Shiraz is old and beautiful, with plenty of sandstone structures and historic monuments. About two million people live here. The hotel was situated in the old city, within a maze of sandstone alleyways that kind of reminded me of the old city of Jerusalem. We walked the streets on our own and explored the area before finding a local Iranian restaurant for a late dinner. The room was quaint and comfortable and we had tea at the rooftop cafe before enjoying a pleasant sleep. Karl and Rebecca were truly British and required tea breaks every few hours. I was happy to oblige. Karl was fiending alcohol, but since this was a dry Islamic country and we didn't know any locals, there would be no way of getting any here. Not that I'm drinking much at this point anyway, but it's always nice to have the option of enjoying a good pint at the end of the day.
This part of the trip felt more like the type of tour I had expected. Instead of taking local transport and being in a small group, we had double the number in our group and had a large mini bus to get around.
It seems like many people traveling to Iran at this point are a lot older. We met Vahed who would be our guide for this part of the trip. We went to the Nasir Ol Molk Mosque first and I was impressed with the scenery and the colours coming off the pained glass windows. Then we went to the Pars tour agency to pay our fees. Up until now I was walking around with several hundred dollars in my money belt and was happy to not be responsible for it anymore. In Dubai, I had to take out all the money for the tour and for my own small expenses, as international credit and debit cards won't work here. It was a bit of a pain, but at least I felt quite safe walking around with it in this country as opposed to some others I could think of. Iran is quite safe for travelers. I met Aliye, whom I had been coordinating logistics with regarding my travels in Iran. Once this was taken care of, we headed to the Karim Arg Zhan Khan fortress for my history and architectural lessons. I doubt I would have appreciated these places as
much without having some sort of explanations behind their significance. I met some teenagers who were on a school field trip and were dying to practice their English and talk to a foreigner. They took some pictures with me and then gave me a memento of some sort of good luck prayer wishes written in Farsi. We walked out along a main square and had loads of attention from locals who came up to talk to us. We continued on to the Vakil Bathhouse and then were given time to walk around the bazaar on our own. Nicole and Rebecca were both looking for some small Persian rugs. I just went along and took some snaps of people. We then went to a tea house for midday tea after our lunch. Kebab was on the menu yet again. Cholesterol was rising with each passing day! By now we were well into the afternoon, and we headed to the Eran Gardens to see some Persian and a bit of Japanese style gardens. And then there were two tombs of famous Iranian poets to see. The first was called Saadi Tomb and the second was Hofez's Tomb. Vahed explained the history for
each of these guys. At this point I was tired. I guess being on a tour is good in the sense that you pack in lots of stuff in the day, but it can become exhausting. That night I walked the old city with everyone from the group. The group diverged for dinner when half of us decided to return to the hotel and eat there. I wanted to sample some local stuff, so Vince, Vilina and myself found a restaurant and I had fish this time (no kebab). It was hilarious ordering because no one spoke any English so we had to resort to sign language and Vilina's Lonely Planet book which had some rudimentary translations. When we returned, some of us went up to the coffee shop within our hotel complex and Vilina, Rebecca and myself ordered a peach flavoured shisha. It was tasty.
The next day would prove to be a big one. We left early to see the some ancient ruins of the Persian empire dating back to around 500 BC. We drove northeast for a while, and the first site we saw was called Necropolis. Many ancient kings were buried in tombs here. The
tombs were carved into a massive rock wall and I wondered how they were able to construct this sort of thing. I never even heard of this place, and Vince commented that it reminded him a bit of Petra in Jordan. All I knew is that I was super impressed and wondered how much more famous this site would be if Iran was more popular with travelers. I'm guessing at some point it will be. Then we continued to the nearby Persepolis, which was the throne of the Persian empire all those years ago. I was given loads of historic context and then we were allowed to roam around for a while. I climbed the hill immediately behind the ruins. From there I had a nice view of the whole site. I came down and walked around a little bit more and then we went to a tacky nearby place to eat lunch. In the afternoon, we drove out to see the site known as Pasargar. Interestingly enough, we noticed there was an anti-American sign right outside the entrance, but I had been here long enough to know it's a small faction of people that have these beliefs. It was
probably put up by some religious zealots or something. Still it was funny that it was right outside of the entrance. Beyond the tomb of Cyrus the Great, there wasn't a whole lot else to see. At this point, half of our group would be returning to Shiraz, including Vince and the older French couple, since they were staying in Iran longer. So it was now Karl, Rebecca, Nicole, Vilina, and myself being joined by a quiet older Italian couple and an older Frenchman named Richard, who seemed to be a history expert. It was a good thing I was getting along with everyone in the group, because there's always the potential for disaster in a tour setting.
It was the late afternoon and we were met by Kurush. A short and stocky man who had a contagious laugh and smile, and who would be our guide for the rest of the journey. The van drove through some breathtaking scenery. To the left were the Zagros mountains. We were going through mountainous desert. We drove straight into an amazing sunset, which descended beyond the mountains. It made the drive so epic!
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