Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Kashan 30th Nov

Having lingered so long is Esfahan we lost the opportunity to go to some dunes by a salt lake south of Tehran or linger over much in Kashan. I did insist however that I got two hours in the latter to look around a Traditional House on our way up to Tehran. It was such an enriching experience I had to enclose it here by it's self to make sure there was enough space for pictures. I went for the one the guide book was most impressed by. It was extensive and easy to get lost in as it had at least five courtyards and interconnected passageways, rooms, terraces and subterranean areas between them as well as roof tops made for
walking on. I was the only tourist in until a small group of four Iranian guys turned up too. They are still in the long, long process of completely renovating the site so it is full of builders and scaffolding in many areas. This, and the fact that it was so quite meant that I could purposefully and unobtrusively go anywhere I wanted, including a lot of rooms and passageways that probably weren't strictly open to the public but weren't barred so that the builders could have access. Through trying any doors that weren't locked and walking anywhere
that looked safe I was delighted to find myself right up on the highest roof about three floors up. I walked about innocently and slowly, not meeting the eyes of the occasional surprised looking builder in case I wasn't meant to be there. It turned out I wasn't- the ticket man spotted me and raced up to guide me down all panicked. I apologised and he was very nice about it, even showing me, in person this time, one of the restricted access courtyards still very much under construction.
Other than the roof, one of the most unusual and fascinating parts of this house was an extensive bath house. The original residents even opened it to the public once a week. There was room after room after room- all fairly small, (3-6m diameter), often round with seats and plumbing and all decorated with gorgeous plaster and tile work. It was slightly claustrophobic, despite the light holes, (I think I've been more prone to this since the underground city in Turkey) so I don't think I would have fancied it being full of steam and lots of people but it was fantastic to see. I left the house to tie up again with ALex fully refreshed in mind and soul.

Return to Shahin Shahr 28th-30th

We return , as promised to previously met friends in Esfahna. Lovely dinner with two other family members. They insis we stay two nights- I'm not keen, my throat feels like some has been sand papering the flesh but their insistence is too strong to say no! Alex's folk's text to say the British Ambassador has been kicked out, we watch the news closely and ALex reads far and wide at an internet cafe the next day. We return to the house more reassured. Lots of waiting for Mustaba to come home and unsureness about what is expected of us. Alex gets taken to car wash and to mend puncture in afternoon, I, (gladly), get to sleep with mum and sick baby whom I think I caught my sickness off from the first visit. We get shown the Mall in the evening, and serenade them in their home, (although they only ask for one song!). ALex's parents update us on 'students' storming British Embassy and we nxiously call Sara in TEhran to ask if we should be heading for the boarder. SHe tells us all is well- here father passed Embassy just before 'attack' and news has blown spectacle out of proportion. Late night- I'm really needing an earlier one and throat is so sore. Strange atmosphere when we leave the next day, unsure if they're sad to say goodbye, if extended trip was a disappointment or if they're just not good in the mornings! Will send thank-you card and gift later anyway.

Monday, 28 November 2011

A mud brick city 26th- 28th Nov

First hotel in Yazd was full, next one was fantastic if too perfectly designed for backpackers, (traditional lay out, nomad themed decor, wifi and filled with Europians!) and surprisingly affordable. DELICIOUS dinner too. Explored Yazd next day then on into desert to camp- ALex bravely cooks outside amidst not too distant howling and hyena style noises. ON through desert next day but then farms begin to look like things we shouldn't see so hare back all the way we came, passing government car, and on to our friends north of Estafan.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Into the desert 26th Nov

Took the lesser travelled desert route to Yazd but got frustrated with confusion of unmarked desert tracks and warey of going too far from where we should after over landers tales. Pressed on to Yazd rather than camping in the desert as I still felt ill and fancied a shower and a bit of luxury.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Persian Rocks 24th-25th Nov

We camp in the car park of Persepolis, (or in Farsi, Takhte Jamshid) and hear hair raising tales from other overlanders that strayed too close to a secret place in the desert and got detained. Saw the extensive remains of Iran's most impressively old and big palace, (while impressed I was feeling ill so probably didn't appreciate it as much as I should have), followed by tombs at Naqsh-e Rostam and other remains at Pasargad. Park up not far from here.

We arrived only about an hour before closing at Persepolis so decided we'd go in and see it tomorrow. The plan was to camp in the car park- the gudebook said that this was fine and we were encouraged to find a campavan with Swiss plates parked up right in the middle already. We drove over and they came out to say hi but were busy eating. They invited us to come over in a bit so we set up the car in the meantime. Neither of us felt at al hungry- we'd been fed so stupendously over the last twenty four hours that there was no way we needed more!

We had a very nice evening with them- it was very relaxing for us communicating in Engliish and certainly a lot easier for them than in Farsi. I was so overwhelmed by being able to talk freely, both lingistically and culturally that I bubbled over, almost incoherantly with words! They had just had an unsettling run in with the police. They had been at a nice salt lake south of Tehran and there were various tracks beyond the official road so they had decided to see if they could cut around. A short way into the national park they were stopped and taken, in convoy to a town about six hours drive away on the bumpy rough tracks for questioning. The man has to do all the talking as the police refused to address the woman and they were questioned over and over again about all the photos of deserts she had taken in two specific areas. They searched every inch of their vehical and fully explored their computer and deleted all the track data from their sat nav. They asked about all the people they had taken photos of in Iran and checked their phones for numbers called. Apparently the police were not unkind or rude but they were sleep deprived for about two days and had absolute uncertainty as to what this may lead to or how long it would take or what it was all about or anything. They had been in Iran for a month and a half, and like us had met many brilliant indiviuals and had a really fantastic time but all they wanted to do now was head south and get across to UAE, away from the bad taste it had left in their mouth. They had been travelling for eight months, with no time limit on the horizon so were just going where they wanted. It was a shame and a useful warning to us but they felt certain that these bad memeories would fade once they'd had a few good nights sleep and felt safe again in another country

We all turned in early and then got a hair-raising sharp knock on the window just before we settled down to sleep. Eeek, it was the police, we threw clothes on and rapidly tucked away the sat nav nav. They indicated to us that they wanted us to move the car across to one side of the car park by the fence near a lit building. The others followed us over which was very nice, I didn't want to drag them into whatever this was after what they'd just experienced. Alex and the other traveller guy got out once we'd moved to ask what it was about and we were all very relived to find out that it was litrially asking us to move to here as a safer spot- the carpark was also weirdly a through road and the police had fet a central position was dangerous to passing traffic. PHEWWW. And back to bed.

We waved the others off the next morning then headed into Tahkt-e-jamshid, (the Iranian name for persepolis). It's an impressively scaled site with very tastefully made and instructive glass signs in both farsi and English. I was going to go into great detail about the history of the palace and site here but since it's now weeks later I'd have to look it all up which would be better to do online if you're interested. You should also look up persepols 3D- I want to a lecture in Edinburgh about this interesting project to recreate the whole site in three dimensions in a virtual form you can move through. The details and colours in the programme really bring the place to life and I was remembering and envisaging these as I walked around. It is an incredibly impressive site- huge scales of building with massive blocks of rock and a truly extensive area in order to house the whole royal onterage. You are able to view the site up close walking about it and also from above from the cliffside tombs. I found it interesting that you could still see indvdual chisel marks, especially where they had hollowed out the solid rock for the tombs. It gves a reminder of just what an undertaking the building of this was over a number of generations. It's also made out of extrodinairy rock- weathered grey but shiny and black where it has been polished up- presumably the whole palace would have been polished and gleaming darkly in it's day. The hundreds of detailed carvings, excellently preserved in the dry sand are one of the most important things- clearly depicting traditions, customs, clothes and society from accross the Persion Empire at that time.

Smaller, more delicate finds are held in a small museum- one of the lesser buildings has been artfully rebuilt to be as it was. We were quickly befriended in there by an excellent English speaker who gave us a guided tour of the exhibits and was very nice. We worried about whether we'd be able to escape the generous Iranian hospuitality in order to move on to the next site but he was very undertanding and let us go. As a pile of rocks goes it was pretty darn good actually. I had a lot less patience for it than I felt I should have as I was beging to feel ill and floaty with a cold, probably caught from the poor sick baby Helena. For this reason I wasn't going to bother looking around the second site but actually it was so appealing when we got there, (a short hop down the road) that I took a look anyway. These were the other rock tombs at Naqsh-e-Rostam and we were both a lot more impressed with them than we had expected to be. There were not only tombs but reliefs from other eras carved at other intervals into the rock face. The scale and majesty of such things can only be fully appreciated in person and you can't help but be impressed.

At the final site- Passagarde, I only got out to take photos of the first impressive marble tomb. It is a large site which you drive around and walk to the remains from various car parks. I let Alex look at the rest while I wrote postcards. We thought about camping on site but realised we wouldn't be allowed to and the entrance was in a small town so that wasn't appealing either. Thankfully we found a nice enough and discrete spot a mere fifteen minutes away and had a good night's sleep there.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Shiraz Nov 24th

The next day we were served a delicious breakfast with Sharack by his mother and we presented some Iranian sweets that we had picked up in Esfahan in thanks for their hospitality. We then headed over to Aziz's to do the same. I wanted to leave presents for all of them, especially the children but a box of sweets would have to do instead. Sharack helped us get away- I think they would have gladly had us to stay for a week or more but there was lots of Iran still to see and we had offfered Sharack a lift to Shiraz. On ther way there I felt like such a tourist gaping at the beautiful scenery around us. For Sharack is was normal so he barely noticed it but Alex did make a photo stop at one point all the same.

Shiraz was bigger than I expected- a really large and bustling city. It took a while to get into the historic centre. I think Sharack would have loved to have all day to show us around, as would we but our origional intention was to drop him off where he needed to go and go on to Persepolis- the largest acheologial site in Iran, just up the road. It didn't work out like that in the end but that was fine! We were shown the attracive Quoran gate and surrounding attractive infrastructure on the outskirts of town first. We then went into the centre and had a look around the bazar and attached the mosque. This bazar had a much nicer and more intersting feel than the one at Esfahan but we had less than an hour in town so didn't really do it justice. We did however try some ******, weird rice noodle and rose water flavoured icecream- it was delicious and refreshing at first but none of us could manage a whole bowl. We then headed out to a suburb or satillite town where Sharack's brother and sister in law live, for have lunch and to drop him off. What a contrast. We were greeted at the door of the apparentment in the smart modern block by a casually dressed, smiling twenty something Iranian woman with no head scalf!!!! A;ex said later he didn't know where to look! She invited us in and gestured for me to take off mine as well as the shapeless overshirt I had taken to waring. I looked a mess, unprepared for this freedom but it was great to not be too hot and swamped by fabric. It was a very nice and comfy flat just like a similar couple in the UK may have- flat screen TV, sofas, photos, ornaments, magazines, MTV playing in the backround. It was great. We still ate around a cloth on the floor Iranian style but she had very sweetly prepared us some pasta, chips and even jelly as she knew we'd not have had these more western foods in some time.

Her husband came home for lunch too and it was great to see the nteraction betwen the brothers- there's nothig like the bond between close siblings. After lunch we exchanged some music which led to looking at photos on the laptop and I looked at their glamerous wedding photo folders- done like Mazier's but with a more funky, modern twist. As well as having a degree in computer programming, Sharack's sister in law works as a hairdressser and specialises in preparing brides for their weddding photos, unuaually for Iran, children are on the back burner for now, They are considering emagrating to the UK and asked wheat sort of living she would earn with the same profession there. The whole atmopsphere was so much more laid back than we'd experiemced in a long time, it wasn't until later that I realied it wasn't just the headscaves but they sat on each other's lap to see the photos and were relaxed infront of us and their brother- showing any ontward sign of couply affection on the steets in Iran is a no no, even holding hands. It was refreshing to see some affection between others.

Mountain Hospitality 23rd-24th Nov

While continuing to struggle to find our way to specific mountian roads we pass through Kanian village and someone enthusiastically flags us down and insists we come to lunch. It ends up as the highlight of our trip with massive meals, meeting more family members than we could count and tours of the village. This includes how bread is made, the rice processing, orchards and fields, real porcupine spines and a photo of how far through a man's led they can go and a Wedding Party!

Before we turned in, the snow had stopped and the next day showed us the beautiful snowy hills in bright sunlight, perfect photo weather. Despite this, and directions from the hotelliers we still failed to find the waterfall or indeed any of the roads we were looking for. The quality of the road on the ground semed to bear no relation as to whether it was marked as a white or yellow or not at all on our map. We ended up in some fantasticslly remote villages- all mudbrick buildings and great suprise and delight on the inhabitants faces. It seemed unlikely that a foreigner had ever passed through here before. We turned down at least two invitations for tea and eventually stumbled across some tarmac again. We sped on through a village, (minding out for the hidden spead bumps placed at the entrance and exit to all villages and towns) when we noticed that the car behind us was flashing his lights and trying to overtake. Alex worked out that he wanted us to pull over and we were just on the outskirts of a village in bright sunshine so felt it was probably safe to do so. When Aziz steped out of his car, his face could barely hold his grin it was so wide and we relaxed immediately. When he INSISTED we come back to his for lunch, we agreed. We were feeling peckish anyway but I'm not sure we would have been allowed to say no. We followed him back through the large village as he led us through the streets to his house. He opened the gates to his front yard to reveal a combine harvester and an ancient Toyota Landcriser that got Alex very excited. We parked up and went upstairts to the living part of the house.Gradually more and more and more and more family arrived to great us. By the time his wife brought out a 'simple' and throughly delicious meal there were at least 20 family members there to meet us. One of these was Aziz's nephew who spoke excellent English and had the exciting yet onerous task of translatig everything we said and everyone's questions for us. I quicky made friends with two little monkeys- Marianne and Sara, the first in an orange top and headscalf being seven and the latter in bight yellow and no headscalf as, being a year younger, she was not yet compelled to wear one by law. They were brilliant and although our conversation was much limited to me failing to learn how to pronounce their names exactly right and learning other people's names their company gave me a lot of pleasure. Farid, a boy in a pink tracksuit tried to join us but the girls were bossy despite being younger, (some things never change the world over).

Alex had the full attention of the men and boys. We had been sat in the middle of one wall of the room and by the time lunch was brought we were part of a huge circle of tea drinkers, (the most delicious floral tasing tea that I had the whle trip), all looking our way. It was a superb lunch although I think that they were distressed by the simplicity. The rice was the best I tasted in all Iran, (locally grown) cooked, as usual, with a pinch of saffron, butter stirred in and a delicious crunchy base. There was also tinned tuna but from a giant tin I think and astoundingly fresh and flavoursome and a pomegranate sauce-bitter and sweet which went perfectly. It was delicious..After lunch the girls decided they wanted to show me how bread was made. It turned out that Aziz thought this was an excellent idea and the whole party was coming, the girls had intended a private trip for me and caught up in their excitement we ran off down the street to escape the entorage, one on each arm, laughing joyfully at the excitment of sneaking off and running free. Mohammed, a boy of about 12 was sent after us to bring us back I think, but the girls ignored him and he came with us, shrugging. It turned out to only be on the next street around, I think it was Marianne's house although it's hard to tell and the others were there, by car, moments after us. We were encouraged to take photos of the ladies making the bread, (which I found very interesting as it's so different to ours), infact everyone got out their phone, (unexpected?) and was taking photos of various groupings. They asked us when we had to go and said that there was a wedding party close by later that they could take us to if we were able to stay the night. Wow, a very special experience not to turn down so we greatfully consented to stay.

Next, I was invited to get in the car with Aziz, Sharack, (his translating nephew) Alex and Aziz's brother Ahmid. The others ALL piled into a pickup, front and back and trailed behind us. Aziz pondered where to take us, I was keen to see anything of village life. We went to a rice processing place where you could watch the grians get gradually whiter as they went through a series of abrasion machines. He then took us to his 'garden'- his fields and orchards and showed us the variety of things that had grown in the summer. Most excitingly they told us the story of the porcupine. He showed us a large pile of pieces of irrigation pipework all made useless by large holes chewed into the sides of them. This was apparently, and unusually, being done by a porcupine. One of his older sons took on the job of hunting it down with a club one day but just as he got close enough to strike the porcupine fired it's quils. We saw the photo, I had no idea how dangerous these beasts were. there were ten quills in total, about a foot long and up to 7mm wide in the middle. Most had penetrated his shin to poke RIGHT OUT THE OTHER SIDE. ALL the way through. I can't begin to imagine the pain. Facinated, and excited I collected up quills that I spotted, the kids picked them up as well- handing some to me and the younger ones distractedly breaking them into pieces as they walked as I would do with bits of grass. It made me cringe at the waste but the quils were nothing unusual for them. I was privillaged later to be presented with two of the quils that had come out of his leg and seeing these much chunkier ones in my hands, (the ones I had collected were thin and weedy) really brought it home to me.

The kids continued to entertain me lots on this walk, and even showed us a treehouse which Alex enthusiastically climbed. Aziz gradually learnt more and more English throughout the day but the first the phrase and the one he most got to grips with was 'Let's go' for which there is one word in Iranian, they say it so much. He first used at this point and I don't think I will ever hear that phrase again without thinking of him! From here we went to tea at the breadmaking family's house- all the same folk so I'm still not quite sure who's house it was and I think Sharack, who's immediate family is small, was feeling quite exhausted with non stop translating and all the continuious hallabaloo by the kids. It was decided we leave here for some quieter time back at Aziz's. Being so close by, everyone did end up trickling back there but it was a but calmer!

Alex got offered a go on someone's motorbike for the ride back and disappeared for what felt like ages. He returned flushed with pleasure at the giddy exhillaration of riding helmet free down unlit unpaved roads with no other traffic- such freedom. He had been taken to the guys house where they had had tea and very sweetly been given a home grown apple for his mother from the guys mother! Meanwhile, by request, I had brought in our instruments. When Alex got back we were asked to give a performance to an ingraciatingly attentive, appreciative and large audience of people and managed three songs and a fiddle tune or two together not too badly! Afterwards we asked about local music and were told that the religious practices and laws ment that non religious music only really got played at weddings so they put on the most recent family wedding video, the blushing subjects of which were of course in the room whith us. There was indeed dancing and live music played on a wooden oboe like instrument and drums. The dancing was lively, (although mainly only women) and the dresses af the female guests brighly coloured with lots of silver sparkily bits. I think we were told that the music and dancing here was Kurdish- there are many different types of peoples all over Iran and unlike so many other countries they l seem to get on fine! The video demonstrated how long the procedures traditionally take around here- at least three days which incudes parties in both respective villages with proper respects given not only to every membr of the family but every member of the village too. I went out to attempt to help with the meal preparation at one point and Alex said he was astounded to watch the groom knock on EVERY door in the village and shake hands and kiss the cheeks, (three times) of ALL the men. It struck me, having been to Toby and Illa's momentuous and astoundingly large Italian wedding last year that the importance of family and community in Iranian and Italian cultures was similarly strong while it is waining from our British culture which seems sad by comparison.

My offeres of help were politelty diverted to looking at Mazier's wedding photo album that accompanied the wedding vidio instead, while she and her sister in law prepared the salad in a quieter room with just us in. I was impressed how glamerous and proffesional the photos were, like a holywood movie star. The album was really throughtfully and attractively compiled and edited and incuded the engagemnt celebrations too, all professionally embellished and bound in a purpose designed, personaly decorated folder. Before I had finished looking, the children had all decided to settle in with me there too, much to the salad prepares dispair I'm sure! I realised later that this was probably Mazier and her husband's bedroom. We soon gathered that bedrolls are commonly used and tydyed away in the day to use the room for other things- the Esfahan family with raised beds and materesses was a less tradition, more urban method. It makes a lot of sense-you don't need as many room plus it keeps any mess from escalating and sleeping on the floor is good for your back and keeps you agile getting up and down.

I went back through and the chat around and with us continued, as did the wedding video and then dinner was brought through- more delicious rice, a chicken stew, salad, and sauces. After, an announcemnt was brought that a member of the wedding party we were to go to had died that day in a road accident as a driver of a bus of ten people. Although the mood was dinted it wasn't subdued so I gathered that he was a distant family member. Sharack felt now that the wedding would be a much a quieter and non musical affair with no dancing and that we wouldn't enjoy it. We certainly didn't want to intrude on anyone's time of grief. Aziz ws all for us going any way and there was indecision for a good long time in which the chat, and tea with all the family continued and the younger ladies went out to the party but dressed in their more subdued day clothes. Aziz finally won and we were taken to just have a quick look but on arrival we found that the party was in full swing and no half measures had been taken so we piled on it. The men, (including Sharack, our interpreter) went away to one room and the women to another- I'm not sure if it was a community building or the family's home but it was PACKED with folk. The ladies room had lively dancers, clothed like they had just stepped out of the video we had just seen and the bride sat at a wonderfully decorated desk, sort of presiding over it all and occasionally being dragged up by friends to join in. The other half the room was full of ladies and children sitting about chatting and watching the dancers- only the most colourfully dressed seemed to be dancing. One of the dancers was little Shadar(the gil in pink) from earler in the day and she danced very well. She's a very shy girl but I got a glimpse of her fuller, brilliant, personality and who she will become when she danced. Tea and cakes were brought around and I noticed that one of our party absolutely refused the cake for herself and her daugher Marianne too and the lady offering them around got quite affronted. She also refused another friend's encouragement to dance, despite her generally super cheery and good fun nature so I think she was more closely linked to the death than the others. None of my group danced which was a shame as I would have loved to learn how and I also found out very little as my ability to communicate withough language is so poor but I loved just being there and soaking it all in. I also didn't want to steal any attention from the bride- this was her day not mine. When I had come in and walked through the floor seated people to my family, I stuck out like a sore thumb, (thank heavens I decided to put on a nicer top rather than the travel worn clothes I had been in) and I tried to melt away into the back ground whenI sat down. I wasn't introduced to the bride but our eyes did meet accross the room and smiles and respect given. The poor woman looked so unhappy or bored most of the time- Mazier had in her wedding video too but I supose there is so much more pressure than a UK marriage that it's no wander. So many days of entertaining so many pople, so much family to please, including your in laws plus moving in with a family and a man you may barely know (depending on how arranged it is) and possibly moving away to a whole new village. It's no suprisethat the brides aren't grinning really.

I heard back from Alex later that he had no quarms about being the centre of attention, to be fair the groom from the other village hadn't yet arrived to take his bride over to the party there so there was little going on in the men's room. Apparently, he rapidly ended up with everyone in the room turned to face him, listening attentively or firing questions which Sharack excellently translated each way. I'm sure Aziz got a huge social boon from being the bringer of this exotic foreiner and he was able to answer many of the questions about Alex himself as they had already been covered . Apparently the discussions even turned to politics and religion, (it's always preferable to say one is a Christian than an atheist or agnosic to people who's whole culture and politics are so deeply seped in a religious creed) but I won't spoil his rendition of it by covering the revelations here, you'll have to ask him all about it.

'"Let's go" called Aziz to me from the door later and our whole group got up to leave and we rejoined the men outside. Alex was still surrounded by enthralled boys chattering away to him and they had to be hearded out the way for us to reach the car! WIth Sharack's help we managed to stop in at Aziz's only long enough to grab our instruments and car so we could get over to his and get to bed. I was very touched when Mohammed delivered my gathered procupine quils to me that I had lost track of at the other house, I was also impressed at the driving he had done, turing the car around for us all as we left the wedding, his legs are barely long enough to reach the pedals!

Shrack's house, as promised, was much quieter. I recognise his mother as Marianne's mum's friend from the wedding. His father was disabled in an accident many years ago but I was touched that he had waited up to meet us and presented himself smartly. Sharack's cousin also lives with them as Sharack is often away at University in Shiraz which works out well for both of them. We went to bed soon after, buzzing with the excitement of the day and pleasantly tired out by it too! !

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Longer than Noah 21st-23rd Nov

Realised we'd spend longer together on our voyage than Noah had so far! (Passed site of where he had made land on way onto Iran). Lots of time travelling about mountains failing to find the right roads but did find cake and really nice and unexpected hotel!
When you are in such fantastic surroundings it gets frustrting to be swapmped with paranoia about taking photos- I have deleted many after spotting a communications tower upon a hill top of a less than agricultural building in the distance for fear of being taken to tsk by the police at some point. Despite this I do have many great photos of the fantastic snowy peaks we headed up to. We picniced inside our car at a lay by. It was still POURING with rain and only about 2 degree C out there. We were astounded when a truck pulled up as well and out got one two then three girls and an older guy, (their dad?) who then proceded to lay out a blanket and picnic things. The girls removed their shoes and the man his jacket- they saw us trying not to stare and happily becond us ovr but there was no way we were going out in that weather and so we gestured a refusal and headed off, they laughing and smiling at our departure. I suppose our increased tendency to eat while sitting in our seats as the tempertures dropped must hsve seemd extrodinary to those that saw us but this fun loving bunch really did seem very extreme, I only wish I had taken a photo!

We spent the rest of the day trying and almost failing to find small roads into and about the mountians. A cake and WC break greatly inproved our outlook and giving up on finding one road after that maent of course that we instsntly stumbled accoss it. We noticed some great road sgns along the miles the best of which was 'Enjoy your Tripe' and 'Overturn ahead' for shrp bends in the road, neither of which can really be faulted for incomprehensibility, just a perhaps unintended literacy. In search, back and forth of beautiful waterfalls the snow began to fall thick and fast. I didn't fancy cooking in this and noticed thaty the village we had just been through, Komehr, had an unlikely sign for a hotel. We went back and found it was although we would be the only guests at ths time of year. Initially they showed us a suite of three rooms
plus private sitting room, shower and toilet. HOw much asks we. Too much. We tried to ask if we could just eat in the resturant and sleep in the car- we understood that heating such a large space would be expensive for them but we just didn't need all that space. In the end, despite our valuable phrasebook, he went for 'phone a friend' and she acted as translater as we passed the phone back and forth. It turned out he had another more perfect suite for us- one double bed plus two bunks with a curtain to seperate them if needed in a spacious room and on suite. Great. We hung out blisfully playing instruments, knowin we wouldn't disturb anyone- the first time in ages then went back over to the resturant at about seven O'clock. Thankfully we had brought cards with us to play otherwise it would all have been a bit aqward- mum was there with the kids doing school work, they seemd to use the space as a sitting room themselves. She offered us some of the sweet she was eating but made no move to serve us tea, let alone dinner. After a number of hands we bade them goodnight and retreated to our room with our picnic basket. It was a same because when we were undergoing negociations for the room everyone had seemed so chatty adn wanted to find everything out about us- our ages, our jobs, our journey. We were a bit disappointed that there was no enthusiasm for more chat when we had returned- a dint in our superstar egos!

We found that we had plenty for a tasty cold supper and had it on the provided plastic table cloth on the floor Iranian style.I do like so many things about Iranin dining- the use of the floor keeps you supple and encourages having enough rugs on the floor for it always to be cosy enough and to take the shoes off at the door to keep them clean, (something I can NEVER pursuade ALex to do at home). I also like the use of spoon and fork- while tacing joints of meat can be a little tricky eating anything else is much easier. The quality and quantity of the food that the meal usully encompasses is anoher obvious boon. The only thing I am not so good at is faultlessly transporting the food such a distance from the flor to my mouth but I would imgine with more preactce I may get there.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Esfahan 20th-21st Nov

BEAUTIFUL and amazing. Almost got couch to sleep on! Rain
Esfahan was all it was promised to be. The exceptional craftsmen of a village on the Azabaan boarder had been kidnapped wholesale by the Shar of the time to be brought here to create the enormous Imman Squar and the mosques, palace and bazar off of it. They had settled in the south of the city where an apparently impressive church and delicious resturants still reflect that dispaced heritage today but we ran out of time to see that. We also saw little of the infamous and numerous bridges spanning the river although this was largely due to the unusually heavy rain which had begun. It was apparently the first good rain they had had in three years so we couldn't complain too much. The largest mosque was IMMENSE, looking at the scale of the peopel in my photos is the only way I can remind myself of just how big it is. The huge main open air courtyard was covered over due to ongoing resturation which made it harder to photograph but on reflection I don't think I could have done it justice without a wide angle lense. One of the workman came over and chattd to us as he had a fair bit of English and, after exchanging contact details, (we refused tea with he and his friends as we felt we'd never see Esfshan) said that if we were passing through his home town near by that we'd be very welcome to stay. This mosque was the first, (catalised by the shar's impatience and temper) to pilot the concept of painting complex and interlocking designs onto square tiles instead of producing seperate small pieces of tilework for each colour, both were apparent here.
We wandered thrugh the crafts bazar situated around the square seeing some really stunning work- particularly the mina-kari, camel bone minitures and khatam-kari that Esfahan is famous for. Every person who could speak any English called out "Hello, how are you?" to us. At first I thought that it may just be carpet sellers which I had developed a healthy fear of in Morocco but it really was anyone who noticed we were foreign wanting to convey that they were glad we had come to visit Iran and that they could say some English to us. Anyone who was able to say more quickly engaged us in more conversation, When I saw other ladies in headscales my brain automatically registers them as Iranian but to the trained eye this was clearly not the case and I realised we stuck out like a sore thumb- but they made us feel like movie stars rather than oddities! We decided to by pass the palace, put off by an enthusiastic, (and unusual) tout at the gate and went instesad to lunch. We tracked down a reccomendation from the guide serving Biryani and I can still call to mind that fantastic and unusual taste now, four weeks later. It was a couple of large, fat free meaty burgers spiced with all manor of things including a stong cinaman taste served in some of the soft flat bread. It didn't seem emense at the time but it was very filling. Full up, we relaxed in an internet cafe for a time then dropped back a load of boxes of different sweets I had bought to the car. We went next to the other mosque in the square- perportedly a simpler one with no minnerettes, built for use by the Shar's hareem. I think the whole complex was origionally for private use so it's fantastic that it's all accesible today. The corridor leading to the main room had more stuning tile work and when I turned to step into the domed chamber I actually stumbled and gave an invluntairy squeek as to it's beauty and balance. In all these designs you don't realise the mathmatical brilliance they exhibit until you notice that the circular repreated design at the apex of the dome flows into larger and larger, more elaborate designs as space allows, all the way down to the walls remaining perfectly evenly spaced throughout. Really really impressive, a feast for the eyes. We headed on into the main bazar from here. It is enormous and maybe we were only in the more everyday bits bit it seemd full of mundane thigs toy csn get anywhere- clothes, cheap toys, fabrics, purfumes.
On the way back to the car, off to find a hotel for the night, an excellent English speaker engaged us again. He had studdied English Literature at Uni and was a Couch Surfer- he said we were welcome to crash at his. WIth his obviously honest, enthusiastic and generous personality plus the good experiences of the night before and the careful wiki style vetting techniques of the Couch Surfer website this seemed like a great idea. We were so relaxed with him that even when it transpired he worked in a carpet shop and he got us to come back there for a cup of tea first it was all fine. Three Europian travellers came in while we were there- one had come to view a particular carpet for the third time to contemplate buying it. Whether it was this or the genuine and honest nature of our host, (he was one o the youngest but the most fluent in English of the five or so guys helping stock take the shop this evening) he was very to the point about prices, not beating around the bush and giving just the value I would have expected for such a fine piece of workmanship. I joined in on the sales banter- having enjoyed a talk in Edinburgh I fully iunderstod the true value of the rug and can't resist helping to sell something I belive it. In the end the guys left without buying it and it was like all the enthusiasm for life had left the room with them. Our kind host suddenly slumped, along with the rest of the shop folk. I could tell he was a lot tireder than he had realised and made it easy for him to admit that maybe he wasn't up to guests after all tonight. We had some trouble finding the hotel we were after as the map in the guidebook had been penned wrongly but when we did it was comfey enough and a lot cheper than we were expecting and included breakfast brought to our room! We poped out for a very tasy Iranian style piza around the courner and sampled some of th delicious beer style fizzy drinks we had been noticing- across between that flavoured fizzy water you get and fruit juice- deicious and refreshing, a welcome break from the day glow fanta we'd been having.
The next morning started well with great showers and a head scalf free breakfast in our room with fried eggs. We then had a frustrating time of re navigating the awful traffic, (due to metro works, like the oh too familiar tram works of Edinburgh), to fail find a phone shop for a sim card. We found our way back to the carpark of the day before and went in search of the nice carpet shop man for money changing- he had offered the other foreigners in the shop a much better rate than the banks yesterday. Unfortunately they had banked all their cash but he reccomended a money changes near by and I did manage to pick up a phrase book from the stall next door. I felt very nervous using a mony changer after various dire warnings but it was all fine- it was a very sparkaly clen place with mainly women working there, the rate was the same as the carpet shop and there were no fake notes passed into our hands. I even managed to pick up some of the craft work I had much admired on the way back to the car- although being me I managed to choose a workshop that didn't usually sell direct to the public but I had an entertaining time trying to communicate with the two lovely girls working there, a slightly better price and the pleasure of knowing the money had gone direct to the makers. We filled up with disel on the way out and headed for the mountains. I were impressed by the lip of ragged craggy peaks surrounding the flat dry plain- a welcome difference to the monotonous flat view of the previous day. We saw someone had pulled off the road and got stuck so we pulled over and managed, to everone's great plesure to successfully winch him out- exercising this part of the TLC for the first time. The greatful man gave us a large bag of unbelivably juicy and delicious walnuts and the other guys that had come to assist him exchanged our contact details ad half heartedly invited us back with them. Having read about the Iranian custom of people often refusing things up to three times we turned them down and they didn't press it so we headed out to a lovely spot in the foot hills for the night in the car amid gorgeous scenery.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The hospitality of Iran 18th-20th Nov

Shaking the dust of Tabriz from our hills Alex gets his wish -to meet someone- at lunch just pulled off road! Sighseeing at Saltan... Qazvin for diner and cake South to Esfahan- got dinner and place to stay after making funny faces at boy in car!
It seemed to take forever to escape the clutches of Tabriz- a combination of it's size and it's road network but soon we were on the way to Quzvin. Along the motorway we passed what was soon to becoem a familiar sight. Where ever there are pull over spaces, families stop, (next to the road), and lay out a picnic- blanket, full spread of food, sometimes a stove to heat it up and always one of the beutiful Iranian tea urns- an essentail part of any meal. When we got hungry Alex procalimed that he wanted to meet people while we had lunch but there seemed to be no picnicers in sight. We pulled off onto a side road and found a nice enough spot and while we were setting things out on the tail gate a truck pulled to a halt near us. The driver got out and came over for a chat. ***** was in his late 20s and wonderfully overjoyed to have some real English people to try out his English classes on. He shared with us his flask of tea plus bread and cheese that his mother had made for him. At one point another car pulled up to investigate and one of the occupants spoke excellent English so monopolised the conversation briefly and
***** looked sad to have his struggling English so easily sidelined. They didn't stay long however and later, when a motorcyclist with toddler pulled up on a motor bike (soon to become a very familiar sight!), he was able to show off his skills to the other guy that spoke no English. All in all the lunch stop was about two hours long and it took some pursuasion to be able to tear ourselves away but emails and telephone numbers were duely exchanged and the possible hope that we may get in touch on the way back through. He taught us lots of words, some of which we retained, and gave us some good advice about what roads to take and some road laws.
On his and the book's advice we stoped in next at Saltaier??? to see the largest brick dome in the world- tiled a brilliant blue, atop a stunningly decorated and ongoingly renivated mausolium. I wasn't sure if we were allowed to take photos so took them surruptisiously. The detail of the tile and brick work was fantastic and the views pretty stunning too. We arrived in Quzvin in the dark but found a parking space and almost found our chosen hotel instantly. It was an especially low budget one- more like a doss house for guys on a low budget passing through, (we thought we'd try it) which ment that it's entrance- a doorway with stairs was not obviously a hotel. We passed it a couple of times and ended up enlisting the house of a family on their way to the mosque to help us- after Tabriz I was carful to pick people more carefully. The place was fine, less grimey than I expected and I was fairly used to hard beds by now. We wandered into town and found, amist the quite streets, an invitingly bustling and tasty place I had remembered from the guide. Like the night before, the dish we each chose also included a array of side dishes- rice, yoghurt, olives covered in a sesame paste and salad. I still had room for cake from one of the late opening patisseries on the way home though.
We took a walk around the city by day the next morning- the most striking thing was the elegantly constructed brick walls and arches of the bazar corridors and the way that courtyards and the mosque was integrated into the design. We were to find this was standard practice, the doorways into bazars having the same detailed and tiled freco work as the mosques themselves. We headed south, bypassing Tehran's ring road by a route reccomended to us by **** and made such good time that we decided to skip Kashan and see it on the way back. While I read the guide book Alex started a game of first waving then funny face making with a boy and his family in a pick up going the same way as us. After a while this developed into a more involved game with us and them taking it in turns to overtake each other, sharing funny faces and gestures each time. This went on for miles and eventually the car pulled over and gestured for us to do the same. We all got out and the men shook hands- there was mum, dad, the youngster and a baby in the front of the pick up. They gave us some tasty sweet bread and inssted that we stay with them tonight. We
followed them to a town about 25km north of Esfahan, (where we had been heading for), and were welcomed into a very lovely home in a snazzy looking new building in th suburbs with one other flat upstairs. There was one large central room strewn with thick rugs and some sofas and a kitchen off to the side. There was a shower room, a toilet and two bedrooms. We weren't sure at first if they just wanted to give us tea, dinner or a bed for the night. It turned out to be all three and we spent a great evening learning lots of words off each other- they knew a tiny bit of English and seemed able to expand this, with our help, far more quickly than we learnt Farsi form them. Alex and Mostaba were best at comunicating and I made up for my verbal lack by playing with the children- Riza, (the 8 year old) and Helena, (4 months).
At one point after dinner Mostaba asked Alex if he wanted to come to town with him. They left, RIza darting out to join them. We had no idea if this was for a night out in an illicent drinking den or what (alcohol is illegal in Iran) but they reappeared after a while with fresh fruit for pudding. It appeared that around 7pm is the peak shopping time- makes more sense than closing just as everyone gets home from the office. One of the fruits was sweet lemons- the look like a round yellowy green lemon about the size of a satsuma but they are not over sweet and refreshing to eat unlike anything else I can think of. I wish we got them in the UK. We settled down for the night on bedrolls and blankets- in an act of solidarity the whole family did the same despite their bedrooms. This was very sweet but it ment having spnt the whole time in their warm house sweltering in my long sleved and high neck shirt plus head scalf I had to continue to do so in the borrowed pajamas, and keep on my head scalf on all night as she did. This seemed particularly irrational when it was apparently fine for her to feed her baby in front of us but I didn't want to cause offence. Alex and I said we were wed to all we met, it seemed simplest and in Iranin terms we basically are. When we got asked to stay over it seemed fairest on our hosts to have this reassurance too but it ment some rapidly improvised details on this night and suprise that we had no photos on our phones either of the event or indeed our families. Family is such an essential part of Iranian culture that I felt very bad not having any family photos with us. It was not a brilliant night's sleep- poor Helena (the baby) was running a fever and disturbed us all a bit but it was surprisingly comfy on the bed rolls and blankets. The next morning RIza was up and out to school before 8am and the rest of us got up rather more slowly and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast- our first typically Iranian one. There was bread- flat and flexible as pancakes and a selection of sweet cherry jam, soft white cheese, preserved apricots, butter and honey. It was delicious. They only let us go with the exchange of contact details and a firm promise to come and stay again on our way back to Tehran in a few days. I made some faries there and then for the girls, marbels for RIza and some Turkish Delight we had with us for Mustoba.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


So, we made it, and internet seems to be fine so that's good but you'll be glad to hear my reports won't be so wordy as it'll be typing directly in at internet sessions as opposed to by the light of the moon on beaches and so forth.
Tonight we are in Tabriz, not far south of the boarder through still a good four hours on from it- we thought Turkey was big, Iran is HUGE! We've already had to restrict what we're going to get around to seeing as we're 6 days late arriving but we've had fun on those days else where so it's not bad really. An extremely nice English speaking younger guy guided us through the customs complexities at the boarder (the non joy of arriving with a car) and was really sweet, chatting to us throughout and bringing us refreshments. We were a bit guarded with him, waiting for the financial sting in the tail and were slightly dazed by the end of it all to find that there wasn't one! We just had to hand one of the stamped forms on the way out in the second section and we were free to go. Not so easy, the next lot, as we had heard they insisted we buy our diesel ration card before we leave, even though this is not the case in the Southern boarder past Van. We had heard stiff barganing was the main trick here and we got him down a bit but were still probably about 100Euros down more than we should have been. OH well, it was well dark by that point- we'd been at the boarder for about 4-5 hours and it was worth it to get away.
Managed to find a nice enough 'safe' hotel, (clean rooms, western loo, hot shower, onsite resturant- not exciting but definatly reassuringly dull!) and set up there for the night. We wold have liked to wander about the town in search of food but we had to wait until morning to change some money into Rials so we had the excuse to be lazy! Alex completed this money changing action no worries at the bank, (having left him to do this and ALL the hard nosed barganing yesterday I felt a bit pathetic so did all his washing in the hotel room in thanks, talk about steriotypes!)and as we were heading out we ended up taking with us a Taiwanease New Yorker who was casually in search of a ride deeper into Iran. She was on holiday for just 3 weeks and had flown to Turkey and decided to come over to Iran on a whim! I was very impressed by her spontianity and amazed how she does everything not so much with confidence as with a single minded nievity that everything will turn out fine which some how causes it too. When we looked around the hotels in this city and she didn't find what she wanted she managed to convince a hotel to give her the contact details of a better one! I was very impressed. The day all want well except when we stopped and asked some nice enough looking guys
in a shop directions in Tabriz. One insisted on coming with us and showing us the way and took us to absolutely the most expensive place in town so we asked him to direct us to a cheaper one in the guide and then he started demanding about half of what a the room and dinner and breakfast cost us last night for his services. We weren't prepared to pay that much and he made a real scene and we took him most of the way back to where we'd picked him up and Alex had to really shout at him to leave which finally he did. Shame because we would have like to give him something but he was really being cheeky and then downright nasty. Anyway, it was fine and it all worked out well. We found a nice place to stay, had a nice dinner in a local cafe and found a good internet cafe. ALl is well with the world. ON towards but not as far as Terhan tomorrow and south on from there towards Shiraz.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Insight into Turkish Driving

The previous night the stove had been giving me problems and when Alex checked in the morning he concluded that a part which occasioally needs replacing due to a build up of grime had reached the end of it's life. Our first priority therefore was to get a new stove. This we achived quickly and easily, (with ALex's excellent mastery of charades), in a pleasant small town. We've ended up with a small gas bottle with a ring attachment which is rather larger than we'd like but a lot easier to use and more stable than our petrol one. We got some other bits and pieces includig tasty savory bites and proceded to try and leave the town. We to hit a big and complex snarl of traffic- mainly the minibusses they use as busses here. We experiened a fair bit of frustration with everyone's need to direct the stupid foreigners, making something as simple as turning complicated as they felt the need to direct our every turn of the wheel with hand signals that are different to British ones. It was an interesting insight into the TUrkish driving mentality. Once we were out the landscape continued to captivate me- undulating plains, deep river gorges, rolling hills. We stopped for gearbox oil and Alex got another set of guys admiriing his car- absolutely every where we go 'boys' of every age come over to admire it. A couple of older guys asked for a hitch as we were leaving the garage but when they opened the backdoor to find a platform rather than seats they indicated thay'd rather wait for the bus! We moved on up into the snowline- everytime the car gets a bit cleaner from a rainstorm we seem to end up wading through mud or mucky slush shortly after. We picnied by a mosque and three middle aged guys asked if we could give them a lift. The most bombastic of the three experimented with trying to squeeze into the front seat with me but I decided to give it up and crawl into the back with the other two, much to his disappointment! One of the guys in the back was very quiet, one spoke a tiny bit of English and greatly enjoyed leaning more from the phrase section of the guide book and teaching us some Turkish. The fun, cheakey guy in the front was intent on teaching Alex to drive the proper Turkish way. It was a huge further insight into the minds of Turkish drivers for example if you slow down for anything like roadworks or turning unexpectedly you shoulod put on your hazards and when you go past any one or they are not going fast enough or if you just like their car you should hoot. We had just discoverd today that the horn was only working intermittantly which the Turk deeply disapproved of. Just before they joined us we had got a text that our house sitter had locked himself out. Luckily Alex rememered that our landlord would have the key and then with all the hullabaloo of these guys it slipped our mind completely. We were relieved, when we remembered later that is had all gone ok despite us missing a double checking call from the landlord. We dropped the guys off along the north side of Lake Van and found a place to park up for the night shortly after. The lake was incredibly beautiful but there was snow lying thickly on the ground and my heart went out to those caught at the heart of the recent earthquakes the other side of the huge lake now shivering in tents whether their houses were still standing or not. It was generally felt you were safer outdoors just now. It was all the more heart breaking to read about the emerging and busy tourist industry Van had recently created for it's self iin the guide book. I realise I've left out the pre boarder part of the next day so will fill that in soon

Monday, 14 November 2011

Monument to self doubt, (not mine!)

We were touched the next morning to find that the meal we had recieved was gratus and headed off to the post office, banfk and bread shops much cheered by the hospitable people. The post office took quite sometime because not only did I have a dozen postcards with slightly too limited space for the stamps but also Aaron's parcel. The guy that delt with stamps also seemed to be remarakbly busy- required to sign dozens of chits for various other people before he could deal with the complication of stamps for England. He took the letters onto his desk then gestured for me to rest in one of the many seats. I ended uptexting Alex to suggest he went on ahead to the shops rather than waiting in the car for me and when they brought me a glass of tea I know I had made the right decision! When thay got around to me there was some confusion and another customer thankfully came to my rescue with some excellent translation. It still took a long time and I was very appreciative of the guy who lived in Austria but has family in Turkey for hanging about with me for so long. Outside he absolutely refused my profered bar of tasty Greek chocolate in thanks but strongly suggestest I learn some basic Turkish pleasantries to get by and I felt justifiably repremanded. Finally we got on the road up to these ruins. It is the tomb of Antiochus I Epiphanes, founder of the Commangene Kingdom in around 40BC. It is the highest artifical mound in the world, (60m) with large statues of the king himself alongside various gods and guardian animals on both the east and west sides of the mound and a sacraficial alter. As warned, it was pretty snowy when we got up there and a taxi driver wating for his sightseers about 3KM from the top pointed out how it was quite icy from here and warned us agsinst it. We pressed on a little way to a flatter bit and then got out and walked. We decided we probably could have made it up to the car park but it would have been a little challenging and we could do with the walk. It was hard work indeed and there was a bitter wind blowing but we were well equiped and pressed on. As the taxi driver had warned, the snow clouds closed in a bit but luckerly for us no more than a few flakes fell while we were up there. It was a weird place- what sort of personality would insist on building a huge monument to their ife in so lonly a spot loking out over mountains and demand people bring offerings all the way up to it once a year. It smacked to me of a huge and deeply rooted insecurity and a two year old's temper with much ranting and foot stamping. I found it hard to appreciate the creation for it's artistic value, so tied up with his disfuntional personality as it was but it was an experinece to see. We went back down the mountain and crossed a lake by ferry- trying not to stare at the typically Turkish baggy trousers one guy with a donkey was wearing. I'd seen these in the town yesterday and while they seemed a sensible garment in themselves- a skirt all the way down to the ankles at which point they become trousers- it seemed so odd to see people wearing them with smart shirt waistcoast and jacket. We felt incresinglt cautious about the area we next headed into- the guide book described it as a very poor area with high unemployment and many kurdish refugees. The biggest town, Diyarbakir has black basalt walls and that is said to reflect the 'dark hearts' of the people which didn't make us keen to leave a car parked outside a hotel over night so we found a quiet spot by a lake some way before it to camp. We decided the next day though that actually the area was fine and the people were as friendly as they had been anywhere.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The delight of Turkish Meze

We awoke to be able to view a beautiful sunrise over the lake out of the back window as we lay in our cosy bed. Shortly after we had got up a paraglider flew over our heads down to the lake shore, and then another. It was remenicant of the ballons in Cappadocia. We decided to take a wee drive down to the lake shore on our way out, just to take a look but met the 'gliders walking back up the very steep track, (four wheel drive only) with their parachutes in HUGE heavy looking rucksacs on ther back so decided to give them a lift up insteed. They were very greatful- I had forgotten just how long the track we came down last night was. When we took them up onto the small hill above where the track began we found that there were lots of people and cars all here to paraglide. The guys told us they were here every Sunday, (which was helpul as we had COMPLETELY lost track of wht day it was.
That done, we got back on the motorway and I spent an enjoyable few hours writing postcards and catching up on my blog. I also read the guidebook and decided that there was an unmissable recomendation for a resturant at Gaziantep which was basically on our way to the ruins at Nemrit Dagi we were headed towards. I had neglected to notice that it was a fairly big town which ment that it was difficult and chotic to navigate the traffic, people and one way systems and potentially traumatising to find a parking space. Before we had even found one however I was bubbling over with excitement seeing all the shops selling exoitc things and all of the hussle and bussle about the pace. I hadn't realised that this is what I'd been lacking from our, so far, mainly scenic tour of Turkey and I drank it all it. It was a little struggle to find the reccomended resturant on foot but this just ment that we passed more shop fronts and stores which suited me! Once we found it, it was rather more up maket than we expected but we brushed the mud off our clothes from yesterday's adventures and headed in. We ordered a kebab each, (kebabs are actually a delicious sausage served in a wide variety of ways rather than the 'donner' meat in a pitta which is what I usually think of) and a salad and a small Armenian
pizza thing each that was highly recomeneded. What came was dish after dish after dish that was all included in the price. In addition to what we had ordered were two more salads, a stack of large, fresh pittas, a round flat bread with sesame seeds on, baked aubergine pulp and our kebabs came with various trimmings as well. It was delicious, enormous but delicious and we managed it all. We could not however mange any baclava. Apparently this town was the home of baclava and this place rated as the best there was so we bought a mixed box to take away and indulge on out our leisure. We did however indulge in the complementay tea served after, I seem to be coping ok with tea which is great because I'd be in a very tricky situation politeness wise on a number of occasions. We had a great waiter who's English was pretty good- apparently he was the only one in here who spoke any English which shows what a refereshingly un touristy place this was. Reassured by this I looked on the shops with even more cultural excitement that these were shops for everyday people and that the mountains of spices, sticky sweats, metal work, marquetry boxes, jewellery and dried vegetables on strings were not just for show. We bought some tasty treats and some more realistic looking wedding rings than we had for our month in Iran. Back at the car Alex was feeling a ittle anxious abut how late it now was. We were hoping to get to a highly recomened wee pension in a small village just below Nemrit Dagi but we would be getting there nearly two hours after sunset. His reluctance to drive in the dark was perfectly demonstrated by encountering various hazards on the fast road we were on, the scariest of which was a tractor with no lights trundelling along on the slow lane, completey invisible to us until the last minute. We pulled over in the less recomended town of Kahta and headed to the not hightly recomended cheap place there. I found the place a lot more favourable than the review. The rooms were a bit basic I guess but it had a comfortable double bed, hating, hot water and as many blankets as we asked for. It wad rather chilly as most of the windows and doorways on the second floor were gaping holes, open to the elements- part of some serious refubushment that was underway. They insisted we come into the communal room where a stove was on and they were drinking tea, which they shared, and watch TV. There was a collection of around seven men there aged 30 to 60. They weren't guests but we never worked out if they were friends or family or a mix but it was all very compaionable. When they started setting a table on one side of the room they asked if we were hungry and we honestly said no, even Alex was planning to skip dinner after the huge lunch but then we realised that they had already served for us so went to join them anyway. Despite being so full, it was such tasty food that we manged to both eat a big plateful- bulgar wheat, a beany, meaty stew and various extras like bread, salad and other things. We really were stuffed after this and could do little more than slump on the sofas watching TV with the others and getting useful advice about routes to take and how snowy the road to the ruins may be. Later, when we were able to move again, we found that the showers were indeed hot and there was even wifi. A very pleasant eveing indeed.