Monday, November 19, 2012

Shiraz, as good as it gets?

Leaving Esfahan was not an easy decision. It was one of the nicest cities we have ever visited and we wouldn't mind staying there a bit longer. But since our visas were only valid for 30 days and we have suddenly noticed, that Christmas is no longer as far away as we thought, we decided to hit the road again. Especially that our next stop was supposed to be the famous Shiraz. The city is known for its beautiful gardens, perfectly educated doctors and most of all, the hospitality of its people, which exceeds the already high Iranian standards. It sounded promising.

The first surprise was the weather. It was no longer warm and sunny, it was hot and burning, making me appreciate Iranian dress code even less than before. But it also made all the gardens in the city look absolutely amazing, with plants and flowers blooming everywhere we looked. The city itself was a small disappointment though, as it looked more like a soviet built area rather than “one of the oldest provinces of ancient Persia“. Just another big, modern city, with a few old buildings hidden in different parts of a town. But as far as we're concerned, those buildings were definitely worth looking for. And as big as the city was, all tourist were heading in the same direction anyway, so we soon saw some familiar faces. We joined forces with two German friends we have already met in Baku and decided to explore the city together.

Although the weather was great and we were walking in a nice company, somehow we did not enjoy it as much as we usually do. The city was missing an atmosphere, that much was certain, but the people were different too. For nearly two weeks everybody told us, Shiraz is the nicest and most friendly city in Iran, but although we were trying hard, we could not really share this opinion. The main street was full of people hurrying in all directions, wanting to get to their destination as quickly as possible, without paying much attention to other people in their way. I was pushed and shoved every few minutes and I quickly got the feeling, that some men were actually using the situation to get way too close to me. Fortunately, things got better when we left the main street, so that I even though I was just being a bit oversensitive. And then we decided to visit a mosque. I had to use a different entrance than the guys to borrow a chador (huge piece of fabric, mostly black) to cover myself completely and though you can borrow one at every holy place, for some reason I was refused one this time. The women at the entrance didn't even bother to tell me why. I was in no mood to argue, so I decided to wait outside, in the middle of the covered bazaar. It felt like the main street all over again, only even more rude, maybe because this time I was alone, without any male protection. And the place wasn't even crowded. I just wanted to run away as fast as possible and was more relieved than ever when the guys finally came out of the mosque. I have made up my mind, Shiraz is not a city for me. Maybe it wasn't fair, maybe I was overreacting, but I just wanted to leave. There was so much we could do and see in Iran, that it made no sense to stay in a city I could not feel comfortable in. We discussed it briefly and decided to leave early in the morning.

It didn't work out though. We woke up the next morning only to find out, that someone broke into Gerrit's car, which was parked in front of the hotel. They smashed a window to open the door and went through all his belongings. They took his navigation and some of his tools, but they also took his shoes, glasses, books and maps. Some of the stuff would prove totally worthless for the thieves, but was very valuable to Gerrit, which made it all even more frustrating. We have called the police, but it took them forever to come and they didn't really do much. They left after few minutes, without even writing a report. There is a special tourist police in Iran, with English-speaking officers, who are supposed to help foreigners with all their problems. They are quite active in Esfahan, where they actually came to introduce themselves and told us they would be happy to help us with any issues, even if it's just calling a taxi. There was such an office in Shiraz too, but it was closed the whole time we were there. But then again we didn't really believe they could have done much anyway.

Shiraz was definitely not a fortunate city for us. Don't get me wrong, we did meet some wonderful people there too and the city certainly has a lot to offer, but I believe we just had no luck there. Fortunately, it was the only unpleasant situation for us, not only in Iran, but on our entire journey, so it remains a small exception, only confirming the general rule, that people (and especially Iranians) are absolutely awesome.

But one way or another, a trip to Iran would not be complete without visiting the city and it's neighborhood, especially the ancient Persepolis. I have to admit it really does make a huge impression, even when you have to climb it in a burning sun, fighting with the head scarf and dealing with a bad mood caused by previous events. The site is terrific! And it is all astonishingly well preserved. I have no idea how they manage to keep it this way and where they get the money from, since the entrance fee was as nearly always in Iran, at the level of 10 cents. I guess we have never invested our money better than there. It certainly is the best place to understand what a magnificent country ancient Persia used to be. At first we wanted to make Persepolis our only stop, since we wanted to drive directly to Yazd, but we loved it so much, that we decided to see all the other ruins in the area too. I can tell you it was a good decision!


  1. It might sound ignorant but untol now if you said to me 'Shiraz' I'd think 'wine'. Probably if you were drunk there unfortunate episodes wouldn't bother you that much. Or maybe they would do even more. Anyway, glad everything else was great. There's always an exception to every rule...I hope Gerrit didn't loose his spirit, although I can imagine that some stuff we carry with us have rather sentimental than financial value...SUch a shame about the tourist police. I had rather good memories of their services when travelling.
    And I know what you mean about the male's protection in islamic countries - travelling with my sister only was great but when we met a guy from Australia and travelled together for some time - it was a purely different experience. Incredible.
    Persepolis looks amazing.
    I just realized, I should have suggested you to read 1001 Arabian Nights stories while you were there. The impression would be great. However, I bet, if caught you'd be burnt on a pile as a warning:)

    It's still 2 weeks to Christmas. You'll make it just fine.

    Until next post.

  2. It is a pity story, as Shiraz is most famous for its wine, but unfortunately, since alcohol it totally illegal in Iran, they kind of lost their main feature. That all makes getting drunk in Iran pretty hard too, so we can honestly say those were a very healthy holidays, with a lot of fruit juices and tea :)

    As for Gerrit, one of the best things about him is, he never looses his spirit, no matter how bad the situation gets.

    Hope to hear form you soon

  3. Hey you guys!
    Are you planning to come back any time at all? :-)

    You're flat is going to be fabulous (it has to be!!! At least it sounds like they're building something great down there!). So if you're going to be around don't forget to stop by!

    All the best,
    Lea & Matze