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.

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