Isfahan & Shiraz
We also traveled south using the pubic transport. First stop was Esfahan, over 300KM from Tehran and famous for sites such as Vank Cathedral, Imam Square and Mosque as well as Khajou Bridge. The accommodation was all close to the bridge and for good value for money and with lots of food close by we found it very easy to find our way around as everything is sign posted. Unfortunately there was no water in the river at the Khajou Bridge so it didn’t look like it did on the postcards and there were quite a lot of people just hanging around under the bridge which at night may be a little intimidating is alone. Imam square and all the attractions where beautiful and the mosque was very ancient and an impressive piece of architecture. We only stayed 2 nights as there isn’t anything else really to do there and its good to split the travel up from Tehran to our intended final destination; Shiraz.
The whole reason I wanted to go to Shiraz was to visit the ancient city of Persepolis. Once arriving in Shiraz we actually found it hard to get a hotel as the first two we went to where full. We eventually located one and by the time we checked in it was after 11pm and time for sleep. After breakfast, the guy on reception said he was also a guide and would take us to Persepolis that day if we so wished. A price was settled and off we went (70km) to what could be described as an ancient world wonder. The cost of entry was minimal but the place itself was magnificent. If this was in Europe it would have been full of tourists but we seemed to have the place to ourselves. The fact that the government don’t promote this place more (its more to do with the King than religion) is a travesty. We then also agreed to go to another famous site close by; Pasargadae. This was actually further away from Shiraz than I anticipated but as it was the Capital of Ancient Persia and founded by Cyrus The Great then surely it was worth the trip? Sadly it wasn’t anywhere as good as Persepolis so my recommendation would certainly to go to Pasargadae first then it would seem more impressive. The views on the way back reminded me of South Island in NZ and the terrain looked perfect for having wineries but not to be with Iran being a dry country.
The next day we toured around Shiraz taking in sights such as: The Tomb of Hafez, Shah-e-Cheragh Shrine, Vakil Baths, Arge Karim Khan Castle and Qur’an Gate. All the costs of entry are minimal for the locals and about 5 x the cost for a tourist. However, we found out that with the Sigheh letter, I could get in for the same fee as Aida which we wished we’d have known in Tehran and Esfahan.
Our final day in Shiraz coincided with the ………. festival. All the shops where closed and as our flight back to Tehran was only later that afternoon we got to sample the local flavour. It seemed that the guys where all following the same steps whilst dressed up and whipping themselves until the reached the Grand Mosque. Then the next guys where showed their strength by carrying a….. for a number of metres before crumbling in a heap from the weight. All in all, a very educational mornings observation.
The thought of another long journey up north by bus was too much so we decided to fly back to Tehran. Now Iranian domestic flights are not seen as the most safe flights in the world so i was certainly a little anxious as we made our way to the airport. Apart from the inevitable delay the flight was pretty smooth and we landed safely and headed back via taxi to Aida’s mums house.
The last day was spent shopping, well it was me trying to find an Iran football polo shirt unsuccessfully. Shopping in Iran is certainly unlike anywhere I’ve been before, hence why most Iranians hop on a plane to Turkey to buy their clothes. With the sanctions there is little on offer and the Iran jerseys we found where either very fake or very expensive. (Thankfully I have since got a polo, t-shirt and shorts courtesy of Aida’s brother and sister).
However the fun didn’t end there. At the airport I had to queue for an offer in the ‘Other Nationalities’ line and with a plane load of Chinese tourists in front of me and only one Immigration Officer on duty it was going to be a long night. However this was the least of my worries as I saw Aida being directed towards an office by the immigration officer. It seems that Aida was unaware that she did not have permission to leave her own country!! She had already paid a fee to leave which again I find ludicrous. As her passport was issued in KL she needed to go and get permission from some office in Tehran. In hindsight this could and should have been avoided but then again these things only are given thought was they have occurred. Thankfully I hadn’t gone through customs as I’m pretty sure I’d have not been allowed to come back through (especially as I couldn’t say I was going back to my wife!)
Aida’s mum got a surprise when we rolled back up that evening and early the next morning Aida went to get the permission whilst I tried to a) book a new flight to KL and b) get a refund from the previous flight, especially as the ground crew at the airport where a complete waste of time. Booking a flight using a British visa debit card in Iran also proved difficult as some booking sites refused to make the transaction. However after numerous attempts we got flights with Qatar Airways and headed off to start our next journey and new adventure and job back in KL where we had left only 5 months earlier.