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Published: December 10th 2017
Tuesday. To Qazvin via Alamut
Looking back I can’t work out whether I enjoyed this day. We spent quite some time getting out of Tehran and driving to the outskirts of Qazvin where we changed to a smaller bus to tackle the mountain roads. One of the odd, but nerdily interesting, events was realising, when the driver filled up, that petrol/diesel costs about 6p a litre (compared to around £1.20 in London).
Our objective for the day was the Assassin sect’s castle of Alamut. Three hours or so from leaving the motorway we arrived at the foot of an outcrop which seemed to be crowned with scaffolding and corrugated iron….the castle. The surrounding countryside was either bleached by the summer into a pale brown dustiness or covered in trees that were turning beautiful shades of gold and red – initially from the autumn and later from the low sun
After a simple lunch sitting under a tree we tackled the climb. Whilst the ruins were relatively sparse and some were held together with scaffolding or protected under corrugated iron, the situation was impressive. We descended and took the reverse route in the
bus – with a stop in the dark somewhere for group icecreams - saffron flavour.
We arrived into Qazvin at a hotel where the heating in our room had been turned to max. Susan and I dropped the bags, turned the heating off, and went to the local chicken restaurant where we had the fun of trying to order food with no menu and limited farsi/English. But pointing at what others were getting worked and we knew how to order the drink Doorg. We were advised by one of the other customers “it would be better if you sat upstairs” , we looked around and clocked that all the customers downstairs were male, we went upstairs and realised that this was where couples eat….as the only non locals we were definitely an object of interest but people seemed a bit more shy here than in Tehran.
Qazvin to Masouleh
We left Qazvin without, unfortunately, getting the chance to explore the town. Today we drove to Fuman were we all bought some of the local cookies – having seen them baked. Tasty and nice when fresh
they survived a day or two but needed dunking in coffee as they hardened. Luckily Susan had brought a flask and decent coffee so we had a regular fix – and Mr Ali soon joined us for a regular morning cuppa.
After Fuman we went to the ruins of Qualah Rudkhan driving past lots of rice paddies and fruit orchards – a very green part of the country. The castle was reached by a decent uphill walk on steps after passing a number of trinket shops, small cafes and tea stalls. This was a much more complete and large site (compared to Alamut) and I roamed around as much could in the time we had. After another tasty simple kebab based lunch we made our way to the hill village of Masouleh where we were to spend the night.
In the simple hotel reached on foot, the heating was again on full blast. The beds were boards with the thinnest of mattresses – luckily there were lots of blankets to pad it a bit!
We explored the village a little, were given a loaf of hot bread fresh from the local
bakers -by passing strangers. In the evening we passed the time drinking tea with our fellow travellers before retiring quite early. Lots of time for book reading on this trip as we didn’t spend late nights propping up a bar!
to the Caspian
After a sunny morning exploring further and enjoying the clean mountain air in Masouleh we packed up and hit the road again. Descending from the hills we stopped at an open air museum where there were lots of examples of historic houses relocated from across the country. Our guide to this site was a local dressed in traditional garb. We only saw a part of the site before some of the group were distracted by shopping opportunities….
Later in the afternoon we arrived in Bandar e Anzali, a port city where we saw the fish market and some of the group went off on speed boats tours whilst others of us took the opportunity to stretch our legs on the promenade – avoiding buying the black market tin of caviar. We regrouped and drove to our hotel on the shores of the
Caspian. Pretty snazzy place but isolated from eating and drinking options. We had a quick and chilly walk along the beach before adjourning to the hotel lounge to chat or watch a Tehran football derby on the TV. At dinner in the cavernous dining room there was a local football team preparing for match by eating tons of spaghetti.
Friday. Over the hills to Ardabil and Tabriz
We had a long drive today. The high point of the day was a visit to the beautiful shrine of Sheikh Safi at Ardabil. This was a lovely spot and not touristy. The visit was followed by Dizzi for lunch at a busy local restaurant before we spent much of the afternoon driving over the hills and along the Azerbaijan border before we descended into Tabriz. This former capital is a city of over a million people - most of whom seem to want to simultaneously occupy the same few metres of the road in their cars.
The hotel was, again, pretty plush, I dropped off some laundry and went for a walk in the warm evening to ease my
legs after the bus ride. Later Susan and I took a stroll in search of a bar and found a simple local place for a pomegranate juice. On the way back to the hotel I was intrigued by some street food and tried to find out what it was from a customer – he simply said “welcome to my city” and handed me his portion of what turned out to be a bit like beetroot with a sugary syrup. Sounds odd but was tasty.
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