So here it is the blank page, the cursor blinking away, how many times had I gone through this ritual, it’s seems alive now albeit temporarily as my mind races to fill the space that was once free. Had I been free too of it’s constraints and now trapped by the green lights of it’s beauty. Clumsy finger mistype or is it the messy brain that does that? I’m not sure I care enough to wait for the answer.
without the strings that bind us
we collide like planets
I wrote you a letter once of leaving and regret words unspoken left unsaid I wrote you of the way I felt and then left the letter here unsent time had healed the cracks you'd left flowers blossomed there instead and in the garden you still were even when you weren't there all those words spent time and effort and intent no stones been left unturned you'll never read it now that's sad your life cut short they said you're dead
We seem to be finding better and better accomodation, the breakfast here is nice and we sit on the high floor platform they have with carpets.
I need to go book the flight back to Tehran, the one I found on the internet was a little more than Eur60 I get one here for Eur55 not much difference and it takes the poor girl forever to book it but finally it was done. In the meantime Antonella went to get some more money exchanged and get organised for tomorrow.
We walk to the citadel, inside is a nice orange grove with people sat on benches and others taking selfies.
The shrine Shah-Cheragh – free entrance, this is the first place we didn’t have to pay to go into. You have to wait for a free guide and women have to go through a special entrance where they check your bag and give you a chador to wear. A chador is a long veil that covers from head to toe but which is open at the front so you can still see as your face is uncovered. It’s worn over the hijab, this isn’t what you want to wear on a hot day but it’s good to experience at least once. Mine has a string at the neck which makes it look like a cape and if it were red I’d look more like little red riding hood. As you walk the veil flutters in the wind and if you turn while that’s happening you feel more like batman. After getting used to that we started the tour around the complex, we’re not allowed to enter the tombs but can look from the outside and they’re in a similar style to Golestan Palace where the walls were covered in mirrors.
We join another tour of 3 people, 2 guys from Madrid and 1 Korean girl. We visit a roof terrace full of pigeons and a great view of the mosque dome.
We’re taken to an old part of the building which is being restored and talk a little about methods of restoration. I’m quite interested in the staining and production of tiles. Maybe something to research separately.
Entrance to orange gardens Eur5
Tea to take home Eur1.25
We wake up around 7am to get ready to leave for our trip at 8am. I realise tjat I need more sleep because everything I’m idle my eyes close and I fall asleep.
I can barely remember breakfast but it was much like yesterday. We’re lucky, the guy that’s taking us out for the trip is the nice receptionist from yesterday. He is calm, kind and his english is good. The car is less reassuring but at least not as old and banged up as I’d seen before.
I sit at the front and as we drive through the narrow roads I wonder if I’d ever come back.
We leave the city behind us and drive towards the mountains going past them and into small towns towards the desert. The weather’s beautiful it’s sunny but to too hot.
We visit first an ancient town called Ghouran? It’s fortified walls recently reconstructed houses many small dwellings, most of them in ruins but some still inhabited by the locals. They looks at us curiously as we drive through.
On the way the driver talks about the economy, how they are trying to diversify through exports and tourism. We talk about cars, they have some french car factories and some locally produced cars as well. He doesn’t express the frustrations that we’ve heard from younger people but is curiuos about life in Spain and in Malta. The conversation feels more of a cultural exchange. He has questions about politics and listens carefully to what’s being said.
As we reach the edge of the desert we can see the sand dunes and the scenery goes from arid and stony to windy sandy desert. We park the car and get out to explore a little more. There’s a couple more people but they’re far away. The wind picks up the sand and forms waves across the surface on one side of the dune leaving the other side silky straight. I look at the big sand dunes in awe, unsure about the prospect of climbing one. At bottom of the dunes the sand is hard and easy to walk on but as you get higher the sand is finer and thus harder to walk on as it slips from under you or swallows your shoes.
It’s hard but somehow we manage to get to the top to admire the view. The desert stretches in front of us with the mountains behind it in the distance. I can’t even begin to think what it would be like to be lost here, everything looks the same and the wind is relentless. In the sand we spot some dog tracks heading towards the desert, large dogs but we don’t see them.
The driver tells us there are also foxes, snakes and scorpions but not much else.
Watching the sand drift over the dunes is a fascinating experience and so is taking in the emptiness and peace of the view.
As we leave the desert behind to go back to the nearby town I feel like I’ve somehow left this place before. We talk about camel riding and horse riding and he talks fondly of his daughter who is a good horse rider as she’d been learning it since childhood. We have the love for horses in common.
I ask him then about hitchhiking and he explains that it is not illegal but it is not common. It’s not considered proper for women to hitchhike on their own. We talk a little about trust on both part of the hiker and the driver and the experiences from the travellers I host and he is interested in it especially the reasons why people do it.
We find a place to have lunch at sit down at a table, this is my 3rd kebab I think but it’s quite nice and my stomach has given me no issue up to now with what I’m eating which makes for a pleasant change.
After lunch we go see a 1000 year old refurished brige over a river… it was water in it this time and are quizzed by a local with a child. The little boy is shy but smiles when I hand him a lollipop.
The park is nice and quiet, this feels like a sleepy little town, the kids go home for lunch and children as young as 6 walk home on their own.
Our next stop is at the pigeon house, now this is really something I’m interested it, its a mud and straw construction, we couldn’t see inside it but were shown pictures of thousands of cavities inside where the pigeons sleep. The droppings from the pigeons were traditionally used to fertilise the land. What a great idea.
In the fields we can see cottonplants ready for harvest and cauliflower, sturdy drought crops. We also see some sheep and long stretches of arid dry land.
The car makes me sleepy and I sleep most of the way back to Isfahan waking up only to spot some chickens for sale on the side of the road and then again as we near the bus station.
As we get to the office where they sell the tickets there’s a bus that is leaving and so we quickly get on it and start the 6 hour drive to Shiraz.
The sun sets behind the mountains and quickly day becomes night. There’s a lot more women on the VIP bus and the seats are a lot more comfortable. We stop on the way to get something to eat and set off again this time we watch a movie… some sort of james bond rip off and 3 chics wearing blonde wigs, car chasing and close combat…not to mention the skipped scenes which seemed roughly cut not to lose the dialogue.
We get to Shiraz and get a taxi fro the bus station to the hostel Nayesh (check spelling of name), the driver wants to show me a picture of his girlfriend sure… turns out it’s a couple of racy pictures with the girl posing in nice lingerie…mind you I’ve seen more revealing pics but I’m sure the morality police would have something to say about them lol also the girlfriend might become ex if he’d told he he’s showing he pictures to everyone that graces his taxi.
Bus ride to Shiraz 8eur
Snacks on the road 1eur
Hostel 70usd for 2nights/3
Taxi 150,000 Rials = 3.75Eur /3
The hotel is brightly decorated and airy, still quite tired from the hours spent on the coach I find it hard to wake up and I’m sort of half grumpy. Breakfast is simple but now includes a boiled egg as well. I skip the egg.
The hostel’s location in close to the centre but in little narrow roads, we get the general direction from the receptionist and go look for the mosque. We can see it’s turrets from where we are but as the roads get narrow we lost sight of it. I feel like I’m walking in the streets I’d seen in a movie called Zaytoun. Dusty and in bad state with a maze layout and random guys on motorbikes, it feels surreal somehow to be here. I feel more like a spectator than a participant somehow.
After a few minutes wondering towards the general direction of the mosque we find a back alley into the bazaar. The place is huge, stalls are small and stuck to each other, it is not very crowded but busy, motorbikes weave their way into the alleyways carrying goods. Most stalls sell clothes, black cloth seems popular and beautiful dresses.
They also sell household items, carpet, meats…crockery. We wonder then where they get to wear these dresses, some of them short and exposed, I try to ask one stall owner if these were dresses you’d wear at a wedding but he can’t understand me.
There are stalls with spices laid out, beautifully coloured and smelling amazing. I want to buy some dried flowers but the stall owner can’t understand me when I ask if it’s tea.
After a long walk around we briefly emerge in the square. People take carriage rides around it, there are motorbikes here too.
As we get back in the bazaar we walk until we realise we’ve gone off the wrong way and start asking around. People here are helpful, even if they don’t speak english using the map they send us in the right direction.
I’m getting hungry and tired of the stalls when finally we emerge again in the main square we decide to go for lunch. We find a tiny place selling soup and kebabs and he points us upstairs. The stairs and narrow and the walls covered in white tiles. As we emerge upstairs we see elevated seating areas. The custom here is to eat on the carpeted floor and so this place has elevated carpeted wide seating. We sit to eat and soon our food arrives. The kebab is really good and served differently to what we had in Tehran. It comes on tray which is really good because with my bad ankle I can’t fold my legs under me and therefore have to eat with the tray on my legs. I’ll try to sit properly next time.
Locals eat here too and they all sit with the legs crossed and without taking their scarves and coats off. I have to take off my jacket, I keep the scarf on but it gets in the way and becomes a sort of bib even though I’m trying to eat without making a mess.
After lunch it’s hard to get moving but we want to see the mosque… the first impression you get being here is that this is what you’ve come here to see. The mosaiced roof decoration, the architecture etc.
We walk around the first building with access to a basement, the place is beautiful but not particularly impressing. The mosque is much nicer, higher ceilings with beautiful domes each different from the other and high windows with the lights streaming through them. It reminds me a little of the mesquita in cordoba. It’s good to have good weather.
Behind the mosque we can see great big mountain peaks in the distance. As we walk around we have a little chat with a cleric, there’s a lot of them here, they wear long white or grey dresses with chocolate brown capes and turbans on their heads. This one seems pleasant enough. We find a museum with pictures of war and terrorism commentaries most of which cover attack by Isreal to others but there’s also a picture of Aylan, the syrian little boy who’s death and picture made the world glimpse at the absurdity of what’s going on.
A student here asks me to translate the title of a religious book for him from spanish. It’s a book called ‘The last Message’, he thanks me and says much to my amusement that at that moment I was like the voice of god…I then said it’s funny the voice of god coming out of an atheist. He also finds that funny and looks at me as he’d never saw one before.
The exhibition makes me sad. Outside amongst ourselves we discuss a little about what we’ve just seen.
As we walk out of the mosque we decise to walk to the river to see a famous bridge… walking in busy traffic isn’t exactly my favourite but we get there eventually only to find a wide flat and bone dry river bed. The bridge is stll nice to see though and we decide to stay a little and watch the sunsetting behind the mountains in the distance.
Walking back along the dry river is nice and as we get to the square we stop and do some people watching. Lots of locals also hang out around here, the square is hectic and busy with traffic and people crossing randomly.
As we get hungy we ask a group of women where we could find a nice restaurant, they don’t speak english but one of them comes with us and asks people until we find one. That’s really nice.
Dinner is another kebab with rice, it’s not as tasty as the one we had with Mina but still good.
museum 200000 Rial and 50000 Rial for the audio = Eur 6.25 (Skip the audio…it doesn’t provide any useful information beyoned a physical description what you’re looking at)
mosque 200000 Rial = Eur 5
lunch 145000 Rial = Eur 3.63
dinner 130000 Rial = Eur 3.25
If you can’t find something don’t be hesitant to ask the locals they are more than happy to help.
I get up wondering where I am, check the time and go back to sleep a little longer. The weather is much better today, sunny.
We’d decided yeaterday to go to Golestan castle. I text Mina. She’s friends with a guy who is coming to couchsurf at mine when I’m back. First we need to check out from the hostel and go change some money. The metro is heaving.
As we found out yesterday women can ride in the men’s carriage so we can all ride together but it’s super packed. The men here want to give you their seat, when it’s crowded they make space.so you don’t fall over.
The square is packed with traffic and you have to get into the flow of traffic without it stopping. It’s an art we have mastered by now.
We get to Golestan Castle and wait for Mina. As we enter together we are happy to see some persian architecture. The castle’s main halls were dazzling, covered in mirrored intricately designed walls and ceilings and beautiful murals that glisten in the sunlight. Huge chandeliers hang from the ceilings and the colourful flowered tiles cover the floors.
Wax figures that look like the late King and other random mustached figures.
We talk about work and working conditions and she tells us people’s only day off is Friday and she had a job in the past where she had to work then as well. She would like to keep studying I think now I understand studying is something that can absorb your attention away from the activities they can’t do.
We walk out of the complex to go for some food, as we approach the bazaar area crowds of people walk in all directions some pushing and bumping into you if you’re in the way. She points out the van of the morality police. In my head an alternative version of reality has me taking off my scarf and being taken off kicking and screaming. Instead I look away and we walk towards the colourful stalls full of nuts and dried fruit. I get half a kilo of mixed nuts and we ask around to find a good kebab place.
When we finally pick one the place is small and unassuming but the food is simple but delicious and really quick. We talk more about socialising and travelling. Mina has been on some holidays with her family. She doesn’t have friends that readily want/can travel, I try to reassure her that travelling alone doesn’t mean you’re alone.
We catch the metro back, we need to get moving to catch the bus. As we walk towards the metro exit 2 women warn her about the morality police right outside the exit. It turns out our shorter (waist lenght) jackets with jeans might get us stopped. In my head I’m arguing, in reality we turn and find another exit. The women here stick up for each other that’s nice.
Mina is smily, sweet and friendly, her hospitality is fantastic. We’re really happy to have made her acquintance and perhaps I can help her exhibit her art in Spain or online. I’d like to keep in touch.
I try to get a charge for my phone to have some wifi again but the guy can’t understand me after a couple of minutes he sends me away with the charge but without charging me. I ask at the hostel and the guy writes a instruction to the stall owner for the correct amount. I manage that this time but misplace the tiny paper with the code…. great.
We make our way to the bus station and this time the crowd in the metro is way more than heaving. The older men make sure the younger guys don’t harass me and make space for me and the backpack. Finally we make it out and ask a girl on a bus stop where we need to go to catch the bus to isfahan, she decides to walk us there. Her name is Fatima, she’s studying in Tehran. She makes sure we’re not overcharged, that we get on the right bus with the right ticket. She’s kind and smily.
As we set off I drift off to sleep and wake up past sunset. The desert is vast, empty and darker than dark. The tv blaring farsi soap opera of which story we can’t get the hang of and the kid in the back crying every now and then. We have 5 and a half hours of this. As the next town comes into view the lights look like fairy lights in the distance.
At one of the stops there’s a guy sitting in the luggage compartment of a coach in front of us with no shoes on, he is talking to the driver… if you think that’s odd then imagine my surprise when the driver walks away and the guy closes the compartment with his feet as the coach pulls away.
My back is sore and my knees feel locked. In my head a million thoughts about the people I love and the freedom I take for granted. If there’s one lesson to be learned here is gratitude for freedom held and fire enough to fight for that freedom when it’s treathened. Safeguarding the freedom of expression, equality, the right to travel, the right to unhindered information. We must not slip into comfort and let others restrict that freedom because once it is lost it takes blood and violence to get it back.
There’s an evidend undercurrent of that latent fire here but no overt signs of activism at least not from the tourist perspective.
Castle entrance 300000 Rial = Eur 7.50
Lunch free thanks to Mina for the hospitality
Mobile charge 50000 Rial = Eur 1.25
Metro 11000 Rial = Eur 0.28
Bus ticket to Isfahan 200000 Rial = Eur 5
Baguette 20000 Rial = Eur 0.50