From Tbilisi we flew to Istambul (and then Italy). In Istambul we met an Italian woman who told us the horrible adventure that had happened to her in Iran. With some friends she had entered Iran via Turkey by train. At the border the Iranian police forgot to put a stamp on their passports. When they tried to leave Iran from Teheran, the airport police noticed that they did not have the stamp and prevented them from taking the flight. They were locked in a room and interrogated harshly for hours. After a few days, she was allowed to leave the country, while the men were still in Iran (that is why she was alone when we met her). Anyway, I did not read any bad news in the newspaper the following days, so I suppose that everything ended well.
lunedì 31 dicembre 2012
To make our last day more exciting, Alessandro got sick some hours before our departure. When we reached the airport, he was very weak. We had to find a wheelchair to carry him around. Since he felt he was about to vomit, we took a waste bin and we put it between his legs (on the wheelchair). I have pictures to prove that! :)
giovedì 27 dicembre 2012
Armenia has an ordinary capital city named Yerevan and a nice countryside made up of hills, forests, lakes and... a lot of ancient monasteries! They are very beautiful, but also quite similar to each other (at least this was my thought after spending two days moving from one monastery to another one:).
In Georgia we only stayed in Tbilisi, the capital. Unexpectedly (to me), it is a really nice city: the old part lying on the cliff with its small streets and houses, the fortress ruins on the other side of the river, the churches. And a dynamic nightlife: we could even go to a disco (which seemed extraordinary after three weeks in Iran). The city was being completely renovated: there were construction sites everywhere. I guess thr economy is doing well, and the name of the road to the airport could suggest who is helping: George W. Bush road (I am not kidding)!
Entering Armenia we suffered two shocks. The first one was cultural. We were used to the warm hospitality of Iranians and we suddenly had to deal with the abrupt manners of Armenian taxi drivers and hotelkeepers. A major difference.
The second one was due to the local prices. Everything seemed very expensive, but it is just Iran which is very very cheap.
martedì 25 dicembre 2012
It was late when we reached the Iranian border. We wished our driver goodbye, we changed our money and we started walking towards Armenia. Luckily, there was not much traffic, therefore we did not have to wait for a long time neither to exit Iran not to enter Armenia. However, we were the only ones passing the border on foot. This is my last image of Iran: the five of us (and our big bags) crossing the bridge over the river separating Iran and Armenia (the no man's land), almost in the dark, while the last rays of sunshine coloured the sourrounding mountains red.
sabato 22 dicembre 2012
Beyond the umpteenth twist of the river, the monastery finally came into sight. A view that was awesome. Kalisa Darreh Sham is an ancient christian monastery dominating the valley among high arid mountains. It consists of a church and some other stone buildings where the monks used to live (not anymore). A water source provides drinking water and allows the cultivation of flowers and fruit trees in the gardens. I have rarely been in such a peaceful and relaxing place.
Just beware of wasps: there were a lot of them, and seemed to like visitors a lot.
giovedì 20 dicembre 2012
Apart from the excursion in Yazd, until then we had mainly visited big cities: I really wanted to experience some wild nature.And I could not be happier about what I saw.
We travelled in a lonely narrow vally along a river surrounded by rocky mountains. The beauty of the landscape was astonishing. On the other side of the river, for a long while, Azeirbaijan.
From Tabriz we took a local bus to a small town close to the Armenian (and Azeirbaijan) border with Alessandro, Filippo and Lorenzo. The day was almost over, but we decided to visit an ancient monastery in the nearby, and then reach the border (we had read it was open all night). We found a car driver who accepted to carry us (all of us plus our big bags!), we bargain as much as we could, and we left.
Tabriz has the most beautiful bazar I saw during the trip. It is really huge and crowded, like a labyrinth city made of covered hallways and courtyards. You get lost as soon as you turn the first corner. Every product has its own sector: fruits and vegetables, jewels, carpets, etcetera. Be sure: there is all you need (the matter is if you find it).
lunedì 17 dicembre 2012
Another event influenced our decision: the earthquake that hit the northern part of Iran while we were deciding where to go after Isfahan. Due to the earthquake damages, it was not sensible anymore to go to some rural areas in the north suggested by the guide. So, in the end, we chose to go to the Armenian border directly, only stopping in Tabriz for one night.
After Ishahan we went back to the capital city, and we enjoyed the company of our local friends. Our first idea was to fly back to Italy from Teheran. Instead, we flew back from Tbilisi, Georgia. Why? Because we had met Alessandro, Filippo and Lorenzo, three nice young men from Milano, who had told us that they had shifted their flight because they wanted to visit Armenia and Georgia too. We liked the idea and we did the same.
venerdì 14 dicembre 2012
Isfahan is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen in my life. It you need a reason to go to Iran, Isfahan is a good one.
The charm of the city was a surprise, after the general ugliness of the other cities. An amazing central square surrounded by old buildings, many huge wonderful mosques and luxorious palaces (with internal exhibitions), stunning parks and a lot of green everywhere, some ancient romantic bridges over the river, a nice bazar. Truly, a beauty that makes you hold your breath.
giovedì 13 dicembre 2012
Censorship of the web has been increasing a lot in the last years; yet, it is quite easy to avoid it. For example our friends living in Iran normally use Facebook, despite the access to it being prohibited. The choice between allowed websites and forbidden ones seemed random: I could open some Italian newspaper websites but some others not, I could open www.google.com but not www.google.it, and so on. After I came back, Iran announced the plan to replace the World Wide Web with an isolated domestic Internet network; this plan should be put in place in 2013.
Satellite television is prohibited too; yet, it is widely widespread, and our friends had it at home.
mercoledì 12 dicembre 2012
If you go to the website Couchsurfing.org, you will find many Iranian couch surfers in every city. I did not expect so. We wrote to some of them on some occasions, but we did it too late (usually the day before our arrival), so we never managed to be hosted. Anyway, we know from other travellers that it works very well, if you plan it in advance.
Only once we had a partial experience. It was in Isfahan. We arrived from Yazd very early in the morning and from the bus station we took a taxy to the house of a couch surfer who had accepted our request to be hosted. The guy was friendly (he liked Pasolini) and lived in a nice detached house. We entered, went down a stair and ended up in a huge room with no furniture except from some carpets on the floor. And a lot of people sleeping on them! We asked who they were. Other couch surfers I am hosting, he said: some French, some Turkish, some from Asia, etcetera. The cellar looked like an international gathering point for low budget travellers. We joined the others and slept a bit. Afterwards, we decided that the accomodation was too basic and went looking for a hotel for the night. :)
martedì 11 dicembre 2012
In Yazd we bought a one day excursion to some nearby sites. At last, we had the chance to see some wild nature, travelling across beautiful mountains and desert lands.
The Chak Chak site is the religious centre of Zoroastrianism. It only consists of a small temple, in the middle of nowhere. Built around a cave where there is a sacred water source (and the only trees in the area), the temple is hidden between steep and rocky hills. The building itself is nothing special, but the place is very mystical: I could feel its deep sense of religiousness (also because we were the only visitors at that moment). I drank the water, it was fresh and good.
lunedì 10 dicembre 2012
This is the most incredible thing of the trip: in Yazd I met two friends from my EVS work in Turkey, Paolo and Catarina. By chance!!! We had not spoken for months, so I had no idea where they were neither did they. Nevertheless, we bumped into each other in the middle of Iran! What an incredible and wonderful moment! Sure enough, I spent the next days with them wandering around Yazd.
venerdì 7 dicembre 2012
In Yazd we met a travelling street circus too. Three people with a colourful rickshaw heading for India by land. They stopped all along the way to do shows and workshops for local children. Here is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RickshawCircus?fref=ts.
mercoledì 5 dicembre 2012
One night at the hotel we saw a group of three people coming in. They looked like a family: the grandson (about 20 year old) with the grandparents, who looked about 70 or older (his grandfather moved very slowly, with the help of a stick). A scene you could easily imagine on the border of a Swiss lake, not in Iran.
lunedì 3 dicembre 2012
In Yazd the doors of many old houses have two knockers making a different sound. Why? One was for men and one for women! So the ones inside could know the sex of the one at the door and decide accordingly who had to open (man or woman).
The wind towers are are a natural (and traditional) cooling system. A high tower catches the wind and distributes it to the rest of the building by means of a very sophisticated architectural and engineering design (inside the tower it is like being in a labyrinth). We visited the most preserved (and beautiful) wind tower in Yazd: it works really well!
Yazd is the centre of the Zoroastrian religion, the first monoteistic religion. On the edge of the city there are the Zoroastian graves (also known as "the towers of silence"): some bare hills on the top of which there were the temples used by Zoroatrians to put dead people, so that bodies could be eaten by vultures. Nowadays this method is not used anymore and only ruins remain. However it is a fascinating place.
From Shiraz we took an overnight bus to Yazd. Yazd has a very characteristic city centre. Why? Because it is mostly made of mud! The houses are very low and the streets are very narrow. Some ancient palaces and mosques make a lovely contrast with the rest of the buildings.