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Published: April 13th 2018
Drove from Ashkabat, Turkmenistan to the border with Iran; crossed into Iran and continued to Mashad. Flew Mashad southwest to Shiraz; day trip to Persepolis. Drove north to Isfahan, then Kashan and finally Tehran. Flew to Dubai from Tehran.
YOU CAN CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE IT, THEN GO BACK TO THE BLOG OR GO THROUGH THE PHOTOS (79 TOTAL - CLICK ON NEXT OR PREVIOUS) IN THAT ENLARGED FORMAT. I PUT LOTS OF INFORMATION IN THE PHOTO CAPTIONS SO YOU CAN SKIP THE NARRATIVE, JUST LOOK AT THE ENLARGED PHOTOS AND CAPTIONS AND YOU'LL STILL GET MORE INFORMATION THAN YOU EVER WANTED. TO RETURN TO THE BLOG ENTRY, JUST CLICK YOUR BACK BUTTON OR ON THE NAME OF THE BLOG, BELOW THE NUMBERS ON THE LEFT.
As you have probably figured out, these travel blogs are a way for Bernard and me to keep track of our adventures. I can't tell you how many times we've referred back to one of our over 60 travel blogs looking for various details, maps, dates, etc. That said, feel free to enjoy the photos and just skim or simply ignore the text.
Iran, October 18 - 26, 2017
Summary: Drove from Ashkabat, Turkmenistan several hours to the border with Iran; crossed into Iran and continued to Mashhad. Flew Mashhad southwest to Shiraz; day trip to Persepolis. Drove north to Esfahan (also, Isfahan), then Kashan and finally
Roadside Cafe Meeting
Our first stop in Iran was for lunch on our way from Turkmenistan to Mashad, Iran where a lovely young lady welcomed us to Iran and wanted to have a chat. Notice her casual scarf wearing.
Tehran. Flew to Dubai from Tehran.
Our Iranian adventure was an add-on to our three-week trip in The Stans/Central Asia/Silk Road where eighteen of us had been traveling together. Only four of us from The Stans tour took the nine-day extension into Iran: Bernard and I, of course, and two lovely ladies, Sue and Elinor.
It was in Turkmenistan before entering the border crossing that we women changed into our ‘Iranian outfits’ - pants, tunics and scarfs. The literature we'd been given gave specific details about how modest we were to dress: no tight pants or close-fitting tunics, for example. They alarmed us to the point that Elinor brought a full hijab that fit tightly around her head and shoulders. Well, as you can see from the photos, Iranian women were wearing leggings/tight pants with their form-fitting tunics and in some cases the scarf was barely there. Elinor wore the hijab about twice before opting for the easier to wear and much cooler (it is all relative) scarf.
The border crossing into Iran took about two hours, mostly because they scrutinized our documents thoroughly, we had to
Imam Reza Shrine, Mashhad, Iran
Had dinner at a restored **caravanserai and saw the Imam Reza Shrine at night. **An inn, usually with a large courtyard for the overnight accommodations of caravans; common along the Silk Road
be fingerprinted and our fingerprints run. Fortunately our Iranian guide, Armand, met us at the border, was allowed to cross over into Turkmenistan to assistant us and was a great help. Turns out while an Iranian citizen, Armand is actually Armenian and Christian.
It was a long drive to our first city, Mashhad, so we stopped for lunch along the way. We had our first encounter with locals at a roadside cafe and it couldn’t have been a better introduction to the wonderful people of Iran. We were, naturally, speaking English and looking totally foreign. The young lady at a nearby table kept looking at us and when we got up to leave, so did her party. She then approached me, asked if we were American and welcomed us to Iran. We then, through some English and Armand interpreting, had a wonderful conversation - she had just gotten married, show us photos on her phone of her new husband, was traveling with friends. She also wanted a photo with me - the first of many photos taken with young women in Iran.
Mashhad is a holy city because of the Imam Reza
2nd Chador and Guide (Mashhad)
Imam Reza Shrine. Here we are inside the hall of mirrors with our second, hot chador and our lovely guide
Shrine, which compound houses several madrassahs, libraries and minarets as well as Imam Reza’s Tomb. Non-Muslins are not allowed to enter the tomb or the 15th Century Great Mosque of Gohar Shad, but there was so much open to us it took all morning to tour.
Getting into the shrine was a hoot, well not for Bernie who could just walk in ‘as-is’ and not have to be completely covered. At the gate the women were first given chadors, then instructed and helped by a multitude of women on how to wear them, making sure in particular that not a piece of hair was showing. There seemed to be an ‘official dresser,’ but every woman who walked by had to add something. They were very nice and we laughed a lot. They took clips from their own chador and added them to ours or just adjusted a sleeve, etc. Oh, and then they always gave us a piece of hard candy when they were through.
We were assigned two guides, one male and one female. Both spoke excellent English and were delightful. We were taken to a video room for a movie about the
Lovely Ladies (Shiraz)
This happened several times every day: young women would ask us to take their photo, then they would ask to have a photo taken with us - I'd hand my camera to B to get in on the action. Elinor is 2nd from left, Sue behind her
shrine and then given a ‘swag bag’ with beautiful postcards and books about Islam, of course. Elinor, Sue and I were given new chador that we were told by our delighted guide: "You get to keep!!"
Seems the chador we got at the gate weren’t good enough, so we were helped into our new outfits and refitted by our guide. At this point it is hot and the new chador is made out of what felt like plastic, so we were NOT happy. Plus they were really long and a problem for Elinor in particular; poor thing kept tripping over her chador. Our guide said how lucky we were because now we had our very own personal chador to wear for other holy sites in Iran. Spoiler alert: we NEVER wore them again.
The fabled city of Shiraz is known for its poetry, luxuriant gardens, learning centers and extravagant architecture. One of the most important cities of the Islamic medieval period, Shiraz has reigned as the capital of several Islamic dynasties. It was easy to see why this city is a favorite of travelers.
Adhering to our usual fast
Kathy & Bernie in Persepolis
This UNESCO site is stunning - not only the ruined structures, but the intricate reliefs and artwork that remain - see more photos toward the end of the blog.
(but doable) pace, we visited the stunning 17th century Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, the 12th century Citadel of Karim Kahn and the 19th century Eram Garden. Small World Story
: In the afternoon Bernie, Sue and Elinor visited the Tomb of Hafez, Iran’s favorite poet (14th century) and a place of pilgrimage and reverence. I stayed at the hotel for an afternoon of R&R. While at the tomb a European couple approached Bernie and asked if he was affiliated with the Jean-Pictet IHL competition - they were former competitors from Switzerland.
We left Shiraz early in the morning on our way north to Esfahan, but with a very important stop at the ancient site of Persepolis - A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What can one say about one of the most amazing sites in the world? Persepolis is from arguably the greatest of the Persian dynasties, the period of Achaemenid rule, from the 7th to the 4th centuries BC. This period saw the empire at its greatest extent, both in territory and political, artistic and philosophical influence. Darius I initiated the building of Persepolis and Alexander the Great destroyed it; Alexander let
Nagsh-e Jahan Square, Esfahan
Also know as Imam Square. One of the largest city squares in the world and a UNESCO site: 2 mosques, a palace and the Grand Bazaar
his troops loot and then burn it down.
We spent all day at Percepolis and the nearby tomb sites.
Under the rule of Shah Abbas the Great of the 16th century, Esfahan became a celebrated and beautiful city. Even after centuries of turmoil and destruction at the hands of foreign invaders, Esfahan’s grace is palpable.
We visited so many mosques, gardens and palaces it was hard to keep them straight. However, the centerpiece of Esfahan is unmistakeable Imam Square, one of the largest urban squares in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shah Abbas the Great built the graceful ensemble in the early 17th century. Some of the buildings surrounding the square are the fabulous Imam Mosque, Shiekh Lotfollah Mosque (aka The Ladies’ Mosque), the Ali Qapu Palace and the Quaisarieh Bazaar.
Armand, our guide, was Armenian and Esfafan has a bautiful Armenian quarter. During the 17th century Armenians began settling at the southern bank of the Zayandeh Roud River. We visited the Vank Cathedral, which dates from 1606. Vank is still at the heart of the Armenian-Iranian community and houses over 20,000 volumes
Bagh-e Fin Garden, Kashan
Bernard, Kathy and one of the many gravity fed streams running through the garden
of literary and religious works in Armenian. Part of the cathedral complex is now a museum, a memorial to the Armenian genocide.
Back on the road heading north toward Tehran, but our stop before that was in Kashan on the edge of the Dasht-e Kavir salt desert. One of Iran’s most treasured gardens, UNESCO-listed Bagh-e Fin with its centuries-old cypress trees, is located here. Designed in the late 16th century, it is centered around a natural spring. This is an example of a a classical Persian Garden - gravity keeps the channels flowing; no pumps involved.
Originally we had planned to stop at the important shrine of Fatima al-Masumeh, sister of the 8th Imam. In 816, while traveling to be with her brother, Fatima became ill and died. A shrine grew up around her grave and became a pilgrimage site.
Qom and Fatima’s shrine were plundered by the Mongols during the 13th century, and later by Tamerlane (Tamar the Lame). In the early 17th century, Shah Abbas I rebuilt the shrine complex. Non-Muslims may not enter the gates of the shrine. However, like in Mashhad, non-Muslims can go
A saffron brittle toffee made with slivers of almonds and pistachios
into other parts of the complex. That would have meant we women had to put on the full chador; we took a vote and decided to skip the shrine complex in favor of looking for a Sohan factory.
At the airport in Mashhad as we waited to board our plane for Shiraz, a really nice mother and son sitting next to us offered us a local treat. That was our introduction to Sohan, a Persian saffron brittle toffee made with slivers of almond and pistachio, among other wonderful ingredients. As we shared their Sohan, we had a wonderful chat with our new Persian friends who told us that the best Sohan was made in Qom. Throughout the trip we were pleasantly surprised at how welcoming and friendly the Iranian people were.
But I digress, instead of another shrine, we found a beautiful, clean, modern Sohan shop where we could watch the production of the toffee by hair-netted and gloved workers. We all bought as much as we thought we could fit in our bags. I know we didn’t regret bringing so many boxes home!!
After the Mongols destroyed the Silk Road
Typical Iranian Restaurant
Instead of tables you curled up and the food was put on the bench with you. An 'acquired' method as our legs didn't want to bend or stay bent as we ate
city of Rey, Tehran rose in its place as the region’s most important trading center. By 1789 Tehran had become the capital of Persia under the Qajar ruler, Agha Mohammed Khan. While the city grew in prominence, it remained essentially unchanged until the massive modernization efforts of the 1920s. Since then Tehran has grown from fewer than 300,000 to a metropolis of several million.
Another reason to skip the Qom shrine and get to Tehran earlier was to get into the National Treasure of Iran where the Iranian Crown Jewels (plus tons of other bejeweled items) are on display. Wow, no photos allowed, but just wow.
Our tour of Tehran started the next morning with a visit to the Sa’ad Abad Palace Complex, the former resident of the deposed royal family of Iran. Today the several palaces of the complex, all located on beautiful and extensive grounds, have been converted into museums.
We were surprised that this modest ‘palace’ was the Shah and his family’s summer residence. While quite spacious and tastefully decorated, it was not grandiose at all.
Our next stop was at the 16th Century Gulestan
Typical meal: kebabs (several meats) with different rices, veggie sides, salads and sauces, plus hot tea
Palace complex, the oldest of Tehran’s historic monuments. Encompassing several palatial buildings around a cool garden, Gulestan Palace became a UNESCO site in 2013.
In the afternoon we visited Iran’s Archaeological Collection of the National Museum of Persian antiquities, art and artifacts from Iran’s long past. As you might imagine it was an all afternoon affair as there was so every much to see - exhausting, but delightful.
That evening we said good-bye to Sue and Elinor who had been great traveling companions, but we were staying another day.
Tehran/Bernard's Lecture That Didn't Happen
An Iranian student, Marjan, whom we had met in Portugal at one of the international humanitarian law competitions we are involved with (Jean-Pictet), had arranged with her university to have Bernard give a lecture on the protection of antiquities under international law. That was a subject he felt safe with as Iran has done an exceptional job with the preservation of its ancient sites and treasures.
Our tour company, Road Scholar, had known about this lecture from day one when we made arrangements to stay an extra day. However, the night before the lecture, which was
Downtown Building, Tehran
Dating from 1979 these anti-American murals were being allowed to fade away, but recent renewal of hostilities between Iran and the U.S. may change that
the equivalent of a Friday night and all the government offices were closed, they got nervous about Bernard lecturing on a tourist visa. Long story short, although Marjan assured them all the clearances had been obtained, Bernard was asked not to do the lecture. This being Iran, us being guests and not wanting to get anyone in trouble, Bernard acquiesced.
What a huge disappointment for everyone involved!! Many other Iranian students we’d met over the years had planned to attend not only for the lecture but to see us again.
So instead of spending the day at the university, Road Scholar gave us a private guide, car and driver for the day and we saw some of the outskirts of Tehran. It was a wonderful day, just not the one we’d hoped for.
In the late afternoon Marjan and another former Jean-Pictet competitor, Esmaeil, came to our hotel. While we enjoyed cakes and coffee, we got more of the story. The part that annoyed us the most was that there were more students who had wanted to come to the hotel and take us out to dinner, but our tour company
Marjan and Bernie, Tehran
We had a delightful dinner with Marjan and a friend of hers - way too much food (each platter is for 1 person), but that was the norm in Iran
told Marjan we weren’t to leave the hotel. I mean really, what the ____?? It was too late to do anything (except compose a harsh letter to Road Scholar), so we said a sad good-bye to Marjan and Esmaeil. Well, it wasn’t too sad as Marjan told us then that she’d been chosen to participate as a tutor/coach at the Jean-Pictet competition in Macedonia in March, so we'd see her than.
Originally we were to have arranged our own airport transportation since our 'official' tour had ended two days ago. I think the tour company was still anxious about us, so they arranged a car and driver. What we weren't expecting when we got picked up the morning of our departure was a senior member of the tour company who went with us; she made sure we got on the right line, had our passports, tickets, etc. I think they wanted to make sure we actually got on a plane and left Iran. Too funny.
Dubai UAE October 27 - 3, 2017
We have flown through Dubai several times and always wanted to visit, so we took the opportunity to spend four days
Mövenpick Hotel at Ibn Battuta Gate
This was a great hotel near the old Ibn Battuta Gate and across from a great mall
in a lovely hotel (Mövenpick Ibn Battuta) near the Ibn Battuta Gate. The hotel was near an amazing mall and because it was so hot outside (over 100˚ F/38˚ C) every day, we did a bit of 'mall walking.' It was a HUGE mall with every American ice cream place represented: Baskin Robbins, Stone Cold Creamery, Dairy Queen, Ben & Jerry's - seriously, every single one. Many, many American and European fashion houses and jewelers were represented, as well as electronic stores, Apple - think of shops at first-class shopping centers worldwide and they are likely to be in the Ibn Battuta Mall. Dubai has several gigantic malls - one with a three-story aquarium - lots of indoor entertainment. Many establishments had multiple locations in the malls - the Ibn Battuta Mall had at least six Starbucks.
While the hotel wasn't on a beach, it had access to a beach and they provided transportation to-and-fro in small buses throughout the day. We spent one day at the beach, which was lovely, but since we don't 'do' sun anymore, it was 100˚ F/38˚ C and the water not much cooler, it was more than enough for us.
Dubai palm island
Our hotel wasn't on the beach, so we were bused to a beach on one of the many palm islands that surround Dubai
The most fun we had was touring the town via a superb metro system. We had to go to another mall for access to the Burj Khalifa, a 163-story tower - one of the highest buildings in the world. With a tour visitors could go up to the observation deck on the 124 floor, which we did.
To get to the Burj Khalifa we decided to take the metro system, which was clean, well organized, fast, efficient, beautiful, air-conditioned and best of all CHEAP - all day ticket was about $10. So we not only took it to the Burj Khalifa, but to other destinations as well - we explored Dubai via metro and HIGHLY recommend it. We really enjoyed that three-story aquarium I mentioned earlier and it had a bird aviary we liked even better.
But alas all too soon it was time to head back to the USA and resume our normal lives - yep, we consider them normal - go figure.
We hope you are all continue well, but most of all we wish you fun travels and wonderful adventures. Kathy & Bernard
Burj KhalifaIRAN AND DUBAI WERE A PHOTOGRAPHER'S DREAM, SO THIS BLOG HAS OVER 79 PHOTOS. I PUT INFORMATION IN THE PHOTOCAPTIONS TO KEEP THE BLOG TEXT DOWN, SO DON'T FORGET TO LOOK AT THE PHOTOS BELOW (VERY BOTTOM, WAAAAAAAY BELOW!) AND GO TO THE OTHER PAGES OF PHOTOS - 4 TOTAL - (CLICK ON THE NUMBER OR 'NEXT' AT BOTTOM OF EACH PAGE).
163 story tower is one of the tallest in the world; visitors could only go to the observation deck on the 124 floor.
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