Mashhad, the holiest city in Iran and the place where millions of people come every year in pilgrimage, was our last destination in Iran before heading North to Turkmenistan. A visit to the shrine and picking up our Turkmen visa was all we did in this 100% religious city.
The 13-hour overnight bus ride from Kerman to Mashhad was quite pleasant. Again a VIP bus with soft and big seats, room for legs... the only disturbance was that, as we were driving all the time along the border with Afghanistan, only a few kilometers from there, there were a lot of police checkpoints. In one of them, I was woken up around 6 or 7 in the morning by a policeman who got on the bus: "Tourist? Telephone, telephone, go, go!!" Those were the only words that idiot knew in English. I was half asleep and gave him my telephone and got off the bus with him.
The visit to Kerman would have been quite forgettable if it wasn't for the accidental meeting with a taxi driver in the bus station. Now Kerman was one of the most uforgettable experiences in the whole trip. After Kerman, one day visiting the city of Bam made it for a quite perfect 3 days in Southern Iran.
After taking the first Iranian overnight train from Kashan to Kerman, we decided it would as well be the last one. The trip lasted 13 hours, as expected, but the ride was terrible. 6 people cramped in a tiny compartment which was stinky, sweaty, unconvenient... everything but a pleasant ride. Nothing compared to comfortable Chinese or even Russian trains. So now it was clear: the best way to travel in Iran is by VIP bus. B y far.
Anyway, from the railway station in Kerman (as usual far from the city center) we went to the hotel, a quite nice one and with quite decent Internet, which was needed as that day I had a Skype conversation with the students of the second school we have an agreement with: Meeting Point.
The second part of Tehran was devoted to collect the passport, visas and apply for another one, while the second visit to Kashan was to meet Ibrahim again and go to the desert with him. In between, a side trip to the holy city of Qom to admire the huge Holy Shrine.
If you have read the previous posts, you probably remember we left our passport at the Chinese embassy in Tehran and we were now travelling around the country with a copy of the passport as well as a copy of the Iranian visa. Well, so now it was time to go back to the capital and try to arrange all the paperwork.
You can't have a glass of Shiraz in Shiraz, but you can get some of the most beautiful sights in all Iran
Yes, the city where wine was once the best in the Middle East is now a totally alcohol-free area, as the whole of Iran, so no chance for any wine tasting. Still, Shiraz and its surroundings have some of the most beautiful sights you can see in all Iran, such as Shah-e-Charagh Shrine Complex, Nasir-al-Molk Mosque and the ancient city of Persepolis, an hour away by car. After Yazd and Esfahan, Shiraz comes next in terms of sihghtseeing in Iran.
We arrived in Shiraz around 5 in the evening after a 6-hour bus ride from Yazd. From the bus station we took a taxi to Golshan Hostel, close to the main sights of the city. First problem: the taxi driver dropped us in a totally different place. Yes, it was called Golshan but there was no hostel there, so after a few phone calls by some shopkeepers we took another taxi and finally we got to the place. This practice is quite common in Iran: You take a taxi, ask to go somewhere and normally they have no clue where the place is, so they keep asking and asking until they finally find it. But it doesn't always work.
Unfortunately we only spent 2 days in Yazd, but could easily have spent at least one week. Yazd has everything you may expect from Iran: Mosques, shrines, a beautiful mudbrick Old Town, a bazar, the best accomodation in the country and even different food than kebab! Definitely, Yazd is the best place to visit in Iran!
With the feeling of having wasted a couple of days and a few more dollars in Toudeshk, we jumped to a 3 hour bus which took us to our next destination: Yazd. We didn't actually know much about Yazd before visiting it. You read about Esfahan, Shiraz and Persepolis as the main tourist destinations in the country, but not that much about Yazd, which makes it a beautiful surprise when you start exploring it, and I can tell after having spent a couple of days there, that it was the place in Iran I liked the most.
Esfahan is probaby the most famous and the most visited of the Iranian cities. After much reading about it and after spending 4 days there it definitely is a must in any Iranian trip due to its many sights, although you can get a bit disappointed because most of the places are right now undergoing some renovations and the government has transformed some parts of the city into a "too European looking" places. Anyway, you'll love Esfahan, for sure.
What you can for sure skip is a trip to the nearby desert village of Toudeshk. Nothing there but dust and stones and a nice but nothing special guesthouse.
After a 3 hour bus ride from Kashan, we arrived at Esfahan bus station. According to Google maps, there's metro in Esfahan, but that's totally false, so we took a local bus to get to our hostel. In Iran you cannot book any hostel in advance through any of the major Internet booking sites (you can book expensive hotels through Iranian sites or by phone), so the procedure it's always the same: show up at the place and hope there's some bed available. Most of the time it works.
We spent two days in Kashan, a small town south of Tehran where we could fully experience the real Iran and its people's hospitality. And really, even if people tell you Iranians are really hospitable, until you don't experience it by yourself, you don't realize until what extent.
"Do you want to be my friend? I am from Kashan and I can show you everything about it. You can type on my phone". That was what I read on a smartphone a young guy showed me in the 3-hour bus ride on the way from Tehran to Kashan.
Earlier that guy smiled to me, I smiled back and next thing was showing me this message written on his phone, as he couldn't speak any word in English. I was shocked. I typed that it would be nice but I didn't know how we were going to communicate. "I have a teacher friend. She will help me." I was not really understanding what was all about but just kept typing on the phone and all the bus trip was like that until we reached Kashan.
A guy in Armenia said: The best thing you can do in Tehran is leaving it. Totally agree with that. Unless you have to apply for a couple of Central Asian visas. Then you are likely to spend a few more days than what you wished in this bustling, polluted, noisy and not pleasant city. But not everything is bad: a few beautiful shrines and especially people make you have some good memories of this otherwise forgettable city.
As Internet is mostly blocked in the country, I was unable to update the website at all. Even if using a VPN to avoid the blockage, the Internet speed is so slow that it was totally impossible to do anything.
This first post is about Tehran, where we spent one week in two different visits to get the visas for China, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and this way being able to continue the trip over Central Asia and into China. So, let's get started!
Some more days than expected spent in Trabzon but finally got the Iranian visa, so we have already changed country and we are now in Georgia.
Getting the visa for Iran wasn't finally as straightforward as it seemed. Of course there had to be some compications and these were that after showing up at the consulate in Trabzon on Friday (as they had told us) it turned up that the visas were not ready. They hadn't got an answer from the embassy in Tehran and we must wait until Monday. The 10 or 12 people of us who applied for visas were not really happy. A weekend in between with nothing to do. The consulate kept our passports, so we could not even go to Georgia for the weekend and come back. Some decided to go to Erzurum, some somewhere else, but being on a low budget and not really interested in the surroundings of Trabzon, decided to stay in town.
After going back to Ankara and two more visits to the Tajikistan consulate, we finally got the Tajik visa! Then 10 hours of bus to get to Trabzon and apply for the Iranian visa.
After the interesting video conference with the students of Centre d'Estudis Prat in Barcelona where they proposed the first challenges to be done, we took a bus back to Ankara, where we arrived after 5 hours. Turkish long distance buses are really cool. They have comfy and wide seats, wifi, a screen on every seat where you can charge your phone, watch TV, play games, etc. and they also have a catering service and you are getting food and drinks every now and then. Exactly the same as Spanish buses :P
In Ankara we stayed again at Mutlu's place. He was quite surprised: "you're like a boomerang, you go and you come back". Yes, exactly like a boomerang thanks to the Tajik embassy. We finally spent 3 nights in Ankara when it was not even in the plan stopping there.
Born in Barcelona and raised in Olot, I've been interested in travelling since I was a child, when every Summer I crossed Spain from coast to coast with my parents. Listening to my siblings' stories about their trips all over the world also helped, as well as watching Around the World with Willy Fog on TV :)
As I grew up, and while I was still studying... read more