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We had wanted to go to Iran for some time.  Our first attempt, in 2016, hadn’t gone entirely as planned.  We had arranged to pick up our Iranian visas en route,  but had ended up with John having emergency spinal surgery in Istanbul followed by many weeks of recuperation.

We tried again in 2017 with more success.  The same arrangement, visa collection in Istanbul, one of our favourite cities on Earth.

So, first thing Monday morning we headed down to the Iranian consulate to fill in the forms, submit authorisation codes and wait for the visas to be approved. The next day we stood panicking outside the closed gate of the consulate trying to decide what to do next as we had missed our appointment due to a misunderstanding (neither of us speaks Turkish or Farsi) and our flight to Iran was imminent.  Suddenly the gates open and an armed Iranian security guard takes pity on us, invites us into the (closed) consulate, makes a call and, by magic, we have our visas….. lots of Iranian sweets, recommendations of “must-sees” in Iran, and profound well wishes from our friendly security guy.  A good start.



We flew into Shiraz at 2am – customs was perfunctory and consisted of “where are you staying….. nice” and “you are very welcome!” and huge smiles.

In the morning we met our guide Afshin (required for the visa) who turned out to be a Qaashqai (nomadic tribe, not car) and a seriously good guy – an Iranian del-boy who knew everyone.

He was a little preoccupied with his just-bought flat so, as “apology”, we ended up at his parents’ house for dinner with the whole lovely family – a fine introduction to Iranian hospitality.
Sitting on a Persian rug with a huge spread of dishes, children running around, (and some shiraz!).

There could be no better start to our tour

Afshin, showing his dexterity with modes of transport other than his peugeot




First day – visiting the Pink (aka Blue) mosque with its gorgeous stained glass. Oft-photographed and it’s obvious why.

However, of equal impact was the welcome of everyone we met – they know how they’re portrayed overseas!

The Vakil (or Pink !) Mosque in Shiraz


A short venture out to sort a scarf for Kat as the one we’d brought was too hot – weather was gorgeous, 15c and sunny – a Shirazi winter.

And a brief visit to Hafez’s tomb – a poet worshipped by Iranians – all can quote him and every household will have his books – we do too now.

Shiraz is known as the city of poets, wine and flowers – rather nice!

Of course, headscarves are unglamorous..... nope! (In front of a 1500yr-old Zoroastrian fire temple


The second day’s itinerary was Persepolis and the nearby Necropolis. Think of names like Darius the Great, Xerxes, etc etc Built 2500+ years ago and many carvings looked like they’d been made last Tuesday. Bit nouveau when compared to a nearby Zoroastrian fire temple of 3500 years antiquity.

The Necropolis, next to Persepolis.

Keep your ancestors close!

Here were entombed Darius the Great, Xerxes and Artaxerxes.

Now there’s a family group!

Necropolis - tombs of Darius the Great, Xerxes & Artaxerxes



A long drive, 460km, to Yazd, broken by a visit to Pasargadae, once the capital of the ancient Achaemenid empire and the site of Cyrus the Great’s tomb (2500 years old) still considered to be “The father of Iran” and a focus for nationalist protests or celebrations.

Pasargadae - Cyrus the great's tomb

A quick lunch near Pasargadae -scrummy


Lunch on the way was at a little cottage owned by the interesting Mr Miri, a conservationist awarded by the president for his efforts to protect the brown bear (no, we didn’t realise there were either!) A fabulous spread was served on a Persian rug (of course) which really encourages careful eating.

On the drive we learnt some rather surprising aspects of Iranian culture …. including the (official) existence of “temporary marriages”!! This can last one hour, a whole weekend or as long as you like – after all, sex outside marriage is forbidden (HA!) and many of the younger Iranians were desperate to find some privacy.

At every turn, this country was not what one expected.

Arriving in Yazd – the city of wind-towers, adobe-buildings, Zaroastrian fire temples, qanats (ancient water-channels) and dangerously addictive confectionery.

Photos can’t portray how much we liked Yazd. Wonderfully friendly people, keen to talk and always wondering what we thought of Iran. One interaction was with a young guy called Sanjaat who had just set up a guest house (next door to a fantastic falafel-sandwich shop – way scrummier than it sounds). Sitting drinking tea with him he was so enthusiastic about the future (like most Iranians we met – so refreshing). Ridiculously well-educated (a masters in aeronautical engineering) he was entirely aware of the hurdles, misconceptions and cultural differences he had to overcome and recounted how, during his first week after opening, he found his guests, a group of scantily-clad young Russian female tourists, conducting an aerobics workout on the roof in full view of the town’s mosque and its attendees!

Yazd rooftops. Nice town

Yazd gymnasium. It may look tame but juggling 15kg clubs for 30 minutes (after an hour's hard warm-up) is not!

Whilst in Yazd we went into a traditional gymnasium – not something we’d considered as essential to our itinerary, but which Afshin said we’d like. The practice was originally devised to keep the military fit between wars! Part of the “circuit training” involved swinging clubs ranging from a few to 15kgs each – for half an hour – this after an hour of warm-up and other exercises including 20+ minutes of press-ups. It’s choreographed and paced by a drummer/singer; the participants ranged from 10 to 70+ years old; and I would bet on the balding, fat, elderly guy who led much of the session against any inflated gym-bunny. All rather impressive.

Onwards North across the desert to Esfahan by way of a foot spa, police and a lovely lodge… when we finally found it.

Quite a large featureless desert … and a long drive (with tea stops, of course) with road signs warning us of the many hazards we might face.

John did have a thorough look for camels but none were seen until the evening.. and we wish they hadn’t been!

(See the next post, Esfahan)

Road-sign make-work?

John, looking for camel hazards