Narelle and I would like to invite you to follow our trip to the Middle East this March and April. We hope you enjoy the blogs we post as we travel around this beautiful part of the world.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Farewell Iran...

Our fantastic trip to Iran has sadly come to an end.

After four weeks Narelle's head scarf or 'Imams helmet' as we nicknamed it is now permanently off...we are now relaxing in the very unusual and rare (for us) surrounds of 4 stars in Abu Dhabi.

Lastly as a fittingly end this blog we would like to clear up a few western ideologies about Iranians and our travels in Iran:

  • Is Iran safe to travel in? It certainly is and we did not have any issues what so ever. Narelle and I have travelled near and far and it's rather uncanny that the two most sanctioned places in the world (Iran and North Korea) are the two countries where we have felt the safest and most welcomed. We have consistently felt safer here in Iran than what we have at times in our own city of Canberra. Like anywhere in the world one should follow the rule of never put oneself in situations they can't immediately back out of.
  • Are Iranians all violent or terrorists? Totally US, Israel and UK (CNN and BBC) driven propaganda. From south to north and east to west we have met nothing but normal peace loving people who want a good life for their family and friends. Just like us!
  • Are all Muslims bad? Are all Christians or Catholics bad...! Yes there are bad apples everywhere but the vast majority of people are just normal people who want to freely practise their religion while detesting violence and war.
  • Do all women wear black chadors with a tiny hole to see through? Hell no...these are govt imposed restrictions on tight clothing and head scarfs but other than that Iranians are extremely fashionable people. Dare I say it but they are actually more fashionable than the majority of Australians.
  • Do all Iranians detest the west for the imposed sanctions on the nuclear debate? Absolutely not...!!!! In fact every single Iranian whom we had this conversation with totally agrees with the sanctions imposed by the international community. Quoting an Iranian: "put an arrow in the hands of a crazy man and he has the ability to do crazy things, put the same arrow in he hands of a sane man and he will use the arrows material for good".
  • Will there be a war? The people hope not but as many people have said to us this is totally in the hands of one person. I got the feeling that most Iranians actual see war as a way to break the supreme leader's shackles on the population.
  • Do the police bother westerners? Absolutely not, unless you are doing the wrong thing. Our bags were searched once and the very kind policeman then apologised and proceeded to say have a wonderful trip in Iran.
  • Do Iranians treat westerners with suspicion? Absolutely not! They are very open, friendly and highly educated people who are naturally intrigued by the world outside of Iran. They loved seeing photos of our family, friends, country and home town. They are very hospitable people and if you are holding a map expect someone to immediately help you.
  • Travelling in Iran as an devout atheist? No issues at all and the people, although intrigued as to my religious beliefs or lack there of, don't try to convert you. I have had more mormons at my front door try convert me in the last six months.
  • Would I come back to Iran? Absolutely, the first opportunity we get we will be back in this land of endless smiles, handshakes and hellos!

END OF OUR IRANIAN BLOG...we hope you have enjoyed our blog.


Food in Iran 2

Ice cream shops... are everywhere and we could relate the product sold from these shops to the mobile 'Mr Whippy' van. A huge selection of soft serve ice cream and fruit and jelly sundaes are served for no more than $1. In more tready areas gelato bars are opening up and their product selection is gi-normous...and it's also well priced at 15c a scoop. Needless to say I have had most flavours Iran can offer! Saffron flavour is pretty good.

Breakfast... Has been pretty consistent everywhere we have been and generally consists of flat bread, various jams (carrot, sour cherry, honey), cucumber, tomato, cheese (like Danish feta). Occasionally, we might also get a hard boiled egg. Tea is standard, coffee not always easy to get and often not good, Kane is cranky these mornings!

Snacks... We've had a few snacks around the place, some date filled cookies in Yazd, walnut and cinnamon filled pastry that our taxi driver gave us on the way to Masuleh, samosas from an Afghani guy in Shiraz, sweets in Tabriz and a pizza style pastry.

Fast Food Iran Style...Kentucky House (Iranians actually call it KFC) appears to be the favourite of the common Iranian. It is like a clone of the West's KFC right down to the coleslaw and Zingar (not Zinger) burgers. Narelle and I tried the Iranian Fast Food giant and the experience although not to our taste did cost us about $4.50.

Lunch/Dinner... We've mainly been eating in traditional Iranian restaurants. The food generally isn't spicy and bread and rice are the staples. You can also get salads fairly easily. Options for lunch/dinner are generally kebab (lamb, chicken, beef, minced meat and even chicken on top of lamb), stew (Dizi which is a bean and meat stew where you drain the liquid into a soup bowl and then mash the other ingredients together before eating it with bread, lentil, pomegranate and walnut), eggplant dish served with whey and chicken with barberry. Lunch is the main meal of the day, which is generally between 2 and 3 pm. Dinner starts from 8 pm.


Picnics: along with nose jobs, Iran is the land of picnics. Iranians will stop the car and have a picnic anywhere.

Drinks... Pepsi seems to be more available than Coke, or they have their own brand called ZamZam. Tea is everywhere. You can get non-alcoholic beer in all different flavours, such as lemon, peach, tropical, mango, pomegranate, sour cherry. Some brands taste more like beer than others. They also have a popular drink called 'dough', which is like a salty sour milk drink...not one of our favourites. They had a lot of milk shakes in Yazd. Kane's new favourite is date flavour.


Food in Iran 1

Buying and eating food in Iran is very different to the is a run down...

Bazaars and corner shops verse supermarkets... The old way of going to different shops for your food shopping still rules in most parts of Iran, Supermarkets are still rare. When quizzed as to why this is the case the response was: women do the food shopping in Iran and as a result these outings are seen as also been social.

Spices and herbs...these essential flavourings are an important part of the culinary delight of all Iranian food. Buying these important ingredients is taken very seriously and women seemingly spend hours, smelling, tasting and questioning the shopkeeper about the produce. These shops are also a colour wonderland and the shop keepers do all they can to lure the client inside.

Vegetable markets (or green bazaar) ...they generally have the same fruit and veg that we have at home. There has only been one thing that we didn't know what it was and that is the green berry below.

Meat shops...have whole lambs and goats hanging in the window. Most seem to have refrigeration which is better than we have seen in some countries.

Bread stores... Bread is served with every meal in Iran. You see people walking with bread piled high from the bakery. The bakeries have wire tables out the front of their stores for people to allow their bread to cool down before putting it in the plastic bag. Although we have seen some loaves of bread, it is generally flat bread that they have.


A afternoon that topped them all...

Our last afternoon in Iran was one of the most special of our trip in this wonderful country. Narelle and I met with my old friend from college in Phoenix, Saeid.

Saeid and his wonderfully polite son Mohammad took Narelle and I out for a beautiful traditional Iranian lunch in a trendy part of Tehran. My favourite Iranian dish, Dizzi was on the menu so each of us ordered this delightful stew.


We talked for a few hours about old times in Phoenix, our Iran trip, what life is like in our respective corners of the world and how each of our lives have panned out over the last 15 years since we last saw each other. Very pleasing to learn was Saeid has done well for himself in Iran and his son is a very smart student and about to sit his university entrance exams. Here is a wonderful photo of our reunion:

The world is indeed small...


As north and east as we go!

This blog is two days old and is out of order...this is the arrival day in Tabriz.

After a painful overnight bus journey we arrived in Tebritz. My seat was slippery and every 5 minutes or so i ended up having to sit up.

At 5am, raining, cold and with no hotel reservation we set out looking for a bed. The first hotel we knocked on was completely booked but two people had just left so again we got lucky. Only minor issue was we had to make our own beds as the cleaners had not started yet...

Tebritz has two things that we want to see and this morning we set out to see the first; the World Heritage building where the bazaar is located. Although not the major 'wow' factor we were expecting the long alleys and arched brick ceilings were a real delight to see.

The place is jam packed full of goods from carpets to toilet paper. However, Narelle always seems to find/smell the gold section. No purchases made this time thank Allah...

The people look a lot different here than areas to the south. The facial features are more prominent (huge proboscis's) and they are considerably taller. I suppose Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan and to a degree Arminia are not that far away so they have had an obvious influence in this region.

This shop had hundreds and hundreds of fresh and packed tea. The smell was wonderful.

Location:Tebritz, Iran

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Prices of things in Iran

We have had a few requests for prices of things in Iran so below are some of the costs of items and travel that we can remember in Iran as of April 2013;

Exchange rate: Australian $1 = Iranian Rial 37,500 (not 13,500 as most online exchanges quote)

- first class train trip from Tabriz to Tehran = $8
- 130km round trip taxi trip from Tabriz to Kandovan and 2 hour wait = $13
- 90 minute taxi ride from Matsuleh to Rasht = $12
- VIP bus from Tehran to Rasht (6 hours) = $7
- VIP bus from Rasht to Tabriz (11 hours) = $10.50
- taxi from centre of Tehran to International airport = $12.50
- return metro ticket Tehran = $0.10
- taxi from Tehran train station to central Tehran = $3

- 3 star hotel Tabriz = $12.50
- 2 star hotel Matsulah = $15
- 3 star hotel Tehran = $40

- Magnum type ice cream = $0.30
- proper coke small bottle = $0.40
- Iranian coke (yam yam) small bottle = $0.12
- water 600ml = $0.12
- large import beer (0%) =$0.35
- six pieces of baklava = $1.20
- one piece flat bread = $0.08
- chocolate milk = $0.45
- lamb kebab with rice = $2.90
- Dizi stew = $2.10
- eggplant stew = $2.90
- Ice cream per scoop =$0.55
- freshly baked biscuits (3) = $0.28
- two bananas = $0.85
- lamb chops at fancy restaurant (10 chops) = $8
- big packed of chips = $0.90
- pot of tea =$0.35
- proper brewed cup of coffee = $2.40
- date milk shake = $1.10
- samosa = $0.12
- train food and drink:
- 3 local beers (0%) and two fantas (small) = $1.05
- chicken kebab and yogurt = $2.10

- 4Gb SD card = $9
- entry fee to sightseeing attractions is about = $3 to $4

- Pecon car (second hand) = $1200
- basic apartment in a major city = $15,000 - 50,000

- average white collar salary = $300-500 per month
- blue collar salary (street sweeper) = $100-150 per month

Sunny Kandovan...

After afternoon and evening of rest we headed off this morning to Kandovan, the Cappadocia of Iran. We had extremely high hopes for this known gem of northern Iran and its beauty did not fail to wow us...! Little needs to be written as the pictures speak for the unusualness of this village and the resilience of a population who have elected to carve their homes out of these strange conical-shaped geological formations, and yes they still live in them (they were even carving new ones!)

The town was divided into two the older higher section with houses carved out of the sandstone and the lower more modern section where most of the shops and everyday business takes place.

Occasionally we caught glimpse into the homes and they appeared to have very low ceilings and two to three rooms that went well back into the sandstone formation. Some were two or three stories, a marvel of carving professionalism. The picture above is actually one big home. The animals slept in a large room behind that wood door on the right.

A few modern touches are added to some homes such as this tiled staircase, little balcony and recessed windows as seen above.
Late April and the mountains above the village are still thickly covered with snow. Within the village there were still pockets of snow which made for slippery walking. Narelle had a few slides!!
Some of the rock homes even had stone extensions added to them. On the lower right appeared to be this lady's new sun room!


Matsulah - a hidden gem

The day started early with a walk around town as the sun came up. Narelle elected to stay in bed so I got to enjoy the brisk morning walk and beautiful views all to myself. Obviously the locals like their warm beds too as there was not a sole around.

We decided to seek out a mountain fortress about 60 minutes away that the locals had talked about. I don't speak Farsi and the taxi driver spoke zero english so after a lot of pointing, drawing on paper and a bribe of 20,000 toman or 200,000 Rial ($6) and a pot of tea we managed to convince the taxi driver to drive us there, wait a few hours for us to climb the mountain and then drive us home.


We climbed the 1500 odd steps up through the dense forest and this magnificent mountain top structure is what greeted us.

We were unable to find anyone who could tell us anymore about the castle and why it was its on the research list for when we get home.

A kebab and rice lunch was quickly followed by a sleep then it was time for dinner...tough life... and god knows how I am going to stay awake after lunch when I get back to work! Russell, Mons just warning you that 1 to 3pm is now my siesta time. I can be found sleeping in the sick bay.

Dinner was out of the oven flat bread from the baker and a local sheeps cheese. Very was followed up with an invitation from the tea shop to join them. We drunk a few pots, had freshly baked biscuits and eventually I went and got some beer (a 0% malt drink that sort of tastes like beer), I had had enough of tea!! A few of them created clouds of smoke as they puffed on their sheishas while Narelle and I made an effort to keep warm near their potbelly and to learn more about everyday life in a small Iranian village.

As in any small town you quickly get to know the people; We now get big Saloms (hellos) from the baker, green grocer, corner shop man, cake man, tea shop owner, the street sweeper, the entire family from the only restaurant (with an english menu) in the village and a little kid called Mahidie. If he sees us he follows us everywhere and keenly practises his English...pretty funny and he loves looking at photos of our journey. All across this sleepy village we are greeted warmly and referred to as the Australians. It appears they all know where we are staying and for how long...word gets around when someone strange is in town I suppose!

Matsulah was definitely worth taking the detour for and spending a few days here was a delight, one of the highlights of the entire trip.

Tomorrow evening we are off to Tabriz...I wonder what adventure this city will bring?


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

High in the mountains...

Narelle and I headed to the bus station this morning and after a lot of pointing and broken Farsi we ended up on a bus to Rasht. The 6 hour journey was briefly halted at a police check point when the Police took an interest in the only two foreigners on the bus...yep Narelle and I. We had to open our bags for them to search and then answer a few questions before with wonderful smiles and in their very best farsi/english the very polite officers said: thank you and enjoy Iran. I suppose not many foreigners come their way!

We arrived in the small city of Rasht and again after lots of pointing, referring to the lonely planet and using my iphone translator we managed to buy bus tickets on Tuesday to Tabriz and then fluke a safari (public shared taxi car) up the mountain to Masuleh. Some poor lady was kicked out to let us and our bags in. we apologised profusously to her and all she wanted was to know what we though of Iran and again she shook our hands and said welcome to Iran and enjoy your trip.

The little village of Matuleh with only a few hundred residents is situated high in the densely forested mountains near the Caspian Sea. It is well off the normal foreigners tourist track but we had heard it is well worth the extra effort to get here. We will reserve judgement at this point as we have seen nothing but fog and rain since we arrived.

After a billy goat walk up a winding cobble path to the hotel we found out they knew nothing of our reservation. So again, using our best Farsi we managed fluke a room over looking the valley, we had to take his word on this as the visibility with the fog and rain is about 50m.

We will stay here for two days before heading off on an overnight bus to Tabriz on Tuesday.


Saturday, 20 April 2013

Tehran at its best

On a spectacular Tehran day Narelle and I headed out to explore the city. Using the city's awesome Metro we were able to get to a number of the main attractions including: a walk past the former US Embassy, the Goldstom Palace, the National Museum, The Jewel Museum (Narelle's favourite), and the biggest Bazaar I have ever seen.

Couple of interesting photos around the former US Embassy.

The spectacular mirrored entrance to the Palace

A sneaky photo of the cameras allowed in here...oops

Onto the museum where we saw the famous 'Salt Man'. This 3rd century corpse was found in an Iranian salt mine in 1992, most of u will remember this discovery.

Basic tools used in this area dated 2000BC. These items are some of the oldest I have seen.

Men trading US dollars in the square. It's a huge business here!

Lunch time in the bazaar!! Apparently there is 200,000 shops along 216km of alleys in this bazaar. You can buy anything here if you can find the area that sells it. We went in looking for a belt but came out with a bag of lollies, a carrot drink and a cake of soap.


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Third earthquake...

Third earthquake...again yesterdays earthquake was no where near us.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Iran the land of nose jobs...

Iran is undoubtably the land of nose jobs. People here are proud of their nose surgeries and in total reverse of what we would do after the surgery, i.e. hide at home for for 6 weeks and then hope and prey no one notices our new snout Iranians wear their big white nose bandaids in public with pride and distinction.

When we enquired as to why people did not care about showing themselves we were told something quite unexpected. Apparently people in Iran will show off their new nose job as soon as they are discharged from hospital for as long as possible. It is a status thing!

A typical nose job costs 3000 to 4000$. That is a huge amount of money here so people display their wealth proudly. It is not uncommon to fake the surgery either and just wear the band aids.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

It's the little things...

First freshly ground coffee today for many weeks...lucky the Armenians came to help out Iran. We are now in Esfahan the centre of the Islamic world and a busy city much like our own cities. The city is also famous for having the world's biggest public square. The square is ringed by three magnificent buildings that we were lucky to visit: the mosque, shrine and palace.

The mosque, Wow...!!!!
This is my favourite photo: The architecture of this mosque is amazing especially for a building built in the 15th century.

The dome of the mosque, by far the most impressive we have seen in Iran and the biggest. Remember these structures are all made from tiles about 15cm by 15cm in size.

Mosaic tiles... Imagine doing this today in such a grand fashion...?

Tourists from all around we're coming in to see this mosque.

Forget us, look at the stunning Quran verses meticulously arranged on the tiles

The holy one...problem is the light is coming out of the wrong end!

The ceilings in the palace were recessed to avoid the sound from carrying. Below is a close up of this fine craftsmanship using plaster, no wood to be seen. I have never seen this before so we spent quite a while admiring this work.

There was a bazaar close by and we found the world's biggest 'fruit rollup'... U buy it by the length, 50cm minimum buy at 50 rials ($1.15)