The holiday is over and now the real adventure begins!

In our last post we asked you to wish us luck for the next couple of weeks – this is because we’re heading into a couple of countries that not a lot of people ever venture into for varying reasons! Iran and Pakistan being the most controversial, followed by India. Well we’re now in Iran, having left Dogybizget yesterday morning (22nd July).

The town is only 35km from the Iranian border so we didn’t have a big drive ahead of us. We stopped off at an old Ottoman Palace just outside of the town which was pretty much on the way – It was called Ishak Pasa and was built by the last Ottoman ruler as a place for him to keep his harem of wives (rather than in the town of Bizget itself where he would have caused a lot of controversy for his greediness!)

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Less than an hour later we pulled up at the Iranian border, which was a momentous occasion! I think we all felt a mixture of excitement and uneasiness as the bus approached the gates manned by unsmiling gunmen. We all unloaded our stuff from the bus and shuffled up to passport control to show off our Iranian visas. The bus that took us to the border had to head back to Turkey so anything we couldn’t carry got left at the side of the road – these were basically bottles and barrels of water, which disappeared in a matter of seconds as soon as it dawned on the money touts that we were leaving them behind. They even nabbed the big blue coolbox as soon as our backs were turned.

Getting through the gates was an interesting experience! The Iranians have no comprehension of queuing and very quickly we were being shoved and prodded by people apparently in a hurry to get to the other side. We soon closed ranks as a group and yelled at them to ‘get back’! The men with guns on the other side weren’t that scary up close though – Tomas even tried to make friends with them (like he has with every single person along the way) by shouting ‘Espana, Espana, Champions!’ and shaking their hands but I don’t think they quite understood what he meant!

We were eventually directed into the main building where we waited for about an hour and a half while they processed our passports. Then everybody with a British Passport was told that we had to wait behind and have our fingerprints taken – again! We already did this at the embassy in London but apparently the Iranian and British governments have ‘issues’ with each other so we had to have them taken again. Our Iranian guide, Hassad, lead the way to a little office in another part of the building where we stuck our fingers into bright blue stamp- ink and ‘filled in’ the forms. Blue fingers and a white shirt don’t work very well together but we couldn’t get the ink off so used up half our anti-bacterial hand sanitizer in the hope that whatever ingredient it contained would get rid of it. And it sort of did. The embassy in London was much more high-tech – it was a little machine that read the fingerprints digitally.

After us UK ‘criminals’ got the okay to go – we headed into the car park to greet our new bus! The driver looks just like Frank L’ Piedus – the pilot from Lost – he was even dressed in pilot whites!

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First stop in Iran is Tabriz- the country’s 4th largest city and home to around 1.5 million people. One of the first things that Richard did when we got there was go to the gym! Leighton had managed to find a gym ‘only for Iranians’ (until Leighton told them he was Irish which they seemed to love) which agreed to let them use it for free! I couldn’t go of course as it was a men-only gym, so I stayed in the hotel until they came back.

After that, it was getting quite late but we hadn’t had anything to eat so decided to go for a wander down the main road. Most things were shut, especially since it was Thursday night and Friday’s are the weekend in Iran, but we came across a couple of fast food places selling pizzas and burgers! (so much for Iran being completely ‘un-western’). We walked in, thinking “this’ll be easy – they must understand English if they sell stuff like pizzas”. How wrong were we!

The second we stepped foot inside the door, the entire room full of locals turned around and stared at us and kept staring as we walked slowly toward the front. The owner gave us a nervous smile as we approached him and we knew he was thinking exactly the same as us (“oh dear, what are they about to ask”?).

We made the mistake of asking him whether he had a menu (with hand signals and everything) to which he replied – “yes – Iranian” – showed it to us and turned round to the rest of the cafe saying something and nodding towards us. Don’t have a clue what he said but the entire place erupted into raucous laughter! They kept laughing as we eventually ordered a pizza (pointing at pictures is so much easier than trying to read a menu! I have to say though, no idea what was actually on the pizza but it was gorgeous!

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The next day we were heading to Zanjan – a city halfway (ish) between Tabriz and Tehran but first stopped off at the Blue Mosque in Tabriz. This was destroyed by an earthquake in 1779 and restored around the 1980’s but still wasn’t back to its former glory. Some of the original pieces were left on display inside but what they had restored was really pretty.

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Back on the road to Zanjan we were reminded again at just how vast and arid Iran is. There really was nothing around us for miles except mountains of all shapes and colours – some were really pale and others were deep red or gray – they really were all that we had to look at during the journey, with the exception of a few dried up river beds and tiny houses made out of clay.

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Watching the other traffic on the motorway however, was once again a form of entertainment – it’s amazing what you can see sitting on the back of a pick-up truck – especially in Iran! From children and horses to sheep and watermelons – we stared open-mouthed quite a few times.

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When we got to Zanjan, we stayed in what they called a ‘tourist complex’ – which was quite cool actually – it reminded me a bit of a Butlins-type chalet complex, where we were staying in a row of little houses. Being a Friday, again, there wasn’t much to see or do in Zanjan as the vast majority of the shops were shut but we went for a walk towards the city centre, which was definitely a strange experience! We literally couldn’t walk two foot without hearing a “hello, where are you from?” – people were literally driving past, stopping and reversing back down the main road to look at us. This must be what it’s like to be Cheryl Cole or David Beckham. Even the police were waving and shouting “welcome” down the road and thanking us for coming to their country.

We passed loads of groups of families who were sat having picnics at the side of the road (Iranians are a sucker for picnics apparently – they were even picnicking in the central reservations of the dual carriageway) and each group that we walked passed would also nudge each other and point at us. It wasn’t in a scary way though; they all just seemed genuinely surprised but pleased to see us!

After we’d walked for ages we decided to get a taxi back – just had to experience all this mad driving we were seeing for ourselves. Our taxi driver was so funny – he kept giggling every time we drew breath as he got ‘ever so slightly close’ to the other vehicles on the road. Got back in record time though – and the journey meant that we didn’t feel the need to visit the funfair next door to where we were staying – that was thrilling enough!

We set off at about 8 the next morning for Tehran – Iran’s capital. Didn’t really know what to expect from Tehran. All I knew about it before was that it is situated at the foot of the Alborz Mountains, is one of the most polluted cities in the world and according to Tomas isn’t home to any cats since they are all eaten by rats!

We could actually see the smog as we approached it and were warned that anyone with respiratory problems may find it difficult to breathe – even those who didn’t may find it difficult! Crikey, wasn’t looking forward to that! At this stage in the trip, most people on the bus were suffering from upset stomachs etc (annoyingly- except Richard who was fine!) so we all pretty much used our first night in Tehran to chill out and try to relax. I was due to share a room with Lynn (fellow Oz-buser) but she very kindly gave up her bed and bunked up with Heather so that Richard and I could share a room. Was really grateful for that as I really wasn’t feeling too good and just wanted to cuddle up and go to sleep!

We did venture out for about 20 minutes to walk around the block – not for fresh air as it turned out, because everything we had heard was right- it was knackering! We got really out of breath – the air was so close and hot, so we cut our walk short and decided to tackle it another day! We are going back to Tehran just before we leave Iran anyway – but before we headed on to Esfahan (our next stop, and the ‘jewel’ in the Iranian itinerary) we did a quick tour on the bus. We went to see the Archaeological Museum where our guide explained a bit about Iran’s history. It really is a fascinating place and has been shaped and influenced by all the countries it is surrounded by. We saw some cool stuff in the museum (although probably spent a lot longer in there than we had to!) including a 2000 year old man and a carving made out of black limestone of one of the former rulers, Darius the Great.

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The capital city has been ‘moved’ about 7 times – every time a new dynasty came to power – and Tehran is a very new city. This is why there aren’t many old mosques or monuments to visit – it is still building its own history – but the most significant monument it has is the Azadi Tower (Freedom Tower). This is the symbol of Iran’s independence and was paid for by a collection of businessmen.

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We were also taken to Bobby Sands Boulevard (the majority of people on the Oz Bus are Irish so were very keen on seeing this!) which ironically is situated next to the British Embassy. Everyone lined up for a photo but as soon as Leighton was about to click – an armed guard came out of nowhere and stopped him! No pictures are allowed to be taken of the embassy for obvious reasons, which we didn’t really twig at the time! Leighton tried to tell them that ‘we are Irish and want a picture of the sign’ but that guard wasn’t having any of it. He also said that apparently there used to be a sign written in English (the current one was in Farsi and all bent) but that someone from the British Embassy had ripped it off the wall!!

Leaving Tehran for another day, we set off for Esfahan in central Iran – a 453km journey. Will have to tell you all about that in our next post as I’m sat in the hotel in Esfahan now and can hear a load of noise and celebrations’ going on outside – it’s a national holiday tomorrow so we have to go and check out what’s happening!

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5 Comments

  1. July 28, 21:41 #1 Aisleen Author

    Hi Penny, I’m glad you think so, and i’m sure things are only going to get more fascinating!

  2. July 28, 07:33 #2 Penny Arbuthnot

    Lovely blog, really fascinating!

  3. July 27, 16:21 #3 Aisleen Author

    Hi Rick,

    Glad you’re enjoying the blog!! Yes Iran is very interesting – not quite what you would expect / imagine – but you’ll find out soon enough for yourself! I’m sure you’ll be fine getting your visa – we didnt pick ours up until the day before we left, so you’ve got plenty of time to worry yet!

    Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves – we’ve had a few illnesses over the last week however – upset tummies etc, so make sure you are in tip top shape before you leave, as prevention is better than cure! We’ve all been stocking up on bananas and as much dried fruit as we can get our hands on!

    No probs r.e your questions.

    1. Internet hasn’t been a problem so far. Most of the hostels have had free wifi if you have your own netbook, etc – or one or two computers for you to use. If you need to use their computer there is usually a small charge and a scramble to get onto it first! In Iran, you wont have a problem in Tabriz or Tehran, however, Zanjan and Esfahan could be an issue as we couldn’t get access at all in Zanjan and Esfahan is expensive in the hotel. Always worth hunting out an internet cafe rather than paying at the hotel as it’s so much cheaper in the towns.

    2. As for money. We’ve all done different things – we personally have taken out a few travel money cards from FairFx and Caxton FX which have been fantastic. They are basically mastercards which you load up in either Euros, Dollars or Sterling from your own bank account and use to either pay for stuff in the relevant countries or take cash out of the ATM. Have a look on their websites – I wouldnt just rely on your own cash card to withdraw money as you’ll be subject to charges, but I can really recommend these cards (we have the Euro and Dollar card from Caxton FX and the Anyway Card from Fair FX). Other people in the group have taken either Euros, Dollars or Sterling (or a mixture) in cash and have been exchanging it country by country. It really depends on how comfortable you are carrying cash around. Also – just so you know, in all the countries we’ve been to so far, Sterling has got a better exchange rate!

    Hope that’s helped a bit?!
    Aisleen & Rich

  4. July 27, 00:27 #4 rick

    Hey there Aisleen and Richard,
    Well ite been three weeks since I saw you off from Cleopatras needle and I have been avidly following you blog.
    It sounds like you are having a brilliant time so far.
    Iran sounds really interesting, I hope I manage to get my Iranian visa before we leave in 6 weeks!

    Hows everyone else on the bus doing?! I hop they are all enjoying it!

    I do have a couple of questions for you if you dont mind?!

    1. How has the internet been so far…has it nee hard to find and expensive?

    2. What has everyone been doing for money exchanging!? Have you all been using cashpoints or did most people take cash/travellers cheques/dollars? It woud be great to find out which is the best way to get by as you/we are visiting so many countries!

    Anyway, keep up the blog – Its going great so far!!
    Have fun in Iran!!

    Rick D (Ozbus 20)

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