Leaving Tehran for Kashan

Today, Friday 5th September, we leave Tehran. The roadside butcher had finished his business – probably meat for the building crew a couple of doors down. We wave goodby and ride out onto a Friday lunchtime traffic, read Sunday lunchtime traffic as Friday is the weekend day here in Tehran. A huge change from riding as the streets seem deserted by comparison to our ride in, which is good for us as we were not looking forward to the exit from Tehran. We have to take a somewhat convoluted route to get to the main route south. A couple of U turns after we start, I hear Anne’s bike screech to a halt. She has avoided an accident with a car that was not going to stop by millimetres. Anne has commented that she felt her body had physically aged 10 years driving and being driven in Iran. A traffic jam or two later and we are on the main road south. We approach the toll road wondering if the payment system will be less complex and easier to understand the the one that inhabits French autoroutes.

Turns out that Toll road is a little bit of a misnomer for us, as it seems the large signs ban motorbikes and other undesirable forms of transport from the toll roads, we ignore the signs and the toll booths always waive us through without payment. Only once in the ride from Tehran to Kashan did a policeman waive his little traffic stick with the red side visible at a toll booth, I just waived back and on we went, maybe he thought I was colour blind.

Each stop for fuel, snack or our favourite lunch of canned tuna and biscuits, brought out the travelling photographers. Pictures of the bikes, us with the bikes, them with us and on the bikes, their children on the bikes. In each case they always ask, even if it is to just photograph the bikes. It sometimes takes quite a few minutes for the crowds to clear after we arrive for us to get on with whatever activity we stopped for. Still great to meet so many friendly people.

Friendly waves but I do wish the drivers didn't cut in front of us that way - on our way to Kashan, Iran

Friendly waves but I do wish the drivers didn’t cut in front of us that way – on our way to Kashan, Iran

The toll is a good quality and multi lane, we make good time and arrive at the outskirts of Kashan. We hail a taxi and agree a price for him to lead us to the hotel. Usually about one US dollar. I have found that the free maps do not have the lane ways in such detail to navigate so I switch to a local and very accurate GPS system – taxis. We travel down Kashan’s avenues around green and treed roundabouts, then off down alleyways, left and right to a point where the taxi can proceed no further. We ride on to find our hotel and park the bikes close by. It is beautiful inside and we are both exhausted so the air conditioning is vey welcome.

Bike security is very important to us and at each hotel we look for the most secure location for the bikes. I am told go back to the white door and part there. I bring both bikes to the white door, ring the bell and am admitted. About one meter in is a set of stairs descending to a courtyard and on my left a small balcony with a couple of 125cc bikes. To get ours in will be difficult, but not impossible so I start to reposition the two small bikes: it’s great I can just lift the back and pull it around, this is the size for next trip. Just as I am getting finished, the owner of the house comes up and tells be it’s the next white gate I want! Oh apologies and I am out of there, lucky I did not get our motorbikes in.

Not that white door!!  Our hotel entrance is just past the archway.  Kashan, Iran

Not that white door!! Our hotel entrance is just past the archway. Kashan, Iran

Soon the motorbikes are safely parked and I struggle back with two panniers in the 40 degree heat. It would have been nice to have some hotel help in this regard, but they all seem to have disappeared. It does seem from the number of women and children around that parts of this old building have been retained as family dwellings amid the hotel and it not clear where the boundaries are between hotel and home, especially when the children are playing outside your bedroom window at midnight. That and being near the kitchen, we decide on a room change for night number two. We get an underground cavern down eight steep steps, but the room is quiet and we are happy. It should be noted that steps in Iran never have an even step height, the builders must have to work with whatever sized materials are at hand. One really does need to “mind the step between the platform and the train” as they say.

Our hotel in Kashan, the Manoucheri hotel - a beautifully renovated traditional home

Our hotel in Kashan, the Manoucheri – a beautifully renovated traditional home

Our hotel in the evenings, Kashan, Iran

Our hotel in the evenings, Kashan, Iran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We only have one full day in Kashan and have divided the day into morning and afternoon activities, as the heat of day reaching over 40 degrees, plus everything shutting at lunchtime gives a us a window to rest and make some blog writing time in the cool of the air-conditioned room. As I have said before this makes a big difference for me, and while costing more, is preferable now to the types of places and conditions in which we stayed 35 years ago.

Anne had two places she wanted to visit in Kerman, one is the covered bazaar which is one of the best in Iran and has a renowned multi domed roof. We enter from the meat and vegetable end of the bazaar and Anne immediately spots a mobile butcher on his bicycle. Meat delivered to your door: any health issues there that could preclude this at home?

Mobile butcher, Kashan, Iran

Mobile butcher, Kashan, Iran

Past the usual stores until we spy a coffee shop down some stairs. This turns out to be a former bathhouse that has been converted into a coffee shop and restaurant. A single family has run this for generations and is still going strong. We lunch on a raised platform overlooking the fountain which for some strange reason has an oil fired flame coming out next to the water! The owner’s father and grandfather’s portraits hang on the wall. We are told the construction of the building is such that it is effectively earthquake proof. After a relaxing lunch, no hokum pipe for us, we take a photograph for the only awake German out of four sitting at the other end of the tea house. The others are stretched out on the carpet. I am sure he will have fun with that at home.

Teahouse, Kashan bazar, Iran

Teahouse, Kashan bazar, Iran

Before I wrote this section on the Bathhouse in the Kashan Bazaar, I had found people who had written similar travel reports and I thought how easy plagiarism must be today. There was a recent report on a Dutch girl who instead of travelling to Thailand for a month as family and friends thought, stayed home and used Photoshop to fake her trip as a way showing how media can be manipulated. I now realise we could have gone and done this RTW motorcycle trip while lounging on a year long round the world cruise instead. Just kidding, where do you really think we are?

Stunning ceiling of the Kashan bazar, Iran

Stunning ceiling of the Kashan bazar, Iran

Our afternoon trip was to the Persian Gardens called Bagh-e Fin This is one of the classic Persian gardens and on Unescos heritage list. The construction and use of a gravity fed water supply to the gardens are amazing and will be reflected in the photos loaded in Dubai. They are beautifully laid out, cool with tall trees, deep green grass and the sound of running water. It is supplied with water from an underground stream that then flows towards town passing through numerous buried water storage facilities that date back hundreds if not thousands of years. Water conservation is always practiced by those in regular short supply.

Bagh-e-Fin Garden, Koshan, Iran

Bagh-e-Fin Garden, Koshan, Iran

Bagh-e-Fin Garden, Kashan, Iran

Bagh-e-Fin Garden, Kashan, Iran

Bagh-e-Fin Garden, Kashan, Iran

Bagh-e-Fin Garden, Kashan, Iran

Vivid green at Bagh-e-Fin garden, Kashan, Iran

Vivid green at Bagh-e-Fin garden, Kashan, Iran

Taxi ride in Kashan with all the usual safety deatures of seatbelts & headrests

Taxi ride in Kashan with all the usual safety deatures of seatbelts & headrests

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– Anthony

Tehran

We eventually left Karaj for Tehran, Monday 1st September. We used Sohrab’s instructions to get from the village the villa was located in to the freeway. Easier than the steep twisty way we came in he said. So we followed his directions until I shouted to Anthony: we’re going the wrong way, this is now a one way! We quickly do a U-turn. As we turn off, down the side road we’d just passed and ignored, I look back to see if we’d missed a sign – nothing! We should have just known/guessed. To avoid going right into the city of Karaj, which was the wrong way for us anyway, we set down all sorts of tiny, narrow, steep little streets, come across the odd dead-end, go back. In the end, it was much worse than the difficult way we’d come in a few days back and which Sohrab told us to avoid!!! I was quite pleased as I tackled them all ok, unstressed, even the final steep, gravelled T-junction up to the main road. So we eventually ride into Tehran. I have to admit I left the villa with a sense of trepidation at the thought of riding into Tehran, based on what we had been told by fellow riders. So this little exercise of getting ‘lost’ in the tiny streets of Karaj and tackling them with ease has given me confidence.

We follow the GPS, mostly but not exactly because it occasionally tries to send us some obviously obscure and convoluted way. The GPS is Anthony’s role, unfortunately for him as it can be quite frustrating to follow especially in traffic. We ignore the ‘no motorcycle’ signs on the freeway into Tehran and pass police cars on a few occasions without any trouble.

Tehran is like nothing we have ever experienced. And as I write this having now left Tehran, I am sorry to say I have no desire to ever repeat. We will return one day, to visit friends, but not on a bike. See our post on Iranian driving for more on why…

We eventually arrive at Saba’s just 10 minutes late – not bad really!!! Although 5 days later than originally planned. We drive down her steep driveway into her underground garage where we can safely store our bikes while there.

It is so good to see Saba again! (we met in Brisbane while I was doing the Celta English teaching course). Her aunt is there too to greet us and tells us Saba has been waiting for us for the past week!! We contact Sohrab and Afrooz to let them we have arrived safely. We have so many friends worried about us and wanting us to check-in and let them know we have safely arrived – as if they were our parents. Another friend, Fariba, has desperately been trying to contact to see us too, but we had already delayed our arrival in Tehran due to our unexpected stays in Beshahr and at the Karaj villa, our priority is to see Saba who has been patiently waiting for us. Saba tells us her apartment is ours for as long as we want. Once again, we experience the wonderful Iranian hospitality. Lunch has been waiting for us. Saba is a great cook. Saba’s aunt is very interesting and speaks perfect English which is very helpful for us. She tells us about her current project, designing a 300 metre high concrete walled dam. Later we meet Saba’s parents too.

We spend the afternoon chatting. A lovely lazy day. In the evening, we go to Tajrish square, a northern suburb where there is a bazaar and lots of little restaurants. Saba gives us the option of going by taxi or bus. Bus of course! As we are about to get on a bus, Saba explains that the front is for males and back for females, but if Anthony wants to join us, that’s ok. There is no law as such, but there is an understanding of where everyone’s place is. If one section gets too crowded, it can overspill into the other section. It is crowded as it is rush hour so we stand. I keep being offered a seat. Not because of my grey hair but because I am a tourist. Two young women talk to Saba and ask her why she took me on a bus. I should be traveling in something more comfortable. She assures them it was my choice and I confirm that to them. And so we all chat (with Saba interpreting). Apparently, it is very common to people to chat to strangers. I can see that the segregation makes it easier for women to interact comfortably amongst each other.

Segrated buses - Tehran, Iran

Segrated buses – Tehran, Iran

Tajrish is bustling with life. It is fantastic. The noises, the smells, the sights – it’s alive. We must look like kids in a candy shop, all wide eyed. We stop to look, to smell, to enquire and yes, to take photos. It is not our first bazar, but this particular one is full of locals only shopping for food, spices, clothes, anything really. There are no tourists.

Tajrish bazar, Tehran, Iran

Tajrish bazar, Tehran, Iran


After a slow meander through it, we go to a tiny restaurant on Tajrish Square. Saba wants us to try two traditional dishes. One we loved, osh, a sort of noodle and vegetable stew, the other we weren’t that keen on – some sort of savory porridge. Osh was quite filling and a bowl was all we felt like for dinner. We can’t pay so we offer to get tea.
Saba introducing us to osh at Tajrish square, Tehran, Iran

Saba introducing us to osh at Tajrish square, Tehran, Iran


We go to a lovely outdoor coffee shop near the film museum. We love the fact that even in Tehran we seem to be the only tourists. That is of course thanks to the fact that we are shown around by Saba.
I love this photo - while totally unflattering of me, it reminds me of the great times we had with Saba - Tehran, Iran

I love this photo – while totally unflattering of me, it reminds me of the great times we had with Saba – Tehran, Iran


We get up late and have a lovely lazy morning. We meet Saba’s cousin who lives upstairs. She’s brought back our washing, beautifully folded into a little parcel. This is our 2nd machine wash since Moscow (first one was in Beshahr). It might sound totally trivial, but that is luxurious for me!!! Hand washing every couple of days can be tedious at times. Time for a late shower before going out. Although we are in the capital city, we have to remember, like in the whole of Iran, not to flush toilet paper down the toilet as the sewerage system does not handle it. You are meant to use the separate hand shower which is always provided next to the toilet bowl or ‘squat toilet’ to wash yourself.

We have lunch at a favourite restaurant of Saba’s with her father and meet up with 2 of her friends. There appears to be a set menu of dizi – a stew served in a tall cylindrical dish and which has a certain ritual in the way you eat it. You first tear little pieces of bread and place them into your bowl, over which you pour out lots of the broth. You eat your ‘soup’. Then, you mash up the remains of the container with a sort of pestle: in my case, you first carefully remove all large chunks of fat off the pieces of meat, then pound the meat, potatoes and chick peas and remaining broth into a thick paste. Then you spoon dollops into a piece of bread and eat. It is very filling and delicious. It is Saba’s father’s treat. Once again, we cannot pay or contribute in any way.

Eating traditional dizi with Saba's father and friends, Tehran, Iran

Eating traditional dizi with Saba’s father and friends, Tehran, Iran


Saba takes us to an area of Tehran where small foreign exchanges line the streets. They are legal. But in the middle of all these is a group of men, trading foreign exchange in large amounts, illegally. They are always there, it is illegal, but somehow continues. It amazes us that such illegal trading continues in broad daylight without any trouble from the police…
Illegal currency trading occurs openly, opposite police guarding the old UK embassy in Tehran, Iran

Illegal currency trading occurs openly, opposite police guarding the old UK embassy in Tehran, Iran


We then visit the National Jewelry museum. And come across our first tourists! A whole coachload. That place is like Fort Knox. We go through 4 security screenings. Some tourists complain. The amount of jewels is amazing, mostly incredibly elaborate, but more amazing to us was the number of bowls full of rubies, emeralds, diamonds etc. Just stock for more jewelry.

Fariba picks us up from Saba’s just before 9pm. Unbeknownst to us, her two sisters, brother and his fiancée want to meet us too. 6 of us pile into his car (it’s only a 5 seater, but so what) and we meet up with his fiancée up the hill. It takes us an hour and a half due to traffic. Shall we go for a walk or have dinner first? Dinner!! We are starving!! Our bodies have not got used to such late dinners yet. We didn’t get our walk in as the kitchen forgot our whole order so we ate really late. But what a feast. And stunning setting – sitting outdoors with a view of the lit rock face of Sangan.

Dinner out with Fariba next to me, and her siblings

Dinner out with Fariba next to me, and her siblings


Conversation is interesting – Iranians we have met are all highly educated and qualified. At our table, we have several engineers and an English teacher. Our ease of travel is something Iranians are very envious about. So many Iranians have dreams to travel but getting visas from countries like ours is very difficult and sometimes impossible for them.

Anthony’s having trouble with a tooth we suspected he cracked on a cherry jam stone the other day and eating chicken this evening has aggravated it. Fariba has a dental appointment tomorrow morning and offers to give Anthony’s her appointment and she’ll make another for herself. And she can show us to a carpet shop straight after and leave us to wander on our own from there.

That is when we decided we would have to change our timetable and our route. Tomorrow will now be spent at the dentist and the bazaar, and we won’t have much time with Saba. She had asked us to stay longer so many times. So why not. We’ll leave another day later. But that did mean we had to skip … Shiraz and Persepolis… Yes, we can hear you from here already!! We know, we know. It is the most beautiful, most interesting city, we have to see Shiraz. We know but: we can read about it, we can see and buy more stunning photos than we could ever take of those treasures ourselves, but we could never ever buy the people experiences. Our choice is easy. One day longer in Tehran and then we can take an easy leisurely route down to Banda Abbas.

Why didn’t we have time for Shiraz? What’s the rush? Visas, once again. We have a 4 week visa for Iran and we have to get to Banda Abbas by a certain date to do the paperwork to ship the bikes to Dubai, and boats only leave 3 times a week. Shiraz is on a different road to Yazd/Banda Abbas and it would mean an additional 900kms round trip. And an extra 900kms is one thing, maybe not that much, but doing the same journey twice in this heat is too much. So Shiraz will be for our next visit.

Anyway, back to Tehran. The next morning, off we go with Fariba, and one of her sisters, to her dentist – the traffic is horrendous and the fumes sitting in the taxi and traffic jams finally get to my head. Anthony is shown to the dentist’s room – there is another patient in another chair in the same room. That’s efficiency. Verdict: Anthony has damaged his tooth but the extent of the work required will only be evident with an x-ray which can’t be done there and the treatment may require 2 or 3 visits. We don’t have the time and the tooth is bearable. It should last until Dubai if he is careful and lucky. We get the painkillers and antibiotics the dentist prescribes just in case, which cost a whole $3!! The cost of the consultation remains a mystery – we are not sure if the dentist didn’t charge, or Fariba paid, but as usual, we were not able to pay anything. Next we head to the large bazaar by metro this time. It is massive.

The very crowded Grand Bazar, Tehran, Iran

The very crowded Grand Bazar, Tehran, Iran


We wanted to have a look at carpets and have a little time to wander through the bazaar alone but as luck would have it, Fariba’s family know a carpet seller well so we’ll head there with her. But first lunch. Ok. And miraculously, another of Fariba’s sisters is there too. She tells us she has cleared her diary to spend the rest of the day with us. How unexpected but kind. When we go to the carpet shop and we are asked why we don’t like the carpets we see on the wall and what design we want, I don’t want to see anymore, it will be all too hard. I feel guilty at wanting to leave the bazaar when these kind Iranians are giving up their time for us. I am feeling torn. And my head hurts. It has been great to see Fariba again, meet her family, hear their feelings about their country, their dreams, their hopes, their frustrations, their views, their beliefs. We’ll next meet again in Brisbane.

It has surprised our Iranian friends to see the number of people who come up to us or stop us in the street just for a chat, asking the same questions: where are you from, welcome to Iran, what do think of Iranians, do you like Iran, what cities have you been to, is that your husband/wife, how many children do you have, welcome to my country! Often, it is followed by where are you going next, where are you staying, you can stay at my house.

Our last day in Tehran, with Saba. What a fantastic day. Saba takes us to see the palaces of Saadabad, with its stunning gardens. We wonder there until closing time at 5pm and were headed home for a rest before going out for dinner when Saba got a phone call that her parents had broken down and were stranded waiting for a rescue truck to turn up. Quick change of plan and we pick up mum and go to Saba’s grandmother who lives nearby.

With Saba at the Green Palace, Saadabad Palaces, Darband - Tehran, Iran

With Saba at the Green Palace, Saadabad Palaces, Darband – Tehran, Iran

Alborz mountains behind the Green Palace at Saadabad Palaces - Tehran, Iran

Alborz mountains behind the Green Palace at Saadabad Palaces – Tehran, Iran

The statue of the last Shah of Iran was destroyed after the 1979 revolution and only his boots remain outside the stunning White Palace - Saadabad Palaces, Tehran, Iran

The statue of the last Shah of Iran was destroyed after the 1979 revolution and only his boots remain outside the stunning White Palace – Saadabad Palaces, Tehran, Iran


It has amazed us how fluid everything here is. Plans change, new ones are made, and always, people just turn up. Sometimes, we think plans have been changed on the fly (like picking up parents who have just broken down) and new ones made on the fly (like taking the mum to grandmother’s place nearby while the car is being seen to) but it seems everyone was waiting for us – another aunt, friends, grand mother. Our welcome at Saba’s grandmother’s home, which we thought was a spontaneous detour following Saba’s parents’ car breakdown, is incredible. So many plates and bowls all over the lounge, full of fresh fruit, nuts, Iranian sweets, cakes. We are served an amazing fresh fruit drink made from basil flower seeds. Saba’s aunt speaks fluent English which enables us to have in depth discussions on politics, religion, economics, travel. It is so interesting and gives us yet another glimpse into Iranian life. Tonight, after leaving Saba’s grandmother, for the first time since we arrived in Iran 10 days ago, we are allowed to pay for a meal.
Delicious basil flower seed drink which Saba's aunt introduced us to - Tehran, Iran

Delicious basil flower seed drink which Saba’s aunt introduced us to – Tehran, Iran


Apart from the incredible hospitality we have been shown, what is Tehran like? Tehran is a huge city – 11 million by night, 17 million by day. It has a stunning backdrop of the Alborz mountains and seems to sit on one massive hill side. Most streets are tree lined. Water runs through the streets constantly, down a deep channel between the road and pavement. While Buenos Aires reminds us of Paris, Tehran has its own distinctive feel. And traffic, well, that deserves its own full post as you may have already read. One last thing I’d like to say on that subject however: while it is total anarchy on the streets, it is also a great lesson in tolerance and adjustment and something our Australian drivers could learn from…. The lack of road rage is rather refreshing.
Helmets are only ever worn by men (sometimes) - Tehran, Iran

Helmets are only ever worn by men (sometimes) – Tehran, Iran

Many websites are blocked in Iran and the internet speed is deliberately slowed down to discourage its use

Many websites are blocked in Iran and the internet speed is deliberately slowed down to discourage its use


Good night Tehran, until next time as we will be back to see Saba one day…

– Anne