Toudeshk

I am off to Toudeshk, a 500 year old desert villageĀ  on the way to Estafan. The taxi picked me up in the morning and I arrived at the Tak-Taku guesthouse just after lunch. I was greeted by English-speaking Mohammad, who runs the place with his parents – it is very much a family home as well as a business and his brothers would pop by if they wanted.

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Mohammad was very welcoming and made me feel very comfortable. He had a little library and whilst I was waiting for my room to be ready I read about how Tak-Taku guesthouse started. It was quite a touching story actually! From an early age, Mohammad was amazed and curious about cyclists loaded with heavy bags, passing through his village and sometimes called out ‘hello’ to them. When an English teacher came to Toudeshk, he helped Mohammad with some English signs such as: ‘Are you thirsty?’, ‘Are you hungry?’. At 12 years old he would stand by the side of the road holding up those signs. By the time he was 15, the sign had evolved to ‘Do you need a place to stay?’.

The first traveller he hosted was a cyclist from Germany, and in this way Mohammad started his vocation of offering travellers a place to stay at his grandfather’s home in Toudeshk, and showing them the traditional and rural Iranian way of life. By 2008, Lonely Planet’s Andrew Burke had heard about Mohammad and cyclists around the world were encouraged to meet him and stay with him.

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After some years, Mohammad decided to buy an unoccupied traditional mud house, wanting to renovate what essentially were ruins as authentically as possible to restore it to its original state. This raised a few eyebrows from his parents who perceive this purchase as a unrealistic and impractical dream. In 2012 Mohammad started to restore the house using traditionally skilled tradesmen, locally and across the country. The restoration took a total of three years. All the hard work was worth it as it is a beautiful place to stay and in 2015 Tak-Taku Guesthouse received official heritage listing from The Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Office in Tehran.

After relaxing for a while with tea and chatting to Mohammad, I went for a little wonder around the village and up the hill to watch the sunset under his recommendation. It was getting a bit chilly by then so I was very happy when dinner was announced after! Mohammad’s mother had cooked a delicious aubergine stew and rice and we all sat on the floor in kitchen with the family as per Iranian custom. I need to mention that Ramadan had started, however it wasn’t an issue for me as I was getting in the habit of having a big breakfast, skipping lunch and having a late dinner instead! Mohammad also had a fairly relaxed approach and in fact he told us that behind closed doors the majority of Iranians don’t follow Ramadan strictly. The general rule is not to eat in front of others out of respect for those who are fasting.

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I spent the rest of the evening chatting to Mohammad who told me about the guests he has hosted, his passion for meeting new people and travelling, and also various things about the current situation in Iran.

The following day, I was driven by his brother to the Salt Lake. It is 60km wide, 80km long and 10cm deep and it looks endless in the horizon! The concentration of salt is such that all I could see was kilometres of white. We reached some areas where the salt had been piled up ready for collection and the views were spectacular. I also tasted a Safron ice-cream, very popular here. I didn’t know what to expect but it tasted pretty good!

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Following this outing, I decided I wanted to have another experience of sleeping in the desert. I am an expert now! Ali picked me up and Mohammad joined us later with a friend. We watched the sunset and the stars in front of a roaring fire that also heated dinner up. Ali then barbecued the kebabs and it was all delicious and magical in this surrounding. I did keep an eye on the sand though as this desert is known for it scorpions and tarantulas! I was advised to keep away from bushes for that reason. Luckily my tent was hermetically zipped so I didn’t have any unwelcome visitors although I could hear some suspicious noises just outside my tent…. perhaps it was a desert fox?

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The following morning I had a traditional Iranian breakfast of bread, cheese, cucumber, tomato and of course lots of tea. After we all had eaten we headed back through the rocky desert and stopped along the way at an old castle surrounded by an oasis. It is incredible to drive through hundreds of kilometres of arid land with essentially no life and suddenly a green and vibrant garden pops up out of nowhere! The owner of the castle is abroad in the US and so it has been taken over by locals who live there and take care of it.

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Time to plan my journey to Esfahan! Once back in the guesthouse and showered, a taxi picked me up and it was about an hour and half drive to my next destination. I will tell you all about it soon!

Outskirts of Yazd

I had booked a tour to visit the areas surrounding Yazd with a guide called Ali. We were accompanied by two fellow frenchies who were very friendly. They were staying in a hostel called Sunny Hostel but ironically they were given a basement room with no window!

Ali first drove usĀ 70km North of Yazd to Kharanaq, a deserted mud-brick village overlooking the valley that emerged over a thousand years ago. The small agricultural settlement would have been encircled by fragrant apple, pomegranate and mulberry trees. What now remains of this ghost town is a Qajar-era mosque, a cylindrical 17th century shaking minaret and a caravanserai near the entrance of the village. A caravanserai was used to load and unload camels and give them time to rest and rehydrate before undertaking long journeys in the desert carrying goods across the land. Traditional mud walls are restored once every few years so as to withstand the elements, but since this part of the village has long been abandoned, the majority of the walls are left to crumble away. I had to be careful when walking around as there were some huge holes in the ground and some of the stairs had seen better days! I then walked through some wheat fields and the view of the mountains was beautiful.

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Our next stop was Chak-Chak, one of the most important of five Zoroastrian holy sites known as the Five Pirs, nestled into the steep face of an isolated mountainside. Legend has it that after the Arab invasion in AD 637, the Sassanian princess Nikbanuh (the second daughter of the last Sassanid King, Yazdgerd III) and her family fled. The princess became separated from them, andĀ  short of water and desperate for safety, she turned to Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord of the Zoroastrians, for salvation. As she knelt in prayer, the mountain miraculously opened and sheltered her from the invaders. Inside, she heardĀ  the unmistakeable noise: ‘chak, chak’, meaning ‘drip, drip’. This, so the myth goes, is how the site got its name.

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The Pir-e Sabz Fire Temple forms the main focus of interest. Reached by 230 steps (I took a few breaks along the way to admire the view and catch my breath!), you can really appreciate the isolation that marks this spot. I was exempt from taking my shoes off as I don’t wear any, and then went inside the cave where an eternal flame is kept alight as per the Zoroastrian religion. It felt peaceful and calm and I can understand why it is a place of worship and indeed from the ceiling was a constant ‘chak’ of water.

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We then headed over to Meybod Yakhchal, a 400 year old structure opposite the former caravanserai. It is one of the most impressive ice houses in Iran. The enormous, meticulously built mud and brick building consists of two shallow icing ponds where water freezes in the winter, tall 2m-thick walls that prevent the sun reaching the icing ponds, a pit for storing the ice from those ponds and a dome to shelter from the summer heat.

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By this stage it was getting very warm and Ali drove us to an ice cream shop. I had blackberry and mango ice cream and it was delicious and refreshing! We then drove back to Yazd as the french couple had a bus to catch. This left me most of the afternoon free to finish visiting what I hadn’t done the previous day. I wondered around the little streets and admired the various handmade fabrics. The sewing skills, passed from generation to generation, is impressive in its details, and the Yazd silk pattern is called ‘termeh’, using gold and silver thread.

Late afternoon I went to Bagh-e Dolat Abad, once a residence of the Persian regent Karim Khan Zand. This small pavilion, built around 1750, is set amongst UNESCO-listed gardens. It is clearly a picturesque place as I saw some students getting their graduation pictures taken there! The pavilion also boasts Iran’s highest ‘bagdir” (wind tower) standing at 33m tall, rebuilt in the 1960s. The gardens, built on the traditional Persian principle of symmetrical design, is planted with evergreens and dotted with sour orange and pomegranate trees.

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I was told that the first gardens in history were called ‘pardis’ in the early Iranian language of Pahlavi – it is translated as ‘around the house’ and it is the root of the Indo-European word ‘paradise’. The Greek word ‘paradeisos’ was first used by Xenophon to describe an enclosed park, orchard or hunting preserve in Persia. There are several features to a Persian garden: it is divided in four quarters, there is always a water feature in the centre, the trees are symmetrically aligned and the garden is a enclosed by walls. Therefore, using the expression ‘gardens of paradise’ is in fact a pleonasm!

Time for a refreshment! I found yet another rooftop with a view on Masjed-e Jameh and I had a mint and lemon drink. The weather started to change and soon I saw lightning and a thunderstorm started. Luckily I was sheltered but I did get bitten by a few hungry mosquitoes!

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Off to bed as I am being picked up in the morning to go to Toudeshk, a small village en route to Esfahan. I will be staying in a traditional Iranian guesthouse and will tell you all about it in my next post!

Yazd

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I survived the six hour journey in my VIP bus – I have to say it was quite comfortable and I had my Kindle with me to keep me busy. What I noticed was the change in scenery en route – from green trees to dry land. I met a nice Iranian man who wanted to have a chat and obviously was very impressed by what Pasteur and Napoleon had achieved. Conversation was a bit difficult because he didn’t use any verbs and they were replaced by ‘OK’ but he was kind enough to point out some features during our journey.

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With its winding lanes, mud-brick houses and rooftops, Yazd has its own charm. On a flat plain ringed by mountains, the city is lodged between Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut, a true city of the desert. Originally settled 5000 years ago, Yazd has an interesting mix of people, 10% of whom are Zoroastrian and is very much the centre of this ancient religion.

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I decided to have a walk towards the centre and the bazaar which only opened on Saturday. The first monument that caught my eye was the Amir Chakmaq Mosque Complex but I wasn’t able to visit it, however I did take a picture!

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I continued heading north and went to visit the Masjed-e Jameh mosque. Soaring above the old city, this building is decorated with a tiled entrance portal (one of the tallest in Iran), flanked by two 48m-high minarets and adorned with 15th century inscriptions. Built during that time, the mosque is built on 12th century foundations over a former fire temple. You might notice on some of the tiles the ‘gardoneh mehr’ (swastika symbol) which in this context represents infinity, timelessness, birth and death, and can be found on Iranian buildings dating back as 5000 BC.

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After I went to the Old City, which according to UNESCO is one of the most ancient settlements on earth. The 2000 or so Qajar-era houses, made from sun-dried mud brick are dominated by ‘badgirs’ (windtowers) on almost every rooftop, essentially an ancient form of air conditioning and a reminder of the extreme heat of summer. On recommendation of the guide, I decided to wonder around the narrow streets and ended up visiting a traditional house. By that stage I was very thirsty and went to the rooftop of the Art Centre which provided a fantastic view on the rooftops and the sunset. It was relaxing and I was encouraged not to use Wifi as per the the sign the owners had put up!

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I went to the Orient Hotel roof-top restaurant for dinner that evening, with a super nighttime view on the Masjed-e Jameh mosque. I had aubergines, camel, a vegetarian curry and of course… rice. The food was delicious and I walked home for a relaxing evening.

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In the morning I went to the Bazaar as it wasn’t open on Friday. I got lost in the streets and took the opportunity to take pictures of the doors. In Yazd doors have two different knockers on each door – one for women and one for men. It is important to know who is knocking on the door so the appropriate gender can open the door, and each knocker gives a different sound, thereby knowing whether a man or woman is knocking. I wouldn’t know which one to knock on as being a Teddy Bear I was raised gender neutral!

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Another interesting feature that is local only to Yazd are the ‘Nakhl’ which you can stumble upon across the city. It is linked to a Shia religious ritual, Nakhl Gardani, carried out on the day of Assura for commemorating the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Mohammad and third Shia Imam. The Nakhl wooden structure is used as a symbol of the Imam’s coffin and Nakhl Gardani is the act of carrying the former from one place to another, resembling an Imam’s funeral.

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The bazaar wasn’t as busy as the one I had previously seen but they had the usual stands of spices, kitchenware, gold jewellery and carpets. I had a look at a carpet shop and it must be difficult to chose due to the choice and wide range in budget! I was however told that carpets that are folded tend to be better quality than those that are rolled – something to keep in mind when buying. Also worth noting that the international exchange rate used is not the local Iranian one!

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Following the bazaar, I went to the Water Museum. Yazd is famous for it ‘qanats’ (underground aqueducts), and one does wonder how the settlers had access to water in such an arid region. The museum is devoted to the brave men who dug those underground waterways that enabled life to flourish in the desert. Their uniform was padded cotton hats and white-coloured clothing. This not only was luminous in the dark, but would also act as a shroud in the event of a fatal accident. Indeed Muslims wrap their dead in white cloth before burying them, and the workers were therefore ready for paradise.

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The museum charts the 2000 years that Iran’s irrigation system has been in operationĀ  and still is nowadays. ‘Qanats’ run through many wealthy houses, collecting in pools at the basement, which provided much needed cool, and are the reason why the more affluent districts are always closest to the mountains – to be closest to the freshest water.

Talking about water, time for a refreshing drink in this 33C degree! I found another rooftop and had an iced tea with mint and lemon, perfect for this heat. I rested for a little while before heading back to the hotel.

Off to bed as I am going on an excursion tomorrow morning!

Persepolis

I was up to an early start as the guide taking us to Persepolis arrived at 7.30. As it was a shared group tour the coach picked some others on the way – from Finland, Japan and Argentina.

Persepolis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the great wonders of the ancient world, embodies not just a grand architectural scheme but also a great idea. It was conceived by Darius the Great who, in 520 BC, inherited the responsibility for ruling the world’s first known empire founded by his predecessor Cyrus the Great who wrote what is considered to the the first charter of Human Rights, nowadays found in the British Museum. Indeed, he considered that workers should have insurance, should be paid according to their skills and amount of work, and he freed the enslaved Jews from the Babylonians. He considered that everyone should be free to practice their faith and that no one should be coerced into converting to another religion. Darius went further and installed equal pay for women, if not more if they were more skilled than men. Under Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great, the Persian Empire eventually became the largest empire in human history up to that point, based on a model of tolerance and respect.

Persepolis was embellished with the succession of Kings and by the 4th century BC it was an elaborate project of palaces and treasuries. Inevitably the city attracted the envy of powerful rivals and in 330 BC it was burnt down by Alexander the Great.

The guide first showed us Xerxes’ gateway, also called Gate of all Nations, that once heralded the important of important dignitaries. Unfortunately, some have signed their names on the stone – but now some are part of the history, such as Henry Morton Stanley or McDonalds! On top of the columns, unfortunately not in its past glory, were griffins who were a support to the roof.

We then headed to the Apadana Palace which would have be used to receive foreign delegations and was the venue for big parties. The engravings by the side of the staircase are particularly revealing. We can see the cypress and the lotus flower, symbols of Iran, and then a lion and a bull. The lotus flower is probably a Zoroastrian sign representing the calendar: one centre (one year) surrounded by twelve petals (twelve months). Contrary to what it looks like at a first glance, this isn’t a fight or hunt. Indeed if it were the lion would have attacked the bull by the neck. Instead, it is pushing the bull out of the way – it is an astrological sign and the bull represents winter and the lion summer. Effectively Summer is pushing Winter out and this corresponds to the New Year, celebrated on the 21st of March, which dates back to the Zoroastrians, so perhaps they were Zoroastrian at that time, as indicated by some engravings.. On the left side are bas-reliefs of what would have been visitors from the empire visiting and offering gifts – in the below photo you can identify the Greeks by their hairstyles.

During our free time I clambered up a steep stone ‘staircase’ to the Tomb of Artaxerxes II. It also provides a great view over Persepolis and a greater appreciation of its scale! By that stage I was getting very warm so I decided to climb down – being made of wool is not ideal in those temperatures!

I re-joined the party and we stopped at the cliffs neighbouring Persepolis featuring four rock-hewn tombs called Naqsh-e Rostam, a necropolis. It is believed that Darius II (the most important tomb), Artaxerxes I, Darius I and Xerxes I were buried there. Their bodies would have been deposited here but contrary to popular belief they were not mummified like in Egypt. Instead they would be lathered with some sort of honey, then wrapped in fabric and placed in the coffin, surrounded by gold and silver for the afterlife. The door was to be sealed for ever, however Alexander the Great and his soldiers opened the tombs to loot the goods and it is unknown where those precious offerings now are. Facing the cliffs is Bun Khanak, thought to be a fire temple, although this is disputed by historians who think it could also have been a Treasury.

We all headed back to the van and after a short drive stopped for lunch in a very pleasant guest house. Lunch was a rice and meat dish which reminded me a little bit of a ‘plov’, an Uzbek dish, along a rice omelette, some pickled vegetables, yoghurt and some dates. It was delicious and what I needed as I had had breakfast quite early this morning! We were treated to local music and singing by the owner who agreed to take pictures with me and the group.

Our next stop was Pasargadae where Cyrus the Great was buried, about an hour drive away. The ruins are a lot smaller than Persepolis and the tomb consists of a modest rectangular burial chamber perched on six plinths. It is believed that Cyrus started building a city there during his lifetimes but the site was abandoned after his death by Darius who went to build Persepolis. In the future centuries, to avoid the tomb being looted, the villages invented a story stating that in fact it held the remains of Solomon’s mother, a story that protected the tomb.

By the end of the afternoon I was very tired, probably because of the stifling heat. The driver dropped us back to my hostel where I decided to go out for dinner in a local restaurant called Balo. It was a rooftop with comfortable tables and blankets if you get chilly! I was a bit greedy and ordered a kind of aubergine dip, a cold soup made of yoghurt, cucumber and spices, as well as aubergine frittatas.

Off to bed for an early bus to Yadz!

In the meantime, I can say that I had a lovely time in Shiraz. The city is beautiful and welcoming and I felt less likely to get run over!

Shiraz

Time for Shiraz! Everyone I have spoken to has told me how beautiful it is. My night bus was a bumpy ride and I arrived at 6am on Tuesday. Luckily my hotel let me sleep on Iranian daybeds in the courtyard for a few hours despite my room not being ready yet.

A little while later I went to the bazaar and as expected I got lost – although it is a lot smaller than the Bazaar in Tehran which is a complete maze! I stumbled across a street aligned only with shops selling gold jewellery – it was very impressive. I stopped for tea in a coffee house. Interestingly they have samovars here like they do in Russia and the name for tea in Farsi is the same as in Russian (chai!)

Before leaving I asked for directions to the owner but I am fairly certain that stall owners don’t even know where they are within the bazaar as I was given varying instructions from different people!

I then went to visit the beautiful Aramgh-e Shah Cheragh, shrine for Sayyed Mir Ahmad. One of the Immam’s seventeen brothers, he was killed by the caliphate on this side in 835 AD and his remains are buried there. In the second courtyard is a second smaller mausoleum which houses the tombs of the two brothers of Mir Ahmad.

After returning to the hotel to check in and have a much needed shower, I went back towards the centre and went on the hunt for a bite to eat – it was mid-afternoon by that stage. I found a terrace and had a salad – as much as the kebabs and rice are delicious in Iran it was refreshing to have something green and light.

Following lunch, I went to the Pars museum across the square. This is where Karim Khan once received foreign dignitaries in the pavilion, and has beautiful stalactite ceilings and hand painted murals. I then went to the UNESCO-listed Eram gardens to relax, designed under the Qajar dynasty. They are also very pleasant to stroll in and are famous for their cypress trees, symbol of Iran. I was stopped by an Iranian English teacher who asked us if we could spend a few minutes chatting to her students to practice. After a couple of minute one of the mothers of the girls kindly invited us for dinner! Being invited by friendly Iranians to their house is starting to become a habit – and I am starting to run out excuses but I think communication would have been limited (unless the English teacher was there to translate!)

I headed back home to rest before deciding where to go for dinner. I chose a restaurant called Shater Abbas – it took me a while to find it as much to my confusion it had changed name since the guidebook was published but got there in the end. Before ordering the waiters brought some jelly and quince paste accompanied by fresh orange juice and I wasn’t sure if it was an appetiser as it was quite sweet but it tasted good nonetheless. The restaurant quickly filled up with a big gathering of Iranians taking up most of the venue – I assumed it was a last big communal meal before Ramadan starts this week end? I went back to the hostel and it was not long before I was in bed ready for a busy following day!

Wednesday morning I walked to the Masjed-e Nasir-al-Molk, know in English as the Pink Mosque. It was built at the end of the 19th century and its tiling is pink-ish as opposed to blue which is the case with most of the mosques I have visited so far. The highlight was taking a picture through the colourful stained glass with the sun streaming through. I clearly wasn’t the only one who wanted to take pictures!

I then went to the Naranjestan-e Ghavam Pavillion which used to be owned by one of Shiraz’s wealthiest Qajar-era families. The entrance is of course mirrored and sparkly but the ceilings of the upstairs rooms are painted in European-style motifs. I had a break and tried a Shiraz speciality, faludeh – a frozen sorbet made with thin starch noodles and rose water. I had a few bites but I didn’t finish it.

Following this I walked across the Khoshk River to the Imamzadeh-ye Ali Ebn-e Hamze, a 19th century shrine built for Emir Ali, nephew of Shah Cheragh. I had to wear a chador (an all covering cloak) and as I was about to return it a man working in the tourist office invited me for tea and biscuits and he answered some questions I had about the building. He explained that each fragment of mirror used in the mosaics reflect each and one of us and that by reflecting light it reflects God.

Next I took a taxi to the Aramgah-e Hafez, the Hafez mausoleum. Hafez is to the Iranians what Pushkin is to the Russians. Indeed Iranians have a saying that every home must have two things: first the Quran, then a collection of the works of Hafez. This 14th century pote is revered and almost every Iranian can quote his work, bending to whichever social or political persuasion they subscribe. The garden did not disappoint and I wondered about before having a late lunch.

I finally went to the Citadel in the centre of the city, built in the early Zand period. One of the southeastern towers has a noticeable lean, having subsided in the underground cistern that served as a bathroom. What struck me when walking in the courtyard was the strong citrus smell as it is lined with rows of orange trees as you can see on the photo!

Back to the hostel now to write this blog before going out for dinner. I have a early start as I am visiting Persepolis tomorrow and the guide is picking me up at 7.30!

Kerman, porte du desert

After being tucked in bed in the train, I arrived in Kerman early in the morning to my hostel which was very pleasant and welcoming. However as I was too early for check in I went to another bazaar where I played hide and seek in herbs and had lunch in a Hammam reconverted in a restaurant. I had delicious food and was entertained by Iranian traditional music. I got to taste the Iranian delicacy called Kolompe, a soft date-filled biscuit. I relaxed there for a while whilst drinking tea but I did find the courage to go to the Baths’ museum to justify sitting around all morning!

I decided to venture out in the evening to a recommended restaurant called Keykhosro serving traditional Iranian food but I once again walked in circles and got completely lost. With luck I bumped into a very friendly Iranian couple who got the whole family involved to help me find the place and the mother even accompanied me for over twenty minutes to the restaurant despite communication being non-existent.

Next day, as I was waiting for my guide to pick me up after lunch, I decided to visit another mosque and grab a bite to eat. Time was short so I jumped into a taxi – which possibly was the most terrifying ride of my life! On top of driving like a madman, he didn’t know where he was going. I got so frustrated I left the taxi only to be followed for ten minutes by a taxi driver shouting at me in Parsi – luckily he eventually gave up!

My guides, Shahrzad and Arash, arrived after and off we all went to the desert! He suggested we go in the deep desert in a 4X4 and what an adventure that was! It was like a rodeo (seat belts are clearly not mandatory), with Arabic pop music blasting and overall a very bumping ride with slightly overconfident driver who managed to safely drive up and slide down very deep and sandy areas.

Aside the fun, the views of the Lut desert were breathtaking. The Lut is 140km long and 80km wide and is a salty-sandy desert considered to be the hottest in the world. The hottest temperature recorded there was 70.7 C degrees, slightly too hot for a Teddy Bear like me! The shape of the dunes are due to very strong winds which transport sediment and cause erosion over millions of years.

We came back late after having watched the sunset and I had dinner with my guides. We were treated with Boz Ghormeh, a traditional Kerman recipe made of lamb, chickpeas, beans and safran which was delicious and filling.

Time for bed! I admit that I have never slept on the floor in the desert before and it was an experience. I did manage to make myself cosy and had an early night since I had to be up at 5am to see the sunrise over the dunes, and the views did not disappoint.

After a quick breakfast, Arash and Shahrzad took me to see the Rayen citadel, dating back from the 5th Century AD and is 22000 square metres and there were about 250 people living there. The citadel was divided in three parts: lodgings for the wealthy, the commoners and the government buildings. The background is stunning with the mountains covered in snow. I then headed off to get some fresh air and cool down in the Prince’s Garden in Mahan which must be like an oasis when it becomes scorching during the summer!

Before catching my bus to Shiraz, I did a last visit at the Zoroastrian fire temple where I could see the fire burning, their ‘eternal flame’. I will tell you more about Zoroastrians when I am in Yazd!

Day 2

After a good night’s sleep, I had coffee with my new friend Fati (Shadi’s sister for those who know her). She gave me some advice and lent me a mobile to help me find my way. Iranian friendliness continued in the metro when two girls were mesmerised by my beautiful blue eyes and started chatting to me. One was a student and the other on her way to a poetry class – not pottery as I had originally understood. It is to be said that poets hold a special place in Iranian culture and historically have never been persecuted despite writing poetry which at first glance could seem risque.

Following this I found another bazaar and a very nice mosque attached to it but I couldn’t retrace my steps and, after going round in circles whilst asking directions to the Sa’d Abad museum complex and being given different answers, I concluded that every Iranian has their own way to get there. I eventually bumped into a couple who took me up to the gate but they didn’t want to leave me on my own (perhaps because I looked so clueless). Communication is limited as I don’t speak Farsi and they don’t speak English but they kept inviting me to stay over at their house but I had to decline due to different plans.

The complex comprised of 18 museums and was home to the holiday palaces of the royals since the Qajar dynasty. It covers over 110 hectares so I, once again, had a lot of walking to do on very hilly paths.

I went to the White Palace, the Green Palace. the Fine Art Museum and the Royal Costume museum, where I kept bumping into my new Iranian friends. I saw a lot of artefacts and clothes of the last Shah.

I then headed to the Niyavaran Complex, where the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi spent most of the last 10 years of his royal rule. The main palace is a time warp of the 60s and 70s, and the decorations are very different to what I had previously seen in other palaces!

It was time for me to pick up my luggage and catch my overnight train to Kerman. Arriving at the station, I was challenged as the board indicating the train departures was in Farsi, but eventually I made it on the right train and on time.

I ended up sharing my carriage with a young Iranian girl who, once again, displayed Iranian hospitality and friendlines throughout the journey. We even swapped key rings as souvenirs and now follow each other on instagram!!

Welcome to Tehran (Day 1)

Back on the road after a long winter break! First night in Tehran! After a stop over in Istanbul I arrived at 7am Iranian time. I quickly discovered in my taxi ride that driving is chaotic to say the least but I got to the hotel in one piece where I paid my room in millions of rials. You can easily be a billionaire….in rials.

I managed to find the metro but found myself in the wrong carriage (women only) but as I am such a cute teddy bear all was forgiven.


I first headed to the big bazaar where you could buy anything that came to your imagination (from carpets to flashy bras)- after getting lost I eventually had a much needed coffee break (I still hadnā€™t slept yet!!).

I then took off to Golestan palaces where I discovered that Iranians like lot and lots of mirrors! It was one of the last Shah’s residences where he conducted official ceremonies such as coronations and weddings. It was built under the Qajar dynasty and consists of several buildings around a garden. At this stage I was still confused about the currency as the money has lost so much value they switch between Rials and Toumans and by the fact you donā€™t get change back in museums unless you ask for it?

I headed for a quick lunch in the sun before attempting to cross the busy road towards the park and giving in to what seems the Iranian way of crossing – say a prayer and hope not to get hit by a car!

Time for more culture at the Islamic national Museum before heading back for a snooze. After a stroll on Tabiat bridge overlooking the city by night, I had the traditional meal of Dizi but I had to refer to my favourite guidebook to enjoy it the authentic way. Off to bed now as itā€™s been a long and busy day!

Quintessentially British

Lunch at the top of the former Peter Johns – now John Lewis & partners

Before passing by the Royal Society of Sculptures:

In South Kensington, visiting the NHM is a must:

Dippy, the Diplodocus, is on tour and has been replaced by Hope, the blue whale.

I had arrived in London just on time for the end of the proms:

Which I enjoyed with some Osmanthus tea from Guilin:

Jerusalem song:

And the national Anthem:

A celebration of British tradition and classical music.

And on that note:

 

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Thank you for following Trouspinet’s summer 2018 adventures šŸ˜

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