  Andrew sat in the front half with the men and I sat at the back of the bus. We all got off at the bus station and a young man was exceedingly kind to spending 5 minutes to find a bus that would go past our hotel.  He then told the bus driver to look after us.  He wanted nothing, just to make us welcome in his city.  Eventually we got our stop and the driver kindly yelled down the bus to us.  Andrew waved some notes at the driver, he picked one and we walked down the street to our hotel.  Even though it was 9:00am we were able to access our room.  

After a brief freshen up, it was off to the Citadel. Here we strolled around the calm interior and looked at some of the renovations underway.  While we pay 200,000 rials (about $6) entry fees and locals pay 30,000 we have to believe the money is being used to restore and preserve.  

 


Inside Andrew talked with an Iranian man for a while.  The man told Andrew there had been a large earthquake in NZ, which we had not heard about as we had not had internet access on the overnight train.  When talking about New Zealand, not a lot of people actually knew where we were from.  We resorted to saying it was near Australia, but was not Australia.

 

We walked around the square outside the citadel and located a tourist information office.  There was however, no one there, but later as we passed again, we obtained a paper map.

In the Nasar gardens there was a pleasant garden, an octagonal summer house and some great bas-relief

    

We had a place in mind for lunch, but when we found it, it appeared to be under renovation so we went to plan B.  We subsequently found that the original restaurant was open and we returned there on our last full day in Shiraz.  Plan B involved a bit of back alley wandering before we found our destination restaurant, Seray-e mehr .  Here the food was good, but the service poor.  We had Dizi, a local stew, where you pour off the liquid, mash the solids with a metal masher, and then reintroduce the liquid.




A walk through the Bazaar showed plenty of rugs and copper ware, but a large proportion of the merchandise was mass-produced imports.

 

 

In the evening we walked a few meters from our hotel to Qavam, a restaurant that got good ratings.  However the food was only average, so a bit disappointing.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Iran, towers, markets and jewels

Yesterday had been clear and sunny, temperatures in the early twenties down to eleven degrees overnight, toda had the same temperatures but much more haze, as smog pollution blanketed the city.

We braved the metro and found it cheap at around 25 cents per journey regardless of length ( a little more if you interchanged lines). 1st destination was the Azadi Tower, an icon of the city. On the metro people moved along to allow us both to sit, offered to help if we looked at a map and were very kind.

At Azadi Square we approached the monument having braved more traffic. Currently the base is being renovated so you could not ascend the tower. Given the smog, the views may have been mediocre as well. 





 
Tower ticked off it was time to metro back to the bazaar area. A quote in the 2012 Lonely Planet says that “It has been estimated Tehran Bazar controls one-third of Iran’s entire retail and trade sector. Prices here set the standard for prices across the country and competition is intense – there are, for example, more than 4000 carpet merchants in 60 passages.”  And with 10 km of lanes - you would believe it. Compared to the Souks we visited in Morroco the Tehran Bazaar is relatively orderly and with high ceiling the interior is light and airy. But you still had to be aware of the constant line of trolleys being pushed down narrow alleys. 
 




Lunch was at the recommended restaurant Moslem.  Another busy busy spot where they can serve 4,000 to 5,000 people a day! There was a dish we were supposed to order but I left the name at the hotel. Instead of ordering Talchin, I ordered Tashslik. Oh well, nothing lost as the lamb chops that came out were tender and delicious. Meals here are so big you order one because it feeds two with ease.
  
Stomachs fed, it was off to the National Museum for a look at the historic items, many from Persepolis and Susa. A small collection, but impressive in the range of history they encompass
 
Our final destination for the day was the so-called Jewel Museum. In fact it would be more accurately described as an abundance of diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other precious stones kept in the vault of the central bank. It was AMAZING! These are the Iranian Crown Jewels and are so valuable they underpin the Iranian currency. Piles of precious stones some as big as eggs, or tiaras, or jewel encrusted plates, crowns, scabbards...oh and a globe fully encrusted in diamonds, rubies, seas of emeralds etc...a mere 51,000 stones. Over 1 meter tall it does look amazing in real life.http://www.iranchamber.com/museum/royal_jewels/national_iranian_jewels02.php but somehow I don't think it would work in our living room.



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tehran, a 1st explore


After a good breakfast we were ready to explore Tehran. The thought of finding our way about had been a little daunting, but with Google maps working on the phone (even though we had no internet Sim) and a hard copy map for guidance, it became a lot easier to manage. 

We headed south from Ferdowsi Square. One challenge which we had been reading about was the chaotic traffic and crossing the roads. However Hanoi training served us well. If we couldn't find a local to walk beside while crossing the road we took the walk calmly, make no sudden movements approach and generally had no trouble our time in the city.

In a slightly meandering approach we made it to the Grand Bazaar, but being Friday we didn't bother venturing in. Instead we walked to the nearby Golestan Palace. 300,000 IRR (USD 9) bought us admission to the complex and entry to the main hall of mirrors. Built in the mid-1800s after a Shah saw the European palaces and wanted to replicate them - resulting in grandiose buildings and rooms. Many of the contents were gifts from foreign countries to Iran. The hall of mirrors with its rooms of mosaic mirrors and full sized mirrors were light and dazzling. Andrew thought the gifted Porcelain collection was outstanding.  Outside , having removed the plastic shoe covers we had to put over our shoes, we wandered the grounds until hunger pangs drove us off to find something for lunch.

 

Palace and interesting teeth on the carvings

Returning to the bazaar area we had that traditional Iranian dish - Pizza and a coke. But really nice food for 2 weary travellers.  


 
Andrew checking out happenings. Men tend to wear less colour than your average New Zealander 

 

We contemplated going to the nearby National Museum, but decided to hold that till tomorrow. Instead we meandered back to the hotel. Only to be enticed by a neon sign saying 'Coffee'. So one had a coffee and one had a pomegranate juice. Followed by two large Iranian ice cream sundaes. Delicious with flavours and nuts, sugar and chocolate on top and the only Iranian food we ate all day- but a very good choice.



There weren't a lot of places to eat in the area around the hotel -excluding fast food kebabs and tea-houses where smoke wafted our of open doors - so we ate at the hotel. Day one finished as a definitely enjoyable experience

Last day in Tehran

Our final day in Tehran involved a metro ride to the end of the line - Tajrish, at the foothills of the mountains that border the city. Here we approached the more low key Tajrish Bazaar, quieter and friendly we enjoyed wandering the alleys. 

 

 In the vegetable section there were mincing machines cutting up supermarket sized plastic bags of herbs. Andrew was invited to have a taste of some of the herbs. There were plenty of people with plastic bag in each hand heading off to create something tasty with them.  We watched oils being extracted and put into bottles. We needed some more sesame oil so we got a small bottle ourselves.



 

He was also motivated to purchase fruit leather, premium nut mix and a dozen mini-doughnuts covered in chocolate.  We HAD to eat them there and then. So we ended up sitting on a wall on the side of the street while Andrew smeared chocolate around his face.  While he ate the lions share I did have some :-)

 


 

We returned to the other Grand Bazaar to return to the Moslem restaurant and to order the dish we were supposed to have ordered the previous day. Tahchin, layers of rice and saffron and chicken slow cooked so the juices drip down.  It was worth the journey back.


In a nearby park we wandered through and came across a bird enclosure with ostriches and flamingos and saw plenty of people relaxing and enjoying picnics/BBQ on the grass

 

 

On our journey we walked past the former American Embassy which is now a private museum open a few days a year and is styled as 'US den of espionage' with plenty of anti-US murals and signs.

We headed to the railway station for our 4pm train to Shiraz.  In fact we headed there twice as halfway there Andrew asked if I had put my bag in the boot? I said no.  So we turned the taxi around and he raced back to the hotel. Turns out my suitcase was in the boot, but Andrew thought I had another bag.  So crisis averted and we headed back to the railway station for the 15 hour overnight sleeper 900km journey south...

 


Iran

Before we left on holiday I told colleagues in Helsinki I would be off-line for a couple of weeks as we were going to Iran. The next day, one of the Vice-presidents was talking to my boss about a business case we are currently preparing. He finished the call and then rang back 20 seconds later because he had forgotten to ask 'the financial controllers want to know why Paula is going to Iran'

So why Iran? Everywhere we looked this year Iran was being probed as a destination, beautiful buildings, history, friendly people and it was easier than ever to go into the country after years off sanctions and general hostility to the west.

Air Asia had a very good price promotion on for their new route into the country and Andrew had finally been convinced it was a good idea. Even if he wasn't going to get any alcohol for 2 weeks. 



 We left Vientiane at 8:45 am, kicked about the airport until 7pm and then we were off.  From Kuala Lumpur it is an 8 hour flight to Tehran and we arrived at 11pm local time. Then it was time for the Visa on arrival process. Before we could do our we had to go to a booth and show we had medical insurance - and after convincing the man my corporate insurance covered both of us even though our names were not on the policy (saving us $32 extra ) then we could get the visa form, but we had to go to another booth to pay our fee. Europeans pay something like €50 - 70 each, but New Zealand because it is considered to be a friend of the USA we get hit with an eye-watering €150 each. Fee paid we waited a few more minutes for our passports and visas. Then we had the joy of standing in a very long line to go through immigration.  We collected our bags and found our pre-arranged taxi and were on the road out of the airport at 12:10am
Even at midnight on Friday morning (day of prayers) traffic was busy on the 30km in from the airport. We saw a few manoeuvres that pushed the safe driving envelope more than just a little. Welcome to Tehran!