Saturday, 31 October 2009

Shiraz and Persepolis

Thursday 29 October: Bus with Rita, Matt and Ivan to Shiraz and the Sasan Hotel. Explored Shiraz with Ivan, an affable Hong Kong police officer with two-weeks holiday in Iran: Rouzbahan Tomb, Karimkhan Castle with its leaning tower, Eram Palace Gardens, the Military Museum housed in the shah's former palace surrounded by Affifabad Garden with it's tilled teahouse depicting ancient legends. A local 22 year old Iranian computer technician, proud of his city, gave us his time and paid all our taxi and entrance fees, he wouldn't accept a penny, and we really tried - this is typical Iranian hospitality.
Day trip with the guys in Moses' car to see the full glory of Persia's 400 BC Achaemenid empire at Persepolis (UNESCO World Heritage Site), and also Sassanian bas-reliefs at Naqsh-e Rajab and rock-carved tombs at Naqsh-i Rustam. Ended the day with a farewell 'wild night' dinner at Sharzeh Traditional Teahouse with folk music, fine food and wine glasses brimming with Sharaz's finest. Said goodbye to Ivan, Hong Kong Rita who is flying to Egypt then back to India, Nepal and mainland China and Canadian Matt who is heading for India.
Sunday 1 November: Visited mausoleum of revered Iranian poet Havez, Jahan Nama Garden and bumped into Joules again on his way to Tehran to fly to Damascus. His top lip healing up nicely from frostbite in Nepal.
Photos of Shiraz and Rersepolis.
Overnight bus westward (just for a change) to Ahvas near the Iraq border.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


Tuesday 27 October: Following Marco Polo's route east to the ancient desert oasis town of Yazd and the mud-brick built Silk Road Hotel set around a pleasantly cool courtyard restaurant.
Amir Chakhmaq with it's three-storey high arched alcoves is the heart of the old town with the Water Museum and several mosques nearby including the 15th century Jaame Mosque with 48 metre high twin minarets and orange dome. Out of town, the hill-top Towers of Silence were used by the Zorastrian priests to lay-out the dead for birds to pick the bones clean so as not to pollute the purity of the earth and air - some lessons could be learned here.
Day trip in hired taxi into the desert with fellow travellers Rita, Matt and Ivan to Meybod, Chak Chak ('drip drip') and Kharanaq. Visited Meybod's crumbling mud-brick Narein Castle, domed ice storage house and impressive 4,000 perch pigeon tower. Chak Chak, a Zorastrian pilgrimage site where the princess Nikbanuh fled the invading Arabs in 637 AD and escaped into the mountain leaving only her scarf and the 'drip drip' of her tears behind. Kharanaq, a deserted mud brick village since the 1970's, when the whole population moved, across the road, to a modern village where piped water, gas and electricity were provided. Only the old-village mosque remains in use.
Photos of Yazd and around.

Friday, 23 October 2009


Fiday 23 October: We arrived early, shared a room in the backpacker's favourite - Amir Kabir Hostel, before exploring the sights of Esfahan.The 11th century Jame Mosque, Iran's oldest and the finest remaining example of Seljuk architecture.
The magnificent showpiece of Safavid architecture is the grand Imam Square built in 1602 (UNESCO World Heritage Site) -
the 'Royal Crescent' of the east. The vast open space, surrounded by two great blue-tiled mosques, Ali and Sheikh Lotfollah, the majestic Ali Qapu Palace with its music room ceiling of vase stenciling to enhance the acoustics, and rows of arched shop fronts leading to the bazaar.
Chehelsotun Museum palace of '40 wooden pillars', there are actually 20 pillars plus their reflection in the ornate pool, is set in quiet gardens nearby.
At the southern end of town the, often dry, river Zayadeh is spanned two fine 17th century bridges, Si-o-Seh Bridge and Khaju Bridge. The 33 arch Si-o-Seh leads to Jolfa, the Armenian Christian quarter, with a few churches and Vank Cathedral crammed full with frescoes (no photos).
Photos of Esfahan

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Monday 19 October: From Tehran station a walk to the french designed Tehran Metro (29th mode of transport) at Mowlavi station for red no 1 line, three stops north, to Imam Khomeni Square and then a short stroll to Firouzeh Hotel run by Mr Mousavi, the most hospitable hotelier you're ever likely to meet.
Not a pretty capital, more of a working city, but with some hidden gems. The National Jewelry Museum with armed guards, body scans and searches to protect the vault (no cameras). Wonderful national treasures including a 30 inch, 1869 vintage, world globe with seas of green emeralds, lands of red rubies and, Britain, France and Iran shown in sparkling diamonds. Dinner with Suzie, a Swiss tourist travelling alone.
Next day, Golestan Palace, an oasis of peace and quiet in traffic congested city streets, and the National Museum of Iran with the amusing bronze statue of a shrunken-headed prince among the artifacts. Joules, a recent Christchurch College Oxford graduate travelling through the Middle East to Palestine, and I saw Suzie off to the station and dinned on dizi (soup and stew), yogurt, tea and dates at Azari Traditional Teahouse near the station.
Wednesday 31: Metro to the wealthy, less polluted, north and Sa'dabad Museum complex - it's military museum (not seen a kalashnikov close-up before), the Green (not open) and Mellat or White Palace, former royal residence of the Shah, looks like an office block from the outside and a second-hand furniture emporium from the inside. You must question the man's taste. The giant pair of boots at the entrance are all that remains of the huge bronze statue of Reza Shah, cut down to size after the revolution. Dinner with Joules, and my first 'beer' in Iran, in Khayyam Traditional Teahouse
Thursday: We took the10:45, 6-berth sleeper express train (30th mode) for the seven hour trip to Esfahan.
Photos of Tehran.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Zanjan and Soltaniyeh

Saturday 17 October: Eastward to Zanjan and hidden among a row of oily garages is the 400 year old Karavansara Sanga restaurant (not signed in English) an appropriate setting for a feast of kebabs, rice, salad, yogurt and a large pot of tea.
Day trip to see the great Soltaniyeh dome, with its eight minarets, the tallest brick-built dome in the world and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Photos of Zanjan and Soltaniyeh.
Astonishingly comfortable 1st class compartment on the 7:10 am 4-hour express train to Tehran, including light breakfast, for just 20,000 rials (about £1.50).

Iran: Tabriz

Wednesday 14 October: Now in Tabriz, Iran. Crossing land borders is always stressful - heat, hassle, guarding your gear, changing money, new strange currency, waiting in crowded queues . . . It should take 3-4 hours to get through to Iran but I was fast-tracked through in 30 minutes.
Why - because the fingerprint office is on the Iranian side! Apparently it's in response to the Americans fingerprinting Iranian nationals entering the US. From Maku, near the border took an old mahmooly 'normal' Mercedes bone-shaker bus (27th mode of transport) to Trabiz.
In the evening drank lots of tea with some students who asked very blunt questions, and some difficult ones to answer: When did you first have a girlfriend, how much is a cup of tea in London, how old is Buckingham Palace, what is your salary, why would you marry a woman who has been with another man, why do you think few tourists now come to Iran - no bars or beer with alcohol - I steered clear of political answers.
Thursday 15: Morning tea with the charming Mansur Khan, who runs the tourist office. He pointed me in the direction of , Rahmama Dairy (signed in Farsi only), a good traditional breakfast cafe - freshly baked sweet yellow bread with clotted cream and comb honey - unforgettably delicious and only 12,000 rials (about 80p).
Savari shared taxi (28th mode) to disappointing troglodyte village of Kandovan followed by a dinner of dizi (meat and bean soup and stew) in the refurbished 19th century Nober Bathouse, now the delightful Shahriar Restaurant and teahouse.
I do have a good feeling about Iran and think I'll like it here but I'm getting more nervous about Pakistan - may get a ferry from Bandar Abbas in Iran to Sharjah in UAE and fly Air Arabia (Arab equivalent Easy Jet) to Delhi and miss out Pakistan altogether.
Photos of Tabriz.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Doğubayazıt and Mt Ararat

Tuesday 13 October: From the overnight bus around Lake Van I eventually arrived tired and hungry at Hotel Tehran in Doğubayazit just in time for breakfast. Greeted by hazy views of the snow-covered twin-peaks of Mt Ararat from the rooftop breakfast bar. Turkey's highest mountain, you need a permit to climb it - 45 days notice required (next time). Later that day, visited Ishak Pasa Palace perched on a small plateau above the town with tree of life symbology and columed harem. Ate a meal at Yoresel Yemek Evi run by Kurdish wives whose husbands are in prison, drank my last bottle of red wine (for quite a while) and dreamt of Persia . . .
Photos of Mt Ararat and Ishak Pasa Palace.
Turkey summary:
Water: Bottled mineral water, particularly in 5 litre tubs, cheap and readily available.

Drinks: Wine - especially good reds from Pammukale and Cappadocia regions. Beer - Efes brew a good dark beer (6.5%), double roasted malt with a hint of carmel, as well as a 'normal' blonde pilsner (5.0%), a very strong extra (7.5%) and, Gusta, a tastless dark wheat beer (5.0%). Tea - available everywhere, milk less so. Coffee - both Turkish (with grounds) and Nescafe with creamer.
Toilets: Mostly upright in hotels but mostly squat style in places to visit, cafes and trains (Bay=Male, Bayan=female, some also have a graphic) a small fee (about 50TL) is payable.
Turkish Lira (currently £1 = 2.4TL).
Language: Merhaba is hi/hello/good day but Salam Alakum also works well for foreigners who can't speak Turkish, lüften is please, teşekkür ederim is thanks, evat is yes and hayır is no.
TICs: Helpful with free local town maps and guides.
Accommodation: B&B is the norm
Food: Kebaps and salad are kings but also pide (Turkish pizza) especially the thin lahamachan pide and soups (Çorba) are a treat. Breakfasts are, more often than not, a hearty spread of boiled egg, white and yellow cheese, butter, jam and honey with as much fresh bread and tea (Çay) as you can swallow.
Supermarkets: Small and medium sized local stores are easy to find in town centres with larger stores, often the French Carrefour chain, on the outskirts.
Transport: Trains are more comfortable and less than half the price of buses. Rail return tickets are 20% less than the single fare and 1st class couchette sleepers with breakfast car are great.

Medical: Health Centres or private doctors, in most towns, will treat visitors for a fee.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Malatya and Nemrut Daği

Wednesday 7 October: Arrived at Malatya's pretty station refreshed - given a very comfortable suite in Malatya Büyük Otel with views over the faithful and the central mosque. Overnight excursion to see Nemrut Daği's massive earthquake-toppled heads at dusk and dawn. Built by a pre-Roman local king who is thought to be entombed beneath the giant hill of loose chippings piled behind the statue terraces.
Malatya and Nemrut Daği photos.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


Wednesday 30 September: The old city way of life survives in the 9th century AD Byzantine-built citadel. Older columns and broken marble statues have been reworked into the fortifications. Beneath the walls the chronologically organised national Museum of Anatolian Civilisations has superb artefacts from all over Anatolia including many female idols of worship spanning the centuries - nothing new there.
The vast expanse of Kemal Atatürk's Mausoleum (Anıt Kabir) with it's heavily armed guards and tight security indicate the esteem for which the founder of modern Turkey is still held. Fascinating museum too of his life and military campaigns (no photos - strictly enforced).
Fine Painting and Sculpture Museum and even a great Open-Air Steam Train Museum where you can clamber all over the engines, every schoolboy's dream - yes I had time to kill in Ankara . . .
The Iran Visa Comedy of Errors:
Wednesday 30 September: Arrived Ankara in the early morning, booked into my hotel and went straight to Iran Embassy on the other side of town. Tried the door, locked and
the intercom wires hanging in mid-air. Opening times 12:00 - 8:30, so I went for a walk and came back at 12:30. Tried the door again, locked. Rattled the door, locked. The penny dropped that Persian is written from right to left so the Embassy is open mornings from 8:30 to 12:00 midday!
Thursday 1 October: Went back in the morning, rattled the door, locked. Waited bemused when two Iranians walked up "you need to rattle the door hard the intercom is broken". They shook the door hard for a minute or so and it clicked open - I entered a plush, comfortable reception area with helpful smiling staff but no record of my visa application approval. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran is closed for the Iranian weekend on Thursdays and Fridays and we are closed for the Turkish weekend Saturday and Sunday - if only you had come in yesterday we could have sorted it out straight away. Come back on Monday."
Monday 5 October: Intercom on the door is fixed and after phone calls and faxes to Tehran approval is eventually given (it had been sent to the London Embassy) and I rush off to the Embassy bank, nearby, to deposit payment (90 Euro) and return with a receipt. It's Monday and there is a long queue. I get back to the Embassy just before midday. The intercom crackles "Embassy closed, come back tomorrow."
Tuesday 6: Helpful staff provide visa in minutes and finally I depart Ankara in a very comfortable overnight 1st class sleeper (16 hours) with elegant breakfast car. Next stop Malatya.

Pictures of Ankara.


Saturday 26 September: Fabulous hiking country through 'fairy-chimney' and phallic landscapes with intriguing names like Zemi (Love) Valley, Güllüdere (Rose) and Kızıçukur (Red) Valleys, Bağli Dere (White) Valley, Güvercinlik Vadisi (Pigeon Valley).
Sampled Turusan Winery wines in Ürgüp with a couple of New Zealand women one who had lived in Southfields, London for a couple of years, not very fruity - more of an aquired taste.
Met up again with Canadian 'bible-basher' Neil who squeezed into many of the rock-cut churches, packed-full with tour group herds, in Göreme Open-Air Museum.
Excellent value Shoestring Cave Pension, just 15TL (£7) for B&B in an excavated four-bed en-suite 'cave'. Shared travel stories and bottles of red wine with, roomate and former high-flying diplomat, Neil who had been stationed in Honduras, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Bus and shuttle bus to Kayseri's bright pink station for overnight Pullman train to Ankara.
Strange and mysterious photos of
Göreme and around.

Lycian or Turquoise Coast

Sunday 20 September: Hair-raising dolmus ride along unprotected sheer cliff-edge, with driver smoking, talking on his mobile and speeding at the same time, to Faralya village with steep roped decent to Butterfly Valley. Stayed in one of George House's very reasonably priced green-roofed 'bungalows' (garden shed), just 35TL for half-board (about £15).
Next day, onward to Kaş and day trip to Santa Clause's birthplace (sorry kids it's not the North Pole) and impressive Lycian remains busy with tour bus groups dog-tagged with their tour name and bus number (lest they get lost), Demre and Myra.
Eastward again to stay in 'tree-house' (hut on stilts in orchard) at Çiralı beach to visit ruins and eternal flames on the slopes of Mt Olympos fed by seeping natural gas since ancient times, the stuff of legends, Olympos and Chimaera. I was followed, possibly led, around Olympos by the cheerful red-setter from the pension. Finally on to the regional capital with it's great museum and nearby amphitheatre in fabulous mountain setting, Antalya and Termessos. In the museum's Hall of Emperors', with statues from Perge dating from the 2nd Century AD, 'The Dancer' carved from two different coloured marbles is just outstanding.
Joined by Neil "Popeye" Mussel (because he looks like 'Popeye' Doyle in movie The French Connection), a retired Canadian diplomat and a couple of young yanks, on holiday from studying in Cairo, for the taxi-ride (26th mode of transport) from Sabah Pansiyon through Hadrian's Gate in Kaltiçi (Old Antalya) to Termessos.